By Honore de Balzac
Public Domain Books
“That is not all, father,” said Anastasie in Goriot’s ear. The old man gave a startled shudder. “The diamonds only sold for a hundred thousand francs. Maxime is hard pressed. There are twelve thousand francs still to pay. He has given me his word that he will be steady and give up play in future. His love is all that I have left in the world. I have paid such a fearful price for it that I should die if I lose him now. I have sacrificed my fortune, my honor, my peace of mind, and my children for him. Oh! do something, so that at the least Maxime may be at large and live undisgraced in the world, where he will assuredly make a career for himself. Something more than my happiness is at stake; the children have nothing, and if he is sent to Sainte-Pelagie all his prospects will be ruined.”
“I haven’t the money, Nasie. I have nothing–nothing left. This is the end of everything. Yes, the world is crumbling into ruin, I am sure. Fly! Save yourselves! Ah!–I have still my silver buckles left, and half-a-dozen silver spoons and forks, the first I ever had in my life. But I have nothing else except my life annuity, twelve hundred francs . . .”
“Then what has become of your money in the funds?”
“I sold out, and only kept a trifle for my wants. I wanted twelve thousand francs to furnish some rooms for Delphine.”
“In your own house?” asked Mme. de Restaud, looking at her sister.
“What does it matter where they were?” asked Goriot. “The money is spent now.”
“I see how it is,” said the Countess. “Rooms for M. de Rastignac. Poor Delphine, take warning by me!”
“M. de Rastignac is incapable of ruining the woman he loves, dear.”
“Thanks! Delphine. I thought you would have been kinder to me in my troubles, but you never did love me.”
“Yes, yes, she loves you, Nasie,” cried Goriot; “she was saying so only just now. We were talking about you, and she insisted that you were beautiful, and that she herself was only pretty!”
“Pretty!” said the Countess. “She is as hard as a marble statue.”
“And if I am?” cried Delphine, flushing up, “how have you treated me? You would not recognize me; you closed the doors of every house against me; you have never let an opportunity of mortifying me slip by. And when did I come, as you were always doing, to drain our poor father, a thousand francs at a time, till he is left as you see him now? That is all your doing, sister! I myself have seen my father as often as I could. I have not turned him out of the house, and then come and fawned upon him when I wanted money. I did not so much as know that he had spent those twelve thousand francs on me. I am economical, as you know; and when papa has made me presents, it has never been because I came and begged for them.”
“You were better off than I. M. de Marsay was rich, as you have reason to know. You always were as slippery as gold. Good-bye; I have neither sister nor––”
“Oh! hush, hush, Nasie!” cried her father.
“Nobody else would repeat what everybody has ceased to believe. You are an unnatural sister!” cried Delphine.
“Oh, children, children! hush! hush! or I will kill myself before your eyes.”
“There, Nasie, I forgive you,” said Mme. de Nucingen; “you are very unhappy. But I am kinder than you are. How could you say that just when I was ready to do anything in the world to help you, even to be reconciled with my husband, which for my own sake I––Oh! it is just like you; you have behaved cruelly to me all through these nine years.”
“Children, children, kiss each other!” cried the father. “You are angels, both of you.”
“No. Let me alone,” cried the Countess shaking off the hand that her father had laid on her arm. “She is more merciless than my husband. Any one might think she was a model of all the virtues herself!”
“I would rather have people think that I owed money to M. de Marsay than own that M. de Trailles had cost me more than two hundred thousand francs,” retorted Mme. de Nucingen.
“Delphine!” cried the Countess, stepping towards her sister.
“I shall tell you the truth about yourself if you begin to slander me,” said the Baroness coldly.
“Delphine! you are a ––”
Father Goriot sprang between them, grasped the Countess’ hand, and laid his own over her mouth.
“Good heavens, father! What have you been handling this morning?” said Anastasie.
“Ah! well, yes, I ought not to have touched you,” said the poor father, wiping his hands on his trousers, “but I have been packing up my things; I did not know that you were coming to see me.”
He was glad that he had drawn down her wrath upon himself.
“Ah!” he sighed, as he sat down, “you children have broken my heart between you. This is killing me. My head feels as if it were on fire. Be good to each other and love each other! This will be the death of me! Delphine! Nasie! come, be sensible; you are both in the wrong. Come, Dedel,” he added, looking through his tears at the Baroness, “she must have twelve thousand francs, you see; let us see if we can find them for her. Oh, my girls, do not look at each other like that!" and he sank on his knees beside Delphine. “Ask her to forgive you –just to please me,” he said in her ear. “She is more miserable than you are. Come now, Dedel.”
“Poor Nasie!” said Delphine, alarmed at the wild extravagant grief in her father’s face, “I was in the wrong, kiss me––”
“Ah! that is like balm to my heart,” cried Father Goriot. “But how are we to find twelve thousand francs? I might offer myself as a substitute in the army––”
“Oh! father dear!” they both cried, flinging their arms about him. “No, no!”
“God reward you for the thought. We are not worth it, are we, Nasie?" asked Delphine.
“And besides, father dear, it would only be a drop in the bucket," observed the Countess.
