By Honore de Balzac
Public Domain Books
“Sylvie,” said Christophe, as he dipped a piece of toast into the coffee, “M. Vautrin, who is not such a bad sort, all the same, had two people come to see him again last night. If madame says anything, mind you say nothing about it.”
“Has he given you something?”
“He gave me a five-franc piece this month, which is as good as saying, ’Hold your tongue.’”
“Except him and Mme. Couture, who doesn’t look twice at every penny, there’s no one in the house that doesn’t try to get back with the left hand all that they give with the right at New Year,” said Sylvie.
“And, after all,” said Christophe, “what do they give you? A miserable five-franc piece. There is Father Goriot, who has cleaned his shoes himself these two years past. There is that old beggar Poiret, who goes without blacking altogether; he would sooner drink it than put it on his boots. Then there is that whipper-snapper of a student, who gives me a couple of francs. Two francs will not pay for my brushes, and he sells his old clothes, and gets more for them than they are worth. Oh! they’re a shabby lot!”
“Pooh!” said Sylvie, sipping her coffee, “our places are the best in the Quarter, that I know. But about that great big chap Vautrin, Christophe; has any one told you anything about him?”
“Yes. I met a gentleman in the street a few days ago; he said to me, ’There’s a gentleman in your place, isn’t there? a tall man that dyes his whiskers?’ I told him, ’No, sir; they aren’t dyed. A gay fellow like him hasn’t the time to do it.’ And when I told M. Vautrin about it afterwards, he said, ’Quite right, my boy. That is the way to answer them. There is nothing more unpleasant than to have your little weaknesses known; it might spoil many a match.’”
“Well, and for my part,” said Sylvie, “a man tried to humbug me at the market wanting to know if I had seen him put on his shirt. Such bosh! There,” she cried, interrupting herself, “that’s a quarter to ten striking at the Val-de-Grace, and not a soul stirring!”
“Pooh! they are all gone out. Mme. Couture and the girl went out at eight o’clock to take the wafer at Saint-Etienne. Father Goriot started off somewhere with a parcel, and the student won’t be back from his lecture till ten o’clock. I saw them go while I was sweeping the stairs; Father Goriot knocked up against me, and his parcel was as hard as iron. What is the old fellow up to, I wonder? He is as good as a plaything for the rest of them; they can never let him alone; but he is a good man, all the same, and worth more than all of them put together. He doesn’t give you much himself, but he sometimes sends you with a message to ladies who fork out famous tips; they are dressed grandly, too.”
“His daughters, as he calls them, eh? There are a dozen of them.”
“I have never been to more than two–the two who came here.”
“There is madame moving overhead; I shall have to go, or she will raise a fine racket. Just keep an eye on the milk, Christophe; don’t let the cat get at it.”
Sylvie went up to her mistress’ room.
“Sylvie! How is this? It’s nearly ten o’clock, and you let me sleep like a dormouse! Such a thing has never happened before.”
“It’s the fog; it is that thick, you could cut it with a knife.”
“But how about breakfast?”
“Bah! the boarders are possessed, I’m sure. They all cleared out before there was a wink of daylight.”
“Do speak properly, Sylvie,” Mme. Vauquer retorted; “say a blink of daylight.”
“Ah, well, madame, whichever you please. Anyhow, you can have breakfast at ten o’clock. La Michonnette and Poiret have neither of them stirred. There are only those two upstairs, and they are sleeping like the logs they are.”
“But, Sylvie, you put their names together as if––”
“As if what?” said Sylvie, bursting into a guffaw. “The two of them make a pair.”
“It is a strange thing, isn’t it, Sylvie, how M. Vautrin got in last night after Christophe had bolted the door?”
“Not at all, madame. Christophe heard M. Vautrin, and went down and undid the door. And here are you imagining that––?”
“Give me my bodice, and be quick and get breakfast ready. Dish up the rest of the mutton with the potatoes, and you can put the stewed pears on the table, those at five a penny.”
A few moments later Mme. Vauquer came down, just in time to see the cat knock down a plate that covered a bowl of milk, and begin to lap in all haste.
“Mistigris!” she cried.
The cat fled, but promptly returned to rub against her ankles.
“Oh! yes, you can wheedle, you old hypocrite!” she said. “Sylvie! Sylvie!”
“Yes, madame; what is it?”
“Just see what the cat has done!”
“It is all that stupid Christophe’s fault. I told him to stop and lay the table. What has become of him? Don’t you worry, madame; Father Goriot shall have it. I will fill it up with water, and he won’t know the difference; he never notices anything, not even what he eats.”
“I wonder where the old heathen can have gone?” said Mme. Vauquer, setting the plates round the table.
“Who knows? He is up to all sorts of tricks.”
“I have overslept myself,” said Mme. Vauquer.
“But madame looks as fresh as a rose, all the same.”
The door bell rang at that moment, and Vautrin came through the sitting-room, singing loudly:
“’Tis the same old story everywhere, A roving heart and a roving glance . .
“Oh! Mamma Vauquer! good-morning!” he cried at the sight of his hostess, and he put his arm gaily round her waist.
“There! have done––”
“’Impertinence!’ Say it!” he answered. “Come, say it! Now, isn’t that what you really mean? Stop a bit, I will help you to set the table. Ah! I am a nice man, am I not?
“For the locks of brown and the golden hair A sighing lover . . .
“Oh! I have just seen something so funny––
. . . . led by chance.”
“What?” asked the widow.
“Father Goriot in the goldsmith’s shop in the Rue Dauphine at half-past eight this morning. They buy old spoons and forks and gold lace there, and Goriot sold a piece of silver plate for a good round sum. It had been twisted out of shape very neatly for a man that’s not used to the trade.”
“Really? You don’t say so?”
“Yes. One of my friends is expatriating himself; I had been to see him off on board the Royal Mail steamer, and was coming back here. I waited after that to see what Father Goriot would do; it is a comical affair. He came back to this quarter of the world, to the Rue des Gres, and went into a money-lender’s house; everybody knows him, Gobseck, a stuck-up rascal, that would make dominoes out of his father’s bones, a Turk, a heathen, an old Jew, a Greek; it would be a difficult matter to rob him, for he puts all his coin into the Bank.”
“Then what was Father Goriot doing there?”
“Doing?” said Vautrin. “Nothing; he was bent on his own undoing. He is a simpleton, stupid enough to ruin himself by running after––”
“There he is!” cried Sylvie.
“Christophe,” cried Father Goriot’s voice, “come upstairs with me.”
Christophe went up, and shortly afterwards came down again.
“Where are you going?” Mme. Vauquer asked of her servant.
“Out on an errand for M. Goriot.”
“What may that be?” said Vautrin, pouncing on a letter in Christophe’s hand. ’Mme. la Comtesse Anastasie de Restaud,” he read. “Where are you going with it?” he added, as he gave the letter back to Christophe.
“To the Rue du Helder. I have orders to give this into her hands myself.”
“What is there inside it?” said Vautrin, holding the letter up to the light. “A banknote? No.” He peered into the envelope. “A receipted account!” he cried. “My word! ’tis a gallant old dotard. Off with you, old chap,” he said, bringing down a hand on Christophe’s head, and spinning the man round like a thimble; “you will have a famous tip.”
