By Honore de Balzac
Public Domain Books
“You would like to know who I really am, what I was, and what I do now,” Vautrin went on. “You want to know too much, youngster. Come! come! keep cool! You will hear more astonishing things than that. I have had my misfortunes. Just hear me out first, and you shall have your turn afterwards. Here is my past in three words. Who am I? Vautrin. What do I do? Just what I please. Let us change the subject. You want to know my character. I am good-natured to those who do me a good turn, or to those whose hearts speak to mine. These last may do anything they like with me; they may bruise my shins, and I shall not tell them to ’mind what they are about’; but, nom d’une pipe, the devil himself is not an uglier customer than I can be if people annoy me, or if I don’t happen to take to them; and you may just as well know at once that I think no more of killing a man than of that,” and he spat before him as he spoke. “Only when it is absolutely necessary to do so, I do my best to kill him properly. I am what you call an artist. I have read Benvenuto Cellini’s Memoirs, such as you see me; and, what is more, in Italian: A fine-spirited fellow he was! From him I learned to follow the example set us by Providence, who strikes us down at random, and to admire the beautiful whenever and wherever it is found. And, setting other questions aside, is it not a glorious part to play, when you pit yourself against mankind, and the luck is on your side? I have thought a good deal about the constitution of your present social Dis-order. A duel is downright childish, my boy! utter nonsense and folly! When one of two living men must be got out of the way, none but an idiot would leave chance to decide which it is to be; and in a duel it is a toss-up–heads or tails–and there you are! Now I, for instance, can hit the ace in the middle of a card five times running, send one bullet after another through the same hole, and at thirty-five paces, moreover! With that little accomplishment you might think yourself certain of killing your man, mightn’t you. Well, I have fired, at twenty paces, and missed, and the rogue who had never handled a pistol in his life–look here!"–(he unbuttoned his waistcoat and exposed his chest, covered, like a bear’s back, with a shaggy fell; the student gave a startled shudder)–"he was a raw lad, but he made his mark on me,” the extraordinary man went on, drawing Rastignac’s fingers over a deep scar on his breast. But that happened when I myself was a mere boy; I was one-and-twenty then (your age), and I had some beliefs left–in a woman’s love, and in a pack of rubbish that you will be over head and ears in directly. You and I were to have fought just now, weren’t we? You might have killed me. Suppose that I were put under the earth, where would you be? You would have to clear out of this, go to Switzerland, draw on papa’s purse –and he has none too much in it as it is. I mean to open your eyes to your real position, that is what I am going to do: but I shall do it from the point of view of a man who, after studying the world very closely, sees that there are but two alternatives–stupid obedience or revolt. I obey nobody; is that clear? Now, do you know how much you will want at the pace you are going? A million; and promptly, too, or that little head of ours will be swaying to and fro in the drag-nets at Saint-Cloud, while we are gone to find out whether or no there is a Supreme Being. I will put you in the way of that million.”
He stopped for a moment and looked at Eugene.
“Aha! you do not look so sourly at papa Vautrin now! At the mention of the million you look like a young girl when somebody has said, ’I will come for you this evening!’ and she betakes herself to her toilette as a cat licks its whiskers over a saucer of milk. All right. Come, now, let us go into the question, young man; all between ourselves, you know. We have a papa and mamma down yonder, a great-aunt, two sisters (aged eighteen and seventeen), two young brothers (one fifteen, and the other ten), that is about the roll-call of the crew. The aunt brings up the two sisters; the cure comes and teaches the boys Latin. Boiled chestnuts are oftener on the table than white bread. Papa makes a suit of clothes last a long while; if mamma has a different dress winter and summer, it is about as much as she has; the sisters manage as best they can. I know all about it; I have lived in the south.
“That is how things are at home. They send you twelve hundred francs a year, and the whole property only brings in three thousand francs all told. We have a cook and a manservant; papa is a baron, and we must keep up appearances. Then we have our ambitions; we are connected with the Beauseants, and we go afoot through the streets; we want to be rich, and we have not a penny; we eat Mme. Vauquer’s messes, and we like grand dinners in the Faubourg Saint-Germain; we sleep on a truckle-bed, and dream of a mansion! I do not blame you for wanting these things. What sort of men do the women run after? Men of ambition. Men of ambition have stronger frames, their blood is richer in iron, their hearts are warmer than those of ordinary men. Women feel that when their power is greatest, they look their best, and that those are their happiest hours; they like power in men, and prefer the strongest even if it is a power that may be their own destruction. I am going to make an inventory of your desires in order to put the question at issue before you. Here it is:–
“We are as hungry as a wolf, and those newly-cut teeth of ours are sharp; what are we to do to keep the pot boiling? In the first place, we have the Code to browse upon; it is not amusing, and we are none the wiser for it, but that cannot be helped. So far so good. We mean to make an advocate of ourselves with a prospect of one day being made President of a Court of Assize, when we shall send poor devils, our betters, to the galleys with a T.F.[*] on their shoulders, so that the rich may be convinced that they can sleep in peace. There is no fun in that; and you are a long while coming to it; for, to begin with, there are two years of nauseous drudgery in Paris, we see all the lollipops that we long for out of our reach. It is tiresome to want things and never to have them. If you were a pallid creature of the mollusk order, you would have nothing to fear, but it is different when you have the hot blood of a lion and are ready to get into a score of scrapes every day of your life. This is the ghastliest form of torture known in this inferno of God’s making, and you will give in to it. Or suppose that you are a good boy, drink nothing stronger than milk, and bemoan your hard lot; you, with your generous nature, will endure hardships that would drive a dog mad, and make a start, after long waiting, as deputy to some rascal or other in a hole of a place where the Government will fling you a thousand francs a year like the scraps that are thrown to the butcher’s dog. Bark at thieves, plead the cause of the rich, send men of heart to the guillotine, that is your work! Many thanks! If you have no influence, you may rot in your provincial tribunal. At thirty you will be a Justice with twelve hundred francs a year (if you have not flung off the gown for good before then). By the time you are forty you may look to marry a miller’s daughter, an heiress with some six thousand livres a year. Much obliged! If you have influence, you may possibly be a Public Prosecutor by the time you are thirty; with a salary of a thousand crowns, you could look to marry the mayor’s daughter. Some petty piece of political trickery, such as mistaking Villele for Manuel in a bulletin (the names rhyme, and that quiets your conscience), and you will probably be a Procureur General by the time you are forty, with a chance of becoming a deputy. Please to observe, my dear boy, that our conscience will have been a little damaged in the process, and that we shall endure twenty years of drudgery and hidden poverty, and that our sisters are wearing Dian’s livery. I have the honor to call your attention to another fact: to wit, that there are but twenty Procureurs Generaux at a time in all France, while there are some twenty thousand of you young men who aspire to that elevated position; that there are some mountebanks among you who would sell their family to screw their fortunes a peg higher. If this sort of thing sickens you, try another course. The Baron de Rastignac thinks of becoming an advocate, does he? There’s a nice prospect for you! Ten years of drudgery straight away. You are obliged to live at the rate of a thousand francs a month; you must have a library of law books, live in chambers, go into society, go down on your knees to ask a solicitor for briefs, lick the dust off the floor of the Palais de Justice. If this kind of business led to anything, I should not say no; but just give me the names of five advocates here in Paris who by the time that they are fifty are making fifty thousand francs a year! Bah! I would sooner turn pirate on the high seas than have my soul shrivel up inside me like that. How will you find the capital? There is but one way, marry a woman who has money. There is no fun in it. Have you a mind to marry? You hang a stone around your neck; for if you marry for money, what becomes of our exalted notions of honor and so forth? You might as well fly in the face of social conventions at once. Is it nothing to crawl like a serpent before your wife, to lick her mother’s feet, to descend to dirty actions that would sicken swine–faugh!–never mind if you at least make your fortune. But you will be as doleful as a dripstone if you marry for money. It is better to wrestle with men than to wrangle at home with your wife. You are at the crossway of the roads of life, my boy; choose your way.
