Honore de Balzac
Part 2 out of 6
they put naughty boys."
"Well, mademoiselle," Vautrin said, turning to Victorine, "you are
eating nothing. So papa was refractory, was he?"
"A monster!" said Mme. Couture.
"Mademoiselle might make application for aliment pending her suit; she
is not eating anything. Eh! eh! just see how Father Goriot is staring
at Mlle. Victorine."
The old man had forgotten his dinner, he was so absorbed in gazing at
the poor girl; the sorrow in her face was unmistakable,--the slighted
love of a child whose father would not recognize her.
"We are mistaken about Father Goriot, my dear boy," said Eugene in a
low voice. "He is not an idiot, nor wanting in energy. Try your Gall
system on him, and let me know what you think. I saw him crush a
silver dish last night as if it had been made of wax; there seems to
be something extraordinary going on in his mind just now, to judge by
his face. His life is so mysterious that it must be worth studying.
Oh! you may laugh, Bianchon; I am not joking."
"The man is a subject, is he?" said Bianchon; "all right! I will
dissect him, if he will give me the chance."
"No; feel his bumps."
"Hm!--his stupidity might perhaps be contagious."
The next day Rastignac dressed himself very elegantly, and about three
o'clock in the afternoon went to call on Mme. de Restaud. On the way
thither he indulged in the wild intoxicating dreams which fill a young
head so full of delicious excitement. Young men at his age take no
account of obstacles nor of dangers; they see success in every
direction; imagination has free play, and turns their lives into a
romance; they are saddened or discouraged by the collapse of one of
the visionary schemes that have no existence save in their heated
fancy. If youth were not ignorant and timid, civilization would be
Eugene took unheard-of pains to keep himself in a spotless condition,
but on his way through the streets he began to think about Mme. de
Restaud and what he should say to her. He equipped himself with wit,
rehearsed repartees in the course of an imaginary conversation, and
prepared certain neat speeches a la Talleyrand, conjuring up a series
of small events which should prepare the way for the declaration on
which he had based his future; and during these musings the law
student was bespattered with mud, and by the time he reached the
Palais Royal he was obliged to have his boots blacked and his trousers
"If I were rich," he said, as he changed the five-franc piece he had
brought with him in case anything might happen, "I would take a cab,
then I could think at my ease."
At last he reached the Rue du Helder, and asked for the Comtesse de
Restaud. He bore the contemptuous glances of the servants, who had
seen him cross the court on foot, with the cold fury of a man who
knows that he will succeed some day. He understood the meaning of
their glances at once, for he had felt his inferiority as soon as he
entered the court, where a smart cab was waiting. All the delights of
life in Paris seemed to be implied by this visible and manifest sign
of luxury and extravagance. A fine horse, in magnificent harness, was
pawing the ground, and all at once the law student felt out of humor
with himself. Every compartment in his brain which he had thought to
find so full of wit was bolted fast; he grew positively stupid. He
sent up his name to the Countess, and waited in the ante-chamber,
standing on one foot before a window that looked out upon the court;
mechanically he leaned his elbow against the sash, and stared before
him. The time seemed long; he would have left the house but for the
southern tenacity of purpose which works miracles when it is single-
"Madame is in her boudoir, and cannot see any one at present, sir,"
said the servant. "She gave me no answer; but if you will go into the
dining-room, there is some one already there."
Rastignac was impressed with a sense of the formidable power of the
lackey who can accuse or condemn his masters by a word; he coolly
opened the door by which the man had just entered the ante-chamber,
meaning, no doubt, to show these insolent flunkeys that he was
familiar with the house; but he found that he had thoughtlessly
precipitated himself into a small room full of dressers, where lamps
were standing, and hot-water pipes, on which towels were being dried;
a dark passage and a back staircase lay beyond it. Stifled laughter
from the ante-chamber added to his confusion.
"This way to the drawing-room, sir," said the servant, with the
exaggerated respect which seemed to be one more jest at his expense.
Eugene turned so quickly that he stumbled against a bath. By good
luck, he managed to keep his hat on his head, and saved it from
immersion in the water; but just as he turned, a door opened at the
further end of the dark passage, dimly lighted by a small lamp.
Rastignac heard voices and the sound of a kiss; one of the speakers
was Mme. de Restaud, the other was Father Goriot. Eugene followed the
servant through the dining-room into the drawing-room; he went to a
window that looked out into the courtyard, and stood there for a
while. He meant to know whether this Goriot was really the Goriot that
he knew. His heart beat unwontedly fast; he remembered Vautrin's
hideous insinuations. A well-dressed young man suddenly emerged from
the room almost as Eugene entered it, saying impatiently to the
servant who stood at the door: "I am going, Maurice. Tell Madame la
Comtesse that I waited more than half an hour for her."
Whereupon this insolent being, who, doubtless, had a right to be
insolent, sang an Italian trill, and went towards the window where
Eugene was standing, moved thereto quite as much by a desire to see
the student's face as by a wish to look out into the courtyard.
"But M. le Comte had better wait a moment longer; madame is
disengaged," said Maurice, as he returned to the ante-chamber.
Just at that moment Father Goriot appeared close to the gate; he had
emerged from a door at the foot of the back staircase. The worthy soul
was preparing to open his umbrella regardless of the fact that the
great gate had opened to admit a tilbury, in which a young man with a
ribbon at his button-hole was seated. Father Goriot had scarcely time
to start back and save himself. The horse took fright at the umbrella,
swerved, and dashed forward towards the flight of steps. The young man
looked round in annoyance, saw Father Goriot, and greeted him as he
went out with constrained courtesy, such as people usually show to a
money-lender so long as they require his services, or the sort of
respect they feel it necessary to show for some one whose reputation
has been blown upon, so that they blush to acknowledge his
acquaintance. Father Goriot gave him a little friendly nod and a good-
natured smile. All this happened with lightning speed. Eugene was so
deeply interested that he forgot that he was not alone till he
suddenly heard the Countess' voice.
"Oh! Maxime, were you going away?" she said reproachfully, with a
shade of pique in her manner. The Countess had not seen the incident
nor the entrance of the tilbury. Rastignac turned abruptly and saw her
standing before him, coquettishly dressed in a loose white cashmere
gown with knots of rose-colored ribbon here and there; her hair was
carelessly coiled about her head, as is the wont of Parisian women in
the morning; there was a soft fragrance about her--doubtless she was
fresh from a bath;--her graceful form seemed more flexible, her beauty
more luxuriant. Her eyes glistened. A young man can see everything at
a glance; he feels the radiant influence of woman as a plant discerns
and absorbs its nutriment from the air; he did not need to touch her
hands to feel their cool freshness. He saw faint rose tints through
the cashmere of the dressing gown; it had fallen slightly open, giving
glimpses of a bare throat, on which the student's eyes rested. The
Countess had no need of the adventitious aid of corsets; her girdle
defined the outlines of her slender waist; her throat was a challenge
to love; her feet, thrust into slippers, were daintily small. As
Maxime took her hand and kissed it, Eugene became aware of Maxime's
existence, and the Countess saw Eugene.
"Oh! is that you M. de Rastignac? I am very glad to see you," she
said, but there was something in her manner that a shrewd observer
would have taken as a hint to depart.
Maxime, as the Countess Anastasie had called the young man with the
haughty insolence of bearing, looked from Eugene to the lady, and from
the lady to Eugene; it was sufficiently evident that he wished to be
rid of the latter. An exact and faithful rendering of the glance might
be given in the words: "Look here, my dear; I hope you intend to send
this little whipper-snapper about his business."
The Countess consulted the young man's face with an intent
submissiveness that betrays all the secrets of a woman's heart, and
Rastignac all at once began to hate him violently. To begin with, the
sight of the fair carefully arranged curls on the other's comely head
had convinced him that his own crop was hideous; Maxime's boots,
moreover, were elegant and spotless, while his own, in spite of all
his care, bore some traces of his recent walk; and, finally, Maxime's
overcoat fitted the outline of his figure gracefully, he looked like a
pretty woman, while Eugene was wearing a black coat at half-past two.
The quick-witted child of the Charente felt the disadvantage at which
he was placed beside this tall, slender dandy, with the clear gaze and
the pale face, one of those men who would ruin orphan children without
scruple. Mme. de Restaud fled into the next room without waiting for
Eugene to speak; shaking out the skirts of her dressing-gown in her
flight, so that she looked like a white butterfly, and Maxime hurried
after her. Eugene, in a fury, followed Maxime and the Countess, and
the three stood once more face to face by the hearth in the large
drawing-room. The law student felt quite sure that the odious Maxime
found him in the way, and even at the risk of displeasing Mme. de
Restaud, he meant to annoy the dandy. It had struck him all at once
that he had seen the young man before at Mme. de Beauseant's ball; he
guessed the relation between Maxime and Mme. de Restaud; and with the
youthful audacity that commits prodigious blunders or achieves signal
success, he said to himself, "This is my rival; I mean to cut him
Rash resolve! He did not know that M. le Comte Maxime de Trailles
would wait till he was insulted, so as to fire first and kill his man.
Eugene was a sportsman and a good shot, but he had not yet hit the
bulls's eye twenty times out of twenty-two. The young Count dropped
into a low chair by the hearth, took up the tongs, and made up the
fire so violently and so sulkily, that Anastasie's fair face suddenly
clouded over. She turned to Eugene, with a cool, questioning glance
that asked plainly, "Why do you not go?" a glance which well-bred
people regard as a cue to make their exit.
Eugene assumed an amiable expression.
"Madame," he began, "I hastened to call upon you----"
He stopped short. The door opened, and the owner of the tilbury
suddenly appeared. He had left his hat outside, and did not greet the
Countess; he looked meditatively at Rastignac, and held out his hand
to Maxime with a cordial "Good morning," that astonished Eugene not a
little. The young provincial did not understand the amenities of a
"M. de Restaud," said the Countess, introducing her husband to the law
Eugene bowed profoundly.
"This gentleman," she continued, presenting Eugene to her husband, "is
M. de Rastignac; he is related to Mme. la Vicomtesse de Beauseant
through the Marcillacs; I had the pleasure of meeting him at her last
/Related to Mme. la Vicomtesse de Beauseant through the Marcillacs!/
These words, on which the countess threw ever so slight an emphasis,
by reason of the pride that the mistress of a house takes in showing
that she only receives people of distinction as visitors in her house,
produced a magical effect. The Count's stiff manner relaxed at once as
he returned the student's bow.
"Delighted to have an opportunity of making your acquaintance," he
Maxime de Trailles himself gave Eugene an uneasy glance, and suddenly
dropped his insolent manner. The mighty name had all the power of a
fairy's wand; those closed compartments in the southern brain flew
open again; Rastignac's carefully drilled faculties returned. It was
as if a sudden light had pierced the obscurity of this upper world of
Paris, and he began to see, though everything was indistinct as yet.
Mme. Vauquer's lodging-house and Father Goriot were very far remote
from his thoughts.
"I thought that the Marcillacs were extinct," the Comte de Restaud
said, addressing Eugene.