By this time the table was set. Sylvie was boiling the milk, Mme. Vauquer was lighting a fire in the stove with some assistance from Vautrin, who kept humming to himself:
“The same old story everywhere, A roving heart and a roving glance.”
When everything was ready, Mme. Couture and Mlle. Taillefer came in.
“Where have you been this morning, fair lady?” said Mme. Vauquer, turning to Mme. Couture.
“We have just been to say our prayers at Saint-Etienne du Mont. To-day is the day when we must go to see M. Taillefer. Poor little thing! She is trembling like a leaf,” Mme. Couture went on, as she seated herself before the fire and held the steaming soles of her boots to the blaze.
“Warm yourself, Victorine,” said Mme. Vauquer.
“It is quite right and proper, mademoiselle, to pray to Heaven to soften your father’s heart,” said Vautrin, as he drew a chair nearer to the orphan girl; “but that is not enough. What you want is a friend who will give the monster a piece of his mind; a barbarian that has three millions (so they say), and will not give you a dowry; and a pretty girl needs a dowry nowadays.”
“Poor child!” said Mme. Vauquer. “Never mind, my pet, your wretch of a father is going just the way to bring trouble upon himself.”
Victorine’s eyes filled with tears at the words, and the widow checked herself at a sign from Mme. Couture.
“If we could only see him!” said the Commissary-General’s widow; “if I could speak to him myself and give him his wife’s last letter! I have never dared to run the risk of sending it by post; he knew my handwriting––”
“’Oh woman, persecuted and injured innocent!’” exclaimed Vautrin, breaking in upon her. “So that is how you are, is it? In a few days’ time I will look into your affairs, and it will be all right, you shall see.”
“Oh! sir,” said Victorine, with a tearful but eager glance at Vautrin, who showed no sign of being touched by it, “if you know of any way of communicating with my father, please be sure and tell him that his affection and my mother’s honor are more to me than all the money in the world. If you can induce him to relent a little towards me, I will pray to God for you. You may be sure of my gratitude––”
“The same old story everywhere,” sang Vautrin, with a satirical intonation. At this juncture, Goriot, Mlle. Michonneau, and Poiret came downstairs together; possibly the scent of the gravy which Sylvie was making to serve with the mutton had announced breakfast. The seven people thus assembled bade each other good-morning, and took their places at the table; the clock struck ten, and the student’s footstep was heard outside.
“Ah! here you are, M. Eugene,” said Sylvie; “every one is breakfasting at home to-day.”
The student exchanged greetings with the lodgers, and sat down beside Goriot.
“I have just met with a queer adventure,” he said, as he helped himself abundantly to the mutton, and cut a slice of bread, which Mme. Vauquer’s eyes gauged as usual.
“An adventure?” queried Poiret.
“Well, and what is there to astonish you in that, old boy?” Vautrin asked of Poiret. “M. Eugene is cut out for that kind of thing.”
Mlle. Taillefer stole a timid glance at the young student.
“Tell us about your adventure!” demanded M. Vautrin.
“Yesterday evening I went to a ball given by a cousin of mine, the Vicomtesse de Beauseant. She has a magnificent house; the rooms are hung with silk–in short, it was a splendid affair, and I was as happy as a king–-”
“Fisher,” put in Vautrin, interrupting.
“What do you mean, sir?” said Eugene sharply.
“I said ’fisher,’ because kingfishers see a good deal more fun than kings.”
“Quite true; I would much rather be the little careless bird than a king,” said Poiret the ditto-ist, “because––”
“In fact"–the law-student cut him short–"I danced with one of the handsomest women in the room, a charming countess, the most exquisite creature I have ever seen. There was peach blossom in her hair, and she had the loveliest bouquet of flowers–real flowers, that scented the air––but there! it is no use trying to describe a woman glowing with the dance. You ought to have seen her! Well, and this morning I met this divine countess about nine o’clock, on foot in the Rue de Gres. Oh! how my heart beat! I began to think––”
“That she was coming here,” said Vautrin, with a keen look at the student. “I expect that she was going to call on old Gobseck, a money-lender. If ever you explore a Parisian woman’s heart, you will find the money-lender first, and the lover afterwards. Your countess is called Anastasie de Restaud, and she lives in the Rue du Helder.”
The student stared hard at Vautrin. Father Goriot raised his head at the words, and gave the two speakers a glance so full of intelligence and uneasiness that the lodgers beheld him with astonishment.
“Then Christophe was too late, and she must have gone to him!” cried Goriot, with anguish in his voice.
“It is just as I guessed,” said Vautrin, leaning over to whisper in Mme. Vauquer’s ear.
Goriot went on with his breakfast, but seemed unconscious of what he was doing. He had never looked more stupid nor more taken up with his own thoughts than he did at that moment.
“Who the devil could have told you her name, M. Vautrin?” asked Eugene.
“Aha! there you are!” answered Vautrin. “Old Father Goriot there knew it quite well! and why should I not know it too?”
“M. Goriot?” the student cried.
“What is it?” asked the old man. “So she was very beautiful, was she, yesterday night?”
“Mme. de Restaud.”
“Look at the old wretch,” said Mme. Vauquer, speaking to Vautrin; “how his eyes light up!”
“Then does he really keep her?” said Mlle. Michonneau, in a whisper to the student.
“Oh! yes, she was tremendously pretty,” Eugene answered. Father Goriot watched him with eager eyes. “If Mme. de Beauseant had not been there, my divine countess would have been the queen of the ball; none of the younger men had eyes for any one else. I was the twelfth on her list, and she danced every quadrille. The other women were furious. She must have enjoyed herself, if ever creature did! It is a true saying that there is no more beautiful sight than a frigate in full sail, a galloping horse, or a woman dancing.”
“So the wheel turns,” said Vautrin; “yesterday night at a duchess’ ball, this morning in a money-lender’s office, on the lowest rung of the ladder–just like a Parisienne! If their husbands cannot afford to pay for their frantic extravagance, they will sell themselves. Or if they cannot do that, they will tear out their mothers’ hearts to find something to pay for their splendor. They will turn the world upside down. Just a Parisienne through and through!”
Father Goriot’s face, which had shone at the student’s words like the sun on a bright day, clouded over all at once at this cruel speech of Vautrin’s.
“Well,” said Mme. Vauquer, “but where is your adventure? Did you speak to her? Did you ask her if she wanted to study law?”
“She did not see me,” said Eugene. “But only think of meeting one of the prettiest women in Paris in the Rue des Gres at nine o’clock! She could not have reached home after the ball till two o’clock this morning. Wasn’t it queer? There is no place like Paris for this sort of adventures.”
“Pshaw! much funnier things than that happen here!” exclaimed Vautrin.
Mlle. Taillefer had scarcely heeded the talk, she was so absorbed by the thought of the new attempt that she was about to make. Mme. Couture made a sign that it was time to go upstairs and dress; the two ladies went out, and Father Goriot followed their example.
“Well, did you see?” said Mme. Vauquer, addressing Vautrin and the rest of the circle. “He is ruining himself for those women, that is plain.”
“Nothing will ever make me believe that that beautiful Comtesse de Restaud is anything to Father Goriot,” cried the student.
“Well, and if you don’t,” broke in Vautrin, “we are not set on convincing you. You are too young to know Paris thoroughly yet; later on you will find out that there are what we call men with a passion––”
Mlle. Michonneau gave Vautrin a quick glance at these words. They seemed to be like the sound of a trumpet to a trooper’s horse. “Aha!" said Vautrin, stopping in his speech to give her a searching glance, “so we have had our little experiences, have we?”