[*] Travaux forces, forced labour.
“But you have chosen already. You have gone to see your cousin of Beauseant, and you have had an inkling of luxury; you have been to Mme. de Restaud’s house, and in Father Goriot’s daughter you have seen a glimpse of the Parisienne for the first time. That day you came back with a word written on your forehead. I knew it, I could read it–’Success!’ Yes, success at any price. ’Bravo,’ said I to myself, ’here is the sort of fellow for me.’ You wanted money. Where was it all to come from? You have drained your sisters’ little hoard (all brothers sponge more or less on their sisters). Those fifteen hundred francs of yours (got together, God knows how! in a country where there are more chestnuts than five-franc pieces) will slip away like soldiers after pillage. And, then, what will you do? Shall you begin to work? Work, or what you understand by work at this moment, means, for a man of Poiret’s calibre, an old age in Mamma Vauquer’s lodging-house. There are fifty thousand young men in your position at this moment, all bent as you are on solving one and the same problem –how to acquire a fortune rapidly. You are but a unit in that aggregate. You can guess, therefore, what efforts you must make, how desperate the struggle is. There are not fifty thousand good positions for you; you must fight and devour one another like spiders in a pot. Do you know how a man makes his way here? By brilliant genius or by skilful corruption. You must either cut your way through these masses of men like a cannon ball, or steal among them like a plague. Honesty is nothing to the purpose. Men bow before the power of genius; they hate it, and try to slander it, because genius does not divide the spoil; but if genius persists, they bow before it. To sum it all up in a phrase, if they fail to smother genius in the mud, they fall on their knees and worship it. Corruption is a great power in the world, and talent is scarce. So corruption is the weapon of superfluous mediocrity; you will be made to feel the point of it everywhere. You will see women who spend more than ten thousand francs a year on dress, while their husband’s salary (his whole income) is six thousand francs. You will see officials buying estates on twelve thousand francs a year. You will see women who sell themselves body and soul to drive in a carriage belonging to the son of a peer of France, who has a right to drive in the middle rank at Longchamp. You have seen that poor simpleton of a Goriot obliged to meet a bill with his daughter’s name at the back of it, though her husband has fifty thousand francs a year. I defy you to walk a couple of yards anywhere in Paris without stumbling on some infernal complication. I’ll bet my head to a head of that salad that you will stir up a hornet’s nest by taking a fancy to the first young, rich, and pretty woman you meet. They are all dodging the law, all at loggerheads with their husbands. If I were to begin to tell you all that vanity or necessity (virtue is not often mixed up in it, you may be sure), all that vanity and necessity drive them to do for lovers, finery, housekeeping, or children, I should never come to an end. So an honest man is the common enemy.
“But do you know what an honest man is? Here, in Paris, an honest man is the man who keeps his own counsel, and will not divide the plunder. I am not speaking now of those poor bond-slaves who do the work of the world without a reward for their toil–God Almighty’s outcasts, I call them. Among them, I grant you, is virtue in all the flower of its stupidity, but poverty is no less their portion. At this moment, I think I see the long faces those good folk would pull if God played a practical joke on them and stayed away at the Last Judgment.
“Well, then, if you mean to make a fortune quickly, you must either be rich to begin with, or make people believe that you are rich. It is no use playing here except for high stakes; once take to low play, it is all up with you. If in the scores of professions that are open to you, there are ten men who rise very rapidly, people are sure to call them thieves. You can draw your own conclusions. Such is life. It is no cleaner than a kitchen; it reeks like a kitchen; and if you mean to cook your dinner, you must expect to soil your hands; the real art is in getting them clean again, and therein lies the whole morality of our epoch. If I take this tone in speaking of the world to you, I have the right to do so; I know it well. Do you think that I am blaming it? Far from it; the world has always been as it is now. Moralists’ strictures will never change it. Mankind are not perfect, but one age is more or less hypocritical than another, and then simpletons say that its morality is high or low. I do not think that the rich are any worse than the poor; man is much the same, high or low, or wherever he is. In a million of these human cattle there may be half a score of bold spirits who rise above the rest, above the laws; I am one of them. And you, if you are cleverer than your fellows, make straight to your end, and hold your head high. But you must lay your account with envy and slander and mediocrity, and every man’s hand will be against you. Napoleon met with a Minister of War, Aubry by name, who all but sent him to the colonies.
“Feel your pulse. Think whether you can get up morning after morning, strengthened in yesterday’s purpose. In that case I will make you an offer that no one would decline. Listen attentively. You see, I have an idea of my own. My idea is to live a patriarchal life on a vast estate, say a hundred thousand acres, somewhere in the Southern States of America. I mean to be a planter, to have slaves, to make a few snug millions by selling my cattle, timber, and tobacco; I want to live an absolute monarch, and to do just as I please; to lead such a life as no one here in these squalid dens of lath and plaster ever imagines. I am a great poet; I do not write my poems, I feel them, and act them. At this moment I have fifty thousand francs, which might possibly buy forty negroes. I want two hundred thousand francs, because I want to have two hundred negroes to carry out my notions of the patriarachal life properly. Negroes, you see, are like a sort of family ready grown, and there are no inquisitive public prosecutors out there to interfere with you. That investment in ebony ought to mean three or four million francs in ten years’ time. If I am successful, no one will ask me who I am. I shall be Mr. Four Millions, an American citizen. I shall be fifty years old by then, and sound and hearty still; I shall enjoy life after my own fashion. In two words, if I find you an heiress with a million, will you give me two hundred thousand francs? Twenty per cent commission, eh? Is that too much? Your little wife will be very much in love with you. Once married, you will show signs of uneasiness and remorse; for a couple of weeks you will be depressed. Then, some night after sundry grimacings, comes the confession, between two kisses, ’Two hundred thousand francs of debts, my darling!’ This sort of farce is played every day in Paris, and by young men of the highest fashion. When a young wife has given her heart, she will not refuse her purse. Perhaps you are thinking that you will lose the money for good? Not you. You will make two hundred thousand francs again by some stroke of business. With your capital and your brains you should be able to accumulate as large a fortune as you could wish. Ergo, in six months you will have made your own fortune, and our old friend Vautrin’s, and made an amiable woman very happy, to say nothing of your people at home, who must blow on their fingers to warm them, in the winter, for lack of firewood. You need not be surprised at my proposal, nor at the demand I make. Forty-seven out of every sixty great matches here in Paris are made after just such a bargain as this. The Chamber of Notaries compels my gentleman to––”
“What must I do?” said Rastignac, eagerly interrupting Vautrin’s speech.