"Yes, they are extinct," answered the law student. "My great-uncle,
the Chevalier de Rastignac, married the heiress of the Marcillac
family. They had only one daughter, who married the Marechal de
Clarimbault, Mme. de Beauseant's grandfather on the mother's side. We
are the younger branch of the family, and the younger branch is all
the poorer because my great-uncle, the Vice-Admiral, lost all that he
had in the King's service. The Government during the Revolution
refused to admit our claims when the Compagnie des Indes was
"Was not your great-uncle in command of the /Vengeur/ before 1789?"
"Then he would be acquainted with my grandfather, who commanded the
Maxime looked at Mme. de Restaud and shrugged his shoulders, as who
should say, "If he is going to discuss nautical matters with that
fellow, it is all over with us." Anastasie understood the glance that
M. de Trailles gave her. With a woman's admirable tact, she began to
smile and said:
"Come with me, Maxime; I have something to say to you. We will leave
you two gentlemen to sail in company on board the /Warwick/ and the
She rose to her feet and signed to Maxime to follow her, mirth and
mischief in her whole attitude, and the two went in the direction of
the boudoir. The /morganatic/ couple (to use a convenient German
expression which has no exact equivalent) had reached the door, when
the Count interrupted himself in his talk with Eugene.
"Anastasie!" he cried pettishly, "just stay a moment, dear; you know
very well that----"
"I am coming back in a minute," she interrupted; "I have a commission
for Maxime to execute, and I want to tell him about it."
She came back almost immediately. She had noticed the inflection in
her husband's voice, and knew that it would not be safe to retire to
the boudoir; like all women who are compelled to study their husbands'
characters in order to have their own way, and whose business it is to
know exactly how far they can go without endangering a good
understanding, she was very careful to avoid petty collisions in
domestic life. It was Eugene who had brought about this untoward
incident; so the Countess looked at Maxime and indicated the law
student with an air of exasperation. M. de Trailles addressed the
Count, the Countess, and Eugene with the pointed remark, "You are
busy, I do not want to interrupt you; good-day," and he went.
"Just wait a moment, Maxime!" the Count called after him.
"Come and dine with us," said the Countess, leaving Eugene and her
husband together once more. She followed Maxime into the little
drawing-room, where they sat together sufficiently long to feel sure
that Rastignac had taken his leave.
The law student heard their laughter, and their voices, and the pauses
in their talk; he grew malicious, exerted his conversational powers
for M. de Restaud, flattered him, and drew him into discussions, to
the end that he might see the Countess again and discover the nature
of her relations with Father Goriot. This Countess with a husband and
a lover, for Maxime clearly was her lover, was a mystery. What was the
secret tie that bound her to the old tradesman? This mystery he meant
to penetrate, hoping by its means to gain a sovereign ascendency over
this fair typical Parisian.
"Anastasie!" the Count called again to his wife.
"Poor Maxime!" she said, addressing the young man. "Come, we must
resign ourselves. This evening----"
"I hope, Nasie," he said in her ear, "that you will give orders not to
admit that youngster, whose eyes light up like live coals when he
looks at you. He will make you a declaration, and compromise you, and
then you will compel me to kill him."
"Are you mad, Maxime?" she said. "A young lad of a student is, on the
contrary, a capital lightning-conductor; is not that so? Of course, I
mean to make Restaud furiously jealous of him."
Maxime burst out laughing, and went out, followed by the Countess, who
stood at the window to watch him into his carriage; he shook his whip,
and made his horse prance. She only returned when the great gate had
been closed after him.
"What do you think, dear?" cried the Count, her husband, "this
gentleman's family estate is not far from Verteuil, on the Charente;
his great-uncle and my grandfather were acquainted."
"Delighted to find that we have acquaintances in common," said the
Countess, with a preoccupied manner.
"More than you think," said Eugene, in a low voice.
"What do you mean?" she asked quickly.
"Why, only just now," said the student, "I saw a gentleman go out at
the gate, Father Goriot, my next door neighbor in the house where I am
At the sound of this name, and the prefix that embellished it, the
Count, who was stirring the fire, let the tongs fall as though they
had burned his fingers, and rose to his feet.
"Sir," he cried, "you might have called him 'Monsieur Goriot'!"
The Countess turned pale at first at the sight of her husband's
vexation, then she reddened; clearly she was embarrassed, her answer
was made in a tone that she tried to make natural, and with an air of
"You could not know any one who is dearer to us both . . ."
She broke off, glanced at the piano as if some fancy had crossed her
mind, and asked, "Are you fond of music, M. de Rastignac?"
"Exceedingly," answered Eugene, flushing, and disconcerted by a dim
suspicion that he had somehow been guilty of a clumsy piece of folly.
"Do you sing?" she cried, going to the piano, and, sitting down before
it, she swept her fingers over the keyboard from end to end. R-r-r-
The Comte de Restaud walked to and fro.
"That is a pity; you are without one great means of success.--/Ca-ro,
ca-a-ro, ca-a-a-ro, non du-bi-ta-re/," sang the Countess.
Eugene had a second time waved a magic wand when he uttered Goriot's
name, but the effect seemed to be entirely opposite to that produced
by the formula "related to Mme. de Beauseant." His position was not
unlike that of some visitor permitted as a favor to inspect a private
collection of curiosities, when by inadvertence he comes into
collision with a glass case full of sculptured figures, and three or
four heads, imperfectly secured, fall at the shock. He wished the
earth would open and swallow him. Mme. de Restaud's expression was
reserved and chilly, her eyes had grown indifferent, and sedulously
avoided meeting those of the unlucky student of law.
"Madame," he said, "you wish to talk with M. de Restaud; permit me to
wish you good-day----"
The Countess interrupted him by a gesture, saying hastily, "Whenever
you come to see us, both M. de Restaud and I shall be delighted to see
Eugene made a profound bow and took his leave, followed by M. de
Restaud, who insisted, in spite of his remonstrances, on accompanying
him into the hall.
"Neither your mistress nor I are at home to that gentleman when he
calls," the Count said to Maurice.
As Eugene set foot on the steps, he saw that it was raining.
"Come," said he to himself, "somehow I have just made a mess of it, I
do not know how. And now I am going to spoil my hat and coat into the
bargain. I ought to stop in my corner, grind away at law, and never
look to be anything but a boorish country magistrate. How can I go
into society, when to manage properly you want a lot of cabs,
varnished boots, gold watch chains, and all sorts of things; you have
to wear white doeskin gloves that cost six francs in the morning, and
primrose kid gloves every evening? A fig for that old humbug of a
When he reached the street door, the driver of a hackney coach, who
had probably just deposited a wedding party at their door, and asked
nothing better than a chance of making a little money for himself
without his employer's knowledge, saw that Eugene had no umbrella,
remarked his black coat, white waistcoat, yellow gloves, and varnished
boots, and stopped and looked at him inquiringly. Eugene, in the blind
desperation that drives a young man to plunge deeper and deeper into
an abyss, as if he might hope to find a fortunate issue in its lowest
depths, nodded in reply to the driver's signal, and stepped into the
cab; a few stray petals of orange blossom and scraps of wire bore
witness to its recent occupation by a wedding party.
"Where am I to drive, sir?" demanded the man, who, by this time, had
taken off his white gloves.
"Confound it!" Eugene said to himself, "I am in for it now, and at
least I will not spend cab-hire for nothing!--Drive to the Hotel
Beauseant," he said aloud.
"Which?" asked the man, a portentous word that reduced Eugene to
confusion. This young man of fashion, species incerta, did not know
that there were two Hotels Beauseant; he was not aware how rich he was
in relations who did not care about him.
"The Vicomte de Beauseant, Rue----"
"De Grenelle," interrupted the driver, with a jerk of his head. "You
see, there are the hotels of the Marquis and Comte de Beauseant in the
Rue Saint-Dominique," he added, drawing up the step.
"I know all about that," said Eugene, severely.--"Everybody is
laughing at me to-day, it seems!" he said to himself, as he deposited
his hat on the opposite seat. "This escapade will cost me a king's
ransom, but, at any rate, I shall call on my so-called cousin in a
thoroughly aristocratic fashion. Goriot has cost me ten francs
already, the old scoundrel. My word! I will tell Mme. de Beauseant
about my adventure; perhaps it may amuse her. Doubtless she will know
the secret of the criminal relation between that handsome woman and
the old rat without a tail. It would be better to find favor in my
cousin's eyes than to come in contact with that shameless woman, who
seems to me to have very expensive tastes. Surely the beautiful
Vicomtesse's personal interest would turn the scale for me, when the
mere mention of her name produces such an effect. Let us look higher.
If you set yourself to carry the heights of heaven, you must face
The innumerable thoughts that surged through his brain might be summed
up in these phrases. He grew calmer, and recovered something of his
assurance as he watched the falling rain. He told himself that though
he was about to squander two of the precious five-franc pieces that
remained to him, the money was well laid out in preserving his coat,
boots, and hat; and his cabman's cry of "Gate, if you please," almost
put him in spirits. A Swiss, in scarlet and gold, appeared, the great
door groaned on its hinges, and Rastignac, with sweet satisfaction,
beheld his equipage pass under the archway and stop before the flight
of steps beneath the awning. The driver, in a blue-and-red greatcoat,
dismounted and let down the step. As Eugene stepped out of the cab, he
heard smothered laughter from the peristyle. Three or four lackeys
were making merry over the festal appearance of the vehicle. In
another moment the law student was enlightened as to the cause of
their hilarity; he felt the full force of the contrast between his
equipage and one of the smartest broughams in Paris; a coachman, with
powdered hair, seemed to find it difficult to hold a pair of spirited
horses, who stood chafing the bit. In Mme. de Restaud's courtyard, in
the Chaussee d'Antin, he had seen the neat turnout of a young man of
six-and-twenty; in the Faubourg Saint-Germain he found the luxurious
equipage of a man of rank; thirty thousand francs would not have
"Who can be here?" said Eugene to himself. He began to understand,
though somewhat tardily, that he must not expect to find many women in
Paris who were not already appropriated, and that the capture of one
of these queens would be likely to cost something more than bloodshed.
"Confound it all! I expect my cousin also has her Maxime."
He went up the steps, feeling that he was a blighted being. The glass
door was opened for him; the servants were as solemn as jackasses
under the curry comb. So far, Eugene had only been in the ballroom on
the ground floor of the Hotel Beauseant; the fete had followed so
closely on the invitation, that he had not had time to call on his
cousin, and had therefore never seen Mme. de Beauseant's apartments;
he was about to behold for the first time a great lady among the
wonderful and elegant surroundings that reveal her character and
reflect her daily life. He was the more curious, because Mme. de
Restaud's drawing-room had provided him with a standard of comparison.
At half-past four the Vicomtesse de Beauseant was visible. Five
minutes earlier she would not have received her cousin, but Eugene
knew nothing of the recognized routine of various houses in Paris. He
was conducted up the wide, white-painted, crimson-carpeted staircase,
between the gilded balusters and masses of flowering plants, to Mme.
de Beauseant's apartments. He did not know the rumor current about
Mme. de Beauseant, one of the biographies told, with variations, in
whispers, every evening in the salons of Paris.