The old maid lowered her eyes like a nun who sees a statue.
“Well,” he went on, “when folk of that kind get a notion into their heads, they cannot drop it. They must drink the water from some particular spring–it is stagnant as often as not; but they will sell their wives and families, they will sell their own souls to the devil to get it. For some this spring is play, or the stock-exchange, or music, or a collection of pictures or insects; for others it is some woman who can give them the dainties they like. You might offer these last all the women on earth–they would turn up their noses; they will have the only one who can gratify their passion. It often happens that the woman does not care for them at all, and treats them cruelly; they buy their morsels of satisfaction very dear; but no matter, the fools are never tired of it; they will take their last blanket to the pawnbroker’s to give their last five-franc piece to her. Father Goriot here is one of that sort. He is discreet, so the Countess exploits him–just the way of the gay world. The poor old fellow thinks of her and of nothing else. In all other respects you see he is a stupid animal; but get him on that subject, and his eyes sparkle like diamonds. That secret is not difficult to guess. He took some plate himself this morning to the melting-pot, and I saw him at Daddy Gobseck’s in the Rue des Gres. And now, mark what follows–he came back here, and gave a letter for the Comtesse de Restaud to that noodle of a Christophe, who showed us the address; there was a receipted bill inside it. It is clear that it was an urgent matter if the Countess also went herself to the old money lender. Father Goriot has financed her handsomely. There is no need to tack a tale together; the thing is self-evident. So that shows you, sir student, that all the time your Countess was smiling, dancing, flirting, swaying her peach-flower crowned head, with her gown gathered into her hand, her slippers were pinching her, as they say; she was thinking of her protested bills, or her lover’s protested bills.”
“You have made me wild to know the truth,” cried Eugene; “I will go to call on Mme. de Restaud to-morrow.”
“Yes,” echoed Poiret; “you must go and call on Mme. de Restaud.”
“And perhaps you will find Father Goriot there, who will take payment for the assistance he politely rendered.”
Eugene looked disgusted. “Why, then, this Paris of yours is a slough.”
“And an uncommonly queer slough, too,” replied Vautrin. “The mud splashes you as you drive through it in your carriage–you are a respectable person; you go afoot and are splashed–you are a scoundrel. You are so unlucky as to walk off with something or other belonging to somebody else, and they exhibit you as a curiosity in the Place du Palais-de-Justice; you steal a million, and you are pointed out in every salon as a model of virtue. And you pay thirty millions for the police and the courts of justice, for the maintenance of law and order! A pretty slate of things it is!”
“What,” cried Mme. Vauquer, “has Father Goriot really melted down his silver posset-dish?”
“There were two turtle-doves on the lid, were there not?” asked Eugene.
“Yes, that there were.”
“Then, was he fond of it?” said Eugene. “He cried while he was breaking up the cup and plate. I happened to see him by accident.”
“It was dear to him as his own life,” answered the widow.
“There! you see how infatuated the old fellow is!” cried Vautrin. “The woman yonder can coax the soul out of him.”
The student went up to his room. Vautrin went out, and a few moments later Mme. Couture and Victorine drove away in a cab which Sylvie had called for them. Poiret gave his arm to Mlle. Michonneau, and they went together to spend the two sunniest hours of the day in the Jardin des Plantes.
“Well, those two are as good as married,” was the portly Sylvie’s comment. “They are going out together to-day for the first time. They are such a couple of dry sticks that if they happen to strike against each other they will draw sparks like flint and steel.”
“Keep clear of Mlle. Michonneau’s shawl, then,” said Mme. Vauquer, laughing; “it would flare up like tinder.”
At four o’clock that evening, when Goriot came in, he saw, by the light of two smoky lamps, that Victorine’s eyes were red. Mme. Vauquer was listening to the history of the visit made that morning to M. Taillefer; it had been made in vain. Taillefer was tired of the annual application made by his daughter and her elderly friend; he gave them a personal interview in order to arrive at an understanding with them.
“My dear lady,” said Mme. Couture, addressing Mme. Vauquer, “just imagine it; he did not even ask Victorine to sit down, she was standing the whole time. He said to me quite coolly, without putting himself in a passion, that we might spare ourselves the trouble of going there; that the young lady (he would not call her his daughter) was injuring her cause by importuning him (importuning! once a year, the wretch!); that as Victorine’s mother had nothing when he married her, Victorine ought not to expect anything from him; in fact, he said the most cruel things, that made the poor child burst out crying. The little thing threw herself at her father’s feet and spoke up bravely; she said that she only persevered in her visits for her mother’s sake; that she would obey him without a murmur, but that she begged him to read her poor dead mother’s farewell letter. She took it up and gave it to him, saying the most beautiful things in the world, most beautifully expressed; I do not know where she learned them; God must have put them into her head, for the poor child was inspired to speak so nicely that it made me cry like a fool to hear her talk. And what do you think the monster was doing all the time? Cutting his nails! He took the letter that poor Mme. Taillefer had soaked with tears, and flung it on to the chimney-piece. ’That is all right,’ he said. He held out his hands to raise his daughter, but she covered them with kisses, and he drew them away again. Scandalous, isn’t it? And his great booby of a son came in and took no notice of his sister.”
“What inhuman wretches they must be!” said Father Goriot.
“And then they both went out of the room,” Mme. Couture went on, without heeding the worthy vermicelli maker’s exclamation; “father and son bowed to me, and asked me to excuse them on account of urgent business! That is the history of our call. Well, he has seen his daughter at any rate. How he can refuse to acknowledge her I cannot think, for they are as alike as two peas.”
The boarders dropped in one after another, interchanging greetings and empty jokes that certain classes of Parisians regard as humorous and witty. Dulness is their prevailing ingredient, and the whole point consists in mispronouncing a word or a gesture. This kind of argot is always changing. The essence of the jest consists in some catchword suggested by a political event, an incident in the police courts, a street song, or a bit of burlesque at some theatre, and forgotten in a month. Anything and everything serves to keep up a game of battledore and shuttlecock with words and ideas. The diorama, a recent invention, which carried an optical illusion a degree further than panoramas, had given rise to a mania among art students for ending every word with rama. The Maison Vauquer had caught the infection from a young artist among the boarders.
“Well, Monsieur-r-r Poiret,” said the employe from the Museum, “how is your health-orama?” Then, without waiting for an answer, he turned to Mme. Couture and Victorine with a “Ladies, you seem melancholy.”
“Is dinner ready?” cried Horace Bianchon, a medical student, and a friend of Rastignac’s; “my stomach is sinking usque ad talones.”
“There is an uncommon frozerama outside,” said Vautrin. “Make room there, Father Goriot! Confound it, your foot covers the whole front of the stove.”
“Illustrious M. Vautrin,” put in Bianchon, “why do you say frozerama? It is incorrect; it should be frozenrama.”
“No, it shouldn’t,” said the official from the Museum; ’frozerama is right by the same rule that you say ’My feet are froze.’”
“Here is his Excellency the Marquis de Rastignac, Doctor of the Law of Contraries,” cried Bianchon, seizing Eugene by the throat, and almost throttling him.
“Hallo there! hallo!”
Mlle. Michonneau came noiselessly in, bowed to the rest of the party, and took her place beside the three women without saying a word.
