The Brotherhood of Consolation
Honore de Balzac
Part 3 out of 5
minor, not twenty years of age. Will not the Emperor Napoleon the
Great grant her life, and give her time in which to repent? Is not
that to share the part of God?
For Henriette Lechantre, wife of Bryond des Tour-Minieres,--
Her defender, Bordin,
Barrister of the Lower Court of the Department
of the Seine.
This dreadful drama disturbed the little sleep that Godefroid took. He
dreamed of that penalty of death such as the physician Guillotin has
made it with a philanthropic object. Through the hot vapors of a
nightmare he saw a young woman, beautiful, enthusiastic, enduring the
last preparations, drawn in that fatal tumbril, mounting the scaffold,
and crying out, "Vive le roi!"
Eager to know the whole, Godefroid rose at dawn, dressed, and paced
his room; then stood mechanically at his window gazing at the sky,
while his thoughts reconstructed this drama in many volumes. Ever, on
that darksome background of Chouans, peasants, country gentlemen,
rebel leaders, spies, and officers of justice, he saw the vivid
figures of the mother and the daughter detach themselves; the daughter
misleading the mother; the daughter victim of a monster; victim, too,
of her passion for one of those bold men whom, later, we have
glorified as heroes, and to whom even Godefroid's imagination lent a
likeness to the Charettes and the Georges Cadoudals,--those giants of
the struggle between the Republic and the Monarchy.
As soon as Godefroid heard the goodman Alain stirring in the room
above him, he went there; but he had no sooner opened the door than he
closed it and went back to his own apartment. The old man, kneeling by
his chair, was saying his morning prayer. The sight of that whitened
head, bowed in an attitude of humble reverence, reminded Godefroid of
his own forgotten duties, and he prayed fervently.
"I expected you," said the kind old man, when Godefroid entered his
room some fifteen minutes later. "I got up earlier than usual, for I
felt sure you would be impatient."
"Madame Henriette?" asked Godefroid, with visible anxiety.
"Was Madame's daughter!" replied Monsieur Alain. "Madame's name is
Lechantre de la Chanterie. Under the Empire none of the nobiliary
titles were allowed, nor any of the names added to the patronymic or
original names. Therefore, the Baronne des Tours-Minieres was called
Madame Bryond. The Marquis d'Esgrignon took his name of Carol (citizen
Carol); later he was called the Sieur Carol. The Troisvilles became
the Sieurs Guibelin."
"But what happened? Did the Emperor pardon her?"
"Alas, no!" replied Alain. "The unfortunate little woman, not twenty-
one years old, perished on the scaffold. After reading Bordin's
appeal, the Emperor answered very much in these terms: 'Why be so
bitter against the spy? A spy is no longer a man; he ought not to have
feelings; he is a wheel of the machinery; Bryond did his duty. If
instruments of that kind were not what they are,--steel bars,--and
intelligent only in the service of the power employing them,
government would not be possible. The sentences of criminal courts
must be carried out, or the judges would cease to have confidence in
themselves or in me. Besides, the women of the West must be taught not
to meddle in plots. It is precisely in the case of a woman that
justice should not be interfered with. There is no excuse possible for
an attack on power?' This was the substance of what the Emperor said,
as Bordin repeated it to me. Learning a little later that France and
Russia were about to measure swords against each other, and that the
Emperor was to go two thousand miles from Paris to attack a vast and
desert country, Bordin understood the secret reason of the Emperor's
harshness. To insure tranquillity at the West, now full of
refractories, Napoleon believed it necessary to inspire terror. Bordin
could do no more."
"But Madame de la Chanterie?" said Godefroid.
"Madame de la Chanterie was sentenced to twenty years' imprisonment,"
replied Alain. "As she was already transferred to Bicetre, near Rouen,
to undergo her punishment, nothing was attempted on her behalf until
every effort had been made to save Henriette, who had grown dearer
than ever to her mother during this time of anxiety. Indeed, if it had
not been for Bordin's assurance that he could obtain Henriette's
pardon, it is doubtful if Madame could have survived the shock of the
sentence. When the appeal failed, they deceived the poor mother. She
saw her daughter once after the execution of the other prisoners, not
knowing that Madame Bryond's respite was due to a false declaration of
pregnancy, made to gain time for the appeal."
"Ah! I understand it all now," exclaimed Godefroid.
"No, my dear child, there are things that no one can imagine. Madame
thought her daughter living for a long time."
"How was that?"
"When Madame des Tours-Minieres learned from Bordin that her appeal
was rejected and that nothing could save her, that sublime little
woman had the courage to write twenty letters, dating them month by
month after the time of her execution, so as to make her poor mother
in her prison believe she was alive. In those letters she told of a
gradual illness which would end in death. They covered a period of two
years. Madame de la Chanterie was therefore prepared for the news of
her daughter's death, but she thought it a natural one. She did not
know until 1814 that Henriette had died on the scaffold. For two years
Madame was herded among the most depraved of her sex, but thanks to
the urgency of the Champignelles and the Beauseants she was, after the
second year, placed in a cell by herself, where she lived like a
"And the others?" asked Godefroid.
"The notary Leveille, Herbomez, Hiley, Cibot, Grenier, Horeau, Cabot,
Minard, and Mallet were condemned to death, and executed the same day.
Pannier, condemned to hard labor for twenty years, was branded and
sent to the galleys. The Chaussards and Vauthier received the same
sentence, but were pardoned by the Emperor. Melin, Laraviniere and
Binet, were condemned to five years' imprisonment. The woman Bourget
to twenty years' imprisonment. Chargegrain and Rousseau were
acquitted. Those who escaped were all condemned to death, except the
girl Godard, who was no other, as you have probably guessed, than our
"Manon!" exclaimed Godefroid.
"Oh! you don't know Manon yet," replied the kind old Alain. "That
devoted creature, condemned to twelve years' imprisonment, gave
herself up that she might take care of Madame de la Chanterie, and
wait upon her. Our dear vicar was the priest at Mortagne who gave the
last sacraments to the Baronne des Tours-Minieres; he had the courage
to go with her to the scaffold, and to him she gave her farewell kiss.
That courageous, noble priest had also accompanied the Chevalier du
Vissard. Our dear Abbe de Veze has therefore known all the secrets of
"I see why his hair is so white," said Godefroid.
"Alas! yes," said Alain. "He received from Amedee du Vissard a
miniature of Madame des Tours-Minieres, the only portrait of her that
exists; therefore, the abbe became almost sacred in Madame de la
Chanterie's eyes when she re-entered social existence."
"When did that happen?" asked Godefroid.
"Why, at the restoration of Louis XVIII., in 1814. The Marquis du
Vissard, eldest brother of the Chevalier, was created peer of France
and loaded with honors by the king. The brother of Monsieur d'Herbomez
was made a count and receiver-general. The poor banker Pannier died of
grief at the galleys. Boislaurier died without children, a lieutenant-
general and governor of a royal chateau. Messieurs de Champignelles,
de Beauseant, the Duc de Verneuil, and the Keeper of the Seals
presented Madame de la Chanterie to the king. 'You have suffered
greatly for me, madame la baronne; you have every right to my favor
and gratitude,' he said to her. 'Sire,' she replied, 'your Majesty has
so many sorrows to console that I do not wish that mine, which is
inconsolable, should be a burden upon you. To live forgotten, to mourn
my daughter, and do some good, that is my life. If anything could
soften my grief, it is the kindness of my king, it is the pleasure of
seeing that Providence has not allowed our long devotion to be
"And what did Louis XVIII. do?" asked Godefroid.
"He restored two hundred thousand francs in money to Madame de la
Chanterie, for the estate of Saint-Savin had been sold to pay the
costs of the trial. In the decree of pardon issued for Madame la
baronne and her servant the king expressed regret for the suffering
borne in his cause, adding that 'the zeal of his servants had gone too
far in its methods of execution.' But--and this is a horrible thing;
it will serve to show you a curious trait in the character of that
monarch--he employed Bryond in his detective police throughout his
"Oh, kings! kings!" cried Godefroid; "and is the wretch still living?"
"No; the wretch, as you justly call him, who concealed his real name
under that of Contenson, died about the close of the year 1829 or the
beginning of 1830. In trying to arrest a criminal who escaped over a
roof, he fell into the street. Louis XVIII. shared Napoleon's ideas as
to spies and police. Madame de la Chanterie is a saint; she prays
constantly for the soul of that man and has two masses said yearly for
him. As I have already told you, Madame de la Chanterie knew nothing
of the dangers her daughter was incurring until the day when the money
was carried to Alencon; nevertheless she was unable to establish her
innocence, although defended by one of the greatest lawyers of that
time. The president, du Ronceret, and the vice-president, Blondet, of
the court of Alencon did their best to save our poor lady. But the
influence of the councillor of the Imperial Court who presided at her
trial before the Criminal and Special Court, the famous Mergi, and
that of Bourlac the attorney-general was such over the other judges
that they obtained her condemnation. Both Bourlac and Mergi showed
extraordinary bitterness against mother and daughter; they called the
Baronne des Tours-Minieres 'the woman Bryond,' and Madame 'the woman
Lechantre.' The names of accused persons in those days were all
brought to one republican level, and were sometimes unrecognizable.
The trial had several very extraordinary features, which I cannot now
recall; one piece of audacity remains in my memory which will serve to
show you what sort of men those Chouans were. The crowd which
assembled to hear the trial was immense; it even filled the corridors
and the square before the court-house. One morning, after the opening
of the court-room and before the arrival of the judges, Pille-Miche, a
famous Chouan, sprang over the balustrade into the middle of the
crowd, elbowing right and left, 'charging like a wild boar,' as Bordin
told me, through the frightened people. The guards and the gendarmes
dashed after him and caught him just as he reached the square; after
that the guards were doubled. A picket of gendarmerie was stationed in
the square, for they feared there were Chouans on the ground ready to
rescue the prisoners. As it was, three persons were crushed to death
on this occasion. It was afterwards discovered that Contenson (neither
my friend Bordin nor I could ever bring ourselves to call him the
Baron des Tours-Minieres, nor Bryond which is the name of an old
family),--it was, I say, discovered that this wretch Contenson had
obtained sixty thousand francs of the stolen money from the
Chaussards; he gave ten thousand to the younger Chaussard, whom he
took with him into the detective police and innoculated with his
vices; his other accomplices got nothing from him. Madame de la
Chanterie invested the money restored to her by the king in the public
Funds, and bought this house to please her uncle, Monsieur de
Boisfrelon, who gave her the money for the purpose, and died in the
rooms you now occupy. This tranquil neighborhood is near the
archbishop's palace, where our dear abbe has duties with the cardinal.