For three years past her name had been spoken of in connection with
that of one of the most wealthy and distinguished Portuguese nobles,
the Marquis d'Ajuda-Pinto. It was one of those innocent liaisons which
possess so much charm for the two thus attached to each other that
they find the presence of a third person intolerable. The Vicomte de
Beauseant, therefore, had himself set an example to the rest of the
world by respecting, with as good a grace as might be, this morganatic
union. Any one who came to call on the Vicomtesse in the early days of
this friendship was sure to find the Marquis d'Ajuda-Pinto there. As,
under the circumstances, Mme. de Beauseant could not very well shut
her door against these visitors, she gave them such a cold reception,
and showed so much interest in the study of the ceiling, that no one
could fail to understand how much he bored her; and when it became
known in Paris that Mme. de Beauseant was bored by callers between two
and four o'clock, she was left in perfect solitude during that
interval. She went to the Bouffons or to the Opera with M. de
Beauseant and M. d'Ajuda-Pinto; and M. de Beauseant, like a well-bred
man of the world, always left his wife and the Portuguese as soon as
he had installed them. But M. d'Ajuda-Pinto must marry, and a Mlle. de
Rochefide was the young lady. In the whole fashionable world there was
but one person who as yet knew nothing of the arrangement, and that
was Mme. de Beauseant. Some of her friends had hinted at the
possibility, and she had laughed at them, believing that envy had
prompted those ladies to try to make mischief. And now, though the
bans were about to be published, and although the handsome Portuguese
had come that day to break the news to the Vicomtesse, he had not
found courage as yet to say one word about his treachery. How was it?
Nothing is doubtless more difficult than the notification of an
ultimatum of this kind. There are men who feel more at their ease when
they stand up before another man who threatens their lives with sword
or pistol than in the presence of a woman who, after two hours of
lamentations and reproaches, falls into a dead swoon and requires
salts. At this moment, therefore, M. d'Ajuda-Pinto was on thorns, and
anxious to take his leave. He told himself that in some way or other
the news would reach Mme. de Beauseant; he would write, it would be
much better to do it by letter, and not to utter the words that should
stab her to the heart.
So when the servant announced M. Eugene de Rastignac, the Marquis
d'Ajuda-Pinto trembled with joy. To be sure, a loving woman shows even
more ingenuity in inventing doubts of her lover than in varying the
monotony of his happiness; and when she is about to be forsaken, she
instinctively interprets every gesture as rapidly as Virgil's courser
detected the presence of his companion by snuffing the breeze. It was
impossible, therefore, that Mme. de Beauseant should not detect that
involuntary thrill of satisfaction; slight though it was, it was
appalling in its artlessness.
Eugene had yet to learn that no one in Paris should present himself in
any house without first making himself acquainted with the whole
history of its owner, and of its owner's wife and family, so that he
may avoid making any of the terrible blunders which in Poland draw
forth the picturesque exclamation, "Harness five bullocks to your
cart!" probably because you will need them all to pull you out of the
quagmire into which a false step has plunged you. If, down to the
present day, our language has no name for these conversational
disasters, it is probably because they are believed to be impossible,
the publicity given in Paris to every scandal is so prodigious. After
the awkward incident at Mme. de Restaud's, no one but Eugene could
have reappeared in his character of bullock-driver in Mme. de
Beauseant's drawing-room. But if Mme. de Restaud and M. de Trailles
had found him horribly in the way, M. d'Ajuda hailed his coming with
"Good-bye," said the Portuguese, hurrying to the door, as Eugene made
his entrance into a dainty little pink-and-gray drawing-room, where
luxury seemed nothing more than good taste.
"Until this evening," said Mme. de Beauseant, turning her head to give
the Marquis a glance. "We are going to the Bouffons, are we not?"
"I cannot go," he said, with his fingers on the door handle.
Mme. de Beauseant rose and beckoned to him to return. She did not pay
the slightest attention to Eugene, who stood there dazzled by the
sparkling marvels around him; he began to think that this was some
story out of the Arabian Nights made real, and did not know where to
hide himself, when the woman before him seemed to be unconscious of
his existence. The Vicomtesse had raised the forefinger of her right
hand, and gracefully signed to the Marquis to seat himself beside her.
The Marquis felt the imperious sway of passion in her gesture; he came
back towards her. Eugene watched him, not without a feeling of envy.
"That is the owner of the brougham!" he said to himself. "But is it
necessary to have a pair of spirited horses, servants in livery, and
torrents of gold to draw a glance from a woman here in Paris?"
The demon of luxury gnawed at his heart, greed burned in his veins,
his throat was parched with the thirst of gold.
He had a hundred and thirty francs every quarter. His father, mother,
brothers, sisters, and aunt did not spend two hundred francs a month
among them. This swift comparison between his present condition and
the aims he had in view helped to benumb his faculties.
"Why not?" the Vicomtesse was saying, as she smiled at the Portuguese.
"Why cannot you come to the Italiens?"
"Affairs! I am to dine with the English Ambassador."
"Throw him over."
When a man once enters on a course of deception, he is compelled to
add lie to lie. M. d'Ajuda therefore said, smiling, "Do you lay your
commands on me?"
"That was what I wanted to have you say to me," he answered,
dissembling his feelings in a glance which would have reassured any
He took the Vicomtesse's hand, kissed it, and went.
Eugene ran his fingers through his hair, and constrained himself to
bow. He thought that now Mme. de Beauseant would give him her
attention; but suddenly she sprang forward, rushed to a window in the
gallery, and watched M. d'Ajuda step into his carriage; she listened
to the order that he gave, and heard the Swiss repeat it to the
"To M. de Rochefide's house."
Those words, and the way in which M. d'Ajuda flung himself back in the
carriage, were like a lightning flash and a thunderbolt for her; she
walked back again with a deadly fear gnawing at her heart. The most
terrible catastrophes only happen among the heights. The Vicomtesse
went to her own room, sat down at a table, and took up a sheet of
"When, instead of dining with the English Ambassador,"
she wrote, "you go to the Rochefides, you owe me an
explanation, which I am waiting to hear."
She retraced several of the letters, for her hand was trembling so
that they were indistinct; then she signed the note with an initial C
for "Claire de Bourgogne," and rang the bell.
"Jacques," she said to the servant, who appeared immediately, "take
this note to M. de Rochefide's house at half-past seven and ask for
the Marquis d'Ajuda. If M. d'Ajuda is there, leave the note without
waiting for an answer; if he is not there, bring the note back to me."
"Madame la Vicomtess, there is a visitor in the drawing-room."
"Ah! yes, of course," she said, opening the door.
Eugene was beginning to feel very uncomfortable, but at last the
Vicomtesse appeared; she spoke to him, and the tremulous tones of her
voice vibrated through his heart.
"Pardon me, monsieur," she said; "I had a letter to write. Now I am
quite at liberty."
She scarcely knew what she was saying, for even as she spoke she
thought, "Ah! he means to marry Mlle. de Rochefide? But is he still
free? This evening the marriage shall be broken off, or else . . . But
before to-morrow I shall know."
"Cousin . . ." the student replied.
"Eh?" said the Countess, with an insolent glance that sent a cold
shudder through Eugene; he understood what that "Eh?" meant; he had
learned a great deal in three hours, and his wits were on the alert.
"Madame . . ." he began; he hesitated a moment, and then went on.
"Pardon me; I am in such need of protection that the nearest scrap of
relationship could do me no harm."
Mme. de Beauseant smiled but there was sadness in her smile; even now
she felt forebodings of the coming pain, the air she breathed was
heavy with the storm that was about to burst.
"If you knew how my family are situated," he went on, "you would love
to play the part of a beneficent fairy godmother who graciously clears
the obstacles from the path of her protege."
"Well, cousin," she said, laughing, "and how can I be of service to
"But do I know even that? I am distantly related to you, and this
obscure and remote relationship is even now a perfect godsend to me.
You have confused my ideas; I cannot remember the things that I meant
to say to you. I know no one else here in Paris. . . . Ah! if I could
only ask you to counsel me, ask you to look upon me as a poor child
who would fain cling to the hem of your dress, who would lay down his
life for you."
"Would you kill a man for me?"
"Two," said Eugene.
"You, child. Yes, you are a child," she said, keeping back the tears
that came to her eyes; "you would love sincerely."
"Oh!" he cried, flinging up his head.
The audacity of the student's answer interested the Vicomtesse in him.
The southern brain was beginning to scheme for the first time. Between
Mme. de Restaud's blue boudoir and Mme. de Beauseant's rose-colored
drawing-room he had made a three years' advance in a kind of law which
is not a recognized study in Paris, although it is a sort of higher
jurisprudence, and, when well understood, is a highroad to success of
"Ah! that is what I meant to say!" said Eugene. "I met Mme. de Restaud
at your ball, and this morning I went to see her.
"You must have been very much in the way," said Mme. de Beauseant,
smiling as she spoke.
"Yes, indeed. I am a novice, and my blunders will set every one
against me, if you do not give me your counsel. I believe that in
Paris it is very difficult to meet with a young, beautiful, and
wealthy woman of fashion who would be willing to teach me, what you
women can explain so well--life. I shall find a M. de Trailles
everywhere. So I have come to you to ask you to give me a key to a
puzzle, to entreat you to tell me what sort of blunder I made this
morning. I mentioned an old man----"
"Madame la Duchess de Langeais," Jacques cut the student short; Eugene
gave expression to his intense annoyance by a gesture.
"If you mean to succeed," said the Vicomtesse in a low voice, "in the
first place you must not be so demonstrative."
"Ah! good morning, dear," she continued, and rising and crossing the
room, she grasped the Duchess' hands as affectionately as if they had
been sisters; the Duchess responded in the prettiest and most gracious
"Two intimate friends!" said Rastignac to himself. "Henceforward I
shall have two protectresses; those two women are great friends, no
doubt, and this newcomer will doubtless interest herself in her
"To what happy inspiration do I owe this piece of good fortune, dear
Antoinette?" asked Mme. de Beauseant.
"Well, I saw M. d'Ajuda-Pinto at M. de Rochefide's door, so I thought
that if I came I should find you alone."
Mme. de Beauseant's mouth did not tighten, her color did not rise, her
expression did not alter, or rather, her brow seemed to clear as the
Duchess uttered those deadly words.
"If I had known that you were engaged----" the speaker added, glancing
"This gentleman is M. Eugene de Rastignac, one of my cousins," said
the Vicomtesse. "Have you any news of General de Montriveau?" she
continued. "Serizy told me yesterday that he never goes anywhere now;
has he been to see you to-day?"
It was believed that the Duchess was desperately in love with M. de
Montriveau, and that he was a faithless lover; she felt the question
in her very heart, and her face flushed as she answered:
"He was at the Elysee yesterday."
"Claire," returned the Duchess, and hatred overflowed in the glances
she threw at Mme. de Beauseant; "of course you know that M. d'Ajuda-
Pinto is going to marry Mlle. de Rochefide; the bans will be published
This thrust was too cruel; the Vicomtesse's face grew white, but she
answered, laughing, "One of those rumors that fools amuse themselves
with. What should induce M. d'Ajuda to take one of the noblest names
in Portugal to the Rochefides? The Rochefides were only ennobled
"But Bertha will have two hundred thousand livres a year, they say."
"M. d'Ajuda is too wealthy to marry for money."
"But, my dear, Mlle. de Rochefide is a charming girl."