“That old bat always makes me shudder,” said Bianchon in a low voice, indicating Mlle. Michonneau to Vautrin. “I have studied Gall’s system, and I am sure she has the bump of Judas.”
“Then you have seen a case before?” said Vautrin.
“Who has not?” answered Bianchon. “Upon my word, that ghastly old maid looks just like one of the long worms that will gnaw a beam through, give them time enough.”
“That is the way, young man,” returned he of the forty years and the dyed whiskers:
“The rose has lived the life of a rose– A morning’s space.”
“Aha! here is a magnificent soupe-au-rama,” cried Poiret as Christophe came in bearing the soup with cautious heed.
“I beg your pardon, sir,” said Mme. Vauquer; “it is soupe aux choux.”
All the young men roared with laughter.
“Had you there, Poiret!”
“Poir-r-r-rette! she had you there!”
“Score two points to Mamma Vauquer,” said Vautrin.
“Did any of you notice the fog this morning?” asked the official.
“It was a frantic fog,” said Bianchon, “a fog unparalleled, doleful, melancholy, sea-green, asthmatical–a Goriot of a fog!”
“A Goriorama,” said the art student, “because you couldn’t see a thing in it.”
“Hey! Milord Gaoriotte, they air talking about yoo-o-ou!”
Father Goriot, seated at the lower end of the table, close to the door through which the servant entered, raised his face; he had smelt at a scrap of bread that lay under his table napkin, an old trick acquired in his commercial capacity, that still showed itself at times.
“Well,” Madame Vauquer cried in sharp tones, that rang above the rattle of spoons and plates and the sound of other voices, “and is there anything the matter with the bread?”
“Nothing whatever, madame,” he answered; “on the contrary, it is made of the best quality of corn; flour from Etampes.”
“How could you tell?” asked Eugene.
“By the color, by the flavor.”
“You knew the flavor by the smell, I suppose,” said Mme. Vauquer. “You have grown so economical, you will find out how to live on the smell of cooking at last.”
“Take out a patent for it, then,” cried the Museum official; “you would make a handsome fortune.”
“Never mind him,” said the artist; “he does that sort of thing to delude us into thinking that he was a vermicelli maker.”
“Your nose is a corn-sampler, it appears?” inquired the official.
“Corn what?” asked Bianchon.
The eight responses came like a rolling fire from every part of the room, and the laughter that followed was the more uproarious because poor Father Goriot stared at the others with a puzzled look, like a foreigner trying to catch the meaning of words in a language which he does not understand.
“Corn? . . .” he said, turning to Vautrin, his next neighbor.
“Corn on your foot, old man!” said Vautrin, and he drove Father Goriot’s cap down over his eyes by a blow on the crown.
The poor old man thus suddenly attacked was for a moment too bewildered to do anything. Christophe carried off his plate, thinking that he had finished his soup, so that when Goriot had pushed back his cap from his eyes his spoon encountered the table. Every one burst out laughing. “You are a disagreeable joker, sir,” said the old man, “and if you take any further liberties with me––”
“Well, what then, old boy?” Vautrin interrupted.
“Well, then, you shall pay dearly for it some day––”
“Down below, eh?” said the artist, “in the little dark corner where they put naughty boys.”
“Well, mademoiselle,” Vautrin said, turning to Victorine, “you are eating nothing. So papa was refractory, was he?”
“A monster!” said Mme. Couture.
“Mademoiselle might make application for aliment pending her suit; she is not eating anything. Eh! eh! just see how Father Goriot is staring at Mlle. Victorine.”
The old man had forgotten his dinner, he was so absorbed in gazing at the poor girl; the sorrow in her face was unmistakable,–the slighted love of a child whose father would not recognize her.
“We are mistaken about Father Goriot, my dear boy,” said Eugene in a low voice. “He is not an idiot, nor wanting in energy. Try your Gall system on him, and let me know what you think. I saw him crush a silver dish last night as if it had been made of wax; there seems to be something extraordinary going on in his mind just now, to judge by his face. His life is so mysterious that it must be worth studying. Oh! you may laugh, Bianchon; I am not joking.”
“The man is a subject, is he?” said Bianchon; “all right! I will dissect him, if he will give me the chance.”
“No; feel his bumps.”
“Hm!–his stupidity might perhaps be contagious.”
The next day Rastignac dressed himself very elegantly, and about three o’clock in the afternoon went to call on Mme. de Restaud. On the way thither he indulged in the wild intoxicating dreams which fill a young head so full of delicious excitement. Young men at his age take no account of obstacles nor of dangers; they see success in every direction; imagination has free play, and turns their lives into a romance; they are saddened or discouraged by the collapse of one of the visionary schemes that have no existence save in their heated fancy. If youth were not ignorant and timid, civilization would be impossible.
Eugene took unheard-of pains to keep himself in a spotless condition, but on his way through the streets he began to think about Mme. de Restaud and what he should say to her. He equipped himself with wit, rehearsed repartees in the course of an imaginary conversation, and prepared certain neat speeches a la Talleyrand, conjuring up a series of small events which should prepare the way for the declaration on which he had based his future; and during these musings the law student was bespattered with mud, and by the time he reached the Palais Royal he was obliged to have his boots blacked and his trousers brushed.
“If I were rich,” he said, as he changed the five-franc piece he had brought with him in case anything might happen, “I would take a cab, then I could think at my ease.”
At last he reached the Rue du Helder, and asked for the Comtesse de Restaud. He bore the contemptuous glances of the servants, who had seen him cross the court on foot, with the cold fury of a man who knows that he will succeed some day. He understood the meaning of their glances at once, for he had felt his inferiority as soon as he entered the court, where a smart cab was waiting. All the delights of life in Paris seemed to be implied by this visible and manifest sign of luxury and extravagance. A fine horse, in magnificent harness, was pawing the ground, and all at once the law student felt out of humor with himself. Every compartment in his brain which he had thought to find so full of wit was bolted fast; he grew positively stupid. He sent up his name to the Countess, and waited in the ante-chamber, standing on one foot before a window that looked out upon the court; mechanically he leaned his elbow against the sash, and stared before him. The time seemed long; he would have left the house but for the southern tenacity of purpose which works miracles when it is single-minded.
“Madame is in her boudoir, and cannot see any one at present, sir," said the servant. “She gave me no answer; but if you will go into the dining-room, there is some one already there.”
Rastignac was impressed with a sense of the formidable power of the lackey who can accuse or condemn his masters by a word; he coolly opened the door by which the man had just entered the ante-chamber, meaning, no doubt, to show these insolent flunkeys that he was familiar with the house; but he found that he had thoughtlessly precipitated himself into a small room full of dressers, where lamps were standing, and hot-water pipes, on which towels were being dried; a dark passage and a back staircase lay beyond it. Stifled laughter from the ante-chamber added to his confusion.
“This way to the drawing-room, sir,” said the servant, with the exaggerated respect which seemed to be one more jest at his expense.