That was one of the chief reasons why Madame agreed to her uncle's
wish. Here, in this cloistral life, the fearful misfortunes which
overwhelmed her for twenty-six years have been brought to a close. Now
you can understand the majesty, the grandeur of this victim--august, I
venture to call her."
"Yes," said Godefroid, "the imprint of all the blows she has received
remains and gives her something, I can scarcely describe it, that is
grand and majestic."
"Every wound, every fresh blow, has increased her patience, her
resignation," continued Alain; "but if you knew her as we know her you
would see how keen is her sensibility, how active the inexhaustible
tenderness of her heart, and you would almost stand in awe of the
tears she had shed, and the fervent prayers she had made to God. Ah!
it was necessary to have known, as she did, a brief period of
happiness to bear up as she has done under such misfortunes. Here is a
tender heart, a gentle soul in a steel body hardened by privations, by
toil, by austerities."
"Her life explains why hermits live so long," said Godefroid.
"There are days when I ask myself what is the meaning of a life like
hers? Can it be that God reserves such trials, such cruel tests, for
those of his creatures who are to sit on the morrow of their death at
his right hand?" said the good Alain, quite unconscious that he was
artlessly expressing the whole doctrine of Swedenborg on the angels.
"And you tell me," said Godefroid, "that in prison Madame de la
Chanterie was put with--"
"Madame was sublime in her prison," said Alain. "For three whole years
she realized the story of the Vicar of Wakefield, and was able to
convert many of the worst women about her. During her imprisonment she
observed the habits and customs of these women, and was seized with
that great pity for the sorrows of the people which has since filled
her soul and made her the angel of Parisian charity. In that dreadful
Bicetre of Rouen, she conceived the plan to the realization of which
we are now devoted. It was, she has often told us, a delightful dream,
an angelic inspiration in the midst of hell; though she never thought
she should realize it. When, in 1819, peace and quietude seemed really
to return to Paris, her dream came back to her. Madame la Duchesse
d'Angouleme, afterwards the dauphine, the Duchesse de Berry, the
archbishop, later the chancellor, and several pious persons
contributed liberally the first necessary sums. These funds have been
increased by the addition of our own available property, from which we
take only enough for our actual needs."
Tears came into Godefroid's eyes.
"We are the ministers of a Christian idea; we belong body and soul to
its work, the spirit of which, the founder of which, is the Baronne de
la Chanterie, whom you hear us so respectfully call 'Madame.'"
"Ah! let me belong to you!" cried Godefroid, stretching out his hands
to the kind old man.
"Now you understand why there are some subjects of conversation which
are never mentioned here, nor even alluded to. You can now see the
obligations of delicacy that all who live in this house contract
towards one who seems to us a saint. You comprehend--do you not?--the
influence of a woman made sacred by such sorrows, who knows so many
things, to whom anguish has said its utmost word; who from each
adversity has drawn instruction, in whom all virtues have the double
strength of cruel trial and of constant practice; whose soul is
spotless and without reproach, whose motherhood knew only grief, whose
married love knew only bitterness; on whom life smiled for a brief
time only, but for whom heaven reserves a palm, the reward of
resignation and of loving-kindness under sorrow. Ah! does she not even
triumph over Job in never murmuring? Can you wonder that her words are
so powerful, her old age so young, her soul so communicative, her
glance so convincing? She has obtained extraordinary powers in dealing
with sufferers, for she has suffered all things."
"She is the living image of Charity!" cried Godefroid, fervently. "Can
I ever be one of you?"
"You must first endure the tests, and above all BELIEVE!" said the old
man, gently. "So long as you have no faith, so long as you have not
absorbed into your heart and mind the divine meaning of Saint Paul's
epistle upon Charity, you cannot share our work."
THE POLICE OF THE GOOD GOD
Like evil, good is contagious. Therefore when Madame de la Chanterie's
lodger had lived in that old and silent house for some months after
the worthy Alain's last confidence, which gave him the deepest respect
for the religious lives of those among whom his was cast, he
experienced that well-being of the soul which comes of a regulated
existence, gentle customs, and harmony of nature in those who surround
us. At the end of four months, during which time Godefroid heard
neither a loud voice nor an argument, he could not remember that he
had ever been, if not as happy, at least as tranquil and contented. He
now judged soundly of the world, seeing it from afar. At last, the
desire he had felt for months to be a sharer in the work of these
mysterious persons became a passion. Without being great philosophers
we can all understand the force which passions acquire in solitude.
Thus it happened that one day--a day made solemn by the power of the
spirit within him--Godefroid again went up to see the good old Alain,
him whom Madame de la Chanterie called her "lamb," the member of the
community who seemed to Godefroid the least imposing, the most
approachable member of the fraternity, intending to obtain from him
some definite light on the conditions of the sacred work to which
these brothers of God were dedicated. The allusions made to a period
of trial seemed to imply an initiation, which he was now desirous of
receiving. His curiosity had not been satisfied by what the venerable
old man had already told him as to the causes which led to the work of
Madame de la Chanterie; he wanted to know more.
For the third time Godefroid entered Monsieur Alain's room, just as
the old man was beginning his evening reading of the "Imitation of
Jesus Christ." This time the kindly soul did not restrain a smile when
he saw the young man, and he said at once, without allowing Godefroid
"Why do you come to me, my dear boy; why not go to Madame? I am the
most ignorant, the most imperfect, the least spiritual of our number.
For the last three days," he added, with a shrewd little glance,
"Madame and my other friends have read your heart."
"What have they read there?" asked Godefroid.
"Ah!" replied the goodman, without evasion, "they see in you a rather
artless desire to belong to our little flock. But this sentiment is
not yet an ardent vocation. Yes," he continued, replying to a gesture
of Godefroid's, "you have more curiosity than fervor. You are not yet
so detached from your old ideas that you do not look forward to
something adventurous, romantic, as they say, in the incidents of our
Godefroid could not keep himself from blushing.
"You see a likeness between our occupations and those of the caliphs
of the 'Arabian Nights;' and you are thinking about the satisfaction
you will have in playing the part of the good genii in the tales of
benevolence you are inventing. Ah, my dear boy! that shame-faced laugh
of yours proves to me that we were quite right in that conjecture. How
do you expect to conceal any feeling from persons whose business it is
to divine the most hidden motion of souls, the tricks of poverty, the
calculations of indigence,--honest spies, the police of the good God;
old judges, whose code contains nothing but absolutions; doctors of
suffering, whose only remedy is oftentimes the wise application of
money? But, you see, my child, we don't wish to quarrel with the
motives which bring us a neophyte, provided he will really stay and
become a brother of the order. We shall judge you by your work. There
are two kinds of curiosity,--that of good and that of evil; just at
this moment you have that of good. If you should work in our vineyard,
the juice of our grapes will make you perpetually thirsty for the
divine fruit. The initiation is, as in that of all natural knowledge,
easy in appearance, difficult in reality. Benevolence is like poesy;
nothing is easier than to catch the appearance of it. But here, as in
Parnassus, nothing contents us but perfection. To become one to us,
you must acquire a great knowledge of life. And what a life,--good
God! Parisian life, which defies the sagacity of the minister of
police and all his agents! We have to circumvent the perpetual
conspiracy of Evil, master it in all its forms, while it changes so
often as to seem infinite. Charity in Paris must know as much as vice,
just as a policeman must know all the tricks of thieves. We must each
be frank and each distrustful; we must have quick perception and a
sure and rapid judgment. And then, my child, we are old and getting
older; but we are so content with the results we have now obtained,
that we do not want to die without leaving successors in the work. If
you persist in your desire, you will be our first pupil, and all the
dearer to us on that account. There is no risk for us, because God
brought you to us. Yours is a good nature soured; since you have been
here the evil leaven has weakened. The divine nature of Madame has
acted upon yours. Yesterday we took counsel together; and inasmuch as
I have your confidence, my good brothers resolved to give me to you as
guardian and teacher. Does that please you?"
"Ah! my kind Monsieur Alain, your eloquence awakens--"
"No, my child, it is not I who speak well; it is things that are
eloquent. We can be sure of being great, even sublime, in obeying God,
in imitating Jesus Christ,--imitating him, I mean, as much as men are
able to do so, aided by faith."
"This moment, then, decides my life!" cried Godefroid. "I feel within
me the fervor of a neophyte; I wish to spend my life in doing good."
"That is the secret of remaining in God," replied Alain. "Have you
studied our motto,--/Transire benefaciendo/? /Transire/ means to go
beyond this world, leaving benefits on our way."
"Yes, I have understood it; I have put the motto of the order before
"That is well; it is a trifling action, but it counts for much in my
eyes. And now I have your first affair, your first duel with misery,
prepared for you; I'll put your foot in the stirrup. We are about to
part. Yes, I myself am detached from the convent, to live for a time
in the crater of a volcano. I am to be a clerk in a great manufactory,
where the workmen are infected with communistic doctrines, and dream
of social destruction, the abolishment of masters,--not knowing that
that would be the death of industry, of commerce, of manufactures. I
shall stay there goodness knows how long,--perhaps a year,--keeping
the books and paying the wages. This will give me an entrance into a
hundred or a hundred and twenty homes of working-men, misled, no
doubt, by poverty, even before the pamphlets of the day misled them.
But you and I can see each other on Sundays and fete-days. We shall be
in the same quarter; and if you come to the church of Saint-Jacques du
Haut-Pas, you will find me there any day at half-past seven, when I
hear mass. If you meet me elsewhere don't recognize me, unless you see
me rub my hands like a man who is pleased at something. That is one of
our signs. We have a language of signs, like the deaf and dumb; you'll
soon find out the absolute necessity of it."