“Next to nothing,” returned the other, with a slight involuntary movement, the suppressed exultation of the angler when he feels a bite at the end of his line. “Follow me carefully! The heart of a girl whose life is wretched and unhappy is a sponge that will thirstily absorb love; a dry sponge that swells at the first drop of sentiment. If you pay court to a young girl whose existence is a compound of loneliness, despair, and poverty, and who has no suspicion that she will come into a fortune, good Lord! it is quint and quatorze at piquet; it is knowing the numbers of the lottery before-hand; it is speculating in the funds when you have news from a sure source; it is building up a marriage on an indestructible foundation. The girl may come in for millions, and she will fling them, as if they were so many pebbles, at your feet. ’Take it, my beloved! Take it, Alfred, Adolphe, Eugene!’ or whoever it was that showed his sense by sacrificing himself for her. And as for sacrificing himself, this is how I understand it. You sell a coat that is getting shabby, so that you can take her to the Cadran bleu, treat her to mushrooms on toast, and then go to the Ambigu-Comique in the evening; you pawn your watch to buy her a shawl. I need not remind you of the fiddle-faddle sentimentality that goes down so well with all women; you spill a few drops of water on your stationery, for instance; those are the tears you shed while far away from her. You look to me as if you were perfectly acquainted with the argot of the heart. Paris, you see, is like a forest in the New World, where you have to deal with a score of varieties of savages–Illinois and Hurons, who live on the proceed of their social hunting. You are a hunter of millions; you set your snares; you use lures and nets; there are many ways of hunting. Some hunt heiresses, others a legacy; some fish for souls, yet others sell their clients, bound hand and foot. Every one who comes back from the chase with his game-bag well filled meets with a warm welcome in good society. In justice to this hospitable part of the world, it must be said that you have to do with the most easy and good-natured of great cities. If the proud aristocracies of the rest of Europe refuse admittance among their ranks to a disreputable millionaire, Paris stretches out a hand to him, goes to his banquets, eats his dinners, and hobnobs with his infamy.”
“But where is such a girl to be found?” asked Eugene.
“Under your eyes; she is yours already.”
“And what was that you said?”
“She is in love with you already, your little Baronne de Rastignac!”
“She has not a penny,” Eugene continued, much mystified.
“Ah! now we are coming to it! Just another word or two, and it will all be clear enough. Her father, Taillefer, is an old scoundrel; it is said that he murdered one of his friends at the time of the Revolution. He is one of your comedians that sets up to have opinions of his own. He is a banker–senior partner in the house of Frederic Taillefer and Company. He has one son, and means to leave all he has to the boy, to the prejudice of Victorine. For my part, I don’t like to see injustice of this sort. I am like Don Quixote, I have a fancy for defending the weak against the strong. If it should please God to take that youth away from him, Taillefer would have only his daughter left; he would want to leave his money to some one or other; an absurd notion, but it is only human nature, and he is not likely to have any more children, as I know. Victorine is gentle and amiable; she will soon twist her father round her fingers, and set his head spinning like a German top by plying him with sentiment! She will be too much touched by your devotion to forget you; you will marry her. I mean to play Providence for you, and Providence is to do my will. I have a friend whom I have attached closely to myself, a colonel in the Army of the Loire, who has just been transferred into the garde royale. He has taken my advice and turned ultra-royalist; he is not one of those fools who never change their opinions. Of all pieces of advice, my cherub, I would give you this–don’t stick to your opinions any more than to your words. If any one asks you for them, let him have them –at a price. A man who prides himself on going in a straight line through life is an idiot who believes in infallibility. There are no such things as principles; there are only events, and there are no laws but those of expediency: a man of talent accepts events and the circumstances in which he finds himself, and turns everything to his own ends. If laws and principles were fixed and invariable, nations would not change them as readily as we change our shirts. The individual is not obliged to be more particular than the nation. A man whose services to France have been of the very slightest is a fetich looked on with superstitious awe because he has always seen everything in red; but he is good, at the most, to be put into the Museum of Arts and Crafts, among the automatic machines, and labeled La Fayette; while the prince at whom everybody flings a stone, the man who despises humanity so much that he spits as many oaths as he is asked for in the face of humanity, saved France from being torn in pieces at the Congress of Vienna; and they who should have given him laurels fling mud at him. Oh! I know something of affairs, I can tell you; I have the secrets of many men! Enough. When I find three minds in agreement as to the application of a principle, I shall have a fixed and immovable opinion–I shall have to wait a long while first. In the Tribunals you will not find three judges of the same opinion on a single point of law. To return to the man I was telling you of. He would crucify Jesus Christ again, if I bade him. At a word from his old chum Vautrin he will pick a quarrel with a scamp that will not send so much as five francs to his sister, poor girl, and” (here Vautrin rose to his feet and stood like a fencing-master about to lunge)–"turn him off into the dark!” he added.
“How frightful!” said Eugene. “You do not really mean it? M. Vautrin, you are joking!”
“There! there! Keep cool!” said the other. “Don’t behave like a baby. But if you find any amusement in it, be indignant, flare up! Say that I am a scoundrel, a rascal, a rogue, a bandit; but do not call me a blackleg nor a spy! There, out with it, fire away! I forgive you; it is quite natural at your age. I was like that myself once. Only remember this, you will do worse things yourself some day. You will flirt with some pretty woman and take her money. You have thought of that, of course,” said Vautrin, “for how are you to succeed unless love is laid under contribution? There are no two ways about virtue, my dear student; it either is, or it is not. Talk of doing penance for your sins! It is a nice system of business, when you pay for your crime by an act of contrition! You seduce a woman that you may set your foot on such and such a rung of the social ladder; you sow dissension among the children of a family; you descend, in short, to every base action that can be committed at home or abroad, to gain your own ends for your own pleasure or your profit; and can you imagine that these are acts of faith, hope, or charity? How is it that a dandy, who in a night has robbed a boy of half his fortune, gets only a couple of months in prison; while a poor devil who steals a banknote for a thousand francs, with aggravating circumstances, is condemned to penal servitude? Those are your laws. Not a single provision but lands you in some absurdity. That man with yellow gloves and a golden tongue commits many a murder; he sheds no blood, but he drains his victim’s veins as surely; a desperado forces open a door with a crowbar, dark deeds both of them! You yourself will do every one of those things that I suggest to you to-day, bar the bloodshed. Do you believe that there is any absolute standard in this world? Despise mankind and find out the meshes that you can slip through in the net of the Code. The secret of a great success for which you are at a loss to account is a crime that has never been found out, because it was properly executed.”
“Silence, sir! I will not hear any more; you make me doubt myself. At this moment my sentiments are all my science.”
“Just as you please, my fine fellow; I did think you were so weak-minded,” said Vautrin, “I shall say no more about it. One last word, however,” and he looked hard at the student–"you have my secret,” he said.
“A young man who refuses your offer knows that he must forget it.”
“Quite right, quite right; I am glad to hear you say so. Somebody else might not be so scrupulous, you see. Keep in mind what I want to do for you. I will give you a fortnight. The offer is still open.”
“What a head of iron the man has!” said Eugene to himself, as he watched Vautrin walk unconcernedly away with his cane under his arm. “Yet Mme. de Beauseant said as much more gracefully; he has only stated the case in cruder language. He would tear my heart with claws of steel. What made me think of going to Mme. de Nucingen? He guessed my motives before I knew them myself. To sum it up, that outlaw has told me more about virtue than all I have learned from men and books. If virtue admits of no compromises, I have certainly robbed my sisters,” he said, throwing down the bags on the table.
He sat down again and fell, unconscious of his surroundings, into deep thought.