Eugene turned so quickly that he stumbled against a bath. By good luck, he managed to keep his hat on his head, and saved it from immersion in the water; but just as he turned, a door opened at the further end of the dark passage, dimly lighted by a small lamp. Rastignac heard voices and the sound of a kiss; one of the speakers was Mme. de Restaud, the other was Father Goriot. Eugene followed the servant through the dining-room into the drawing-room; he went to a window that looked out into the courtyard, and stood there for a while. He meant to know whether this Goriot was really the Goriot that he knew. His heart beat unwontedly fast; he remembered Vautrin’s hideous insinuations. A well-dressed young man suddenly emerged from the room almost as Eugene entered it, saying impatiently to the servant who stood at the door: “I am going, Maurice. Tell Madame la Comtesse that I waited more than half an hour for her.”
Whereupon this insolent being, who, doubtless, had a right to be insolent, sang an Italian trill, and went towards the window where Eugene was standing, moved thereto quite as much by a desire to see the student’s face as by a wish to look out into the courtyard.
“But M. le Comte had better wait a moment longer; madame is disengaged,” said Maurice, as he returned to the ante-chamber.
Just at that moment Father Goriot appeared close to the gate; he had emerged from a door at the foot of the back staircase. The worthy soul was preparing to open his umbrella regardless of the fact that the great gate had opened to admit a tilbury, in which a young man with a ribbon at his button-hole was seated. Father Goriot had scarcely time to start back and save himself. The horse took fright at the umbrella, swerved, and dashed forward towards the flight of steps. The young man looked round in annoyance, saw Father Goriot, and greeted him as he went out with constrained courtesy, such as people usually show to a money-lender so long as they require his services, or the sort of respect they feel it necessary to show for some one whose reputation has been blown upon, so that they blush to acknowledge his acquaintance. Father Goriot gave him a little friendly nod and a good-natured smile. All this happened with lightning speed. Eugene was so deeply interested that he forgot that he was not alone till he suddenly heard the Countess’ voice.
“Oh! Maxime, were you going away?” she said reproachfully, with a shade of pique in her manner. The Countess had not seen the incident nor the entrance of the tilbury. Rastignac turned abruptly and saw her standing before him, coquettishly dressed in a loose white cashmere gown with knots of rose-colored ribbon here and there; her hair was carelessly coiled about her head, as is the wont of Parisian women in the morning; there was a soft fragrance about her–doubtless she was fresh from a bath;–her graceful form seemed more flexible, her beauty more luxuriant. Her eyes glistened. A young man can see everything at a glance; he feels the radiant influence of woman as a plant discerns and absorbs its nutriment from the air; he did not need to touch her hands to feel their cool freshness. He saw faint rose tints through the cashmere of the dressing gown; it had fallen slightly open, giving glimpses of a bare throat, on which the student’s eyes rested. The Countess had no need of the adventitious aid of corsets; her girdle defined the outlines of her slender waist; her throat was a challenge to love; her feet, thrust into slippers, were daintily small. As Maxime took her hand and kissed it, Eugene became aware of Maxime’s existence, and the Countess saw Eugene.
“Oh! is that you M. de Rastignac? I am very glad to see you,” she said, but there was something in her manner that a shrewd observer would have taken as a hint to depart.
Maxime, as the Countess Anastasie had called the young man with the haughty insolence of bearing, looked from Eugene to the lady, and from the lady to Eugene; it was sufficiently evident that he wished to be rid of the latter. An exact and faithful rendering of the glance might be given in the words: “Look here, my dear; I hope you intend to send this little whipper-snapper about his business.”
The Countess consulted the young man’s face with an intent submissiveness that betrays all the secrets of a woman’s heart, and Rastignac all at once began to hate him violently. To begin with, the sight of the fair carefully arranged curls on the other’s comely head had convinced him that his own crop was hideous; Maxime’s boots, moreover, were elegant and spotless, while his own, in spite of all his care, bore some traces of his recent walk; and, finally, Maxime’s overcoat fitted the outline of his figure gracefully, he looked like a pretty woman, while Eugene was wearing a black coat at half-past two. The quick-witted child of the Charente felt the disadvantage at which he was placed beside this tall, slender dandy, with the clear gaze and the pale face, one of those men who would ruin orphan children without scruple. Mme. de Restaud fled into the next room without waiting for Eugene to speak; shaking out the skirts of her dressing-gown in her flight, so that she looked like a white butterfly, and Maxime hurried after her. Eugene, in a fury, followed Maxime and the Countess, and the three stood once more face to face by the hearth in the large drawing-room. The law student felt quite sure that the odious Maxime found him in the way, and even at the risk of displeasing Mme. de Restaud, he meant to annoy the dandy. It had struck him all at once that he had seen the young man before at Mme. de Beauseant’s ball; he guessed the relation between Maxime and Mme. de Restaud; and with the youthful audacity that commits prodigious blunders or achieves signal success, he said to himself, “This is my rival; I mean to cut him out.”
Rash resolve! He did not know that M. le Comte Maxime de Trailles would wait till he was insulted, so as to fire first and kill his man. Eugene was a sportsman and a good shot, but he had not yet hit the bulls’s eye twenty times out of twenty-two. The young Count dropped into a low chair by the hearth, took up the tongs, and made up the fire so violently and so sulkily, that Anastasie’s fair face suddenly clouded over. She turned to Eugene, with a cool, questioning glance that asked plainly, “Why do you not go?” a glance which well-bred people regard as a cue to make their exit.
Eugene assumed an amiable expression.
“Madame,” he began, “I hastened to call upon you––”
He stopped short. The door opened, and the owner of the tilbury suddenly appeared. He had left his hat outside, and did not greet the Countess; he looked meditatively at Rastignac, and held out his hand to Maxime with a cordial “Good morning,” that astonished Eugene not a little. The young provincial did not understand the amenities of a triple alliance.
“M. de Restaud,” said the Countess, introducing her husband to the law student.
Eugene bowed profoundly.
“This gentleman,” she continued, presenting Eugene to her husband, “is M. de Rastignac; he is related to Mme. la Vicomtesse de Beauseant through the Marcillacs; I had the pleasure of meeting him at her last ball.”
Related to Mme. la Vicomtesse de Beauseant through the Marcillacs!These words, on which the countess threw ever so slight an emphasis, by reason of the pride that the mistress of a house takes in showing that she only receives people of distinction as visitors in her house, produced a magical effect. The Count’s stiff manner relaxed at once as he returned the student’s bow.
“Delighted to have an opportunity of making your acquaintance,” he said.
Maxime de Trailles himself gave Eugene an uneasy glance, and suddenly dropped his insolent manner. The mighty name had all the power of a fairy’s wand; those closed compartments in the southern brain flew open again; Rastignac’s carefully drilled faculties returned. It was as if a sudden light had pierced the obscurity of this upper world of Paris, and he began to see, though everything was indistinct as yet. Mme. Vauquer’s lodging-house and Father Goriot were very far remote from his thoughts.
“I thought that the Marcillacs were extinct,” the Comte de Restaud said, addressing Eugene.
“Yes, they are extinct,” answered the law student. “My great-uncle, the Chevalier de Rastignac, married the heiress of the Marcillac family. They had only one daughter, who married the Marechal de Clarimbault, Mme. de Beauseant’s grandfather on the mother’s side. We are the younger branch of the family, and the younger branch is all the poorer because my great-uncle, the Vice-Admiral, lost all that he had in the King’s service. The Government during the Revolution refused to admit our claims when the Compagnie des Indes was liquidated.”
“Was not your great-uncle in command of the Vengeur before 1789?”
“Then he would be acquainted with my grandfather, who commanded the Warwick.”