Godefroid made a gesture which the goodman Alain interpreted; for he
laughed, and immediately went on to say:--
"Now for your affair. We do not practise either the benevolence or the
philanthropy that you know about, which are really divided into
several branches, all taken advantage of by sharpers in charity as a
business. We practise charity as our great and sublime Saint Paul
defines it; for, my dear lad, we think that charity, and charity
alone, which is Love, can heal the wounds of Paris. In our eyes,
misery, of whatever kind, poverty, suffering, misfortune, grief, evil,
no matter how produced, or in what social class they show themselves,
have equal rights. Whatever his opinions or beliefs, an unhappy man
is, before all else, an unhappy man; and we ought not to attempt to
turn his face to our holy mother Church until we have saved him from
despair or hunger. Moreover, we ought to convert him to goodness more
by example and by gentleness than by any other means; and we believe
that God will specially help us in this. All constraint is bad. Of the
manifold Parisian miseries, the most difficult to discover, and the
bitterest, is that of worthy persons of the middle classes who have
fallen into poverty; for they make concealment a point of honor. Those
sorrows, my dear Godefroid, are to us the object of special
solicitude. Such persons usually have intelligence and good hearts.
They return to us, sometimes with usury, the sums that we lend them.
Such restitutions recoup us in the long run for the losses we
occasionally incur through impostors, shiftless creatures, or those
whom misfortunes have rendered stupid. Through such persons we often
obtain invaluable help in our investigations. Our work has now become
so vast, its details are so multifarious, that we no longer suffice of
ourselves to carry it on. So, for the last year we have a physician of
our own in every arrondissement in Paris. Each of us takes general
charge of four arrondissements. We pay each physician three thousand
francs a year to take care of our poor. His time belongs to us in the
first instance, but we do not prevent him from attending other sick
persons if he can. Would you believe that for many months we were
unable to find twelve really trustworthy, valuable men, in spite of
all our own efforts and those of our friends? We could not employ any
but men of absolute discreetness, pure lives, sound knowledge,
experience, active men, and lovers of doing good. Now, although there
are in Paris some ten thousand individuals, more or less, who would
gladly do the work, we could not find twelve to meet our needs in a
"Our Saviour had difficulty in gathering his apostles, and even then a
traitor and an unbeliever got among them," said Godefroid.
"However, within the last month all our arrondissements are provided
with a Visitor--that is the name we give to our physicians. At the
same time the business is increasing, and we have all redoubled our
activity. If I confide to you these secrets of our system, it is that
you must know the physician, that is, the Visitor of the
arrondissement to which we are about to send you; from him, all
original information about our cases comes. This Visitor is named
Berton, Doctor Berton; he lives in the rue d'Enfer. And now here are
the facts: Doctor Berton is attending a lady whose disease puzzles and
defies science. That, of course, is not our concern, but that of the
Faculty. Our business is to discover the condition of the family of
this patient; Doctor Berton suspects that their poverty is frightful,
and concealed with a pride and determination which demand our utmost
care. Until now, my son, I should have found time for this case, but
the work I am undertaking obliges me to find a helper in my four
arrondissements, and you shall be that helper. This family lives in
the rue Notre-Dame des Champs, in a house at the corner of the
boulevard du Mont-Parnasse. You will find a room to let in the same
house, where you can live for a time so as to discover the truth about
these persons. Be sordid for yourself, but as for the money you may
think needed for this case have no uneasiness. I will remit you such
sums as we may judge necessary after ourselves considering all the
circumstances. But remember that you must study the moral qualities of
these unfortunates: their hearts, the honorableness of their feelings;
those are our guarantees. Miserly we may be for ourselves, and
generous to those who suffer, but we must be prudent and even
calculating, for we are dealing with the money of the poor. So then,
to-morrow morning you can start; think over the power we put in your
hands: the brothers are with you in heart."
"Ah!" cried Godefroid, "you have given me such a pleasure in the
opportunity of doing good and making myself worthy to belong to you
some day, that I shall not sleep to-night."
"One more word, my child. I told you not to recognize me without the
signal; the same rule applies to the other gentlemen and to Madame,
and even to the people you see about this house. We are forced to keep
up an absolute incognito in all we do; this is so necessary to our
enterprises that we have made a rule about it. We seek to be ignored,
lost in this great Paris. Remember also, my dear Godefroid, the spirit
of our order; which is, never to appear as benefactors, to play an
obscure part, that of intermediaries. We always present ourselves as
the agent of a pious, saintly person (in fact, we are working for
God), so that none of those we deal with may feel the obligation of
gratitude towards any of us, or think we are wealthy persons. True,
sincere humility, not the false humility of those who seek thereby to
be set in the light, must inspire you and rule all your thoughts. You
may indeed be glad when you succeed; but so long as you feel within
you a sentiment of vanity or of pride, you are not worthy to do the
work of the order. We have known two perfect men: one, who was one of
our founders, Judge Popinot; the other is revealed by his works; he is
a country doctor whose name is written on the annals of his canton.
That man, my dear Godefroid, is one of the greatest men of our time;
he brought a whole region out of wretchedness into prosperity, out of
irreligion into Christianity, out of barbarism into civilization.[*]
The names of those two men are graven on our hearts and we have taken
them as our models. We should be happy indeed if we ourselves could
some day acquire in Paris the influence that country doctor had in his
canton. But here, the sore is vast, beyond our strength at present.
May God preserve to us Madame, may he send us some young helpers like
you, and perhaps we may yet leave behind us an institution worthy of
his divine religion. And now good-bye; your initiation begins--Ah! I
chatter like a professor and forget the essential thing! Here is the
address of that family," he added, giving Godefroid a piece of paper;
"I have added the number of Dr. Berton's house in the rue d'Enfer; and
now, go and pray to God to help you."
[*] The Country Doctor. Little, Brown & Co., Boston.
[I assume the "Little, Brown & Co." is a reference to a publisher. I
will remove this in the finished version of the text. Elsewhere she
has used a different method of indicating a reference to another work
in La Comedie.--JB.]
Godefroid took the old man's hands and pressed them tenderly, wishing
him good-night, and assuring him he would not neglect a single point
of his advice.
"All that you have said to me," he added, "is graven in my memory
The old man smiled, expressing no doubts; then he rose, to kneel in
his accustomed place. Godefroid retired, joyful in at last sharing the
mysteries of that house and in having an occupation, which, feeling as
he did then, was to him an untold pleasure.
The next day at breakfast, Monsieur Alain's place was vacant, but no
one remarked upon it; Godefroid made no allusion to the cause of his
absence, neither did any one question him as to the mission the old
man had entrusted to him; he thus took his first lesson in
discreetness. Nevertheless, after breakfast, he did take Madame de la
Chanterie apart and told her that he should be absent for some days.
"That is good, my child," replied Madame de la Chanterie; "try to do
honor to your godfather, who has answered for you to his brothers."
Godefroid bade adieu to the three remaining brethren, who made him an
affectionate bow, by which they seemed to bless his entrance upon a
ASSOCIATION, one of the greatest social forces, and that which made
the Europe of the middle-ages, rests on principles which, since 1792,
no longer exist in France, where the Individual has now triumphed over
the State. Association requires, in the first place, a self-devotion
that is not understood in our day; also a guileless faith which is
contrary to the spirit of the nation, and lastly, a discipline against
which men in these days revolt and which the Catholic religion alone
can enforce. The moment an association is formed among us, each
member, returning to his own home from an assembly where noble
sentiments have been proclaimed, thinks of making his own bed out of
that collective devotion, that union of forces, and of milking to his
own profit the common cow, which, not being able to supply so many
individual demands, dies exhausted.
Who knows how many generous sentiments were blasted, how many fruitful
germs may have perished, lost to the nation through the infamous
deceptions of the French Carbonari, the patriotic subscriptions to the
Champ d'Asile, and other political deceptions which ought to have been
grand and noble dramas, and proved to be the farces and the melodramas
of police courts. It is the same with industrial association as it is
with political association. Love of self is substituted for the love
of collective bodies. The corporations and the Hanse leagues of the
middle-ages, /to which we shall some day return/, are still
impossible. Consequently, the only societies which actually exist are
those of religious bodies, against whom a heavy war is being made at
this moment; for the natural tendency of sick persons is to quarrel
with remedies and often with physicians. France ignores self-
abnegation. Therefore, no association can live except through
religious sentiment; the only sentiment that quells the rebellions of
mind, the calculations of ambition, and greeds of all kinds. The
seekers of better worlds ignore the fact that ASSOCIATION has such
worlds to offer.
As he walked through the streets Godefroid felt himself another man.
Whoever could have looked into his being would have admired the
curious phenomenon of the communication of collective power. He was no
longer a mere man, he was a tenfold force, knowing himself the
representative of persons whose united forces upheld his actions and
walked beside him. Bearing that power in his heart, he felt within him
a plenitude of life, a noble might, which uplifted him. It was, as he
afterwards said, one of the finest moments of his whole existence; he
was conscious of a new sense, an omnipotence more sure than that of
despots. Moral power is, like thought, limitless.
"To live for others," he thought, "to act with others, all as one, and
act alone as all together, to have for leader Charity, the noblest,
the most living of those ideal figures Christianity has made for us,
this is indeed to live!--Come, come, repress that petty joy, which
father Alain laughed at. And yet, how singular it is that in seeking
to set myself aside from life I have found the power I have sought so
long! Yes, the world of misery will belong to me!"
A CASE TO INVESTIGATE
Godefroid walked from the cloister of Notre-Dame to the avenue de
l'Observatoire in such a state of exaltation that he never noticed the
length of the way.
When he reached the rue Notre-Dame des Champs at the point where it
joins the rue de l'Ouest he was amazed to find (neither of these
streets being paved at the time of which we write) great mud-holes in
that fine open quarter. Persons walked on planks laid down beside the
houses and along the marshy gardens, or on narrow paths flanked on
each side by stagnant water which sometimes turned them into rivulets.