“But is flesh and blood worth nothing?” cried the old man in his despair. “I would give body and soul to save you, Nasie. I would do a murder for the man who would rescue you. I would do, as Vautrin did, go to the hulks, go––” he stopped as if struck by a thunderbolt, and put both hands to his head. “Nothing left!” he cried, tearing his hair. “If I only knew of a way to steal money, but it is so hard to do it, and then you can’t set to work by yourself, and it takes time to rob a bank. Yes, it is time I was dead; there is nothing left me to do but to die. I am no good in the world; I am no longer a father! No. She has come to me in her extremity, and, wretch that I am, I have nothing to give her. Ah! you put your money into a life annuity, old scoundrel; and had you not daughters? You did not love them. Die, die in a ditch, like the dog that you are! Yes, I am worse than a dog; a beast would not have done as I have done! Oh! my head . . . it throbs as if it would burst.”
“Papa!” cried both the young women at once, “do, pray, be reasonable!" and they clung to him to prevent him from dashing his head against the wall. There was a sound of sobbing.
Eugene, greatly alarmed, took the bill that bore Vautrin’s signature, saw that the stamp would suffice for a larger sum, altered the figures, made it into a regular bill for twelve thousand francs, payable to Goriot’s order, and went to his neighbor’s room.
“Here is the money, madame,” he said, handing the piece of paper to her. “I was asleep; your conversation awoke me, and by this means I learned all that I owed to M. Goriot. This bill can be discounted, and I shall meet it punctually at the due date.”
The Countess stood motionless and speechless, but she held the bill in her fingers.
“Delphine,” she said, with a white face, and her whole frame quivering with indignation, anger, and rage, “I forgave you everything; God is my witness that I forgave you, but I cannot forgive this! So this gentleman was there all the time, and you knew it! Your petty spite has let you to wreak your vengeance on me by betraying my secrets, my life, my children’s lives, my shame, my honor! There, you are nothing to me any longer. I hate you. I will do all that I can to injure you. I will . . .”
Anger paralyzed her; the words died in her dry parched throat.
“Why, he is my son, my child; he is your brother, your preserver!" cried Goriot. “Kiss his hand, Nasie! Stay, I will embrace him myself," he said, straining Eugene to his breast in a frenzied clasp. “Oh my boy! I will be more than a father to you; if I had God’s power, I would fling worlds at your feet. Why don’t you kiss him, Nasie? He is not a man, but an angel, a angel out of heaven.”
“Never mind her, father; she is mad just now.”
“Mad! am I? And what are you?” cried Mme. de Restaud.
“Children, children, I shall die if you go on like this,” cried the old man, and he staggered and fell on the bed as if a bullet had struck him.–"They are killing me between them,” he said to himself.
The Countess fixed her eyes on Eugene, who stood stock still; all his faculties were numbed by this violent scene.
“Sir? . . .” she said, doubt and inquiry in her face, tone, and bearing; she took no notice now of her father nor of Delphine, who was hastily unfastening his waistcoat.
“Madame,” said Eugene, answering the question before it was asked, “I will meet the bill, and keep silence about it.”
“You have killed our father, Nasie!” said Delphine, pointing to Goriot, who lay unconscious on the bed. The Countess fled.
“I freely forgive her,” said the old man, opening his eyes; “her position is horrible; it would turn an older head than hers. Comfort Nasie, and be nice to her, Delphine; promise it to your poor father before he dies,” he asked, holding Delphine’s hand in a convulsive clasp.
“Oh! what ails you, father?” she cried in real alarm.
“Nothing, nothing,” said Goriot; “it will go off. There is something heavy pressing on my forehead, a little headache. . . . Ah! poor Nasie, what a life lies before her!”
Just as he spoke, the Countess came back again and flung herself on her knees before him. “Forgive me!” she cried.
“Come,” said her father, “you are hurting me still more.”
“Monsieur,” the Countess said, turning to Rastignac, “misery made me unjust to you. You will be a brother to me, will you not?” and she held out her hand. Her eyes were full of tears as she spoke.
“Nasie,” cried Delphine, flinging her arms round her sister, “my little Nasie, let us forget and forgive.”
“No, no,” cried Nasie; “I shall never forget!”
“Dear angels,” cried Goriot, “it is as if a dark curtain over my eyes had been raised; your voices have called me back to life. Kiss each other once more. Well, now, Nasie, that bill will save you, won’t it?”
“I hope so. I say, papa, will you write your name on it?”
“There! how stupid of me to forget that! But I am not feeling at all well, Nasie, so you must not remember it against me. Send and let me know as soon as you are out of your strait. No, I will go to you. No, after all, I will not go; I might meet your husband, and I should kill him on the spot. And as for signing away your property, I shall have a word to say about that. Quick, my child, and keep Maxime in order in future.”
Eugene was too bewildered to speak.
“Poor Anastasie, she always had a violent temper,” said Mme. de Nucingen, “but she has a good heart.”
“She came back for the endorsement,” said Eugene in Delphine’s ear.
“Do you think so?”
“I only wish I could think otherwise. Do not trust her,” he answered, raising his eyes as if he confided to heaven the thoughts that he did not venture to express.