Maxime looked at Mme. de Restaud and shrugged his shoulders, as who should say, “If he is going to discuss nautical matters with that fellow, it is all over with us.” Anastasie understood the glance that M. de Trailles gave her. With a woman’s admirable tact, she began to smile and said:
“Come with me, Maxime; I have something to say to you. We will leave you two gentlemen to sail in company on board the Warwick and the Vengeur.”
She rose to her feet and signed to Maxime to follow her, mirth and mischief in her whole attitude, and the two went in the direction of the boudoir. The morganatic couple (to use a convenient German expression which has no exact equivalent) had reached the door, when the Count interrupted himself in his talk with Eugene.
“Anastasie!” he cried pettishly, “just stay a moment, dear; you know very well that––”
“I am coming back in a minute,” she interrupted; “I have a commission for Maxime to execute, and I want to tell him about it.”
She came back almost immediately. She had noticed the inflection in her husband’s voice, and knew that it would not be safe to retire to the boudoir; like all women who are compelled to study their husbands’ characters in order to have their own way, and whose business it is to know exactly how far they can go without endangering a good understanding, she was very careful to avoid petty collisions in domestic life. It was Eugene who had brought about this untoward incident; so the Countess looked at Maxime and indicated the law student with an air of exasperation. M. de Trailles addressed the Count, the Countess, and Eugene with the pointed remark, “You are busy, I do not want to interrupt you; good-day,” and he went.
“Just wait a moment, Maxime!” the Count called after him.
“Come and dine with us,” said the Countess, leaving Eugene and her husband together once more. She followed Maxime into the little drawing-room, where they sat together sufficiently long to feel sure that Rastignac had taken his leave.
The law student heard their laughter, and their voices, and the pauses in their talk; he grew malicious, exerted his conversational powers for M. de Restaud, flattered him, and drew him into discussions, to the end that he might see the Countess again and discover the nature of her relations with Father Goriot. This Countess with a husband and a lover, for Maxime clearly was her lover, was a mystery. What was the secret tie that bound her to the old tradesman? This mystery he meant to penetrate, hoping by its means to gain a sovereign ascendency over this fair typical Parisian.
“Anastasie!” the Count called again to his wife.
“Poor Maxime!” she said, addressing the young man. “Come, we must resign ourselves. This evening––”
“I hope, Nasie,” he said in her ear, “that you will give orders not to admit that youngster, whose eyes light up like live coals when he looks at you. He will make you a declaration, and compromise you, and then you will compel me to kill him.”
“Are you mad, Maxime?” she said. “A young lad of a student is, on the contrary, a capital lightning-conductor; is not that so? Of course, I mean to make Restaud furiously jealous of him.”
Maxime burst out laughing, and went out, followed by the Countess, who stood at the window to watch him into his carriage; he shook his whip, and made his horse prance. She only returned when the great gate had been closed after him.
“What do you think, dear?” cried the Count, her husband, “this gentleman’s family estate is not far from Verteuil, on the Charente; his great-uncle and my grandfather were acquainted.”
“Delighted to find that we have acquaintances in common,” said the Countess, with a preoccupied manner.
“More than you think,” said Eugene, in a low voice.
“What do you mean?” she asked quickly.
“Why, only just now,” said the student, “I saw a gentleman go out at the gate, Father Goriot, my next door neighbor in the house where I am lodging.”
At the sound of this name, and the prefix that embellished it, the Count, who was stirring the fire, let the tongs fall as though they had burned his fingers, and rose to his feet.
“Sir,” he cried, “you might have called him ’Monsieur Goriot’!”
The Countess turned pale at first at the sight of her husband’s vexation, then she reddened; clearly she was embarrassed, her answer was made in a tone that she tried to make natural, and with an air of assumed carelessness:
“You could not know any one who is dearer to us both . . .”
She broke off, glanced at the piano as if some fancy had crossed her mind, and asked, “Are you fond of music, M. de Rastignac?”
“Exceedingly,” answered Eugene, flushing, and disconcerted by a dim suspicion that he had somehow been guilty of a clumsy piece of folly.
“Do you sing?” she cried, going to the piano, and, sitting down before it, she swept her fingers over the keyboard from end to end. R-r-r-rah!
The Comte de Restaud walked to and fro.
“That is a pity; you are without one great means of success. –Ca-ro, ca-a-ro, ca-a-a-ro, non du-bi-ta-re,” sang the Countess.
Eugene had a second time waved a magic wand when he uttered Goriot’s name, but the effect seemed to be entirely opposite to that produced by the formula “related to Mme. de Beauseant.” His position was not unlike that of some visitor permitted as a favor to inspect a private collection of curiosities, when by inadvertence he comes into collision with a glass case full of sculptured figures, and three or four heads, imperfectly secured, fall at the shock. He wished the earth would open and swallow him. Mme. de Restaud’s expression was reserved and chilly, her eyes had grown indifferent, and sedulously avoided meeting those of the unlucky student of law.
“Madame,” he said, “you wish to talk with M. de Restaud; permit me to wish you good-day––”
The Countess interrupted him by a gesture, saying hastily, “Whenever you come to see us, both M. de Restaud and I shall be delighted to see you.”
Eugene made a profound bow and took his leave, followed by M. de Restaud, who insisted, in spite of his remonstrances, on accompanying him into the hall.
“Neither your mistress nor I are at home to that gentleman when he calls,” the Count said to Maurice.
As Eugene set foot on the steps, he saw that it was raining.
“Come,” said he to himself, “somehow I have just made a mess of it, I do not know how. And now I am going to spoil my hat and coat into the bargain. I ought to stop in my corner, grind away at law, and never look to be anything but a boorish country magistrate. How can I go into society, when to manage properly you want a lot of cabs, varnished boots, gold watch chains, and all sorts of things; you have to wear white doeskin gloves that cost six francs in the morning, and primrose kid gloves every evening? A fig for that old humbug of a Goriot!”
When he reached the street door, the driver of a hackney coach, who had probably just deposited a wedding party at their door, and asked nothing better than a chance of making a little money for himself without his employer’s knowledge, saw that Eugene had no umbrella, remarked his black coat, white waistcoat, yellow gloves, and varnished boots, and stopped and looked at him inquiringly. Eugene, in the blind desperation that drives a young man to plunge deeper and deeper into an abyss, as if he might hope to find a fortunate issue in its lowest depths, nodded in reply to the driver’s signal, and stepped into the cab; a few stray petals of orange blossom and scraps of wire bore witness to its recent occupation by a wedding party.
“Where am I to drive, sir?” demanded the man, who, by this time, had taken off his white gloves.
“Confound it!” Eugene said to himself, “I am in for it now, and at least I will not spend cab-hire for nothing!–Drive to the Hotel Beauseant,” he said aloud.
“Which?” asked the man, a portentous word that reduced Eugene to confusion. This young man of fashion, species incerta, did not know that there were two Hotels Beauseant; he was not aware how rich he was in relations who did not care about him.
“The Vicomte de Beauseant, Rue––”
“De Grenelle,” interrupted the driver, with a jerk of his head. “You see, there are the hotels of the Marquis and Comte de Beauseant in the Rue Saint-Dominique,” he added, drawing up the step.