“To be faithful to an ideal of virtue! A heroic martyrdom! Pshaw! every one believes in virtue, but who is virtuous? Nations have made an idol of Liberty, but what nation on the face of the earth is free? My youth is still like a blue and cloudless sky. If I set myself to obtain wealth or power, does it mean that I must make up my mind to lie, and fawn, and cringe, and swagger, and flatter, and dissemble? To consent to be the servant of others who have likewise fawned, and lied, and flattered? Must I cringe to them before I can hope to be their accomplice? Well, then, I decline. I mean to work nobly and with a single heart. I will work day and night; I will owe my fortune to nothing but my own exertions. It may be the slowest of all roads to success, but I shall lay my head on the pillow at night untroubled by evil thoughts. Is there a greater thing than this–to look back over your life and know that it is stainless as a lily? I and my life are like a young man and his betrothed. Vautrin has put before me all that comes after ten years of marriage. The devil! my head is swimming. I do not want to think at all; the heart is a sure guide.”
Eugene was roused from his musings by the voice of the stout Sylvie, who announced that the tailor had come, and Eugene therefore made his appearance before the man with the two money bags, and was not ill pleased that it should be so. When he had tried on his dress suit, he put on his new morning costume, which completely metamorphosed him.
“I am quite equal to M. de Trailles,” he said to himself. “In short, I look like a gentleman.”
“You asked me, sir, if I knew the houses where Mme. de Nucingen goes," Father Goriot’s voice spoke from the doorway of Eugene’s room.”
“Very well then, she is going to the Marechale Carigliano’s ball on Monday. If you can manage to be there, I shall hear from you whether my two girls enjoyed themselves, and how they were dressed, and all about it in fact.”
“How did you find that out, my good Goriot?” said Eugene, putting a chair by the fire for his visitor.
“Her maid told me. I hear all about their doings from Therese and Constance,” he added gleefully.
The old man looked like a lover who is still young enough to be made happy by the discovery of some little stratagem which brings him information of his lady-love without her knowledge.
“You will see them both!” he said, giving artless expression to a pang of jealousy.
“I do not know,” answered Eugene. “I will go to Mme. de Beauseant and ask her for an introduction to the Marechale.”
Eugene felt a thrill of pleasure at the thought of appearing before the Vicomtesse, dressed as henceforward he always meant to be. The “abysses of the human heart,” in the moralists’ phrase, are only insidious thoughts, involuntary promptings of personal interest. The instinct of enjoyment turns the scale; those rapid changes of purpose which have furnished the text for so much rhetoric are calculations prompted by the hope of pleasure. Rastignac beholding himself well dressed and impeccable as to gloves and boots, forgot his virtuous resolutions. Youth, moreover, when bent upon wrongdoing does not dare to behold himself in the mirror of consciousness; mature age has seen itself; and therein lies the whole difference between these two phases of life.
A friendship between Eugene and his neighbor, Father Goriot, had been growing up for several days past. This secret friendship and the antipathy that the student had begun to entertain for Vautrin arose from the same psychological causes. The bold philosopher who shall investigate the effects of mental action upon the physical world will doubtless find more than one proof of the material nature of our sentiments in other animals. What physiognomist is as quick to discern character as a dog is to discover from a stranger’s face whether this is a friend or no? Those by-words–"atoms,” “affinities"–are facts surviving in modern languages for the confusion of philosophic wiseacres who amuse themselves by winnowing the chaff of language to find its grammatical roots. We feel that we are loved. Our sentiments make themselves felt in everything, even at a great distance. A letter is a living soul, and so faithful an echo of the voice that speaks in it, that finer natures look upon a letter as one of love’s most precious treasures. Father Goriot’s affection was of the instinctive order, a canine affection raised to a sublime pitch; he had scented compassion in the air, and the kindly respect and youthful sympathy in the student’s heart. This friendship had, however, scarcely reached the stage at which confidences are made. Though Eugene had spoken of his wish to meet Mme. de Nucingen, it was not because he counted on the old man to introduce him to her house, for he hoped that his own audacity might stand him in good stead. All that Father Goriot had said as yet about his daughters had referred to the remarks that the student had made so freely in public on that day of the two visits.
“How could you think that Mme. de Restaud bore you a grudge for mentioning my name?” he had said on the day following that scene at dinner. “My daughters are very fond of me; I am a happy father; but my sons-in-law have behaved badly to me, and rather than make trouble between my darlings and their husbands, I choose to see my daughters secretly. Fathers who can see their daughters at any time have no idea of all the pleasure that all this mystery gives me; I cannot always see mine when I wish, do you understand? So when it is fine I walk out in the Champs-Elysees, after finding out from their waiting-maids whether my daughters mean to go out. I wait near the entrance; my heart beats fast when the carriages begin to come; I admire them in their dresses, and as they pass they give me a little smile, and it seems as if everything was lighted up for me by a ray of bright sunlight. I wait, for they always go back the same way, and then I see them again; the fresh air has done them good and brought color into their cheeks; all about me people say, ’What a beautiful woman that is!’ and it does my heart good to hear them.
“Are they not my own flesh and blood? I love the very horses that draw them; I envy the little lap-dog on their knees. Their happiness is my life. Every one loves after his own fashion, and mine does no one any harm; why should people trouble their heads about me? I am happy in my own way. Is there any law against going to see my girls in the evening when they are going out to a ball? And what a disappointment it is when I get there too late, and am told that ’Madame has gone out!’ Once I waited till three o’clock in the morning for Nasie; I had not seen her for two whole days. I was so pleased, that it was almost too much for me! Please do not speak of me unless it is to say how good my daughters are to me. They are always wanting to heap presents upon me, but I will not have it. ’Just keep your money,’ I tell them. ’What should I do with it? I want nothing.’ And what am I, sir, after all? An old carcase, whose soul is always where my daughters are. When you have seen Mme. de Nucingen, tell me which you like the most,” said the old man after a moment’s pause, while Eugene put the last touches to his toilette. The student was about to go out to walk in the Garden of the Tuileries until the hour when he could venture to appear in Mme. de Beauseant’s drawing-room.
That walk was a turning-point in Eugene’s career. Several women noticed him; he looked so handsome, so young, and so well dressed. This almost admiring attention gave a new turn to his thoughts. He forgot his sisters and the aunt who had robbed herself for him; he no longer remembered his own virtuous scruples. He had seen hovering above his head the fiend so easy to mistake for an angel, the Devil with rainbow wings, who scatters rubies, and aims his golden shafts at palace fronts, who invests women with purple, and thrones with a glory that dazzles the eyes of fools till they forget the simple origins of royal dominion; he had heard the rustle of that Vanity whose tinsel seems to us to be the symbol of power. However cynical Vautrin’s words had been, they had made an impression on his mind, as the sordid features of the old crone who whispers, “A lover, and gold in torrents,” remain engraven on a young girl’s memory.
Eugene lounged about the walks till it was nearly five o’clock, then he went to Mme. de Beauseant, and received one of the terrible blows against which young hearts are defenceless. Hitherto the Vicomtesse had received him with the kindly urbanity, the bland grace of manner that is the result of fine breeding, but is only complete when it comes from the heart.
To-day Mme. de Beauseant bowed constrainedly, and spoke curtly:
“M. de Rastignac, I cannot possibly see you, at least not at this moment. I am engaged . . .”
An observer, and Rastignac instantly became an observer, could read the whole history, the character and customs of caste, in the phrase, in the tones of her voice, in her glance and bearing. He caught a glimpse of the iron hand beneath the velvet glove–the personality, the egoism beneath the manner, the wood beneath the varnish. In short, he heard that unmistakable I THE KING that issues from the plumed canopy of the throne, and finds its last echo under the crest of the simplest gentleman.