“Yes. She is always acting a part to some extent.”
“How do you feel now, dear Father Goriot?” asked Rastignac.
“I should like to go to sleep,” he replied.
Eugene helped him to bed, and Delphine sat by the bedside, holding his hand until he fell asleep. Then she went.
“This evening at the Italiens,” she said to Eugene, “and you can let me know how he is. To-morrow you will leave this place, monsieur. Let us go into your room.–Oh! how frightful!” she cried on the threshold. “Why, you are even worse lodged than our father. Eugene, you have behaved well. I would love you more if that were possible; but, dear boy, if you are to succeed in life, you must not begin by flinging twelve thousand francs out of the windows like that. The Comte de Trailles is a confirmed gambler. My sister shuts her eyes to it. He would have made the twelve thousand francs in the same way that he wins and loses heaps of gold.”
A groan from the next room brought them back to Goriot’s bedside; to all appearances he was asleep, but the two lovers caught the words, “They are not happy!” Whether he was awake or sleeping, the tone in which they were spoken went to his daughter’s heart. She stole up to the pallet-bed on which her father lay, and kissed his forehead. He opened his eyes.
“Ah! Delphine!” he said.
“How are you now?” she asked.
“Quite comfortable. Do not worry about me; I shall get up presently. Don’t stay with me, children; go, go and be happy.”
Eugene went back with Delphine as far as her door; but he was not easy about Goriot, and would not stay to dinner, as she proposed. He wanted to be back at the Maison Vauquer. Father Goriot had left his room, and was just sitting down to dinner as he came in. Bianchon had placed himself where he could watch the old man carefully; and when the old vermicelli maker took up his square of bread and smelled it to find out the quality of the flour, the medical student, studying him closely, saw that the action was purely mechanical, and shook his head.
“Just come and sit over here, hospitaller of Cochin,” said Eugene.
Bianchon went the more willingly because his change of place brought him next to the old lodger.
“What is wrong with him?” asked Rastignac.
“It is all up with him, or I am much mistaken! Something very extraordinary must have taken place; he looks to me as if he were in imminent danger of serous apoplexy. The lower part of his face is composed enough, but the upper part is drawn and distorted. Then there is that peculiar look about the eyes that indicates an effusion of serum in the brain; they look as though they were covered with a film of fine dust, do you notice? I shall know more about it by to-morrow morning.”
“Is there any cure for it?”
“None. It might be possible to stave death off for a time if a way could be found of setting up a reaction in the lower extremities; but if the symptoms do not abate by to-morrow evening, it will be all over with him, poor old fellow! Do you know what has happened to bring this on? There must have been some violent shock, and his mind has given way.”
“Yes, there was,” said Rastignac, remembering how the two daughters had struck blow on blow at their father’s heart.
“But Delphine at any rate loves her father,” he said to himself.
That evening at the opera Rastignac chose his words carefully, lest he should give Mme. de Nucingen needless alarm.
“Do not be anxious about him,” she said, however, as soon as Eugene began, “our father has really a strong constitution, but this morning we gave him a shock. Our whole fortunes were in peril, so the thing was serious, you see. I could not live if your affection did not make me insensible to troubles that I should once have thought too hard to bear. At this moment I have but one fear left, but one misery to dread–to lose the love that has made me feel glad to live. Everything else is as nothing to me compared with our love; I care for nothing else, for you are all the world to me. If I feel glad to be rich, it is for your sake. To my shame be it said, I think of my lover before my father. Do you ask why? I cannot tell you, but all my life is in you. My father gave me a heart, but you have taught it to beat. The whole world may condemn me; what does it matter if I stand acquitted in your eyes, for you have no right to think ill of me for the faults which a tyrannous love has forced me to commit for you! Do you think me an unnatural daughter? Oh! no, no one could help loving such a dear kind father as ours. But how could I hide the inevitable consequences of our miserable marriages from him? Why did he allow us to marry when we did? Was it not his duty to think for us and foresee for us? To-day I know he suffers as much as we do, but how can it be helped? And as for comforting him, we could not comfort him in the least. Our resignation would give him more pain and hurt him far more than complaints and upbraidings. There are times in life when everything turns to bitterness.”
Eugene was silent, the artless and sincere outpouring made an impression on him.
Parisian women are often false, intoxicated with vanity, selfish and self-absorbed, frivolous and shallow; yet of all women, when they love, they sacrifice their personal feelings to their passion; they rise but so much the higher for all the pettiness overcome in their nature, and become sublime. Then Eugene was struck by the profound discernment and insight displayed by this woman in judging of natural affection, when a privileged affection had separated and set her at a distance apart. Mme. de Nucingen was piqued by the silence,
“What are you thinking about?” she asked.
“I am thinking about what you said just now. Hitherto I have always felt sure that I cared far more for you than you did for me.”
She smiled, and would not give way to the happiness she felt, lest their talk should exceed the conventional limits of propriety. She had never heard the vibrating tones of a sincere and youthful love; a few more words, and she feared for her self-control.