“I know all about that,” said Eugene, severely.–"Everybody is laughing at me to-day, it seems!” he said to himself, as he deposited his hat on the opposite seat. “This escapade will cost me a king’s ransom, but, at any rate, I shall call on my so-called cousin in a thoroughly aristocratic fashion. Goriot has cost me ten francs already, the old scoundrel. My word! I will tell Mme. de Beauseant about my adventure; perhaps it may amuse her. Doubtless she will know the secret of the criminal relation between that handsome woman and the old rat without a tail. It would be better to find favor in my cousin’s eyes than to come in contact with that shameless woman, who seems to me to have very expensive tastes. Surely the beautiful Vicomtesse’s personal interest would turn the scale for me, when the mere mention of her name produces such an effect. Let us look higher. If you set yourself to carry the heights of heaven, you must face God.”
The innumerable thoughts that surged through his brain might be summed up in these phrases. He grew calmer, and recovered something of his assurance as he watched the falling rain. He told himself that though he was about to squander two of the precious five-franc pieces that remained to him, the money was well laid out in preserving his coat, boots, and hat; and his cabman’s cry of “Gate, if you please,” almost put him in spirits. A Swiss, in scarlet and gold, appeared, the great door groaned on its hinges, and Rastignac, with sweet satisfaction, beheld his equipage pass under the archway and stop before the flight of steps beneath the awning. The driver, in a blue-and-red greatcoat, dismounted and let down the step. As Eugene stepped out of the cab, he heard smothered laughter from the peristyle. Three or four lackeys were making merry over the festal appearance of the vehicle. In another moment the law student was enlightened as to the cause of their hilarity; he felt the full force of the contrast between his equipage and one of the smartest broughams in Paris; a coachman, with powdered hair, seemed to find it difficult to hold a pair of spirited horses, who stood chafing the bit. In Mme. de Restaud’s courtyard, in the Chaussee d’Antin, he had seen the neat turnout of a young man of six-and-twenty; in the Faubourg Saint-Germain he found the luxurious equipage of a man of rank; thirty thousand francs would not have purchased it.
“Who can be here?” said Eugene to himself. He began to understand, though somewhat tardily, that he must not expect to find many women in Paris who were not already appropriated, and that the capture of one of these queens would be likely to cost something more than bloodshed. “Confound it all! I expect my cousin also has her Maxime.”
He went up the steps, feeling that he was a blighted being. The glass door was opened for him; the servants were as solemn as jackasses under the curry comb. So far, Eugene had only been in the ballroom on the ground floor of the Hotel Beauseant; the fete had followed so closely on the invitation, that he had not had time to call on his cousin, and had therefore never seen Mme. de Beauseant’s apartments; he was about to behold for the first time a great lady among the wonderful and elegant surroundings that reveal her character and reflect her daily life. He was the more curious, because Mme. de Restaud’s drawing-room had provided him with a standard of comparison.
At half-past four the Vicomtesse de Beauseant was visible. Five minutes earlier she would not have received her cousin, but Eugene knew nothing of the recognized routine of various houses in Paris. He was conducted up the wide, white-painted, crimson-carpeted staircase, between the gilded balusters and masses of flowering plants, to Mme. de Beauseant’s apartments. He did not know the rumor current about Mme. de Beauseant, one of the biographies told, with variations, in whispers, every evening in the salons of Paris.
For three years past her name had been spoken of in connection with that of one of the most wealthy and distinguished Portuguese nobles, the Marquis d’Ajuda-Pinto. It was one of those innocent liaisons which possess so much charm for the two thus attached to each other that they find the presence of a third person intolerable. The Vicomte de Beauseant, therefore, had himself set an example to the rest of the world by respecting, with as good a grace as might be, this morganatic union. Any one who came to call on the Vicomtesse in the early days of this friendship was sure to find the Marquis d’Ajuda-Pinto there. As, under the circumstances, Mme. de Beauseant could not very well shut her door against these visitors, she gave them such a cold reception, and showed so much interest in the study of the ceiling, that no one could fail to understand how much he bored her; and when it became known in Paris that Mme. de Beauseant was bored by callers between two and four o’clock, she was left in perfect solitude during that interval. She went to the Bouffons or to the Opera with M. de Beauseant and M. d’Ajuda-Pinto; and M. de Beauseant, like a well-bred man of the world, always left his wife and the Portuguese as soon as he had installed them. But M. d’Ajuda-Pinto must marry, and a Mlle. de Rochefide was the young lady. In the whole fashionable world there was but one person who as yet knew nothing of the arrangement, and that was Mme. de Beauseant. Some of her friends had hinted at the possibility, and she had laughed at them, believing that envy had prompted those ladies to try to make mischief. And now, though the bans were about to be published, and although the handsome Portuguese had come that day to break the news to the Vicomtesse, he had not found courage as yet to say one word about his treachery. How was it? Nothing is doubtless more difficult than the notification of an ultimatum of this kind. There are men who feel more at their ease when they stand up before another man who threatens their lives with sword or pistol than in the presence of a woman who, after two hours of lamentations and reproaches, falls into a dead swoon and requires salts. At this moment, therefore, M. d’Ajuda-Pinto was on thorns, and anxious to take his leave. He told himself that in some way or other the news would reach Mme. de Beauseant; he would write, it would be much better to do it by letter, and not to utter the words that should stab her to the heart.
So when the servant announced M. Eugene de Rastignac, the Marquis d’Ajuda-Pinto trembled with joy. To be sure, a loving woman shows even more ingenuity in inventing doubts of her lover than in varying the monotony of his happiness; and when she is about to be forsaken, she instinctively interprets every gesture as rapidly as Virgil’s courser detected the presence of his companion by snuffing the breeze. It was impossible, therefore, that Mme. de Beauseant should not detect that involuntary thrill of satisfaction; slight though it was, it was appalling in its artlessness.
Eugene had yet to learn that no one in Paris should present himself in any house without first making himself acquainted with the whole history of its owner, and of its owner’s wife and family, so that he may avoid making any of the terrible blunders which in Poland draw forth the picturesque exclamation, “Harness five bullocks to your cart!” probably because you will need them all to pull you out of the quagmire into which a false step has plunged you. If, down to the present day, our language has no name for these conversational disasters, it is probably because they are believed to be impossible, the publicity given in Paris to every scandal is so prodigious. After the awkward incident at Mme. de Restaud’s, no one but Eugene could have reappeared in his character of bullock-driver in Mme. de Beauseant’s drawing-room. But if Mme. de Restaud and M. de Trailles had found him horribly in the way, M. d’Ajuda hailed his coming with relief.
“Good-bye,” said the Portuguese, hurrying to the door, as Eugene made his entrance into a dainty little pink-and-gray drawing-room, where luxury seemed nothing more than good taste.
“Until this evening,” said Mme. de Beauseant, turning her head to give the Marquis a glance. “We are going to the Bouffons, are we not?”
“I cannot go,” he said, with his fingers on the door handle.
Mme. de Beauseant rose and beckoned to him to return. She did not pay the slightest attention to Eugene, who stood there dazzled by the sparkling marvels around him; he began to think that this was some story out of the Arabian Nights made real, and did not know where to hide himself, when the woman before him seemed to be unconscious of his existence. The Vicomtesse had raised the forefinger of her right hand, and gracefully signed to the Marquis to seat himself beside her. The Marquis felt the imperious sway of passion in her gesture; he came back towards her. Eugene watched him, not without a feeling of envy.