By dint of searching he found the house he wanted, but he did not
reach it without difficulty. It was evidently an abandoned factory.
The building was narrow and the side of it was a long wall with many
windows and no architectural decoration whatever. None of these
windows, which were square, were on the lower floor, where there was
no opening but a very miserable entrance-door.
Godefroid supposed that the proprietor had turned the building into a
number of small tenements to make it profitable, for a written placard
above the door stated that there were "Several rooms to let."
Godefroid rang, but no one came. While he was waiting, a person who
went by pointed out to him that the house had another entrance on the
boulevard where he might get admittance.
Godefroid followed this advice and saw at the farther end of a little
garden which extended along the boulevard a second door to the house.
The garden, rather ill-kept, sloped downward, for there was enough
difference in level between the boulevard and the rue Notre-Dame des
Champs to make it a sort of ditch. Godefroid therefore walked along
one of the paths, at the end of which he saw an old woman whose
dilapidated garments were in keeping with the house.
"Was it you who rang at the other door?" she asked.
"Yes, madame. Do you show the lodgings?"
On the woman's replying that she did, Godefroid inquired if the other
lodgers were quiet persons; his occupations, he said, were such that
he needed silence and peace; he was a bachelor and would be glad to
arrange with the portress to do his housekeeping.
On this suggestion the portress assumed a gracious manner.
"Monsieur has fallen on his feet in coming here, then," she said;
"except on the Chaumiere days the boulevard is as lonely as the
"Ah! you know the Pontine marshes?" said Godefroid.
"No, monsieur, I don't; but I've got an old gentleman upstairs whose
daughter seems to get her living by being ill, and he says that; I
only repeat it. The poor old man will be glad to know that monsieur
likes quiet, for a noisy neighbor, he thinks, would kill his daughter.
On the second floor we have two writers; they don't come in till
midnight, and are off before eight in the morning. They say they are
authors, but I don't know where or when they write."
While speaking, the portress was showing Godefroid up one of those
horrible stairways of brick and wood so ill put together that it is
hard to tell whether the wood is trying to get rid of the bricks or
the bricks are trying to get away from the wood; the gaps between them
were partly filled up by what was dust in summer and mud in winter.
The walls, of cracked and broken plaster, presented to the eye more
inscriptions than the Academy of Belles-lettres has yet composed. The
portress stopped on the first landing.
"Here, monsieur, are two rooms adjoining each other and every clean,
which open opposite to those of Monsieur Bernard; that's the old
gentleman I told you of,--quite a proper person. He is decorated; but
it seems he has had misfortunes, for he never wears his ribbon. They
formerly had a servant from the provinces, but they sent him away
about three years ago; and now the young son of the lady does
everything, housework and all."
Godefroid made a gesture.
"Oh!" cried the Portress, "don't you be afraid; they won't say
anything to you; they never speak to any one. They came here after the
Revolution of July, in 1830. I think they're provincial folk ruined by
the change of government; they are proud, I tell you! and dumb as
fishes. For three years, monsieur, I declare they have not let me do
the smallest thing for them for fear they should have to pay for it. A
hundred sous on New Year's day, that's all I get out of them. Talk to
me of authors, indeed!"
This gossip made Godefroid hope he should get some assistance out of
the woman, who presently said, while praising the healthfulness of the
two rooms she offered him, that she was not a portress, but the
confidential agent of the proprietor, for whom she managed many of the
affairs of the house.
"You may have confidence in me, monsieur, that you may! Madame
Vauthier, it is well known, would rather have nothing than a single
penny that ought to go to others."
[A Vauthier was one of the accomplices of Bryond in the trial!--JB.]
Madame Vauthier soon came to terms with Godefroid who would not take
the rooms unless he could have them by the single month and furnished.
These miserable rooms of students and unlucky authors were rented
furnished or unfurnished as the case might be. The vast garret which
extended over the whole building was filled with such furniture. But
Monsieur Bernard, she said, had furnished his own rooms.
In making Madame Vauthier talk, Godefroid discovered she had intended
to keep boarders in the building, but for the last five years had not
obtained a single lodger of that description. She lived herself on the
ground-floor facing towards the boulevard; and looked after the whole
house, by the help of a huge mastiff, a stout servant-girl, and a lad
who blacked the boots, took care of the rooms, and did the errands.
These two servants were, like herself, in keeping with the poverty of
the house, that of the tenants, and the wild and tangled look of the
garden. Both were children abandoned by their parents to whom the
widow gave food for wages,--and what food! The lad, whom Godefroid
caught a glimpse of, wore a ragged blouse and list slippers instead of
shoes, and sabots when he went out. With his tousled head, looking
like a sparrow when it takes a bath, and his black hands, he went to
measure wood at a wood-yard on the boulevard as soon as he had
finished the morning work of the house; and after his day's labor
(which ends in wood-yards at half-past four in the afternoon) he
returned to his domestic avocations. He went to the fountain of the
Observatoire for the water used in the house, which the widow supplied
to the tenants, together with bundles of kindling, sawed and tied up
Nepomucene, such was the name of the widow Vauthier's slave, brought
the daily journal to his mistress. In summer the poor forsaken lad was
a waiter in the wine-shops at the barrier; and then his mistress
dressed him properly.
As for the stout girl, she cooked under direction of the widow, and
helped her in another department of industry during the rest of the
day; for Madame Vauthier had a business,--she made list shoes, which
were bought and sold by pedlers.
Godefroid learned all these details in about an hour's time; for the
widow took him everywhere, and showed him the whole building,
explaining its transformation into a dwelling. Until 1828 it had been
a nursery for silk-worms, less for the silk than to obtain what they
call the eggs. Eleven acres planted with mulberries on the plain of
Montrouge, and three acres on the rue de l'Ouest, afterwards built
over, had supplied this singular establishment.
Just as the widow was explaining to Godefroid how Monsieur Barbet,
having lent money to an Italian named Fresconi, the manager of the
business, could recover his money only by foreclosing a mortgage on
the building and seizing the three acres on the rue Notre-Dame des
Champs, a tall, spare old man with snow-white hair appeared at the end
of the street which leads into the square of the rue de l'Ouest.
"Ah! here he comes, just in time!" cried the Vauthier; "that's your
neighbor Monsieur Bernard. Monsieur Bernard!" she called out as soon
as the old man was within hearing; "you won't be alone any longer;
here is a gentleman who has hired the rooms opposite to yours."
Monsieur Bernard turned his eyes on Godefroid with an apprehension it
was easy to fathom; the look seemed to say: "The misfortune I feared
has come to pass."
"Monsieur," he said aloud, "do you intend to live here?"
"Yes, monsieur," said Godefroid, honestly. "It is not a resort for the
fortunate of this earth and it is the least expensive place I can find
in the quarter. Madame Vauthier does not pretend to lodge
millionnaires. Adieu, for the present, my good Madame Vauthier, and
have everything ready for me at six o'clock this evening; I shall
Godefroid turned toward the square of the rue de l'Ouest, walking
slowly, for the anxiety depicted on the face of the tall old man made
him think that he would follow him and come to an explanation. And, in
fact, after an instant's hesitation Monsieur Bernard turned round and
retraced his steps so as to overtake Godefroid.
"The old villain! he'll prevent him from returning," thought Madame
Vauthier; "that's the second time he has played me the same trick.
Patience! patience! five days hence he owes his rent, and if he
doesn't pay sharp up I'll turn him out. Monsieur Barbet is a kind of a
tiger one mustn't offend, and--But I would like to know what he's
telling him. Felicite! Felicite, you great gawk! where are you?" cried
the widow in her rasping, brutal voice,--she had been using her dulcet
tones to Godefroid.
The servant-girl, stout, squint-eyed, and red-haired, ran out.
"Keep your eye on things, do you hear me? I shall be back in five
And Madame Vauthier, formerly cook to the publisher Barbet, one of the
hardest lenders of money by the week, slipped along behind her two
tenants so as to be able to overtake Godefroid as soon as his
conversation with Monsieur Bernard came to an end.
[The term "lender by the week" was explained in The Lesser Bourgeoisie
in relation to Cerizet. Oddly, just looking it up, Barbet is mentioned
as being higher in the scale of usury than Cerizet; there is a level
between them for pawn shops and the like.--JB.]
Monsieur Bernard walked slowly, like a man who is undecided, or like a
debtor seeking for excuses to placate a creditor who has just left him
with threats. Godefroid, though some distance in front, saw him while
pretending to look about and examine the locality. It was not,
therefore, till they reached the middle of the great alley of the
garden of the Luxembourg that Monsieur Bernard came up to the young
"Pardon me, monsieur," said Monsieur Bernard, bowing to Godefroid, who
returned his bow. "A thousand pardons for stopping you without having
the honor of your acquaintance; but is it really your intention to
take lodgings in that horrible house you have just left?"
"Yes, yes," said the old man, interrupting Godefroid, with a gesture
of authority. "I know that you may well ask me by what right I meddle
in your affairs and presume to question you. Hear me, monsieur; you
are young and I am old; I am older than my years, and they are sixty-
seven; people take me for eighty. Age and misfortunes justify many
things; but I will not make a plea of my whitened head; I wish to
speak of yourself. Do you know that this quarter in which you propose
to live is deserted by eight o'clock at night, and the roads are full
of dangers, the least of which is robbery? Have you noticed those wide
spaces not yet built upon, these fields, these gardens? You may tell
me that I live here; but, monsieur, I never go out after six o'clock.
You may also remind me of the two young men on the second floor, above
the apartment you are going to take. But, monsieur, those two poor men
of letters are pursued by creditors. They are in hiding; they are away
in the daytime and only return at night; they have no reason to fear
robbers or assassins; besides, they always go together and are armed.
I myself obtained permission from the prefecture of police that they
should carry arms."
[Yes, this would explain why there are no windows on the ground floor
of Barbet's building. I would not like to stay anywhere that was
easily externally accessible in a city, but more because of drunks
than anything else.--JB.]