“Eugene,” she said, changing the conversation, “I wonder whether you know what has been happening? All Paris will go to Mme. de Beauseant’s to-morrow. The Rochefides and the Marquis d’Ajuda have agreed to keep the matter a profound secret, but to-morrow the king will sign the marriage-contract, and your poor cousin the Vicomtesse knows nothing of it as yet. She cannot put off her ball, and the Marquis will not be there. People are wondering what will happen?”
“The world laughs at baseness and connives at it. But this will kill Mme. de Beauseant.”
“Oh, no,” said Delphine, smiling, “you do not know that kind of woman. Why, all Paris will be there, and so shall I; I ought to go there for your sake.”
“Perhaps, after all, it is one of those absurd reports that people set in circulation here.”
“We shall know the truth to-morrow.”
Eugene did not return to the Maison Vauquer. He could not forego the pleasure of occupying his new rooms in the Rue d’Artois. Yesterday evening he had been obliged to leave Delphine soon after midnight, but that night it was Delphine who stayed with him until two o’clock in the morning. He rose late, and waited for Mme. de Nucingen, who came about noon to breakfast with him. Youth snatches eagerly at these rosy moments of happiness, and Eugene had almost forgotten Goriot’s existence. The pretty things that surrounded him were growing familiar; this domestication in itself was one long festival for him, and Mme. de Nucingen was there to glorify it all by her presence. It was four o’clock before they thought of Goriot, and of how he had looked forward to the new life in that house. Eugene said that the old man ought to be moved at once, lest he should grow too ill to move. He left Delphine and hurried back to the lodging-house. Neither Father Goriot nor young Bianchon was in the dining-room with the others.
“Aha!” said the painter as Eugene came in, “Father Goriot has broken down at last. Bianchon is upstairs with him. One of his daughters–the Comtesse de Restaurama–came to see the old gentleman, and he would get up and go out, and made himself worse. Society is about to lose one of its brightest ornaments.”
Rastignac sprang to the staircase.
“Hey! Monsieur Eugene!”
“Monsieur Eugene, the mistress is calling you,” shouted Sylvie.
“It is this, sir,” said the widow. “You and M. Goriot should by rights have moved out on the 15th of February. That was three days ago; to-day is the 18th, I ought really to be paid a month in advance; but if you will engage to pay for both, I shall be quite satisfied.”
“Why can’t you trust him?”
“Trust him, indeed! If the old gentleman went off his head and died, those daughters of his would not pay me a farthing, and his things won’t fetch ten francs. This morning he went out with all the spoons and forks he has left, I don’t know why. He had got himself up to look quite young, and–Lord, forgive me–but I thought he had rouge on his cheeks; he looked quite young again.”
“I will be responsible,” said Eugene, shuddering with horror, for he foresaw the end.
He climbed the stairs and reached Father Goriot’s room. The old man was tossing on his bed. Bianchon was with him.
“Good-evening, father,” said Eugene.
The old man turned his glassy eyes on him, smiled gently, and said:
“How is she?”
“She is quite well. But how are you?”
“There is nothing much the matter.”
“Don’t tire him,” said Bianchon, drawing Eugene into a corner of the room.
“Well?” asked Rastignac.
“Nothing but a miracle can save him now. Serous congestion has set in; I have put on mustard plasters, and luckily he can feel them, they are acting.”
“Is it possible to move him?”
“Quite out of the question. He must stay where he is, and be kept as quiet as possible––”
“Dear Bianchon,” said Eugene, “we will nurse him between us.”
“I have had the head physician round from my hospital to see him.”
“And what did he say?”
“He will give no opinion till to-morrow evening. He promised to look in again at the end of the day. Unluckily, the preposterous creature must needs go and do something foolish this morning; he will not say what it was. He is as obstinate as a mule. As soon as I begin to talk to him he pretends not to hear, and lies as if he were asleep instead of answering, or if he opens his eyes he begins to groan. Some time this morning he went out on foot in the streets, nobody knows where he went, and he took everything that he had of any value with him. He has been driving some confounded bargain, and it has been too much for his strength. One of his daughters has been here.”
“Was it the Countess?” asked Eugene. “A tall, dark-haired woman, with large bright eyes, slender figure, and little feet?”
“Leave him to me for a bit,” said Rastignac. “I will make him confess; he will tell me all about it.”
“And meanwhile I will get my dinner. But try not to excite him; there is still some hope left.”
“How they will enjoy themselves to-morrow,” said Father Goriot when they were alone. “They are going to a grand ball.”
“What were you doing this morning, papa, to make yourself so poorly this evening that you have to stop in bed?”
“Did not Anastasie come to see you?” demanded Rastignac.
“Yes,” said Father Goriot.
“Well, then, don’t keep anything from me. What more did she want of you?”
