By Honore de Balzac
Public Domain Books
Rastignac folded his arms and was silent.
“Let us have no more of Mlle. Judas,” said the painter, turning to Mme. Vauquer. “If you don’t show the Michonneau the door, madame, we shall all leave your shop, and wherever we go we shall say that there are only convicts and spies left there. If you do the other thing, we will hold our tongues about the business; for when all is said and done, it might happen in the best society until they brand them on the forehead, when they send them to the hulks. They ought not to let convicts go about Paris disguised like decent citizens, so as to carry on their antics like a set of rascally humbugs, which they are.”
At this Mme. Vauquer recovered miraculously. She sat up and folded her arms; her eyes were wide open now, and there was no sign of tears in them.
“Why, do you really mean to be the ruin of my establishment, my dear sir? There is M. Vautrin––Goodness,” she cried, interrupting herself, “I can’t help calling him by the name he passed himself off by for an honest man! There is one room to let already, and you want me to turn out two more lodgers in the middle of the season, when no one is moving––”
“Gentlemen, let us take our hats and go and dine at Flicoteaux’s in the Place Sorbonne,” cried Bianchon.
Mme. Vauquer glanced round, and saw in a moment on which side her interest lay. She waddled across to Mlle. Michonneau.
“Come, now,” she said; “you would not be the ruin of my establishment, would you, eh? There’s a dear, kind soul. You see what a pass these gentlemen have brought me to; just go up to your room for this evening.”
“Never a bit of it!” cried the boarders. “She must go, and go this minute!”
“But the poor lady has had no dinner,” said Poiret, with piteous entreaty.
“She can go and dine where she likes,” shouted several voices.
“Turn her out, the spy!”
“Turn them both out! Spies!”
“Gentlemen,” cried Poiret, his heart swelling with the courage that love gives to the ovine male, “respect the weaker sex.”
“Spies are of no sex!” said the painter.
“A precious sexorama!”
“Turn her into the streetorama!”
“Gentlemen, this is not manners! If you turn people out of the house, it ought not to be done so unceremoniously and with no notice at all. We have paid our money, and we are not going,” said Poiret, putting on his cap, and taking a chair beside Mlle. Michonneau, with whom Mme. Vauquer was remonstrating.
“Naughty boy!” said the painter, with a comical look; “run away, naughty little boy!”
“Look here,” said Bianchon; “if you do not go, all the rest of us will,” and the boarders, to a man, made for the sitting-room-door.
“Oh! mademoiselle, what is to be done?” cried Mme. Vauquer. “I am a ruined woman. You can’t stay here; they will go further, do something violent.”
Mlle. Michonneau rose to her feet.
“She is going!–She is not going!–She is going!–No, she isn’t.”
These alternate exclamations, and a suggestion of hostile intentions, borne out by the behavior of the insurgents, compelled Mlle. Michonneau to take her departure. She made some stipulations, speaking in a low voice in her hostess’ ear, and then–"I shall go to Mme. Buneaud’s,” she said, with a threatening look.
“Go where you please, mademoiselle,” said Mme. Vauquer, who regarded this choice of an opposition establishment as an atrocious insult. “Go and lodge with the Buneaud; the wine would give a cat the colic, and the food is cheap and nasty.”
The boarders stood aside in two rows to let her pass; not a word was spoken. Poiret looked so wistfully after Mlle. Michonneau, and so artlessly revealed that he was in two minds whether to go or stay, that the boarders, in their joy at being quit of Mlle. Michonneau, burst out laughing at the sight of him.
“Hist!–st!–st! Poiret,” shouted the painter. “Hallo! I say, Poiret, hallo!” The employe from the Museum began to sing:
“Partant pour la Syrie, Le jeune et beau Dunois . . .”
“Get along with you; you must be dying to go, trahit sua quemque voluptas!” said Bianchon.
“Every one to his taste–free rendering from Virgil,” said the tutor.
Mlle. Michonneau made a movement as if to take Poiret’s arm, with an appealing glance that he could not resist. The two went out together, the old maid leaning upon him, and there was a burst of applause, followed by peals of laughter.
“Who would have thought it of old Poiret!”
A messenger came in at that moment with a letter for Mme. Vauquer, who read it through, and collapsed in her chair.
“The house might as well be burned down at once,” cried she, “if there are to be any more of these thunderbolts! Young Taillefer died at three o’clock this afternoon. It serves me right for wishing well to those ladies at that poor man’s expense. Mme. Couture and Victorine want me to send their things, because they are going to live with her father. M. Taillefer allows his daughter to keep old Mme. Couture as her lady companion. Four rooms to let! and five lodgers gone! . . .”
She sat up, and seemed about to burst into tears.
“Bad luck has come to lodge here, I think,” she cried.
Once more there came a sound of wheels from the street outside.
“What! another windfall for somebody!” was Sylvie’s comment.
But it was Goriot who came in, looking so radiant, so flushed with happiness, that he seemed to have grown young again.
“Goriot in a cab!” cried the boarders; “the world is coming to an end.”
The good soul made straight for Eugene, who was standing wrapped in thought in a corner, and laid a hand on the young man’s arm.
“Come,” he said, with gladness in his eyes.
“Then you haven’t heard the news?” said Eugene. “Vautrin was an escaped convict; they have just arrested him; and young Taillefer is dead.”
“Very well, but what business is it of ours?” replied Father Goriot. “I am going to dine with my daughter in your house, do you understand? She is expecting you. Come!”
He carried off Rastignac with him by main force, and they departed in as great a hurry as a pair of eloping lovers.
“Now, let us have dinner,” cried the painter, and every one drew his chair to the table.
“Well, I never,” said the portly Sylvie. “Nothing goes right to-day! The haricot mutton has caught! Bah! you will have to eat it, burned as it is, more’s the pity!”