“That is the owner of the brougham!” he said to himself. “But is it necessary to have a pair of spirited horses, servants in livery, and torrents of gold to draw a glance from a woman here in Paris?”
The demon of luxury gnawed at his heart, greed burned in his veins, his throat was parched with the thirst of gold.
He had a hundred and thirty francs every quarter. His father, mother, brothers, sisters, and aunt did not spend two hundred francs a month among them. This swift comparison between his present condition and the aims he had in view helped to benumb his faculties.
“Why not?” the Vicomtesse was saying, as she smiled at the Portuguese. “Why cannot you come to the Italiens?”
“Affairs! I am to dine with the English Ambassador.”
“Throw him over.”
When a man once enters on a course of deception, he is compelled to add lie to lie. M. d’Ajuda therefore said, smiling, “Do you lay your commands on me?”
“That was what I wanted to have you say to me,” he answered, dissembling his feelings in a glance which would have reassured any other woman.
He took the Vicomtesse’s hand, kissed it, and went.
Eugene ran his fingers through his hair, and constrained himself to bow. He thought that now Mme. de Beauseant would give him her attention; but suddenly she sprang forward, rushed to a window in the gallery, and watched M. d’Ajuda step into his carriage; she listened to the order that he gave, and heard the Swiss repeat it to the coachman:
“To M. de Rochefide’s house.”
Those words, and the way in which M. d’Ajuda flung himself back in the carriage, were like a lightning flash and a thunderbolt for her; she walked back again with a deadly fear gnawing at her heart. The most terrible catastrophes only happen among the heights. The Vicomtesse went to her own room, sat down at a table, and took up a sheet of dainty notepaper.
“When, instead of dining with the English Ambassador," she wrote, “you go to the Rochefides, you owe me an explanation, which I am waiting to hear.”
She retraced several of the letters, for her hand was trembling so that they were indistinct; then she signed the note with an initial C for “Claire de Bourgogne,” and rang the bell.
“Jacques,” she said to the servant, who appeared immediately, “take this note to M. de Rochefide’s house at half-past seven and ask for the Marquis d’Ajuda. If M. d’Ajuda is there, leave the note without waiting for an answer; if he is not there, bring the note back to me.”
“Madame la Vicomtess, there is a visitor in the drawing-room.”
“Ah! yes, of course,” she said, opening the door.
Eugene was beginning to feel very uncomfortable, but at last the Vicomtesse appeared; she spoke to him, and the tremulous tones of her voice vibrated through his heart.
“Pardon me, monsieur,” she said; “I had a letter to write. Now I am quite at liberty.”
She scarcely knew what she was saying, for even as she spoke she thought, “Ah! he means to marry Mlle. de Rochefide? But is he still free? This evening the marriage shall be broken off, or else . . . But before to-morrow I shall know.”
“Cousin . . .” the student replied.
“Eh?” said the Countess, with an insolent glance that sent a cold shudder through Eugene; he understood what that “Eh?” meant; he had learned a great deal in three hours, and his wits were on the alert. He reddened:
“Madame . . .” he began; he hesitated a moment, and then went on. “Pardon me; I am in such need of protection that the nearest scrap of relationship could do me no harm.”
Mme. de Beauseant smiled but there was sadness in her smile; even now she felt forebodings of the coming pain, the air she breathed was heavy with the storm that was about to burst.
“If you knew how my family are situated,” he went on, “you would love to play the part of a beneficent fairy godmother who graciously clears the obstacles from the path of her protege.”
“Well, cousin,” she said, laughing, “and how can I be of service to you?”
“But do I know even that? I am distantly related to you, and this obscure and remote relationship is even now a perfect godsend to me. You have confused my ideas; I cannot remember the things that I meant to say to you. I know no one else here in Paris. . . . Ah! if I could only ask you to counsel me, ask you to look upon me as a poor child who would fain cling to the hem of your dress, who would lay down his life for you.”
“Would you kill a man for me?”
“Two,” said Eugene.
“You, child. Yes, you are a child,” she said, keeping back the tears that came to her eyes; “you would love sincerely.”
“Oh!” he cried, flinging up his head.
The audacity of the student’s answer interested the Vicomtesse in him. The southern brain was beginning to scheme for the first time. Between Mme. de Restaud’s blue boudoir and Mme. de Beauseant’s rose-colored drawing-room he had made a three years’ advance in a kind of law which is not a recognized study in Paris, although it is a sort of higher jurisprudence, and, when well understood, is a highroad to success of every kind.
“Ah! that is what I meant to say!” said Eugene. “I met Mme. de Restaud at your ball, and this morning I went to see her.
“You must have been very much in the way,” said Mme. de Beauseant, smiling as she spoke.
“Yes, indeed. I am a novice, and my blunders will set every one against me, if you do not give me your counsel. I believe that in Paris it is very difficult to meet with a young, beautiful, and wealthy woman of fashion who would be willing to teach me, what you women can explain so well–life. I shall find a M. de Trailles everywhere. So I have come to you to ask you to give me a key to a puzzle, to entreat you to tell me what sort of blunder I made this morning. I mentioned an old man––”
“Madame la Duchess de Langeais,” Jacques cut the student short; Eugene gave expression to his intense annoyance by a gesture.
“If you mean to succeed,” said the Vicomtesse in a low voice, “in the first place you must not be so demonstrative.”
“Ah! good morning, dear,” she continued, and rising and crossing the room, she grasped the Duchess’ hands as affectionately as if they had been sisters; the Duchess responded in the prettiest and most gracious way.
“Two intimate friends!” said Rastignac to himself. “Henceforward I shall have two protectresses; those two women are great friends, no doubt, and this newcomer will doubtless interest herself in her friend’s cousin.”
“To what happy inspiration do I owe this piece of good fortune, dear Antoinette?” asked Mme. de Beauseant.
“Well, I saw M. d’Ajuda-Pinto at M. de Rochefide’s door, so I thought that if I came I should find you alone.”
Mme. de Beauseant’s mouth did not tighten, her color did not rise, her expression did not alter, or rather, her brow seemed to clear as the Duchess uttered those deadly words.
“If I had known that you were engaged––” the speaker added, glancing at Eugene.
“This gentleman is M. Eugene de Rastignac, one of my cousins,” said the Vicomtesse. “Have you any news of General de Montriveau?” she continued. “Serizy told me yesterday that he never goes anywhere now; has he been to see you to-day?”
It was believed that the Duchess was desperately in love with M. de Montriveau, and that he was a faithless lover; she felt the question in her very heart, and her face flushed as she answered:
“He was at the Elysee yesterday.”
“Claire,” returned the Duchess, and hatred overflowed in the glances she threw at Mme. de Beauseant; “of course you know that M. d’Ajuda-Pinto is going to marry Mlle. de Rochefide; the bans will be published to-morrow.”
This thrust was too cruel; the Vicomtesse’s face grew white, but she answered, laughing, “One of those rumors that fools amuse themselves with. What should induce M. d’Ajuda to take one of the noblest names in Portugal to the Rochefides? The Rochefides were only ennobled yesterday.”
“But Bertha will have two hundred thousand livres a year, they say.”
“M. d’Ajuda is too wealthy to marry for money.”
“But, my dear, Mlle. de Rochefide is a charming girl.”
“And, as a matter of fact, he is dining with them to-day; the thing is settled. It is very surprising to me that you should know so little about it.”