"Monsieur," said Godefroid, "I am not afraid of robbers, for the same
reasons that make those gentlemen invulnerable; and I despise life so
heartily that if I were murdered by mistake I should bless the
"You do not look to me very unhappy," said the old man, examining
"I have, at the most, enough to get me bread to live on; and I have
come to this place, monsieur, because of its silent neighborhood. May
I ask you what interest you have in driving me away?"
The old man hesitated; he saw Madame Vauthier close behind them.
Godefroid, who examined him attentively, was astonished at the degree
of thinness to which grief, perhaps hunger, perhaps toil, had reduced
him. There were signs of all those causes upon that face, where the
parched skin clung to the bones as if it had been burned by the sun of
Africa. The dome of the forehead, high and threatening, overshadowed a
pair of steel-blue eyes,--two cold, hard, sagacious, penetrating eyes,
like those of savages, surrounded by a black and wrinkled circle. The
large nose, long and very thin, and the prominent chin, gave the old
man a strong resemblance to the well-known mask popularly ascribed to
Don Quixote; but a wicked Don Quixote, without illusions,--a terrible
And yet the old man, in spite of this general aspect of severity,
betrayed the weakness and timidity which indigence imparts to all
unfortunates. These two emotions seemed to have made crevices in that
solidly constructed face which the pickaxe of poverty was daily
enlarging. The mouth was eloquent and grave; in that feature Don
Quixote was complicated with Montesquieu's president.
His clothing was entirely of black cloth, but cloth that was white at
the seams. The coat, of an old-fashioned cut, and the trousers, showed
various clumsy darns. The buttons had evidently just been renewed. The
coat, buttoned to the chin, showed no linen; and the cravat, of a
rusty black, hid the greater part of a false collar. These clothes,
worn for many years, smelt of poverty. And yet the lofty air of this
mysterious old man, his gait, the thought that dwelt on his brow and
was manifest in his eyes, excluded the idea of pauperism. An observer
would have hesitated how to class him.
Monsieur Bernard seemed so absorbed that he might have been taken for
a teacher employed in that quarter of the city, or for some learned
man plunged in exacting and tyrannical meditation. Godefroid, in any
case, would have felt a curiosity which his present mission of
benevolence sharpened into powerful interest.
"Monsieur," continued the old man, "if I were sure that you are really
seeking silence and seclusion, I should say take those rooms near
mine." He raised his voice so that Madame Vauthier, who was now
passing them, could hear him. "Take those rooms. I am a father,
monsieur. I have only a daughter and a grandson to enable me to bear
the miseries of life. Now, my daughter needs silence and absolute
tranquillity. All those persons who, so far, have looked at the rooms
you are now considering, have listened to the reasons and the
entreaties of a despairing father. It was indifferent to them whether
they lived in one house or another of a quarter so deserted that
plenty of lodgings can be had for a low price. But I see in you a
fixed determination, and I beg you, monsieur, not to deceive me. Do
you really desire a quiet life? If not, I shall be forced to move and
go beyond the barrier, and the removal may cost me my daughter's
If the man could have wept, the tears would have covered his cheeks
while he spoke; as it was, they were, to use an expression now become
vulgar, "in his voice." He covered his forehead with his hand, which
was nothing but bones and muscle.
"What is your daughter's illness?" asked Godefroid, in a persuasive
and sympathetic voice.
"A terrible disease to which physicians give various names, but it
has, in truth, no name. My fortune is lost," he added, with one of
those despairing gestures made only by the wretched. "The little money
that I had,--for in 1830 I was cast from a high position,--in fact,
all that I possessed, was soon used by on my daughter's illness; her
mother, too, was ruined by it, and finally her husband. To-day the
pension I receive from the government barely suffices for the actual
necessities of my poor, dear, saintly child. The faculty of tears has
left me; I have suffered tortures. Monsieur, I must be granite not to
have died. But no, God had kept alive the father that the child might
have a nurse, a providence. Her poor mother died of the strain. Ah!
you have come, young man, at a moment when the old tree that never yet
has bent feels the axe--the axe of poverty, sharpened by sorrow--at
his roots. Yes, here am I, who never complain, talking to you of this
illness so as to prevent you from coming to the house; or, if you
still persist, to implore you not to trouble our peace. Monsieur, at
this moment my daughter barks like a dog, day and night."
"Is she insane?" asked Godefroid.
"Her mind is sound; she is a saint," replied the old man. "You will
presently think I am mad when I tell you all. Monsieur, my only child,
my daughter was born of a mother in excellent health. I never in my
life loved but one woman, the one I married. I married the daughter of
one of the bravest colonels of the Imperial guard, Tarlowski, a Pole,
formerly on the staff of the Emperor. The functions that I exercised
in my high position demanded the utmost purity of life and morals; but
I have never had room in my heart for many feelings, and I faithfully
loved my wife, who deserved such love. I am a father in like manner as
I was a husband, and that is telling you all in one word. My daughter
never left her mother; no child has ever lived more chastely, more
truly a Christian life than my dear daughter. She was born more than
pretty, she was born most beautiful; and her husband, a young man of
whose morals I was absolutely sure,--he was the son of a friend of
mine, the judge of one of the Royal courts,--did not in any way
contribute to my daughter's illness."
Godefroid and Monsieur Bernard made an involuntary pause, and looked
at each other.
"Marriage, as you know, sometimes changes a young woman greatly,"
resumed the old man. "The first pregnancy passed well and produced a
son, my grandson, who now lives with us, the last scion of two
families. The second pregnancy was accompanied by such extraordinary
symptoms that the physicians, much astonished, attributed them to the
caprice of phenomena which sometimes manifest themselves in this
state, and are recorded by physicians in the annals of science. My
daughter gave birth to a dead child; in fact, it was twisted and
smothered by internal movements. The disease had begun, the pregnancy
counted for nothing. Perhaps you are a student of medicine?"
Godefroid made a sign which answered as well for affirmation as for
"After this terrible confinement," resumed Monsieur Bernard,--"so
terrible and laborious that it made a violent impression on my son-in-
law and began the mortal melancholy of which he died,--my daughter,
two or three months later, complained of a general weakness affecting,
particularly, her feet, which she declared felt like cottonwood. This
debility changed to paralysis,--and what a paralysis! My daughter's
feet and legs can be bent or twisted in any way and she does not feel
it. The limbs are there, apparently without blood or muscles or bones.
This affection, which is not connected with anything known to science,
spread to the arms and hands, and we then supposed it to be a disease
of the spinal cord. Doctors and remedies only made matters worse until
at last my poor daughter could not be moved without dislocating either
the shoulders, the arms, or the knees. I kept an admirable surgeon
almost constantly in the house, who, with the doctor, or doctors (for
many came out of interest in the case), replaced the dislocated limbs,
--sometimes, would you believe it monsieur? three and four times a
day! Ah!--This disease has so many forms that I forgot to tell you
that during the first period of weakness, before the paralysis began,
the strangest signs of catalepsy appeared--you know what catalepsy is.
She remained for days with her eyes wide open, motionless, in whatever
position she was when the attack seized her. The worst symptoms of
that strange affection were shown, even those of lockjaw. This phase
of her illness suggested to me the idea of employing magnetism, and I
was about to do so when the paralysis began. My daughter, monsieur,
has a miraculous clear-sightedness; her soul has been the theatre of
all the wonders of somnambulism, just as her body has been that of all
Godefroid began to ask himself if the old man were really sane.
"So that I," continued Monsieur Bernard paying no attention to the
expression in Godefroid's eyes, "even I, a child of the eighteenth
century, fed on Voltaire, Diderot, Helvetius,--I, a son of the
Revolution, who scoff at all that antiquity and the middle-ages tell
us of demoniacal possession,--well, monsieur, I affirm that nothing
but such possession can explain the condition of my child. As a
somnambulist she has never been able to tell us the cause of her
sufferings; she has never perceived it, and all the remedies she has
proposed when in that state, though carefully carried out, have done
her no good. For instance, she wished to be wrapped in the carcass of
a freshly killed pig; then she ordered us to run the sharp points of
ret-hot magnets into her legs; and to put hot sealing-wax on her
Godefroid looked at him in amazement.
"And then! what endless other troubles, monsieur! her teeth fell out;
she became deaf, then dumb; and then, after six months of absolute
dumbness, utter deafness, speech and hearing have returned to her! She
recovered, just as capriciously as she had lost, the use of her hands.
But her feet have continued in the same hapless condition for the last
seven years. She has shown marked and well-characterized symptoms of
hydrophobia. Not only does the sight of water, the sound of water, the
presence of a glass or a cup fling her at times into a state of fury,
but she barks like a dog, that melancholy bark, or rather howl, a dog
utters when he hears an organ. Several times we have thought her
dying, and the priests had administered the last sacraments; but she
has always returned to life to suffer with her full reason and the
most absolute clearness of mind; for her faculties of heart and soul
are still untouched. Though she has lived, monsieur, she has caused
the deaths of her mother and her husband, who have not been able to
endure the suffering of such scenes. Alas! monsieur, those distressing
scenes are becoming worse. All the natural functions are perverted;
the Faculty alone can explain the strange aberration of the organs.
She was in this state when I brought her from the provinces to Paris
in 1829, because the two or three distinguished doctors to whom I
wrote, Desplein, Bianchon, and Haudry, thought from my letters that I
was telling them fables. Magnetism was then energetically denied by
all the schools of medicine, and without saying that they doubted
either my word or that of the provincial doctors, they said we could
not have observed thoroughly, or else we had been misled by the
exaggeration which patients are apt to indulge in. But they were
forced to change their minds when they saw my daughter; and it is to
the phenomena they then observed that the great researches made in
these latter days are owing; for I must tell you that they class my
daughter's singular state as a form of neurosis. At the last
consultation of these gentlemen they decided to stop all medicines, to
let nature alone and study it. Since then I have had but one doctor,
and he is the doctor who attends the poor of this quarter. We do
nothing for her now but alleviate pain, for we know not the cause of
Here the old man stopped as if overcome with his harrowing confidence.