Mme. Vauquer was so dispirited that she could not say a word as she looked round the table and saw only ten people where eighteen should be; but every one tried to comfort and cheer her. At first the dinner contingent, as was natural, talked about Vautrin and the day’s events; but the conversation wound round to such topics of interest as duels, jails, justice, prison life, and alterations that ought to be made in the laws. They soon wandered miles away from Jacques Collin and Victorine and her brother. There might be only ten of them, but they made noise enough for twenty; indeed, there seemed to be more of them than usual; that was the only difference between yesterday and to-day. Indifference to the fate of others is a matter of course in this selfish world, which, on the morrow of tragedy, seeks among the events of Paris for a fresh sensation for its daily renewed appetite, and this indifference soon gained the upper hand. Mme. Vauquer herself grew calmer under the soothing influence of hope, and the mouthpiece of hope was the portly Sylvie.
That day had gone by like a dream for Eugene, and the sense of unreality lasted into the evening; so that, in spite of his energetic character and clear-headedness, his ideas were a chaos as he sat beside Goriot in the cab. The old man’s voice was full of unwonted happiness, but Eugene had been shaken by so many emotions that the words sounded in his ears like words spoken in a dream.
“It was finished this morning! All three of us are going to dine there together, together! Do you understand? I have not dined with my Delphine, my little Delphine, these four years, and I shall have her for a whole evening! We have been at your lodging the whole time since morning. I have been working like a porter in my shirt sleeves, helping to carry in the furniture. Aha! you don’t know what pretty ways she has; at table she will look after me, ’Here, papa, just try this, it is nice.’ And I shall not be able to eat. Oh, it is a long while since I have been with her in quiet every-day life as we shall have her.”
“It really seems as if the world has been turned upside down.”
“Upside down?” repeated Father Goriot. “Why, the world has never been so right-side up. I see none but smiling faces in the streets, people who shake hands cordially and embrace each other, people who all look as happy as if they were going to dine with their daughter, and gobble down a nice little dinner that she went with me to order of the chef at the Cafe des Anglais. But, pshaw! with her beside you gall and wormwood would be as sweet as honey.”
“I feel as if I were coming back to life again,” said Eugene.
“Why, hurry up there!” cried Father Goriot, letting down the window in front. “Get on faster; I will give you five francs if you get to the place I told you of in ten minutes time.”
With this prospect before him the cabman crossed Paris with miraculous celerity.
“How that fellow crawls!” said Father Goriot.
“But where are you taking me?” Eugene asked him.
“To your own house,” said Goriot.
The cab stopped in the Rue d’Artois. Father Goriot stepped out first and flung ten francs to the man with the recklessness of a widower returning to bachelor ways.
“Come along upstairs,” he said to Rastignac. They crossed a courtyard, and climbed up to the third floor of a new and handsome house. There they stopped before a door; but before Goriot could ring, it was opened by Therese, Mme. de Nucingen’s maid. Eugene found himself in a charming set of chambers; an ante-room, a little drawing-room, a bedroom, and a study, looking out upon a garden. The furniture and the decorations of the little drawing-room were of the most daintily charming description, the room was full of soft light, and Delphine rose up from a low chair by the fire and stood before him. She set her fire-screen down on the chimney-piece, and spoke with tenderness in every tone of her voice.
“So we had to go in search of you, sir, you who are so slow to understand!”
Therese left the room. The student took Delphine in his arms and held her in a tight clasp, his eyes filled with tears of joy. This last contrast between his present surroundings and the scenes he had just witnessed was too much for Rastignac’s over-wrought nerves, after the day’s strain and excitement that had wearied heart and brain; he was almost overcome by it.
“I felt sure myself that he loved you,” murmured Father Goriot, while Eugene lay back bewildered on the sofa, utterly unable to speak a word or to reason out how and why the magic wand had been waved to bring about this final transformation scene.
“But you must see your rooms,” said Mme. de Nucingen. She took his hand and led him into a room carpeted and furnished like her own; indeed, down to the smallest details, it was a reproduction in miniature of Delphine’s apartment.
“There is no bed,” said Rastignac.
“No, monsieur,” she answered, reddening, and pressing his hand. Eugene, looking at her, understood, young though he yet was, how deeply modesty is implanted in the heart of a woman who loves.
“You are one of those beings whom we cannot choose but to adore for ever,” he said in her ear. “Yes, the deeper and truer love is, the more mysterious and closely veiled it should be; I can dare to say so, since we understand each other so well. No one shall learn our secret.”
“Oh! so I am nobody, I suppose,” growled the father.
“You know quite well that ’we’ means you.”
“Ah! that is what I wanted. You will not mind me, will you? I shall go and come like a good fairy who makes himself felt everywhere without being seen, shall I not? Eh, Delphinette, Ninette, Dedel–was it not a good idea of mine to say to you, ’There are some nice rooms to let in the Rue d’Artois; let us furnish them for him?’ And she would not hear of it! Ah! your happiness has been all my doing. I am the author of your happiness and of your existence. Fathers must always be giving if they would be happy themselves; always giving–they would not be fathers else.”
“Was that how it happened?” asked Eugene.
“Yes. She would not listen to me. She was afraid that people would talk, as if the rubbish that they say about you were to be compared with happiness! Why, all women dream of doing what she has done––”
Father Goriot found himself without an audience, for Mme. de Nucingen had led Rastignac into the study; he heard a kiss given and taken, low though the sound was.
The study was furnished as elegantly as the other rooms, and nothing was wanting there.
“Have we guessed your wishes rightly?” she asked, as they returned to the drawing-room for dinner.
“Yes,” he said, “only too well, alas! For all this luxury so well carried out, this realization of pleasant dreams, the elegance that satisfies all the romantic fancies of youth, appeals to me so strongly that I cannot but feel that it is my rightful possession, but I cannot accept it from you, and I am too poor as yet to––”
“Ah! ah! you say me nay already,” she said with arch imperiousness, and a charming little pout of the lips, a woman’s way of laughing away scruples.
But Eugene had submitted so lately to that solemn self-questioning, and Vautrin’s arrest had so plainly shown him the depths of the pit that lay ready to his feet, that the instincts of generosity and honor had been strengthened in him, and he could not allow himself to be coaxed into abandoning his high-minded determinations. Profound melancholy filled his mind.