Eugene had trusted too implicitly to the generosity of a woman; he could not believe in her haughtiness. Like all the unfortunate, he had subscribed, in all good faith, the generous compact which should bind the benefactor to the recipient, and the first article in that bond, between two large-hearted natures, is a perfect equality. The kindness which knits two souls together is as rare, as divine, and as little understood as the passion of love, for both love and kindness are the lavish generosity of noble natures. Rastignac was set upon going to the Duchesse de Carigliano’s ball, so he swallowed down this rebuff.
“Madame,” he faltered out, “I would not have come to trouble you about a trifling matter; be so kind as to permit me to see you later, I can wait.”
“Very well, come and dine with me,” she said, a little confused by the harsh way in which she had spoken, for this lady was as genuinely kind-hearted as she was high-born.
Eugene was touched by this sudden relenting, but none the less he said to himself as he went away, “Crawl in the dust, put up with every kind of treatment. What must the rest of the world be like when one of the kindest of women forgets all her promises of befriending me in a moment, and tosses me aside like an old shoe? So it is every one for himself? It is true that her house is not a shop, and I have put myself in the wrong by needing her help. You should cut your way through the world like a cannon ball, as Vautrin said.”
But the student’s bitter thoughts were soon dissipated by the pleasure which he promised himself in this dinner with the Vicomtesse. Fate seemed to determine that the smallest accidents in his life should combine to urge him into a career, which the terrible sphinx of the Maison Vauquer had described as a field of battle where you must either slay or be slain, and cheat to avoid being cheated. You leave your conscience and your heart at the barriers, and wear a mask on entering into this game of grim earnest, where, as in ancient Sparta, you must snatch your prize without being detected if you would deserve the crown.
On his return he found the Vicomtesse gracious and kindly, as she had always been to him. They went together to the dining-room, where the Vicomte was waiting for his wife. In the time of the Restoration the luxury of the table was carried, as is well known, to the highest degree, and M. de Beauseant, like many jaded men of the world, had few pleasures left but those of good cheer; in this matter, in fact, he was a gourmand of the schools of Louis XVIII. and of the Duc d’Escars, and luxury was supplemented by splendor. Eugene, dining for the first time in a house where the traditions of grandeur had descended through many generations, had never seen any spectacle like this that now met his eyes. In the time of the Empire, balls had always ended with a supper, because the officers who took part in them must be fortified for immediate service, and even in Paris might be called upon to leave the ballroom for the battlefield. This arrangement had gone out of fashion under the Monarchy, and Eugene had so far only been asked to dances. The self-possession which pre-eminently distinguished him in later life already stood him in good stead, and he did not betray his amazement. Yet as he saw for the first time the finely wrought silver plate, the completeness of every detail, the sumptuous dinner, noiselessly served, it was difficult for such an ardent imagination not to prefer this life of studied and refined luxury to the hardships of the life which he had chosen only that morning.
His thoughts went back for a moment to the lodging-house, and with a feeling of profound loathing, he vowed to himself that at New Year he would go; prompted at least as much by a desire to live among cleaner surroundings as by a wish to shake off Vautrin, whose huge hand he seemed to feel on his shoulder at that moment. When you consider the numberless forms, clamorous or mute, that corruption takes in Paris, common-sense begins to wonder what mental aberration prompted the State to establish great colleges and schools there, and assemble young men in the capital; how it is that pretty women are respected, or that the gold coin displayed in the money-changer’s wooden saucers does not take to itself wings in the twinkling of an eye; and when you come to think further, how comparatively few cases of crime there are, and to count up the misdemeanors committed by youth, is there not a certain amount of respect due to these patient Tantaluses who wrestle with themselves and nearly always come off victorious? The struggles of the poor student in Paris, if skilfully drawn, would furnish a most dramatic picture of modern civilization.
In vain Mme. de Beauseant looked at Eugene as if asking him to speak; the student was tongue-tied in the Vicomte’s presence.
“Are you going to take me to the Italiens this evening?” the Vicomtesse asked her husband.
“You cannot doubt that I should obey you with pleasure,” he answered, and there was a sarcastic tinge in his politeness which Eugene did not detect, “but I ought to go to meet some one at the Varietes.”
“His mistress,” said she to herself.
“Then, is not Ajuda coming for you this evening?” inquired the Vicomte.
“No,” she answered, petulantly.
“Very well, then, if you really must have an arm, take that of M. de Rastignac.”
The Vicomtess turned to Eugene with a smile.
“That would be a very compromising step for you,” she said.
“’A Frenchman loves danger, because in danger there is glory,’ to quote M. de Chateaubriand,” said Rastignac, with a bow.
A few moments later he was sitting beside Mme. de Beauseant in a brougham, that whirled them through the streets of Paris to a fashionable theatre. It seemed to him that some fairy magic had suddenly transported him into a box facing the stage. All the lorgnettes of the house were pointed at him as he entered, and at the Vicomtesse in her charming toilette. He went from enchantment to enchantment.
“You must talk to me, you know,” said Mme. de Beauseant. “Ah! look! There is Mme. de Nucingen in the third box from ours. Her sister and M. de Trailles are on the other side.”
The Vicomtesse glanced as she spoke at the box where Mlle. de Rochefide should have been; M. d’Ajuda was not there, and Mme. de Beauseant’s face lighted up in a marvelous way.
“She is charming,” said Eugene, after looking at Mme. de Nucingen.
“She has white eyelashes.”
“Yes, but she has such a pretty slender figure!”
“Her hands are large.”
“Such beautiful eyes!”
“Her face is long.”
“Yes, but length gives distinction.”
“It is lucky for her that she has some distinction in her face. Just see how she fidgets with her opera-glass! The Goriot blood shows itself in every movement,” said the Vicomtesse, much to Eugene’s astonishment.
Indeed, Mme. de Beauseant seemed to be engaged in making a survey of the house, and to be unconscious of Mme. Nucingen’s existence; but no movement made by the latter was lost upon the Vicomtesse. The house was full of the loveliest women in Paris, so that Delphine de Nucingen was not a little flattered to receive the undivided attention of Mme. de Beauseant’s young, handsome, and well-dressed cousin, who seemed to have no eyes for any one else.
“If you look at her so persistently, you will make people talk, M. de Rastignac. You will never succeed if you fling yourself at any one’s head like that.”
“My dear cousin,” said Eugene, “you have protected me indeed so far, and now if you would complete your work, I only ask of you a favor which will cost you but little, and be of very great service to me. I have lost my heart.”
“And to that woman!”
“How could I aspire to find any one else to listen to me?” he asked, with a keen glance at his cousin. “Her Grace the Duchesse de Carigliano is a friend of the Duchesse de Berri,” he went on, after a pause; “you are sure to see her, will you be so kind as to present me to her, and to take me to her ball on Monday? I shall meet Mme. de Nucingen there, and enter into my first skirmish.”
“Willingly,” she said. “If you have a liking for her already, your affairs of the heart are like to prosper. That is de Marsay over there in the Princesse Galathionne’s box. Mme. de Nucingen is racked with jealousy. There is no better time for approaching a woman, especially if she happens to be a banker’s wife. All those ladies of the Chaussee-d’Antin love revenge.”
“Then, what would you do yourself in such a case?”
“I should suffer in silence.”
At this point the Marquis d’Ajuda appeared in Mme. de Beauseant’s box.