"For the last five years," he continued, "my daughter alternates
between revivals and relapses, but no new phenomena have appeared. She
suffers more or less from the varied nervous attacks I have briefly
described to you, but the paralysis of the legs and the derangement of
the natural functions are constant. The poverty into which we fell,
and which alas! is only increasing, obliged me to leave the rooms that
I took, in 1829, in the faubourg du Roule. My daughter cannot endure
the fatigue of moving; I came near losing her when I brought her to
Paris, and again when I removed her to this house. Here my worst
financial misfortunes have come upon me. After thirty years in the
public service I was made to wait four years before my pension was
granted. I have only received it during the last six months and even
then the new government has sternly cut it down to the minimum."
Godefroid made a gesture of surprise which seemed to ask for a more
complete confidence. The old man so understood it, for he answered
immediately, casting a reproachful glance to heaven:--
"I am one of the thousand victims of political reaction. I conceal my
name because it is the mark for many a revenge. If the lessons of
experience were not always wasted from one generation to another I
should warn you, young man, never to adopt the sternness of any
policy. Not that I regret having done my duty; my conscience is
perfectly clear on that score; but the powers of to-day have not that
solidarity which formerly bound all governments together as
governments, no matter how different they might be; if to-day they
reward zealous agents it is because they are afraid of them. The
instrument they have used, no matter how faithful it has been, is,
sooner or later, cast aside. You see in me one of the firmest
supporters of the government of the elder branch of the Bourbons, as I
was later of the Imperial power; yet here I am in penury! Since I am
too proud to beg, they have never dreamed that I suffer untold misery.
Five days ago, monsieur, the doctor who takes care of my daughter, or
rather I should say, observes her, told me that he was unable to cure
a disease the forms of which varied perpetually. He says that neurotic
patients are the despair of science, for the causes of their
conditions are only to be found in some as yet unexplored system. He
advised me to have recourse to a physician who has been called a
quack; but he carefully pointed out that this man was a stranger, a
Polish Jew, a refugee, and that the Parisian doctors were extremely
jealous of certain wonderful cures he had made, and also of the
opinion expressed by many that he is very learned and extremely able.
Only, Dr. Berton says, he is very exacting and overbearing. He selects
his patients, and will not allow an instant of his time to be wasted;
and he is--a communist! His name is Halpersohn. My grandson has been
twice to find him, but he is always too busy to attend to him; he has
not been to see us; I fully understand why."
"Why?" asked Godefroid.
"Because my grandson, who is sixteen years old, is even more shabbily
dressed than I am. Would you believe it, monsieur? I /dare/ not go to
that doctor; my clothes are so out of keeping with a man of my age and
dignity. If he saw the father as shabby as I am, and the boy even
worse, he might not give my daughter the needful attention; he would
treat us as doctors treat the poor. And think, my dear monsieur, that
I love my daughter for all the suffering she has caused me, just as I
used to love her for the joys I had in her. She has become angelic.
Alas! she is nothing now but a soul, a soul which beams upon her son
and me; the body no longer exists; she has conquered suffering. Think
what a spectacle for a father! The whole world, to my daughter, is
within the walls of her room. I keep it filled with flowers, for she
loves them. She reads a great deal; and when she has the use of her
hands she works like a fairy. She has no conception of the horrible
poverty to which we are reduced. This makes our household way of life
so strange, so eccentric, that we cannot admit visitors. Do you now
understand me, monsieur? Can you not see how impossible a neighbor is?
I should have to ask for so much forbearance from him that the
obligation would be too heavy. Besides, I have no time for friends; I
educate my grandson, and I have so much other work to do that I only
sleep three, or at most four hours at night."
"Monsieur," said Godefroid, who had listened patiently, observing the
old man with sorrowful attention, "I will be your neighbor, and I will
A scornful gesture, even an impatient one, escaped the old man, for he
was one who believed in nothing good in human nature.
"I will help you," pursued Godefroid, taking his hand, "but in my own
way. Listen to me. What do you mean to make of your grandson?"
"He is soon to enter the Law school. I am bringing him up to the bar."
"Then he will cost you six hundred francs a year."
The old man made no reply.
"I myself," continued Godefroid after a pause, "have nothing, but I
may be able to do much. I will obtain the Polish doctor for you. And
if your daughter is curable she shall be cured. We will find some way
of paying Halpersohn."
"Oh! if my daughter be cured I will make a sacrifice I can make but
once," cried the old man. "I will sell the pear I have kept for a
"You shall keep the pair--"
"Oh, youth! youth!" exclaimed Monsieur Bernard, shaking his head.
"Adieu, monsieur; or rather, au revoir. This is the hour for the
Library, and as my books are all sold I am obliged to go there every
day to do my work. I shall bear in mind the kindness you express, but
I must wait and see whether you will grant us the consideration I must
ask from my neighbor. That is all I expect of you."
"Yes, monsieur, let me be your neighbor; for, I assure you, Barbet is
not a man to allow the rooms to be long unrented, and you might have
far worse neighbors than I. I do not ask you to believe in me, only to
let me be useful to you."
"What object have you?" said the old man, preparing to go down the
steps from the cloister of the Chartreux which leads from the great
alley of the Luxembourg to the rue d'Enfer.
"Did you never, in your public functions, oblige any one?"
The old man looked at Godefroid with frowning brows; his eyes were
full of memories, like a man who turns the leaves of his book of life,
seeking for the action to which he owed this gratitude; then he turned
away coldly, with a bow, full of doubt.
"Well, for a first investigation I did not frighten him too much,"
Godefroid now went to the rue d'Enfer, the address given him by
Monsieur Alain, and there found Dr. Berton, a cold, grave man, who
astonished him much by confirming all the details given by Monsieur
Bernard about his daughter's illness. From him Godefroid obtained the
address of Halpersohn.
This Polish doctor, since so celebrated, then lived in Chaillot, rue
Marbeuf, in an isolated house where he occupied the first floor.
General Romanus Zarnowski lived on the second floor, and the servants
of the two refugees inhabited the garret of this little house, which
had but two stories. Godefroid did not find Halpersohn, and was told
that he had gone into the provinces, sent for by a rich patient; he
was almost glad not to meet him, for in his hurry he had forgotten to
supply himself with money; and he now went back to the hotel de la
Chanterie to get some.
These various trips and the time consumed in dining at a restaurant in
the rue de l'Odeon brought Godefroid to the hour when he said he would
return and take possession of his lodging on the boulevard du Mont-
Parnasse. Nothing could be more forlorn than the manner in which
Madame Vauthier had furnished the two rooms. It seemed as though the
woman let rooms with the express purpose that no one should stay in
them. Evidently the bed, chairs, tables, bureau, secretary, curtains,
came from forced sales at auction, articles massed together in lots as
having no separate intrinsic value.
Madame Vauthier, with her hands on her hips, stood waiting for thanks;
she took Godefroid's smile for one of surprise.
"There! I picked out for you the very best we have, my dear Monsieur
Godefroid," she said with a triumphant air. "See those pretty silk
curtains, and the mahogany bedstead which hasn't got a worm-hole in
it! It formerly belonged to the Prince of Wissembourg. When he left
his house, rue Louis-le-Grand, in 1809, I was the kitchen-girl. From
there, I went to live as cook with the present owner of this house."
Godefroid stopped the flux of confidences by paying a month's rent in
advance; and he also gave, in advance, the six francs he was to pay
Madame Vauthier for the care of his rooms. At that moment he heard
barking, and if he had not been duly warned by Monsieur Bernard, he
would certainly have supposed that his neighbor kept a dog.
"Does that dog bark at night?" he asked.
"Oh! don't be uneasy, monsieur; you'll only have one week to stand
those persons. Monsieur Bernard can't pay his rent and we are going to
put him out. They are queer people, I tell you! I have never seen
their dog. That animal is sometimes months, yes, six months at a time
without making a sound; you might think they hadn't a dog. The beast
never leaves the lady's room. There's a sick lady in there, and very
sick, too; she's never been out of her room since she came. Old
Monsieur Bernard works hard, and the son, too; the lad is a day-
scholar at the school of Louis-le-Grand, where he is nearly through
his philosophy course, and only sixteen, too; that's something to
boast of! but the little scamp has to work like one possessed.
Presently you'll hear them bring out the plants they keep in the
lady's room and carry in fresh ones. They themselves, the grandfather
and the boy, only eat bread, though they buy flowers and all sorts of
dainties for the lady. She must be very ill, not to leave her room
once since entering it; and if one's to believe Monsieur Berton, the
doctor, she'll never come out except feet foremost."
"What does this Monsieur Bernard do?"
"It seems he's a learned man; he writes and goes about to libraries.
Monsieur lends him money on his compositions."
"Monsieur? who is he?"
"The proprietor of the house, Monsieur Barbet, the old bookseller. He
is a Norman who used to sell green stuff in the streets, and
afterwards set up a bookstall, in 1818, on the quay. Then he got a
little shop, and now he is very rich. He is a kind of a Jew, with a
score of trades; he was even a partner with the Italian who built this
barrack to lodge silk-worms."
"So this house is a refuge for unfortunate authors?" said Godefroid.
"Is monsieur unluckily one himself?" asked the widow Vauthier.
"I am only just starting," replied Godefroid.
"Oh! my dear monsieur, take my advice and don't go on; journalist?
well,--I won't say anything against that."
Godefroid could not help laughing as he bade good-night to the
portress, who thus, all unconsciously, represented the bourgeoisie. As
he went to bed in the horrible room, floored with bricks that were not
even colored, and hung with a paper at seven sous a roll, Godefroid
not only regretted his little rooms in the rue Chanoinesse, but also
the society of Madame de la Chanterie. He felt a void in his soul. He
had already acquired habits of mind; and could not remember to have so
keenly regretted anything in all his former life as this break in his
new existence. These thoughts, as they pressed upon him, had a great
effect upon his soul; he felt that no life could compare in value with
the one he sought to embrace, and his resolution to emulate the good
old Alain became unshakable. Without having any vocation for the work,
he had the will to do it.