“Do you really mean to refuse?” said Mme. de Nucingen. “And do you know what such a refusal means? That you are not sure of yourself, that you do not dare to bind yourself to me. Are you really afraid of betraying my affection? If you love me, if I–love you, why should you shrink back from such a slight obligation? If you but knew what a pleasure it has been to see after all the arrangements of this bachelor establishment, you would not hesitate any longer, you would ask me to forgive you for your hesitation. I had some money that belonged to you, and I have made good use of it, that is all. You mean this for magnanimity, but it is very little of you. You are asking me for far more than this. . . . Ah!” she cried, as Eugene’s passionate glance was turned on her, “and you are making difficulties about the merest trifles. Of, if you feel no love whatever for me, refuse, by all means. My fate hangs on a word from you. Speak!–Father,” she said after a pause, “make him listen to reason. Can he imagine that I am less nice than he is on the point of honor?”
Father Goriot was looking on and listening to this pretty quarrel with a placid smile, as if he had found some balm for all the sorrows of life.
“Child that you are!” she cried again, catching Eugene’s hand. “You are just beginning life; you find barriers at the outset that many a man finds insurmountable; a woman’s hand opens the way and you shrink back! Why, you are sure to succeed! You will have a brilliant future. Success is written on that broad forehead of yours, and will you not be able to repay me my loan of to-day? Did not a lady in olden times arm her knight with sword and helmet and coat of mail, and find him a charger, so that he might fight for her in the tournament? Well, then, Eugene, these things that I offer you are the weapons of this age; every one who means to be something must have such tools as these. A pretty place your garret must be if it is like papa’s room! See, dinner is waiting all this time. Do you want to make me unhappy?–Why don’t you answer?” she said, shaking his hand. ’Mon Dieu! papa, make up his mind for him, or I will go away and never see him any more.”
“I will make up your mind,” said Goriot, coming down from the clouds. “Now, my dear M. Eugene, the next thing is to borrow money of the Jews, isn’t it?”
“There is positively no help for it,” said Eugene.
“All right, I will give you credit,” said the other, drawing out a cheap leather pocket-book, much the worse for wear. “I have turned Jew myself; I paid for everything; here are the invoices. You do not owe a penny for anything here. It did not come to very much–five thousand francs at most, and I am going to lend you the money myself. I am not a woman–you can refuse me. You shall give me a receipt on a scrap of paper, and you can return it some time or other.”
Delphine and Eugene looked at each other in amazement, tears sprang to their eyes. Rastignac held out his hand and grasped Goriot’s warmly.
“Well, what is all this about? Are you not my children?”
“Oh! my poor father,” said Mme. de Nucingen, “how did you do it?”
“Ah! now you ask me. When I made up my mind to move him nearer to you, and saw you buying things as if they were wedding presents, I said to myself, ’She will never be able to pay for them.’ The attorney says that those law proceedings will last quite six months before your husband can be made to disgorge your fortune. Well and good. I sold out my property in the funds that brought in thirteen hundred and fifty livres a year, and bought a safe annuity of twelve hundred francs a year for fifteen thousand francs. Then I paid your tradesmen out of the rest of the capital. As for me, children, I have a room upstairs for which I pay fifty crowns a year; I can live like a prince on two francs a day, and still have something left over. I shall not have to spend anything much on clothes, for I never wear anything out. This fortnight past I have been laughing in my sleeve, thinking to myself, ’How happy they are going to be!’ and–well, now, are you not happy?”
“Oh papa! papa!” cried Mme. de Nucingen, springing to her father, who took her on his knee. She covered him with kisses, her fair hair brushed his cheek, her tears fell on the withered face that had grown so bright and radiant.
“Dear father, what a father you are! No, there is not another father like you under the sun. If Eugene loved you before, what must he feel for you now?”
“Why, children, why Delphinette!” cried Goriot, who had not felt his daughter’s heart beat against his breast for ten years, “do you want me to die of joy? My poor heart will break! Come, Monsieur Eugene, we are quits already.” And the old man strained her to his breast with such fierce and passionate force that she cried out.
“Oh! you are hurting me!” she said.
“I am hurting you!” He grew pale at the words. The pain expressed in his face seemed greater than it is given to humanity to know. The agony of this Christ of paternity can only be compared with the masterpieces of those princes of the palette who have left for us the record of their visions of an agony suffered for a whole world by the Saviour of men. Father Goriot pressed his lips very gently against the waist than his fingers had grasped too roughly.
“Oh! no, no,” he cried. “I have not hurt you, have I?” and his smile seemed to repeat the question. “YOU have hurt me with that cry just now.–The things cost rather more than that,” he said in her ear, with another gentle kiss, “but I had to deceive him about it, or he would have been angry.”
Eugene sat dumb with amazement in the presence of this inexhaustible love; he gazed at Goriot, and his face betrayed the artless admiration which shapes the beliefs of youth.
“I will be worthy of all this,” he cried.
“Oh! my Eugene, that is nobly said,” and Mme. de Nucingen kissed the law student on the forehead.
“He gave up Mlle. Taillefer and her millions for you,” said Father Goriot. “Yes, the little thing was in love with you, and now that her brother is dead she is as rich as Croesus.”
“Oh! why did you tell her?” cried Rastignac.
“Eugene,” Delphine said in his ear, “I have one regret now this evening. Ah! how I will love you! and for ever!”
“This is the happiest day I have had since you two were married!" cried Goriot. “God may send me any suffering, so long as I do not suffer through you, and I can still say, ’In this short month of February I had more happiness than other men have in their whole lives.’–Look at me, Fifine!” he said to his daughter. “She is very beautiful, is she not? Tell me, now, have you seen many women with that pretty soft color–that little dimple of hers? No, I thought not. Ah, well, and but for me this lovely woman would never have been. And very soon happiness will make her a thousand times lovelier, happiness through you. I could give up my place in heaven to you, neighbor, if needs be, and go down to hell instead. Come, let us have dinner,” he added, scarcely knowing what he said, “everything is ours.”
“Poor dear father!”
He rose and went over to her, and took her face in his hands, and set a kiss on the plaits of hair. “If you only knew, little one, how happy you can make me–how little it takes to make me happy! Will you come and see me sometimes? I shall be just above, so it is only a step. Promise me, say that you will!”
“Yes, dear father.”
“Say it again.”
“Yes, I will, my kind father.”
“Hush! hush! I should make you say it a hundred times over if I followed my own wishes. Let us have dinner.”