“Oh, she was very miserable,” he answered, gathering up all his strength to speak. “It was this way, my boy. Since that affair of the diamonds, Nasie has not had a penny of her own. For this ball she had ordered a golden gown like a setting for a jewel. Her mantuamaker, a woman without a conscience, would not give her credit, so Nasie’s waiting-woman advanced a thousand francs on account. Poor Nasie! reduced to such shifts! It cut me to the heart to think of it! But when Nasie’s maid saw how things were between her master and mistress, she was afraid of losing her money, and came to an understanding with the dressmaker, and the woman refuses to send the ball-dress until the money is paid. The gown is ready, and the ball is to-morrow night! Nasie was in despair. She wanted to borrow my forks and spoons to pawn them. Her husband is determined that she shall go and wear the diamonds, so as to contradict the stories that are told all over Paris. How can she go to that heartless scoundrel and say, ’I owe a thousand francs to my dressmaker; pay her for me!’ She cannot. I saw that myself. Delphine will be there too in a superb toilette, and Anastasie ought not to be outshone by her younger sister. And then –she was drowned in tears, poor girl! I felt so humbled yesterday when I had not the twelve thousand francs, that I would have given the rest of my miserable life to wipe out that wrong. You see, I could have borne anything once, but latterly this want of money has broken my heart. Oh! I did not do it by halves; I titivated myself up a bit, and went out and sold my spoons and forks and buckles for six hundred francs; then I went to old Daddy Gobseck, and sold a year’s interest on my annuity for four hundred francs down. Pshaw! I can live on dry bread, as I did when I was a young man; if I have done it before, I can do it again. My Nasie shall have one happy evening, at any rate. She shall be smart. The banknote for a thousand francs is under my pillow; it warms me to have it lying there under my head, for it is going to make my poor Nasie happy. She can turn that bad girl Victoire out of the house. A servant that cannot trust her mistress, did any one ever hear the like! I shall be quite well to-morrow. Nasie is coming at ten o’clock. They must not think that I am ill, or they will not go to the ball; they will stop and take care of me. To-morrow Nasie will come and hold me in her arms as if I were one of her children; her kisses will make me well again. After all, I might have spent the thousand francs on physic; I would far rather give them to my little Nasie, who can charm all the pain away. At any rate, I am some comfort to her in her misery; and that makes up for my unkindness in buying an annuity. She is in the depths, and I cannot draw her out of them now. Oh! I will go into business again, I will buy wheat in Odessa; out there, wheat fetches a quarter of the price it sells for here. There is a law against the importation of grain, but the good folk who made the law forgot to prohibit the introduction of wheat products and food stuffs made from corn. Hey! hey! . . . That struck me this morning. There is a fine trade to be done in starch.”
Eugene, watching the old man’s face, thought that his friend was light-headed.
“Come,” he said, “do not talk any more, you must rest––” Just then Bianchon came up, and Eugene went down to dinner.
The two students sat up with him that night, relieving each other in turn. Bianchon brought up his medical books and studied; Eugene wrote letters home to his mother and sisters. Next morning Bianchon thought the symptoms more hopeful, but the patient’s condition demanded continual attention, which the two students alone were willing to give–a task impossible to describe in the squeamish phraseology of the epoch. Leeches must be applied to the wasted body, the poultices and hot foot-baths, and other details of the treatment required the physical strength and devotion of the two young men. Mme. de Restaud did not come; but she sent a messenger for the money.
“I expected she would come herself; but it would have been a pity for her to come, she would have been anxious about me,” said the father, and to all appearances he was well content.
At seven o’clock that evening Therese came with a letter from Delphine.
“What are you doing, dear friend? I have been loved for a very little while, and I am neglected already? In the confidences of heart and heart, I have learned to know your soul–you are too noble not to be faithful for ever, for you know that love with all its infinite subtle changes of feeling is never the same. Once you said, as we were listening to the Prayer in Mose in Egitto, ’For some it is the monotony of a single note; for others, it is the infinite of sound.’ Remember that I am expecting you this evening to take me to Mme. de Beauseant’s ball. Every one knows now that the King signed M. d’Ajuda’s marriage-contract this morning, and the poor Vicomtesse knew nothing of it until two o’clock this afternoon. All Paris will flock to her house, of course, just as a crowd fills the Place de Greve to see an execution. It is horrible, is it not, to go out of curiosity to see if she will hide her anguish, and whether she will die courageously? I certainly should not go, my friend, if I had been at her house before; but, of course, she will not receive society any more after this, and all my efforts would be in vain. My position is a very unusual one, and besides, I am going there partly on your account. I am waiting for you. If you are not beside me in less than two hours, I do not know whether I could forgive such treason.”
Rastignac took up a pen and wrote:
“I am waiting till the doctor comes to know if there is any hope of your father’s life. He is lying dangerously ill. I will come and bring you the news, but I am afraid it may be a sentence of death. When I come you can decide whether you can go to the ball.–Yours a thousand times.”
At half-past eight the doctor arrived. He did not take a very hopeful view of the case, but thought that there was no immediate danger. Improvements and relapses might be expected, and the good man’s life and reason hung in the balance.
“It would be better for him to die at once,” the doctor said as he took leave.
Eugene left Goriot to Bianchon’s care, and went to carry the sad news to Mme. de Nucingen. Family feeling lingered in her, and this must put an end for the present to her plans of amusement.
“Tell her to enjoy her evening as if nothing had happened,” cried Goriot. He had been lying in a sort of stupor, but he suddenly sat upright as Eugene went out.