"And, as a matter of fact, he is dining with them to-day; the thing is
settled. It is very surprising to me that you should know so little
Mme. de Beauseant turned to Rastignac. "What was the blunder that you
made, monsieur?" she asked. "The poor boy is only just launched into
the world, Antoinette, so that he understands nothing of all this that
we are speaking of. Be merciful to him, and let us finish our talk to-
morrow. Everything will be announced to-morrow, you know, and your
kind informal communication can be accompanied by official
The Duchess gave Eugene one of those insolent glances that measure a
man from head to foot, and leave him crushed and annihilated.
"Madame, I have unwittingly plunged a dagger into Mme. de Restaud's
heart; unwittingly--therein lies my offence," said the student of law,
whose keen brain had served him sufficiently well, for he had detected
the biting epigrams that lurked beneath this friendly talk. "You
continue to receive, possibly you fear, those who know the amount of
pain that they deliberately inflict; but a clumsy blunderer who has no
idea how deeply he wounds is looked upon as a fool who does not know
how to make use of his opportunities, and every one despises him."
Mme. de Beauseant gave the student a glance, one of those glances in
which a great soul can mingle dignity and gratitude. It was like balm
to the law student, who was still smarting under the Duchess' insolent
scrutiny; she had looked at him as an auctioneer might look at some
article to appraise its value.
"Imagine, too, that I had just made some progress with the Comte de
Restaud; for I should tell you, madame," he went on, turning to the
Duchess with a mixture of humility and malice in his manner, "that as
yet I am only a poor devil of a student, very much alone in the world,
and very poor----"
"You should not tell us that, M. de Rastignac. We women never care
about anything that no one else will take."
"Bah!" said Eugene. "I am only two-and-twenty, and I must make up my
mind to the drawbacks of my time of life. Besides, I am confessing my
sins, and it would be impossible to kneel in a more charming
confessional; you commit your sins in one drawing-room, and receive
absolution for them in another."
The Duchess' expression grew colder, she did not like the flippant
tone of these remarks, and showed that she considered them to be in
bad taste by turning to the Vicomtesse with--"This gentleman has only
Mme. de Beauseant began to laugh outright at her cousin and at the
"He has only just come to Paris, dear, and is in search of some one
who will give him lessons in good taste."
"Mme. la Duchesse," said Eugene, "is it not natural to wish to be
initiated into the mysteries which charm us?" ("Come, now," he said to
himself, "my language is superfinely elegant, I'm sure.")
"But Mme. de Restaud is herself, I believe, M. de Trailles' pupil,"
said the Duchess.
"Of that I had no idea, madame," answered the law student, "so I
rashly came between them. In fact, I got on very well with the lady's
husband, and his wife tolerated me for a time until I took it into my
head to tell them that I knew some one of whom I had just caught a
glimpse as he went out by a back staircase, a man who had given the
Countess a kiss at the end of a passage."
"Who was it?" both women asked together.
"An old man who lives at the rate of two louis a month in the Faubourg
Saint-Marceau, where I, a poor student, lodge likewise. He is a truly
unfortunate creature, everybody laughs at him--we all call him 'Father
"Why, child that you are," cried the Vicomtesse, "Mme. de Restaud was
a Mlle. Goriot!"
"The daughter of a vermicelli manufacturer," the Duchess added; "and
when the little creature went to Court, the daughter of a pastry-cook
was presented on the same day. Do you remember, Claire? The King began
to laugh, and made some joke in Latin about flour. People--what was
"/Ejusdem farinae/," said Eugene.
"Yes, that was it," said the Duchess.
"Oh! is that her father?" the law student continued, aghast.
"Yes, certainly; the old man had two daughters; he dotes on them, so
to speak, though they will scarcely acknowledge him."
"Didn't the second daughter marry a banker with a German name?" the
Vicomtesse asked, turning to Mme. de Langeais, "a Baron de Nucingen?
And her name is Delphine, is it not? Isn't she a fair-haired woman who
has a side-box at the Opera? She comes sometimes to the Bouffons, and
laughs loudly to attract attention."
The Duchess smiled and said:
"I wonder at you, dear. Why do you take so much interest in people of
that kind? One must have been as madly in love as Restaud was, to be
infatuated with Mlle. Anastasie and her flour sacks. Oh! he will not
find her a good bargain! She is in M. de Trailles' hands, and he will
"And they do not acknowledge their father!" Eugene repeated.
"Oh! well, yes, their father, the father, a father," replied the
Vicomtesse, "a kind father who gave them each five or six hundred
thousand francs, it is said, to secure their happiness by marrying
them well; while he only kept eight or ten thousand livres a year for
himself, thinking that his daughters would always be his daughters,
thinking that in them he would live his life twice over again, that in
their houses he should find two homes, where he would be loved and
looked up to, and made much of. And in two years' time both his sons-
in-law had turned him out of their houses as if he were one of the
Tears came into Eugene's eyes. He was still under the spell of
youthful beliefs, he had just left home, pure and sacred feelings had
been stirred within him, and this was his first day on the battlefield
of civilization in Paris. Genuine feeling is so infectious that for a
moment the three looked at each other in silence.
"/Eh, mon Dieu!/" said Mme. de Langeais; "yes, it seems very horrible,
and yet we see such things every day. Is there not a reason for it?
Tell me, dear, have you ever really thought what a son-in-law is? A
son-in-law is the man for whom we bring up, you and I, a dear little
one, bound to us very closely in innumerable ways; for seventeen years
she will be the joy of her family, its 'white soul,' as Lamartine
says, and suddenly she will become its scourge. When HE comes and
takes her from us, his love from the very beginning is like an axe
laid to the root of all the old affection in our darling's heart, and
all the ties that bound her to her family are severed. But yesterday
our little daughter thought of no one but her mother and father, as we
had no thought that was not for her; by to-morrow she will have become
a hostile stranger. The tragedy is always going on under our eyes. On
the one hand you see a father who has sacrificed himself to his son,
and his daughter-in-law shows him the last degree of insolence. On the
other hand, it is the son-in-law who turns his wife's mother out of
the house. I sometimes hear it said that there is nothing dramatic
about society in these days; but the Drama of the Son-in-law is
appalling, to say nothing of our marriages, which have come to be very
poor farces. I can explain how it all came about in the old vermicelli
maker's case. I think I recollect that Foriot----"
"Yes, that Moriot was once President of his Section during the
Revolution. He was in the secret of the famous scarcity of grain, and
laid the foundation of his fortune in those days by selling flour for
ten times its cost. He had as much flour as he wanted. My
grandmother's steward sold him immense quantities. No doubt Noriot
shared the plunder with the Committee of Public Salvation, as that
sort of person always did. I recollect the steward telling my
grandmother that she might live at Grandvilliers in complete security,
because her corn was as good as a certificate of civism. Well, then,
this Loriot, who sold corn to those butchers, has never had but one
passion, they say--he idolizes his daughters. He settled one of them
under Restaud's roof, and grafted the other into the Nucingen family
tree, the Baron de Nucingen being a rich banker who had turned
Royalist. You can quite understand that so long as Bonaparte was
Emperor, the two sons-in-law could manage to put up with the old
Ninety-three; but after the restoration of the Bourbons, M. de Restaud
felt bored by the old man's society, and the banker was still more
tired of it. His daughters were still fond of him; they wanted 'to
keep the goat and the cabbage,' so they used to see Joriot whenever
there was no one there, under pretence of affection. 'Come to-day,
papa, we shall have you all to ourselves, and that will be much
nicer!' and all that sort of thing. As for me, dear, I believe that
love has second-sight: poor Ninety-three; his heart must have bled. He
saw that his daughters were ashamed of him, that if they loved their
husbands his visits must make mischief. So he immolated himself. He
made the sacrifice because he was a father; he went into voluntary
exile. His daughters were satisfied, so he thought that he had done
the best thing he could; but it was a family crime, and father and
daughters were accomplices. You see this sort of thing everywhere.
What could this old Doriot have been but a splash of mud in his
daughters' drawing-rooms? He would only have been in the way, and
bored other people, besides being bored himself. And this that
happened between father and daughters may happen to the prettiest
woman in Paris and the man she loves the best; if her love grows
tiresome, he will go; he will descend to the basest trickery to leave
her. It is the same with all love and friendship. Our heart is a
treasury; if you pour out all its wealth at once, you are bankrupt. We
show no more mercy to the affection that reveals its utmost extent
than we do to another kind of prodigal who has not a penny left. Their
father had given them all he had. For twenty years he had given his
whole heart to them; then, one day, he gave them all his fortune too.
The lemon was squeezed; the girls left the rest in the gutter."
"The world is very base," said the Vicomtesse, plucking at the threads
of her shawl. She did not raise her head as she spoke; the words that
Mme. de Langeais had meant for her in the course of her story had cut
her to the quick.
"Base? Oh, no," answered the Duchess; "the world goes its own way,
that is all. If I speak in this way, it is only to show that I am not
duped by it. I think as you do," she said, pressing the Vicomtesse's
hand. "The world is a slough; let us try to live on the heights above
She rose to her feet and kissed Mme. de Beauseant on the forehead as
she said: "You look very charming to-day, dear. I have never seen such
a lovely color in your cheeks before."
Then she went out with a slight inclination of the head to the cousin.
"Father Goriot is sublime!" said Eugene to himself, as he remembered
how he had watched his neighbor work the silver vessel into a
shapeless mass that night.
Mme. de Beauseant did not hear him; she was absorbed in her own
thoughts. For several minutes the silence remained unbroken till the
law student became almost paralyzed with embarrassment, and was
equally afraid to go or stay or speak a word.
"The world is basely ungrateful and ill-natured," said the Vicomtesse
at last. "No sooner does a trouble befall you than a friend is ready
to bring the tidings and to probe your heart with the point of a
dagger while calling on you to admire the handle. Epigrams and
sarcasms already! Ah! I will defend myself!"
She raised her head like the great lady that she was, and lightnings
flashed from her proud eyes.
"Ah!" she said, as she saw Eugene, "are you there?"
"Still," he said piteously.
"Well, then, M. de Rastignac, deal with the world as it deserves. You
are determined to succeed? I will help you. You shall sound the depths
of corruption in woman; you shall measure the extent of man's pitiful
vanity. Deeply as I am versed in such learning, there were pages in
the book of life that I had not read. Now I know all. The more cold-
blooded your calculations, the further you will go. Strike ruthlessly;
you will be feared. Men and women for you must be nothing more than
post-horses; take a fresh relay, and leave the last to drop by the
roadside; in this way you will reach the goal of your ambition. You
will be nothing here, you see, unless a woman interests herself in
you; and she must be young and wealthy, and a woman of the world. Yet,
if you have a heart, lock it carefully away like a treasure; do not
let any one suspect it, or you will be lost; you would cease to be the
executioner, you would take the victim's place. And if ever you should
love, never let your secret escape you! Trust no one until you are
very sure of the heart to which you open your heart. Learn to mistrust
every one; take every precaution for the sake of the love which does
not exist as yet. Listen, Miguel"--the name slipped from her so
naturally that she did not notice her mistake--"there is something
still more appalling than the ingratitude of daughters who have cast
off their old father and wish that he were dead, and that is a rivalry
between two sisters. Restaud comes of a good family, his wife has been
received into their circle; she has been presented at court; and her
sister, her wealthy sister, Mme. Delphine de Nucingen, the wife of a
great capitalist, is consumed with envy, and ready to die of spleen.