The three behaved like children that evening, and Father Goriot’s spirits were certainly not the least wild. He lay at his daughter’s feet, kissed them, gazed into her eyes, rubbed his head against her dress; in short, no young lover could have been more extravagant or more tender.
“You see!” Delphine said with a look at Eugene, “so long as my father is with us, he monopolizes me. He will be rather in the way sometimes.”
Eugene had himself already felt certain twinges of jealousy, and could not blame this speech that contained the germ of all ingratitude.
“And when will the rooms be ready?” asked Eugene, looking round. “We must all leave them this evening, I suppose.”
“Yes, but to-morrow you must come and dine with me,” she answered, with an eloquent glance. “It is our night at the Italiens.”
“I shall go to the pit,” said her father.
It was midnight. Mme. de Nucingen’s carriage was waiting for her, and Father Goriot and the student walked back to the Maison Vauquer, talking of Delphine, and warming over their talk till there grew up a curious rivalry between the two violent passions. Eugene could not help seeing that the father’s self-less love was deeper and more steadfast than his own. For this worshiper Delphine was always pure and fair, and her father’s adoration drew its fervor from a whole past as well as a future of love.
They found Mme. Vauquer by the stove, with Sylvie and Christophe to keep her company; the old landlady, sitting like Marius among the ruins of Carthage, was waiting for the two lodgers that yet remained to her, and bemoaning her lot with the sympathetic Sylvie. Tasso’s lamentations as recorded in Byron’s poem are undoubtedly eloquent, but for sheer force of truth they fall far short of the widow’s cry from the depths.
“Only three cups of coffee in the morning, Sylvie! Oh dear! to have your house emptied in this way is enough to break your heart. What is life, now my lodgers are gone? Nothing at all. Just think of it! It is just as if all the furniture had been taken out of the house, and your furniture is your life. How have I offended heaven to draw down all this trouble upon me? And haricot beans and potatoes laid in for twenty people! The police in my house too! We shall have to live on potatoes now, and Christophe will have to go!”
The Savoyard, who was fast asleep, suddenly woke up at this, and said, “Madame,” questioningly.
“Poor fellow!” said Sylvie, “he is like a dog.”
“In the dead season, too! Nobody is moving now. I would like to know where the lodgers are to drop down from. It drives me distracted. And that old witch of a Michonneau goes and takes Poiret with her! What can she have done to make him so fond of her? He runs about after her like a little dog.”
“Lord!” said Sylvie, flinging up her head, “those old maids are up to all sorts of tricks.”
“There’s that poor M. Vautrin that they made out to be a convict,” the widow went on. “Well, you know that is too much for me, Sylvie; I can’t bring myself to believe it. Such a lively man as he was, and paid fifteen francs a month for his coffee of an evening, paid you very penny on the nail too.”
“And open-handed he was!” said Christophe.
“There is some mistake,” said Sylvie.
“Why, no there isn’t! he said so himself!” said Mme. Vauquer. “And to think that all these things have happened in my house, and in a quarter where you never see a cat go by. On my word as an honest woman, it’s like a dream. For, look here, we saw Louis XVI. meet with his mishap; we saw the fall of the Emperor; and we saw him come back and fall again; there was nothing out of the way in all that, but lodging-houses are not liable to revolutions. You can do without a king, but you must eat all the same; and so long as a decent woman, a de Conflans born and bred, will give you all sorts of good things for dinner, nothing short of the end of the world ought to–but there, it is the end of the world, that is just what it is!”
“And to think that Mlle. Michonneau who made all this mischief is to have a thousand crowns a year for it, so I hear,” cried Sylvie.
“Don’t speak of her, she is a wicked woman!” said Mme. Vauquer. “She is going to the Buneaud, who charges less than cost. But the Buneaud is capable of anything; she must have done frightful things, robbed and murdered people in her time. She ought to be put in jail for life instead of that poor dear––”
Eugene and Goriot rang the door-bell at that moment.
“Ah! here are my two faithful lodgers,” said the widow, sighing.
But the two faithful lodgers, who retained but shadowy recollections of the misfortunes of their lodging-house, announced to their hostess without more ado that they were about to remove to the Chaussee d’Antin.
“Sylvie!” cried the widow, “this is the last straw.–Gentlemen, this will be the death of me! It has quite upset me! There’s a weight on my chest! I am ten years older for this day! Upon my word, I shall go out of my senses! And what is to be done with the haricots!–Oh, well, if I am to be left here all by myself, you shall go to-morrow, Christophe.–Good-night, gentlemen,” and she went.
“What is the matter now?” Eugene inquired of Sylvie.
“Lord! everybody is going about his business, and that has addled her wits. There! she is crying upstairs. It will do her good to snivel a bit. It’s the first time she has cried since I’ve been with her.”
By the morning, Mme. Vauquer, to use her own expression, had “made up her mind to it.” True, she still wore a doleful countenance, as might be expected of a woman who had lost all her lodgers, and whose manner of life had been suddenly revolutionized, but she had all her wits about her. Her grief was genuine and profound; it was real pain of mind, for her purse had suffered, the routine of her existence had been broken. A lover’s farewell glance at his lady-love’s window is not more mournful than Mme. Vauquer’s survey of the empty places round her table. Eugene administered comfort, telling the widow that Bianchon, whose term of residence at the hospital was about to expire, would doubtless take his (Rastignac’s) place; that the official from the Museum had often expressed a desire to have Mme. Couture’s rooms; and that in a very few days her household would be on the old footing.
“God send it may, my dear sir! but bad luck has come to lodge here. There’ll be a death in the house before ten days are out, you’ll see," and she gave a lugubrious look round the dining-room. “Whose turn will it be, I wonder?”
“It is just as well that we are moving out,” said Eugene to Father Goriot in a low voice.
“Madame,” said Sylvie, running in with a scared face, “I have not seen Mistigris these three days.”
“Ah! well, if my cat is dead, if he has gone and left us, I––”
The poor woman could not finish her sentence; she clasped her hands and hid her face on the back of her armchair, quite overcome by this dreadful portent.
By twelve o’clock, when the postman reaches that quarter, Eugene received a letter. The dainty envelope bore the Beauseant arms on the seal, and contained an invitation to the Vicomtesse’s great ball, which had been talked of in Paris for a month. A little note for Eugene was slipped in with the card.