Eugene, half heartbroken, entered Delphine’s. Her hair had been dressed; she wore her dancing slippers; she had only to put on her ball-dress; but when the artist is giving the finishing stroke to his creation, the last touches require more time than the whole groundwork of the picture.
“Why, you are not dressed!” she cried.
“Madame, your father––”
“My father again!” she exclaimed, breaking in upon him. “You need not teach me what is due to my father, I have known my father this long while. Not a word, Eugene. I will hear what you have to say when you are dressed. My carriage is waiting, take it, go round to your rooms and dress, Therese has put out everything in readiness for you. Come back as soon as you can; we will talk about my father on the way to Mme. de Beauseant’s. We must go early; if we have to wait our turn in a row of carriages, we shall be lucky if we get there by eleven o’clock.”
“Quick! not a word!” she cried, darting into her dressing-room for a necklace.
“Do go, Monsieur Eugene, or you will vex madame,” said Therese, hurrying him away; and Eugene was too horror-stricken by this elegant parricide to resist.
He went to his rooms and dressed, sad, thoughtful, and dispirited. The world of Paris was like an ocean of mud for him just then; and it seemed that whoever set foot in that black mire must needs sink into it up to the chin.
“Their crimes are paltry,” said Eugene to himself. “Vautrin was greater.”
He had seen society in its three great phases–Obedience, Struggle, and Revolt; the Family, the World, and Vautrin; and he hesitated in his choice. Obedience was dull, Revolt impossible, Struggle hazardous. His thoughts wandered back to the home circle. He thought of the quiet uneventful life, the pure happiness of the days spent among those who loved him there. Those loving and beloved beings passed their lives in obedience to the natural laws of the hearth, and in that obedience found a deep and constant serenity, unvexed by torments such as these. Yet, for all his good impulses, he could not bring himself to make profession of the religion of pure souls to Delphine, nor to prescribe the duties of piety to her in the name of love. His education had begun to bear its fruits; he loved selfishly already. Besides, his tact had discovered to him the real nature of Delphine; he divined instinctively that she was capable of stepping over her father’s corpse to go to the ball; and within himself he felt that he had neither the strength of mind to play the part of mentor, nor the strength of character to vex her, nor the courage to leave her to go alone.
“She would never forgive me for putting her in the wrong over it,” he said to himself. Then he turned the doctor’s dictum over in his mind; he tried to believe that Goriot was not so dangerously ill as he had imagined, and ended by collecting together a sufficient quantity of traitorous excuses for Delphine’s conduct. She did not know how ill her father was; the kind old man himself would have made her go to the ball if she had gone to see him. So often it happens that this one or that stands condemned by the social laws that govern family relations; and yet there are peculiar circumstances in the case, differences of temperament, divergent interests, innumerable complications of family life that excuse the apparent offence.
Eugene did not wish to see too clearly; he was ready to sacrifice his conscience to his mistress. Within the last few days his whole life had undergone a change. Woman had entered into his world and thrown it into chaos, family claims dwindled away before her; she had appropriated all his being to her uses. Rastignac and Delphine found each other at a crisis in their lives when their union gave them the most poignant bliss. Their passion, so long proved, had only gained in strength by the gratified desire that often extinguishes passion. This woman was his, and Eugene recognized that not until then had he loved her; perhaps love is only gratitude for pleasure. This woman, vile or sublime, he adored for the pleasure she had brought as her dower; and Delphine loved Rastignac as Tantalus would have loved some angel who had satisfied his hunger and quenched the burning thirst in his parched throat.
“Well,” said Mme. de Nucingen when he came back in evening dress, “how is my father?”
“Very dangerously ill,” he answered; “if you will grant me a proof of your affections, we will just go in to see him on the way.”
“Very well,” she said. “Yes, but afterwards. Dear Eugene, do be nice, and don’t preach to me. Come.”
They set out. Eugene said nothing for a while.
“What is it now?” she asked.
“I can hear the death-rattle in your father’s throat,” he said almost angrily. And with the hot indignation of youth, he told the story of Mme. de Restaud’s vanity and cruelty, of her father’s final act of self-sacrifice, that had brought about this struggle between life and death, of the price that had been paid for Anastasie’s golden embroideries. Delphine cried.
“I shall look frightful,” she thought. She dried her tears.
“I will nurse my father; I will not leave his bedside,” she said aloud.
“Ah! now you are as I would have you,” exclaimed Rastignac.
The lamps of five hundred carriages lit up the darkness about the Hotel de Beauseant. A gendarme in all the glory of his uniform stood on either side of the brightly lighted gateway. The great world was flocking thither that night in its eager curiosity to see the great lady at the moment of her fall, and the rooms on the ground floor were already full to overflowing, when Mme. de Nucingen and Rastignac appeared. Never since Louis XIV. tore her lover away from La grand Mademoiselle, and the whole court hastened to visit that unfortunate princess, had a disastrous love affair made such a sensation in Paris. But the youngest daughter of the almost royal house of Burgundy had risen proudly above her pain, and moved till the last moment like a queen in this world–its vanities had always been valueless for her, save in so far as they contributed to the triumph of her passion. The salons were filled with the most beautiful women in Paris, resplendent in their toilettes, and radiant with smiles. Ministers and ambassadors, the most distinguished men at court, men bedizened with decorations, stars, and ribbons, men who bore the most illustrious names in France, had gathered about the Vicomtesse.