There is gulf set between the sisters--indeed, they are sisters no
longer--the two women who refuse to acknowledge their father do not
acknowledge each other. So Mme. de Nucingen would lap up all the mud
that lies between the Rue Saint-Lazare and the Rue de Grenelle to gain
admittance to my salon. She fancied that she should gain her end
through de Marsay; she has made herself de Marsay's slave, and she
bores him. De Marsay cares very little about her. If you will
introduce her to me, you will be her darling, her Benjamin; she will
idolize you. If, after that, you can love her, do so; if not, make her
useful. I will ask her to come once or twice to one of my great
crushes, but I will never receive her here in the morning. I will bow
to her when I see her, and that will be quite sufficient. You have
shut the Comtesse de Restaud's door against you by mentioning Father
Goriot's name. Yes, my good friend, you may call at her house twenty
times, and every time out of the twenty you will find that she is not
at home. The servants have their orders, and will not admit you. Very
well, then, now let Father Goriot gain the right of entry into her
sister's house for you. The beautiful Mme. de Nucingen will give the
signal for a battle. As soon as she singles you out, other women will
begin to lose their heads about you, and her enemies and rivals and
intimate friends will all try to take you from her. There are women
who will fall in love with a man because another woman has chosen him;
like the city madams, poor things, who copy our millinery, and hope
thereby to acquire our manners. You will have a success, and in Paris
success is everything; it is the key of power. If the women credit you
with wit and talent, the men will follow suit so long as you do not
undeceive them yourself. There will be nothing you may not aspire to;
you will go everywhere, and you will find out what the world is--an
assemblage of fools and knaves. But you must be neither the one nor
the other. I am giving you my name like Ariadne's clue of thread to
take with you into the labyrinth; make no unworthy use of it," she
said, with a queenly glance and curve of her throat; "give it back to
me unsullied. And now, go; leave me. We women also have our battles to
"And if you should ever need some one who would gladly set a match to
a train for you----"
"Well?" she asked.
He tapped his heart, smiled in answer to his cousin's smile, and went.
It was five o'clock, and Eugene was hungry; he was afraid lest he
should not be in time for dinner, a misgiving which made him feel that
it was pleasant to be borne so quickly across Paris. This sensation of
physical comfort left his mind free to grapple with the thoughts that
assailed him. A mortification usually sends a young man of his age
into a furious rage; he shakes his fist at society, and vows vengeance
when his belief in himself is shaken. Just then Rastignac was
overwhelmed by the words, "You have shut the Countess' door against
"I shall call!" he said to himself, "and if Mme. de Beauseant is
right, if I never find her at home--I . . . well, Mme. de Restaud
shall meet me in every salon in Paris. I will learn to fence and have
some pistol practice, and kill that Maxime of hers!"
"And money?" cried an inward monitor. "How about money, where is that
to come from?" And all at once the wealth displayed in the Countess de
Restaud's drawing-room rose before his eyes. That was the luxury which
Goriot's daughter had loved too well, the gilding, the ostentatious
splendor, the unintelligent luxury of the parvenu, the riotous
extravagance of a courtesan. Then the attractive vision suddenly went
under an eclipse as he remembered the stately grandeur of the Hotel de
Beauseant. As his fancy wandered among these lofty regions in the
great world of Paris, innumerable dark thoughts gathered in his heart;
his ideas widened, and his conscience grew more elastic. He saw the
world as it is; saw how the rich lived beyond the jurisdiction of law
and public opinion, and found in success the ultima ratio mundi.
"Vautrin is right, success is virtue!" he said to himself.
Arrived in the Rue Neuve-Sainte-Genevieve, he rushed up to his room
for ten francs wherewith to satisfy the demands of the cabman, and
went in to dinner. He glanced round the squalid room, saw the eighteen
poverty-stricken creatures about to feed like cattle in their stalls,
and the sight filled him with loathing. The transition was too sudden,
and the contrast was so violent that it could not but act as a
powerful stimulant; his ambition developed and grew beyond all social
bounds. On the one hand, he beheld a vision of social life in its most
charming and refined forms, of quick-pulsed youth, of fair,
impassioned faces invested with all the charm of poetry, framed in a
marvelous setting of luxury or art; and, on the other hand, he saw a
sombre picture, the miry verge beyond these faces, in which passion
was extinct and nothing was left of the drama but the cords and
pulleys and bare mechanism. Mme. de Beauseant's counsels, the words
uttered in anger by the forsaken lady, her petulant offer, came to his
mind, and poverty was a ready expositor. Rastignac determined to open
two parallel trenches so as to insure success; he would be a learned
doctor of law and a man of fashion. Clearly he was still a child!
Those two lines are asymptotes, and will never meet.
"You are very dull, my lord Marquis," said Vautrin, with one of the
shrewd glances that seem to read the innermost secrets of another
"I am not in the humor to stand jokes from people who call me 'my lord
Marquis,' " answered Eugene. "A marquis here in Paris, if he is not
the veriest sham, ought to have a hundred thousand livres a year at
least; and a lodger in the Maison Vauquer is not exactly Fortune's
Vautrin's glance at Rastignac was half-paternal, half-contemptuous.
"Puppy!" it seemed to say; "I should make one mouthful of him!" Then
"You are in a bad humor; perhaps your visit to the beautiful Comtesse
de Restaud was not a success."
"She has shut her door against me because I told her that her father
dined at our table," cried Rastignac.
Glances were exchanged all round the room; Father Goriot looked down.
"You have sent some snuff into my eye," he said to his neighbor,
turning a little aside to rub his hand over his face.
"Any one who molests Father Goriot will have henceforward to reckon
with me," said Eugene, looking at the old man's neighbor; "he is worth
all the rest of us put together.--I am not speaking of the ladies," he
added, turning in the direction of Mlle. Taillefer.
Eugene's remarks produced a sensation, and his tone silenced the
dinner-table. Vautrin alone spoke. "If you are going to champion
Father Goriot, and set up for his responsible editor into the bargain,
you had need be a crack shot and know how to handle the foils," he
"So I intend," said Eugene.
"Then you are taking the field today?"
"Perhaps," Rastignac answered. "But I owe no account of myself to any
one, especially as I do not try to find out what other people do of a
Vautrin looked askance at Rastignac.
"If you do not mean to be deceived by the puppets, my boy, you must go
behind and see the whole show, and not peep through holes in the
curtain. That is enough," he added, seeing that Eugene was about to
fly into a passion. "We can have a little talk whenever you like."
There was a general feeling of gloom and constraint. Father Goriot was
so deeply dejected by the student's remark that he did not notice the
change in the disposition of his fellow-lodgers, nor know that he had
met with a champion capable of putting an end to the persecution.
"Then, M. Goriot sitting there is the father of a countess," said Mme.
Vauquer in a low voice.
"And of a baroness," answered Rastignac.
"That is about all he is capable of," said Bianchon to Rastignac; "I
have taken a look at his head; there is only one bump--the bump of
Paternity; he must be an ETERNAL FATHER."
Eugene was too intent on his thoughts to laugh at Bianchon's joke. He
determined to profit by Mme. de Beauseant's counsels, and was asking
himself how he could obtain the necessary money. He grew grave. The
wide savannas of the world stretched before his eyes; all things lay
before him, nothing was his. Dinner came to an end, the others went,
and he was left in the dining-room.
"So you have seen my daughter?" Goriot spoke tremulously, and the
sound of his voice broke in upon Eugene's dreams. The young man took
the elder's hand, and looked at him with something like kindness in
"You are a good and noble man," he said. "We will have some talk about
your daughters by and by."
He rose without waiting for Goriot's answer, and went to his room.
There he wrote the following letter to his mother:--
"My Dear Mother,--Can you nourish your child from your breast
again? I am in a position to make a rapid fortune, but I want
twelve hundred francs--I must have them at all costs. Say nothing
about this to my father; perhaps he might make objections, and
unless I have the money, I may be led to put an end to myself, and
so escape the clutches of despair. I will tell you everything when
I see you. I will not begin to try to describe my present
situation; it would take volumes to put the whole story clearly
and fully. I have not been gambling, my kind mother, I owe no one
a penny; but if you would preserve the life that you gave me, you
must send me the sum I mention. As a matter of fact, I go to see
the Vicomtesse de Beauseant; she is using her influence for me; I
am obliged to go into society, and I have not a penny to lay out
on clean gloves. I can manage to exist on bread and water, or go
without food, if need be, but I cannot do without the tools with
which they cultivate the vineyards in this country. I must
resolutely make up my mind at once to make my way, or stick in the
mire for the rest of my days. I know that all your hopes are set
on me, and I want to realize them quickly. Sell some of your old
jewelry, my kind mother; I will give you other jewels very soon. I
know enough of our affairs at home to know all that such a
sacrifice means, and you must not think that I would lightly ask
you to make it; I should be a monster if I could. You must think
of my entreaty as a cry forced from me by imperative necessity.
Our whole future lies in the subsidy with which I must begin my
first campaign, for life in Paris is one continual battle. If you
cannot otherwise procure the whole of the money, and are forced to
sell our aunt's lace, tell her that I will send her some still
handsomer," and so forth.
He wrote to ask each of his sisters for their savings--would they
despoil themselves for him, and keep the sacrifice a secret from the
family? To his request he knew that they would not fail to respond
gladly, and he added to it an appeal to their delicacy by touching the
chord of honor that vibrates so loudly in young and high-strung
Yet when he had written the letters, he could not help feeling
misgivings in spite of his youthful ambition; his heart beat fast, and
he trembled. He knew the spotless nobleness of the lives buried away
in the lonely manor house; he knew what trouble and what joy his
request would cause his sisters, and how happy they would be as they
talked at the bottom of the orchard of that dear brother of theirs in
Paris. Visions rose before his eyes; a sudden strong light revealed
his sisters secretly counting over their little store, devising some
girlish stratagem by which the money could be sent to him /incognito/,
essaying, for the first time in their lives, a piece of deceit that
reached the sublime in its unselfishness.
"A sister's heart is a diamond for purity, a deep sea of tenderness!"
he said to himself. He felt ashamed of those letters.
What power there must be in the petitions put up by such hearts; how
pure the fervor that bears their souls to Heaven in prayer! What
exquisite joy they would find in self-sacrifice! What a pang for his
mother's heart if she could not send him all that he asked for! And
this noble affection, these sacrifices made at such terrible cost,
were to serve as the ladder by which he meant to climb to Delphine de
Nucingen. A few tears, like the last grains of incense flung upon the
sacred alter fire of the hearth, fell from his eyes. He walked up and
down, and despair mingled with his emotion. Father Goriot saw him
through the half-open door.
"What is the matter, sir?" he asked from the threshold.
"Ah! my good neighbor, I am as much a son and brother as you are a
father. You do well to fear for the Comtesse Anastasie; there is one
M. Maxime de Trailles, who will be her ruin."
Father Goriot withdrew, stammering some words, but Eugene failed to
catch their meaning.