“I have made a muddle of my affairs to come to you,” he said, “and I am telling you about it, so that it may not be a sacrifice.”
Eugene saw the glow of joy on the Vicomtesse’s face, and knew that this was love, and learned the difference between love and the affectations of Parisian coquetry. He admired his cousin, grew mute, and yielded his place to M. d’Ajuda with a sigh.
“How noble, how sublime a woman is when she loves like that!” he said to himself. “And he could forsake her for a doll! Oh! how could any one forsake her?”
There was a boy’s passionate indignation in his heart. He could have flung himself at Mme. de Beauseant’s feet; he longed for the power of the devil if he could snatch her away and hide her in his heart, as an eagle snatches up some white yeanling from the plains and bears it to its eyrie. It was humiliating to him to think that in all this gallery of fair pictures he had not one picture of his own. “To have a mistress and an almost royal position is a sign of power,” he said to himself. And he looked at Mme. de Nucingen as a man measures another who has insulted him.
The Vicomtesse turned to him, and the expression of her eyes thanked him a thousand times for his discretion. The first act came to an end just then.
“Do you know Mme. de Nucingen well enough to present M. de Rastignac to her?” she asked of the Marquis d’Ajuda.
“She will be delighted,” said the Marquis. The handsome Portuguese rose as he spoke and took the student’s arm, and in another moment Eugene found himself in Mme. de Nucingen’s box.
“Madame,” said the Marquis, “I have the honor of presenting to you the Chevalier Eugene de Rastignac; he is a cousin of Mme. de Beauseant’s. You have made so deep an impression upon him, that I thought I would fill up the measure of his happiness by bringing him nearer to his divinity.”
Words spoken half jestingly to cover their somewhat disrespectful import; but such an implication, if carefully disguised, never gives offence to a woman. Mme. de Nucingen smiled, and offered Eugene the place which her husband had just left.
“I do not venture to suggest that you should stay with me, monsieur," she said. “Those who are so fortunate as to be in Mme. de Beauseant’s company do not desire to leave it.”
“Madame,” Eugene said, lowering his voice, “I think that to please my cousin I should remain with you. Before my lord Marquis came we were speaking of you and of your exceedingly distinguished appearance,” he added aloud.
M. d’Ajuda turned and left them.
“Are you really going to stay with me, monsieur?” asked the Baroness. “Then we shall make each other’s acquaintance. Mme. de Restaud told me about you, and has made me anxious to meet you.”
“She must be very insincere, then, for she has shut her door on me.”
“Madame, I will tell you honestly the reason why; but I must crave your indulgence before confiding such a secret to you. I am your father’s neighbor; I had no idea that Mme. de Restaud was his daughter. I was rash enough to mention his name; I meant no harm, but I annoyed your sister and her husband very much. You cannot think how severely the Duchesse de Langeais and my cousin blamed this apostasy on a daughter’s part, as a piece of bad taste. I told them all about it, and they both burst out laughing. Then Mme. de Beauseant made some comparison between you and your sister, speaking in high terms of you, and saying how very fond you were of my neighbor, M. Goriot. And, indeed, how could you help loving him? He adores you so passionately that I am jealous already. We talked about you this morning for two hours. So this evening I was quite full of all that your father had told me, and while I was dining with my cousin I said that you could not be as beautiful as affectionate. Mme. de Beauseant meant to gratify such warm admiration, I think, when she brought me here, telling me, in her gracious way, that I should see you.”
“Then, even now, I owe you a debt of gratitude, monsieur,” said the banker’s wife. “We shall be quite old friends in a little while.”
“Although a friendship with you could not be like an ordinary friendship,” said Rastignac; “I should never wish to be your friend.”
Such stereotyped phrases as these, in the mouths of beginners, possess an unfailing charm for women, and are insipid only when read coldly; for a young man’s tone, glance and attitude give a surpassing eloquence to the banal phrases. Mme. de Nucingen thought that Rastignac was adorable. Then, woman-like, being at a loss how to reply to the student’s outspoken admiration, she answered a previous remark.
“Yes, it is very wrong of my sister to treat our poor father as she does,” she said; “he has been a Providence to us. It was not until M. de Nucingen positively ordered me only to receive him in the mornings that I yielded the point. But I have been unhappy about it for a long while; I have shed many tears over it. This violence to my feelings, with my husband’s brutal treatment, have been two causes of my unhappy married life. There is certainly no woman in Paris whose lot seems more enviable than mine, and yet, in reality, there is not one so much to be pitied. You will think I must be out of my senses to talk to you like this; but you know my father, and I cannot regard you as a stranger.”
“You will find no one,” said Eugene, “who longs as eagerly as I do to be yours. What do all women seek? Happiness.” (He answered his own question in low, vibrating tones.) “And if happiness for a woman means that she is to be loved and adored, to have a friend to whom she can pour out her wishes, her fancies, her sorrows and joys; to whom she can lay bare her heart and soul, and all her fair defects and her gracious virtues, without fear of a betrayal; believe me, the devotion and the warmth that never fails can only be found in the heart of a young man who, at a bare sign from you, would go to his death, who neither knows nor cares to know anything as yet of the world, because you will be all the world to him. I myself, you see (you will laugh at my simplicity), have just come from a remote country district; I am quite new to this world of Paris; I have only known true and loving hearts; and I made up my mind that here I should find no love. Then I chanced to meet my cousin, and to see my cousin’s heart from very near; I have divined the inexhaustible treasures of passion, and, like Cherubino, I am the lover of all women, until the day comes when I find the woman to whom I may devote myself. As soon as I saw you, as soon as I came into the theatre this evening, I felt myself borne towards you as if by the current of a stream. I had so often thought of you already, but I had never dreamed that you would be so beautiful! Mme. de Beauseant told me that I must not look so much at you. She does not know the charm of your red lips, your fair face, nor see how soft your eyes are. . . . I also am beginning to talk nonsense; but let me talk.”
Nothing pleases a woman better than to listen to such whispered words as these; the most puritanical among them listens even when she ought not to reply to them; and Rastignac, having once begun, continued to pour out his story, dropping his voice, that she might lean and listen; and Mme. de Nucingen, smiling, glanced from time to time at de Marsay, who still sat in the Princesse Galathionne’s box.
Rastignac did not leave Mme. de Nucingen till her husband came to take her home.
“Madame,” Eugene said, “I shall have the pleasure of calling upon you before the Duchesse de Carigliano’s ball.”
“If Matame infites you to come,” said the Baron, a thickset Alsatian, with indications of a sinister cunning in his full-moon countenance, “you are quide sure of being well receifed.”
“My affairs seem to be in a promising way,” said Eugene to himself.–" ’Can you love me?’ I asked her, and she did not resent it. The bit is in the horse’s mouth, and I have only to mount and ride;” and with that he went to pay his respects to Mme. de Beauseant, who was leaving the theatre on d’Ajuda’s arm.
The student did not know that the Baroness’ thoughts had been wandering; that she was even then expecting a letter from de Marsay, one of those letters that bring about a rupture that rends the soul; so, happy in his delusion, Eugene went with the Vicomtesse to the peristyle, where people were waiting till their carriages were announced.
“That cousin of yours is hardly recognizable for the same man,” said the Portuguese laughingly to the Vicomtesse, when Eugene had taken leave of them. “He will break the bank. He is as supple as an eel; he will go a long way, of that I am sure. Who else could have picked out a woman for him, as you did, just when she needed consolation?”