“I think, monsieur, that you will undertake with pleasure to interpret my sentiments to Mme. de Nucingen, so I am sending the card for which you asked me to you. I shall be delighted to make the acquaintance of Mme. de Restaud’s sister. Pray introduce that charming lady to me, and do not let her monopolize all your affection, for you owe me not a little in return for mine.
“Vicomtesse De Beauseant.”
“Well,” said Eugene to himself, as he read the note a second time, “Mme. de Beauseant says pretty plainly that she does not want the Baron de Nucingen.”
He went to Delphine at once in his joy. He had procured this pleasure for her, and doubtless he would receive the price of it. Mme. de Nucingen was dressing. Rastignac waited in her boudoir, enduring as best he might the natural impatience of an eager temperament for the reward desired and withheld for a year. Such sensations are only known once in a life. The first woman to whom a man is drawn, if she is really a woman–that is to say, if she appears to him amid the splendid accessories that form a necessary background to life in the world of Paris–will never have a rival.
Love in Paris is a thing distinct and apart; for in Paris neither men nor women are the dupes of the commonplaces by which people seek to throw a veil over their motives, or to parade a fine affectation of disinterestedness in their sentiments. In this country within a country, it is not merely required of a woman that she should satisfy the senses and the soul; she knows perfectly well that she has still greater obligations to discharge, that she must fulfil the countless demands of a vanity that enters into every fibre of that living organism called society. Love, for her, is above all things, and by its very nature, a vainglorious, brazen-fronted, ostentatious, thriftless charlatan. If at the Court of Louis XIV. there was not a woman but envied Mlle. de la Valliere the reckless devotion of passion that led the grand monarch to tear the priceless ruffles at his wrists in order to assist the entry of a Duc de Vermandois into the world –what can you expect of the rest of society? You must have youth and wealth and rank; nay, you must, if possible, have more than these, for the more incense you bring with you to burn at the shrine of the god, the more favorably will he regard the worshiper. Love is a religion, and his cult must in the nature of things be more costly than those of all other deities; Love the Spoiler stays for a moment, and then passes on; like the urchin of the streets, his course may be traced by the ravages that he has made. The wealth of feeling and imagination is the poetry of the garret; how should love exist there without that wealth?
If there are exceptions who do not subscribe to these Draconian laws of the Parisian code, they are solitary examples. Such souls live so far out of the main current that they are not borne away by the doctrines of society; they dwell beside some clear spring of everflowing water, without seeking to leave the green shade; happy to listen to the echoes of the infinite in everything around them and in their own souls, waiting in patience to take their flight for heaven, while they look with pity upon those of earth.
Rastignac, like most young men who have been early impressed by the circumstances of power and grandeur, meant to enter the lists fully armed; the burning ambition of conquest possessed him already; perhaps he was conscious of his powers, but as yet he knew neither the end to which his ambition was to be directed, nor the means of attaining it. In default of the pure and sacred love that fills a life, ambition may become something very noble, subduing to itself every thought of personal interest, and setting as the end–the greatness, not of one man, but of a whole nation.
But the student had not yet reached the time of life when a man surveys the whole course of existence and judges it soberly. Hitherto he had scarcely so much as shaken off the spell of the fresh and gracious influences that envelop a childhood in the country, like green leaves and grass. He had hesitated on the brink of the Parisian Rubicon, and in spite of the prickings of ambition, he still clung to a lingering tradition of an old ideal–the peaceful life of the noble in his chateau. But yesterday evening, at the sight of his rooms, those scruples had vanished. He had learned what it was to enjoy the material advantages of fortune, as he had already enjoyed the social advantages of birth; he ceased to be a provincial from that moment, and slipped naturally and easily into a position which opened up a prospect of a brilliant future.
So, as he waited for Delphine, in the pretty boudoir, where he felt that he had a certain right to be, he felt himself so far away from the Rastignac who came back to Paris a year ago, that, turning some power of inner vision upon this latter, he asked himself whether that past self bore any resemblance to the Rastignac of that moment.
“Madame is in her room,” Therese came to tell him. The woman’s voice made him start.
He found Delphine lying back in her low chair by the fireside, looking fresh and bright. The sight of her among the flowing draperies of muslin suggested some beautiful tropical flower, where the fruit is set amid the blossom.
“Well,” she said, with a tremor in her voice, “here you are.”
“Guess what I bring for you,” said Eugene, sitting down beside her. He took possession of her arm to kiss her hand.
Mme. de Nucingen gave a joyful start as she saw the card. She turned to Eugene; there were tears in her eyes as she flung her arms about his neck, and drew him towards her in a frenzy of gratified vanity.
“And I owe this happiness to you–to thee” (she whispered the more intimate word in his ear); “but Therese is in my dressing-room, let us be prudent.–This happiness–yes, for I may call it so, when it comes to me through you–is surely more than a triumph for self-love? No one has been willing to introduce me into that set. Perhaps just now I may seem to you to be frivolous, petty, shallow, like a Parisienne, but remember, my friend, that I am ready to give up all for you; and that if I long more than ever for an entrance into the Faubourg Saint-Germain, it is because I shall meet you there.”
“Mme. de Beauseant’s note seems to say very plainly that she does not expect to see the Baron de Nucingen at her ball; don’t you think so?” said Eugene.
“Why, yes,” said the Baroness as she returned the letter. “Those women have a talent for insolence. But it is of no consequence, I shall go. My sister is sure to be there, and sure to be very beautifully dressed.–Eugene,” she went on, lowering her voice, “she will go to dispel ugly suspicions. You do not know the things that people are saying about her. Only this morning Nucingen came to tell me that they had been discussing her at the club. Great heavens! on what does a woman’s character and the honor of a whole family depend! I feel that I am nearly touched and wounded in my poor sister. According to some people, M. de Trailles must have put his name to bills for a hundred thousand francs, nearly all of them are overdue, and proceedings are threatened. In this predicament, it seems that my sister sold her diamonds to a Jew–the beautiful diamonds that belonged to her husband’s mother, Mme. de Restaud the elder,–you have seen her wearing them. In fact, nothing else has been talked about for the last two days. So I can see that Anastasie is sure to come to Mme. de Beauseant’s ball in tissue of gold, and ablaze with diamonds, to draw all eyes upon her; and I will not be outshone. She has tried to eclipse me all her life, she has never been kind to me, and I have helped her so often, and always had money for her when she had none. –But never mind other people now, to-day I mean to be perfectly happy.”