The next morning Rastignac went out to post his letters. Up to the
last moment he wavered and doubted, but he ended by flinging them into
the box. "I shall succeed!" he said to himself. So says the gambler;
so says the great captain; but the three words that have been the
salvation of some few, have been the ruin of many more.
A few days after this Eugene called at Mme. de Restaud's house; she
was not at home. Three times he tried the experiment, and three times
he found her doors closed against him, though he was careful to choose
an hour when M. de Trailles was not there. The Vicomtesse was right.
The student studied no longer. He put in an appearance at lectures
simply to answer to his name, and after thus attesting his presence,
departed forthwith. He had been through a reasoning process familiar
to most students. He had seen the advisability of deferring his
studies to the last moment before going up for his examinations; he
made up his mind to cram his second and third years' work into the
third year, when he meant to begin to work in earnest, and to complete
his studies in law with one great effort. In the meantime he had
fifteen months in which to navigate the ocean of Paris, to spread the
nets and set the lines that would bring him a protectress and a
fortune. Twice during that week he saw Mme. de Beauseant; he did not
go to her house until he had seen the Marquis d'Ajuda drive away.
Victory for yet a few more days was with the great lady, the most
poetic figure in the Faubourg Saint-Germain; and the marriage of the
Marquis d'Ajuda-Pinto with Mlle. de Rochefide was postponed. The dread
of losing her happiness filled those days with a fever of joy unknown
before, but the end was only so much the nearer. The Marquis d'Ajuda
and the Rochefides agreed that this quarrel and reconciliation was a
very fortunate thing; Mme. de Beauseant (so they hoped) would
gradually become reconciled to the idea of the marriage, and in the
end would be brought to sacrifice d'Ajuda's morning visits to the
exigencies of a man's career, exigencies which she must have foreseen.
In spite of the most solemn promises, daily renewed, M. d'Ajuda was
playing a part, and the Vicomtesse was eager to be deceived. "Instead
of taking a leap heroically from the window, she is falling headlong
down the staircase," said her most intimate friend, the Duchesse de
Langeais. Yet this after-glow of happiness lasted long enough for the
Vicomtesse to be of service to her young cousin. She had a half-
superstitious affection for him. Eugene had shown her sympathy and
devotion at a crisis when a woman sees no pity, no real comfort in any
eyes; when if a man is ready with soothing flatteries, it is because
he has an interested motive.
Rastignac made up his mind that he must learn the whole of Goriot's
previous history; he would come to his bearings before attempting to
board the Maison de Nucingen. The results of his inquiries may be
given briefly as follows:--
In the days before the Revolution, Jean-Joachim Goriot was simply a
workman in the employ of a vermicelli maker. He was a skilful, thrifty
workman, sufficiently enterprising to buy his master's business when
the latter fell a chance victim to the disturbances of 1789. Goriot
established himself in the Rue de la Jussienne, close to the Corn
Exchange. His plain good sense led him to accept the position of
President of the Section, so as to secure for his business the
protection of those in power at that dangerous epoch. This prudent
step had led to success; the foundations of his fortune were laid in
the time of the Scarcity (real or artificial), when the price of grain
of all kinds rose enormously in Paris. People used to fight for bread
at the bakers' doors; while other persons went to the grocers' shops
and bought Italian paste foods without brawling over it. It was during
this year that Goriot made the money, which, at a later time, was to
give him all the advantage of the great capitalist over the small
buyer; he had, moreover, the usual luck of average ability; his
mediocrity was the salvation of him. He excited no one's envy, it was
not even suspected that he was rich till the peril of being rich was
over, and all his intelligence was concentrated, not on political, but
on commercial speculations. Goriot was an authority second to none on
all questions relating to corn, flour, and "middlings"; and the
production, storage, and quality of grain. He could estimate the yield
of the harvest, and foresee market prices; he bought his cereals in
Sicily, and imported Russian wheat. Any one who had heard him hold
forth on the regulations that control the importation and exportation
of grain, who had seen his grasp of the subject, his clear insight
into the principles involved, his appreciation of weak points in the
way that the system worked, would have thought that here was the stuff
of which a minister is made. Patient, active, and persevering,
energetic and prompt in action, he surveyed his business horizon with
an eagle eye. Nothing there took him by surprise; he foresaw all
things, knew all that was happening, and kept his own counsel; he was
a diplomatist in his quick comprehension of a situation; and in the
routine of business he was as patient and plodding as a soldier on the
march. But beyond this business horizon he could not see. He used to
spend his hours of leisure on the threshold of his shop, leaning
against the framework of the door. Take him from his dark little
counting-house, and he became once more the rough, slow-witted
workman, a man who cannot understand a piece of reasoning, who is
indifferent to all intellectual pleasures, and falls asleep at the
play, a Parisian Dolibom in short, against whose stupidity other minds
Natures of this kind are nearly all alike; in almost all of them you
will find some hidden depth of sublime affection. Two all-absorbing
affections filled the vermicelli maker's heart to the exclusion of
every other feeling; into them he seemed to put all the forces of his
nature, as he put the whole power of his brain into the corn trade. He
had regarded his wife, the only daughter of a rich farmer of La Brie,
with a devout admiration; his love for her had been boundless. Goriot
had felt the charm of a lovely and sensitive nature, which, in its
delicate strength, was the very opposite of his own. Is there any
instinct more deeply implanted in the heart of man than the pride of
protection, a protection which is constantly exerted for a fragile and
defenceless creature? Join love thereto, the warmth of gratitude that
all generous souls feel for the source of their pleasures, and you
have the explanation of many strange incongruities in human nature.
After seven years of unclouded happiness, Goriot lost his wife. It was
very unfortunate for him. She was beginning to gain an ascendency over
him in other ways; possibly she might have brought that barren soil
under cultivation, she might have widened his ideas and given other
directions to his thoughts. But when she was dead, the instinct of
fatherhood developed in him till it almost became a mania. All the
affection balked by death seemed to turn to his daughters, and he
found full satisfaction for his heart in loving them. More or less
brilliant proposals were made to him from time to time; wealthy
merchants or farmers with daughters vied with each other in offering
inducements to him to marry again; but he determined to remain a
widower. His father-in-law, the only man for whom he felt a decided
friendship, gave out that Goriot had made a vow to be faithful to his
wife's memory. The frequenters of the Corn Exchange, who could not
comprehend this sublime piece of folly, joked about it among
themselves, and found a ridiculous nickname for him. One of them
ventured (after a glass over a bargain) to call him by it, and a blow
from the vermicelli maker's fist sent him headlong into a gutter in
the Rue Oblin. He could think of nothing else when his children were
concerned; his love for them made him fidgety and anxious; and this
was so well known, that one day a competitor, who wished to get rid of
him to secure the field to himself, told Goriot that Delphine had just
been knocked down by a cab. The vermicelli maker turned ghastly pale,
left the Exchange at once, and did not return for several days
afterwards; he was ill in consequence of the shock and the subsequent
relief on discovering that it was a false alarm. This time, however,
the offender did not escape with a bruised shoulder; at a critical
moment in the man's affairs, Goriot drove him into bankruptcy, and
forced him to disappear from the Corn Exchange.
As might have been expected, the two girls were spoiled. With an
income of sixty thousand francs, Goriot scarcely spent twelve hundred
on himself, and found all his happiness in satisfying the whims of the
two girls. The best masters were engaged, that Anastasie and Delphine
might be endowed with all the accomplishments which distinguish a good
education. They had a chaperon--luckily for them, she was a woman who
had good sense and good taste;--they learned to ride; they had a
carriage for their use; they lived as the mistress of a rich old lord
might live; they had only to express a wish, their father would hasten
to give them their most extravagant desires, and asked nothing of them
in return but a kiss. Goriot had raised the two girls to the level of
the angels; and, quite naturally, he himself was left beneath them.
Poor man! he loved them even for the pain that they gave him.
When the girls were old enough to be married, they were left free to
choose for themselves. Each had half her father's fortune as her
dowry; and when the Comte de Restaud came to woo Anastasie for her
beauty, her social aspirations led her to leave her father's house for
a more exalted sphere. Delphine wished for money; she married
Nucingen, a banker of German extraction, who became a Baron of the
Holy Roman Empire. Goriot remained a vermicelli maker as before. His
daughters and his sons-in-law began to demur; they did not like to see
him still engaged in trade, though his whole life was bound up with
his business. For five years he stood out against their entreaties,
then he yielded, and consented to retire on the amount realized by the
sale of his business and the savings of the last few years. It was
this capital that Mme. Vauquer, in the early days of his residence
with her, had calculated would bring in eight or ten thousand livres
in a year. He had taken refuge in her lodging-house, driven there by
despair when he knew that his daughters were compelled by their
husbands not only to refuse to receive him as an inmate in their
houses, but even to see him no more except in private.
This was all the information which Rastignac gained from a M. Muret
who had purchased Goriot's business, information which confirmed the
Duchesse de Langeais' suppositions, and herewith the preliminary
explanation of this obscure but terrible Parisian tragedy comes to an
Towards the end of the first week in December Rastignac received two
letters--one from his mother, and one from his eldest sister. His
heart beat fast, half with happiness, half with fear, at the sight of
the familiar handwriting. Those two little scraps of paper contained
life or death for his hopes. But while he felt a shiver of dread as he
remembered their dire poverty at home, he knew their love for him so
well that he could not help fearing that he was draining their very
life-blood. His mother's letter ran as follows:--
"My Dear Child,--I am sending you the money that you asked for.
Make a good use of it. Even to save your life I could not raise so
large a sum a second time without your father's knowledge, and
there would be trouble about it. We should be obliged to mortgage
the land. It is impossible to judge of the merits of schemes of
which I am ignorant; but what sort of schemes can they be, that
you should fear to tell me about them? Volumes of explanation
would not have been needed; we mothers can understand at a word,
and that word would have spared me the anguish of uncertainty. I
do not know how to hide the painful impression that your letter
has made upon me, my dear son. What can you have felt when you
were moved to send this chill of dread through my heart? It must
have been very painful to you to write the letter that gave me so
much pain as I read it. To what courses are you committed? You are
going to appear to be something that you are not, and your whole
life and success depends upon this? You are about to see a society
into which you cannot enter without rushing into expense that you
cannot afford, without losing precious time that is needed for
your studies. Ah! my dear Eugene, believe your mother, crooked
ways cannot lead to great ends. Patience and endurance are the two
qualities most needed in your position. I am not scolding you; I
do not want any tinge of bitterness to spoil our offering. I am
only talking like a mother whose trust in you is as great as her
foresight for you. You know the steps that you must take, and I,
for my part, know the purity of heart, and how good your
intentions are; so I can say to you without a doubt, 'Go forward,
beloved!' If I tremble, it is because I am a mother, but my
prayers and blessings will be with you at every step. Be very
careful, dear boy. You must have a man's prudence, for it lies
with you to shape the destinies of five others who are dear to
you, and must look to you. Yes, our fortunes depend upon you, and
your success is ours. We all pray to God to be with you in all
that you do. Your aunt Marcillac has been most generous beyond
words in this matter; she saw at once how it was, even down to
your gloves. 'But I have a weakness for the eldest!' she said
gaily. You must love your aunt very much, dear Eugene. I shall
wait till you have succeeded before telling you all that she has
done for you, or her money would burn your fingers. You, who are
young, do not know what it is to part with something that is a
piece of your past! But what would we not sacrifice for your
sakes? Your aunt says that I am to send you a kiss on the forehead
from her, and that kiss is to bring you luck again and again, she
says. She would have written you herself, the dear kind-hearted
woman, but she is troubled with the gout in her fingers just now.