“But it is not certain that she does not still love the faithless lover,” said Mme. de Beauseant.
The student meanwhile walked back from the Theatre-Italien to the Rue Neuve-Sainte-Genevieve, making the most delightful plans as he went. He had noticed how closely Mme. de Restaud had scrutinized him when he sat beside Mme. de Nucingen, and inferred that the Countess’ doors would not be closed in the future. Four important houses were now open to him–for he meant to stand well with the Marechale; he had four supporters in the inmost circle of society in Paris. Even now it was clear to him that, once involved in this intricate social machinery, he must attach himself to a spoke of the wheel that was to turn and raise his fortunes; he would not examine himself too curiously as to the methods, but he was certain of the end, and conscious of the power to gain and keep his hold.
“If Mme. de Nucingen takes an interest in me, I will teach her how to manage her husband. That husband of hers is a great speculator; he might put me in the way of making a fortune by a single stroke.”
He did not say this bluntly in so many words; as yet, indeed, he was not sufficient of a diplomatist to sum up a situation, to see its possibilities at a glance, and calculate the chances in his favor. These were nothing but hazy ideas that floated over his mental horizon; they were less cynical than Vautrin’s notions; but if they had been tried in the crucible of conscience, no very pure result would have issued from the test. It is by a succession of such like transactions that men sink at last to the level of the relaxed morality of this epoch, when there have never been so few of those who square their courses with their theories, so few of those noble characters who do not yield to temptation, for whom the slightest deviation from the line of rectitude is a crime. To these magnificent types of uncompromising Right we owe two masterpieces–the Alceste of Moliere, and, in our own day, the characters of Jeanie Deans and her father in Sir Walter Scott’s novel. Perhaps a work which should chronicle the opposite course, which should trace out all the devious courses through which a man of the world, a man of ambitions, drags his conscience, just steering clear of crime that he may gain his end and yet save appearances, such a chronicle would be no less edifying and no less dramatic.
Rastignac went home. He was fascinated by Mme. de Nucingen; he seemed to see her before him, slender and graceful as a swallow. He recalled the intoxicating sweetness of her eyes, her fair hair, the delicate silken tissue of the skin, beneath which it almost seemed to him that he could see the blood coursing; the tones of her voice still exerted a spell over him; he had forgotten nothing; his walk perhaps heated his imagination by sending a glow of warmth through his veins. He knocked unceremoniously at Goriot’s door.
“I have seen Mme. Delphine, neighbor,” said he.
“At the Italiens.”
“Did she enjoy it? . . . . Just come inside,” and the old man left his bed, unlocked the door, and promptly returned again.
It was the first time that Eugene had been in Father Goriot’s room, and he could not control his feeling of amazement at the contrast between the den in which the father lived and the costume of the daughter whom he had just beheld. The window was curtainless, the walls were damp, in places the varnished wall-paper had come away and gave glimpses of the grimy yellow plaster beneath. The wretched bed on which the old man lay boasted but one thin blanket, and a wadded quilt made out of large pieces of Mme. Vauquer’s old dresses. The floor was damp and gritty. Opposite the window stood a chest of drawers made of rosewood, one of the old-fashioned kind with a curving front and brass handles, shaped like rings of twisted vine stems covered with flowers and leaves. On a venerable piece of furniture with a wooden shelf stood a ewer and basin and shaving apparatus. A pair of shoes stood in one corner; a night-table by the bed had neither a door nor marble slab. There was not a trace of a fire in the empty grate; the square walnut table with the crossbar against which Father Goriot had crushed and twisted his posset-dish stood near the hearth. The old man’s hat was lying on a broken-down bureau. An armchair stuffed with straw and a couple of chairs completed the list of ramshackle furniture. From the tester of the bed, tied to the ceiling by a piece of rag, hung a strip of some cheap material in large red and black checks. No poor drudge in a garret could be worse lodged than Father Goriot in Mme. Vauquer’s lodging-house. The mere sight of the room sent a chill through you and a sense of oppression; it was like the worst cell in a prison. Luckily, Goriot could not see the effect that his surroundings produced on Eugene as the latter deposited his candle on the night-table. The old man turned round, keeping the bedclothes huddled up to his chin.
“Well,” he said, “and which do you like the best, Mme. de Restaud or Mme. de Nucingen?”
“I like Mme. Delphine the best,” said the law student, “because she loves you the best.”
At the words so heartily spoken the old man’s hand slipped out from under the bedclothes and grasped Eugene’s.
“Thank you, thank you,” he said, gratefully. “Then what did she say about me?”
The student repeated the Baroness’ remarks with some embellishments of his own, the old man listening the while as though he heard a voice from Heaven.
“Dear child!” he said. “Yes, yes, she is very fond of me. But you must not believe all that she tells you about Anastasie. The two sisters are jealous of each other, you see, another proof of their affection. Mme. de Restaud is very fond of me too. I know she is. A father sees his children as God sees all of us; he looks into the very depths of their hearts; he knows their intentions; and both of them are so loving. Oh! if I only had good sons-in-law, I should be too happy, and I dare say there is no perfect happiness here below. If I might live with them–simply hear their voices, know that they are there, see them go and come as I used to do at home when they were still with me; why, my heart bounds at the thought. . . . Were they nicely dressed?”
“Yes,” said Eugene. “But, M. Goriot, how is it that your daughters have such fine houses, while you live in such a den as this?”
“Dear me, why should I want anything better?” he replied, with seeming carelessness. “I can’t quite explain to you how it is; I am not used to stringing words together properly, but it all lies there––” he said, tapping his heart. “My real life is in my two girls, you see; and so long as they are happy, and smartly dressed, and have soft carpets under their feet, what does it matter what clothes I wear or where I lie down of a night? I shall never feel cold so long as they are warm; I shall never feel dull if they are laughing. I have no troubles but theirs. When you, too, are a father, and you hear your children’s little voices, you will say to yourself, ’That has all come from me.’ You will feel that those little ones are akin to every drop in your veins, that they are the very flower of your life (and what else are they?); you will cleave so closely to them that you seem to feel every movement that they make. Everywhere I hear their voices sounding in my ears. If they are sad, the look in their eyes freezes my blood. Some day you will find out that there is far more happiness in another’s happiness than in your own. It is something that I cannot explain, something within that sends a glow of warmth all through you. In short, I live my life three times over. Shall I tell you something funny? Well, then, since I have been a father, I have come to understand God. He is everywhere in the world, because the whole world comes from Him. And it is just the same with my children, monsieur. Only, I love my daughters better than God loves the world, for the world is not so beautiful as God Himself is, but my children are more beautiful than I am. Their lives are so bound up with mine that I felt somehow that you would see them this evening. Great Heaven! If any man would make my little Delphine as happy as a wife is when she is loved, I would black his boots and run on his errands. That miserable M. de Marsay is a cur; I know all about him from her maid. A longing to wring his neck comes over me now and then. He does not love her! does not love a pearl of a woman, with a voice like a nightingale and shaped like a model. Where can her eyes have been when she married that great lump of an Alsatian? They ought both of them to have married young men, good-looking and good-tempered–but, after all, they had their own way.”
Father Goriot was sublime. Eugene had never yet seen his face light up as it did now with the passionate fervor of a father’s love. It is worthy of remark that strong feeling has a very subtle and pervasive power; the roughest nature, in the endeavor to express a deep and sincere affection, communicates to others the influence that has put resonance into the voice, and eloquence into every gesture, wrought a change in the very features of the speaker; for under the inspiration of passion the stupidest human being attains to the highest eloquence of ideas, if not of language, and seems to move in some sphere of light. In the old man’s tones and gesture there was something just then of the same spell that a great actor exerts over his audience. But does not the poet in us find expression in our affections?