At one o’clock that morning Eugene was still with Mme. de Nucingen. In the midst of their lovers’ farewell, a farewell full of hope of bliss to come, she said in a troubled voice, “I am very fearful, superstitious. Give what name you like to my presentiments, but I am afraid that my happiness will be paid for by some horrible catastrophe.”
“Child!” said Eugene.
“Ah! have we changed places, and am I the child to-night?” she asked, laughingly.
Eugene went back to the Maison Vauquer, never doubting but that he should leave it for good on the morrow; and on the way he fell to dreaming the bright dreams of youth, when the cup of happiness has left its sweetness on the lips.
“Well?” cried Goriot, as Rastignac passed by his door.
“Yes,” said Eugene; “I will tell you everything to-morrow.”
“Everything, will you not?” cried the old man. “Go to bed. To-morrow our happy life will begin.”
Next day, Goriot and Rastignac were ready to leave the lodging-house, and only awaited the good pleasure of a porter to move out of it; but towards noon there was a sound of wheels in the Rue Neuve-Sainte-Genevieve, and a carriage stopped before the door of the Maison Vauquer. Mme. de Nucingen alighted, and asked if her father was still in the house, and, receiving an affirmative reply from Sylvie, ran lightly upstairs.
It so happened that Eugene was at home all unknown to his neighbor. At breakfast time he had asked Goriot to superintend the removal of his goods, saying that he would meet him in the Rue d’Artois at four o’clock; but Rastignac’s name had been called early on the list at the Ecole de Droit, and he had gone back at once to the Rue Nueve-Sainte-Genevieve. No one had seen him come in, for Goriot had gone to find a porter, and the mistress of the house was likewise out. Eugene had thought to pay her himself, for it struck him that if he left this, Goriot in his zeal would probably pay for him. As it was, Eugene went up to his room to see that nothing had been forgotten, and blessed his foresight when he saw the blank bill bearing Vautrin’s signature lying in the drawer where he had carelessly thrown it on the day when he had repaid the amount. There was no fire in the grate, so he was about to tear it into little pieces, when he heard a voice speaking in Goriot’s room, and the speaker was Delphine! He made no more noise, and stood still to listen, thinking that she should have no secrets from him; but after the first few words, the conversation between the father and daughter was so strange and interesting that it absorbed all his attention.
“Ah! thank heaven that you thought of asking him to give an account of the money settled on me before I was utterly ruined, father. Is it safe to talk?” she added.
“Yes, there is no one in the house,” said her father faintly.
“What is the matter with you?” asked Mme. de Nucingen.
“God forgive you! you have just dealt me a staggering blow, child!" said the old man. “You cannot know how much I love you, or you would not have burst in upon me like this, with such news, especially if all is not lost. Has something so important happened that you must come here about it? In a few minutes we should have been in the Rue d’Artois.”
“Eh! does one think what one is doing after a catastrophe? It has turned my head. Your attorney has found out the state of things now, but it was bound to come out sooner or later. We shall want your long business experience; and I come to you like a drowning man who catches at a branch. When M. Derville found that Nucingen was throwing all sorts of difficulties in his way, he threatened him with proceedings, and told him plainly that he would soon obtain an order from the President of the Tribunal. So Nucingen came to my room this morning, and asked if I meant to ruin us both. I told him that I knew nothing whatever about it, that I had a fortune, and ought to be put into possession of my fortune, and that my attorney was acting for me in the matter; I said again that I knew absolutely nothing about it, and could not possibly go into the subject with him. Wasn’t that what you told me to tell him?”
“Yes, quite right,” answered Goriot.
“Well, then,” Delphine continued, “he told me all about his affairs. He had just invested all his capital and mine in business speculations; they have only just been started, and very large sums of money are locked up. If I were to compel him to refund my dowry now, he would be forced to file his petition; but if I will wait a year, he undertakes, on his honor, to double or treble my fortune, by investing it in building land, and I shall be mistress at last of the whole of my property. He was speaking the truth, father dear; he frightened me! He asked my pardon for his conduct; he has given me my liberty; I am free to act as I please on condition that I leave him to carry on my business in my name. To prove his sincerity, he promised that M. Derville might inspect the accounts as often as I pleased, so that I might be assured that everything was being conducted properly. In short, he put himself in my power, bound hand and foot. He wishes the present arrangements as to the expenses of housekeeping to continue for two more years, and entreated me not to exceed my allowance. He showed me plainly that it was all that he could do to keep up appearances; he has broken with his opera dancer; he will be compelled to practise the most strict economy (in secret) if he is to bide his time with unshaken credit. I scolded, I did all I could to drive him to desperation, so as to find out more. He showed me his ledgers–he broke down and cried at last. I never saw a man in such a state. He lost his head completely, talked of killing himself, and raved till I felt quite sorry for him.”