The next day Godefroid, already habituated by his new life to rising
early, saw from his window a young man about seventeen years of age,
dressed in a blouse, who was coming back, no doubt from the public
fountain, bringing a crock full of water in each hand. The face of
this lad, who was not aware that he was seen, revealed his feelings,
and never had Godefroid observed one so artless and so melancholy. The
graces of youth were all repressed by poverty, by study, by great
physical fatigue. Monsieur Bernard's grandson was remarkable for a
complexion of extreme whiteness, which the contrast with his dark hair
seemed to make still whiter. He made three trips; when he returned
from the last he saw some men unloading a cord of wood which Godefroid
had ordered the night before, for the long-delayed winter of 1838 was
beginning to be felt; snow had fallen slightly during the night.
Nepomucene, who had begun his day by going for the wood (on which
Madame Vauthier levied a handsome tribute), spoke to the young lad
while waiting until the woodman had sawed enough for him to carry
upstairs. It was easy to see that the sudden cold was causing anxiety
to Monsieur Bernard's grandson, and that the sight of the wood, as
well as that of the threatening sky, warned him that they ought to be
making their own provision for wintry weather. Suddenly, however, as
if reproaching himself for lost time, he seized his crocks and hastily
entered the house. It was, in fact, half-past seven o'clock, the hour
was just ringing from the belfry of the convent of the Visitation, and
he was due at the college of Louis-le-Grand by half-past eight.
As the young lad entered the house, Godefroid went to his door to
admit Madame Vauthier who brought her new lodger the wherewithal to
make a fire, and he thus became the witness of a scene which took
place on the landing.
A neighboring gardener, who had rung several times at Monsieur
Bernard's door without making any one hear (for the bell was wrapped
in paper), had a rather rough dispute with the young lad who now came
up with the water, demanding to be paid for the flowers he had
supplied. As the man raised his voice angrily Monsieur Bernard
appeared. "Auguste," he said to his grandson, "dress yourself, it is
time for school."
He himself took the two crocks of water, carried them into the first
of his rooms, in which were many pots of flowers, and returned to
speak to the gardener, carefully closing the door behind him.
Godefroid's door was open, for Nepomucene had begun his trips, and was
stacking the wood in the front room. The gardener was silent in
presence of Monsieur Bernard, whose tall figure, robed in a violet
silk dressing-gown, buttoned to the throat, gave him an imposing air.
"You might ask for what is owing to you without such noise," said
"Be fair, my dear monsieur," said the gardener. "You agreed to pay me
every week, and it now three months, ten weeks, since I have had a
penny; you owe me a hundred and twenty francs. We let out our plants
to rich people who pay us when we ask for the money; but this is the
fifth time I have come to you for it. I have my rent to pay and the
wages of my men; I am not a bit richer than you. My wife, who supplied
you with eggs and milk, will not come here any more; you owe her
thirty francs. She does not like to dun you, for she is kind-hearted,
that she is! If I listened to her, I couldn't do business at all. And
so I, who am not so soft--you understand?"
Just then Auguste came out dressed in a shabby little green coat with
cloth trousers of the same color, a black cravat, and worn-out boots.
These clothes, though carefully brushed, showed the lowest degree of
poverty; they were all too short and too narrow, so that the lad
seemed likely to crack them at every motion. The seams were white, the
edges curled, the buttonholes torn in spite of many mendings; the
whole presenting to the most unobservant eyes the heart-breaking
stigmas of honest penury. This livery contrasted sadly with the youth
of the lad, who now disappeared munching a crust of stale bread with
his strong and handsome teeth. He breakfasted thus on his way to the
rue Saint-Jacques, carrying his books and papers under his arm, and
wearing a little cap much too small for his head, from which stuck out
a mass of magnificent black hair.
In passing before his grandfather the lad had given him rapidly a look
of deep distress; for he knew him to be in an almost hopeless
difficulty, the consequences of which might be terrible. To leave room
for the boy to pass, the gardener had stepped back to the sill of
Godefroid's door, and as at that moment Nepomucene arrived with a
quantity of wood, the creditor was forced to retreat into the room.
"Monsieur Bernard!" cried the widow Vauthier, "do you think Monsieur
Godefroid hired his rooms to have you hold your meetings in them?"
"Excuse me, madame," said the gardener, "but there was no room on the
"I didn't say that for you, Monsieur Cartier," said the widow.
"Remain where you are!" cried Godefroid, addressing the gardener; "and
you, my dear neighbor," he added, looking at Monsieur Bernard, who
seemed insensible to the cruel insult, "if it is convenient to you to
have an explanation with your gardener in my room, come in."
The old man, half stupefied with his troubles, cast a look of
gratitude on Godefroid.
"As for you, my dear Madame Vauthier," continued Godefroid, "don't be
so rough with monsieur, who is in the first place an old man, and one
to whom you owe the obligation of my lodging here."
"Oh, pooh!" said the widow.
"Besides, if poor people do not help each other, who will help them?
Leave us, Madame Vauthier; I'll blow the fire myself. Have the rest of
my wood put in your cellar; I am sure you will take good care of it."
Madame Vauthier disappeared, for Godefroid in telling her to take care
of his wood had given an opportunity to her greed.
"Come in this way," said Godefroid, offering chairs to both debtor and
The old man conversed standing, but the gardener sat down.
"My good Monsieur Cartier," went on Godefroid, "rich people do not pay
as regularly as you say they do, and you ought not to dun a worthy man
for a few louis. Monsieur draws his pension every six months, and he
could not make you an assignment of it for such a paltry sum. I am
willing to advance the money, if you absolutely insist on having it."
"Monsieur Bernard drew his pension two weeks ago, and has not paid me.
I am sorry to trouble him, of course."
"Have you furnished him with plants all along?"
"Yes, monsieur, for six years, and he has always paid me."
Monsieur Bernard, who was listening to some sound in his own rooms and
paying no attention to what was being said, now heard a cry through
the partitions and hurried away without a word.
"Come, come, my good man," said Godefroid, taking advantage of the old
man's absence, "bring some nice flowers, your best flowers, this very
morning, and tell your wife to send the eggs and milk as usual; I will
pay you this evening."
Cartier looked oddly at Godefroid.
"Then you must know more than Madame Vauthier does; she sent me word
to hurry if I hoped to be paid," he said. "Neither she nor I can make
out why folks who eat nothing but bread and the odds and ends of
vegetables, bits of carrots, turnips, and such things, which they get
at the back-doors of restaurants,--yes, monsieur, I assure you I came
one day on the little fellow filling an old handbag,--well, I want to
know why such persons spend nearly forty francs a month on flowers.
They say the old man's pension is only three thousand francs."
"At any rate," said Godefroid, "it is not your business to complain if
they ruin themselves in flowers."
"That's true, monsieur,--provided they pay me."
"Bring your bill to me."
"Very good, monsieur," said the gardener, with a tinge of respect.
"Monsieur no doubt wants to see the mysterious lady."
"My good friend," said Godefroid, stiffly, "you forget yourself. Go
home now and bring fresh plants for those you are to take away. If you
can also supply me with good cream and fresh eggs I will take them,
and I will go this morning and take a look at your establishment."
"It is one of the finest in Paris, monsieur. I exhibit at the
Luxembourg. My garden, which covers three acres, is on the boulevard,
behind the garden of La Grande-Chaumiere."
"Very good, Monsieur Cartier. You are, I see, much richer than I. Have
some consideration for us, therefore. Who knows how soon we may have
mutual need of each other?"
The gardener went away, much puzzled as to who and what Godefroid
"And yet I was once just like that," thought Godefroid, blowing his
fire. "What a fine specimen of the bourgeois of to-day!--gossiping,
inquisitive, crazy for equality, jealous of his customers, furious at
not knowing why a poor sick woman stays in her room without being
seen; concealing his wealth, and yet vain enough to betray it when he
thinks it will put him above his neighbor. That man ought to be the
lieutenant of his company. I dare say he is. With what ease he plays
the scene of Monsieur Dimanche! A little more and I should have made a
friend of Monsieur Cartier."
The old man broke into this soliloquy, which proves how Godefroid's
ideas had changed in four months.
"Excuse me, neighbor," said Monsieur Bernard, in a troubled voice; "I
see you have sent that gardener away satisfied, for he bowed civilly
to me on the landing. It seems, young man, as if Providence had sent
you to me at the very moment when I was about to succumb. Alas! the
hard talk of that man must have shown you many things! It is true that
I received the half-yearly payment of my pension two weeks ago; but I
had more pressing debts than his, and I was forced to put aside my
rent for fear of being turned out of the house. I have told you the
state my daughter is in, and you have probably heard her."
He looked uneasily at Godefroid, who made him an affirmative sign.
"Well, then, you know it would be her death warrant, for I should then
be compelled to put her in a hospital. My grandson and I were fearing
that end this morning; but we do not dread Cartier so much as we do
"My dear Monsieur Bernard," said Godefroid, "I have plenty of wood;
take all you want."
"Ah!" said the old man, "but how can I ever return such services?"
"By accepting them without difficulty," said Godefroid, quickly, "and
by giving me your confidence."
"But what are my claims to so much generosity?" asked Monsieur
Bernard, becoming once more distrustful. "Ah! my pride and that of my
grandson are lowered indeed!" he cried bitterly. "We are compelled to
offer explanations to the few creditors--only two or three--whom we
cannot pay. The utterly unfortunate have no creditors; to have them
one must needs present an exterior of some show, and that we have now
lost. But I have not yet abdicated my common-sense,--my reason," he
added, as if he were talking to himself.
"Monsieur," replied Godefroid, gravely, "the history you gave me
yesterday would touch even a usurer."
"No, no! for Barbet, that publisher, the proprietor of this house, is
speculating on my poverty, and has sent the Vauthier woman, his former
cook, to spy upon it."
"How can he speculate upon you?" asked Godefroid.
"I will tell you later," replied the old man. "My daughter is cold,
and since you offer it, I am reduced to accept alms, were it even from
my worst enemy."
"I will carry in some wood," said Godefroid, gathering up ten or a
dozen sticks, and taking them into Monsieur Bernard's first room. The
old man took as many himself; and when he saw the little provision
safely deposited, he could not restrain the silly, and even idiotic
smile with which those who are saved from a mortal danger, which has
seemed to them inevitable, express their joy; for terror still lingers
in their joy.