Your father is very well. The vintage of 1819 has turned out
better than we expected. Good-bye, dear boy; I will say nothing
about your sisters, because Laure is writing to you, and I must
let her have the pleasure of giving you all the home news. Heaven
send that you may succeed! Oh! yes, dear Eugene, you must succeed.
I have come, through you, to a knowledge of a pain so sharp that I
do not think I could endure it a second time. I have come to know
what it is to be poor, and to long for money for my children's
sake. There, good-bye! Do not leave us for long without news of
you; and here, at the last, take a kiss from your mother."
By the time Eugene had finished the letter he was in tears. He thought
of Father Goriot crushing his silver keepsake into a shapeless mass
before he sold it to meet his daughter's bill of exchange.
"Your mother has broken up her jewels for you," he said to himself;
"your aunt shed tears over those relics of hers before she sold them
for your sake. What right have you to heap execrations on Anastasie?
You have followed her example; you have selfishly sacrificed others to
your own future, and she sacrifices her father to her lover; and of
you two, which is the worse?"
He was ready to renounce his attempts; he could not bear to take that
money. The fires of remorse burned in his heart, and gave him
intolerable pain, the generous secret remorse which men seldom take
into account when they sit in judgment upon their fellow-men; but
perhaps the angels in heaven, beholding it, pardon the criminal whom
our justice condemns. Rastignac opened his sister's letter; its
simplicity and kindness revived his heart.
"Your letter came just at the right time, dear brother. Agathe and
I had thought of so many different ways of spending our money,
that we did not know what to buy with it; and now you have come
in, and, like the servant who upset all the watches that belonged
to the King of Spain, you have restored harmony; for, really and
truly, we did not know which of all the things we wanted we wanted
most, and we were always quarreling about it, never thinking, dear
Eugene, of a way of spending our money which would satisfy us
completely. Agathe jumped for you. Indeed, we have been like two
mad things all day, 'to such a prodigious degree' (as aunt would
say), that mother said, with her severe expression, 'Whatever can
be the matter with you, mesdemoiselles?' I think if we had been
scolded a little, we should have been still better pleased. A
woman ought to be very glad to suffer for one she loves! I,
however, in my inmost soul, was doleful and cross in the midst of
all my joy. I shall make a bad wife, I am afraid, I am too fond of
spending. I had bought two sashes and a nice little stiletto for
piercing eyelet-holes in my stays, trifles that I really did not
want, so that I have less than that slow-coach Agathe, who is so
economical, and hoards her money like a magpie. She had two
hundred francs! And I have only one hundred and fifty! I am nicely
punished; I could throw my sash down the well; it will be painful
to me to wear it now. Poor dear, I have robbed you. And Agathe was
so nice about it. She said, 'Let us send the three hundred and
fifty francs in our two names!' But I could not help telling you
everything just as it happened.
"Do you know how we managed to keep your commandments? We took our
glittering hoard, we went out for a walk, and when once fairly on
the highway we ran all the way to Ruffec, where we handed over the
coin, without more ado, to M. Grimbert of the Messageries Royales.
We came back again like swallows on the wing. 'Don't you think
that happiness has made us lighter?' Agathe said. We said all
sorts of things, which I shall not tell you, Monsieur le Parisien,
because they were all about you. Oh, we love you dearly, dear
brother; it was all summed up in those few words. As for keeping
the secret, little masqueraders like us are capable of anything
(according to our aunt), even of holding our tongues. Our mother
has been on a mysterious journey to Angouleme, and the aunt went
with her, not without solemn councils, from which we were shut
out, and M. le Baron likewise. They are silent as to the weighty
political considerations that prompted their mission, and
conjectures are rife in the State of Rastignac. The Infantas are
embroidering a muslin robe with open-work sprigs for her Majesty
the Queen; the work progresses in the most profound secrecy. There
be but two more breadths to finish. A decree has gone forth that
no wall shall be built on the side of Verteuil, but that a hedge
shall be planted instead thereof. Our subjects may sustain some
disappointment of fruit and espaliers, but strangers will enjoy a
fair prospect. Should the heir-presumptive lack pocket-
handkerchiefs, be it known unto him that the dowager Lady of
Marcillac, exploring the recesses of her drawers and boxes (known
respectively as Pompeii and Herculaneum), having brought to light
a fair piece of cambric whereof she wotted not, the Princesses
Agathe and Laure place at their brother's disposal their thread,
their needles, and hands somewhat of the reddest. The two young
Princes, Don Henri and Don Gabriel, retain their fatal habits of
stuffing themselves with grape-jelly, of teasing their sisters, of
taking their pleasure by going a-bird-nesting, and of cutting
switches for themselves from the osier-beds, maugre the laws of
the realm. Moreover, they list not to learn naught, wherefore the
Papal Nuncio (called of the commonalty, M. le Cure) threateneth
them with excommunication, since that they neglect the sacred
canons of grammatical construction for the construction of other
canon, deadly engines made of the stems of elder.
"Farewell, dear brother, never did letter carry so many wishes for
your success, so much love fully satisfied. You will have a great
deal to tell us when you come home! You will tell me everything,
won't you? I am the oldest. From something the aunt let fall, we
think you must have had some success.
"Something was said of a lady, but nothing more was said . . .
"Of course not, in our family! Oh, by-the-by, Eugene, would you
rather that we made that piece of cambric into shirts for you
instead of pocket-handkerchiefs? If you want some really nice
shirts at once, we ought to lose no time in beginning upon them;
and if the fashion is different now in Paris, send us one for a
pattern; we want more particularly to know about the cuffs. Good-
bye! Good-bye! Take my kiss on the left side of your forehead, on
the temple that belongs to me, and to no one else in the world. I
am leaving the other side of the sheet for Agathe, who has
solemnly promised not to read a word that I have written; but, all
the same, I mean to sit by her side while she writes, so as to be
quite sure that she keeps her word.--Your loving sister,
"Laure de Rastignac."
"Yes!" said Eugene to himself. "Yes! Success at all costs now! Riches
could not repay such devotion as this. I wish I could give them every
sort of happiness! Fifteen hundred and fifty francs," he went on after
a pause. "Every shot must go to the mark! Laure is right. Trust a
woman! I have only calico shirts. Where some one else's welfare is
concerned, a young girl becomes as ingenious as a thief. Guileless
where she herself is in question, and full of foresight for me,--she
is like a heavenly angel forgiving the strange incomprehensible sins
The world lay before him. His tailor had been summoned and sounded,
and had finally surrendered. When Rastignac met M. de Trailles, he had
seen at once how great a part the tailor plays in a young man's
career; a tailor is either a deadly enemy or a staunch friend, with an
invoice for a bond of friendship; between these two extremes there is,
alack! no middle term. In this representative of his craft Eugene
discovered a man who understood that his was a sort of paternal
function for young men at their entrance into life, who regarded
himself as a stepping-stone between a young man's present and future.
And Rastignac in gratitude made the man's fortune by an epigram of a
kind in which he excelled at a later period of his life.
"I have twice known a pair of trousers turned out by him make a match
of twenty thousand livres a year!"
Fifteen hundred francs, and as many suits of clothes as he chose to
order! At that moment the poor child of the South felt no more doubts
of any kind. The young man went down to breakfast with the indefinable
air which the consciousness of the possession of money gives to youth.
No sooner are the coins slipped into a student's pocket than his
wealth, in imagination at least, is piled into a fantastic column,
which affords him a moral support. He begins to hold up his head as he
walks; he is conscious that he has a means of bringing his powers to
bear on a given point; he looks you straight in the face; his gestures
are quick and decided; only yesterday he was diffident and shy, any
one might have pushed him aside; to-morrow, he will take the wall of a
prime minister. A miracle has been wrought in him. Nothing is beyond
the reach of his ambition, and his ambition soars at random; he is
light-hearted, generous, and enthusiastic; in short, the fledgling
bird has discovered that he has wings. A poor student snatches at
every chance pleasure much as a dog runs all sorts of risks to steal a
bone, cracking it and sucking the marrow as he flies from pursuit; but
a young man who can rattle a few runaway gold coins in his pocket can
take his pleasure deliberately, can taste the whole of the sweets of
secure possession; he soars far above earth; he has forgotten what the
word /poverty/ means; all Paris is his. Those are days when the whole
world shines radiant with light, when everything glows and sparkles
before the eyes of youth, days that bring joyous energy that is never
brought into harness, days of debts and of painful fears that go hand
in hand with every delight. Those who do not know the left bank of the
Seine between the Rue Saint-Jacques and the Rue des Saints-Peres know
nothing of life.
"Ah! if the women of Paris but knew," said Rastignac, as he devoured
Mme. Vauquer's stewed pears (at five for a penny), "they would come
here in search of a lover."
Just then a porter from the Messageries Royales appeared at the door
of the room; they had previously heard the bell ring as the wicket
opened to admit him. The man asked for M. Eugene de Rastignac, holding
out two bags for him to take, and a form of receipt for his signature.
Vautrin's keen glance cut Eugene like a lash.
"Now you will be able to pay for those fencing lessons and go to the
shooting gallery," he said.
"Your ship has come in," said Mme. Vauquer, eyeing the bags.
Mlle. Michonneau did not dare to look at the money, for fear her eyes
should betray her cupidity.
"You have a kind mother," said Mme. Couture.
"You have a kind mother, sir," echoed Poiret.
"Yes, mamma has been drained dry," said Vautrin, "and now you can have
your fling, go into society, and fish for heiresses, and dance with
countesses who have peach blossom in their hair. But take my advice,
young man, and don't neglect your pistol practice."
Vautrin struck an attitude, as if he were facing an antagonist.
Rastignac, meaning to give the porter a tip, felt in his pockets and
found nothing. Vautrin flung down a franc piece on the table.
"Your credit is good," he remarked, eyeing the student, and Rastignac
was forced to thank him, though, since the sharp encounter of wits at
dinner that day, after Eugene came in from calling on Mme. de
Beauseant, he had made up his mind that Vautrin was insufferable. For
a week, in fact, they had both kept silence in each other's presence,
and watched each other. The student tried in vain to account to
himself for this attitude.
An idea, of course, gains in force by the energy with which it is
expressed; it strikes where the brain sends it, by a law as
mathematically exact as the law that determines the course of a shell
from a mortar. The amount of impression it makes is not to be
determined so exactly. Sometimes, in an impressible nature, the idea
works havoc, but there are, no less, natures so robustly protected,
that this sort of projectile falls flat and harmless on skulls of
triple brass, as cannon-shot against solid masonry; then there are
flaccid and spongy-fibred natures into which ideas from without sink
like spent bullets into the earthworks of a redoubt. Rastignac's head
was something of the powder-magazine order; the least shock sufficed
to bring about an explosion. He was too quick, too young, not to be
readily accessible to ideas; and open to that subtle influence of
thought and feeling in others which causes so many strange phenomena
that make an impression upon us of which we are all unconscious at the
time. Nothing escaped his mental vision; he was lynx-eyed; in him the
mental powers of perception, which seem like duplicates of the senses,
had the mysterious power of swift projection that astonishes us in
intellects of a high order--slingers who are quick to detect the weak
spot in any armor.