“Do you really believe that silly rubbish?” . . . cried her father. “It was all got up for your benefit! I have had to do with Germans in the way of business, honest and straightforward they are pretty sure to be, but when with their simplicity and frankness they are sharpers and humbugs as well, they are the worst rogues of all. Your husband is taking advantage of you. As soon as pressure is brought to bear on him he shams dead; he means to be more the master under your name than in his own. He will take advantage of the position to secure himself against the risks of business. He is as sharp as he is treacherous; he is a bad lot! No, no; I am not going to leave my girls behind me without a penny when I go to Pere-Lachaise. I know something about business still. He has sunk his money in speculation, he says; very well then, there is something to show for it–bills, receipts, papers of some sort. Let him produce them, and come to an arrangement with you. We will choose the most promising of his speculations, take them over at our own risk, and have the securities transferred into your name; they shall represent the separate estate of Delphine Goriot, wife of the Baron de Nucingen. Does that fellow really take us for idiots? Does he imagine that I could stand the idea of your being without fortune, without bread, for forty-eight hours? I would not stand it a day–no, not a night, not a couple of hours! If there had been any foundation for the idea, I should never get over it. What! I have worked hard for forty years, carried sacks on my back, and sweated and pinched and saved all my life for you, my darlings, for you who made the toil and every burden borne for you seem light; and now, my fortune, my whole life, is to vanish in smoke! I should die raving mad if I believed a word of it. By all that’s holiest in heaven and earth, we will have this cleared up at once; go through the books, have the whole business looked thoroughly into! I will not sleep, nor rest, nor eat until I have satisfied myself that all your fortune is in existence. Your money is settled upon you, God be thanked! and, luckily, your attorney, Maitre Derville, is an honest man. Good Lord! you shall have your snug little million, your fifty thousand francs a year, as long as you live, or I will raise a racket in Paris, I will so! If the Tribunals put upon us, I will appeal to the Chambers. If I knew that you were well and comfortably off as far as money is concerned, that thought would keep me easy in spite of bad health and troubles. Money? why, it is life! Money does everything. That great dolt of an Alsatian shall sing to another tune! Look here, Delphine, don’t give way, don’t make a concession of half a quarter of a farthing to that fathead, who has ground you down and made you miserable. If he can’t do without you, we will give him a good cudgeling, and keep him in order. Great heavens! my brain is on fire; it is as if there were something redhot inside my head. My Delphine lying on straw! You! my Fifine! Good gracious! Where are my gloves? Come, let us go at once; I mean to see everything with my own eyes –books, cash, and correspondence, the whole business. I shall have no peace until I know for certain that your fortune is secure.”
“Oh! father dear, be careful how you set about it! If there is the least hint of vengeance in the business, if you show yourself openly hostile, it will be all over with me. He knows whom he has to deal with; he thinks it quite natural that if you put the idea into my head, I should be uneasy about my money; but I swear to you that he has it in his own hands, and that he had meant to keep it. He is just the man to abscond with all the money and leave us in the lurch, the scoundrel! He knows quite well that I will not dishonor the name I bear by bringing him into a court of law. His position is strong and weak at the same time. If we drive him to despair, I am lost.”
“Why, then, the man is a rogue?”
“Well, yes, father,” she said, flinging herself into a chair, “I wanted to keep it from you to spare your feelings,” and she burst into tears; “I did not want you to know that you had married me to such a man as he is. He is just the same in private life–body and soul and conscience–the same through and through–hideous! I hate him; I despise him! Yes, after all that that despicable Nucingen has told me, I cannot respect him any longer. A man capable of mixing himself up in such affairs, and of talking about them to me as he did, without the slightest scruple,–it is because I have read him through and through that I am afraid of him. He, my husband, frankly proposed to give me my liberty, and do you know what that means? It means that if things turn out badly for him, I am to play into his hands, and be his stalking-horse.”
“But there is law to be had! There is a Place de Greve for sons-in-law of that sort,” cried her father; “why, I would guillotine him myself if there was no headsman to do it.”
“No, father, the law cannot touch him. Listen, this is what he says, stripped of all his circumlocutions–’Take your choice, you and no one else can be my accomplice; either everything is lost, you are ruined and have not a farthing, or you will let me carry this business through myself.’ Is that plain speaking? He must have my assistance. He is assured that his wife will deal fairly by him; he knows that I shall leave his money to him and be content with my own. It is an unholy and dishonest compact, and he holds out threats of ruin to compel me to consent to it. He is buying my conscience, and the price is liberty to be Eugene’s wife in all but name. ’I connive at your errors, and you allow me to commit crimes and ruin poor families!’ Is that sufficiently explicit? Do you know what he means by speculations? He buys up land in his own name, then he finds men of straw to run up houses upon it. These men make a bargain with a contractor to build the houses, paying them by bills at long dates; then in consideration of a small sum they leave my husband in possession of the houses, and finally slip through the fingers of the deluded contractors by going into bankruptcy. The name of the firm of Nucingen has been used to dazzle the poor contractors. I saw that. I noticed, too, that Nucingen had sent bills for large amounts to Amsterdam, London, Naples, and Vienna, in order to prove if necessary that large sums had been paid away by the firm. How could we get possession of those bills?”
Eugene heard a dull thud on the floor; Father Goriot must have fallen on his knees.
“Great heavens! what have I done to you? Bound my daughter to this scoundrel who does as he likes with her!–Oh! my child, my child! forgive me!” cried the old man.
“Yes, if I am in the depths of despair, perhaps you are to blame," said Delphine. “We have so little sense when we marry! What do we know of the world, of business, or men, or life? Our fathers should think for us! Father dear, I am not blaming you in the least, forgive me for what I said. This is all my own fault. Nay, do not cry, papa,” she said, kissing him.
“Do not cry either, my little Delphine. Look up and let me kiss away the tears. There! I shall find my wits and unravel this skein of your husband’s winding.”
“No, let me do that; I shall be able to manage him. He is fond of me, well and good; I shall use my influence to make him invest my money as soon as possible in landed property in my own name. Very likely I could get him to buy back Nucingen in Alsace in my name; that has always been a pet idea of his. Still, come to-morrow and go through the books, and look into the business. M. Derville knows little of mercantile matters. No, not to-morrow though. I do not want to be upset. Mme. de Beauseant’s ball will be the day after to-morrow, and I must keep quiet, so as to look my best and freshest, and do honor to my dear Eugene! . . . Come, let us see his room.”
But as she spoke a carriage stopped in the Rue Nueve-Sainte-Genevieve, and the sound of Mme. de Restaud’s voice came from the staircase. “Is my father in?” she asked of Sylvie.
This accident was luckily timed for Eugene, whose one idea had been to throw himself down on the bed and pretend to be asleep.
“Oh, father, have you heard about Anastasie?” said Delphine, when she heard her sister speak. “It looks as though some strange things had happened in that family.”
“What sort of things?” asked Goriot. “This is like to be the death of me. My poor head will not stand a double misfortune.”
“Good-morning, father,” said the Countess from the threshold. “Oh! Delphine, are you here?”
Mme. de Restaud seemed taken aback by her sister’s presence.
“Good-morning, Nasie,” said the Baroness. “What is there so extraordinary in my being here? I see our father every day.”