The music of the orchestra vibrated in wave after wave of sound from the golden ceiling of the palace, now made desolate for its queen.
Madame de Beauseant stood at the door of the first salon to receive the guests who were styled her friends. She was dressed in white, and wore no ornament in the plaits of hair braided about her head; her face was calm; there was no sign there of pride, nor of pain, nor of joy that she did not feel. No one could read her soul; she stood there like some Niobe carved in marble. For a few intimate friends there was a tinge of satire in her smile; but no scrutiny saw any change in her, nor had she looked otherwise in the days of the glory of her happiness. The most callous of her guests admired her as young Rome applauded some gladiator who could die smiling. It seemed as if society had adorned itself for a last audience of one of its sovereigns.
“I was afraid that you would not come,” she said to Rastignac.
“Madame,” he said, in an unsteady voice, taking her speech as a reproach, “I shall be the last to go, that is why I am here.”
“Good,” she said, and she took his hand. “You are perhaps the only one I can trust here among all these. Oh, my friend, when you love, love a woman whom you are sure that you can love always. Never forsake a woman.”
She took Rastignac’s arm, and went towards a sofa in the card-room.
“I want you to go to the Marquis,” she said. “Jacques, my footman, will go with you; he has a letter that you will take. I am asking the Marquis to give my letters back to me. He will give them all up, I like to think that. When you have my letters, go up to my room with them. Some one shall bring me word.”
She rose to go to meet the Duchesse de Langeais, her most intimate friend, who had come like the rest of the world.
Rastignac went. He asked for the Marquis d’Ajuda at the Hotel Rochefide, feeling certain that the latter would be spending his evening there, and so it proved. The Marquis went to his own house with Rastignac, and gave a casket to the student, saying as he did so, “They are all there.”
He seemed as if he was about to say something to Eugene, to ask about the ball, or the Vicomtesse; perhaps he was on the brink of the confession that, even then, he was in despair, and knew that his marriage had been a fatal mistake; but a proud gleam shone in his eyes, and with deplorable courage he kept his noblest feelings a secret.
“Do not even mention my name to her, my dear Eugene.” He grasped Rastignac’s hand sadly and affectionately, and turned away from him. Eugene went back to the Hotel Beauseant, the servant took him to the Vicomtesse’s room. There were signs there of preparations for a journey. He sat down by the fire, fixed his eyes on the cedar wood casket, and fell into deep mournful musings. Mme. de Beauseant loomed large in these imaginings, like a goddess in the Iliad.
“Ah! my friend! . . .” said the Vicomtesse; she crossed the room and laid her hand on Rastignac’s shoulder. He saw the tears in his cousin’s uplifted eyes, saw that one hand was raised to take the casket, and that the fingers of the other trembled. Suddenly she took the casket, put it in the fire, and watched it burn.
“They are dancing,” she said. “They all came very early; but death will be long in coming. Hush! my friend,” and she laid a finger on Rastignac’s lips, seeing that he was about to speak. “I shall never see Paris again. I am taking my leave of the world. At five o’clock this morning I shall set out on my journey; I mean to bury myself in the remotest part of Normandy. I have had very little time to make my arrangements; since three o’clock this afternoon I have been busy signing documents, setting my affairs in order; there was no one whom I could send to . . .”
She broke off.
“He was sure to be . . .”
Again she broke off; the weight of her sorrow was more than she could bear. In such moments as these everything is agony, and some words are impossible to utter.
“And so I counted upon you to do me this last piece of service this evening,” she said. “I should like to give you some pledge of friendship. I shall often think of you. You have seemed to me to be kind and noble, fresh-hearted and true, in this world where such qualities are seldom found. I should like you to think sometimes of me. Stay,” she said, glancing about her, “there is this box that has held my gloves. Every time I opened it before going to a ball or to the theatre, I used to feel that I must be beautiful, because I was so happy; and I never touched it except to lay some gracious memory in it: there is so much of my old self in it, of a Madame de Beauseant who now lives no longer. Will you take it? I will leave directions that it is to be sent to you in the Rue d’Artois.–Mme. de Nucingen looked very charming this evening. Eugene, you must love her. Perhaps we may never see each other again, my friend; but be sure of this, that I shall pray for you who have been kind to me.–Now, let us go downstairs. People shall not think that I am weeping. I have all time and eternity before me, and where I am going I shall be alone, and no one will ask me the reason of my tears. One last look round first.”
She stood for a moment. Then she covered her eyes with her hands for an instant, dashed away the tears, bathed her face with cold water, and took the student’s arm.
“Let us go!” she said.