In the past month Eugene's good qualities and defects had rapidly
developed with his character. Intercourse with the world and the
endeavor to satisfy his growing desires had brought out his defects.
But Rastignac came from the South side of the Loire, and had the good
qualities of his countrymen. He had the impetuous courage of the
South, that rushes to the attack of a difficulty, as well as the
southern impatience of delay or suspense. These traits are held to be
defects in the North; they made the fortune of Murat, but they
likewise cut short his career. The moral would appear to be that when
the dash and boldness of the South side of the Loire meets, in a
southern temperament, with the guile of the North, the character is
complete, and such a man will gain (and keep) the crown of Sweden.
Rastignac, therefore, could not stand the fire from Vautrin's
batteries for long without discovering whether this was a friend or a
foe. He felt as if this strange being was reading his inmost soul, and
dissecting his feelings, while Vautrin himself was so close and
secretive that he seemed to have something of the profound and unmoved
serenity of a sphinx, seeing and hearing all things and saying
nothing. Eugene, conscious of that money in his pocket, grew
"Be so good as to wait a moment," he said to Vautrin, as the latter
rose, after slowly emptying his coffee-cup, sip by sip.
"What for?" inquired the older man, as he put on his large-brimmed
hat and took up the sword-cane that he was wont to twirl like a man
who will face three or four footpads without flinching.
"I will repay you in a minute," returned Eugene. He unsealed one of
the bags as he spoke, counted out a hundred and forty francs, and
pushed them towards Mme. Vauquer. "Short reckonings make good friends"
he added, turning to the widow; "that clears our accounts till the end
of the year. Can you give me change for a five-franc piece?"
"Good friends make short reckonings," echoed Poiret, with a glance at
"Here is your franc," said Rastignac, holding out the coin to the
sphinx in the black wig.
"Any one might think that you were afraid to owe me a trifle,"
exclaimed this latter, with a searching glance that seemed to read the
young man's inmost thoughts; there was a satirical and cynical smile
on Vautrin's face such as Eugene had seen scores of times already;
every time he saw it, it exasperated him almost beyond endurance.
"Well . . . so I am," he answered. He held both the bags in his hand,
and had risen to go up to his room.
Vautrin made as if he were going out through the sitting-room, and the
student turned to go through the second door that opened into the
square lobby at the foot of the staircase.
"Do you know, Monsieur le Marquis de Rastignacorama, that what you
were saying just now was not exactly polite?" Vautrin remarked, as he
rattled his sword-cane across the panels of the sitting-room door, and
came up to the student.
Rastignac looked coolly at Vautrin, drew him to the foot of the
staircase, and shut the dining-room door. They were standing in the
little square lobby between the kitchen and the dining-room; the place
was lighted by an iron-barred fanlight above a door that gave access
into the garden. Sylvie came out of her kitchen, and Eugene chose that
moment to say:
"/Monsieur/ Vautrin, I am not a marquis, and my name is not
"They will fight," said Mlle. Michonneau, in an indifferent tone.
"Fight!" echoed Poiret.
"Not they," replied Mme. Vauquer, lovingly fingering her pile of
"But there they are under the lime-trees," cried Mlle. Victorine, who
had risen so that she might see out into the garden. "Poor young man!
he was in the right, after all."
"We must go upstairs, my pet," said Mme. Couture; "it is no business
At the door, however, Mme. Couture and Victorine found their progress
barred by the portly form of Sylvie the cook.
"What ever can have happened?" she said. "M. Vautrin said to M.
Eugene, 'Let us have an explanation!' then he took him by the arm, and
there they are, out among the artichokes."
Vautrin came in while she was speaking. "Mamma Vauquer," he said
smiling, "don't frighten yourself at all. I am only going to try my
pistols under the lime-trees."
"Oh! monsieur," cried Victorine, clasping her hands as she spoke, "why
do you want to kill M. Eugene?"
Vautrin stepped back a pace or two, and gazed at Victorine.
"Oh! this is something fresh!" he exclaimed in a bantering tone, that
brought the color into the poor girl's face. "That young fellow yonder
is very nice, isn't he?" he went on. "You have given me a notion, my
pretty child; I will make you both happy."
Mme. Couture laid her hand on the arm of her ward, and drew the girl
away, as she said in her ear:
"Why, Victorine, I cannot imagine what has come over you this
"I don't want any shots fired in my garden," said Mme. Vauquer. "You
will frighten the neighborhood and bring the police up here all in a
"Come, keep cool, Mamma Vauquer," answered Vautrin. "There, there;
it's all right; we will go to the shooting-gallery."
He went back to Rastignac, laying his hand familiarly on the young
"When I have given you ocular demonstration of the fact that I can put
a bullet through the ace on a card five times running at thirty-five
paces," he said, "that won't take away your appetite, I suppose? You
look to me to be inclined to be a trifle quarrelsome this morning, and
as if you would rush on your death like a blockhead."
"Do you draw back?" asked Eugene.
"Don't try to raise my temperature," answered Vautrin, "it is not cold
this morning. Let us go and sit over there," he added, pointing to the
green-painted garden seats; "no one can overhear us. I want a little
talk with you. You are not a bad sort of youngster, and I have no
quarrel with you. I like you, take Trump--(confound it!)--take
Vautrin's word for it. What makes me like you? I will tell you by-and-
by. Meantime, I can tell you that I know you as well as if I had made
you myself, as I will prove to you in a minute. Put down your bags,"
he continued, pointing to the round table.
Rastignac deposited his money on the table, and sat down. He was
consumed with curiosity, which the sudden change in the manner of the
man before him had excited to the highest pitch. Here was a strange
being who, a moment ago, had talked of killing him, and now posed as
"You would like to know who I really am, what I was, and what I do
now," Vautrin went on. "You want to know too much, youngster. Come!
come! keep cool! You will hear more astonishing things than that. I
have had my misfortunes. Just hear me out first, and you shall have
your turn afterwards. Here is my past in three words. Who am I?
Vautrin. What do I do? Just what I please. Let us change the subject.
You want to know my character. I am good-natured to those who do me a
good turn, or to those whose hearts speak to mine. These last may do
anything they like with me; they may bruise my shins, and I shall not
tell them to 'mind what they are about'; but, /nom d'une pipe/, the
devil himself is not an uglier customer than I can be if people annoy
me, or if I don't happen to take to them; and you may just as well
know at once that I think no more of killing a man than of that," and
he spat before him as he spoke. "Only when it is absolutely necessary
to do so, I do my best to kill him properly. I am what you call an
artist. I have read Benvenuto Cellini's /Memoirs/, such as you see me;
and, what is more, in Italian: A fine-spirited fellow he was! From him
I learned to follow the example set us by Providence, who strikes us
down at random, and to admire the beautiful whenever and wherever it
is found. And, setting other questions aside, is it not a glorious
part to play, when you pit yourself against mankind, and the luck is
on your side? I have thought a good deal about the constitution of
your present social Dis-order. A duel is downright childish, my boy!
utter nonsense and folly! When one of two living men must be got out
of the way, none but an idiot would leave chance to decide which it is
to be; and in a duel it is a toss-up--heads or tails--and there you
are! Now I, for instance, can hit the ace in the middle of a card five
times running, send one bullet after another through the same hole,
and at thirty-five paces, moreover! With that little accomplishment
you might think yourself certain of killing your man, mightn't you.
Well, I have fired, at twenty paces, and missed, and the rogue who had
never handled a pistol in his life--look here!"--(he unbuttoned his
waistcoat and exposed his chest, covered, like a bear's back, with a
shaggy fell; the student gave a startled shudder)--"he was a raw lad,
but he made his mark on me," the extraordinary man went on, drawing
Rastignac's fingers over a deep scar on his breast. But that happened
when I myself was a mere boy; I was one-and-twenty then (your age),
and I had some beliefs left--in a woman's love, and in a pack of
rubbish that you will be over head and ears in directly. You and I
were to have fought just now, weren't we? You might have killed me.
Suppose that I were put under the earth, where would you be? You would
have to clear out of this, go to Switzerland, draw on papa's purse--
and he has none too much in it as it is. I mean to open your eyes to
your real position, that is what I am going to do: but I shall do it
from the point of view of a man who, after studying the world very
closely, sees that there are but two alternatives--stupid obedience or
revolt. I obey nobody; is that clear? Now, do you know how much you
will want at the pace you are going? A million; and promptly, too, or
that little head of ours will be swaying to and fro in the drag-nets
at Saint-Cloud, while we are gone to find out whether or no there is a
Supreme Being. I will put you in the way of that million."
He stopped for a moment and looked at Eugene.
"Aha! you do not look so sourly at papa Vautrin now! At the mention of
the million you look like a young girl when somebody has said, 'I will
come for you this evening!' and she betakes herself to her toilette as
a cat licks its whiskers over a saucer of milk. All right. Come, now,
let us go into the question, young man; all between ourselves, you
know. We have a papa and mamma down yonder, a great-aunt, two sisters
(aged eighteen and seventeen), two young brothers (one fifteen, and
the other ten), that is about the roll-call of the crew. The aunt
brings up the two sisters; the cure comes and teaches the boys Latin.
Boiled chestnuts are oftener on the table than white bread. Papa makes
a suit of clothes last a long while; if mamma has a different dress
winter and summer, it is about as much as she has; the sisters manage
as best they can. I know all about it; I have lived in the south.
"That is how things are at home. They send you twelve hundred francs a
year, and the whole property only brings in three thousand francs all
told. We have a cook and a manservant; papa is a baron, and we must
keep up appearances. Then we have our ambitions; we are connected with
the Beauseants, and we go afoot through the streets; we want to be
rich, and we have not a penny; we eat Mme. Vauquer's messes, and we
like grand dinners in the Faubourg Saint-Germain; we sleep on a
truckle-bed, and dream of a mansion! I do not blame you for wanting
these things. What sort of men do the women run after? Men of
ambition. Men of ambition have stronger frames, their blood is richer
in iron, their hearts are warmer than those of ordinary men. Women
feel that when their power is greatest, they look their best, and that
those are their happiest hours; they like power in men, and prefer the
strongest even if it is a power that may be their own destruction. I
am going to make an inventory of your desires in order to put the
question at issue before you. Here it is:--
"We are as hungry as a wolf, and those newly-cut teeth of ours are
sharp; what are we to do to keep the pot boiling? In the first place,
we have the Code to browse upon; it is not amusing, and we are none
the wiser for it, but that cannot be helped. So far so good. We mean
to make an advocate of ourselves with a prospect of one day being made
President of a Court of Assize, when we shall send poor devils, our
betters, to the galleys with a T.F.[*] on their shoulders, so that the
rich may be convinced that they can sleep in peace. There is no fun in
that; and you are a long while coming to it; for, to begin with, there
are two years of nauseous drudgery in Paris, we see all the lollipops
that we long for out of our reach. It is tiresome to want things and
never to have them. If you were a pallid creature of the mollusk
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