“If you came yourself you would know.”
“Don’t tease, Delphine,” said the Countess fretfully. “I am very miserable, I am lost. Oh! my poor father, it is hopeless this time!”
“What is it, Nasie?” cried Goriot. “Tell us all about it, child! How white she is! Quick, do something, Delphine; be kind to her, and I will love you even better, if that were possible.”
“Poor Nasie!” said Mme. de Nucingen, drawing her sister to a chair. “We are the only two people in the world whose love is always sufficient to forgive you everything. Family affection is the surest, you see.”
The Countess inhaled the salts and revived.
“This will kill me!” said their father. “There,” he went on, stirring the smouldering fire, “come nearer, both of you. It is cold. What is it, Nasie? Be quick and tell me, this is enough to––”
“Well, then, my husband knows everything,” said the Countess. “Just imagine it; do you remember, father, that bill of Maxime’s some time ago? Well, that was not the first. I had paid ever so many before that. About the beginning of January M. de Trailles seemed very much troubled. He said nothing to me; but it is so easy to read the hearts of those you love, a mere trifle is enough; and then you feel things instinctively. Indeed, he was more tender and affectionate than ever, and I was happier than I had ever been before. Poor Maxime! in himself he was really saying good-bye to me, so he has told me since; he meant to blow his brains out! At last I worried him so, and begged and implored so hard; for two hours I knelt at his knees and prayed and entreated, and at last he told me–that he owed a hundred thousand francs. Oh! papa! a hundred thousand francs! I was beside myself! You had not the money, I knew, I had eaten up all that you had––”
“No,” said Goriot; “I could not have got it for you unless I had stolen it. But I would have done that for you, Nasie! I will do it yet.”
The words came from him like a sob, a hoarse sound like the death rattle of a dying man; it seemed indeed like the agony of death when the father’s love was powerless. There was a pause, and neither of the sisters spoke. It must have been selfishness indeed that could hear unmoved that cry of anguish that, like a pebble thrown over a precipice, revealed the depths of his despair.
“I found the money, father, by selling what was not mine to sell,” and the Countess burst into tears.
Delphine was touched; she laid her head on her sister’s shoulder, and cried too.
“Then it is all true,” she said.
Anastasie bowed her head, Mme. de Nucingen flung her arms about her, kissed her tenderly, and held her sister to her heart.
“I shall always love you and never judge you, Nasie,” she said.
“My angels,” murmured Goriot faintly. “Oh, why should it be trouble that draws you together?”
This warm and palpitating affection seemed to give the Countess courage.
“To save Maxime’s life,” she said, “to save all my own happiness, I went to the money-lender you know of, a man of iron forged in hell-fire; nothing can melt him; I took all the family diamonds that M. de Restaud is so proud of–his and mine too–and sold them to that M. Gobseck. Sold them! Do you understand? I saved Maxime, but I am lost. Restaud found it all out.”
“How? Who told him? I will kill him,” cried Goriot.
“Yesterday he sent to tell me to come to his room. I went. . . . ’Anastasie,’ he said in a voice–oh! such a voice; that was enough, it told me everything–’where are your diamonds?’–’In my room––’–’No,’ he said, looking straight at me, ’there they are on that chest of drawers––’ and he lifted his handkerchief and showed me the casket. ’Do you know where they came from?’ he said. I fell at his feet. . . . I cried; I besought him to tell me the death he wished to see me die.”
“You said that!” cried Goriot. “By God in heaven, whoever lays a hand on either of you so long as I am alive may reckon on being roasted by slow fires! Yes, I will cut him in pieces like . . .”
Goriot stopped; the words died away in his throat.
“And then, dear, he asked something worse than death of me. Oh! heaven preserve all other women from hearing such words as I heard then!”
“I will murder that man,” said Goriot quietly. “But he has only one life, and he deserves to die twice.–And then, what next?” he added, looking at Anastasie.
“Then,” the Countess resumed, “there was a pause, and he looked at me. ’Anastasie,’ he said, ’I will bury this in silence; there shall be no separation; there are the children. I will not kill M. de Trailles. I might miss him if we fought, and as for other ways of getting rid of him, I should come into collision with the law. If I killed him in your arms, it would bring dishonor on those children. But if you do not want to see your children perish, nor their father nor me, you must first of all submit to two conditions. Answer me. Have I a child of my own?’ I answered, ’Yes,’–’Which?’–’Ernest, our eldest boy.’ –’Very well,’ he said, ’and now swear to obey me in this particular from this time forward.’ I swore. ’You will make over your property to me when I require you to do so.’”
“Do nothing of the kind!” cried Goriot. “Aha! M. de Restaud, you could not make your wife happy; she has looked for happiness and found it elsewhere, and you make her suffer for your own ineptitude? He will have to reckon with me. Make yourself easy, Nasie. Aha! he cares about his heir! Good, very good. I will get hold of the boy; isn’t he my grandson? What the blazes! I can surely go to see the brat! I will stow him away somewhere; I will take care of him, you may be quite easy. I will bring Restaud to terms, the monster! I shall say to him, ’A word or two with you! If you want your son back again, give my daughter her property, and leave her to do as she pleases.’”
“Yes. I am your father, Nasie, a father indeed! That rogue of a great lord had better not ill-treat my daughter. Tonnerre! What is it in my veins? There is the blood of a tiger in me; I could tear those two men to pieces! Oh! children, children! so this is what your lives are! Why, it is death! . . . What will become of you when I shall be here no longer? Fathers ought to live as long as their children. Ah! Lord God in heaven! how ill Thy world is ordered! Thou hast a Son, if what they tell us is true, and yet Thou leavest us to suffer so through our children. My darlings, my darlings! to think that trouble only should bring you to me, that I should only see you with tears on your faces! Ah! yes, yes, you love me, I see that you love me. Come to me and pour out your griefs to me; my heart is large enough to hold them all. Oh! you might rend my heart in pieces, and every fragment would make a father’s heart. If only I could bear all your sorrows for you! . . . Ah! you were so happy when you were little and still with me. . . .”
“We have never been happy since,” said Delphine. “Where are the old days when we slid down the sacks in the great granary?”