This suffering, endured with such noble fortitude, shook Eugene with a more violent emotion than he had felt before. They went back to the ballroom, and Mme. de Beauseant went through the rooms on Eugene’s arm –the last delicately gracious act of a gracious woman. In another moment he saw the sisters, Mme. de Restaud and Mme. de Nucingen. The Countess shone in all the glory of her magnificent diamonds; every stone must have scorched like fire, she was never to wear them again. Strong as love and pride might be in her, she found it difficult to meet her husband’s eyes. The sight of her was scarcely calculated to lighten Rastignac’s sad thoughts; through the blaze of those diamonds he seemed to see the wretched pallet-bed on which Father Goriot was lying. The Vicomtesse misread his melancholy; she withdrew her hand from his arm.
“Come,” she said, “I must not deprive you of a pleasure.”
Eugene was soon claimed by Delphine. She was delighted by the impression that she had made, and eager to lay at her lover’s feet the homage she had received in this new world in which she hoped to live and move henceforth.
“What do you think of Nasie?” she asked him.
“She has discounted everything, even her own father’s death,” said Rastignac.
Towards four o’clock in the morning the rooms began to empty. A little later the music ceased, and the Duchesse de Langeais and Rastignac were left in the great ballroom. The Vicomtesse, who thought to find the student there alone, came back there at last. She had taken leave of M. de Beauseant, who had gone off to bed, saying again as he went, “It is a great pity, my dear, to shut yourself up at your age! Pray stay among us.”
Mme. de Beauseant saw the Duchesse, and, in spite of herself, an exclamation broke from her.
“I saw how it was, Clara,” said Mme. de Langeais. “You are going from among us, and you will never come back. But you must not go until you have heard me, until we have understood each other.”
She took her friend’s arm, and they went together into the next room. There the Duchess looked at her with tears in her eyes; she held her friend in close embrace and kissed her cheek.
“I could not let you go without a word, dearest; the remorse would have been too hard to bear. You can count upon me as surely as upon yourself. You have shown yourself great this evening; I feel that I am worthy of our friendship, and I mean to prove myself worthy of it. I have not always been kind; I was in the wrong; forgive me, dearest; I wish I could unsay anything that may have hurt you; I take back those words. One common sorrow has brought us together again, for I do not know which of us is the more miserable. M. de Montriveau was not here to-night; do you understand what that means?–None of those who saw you to-night, Clara, will ever forget you. I mean to make one last effort. If I fail, I shall go into a convent. Clara, where are you going?”
“Into Normandy, to Courcelles. I shall love and pray there until the day when God shall take me from this world.–M. de Rastignac!” called the Vicomtesse, in a tremulous voice, remembering that the young man was waiting there.
The student knelt to kiss his cousin’s hand.
“Good-bye, Antoinette!” said Mme. de Beauseant. “May you be happy." –She turned to the student. “You are young,” she said; “you have some beliefs still left. I have been privileged, like some dying people, to find sincere and reverent feeling in those about me as I take my leave of this world.”
It was nearly five o’clock that morning when Rastignac came away. He had put Mme. de Beauseant into her traveling carriage, and received her last farewells, spoken amid fast-falling tears; for no greatness is so great that it can rise above the laws of human affection, or live beyond the jurisdiction of pain, as certain demagogues would have the people believe. Eugene returned on foot to the Maison Vauquer through the cold and darkness. His education was nearly complete.
“There is no hope for poor Father Goriot,” said Bianchon, as Rastignac came into the room. Eugene looked for a while at the sleeping man, then he turned to his friend. “Dear fellow, you are content with the modest career you have marked out for yourself; keep to it. I am in hell, and I must stay there. Believe everything that you hear said of the world, nothing is too impossibly bad. No Juvenal could paint the horrors hidden away under the covering of gems and gold.”
At two o’clock in the afternoon Bianchon came to wake Rastignac, and begged him to take charge of Goriot, who had grown worse as the day wore on. The medical student was obliged to go out.
“Poor old man, he has not two days to live, maybe not many hours,” he said; “but we must do our utmost, all the same, to fight the disease. It will be a very troublesome case, and we shall want money. We can nurse him between us, of course, but, for my own part, I have not a penny. I have turned out his pockets, and rummaged through his drawers–result, nix. I asked him about it while his mind was clear, and he told me he had not a farthing of his own. What have you?”
“I have twenty francs left,” said Rastignac; “but I will take them to the roulette table, I shall be sure to win.”
“And if you lose?”
“Then I shall go to his sons-in-law and his daughters and ask them for money.”
“And suppose they refuse?” Bianchon retorted. “The most pressing thing just now is not really money; we must put mustard poultices, as hot as they can be made, on his feet and legs. If he calls out, there is still some hope for him. You know how to set about doing it, and besides, Christophe will help you. I am going round to the dispensary to persuade them to let us have the things we want on credit. It is a pity that we could not move him to the hospital; poor fellow, he would be better there. Well, come along, I leave you in charge; you must stay with him till I come back.”
The two young men went back to the room where the old man was lying. Eugene was startled at the change in Goriot’s face, so livid, distorted, and feeble.
“How are you, papa?” he said, bending over the pallet-bed. Goriot turned his dull eyes upon Eugene, looked at him attentively, and did not recognize him. It was more than the student could bear; the tears came into his eyes.