“Well,” said Eugene, “perhaps you will not be sorry to hear that she is pretty sure to break with de Marsay before long. That sprig of fashion has left her for the Princesse Galathionne. For my part, I fell in love with Mme. Delphine this evening.”
“Stuff!” said Father Goriot.
“I did indeed, and she did not regard me with aversion. For a whole hour we talked of love, and I am to go to call on her on Saturday, the day after to-morrow.”
“Oh! how I should love you, if she should like you. You are kind-hearted; you would never make her miserable. If you were to forsake her, I would cut your throat at once. A woman does not love twice, you see! Good heavens! what nonsense I am talking, M. Eugene! It is cold; you ought not to stay here. Mon Dieu! so you have heard her speak? What message did she give you for me?”
“None at all,” said Eugene to himself; aloud he answered, “She told me to tell you that your daughter sends you a good kiss.”
“Good-night, neighbor! Sleep well, and pleasant dreams to you! I have mine already made for me by that message from her. May God grant you all your desires! You have come in like a good angel on me to-night, and brought with you the air that my daughter breathes.”
“Poor old fellow!” said Eugene as he lay down. “It is enough to melt a heart of stone. His daughter no more thought of him than of the Grand Turk.”
Ever after this conference Goriot looked upon his neighbor as a friend, a confidant such as he had never hoped to find; and there was established between the two the only relationship that could attach this old man to another man. The passions never miscalculate. Father Goriot felt that this friendship brought him closer to his daughter Delphine; he thought that he should find a warmer welcome for himself if the Baroness should care for Eugene. Moreover, he had confided one of his troubles to the younger man. Mme. de Nucingen, for whose happiness he prayed a thousand times daily, had never known the joys of love. Eugene was certainly (to make use of his own expression) one of the nicest young men that he had ever seen, and some prophetic instinct seemed to tell him that Eugene was to give her the happiness which had not been hers. These were the beginnings of a friendship that grew up between the old man and his neighbor; but for this friendship the catastrophe of the drama must have remained a mystery.
The affection with which Father Goriot regarded Eugene, by whom he seated himself at breakfast, the change in Goriot’s face, which as a rule, looked as expressionless as a plaster cast, and a few words that passed between the two, surprised the other lodgers. Vautrin, who saw Eugene for the first time since their interview, seemed as if he would fain read the student’s very soul. During the night Eugene had had some time in which to scan the vast field which lay before him; and now, as he remembered yesterday’s proposal, the thought of Mlle. Taillefer’s dowry came, of course, to his mind, and he could not help thinking of Victorine as the most exemplary youth may think of an heiress. It chanced that their eyes met. The poor girl did not fail to see that Eugene looked very handsome in his new clothes. So much was said in the glance, thus exchanged, that Eugene could not doubt but that he was associated in her mind with the vague hopes that lie dormant in a girl’s heart and gather round the first attractive newcomer. “Eight hundred thousand francs!” a voice cried in his ears, but suddenly he took refuge in the memories of yesterday evening, thinking that his extemporized passion for Mme. de Nucingen was a talisman that would preserve him from this temptation.
“They gave Rossini’s Barber of Seville at the Italiens yesterday evening,” he remarked. “I never heard such delicious music. Good gracious! how lucky people are to have a box at the Italiens!”
Father Goriot drank in every word that Eugene let fall, and watched him as a dog watches his master’s slightest movement.
“You men are like fighting cocks,” said Mme. Vauquer; “you do what you like.”
“How did you get back?” inquired Vautrin.
“I walked,” answered Eugene.
“For my own part,” remarked the tempter, “I do not care about doing things by halves. If I want to enjoy myself that way, I should prefer to go in my carriage, sit in my own box, and do the thing comfortably. Everything or nothing; that is my motto.”
“And a good one, too,” commented Mme. Vauquer.
“Perhaps you will see Mme. de Nucingen to-day,” said Eugene, addressing Goriot in an undertone. “She will welcome you with open arms, I am sure; she would want to ask you for all sorts of little details about me. I have found out that she will do anything in the world to be known by my cousin Mme. de Beauseant; don’t forget to tell her that I love her too well not to think of trying to arrange this.”
Rastignac went at once to the Ecole de Droit. He had no mind to stay a moment longer than was necessary in that odious house. He wasted his time that day; he had fallen a victim to that fever of the brain that accompanies the too vivid hopes of youth. Vautrin’s arguments had set him meditating on social life, and he was deep in these reflections when he happened on his friend Bianchon in the Jardin du Luxembourg.
“What makes you look so solemn?” said the medical student, putting an arm through Eugene’s as they went towards the Palais.
“I am tormented by temptations.”
“What kind? There is a cure for temptation.”
“Yielding to it.”
“You laugh, but you don’t know what it is all about. Have you read Rousseau?”
“Do you remember that he asks the reader somewhere what he would do if he could make a fortune by killing an old mandarin somewhere in China by mere force of wishing it, and without stirring from Paris?”
“Pshaw! I am at my thirty-third mandarin.”
“Seriously, though. Look here, suppose you were sure that you could do it, and had only to give a nod. Would you do it?”
“Is he well stricken in years, this mandarin of yours? Pshaw! after all, young or old, paralytic, or well and sound, my word for it. . . . Well, then. Hang it, no!”
“You are a good fellow, Bianchon. But suppose you loved a woman well enough to lose your soul in hell for her, and that she wanted money for dresses and a carriage, and all her whims, in fact?”
“Why, here you are taking away my reason, and want me to reason!”
“Well, then, Bianchon, I am mad; bring me to my senses. I have two sisters as beautiful and innocent as angels, and I want them to be happy. How am I to find two hundred thousand francs apiece for them in the next five years? Now and then in life, you see, you must play for heavy stakes, and it is no use wasting your luck on low play.”
“But you are only stating the problem that lies before every one at the outset of his life, and you want to cut the Gordian knot with a sword. If that is the way of it, dear boy, you must be an Alexander, or to the hulks you go. For my own part, I am quite contented with the little lot I mean to make for myself somewhere in the country, when I mean to step into my father’s shoes and plod along. A man’s affections are just as fully satisfied by the smallest circle as they can be by a vast circumference. Napoleon himself could only dine once, and he could not have more mistresses than a house student at the Capuchins. Happiness, old man, depends on what lies between the sole of your foot and the crown of your head; and whether it costs a million or a hundred louis, the actual amount of pleasure that you receive rests entirely with you, and is just exactly the same in any case. I am for letting that Chinaman live.”
“Thank you, Bianchon; you have done me good. We will always be friends.”
“I say,” remarked the medical student, as they came to the end of a broad walk in the Jardin des Plantes, “I saw the Michonneau and Poiret a few minutes ago on a bench chatting with a gentleman whom I used to see in last year’s troubles hanging about the Chamber of Deputies; he seems to me, in fact, to be a detective dressed up like a decent retired tradesman. Let us keep an eye on that couple; I will tell you why some time. Good-bye; it is nearly four o’clock, and I must be in to answer to my name.”
When Eugene reached the lodging-house, he found Father Goriot waiting for him.
“Here,” cried the old man, “here is a letter from her. Pretty handwriting, eh?”