"Accept things from me, my dear Monsieur Bernard, without reluctance;
and when your daughter is safe, and you are once more at ease, we will
settle all. Meantime, let me act for you. I have been to see that
Polish doctor; unfortunately he is absent; he will not be back for two
At this moment a voice which seemed to Godefroid to have, and really
had, a fresh, melodious ring, cried out, "Papa, papa!" on two
While speaking to the old man, Godefroid had noticed that the jambs of
a door leading to another room were painted in a delicate manner,
altogether different from that of the rest of the lodging. His
curiosity, already so keenly excited, was now roused to the highest
pitch. He was conscious that his mission of benevolence was becoming
nothing more than a pretext; what he really wanted was to see that
sick woman. He refused to believe for an instant that a creature
endowed with such a voice could be an object of repulsion.
"You do, indeed, take too much trouble, papa!" said the voice. "Why
not have more servants?--and at your age, too! Good God!"
"But you know, my dear Vanda, that the boy and I cannot bear that any
one should wait upon you but ourselves!"
Those sentences, which Godefroid heard through the door, or rather
divined, for a heavy portiere on the inside smothered the sounds, gave
him an inkling of the truth. The sick woman, surrounded by luxury, was
evidently kept in ignorance of the real situation of her father and
son. The violet silk dressing-gown of Monsieur Bernard, the flowers,
his remarks to Cartier, had already roused some suspicion of this in
Godefroid's mind. The young man stood still where he was, bewildered
by this prodigy of paternal love. The contrast, such as he imagined
it, between the invalid's room and the rest of that squalid place,--
yes, it was bewildering!
HOW THE POOR AND HELPLESS ARE PREYED UPON
Through the door of a third chamber, which the old man had left open,
Godefroid beheld two cots of painted wood, like those of the cheapest
boarding-schools, each with a straw bed and a thin mattress, on which
there was but one blanket. A small iron stove like those that porters
cook by, near which lay a few squares of peat, would alone have shown
the poverty of the household without the help of other details.
Advancing a step or two, Godefroid saw utensils such as the poorest
persons use,--earthenware jugs, and pans in which potatoes floated in
dirty water. Two tables of blackened wood, covered with books and
papers, stood before the windows that looked out upon the rue Notre-
Dame des Champs, and indicated the nocturnal occupations of father and
son. On each of the tables was a flat iron candlestick, such as are
used by the very poor, and in them Godefroid noticed tallow-candles of
the kind that are sold at eight to the pound.
On a third table glittered two forks and spoons and another little
spoon of silver-gilt, together with plates, bowls, and cups of Sevres
china, and a silver-gilt knife and fork in an open case, all evidently
for the service of the sick woman.
The stove was lighted; the water in the copper was steaming slightly.
A painted wooden closet or wardrobe contained, no doubt, the linen and
clothing of Monsieur Bernard's daughter. On the old man's bed
Godefroid noticed that the habiliments he had worn the night before
lay spread as a covering. The floor, evidently seldom swept, looked
like that of a boy's class-room. A six-pound loaf of bread, from which
some slices had been cut, was on a shelf above the table. Here was
poverty in its last stages, poverty resolutely accepted with stern
endurance, making shift with the lowest and poorest means. A strong
and sickening odor came from this room, which was rarely cleaned.
The antechamber, in which Godefroid stood, was at any rate decent, and
he suspected that it served to conceal the horrors of the room in
which the grandfather and the grandson lived. This antechamber, hung
with a checked paper of Scotch pattern, held four walnut chairs, a
small table, a colored engraving of the Emperor after Horace Vernet,
also portraits of Louis XVIII., Charles X., and Prince Poniatowski, no
doubt the friend of Monsieur Bernard's father-in-law. The window was
draped with white calico curtains edged with red bands and fringe.
Godefroid watched for Nepomucene, and when the latter made his next
trip with wood signed to him to stack it very gently in Monsieur
Bernard's antechamber; then (a perception which proved some progress
in our initiate) he closed the door of the inner lair that Madame
Vauthier's slave might not see the old man's squalor.
The antechamber was just then encumbered with three plant-stands
filled with plants; two were oblong, one round, all three were of a
species of ebony and of great elegance; even Nepomucene took notice of
them and said as he deposited the wood:--
"Hey! ain't they pretty? They must have cost a good bit!"
"Jean! don't make so much noise!" called Monsieur Bernard from his
"Did you hear that?" whispered Nepomucene to Godefroid. "He's cracked,
for sure, that old fellow."
"You don't know what you may be at his age."
"Yes, I do know," responded Nepomucene, "I shall be in the sugar-
"Yes, they'll have made my bones into charcoal by that time; I often
see the carts of the refineries coming to Montsouris for charcoal;
they tell me they make sugar of it." And he departed after another
load of wood, satisfied with this philosophical reflection.
Godefroid discreetly withdrew to his own rooms, closing Monsieur
Bernard's door behind him. Madame Vauthier, who during this time had
been preparing her new lodger's breakfast, now came up to serve it,
attended by Felicite. Godefroid, lost in reflection, stared into his
fire. He was absorbed in meditation on this great misery which
contained so many different miseries, and yet within which he could
see the ineffable joys of the many triumphs of paternal and filial
love; they were gems shining in the blackness of the pit.
"What romances, even those that are most famous, can equal such
realities?" he thought. "What a life it will be to relieve the burden
of such existences, to seek out causes and effects and remedy them,
calming sorrows, helping good; to incarnate one's own being in misery;
to familiarize one's self with homes like that; to act out constantly
in life those dramas which move us so in fiction! I never imagined
that good could be more interesting, more piquant than vice."
"Is monsieur satisfied with his breakfast?" asked Madame Vauthier, who
now, with Felicite's assistance, brought the table close to Godefroid.
Godefroid then saw a cup of excellent /cafe au lait/ with a smoking
omelet, fresh butter, and little red radishes.
"Where the devil did you get those radishes?" he asked.
"They were given me by Monsieur Cartier," answered Madame Vauthier;
"and I make a present of them to monsieur."
"And what are you going to ask me for such a breakfast daily?"
"Well now, monsieur, be fair,--I couldn't do it for less than thirty
"Very good, thirty sous then;" said Godefroid; "but how is it that
they ask me only forty-five francs a month for dinner, close by here
at Machillot's? That is the same price you ask me for breakfast."
"But what a difference, monsieur, between preparing a dinner for
fifteen or twenty persons and going out to get you just what you want
for breakfast! See here! there's a roll, eggs, butter, the cost of
lighting a fire, sugar, milk, coffee!--just think! they ask you
sixteen sous for a cup of coffee alone on the place de l'Odeon, and
then you have to give a sou or two to the waiter. Here you have no
trouble; you can breakfast in slippers."
"Very well, very well," said Godefroid.
"Without Madame Cartier who supplies me with milk and eggs and herbs I
couldn't manage it. You ought to go and see their establishment,
monsieur. Ha! it's fine! They employ five journeymen gardeners, and
Nepomucene goes there in summer to draw water for them; they hire him
of me as a waterer. They make lots of money out of melons and
strawberries. It seems monsieur takes quite an interest in Monsieur
Bernard," continued the widow in dulcet tones; "or he wouldn't be
responsible for his debts. Perhaps he doesn't know all that family
owes. There's the lady who keeps the circulating library on the place
Saint-Michel; she is always coming here after thirty francs they owe
her,--and she needs it, God knows! That sick woman in there, she
reads, reads, reads! Two sous a volume makes thirty francs in three
"That means a hundred volumes a month," said Godefroid.
"Ah! there's the old man going now to fetch a roll and cream for his
daughter's tea,--yes, tea! she lives on tea, that lady. She drinks it
twice a day. And twice a week she has to have sweet things. Oh! she's
dainty! The old man buys cakes and pates from the pastry cook in the
rue de Buci. He don't care what he spends, if it's for her. He calls
her his daughter! It ain't often that men of his age do for a daughter
what he does for her! He just kills himself, he and Auguste too, for
that woman. Monsieur is just like me; I'd give anything to see her.
Monsieur Berton says she's a monster,--something like those they show
for money. That's the reason they've come to live here, in this lonely
quarter. Well, so monsieur thinks of dining at Madame Machillot's,
"Yes, I think of making an arrangement there."
"Monsieur, it isn't that I want to interfere, but I must say,
comparing food with food, you'd do much better to dine in the rue de
Tournon; you needn't engage by the month, and you'll find a better
"Whereabouts in the rue de Tournon?"
"At the successors to Madame Giraud. That's where the gentlemen
upstairs go; they are satisfied, and more than satisfied."
"Well, I'll take your advice and dine there to-day."
"My dear monsieur," said the woman, emboldened by the good-nature
which Godefroid intentionally assumed, "tell me seriously, you are not
going to be such a muff as to pay Monsieur Bernard's debts? It would
really trouble me if you did; for just reflect, my kind monsieur
Godefroid, he's nearly seventy, and after him, what then? not a penny
of pension! How'll you get paid? Young men are so imprudent! Do you
know that he owes three thousand francs?"
"To whom?" inquired Godefroid.
"Oh! to whom? that's not my affair," said the widow, mysteriously; "it
is enough that he does owe them. Between ourselves I'll tell you this:
somebody will soon be down on him for that money, and he can't get a
penny of credit now in the quarter just on that account."
"Three thousand francs!" repeated Godefroid; "oh, you needn't be
afraid I'll lend him that. If I had three thousand francs to dispose
of I shouldn't be your lodger. But I can't bear to see others suffer,
and just for a hundred or so of francs I sha'n't let my neighbor, a
man with white hair too, lack for bread or wood; why, one often loses
as much as that at cards. But three thousand francs! good heavens!
what are you thinking of?"
Madame Vauthier, deceived by Godefroid's apparent frankness, let a
smile of satisfaction appear on her specious face, which confirmed all
her lodger's suspicions. Godefroid was convinced that the old woman
was an accomplice in some plot that was brewing against the
unfortunate old man.
"It is strange, monsieur," she went on, "what fancies one takes into
one's head! You'll think me very curious, but yesterday, when I saw
you talking with Monsieur Bernard I said to myself that you were the
clerk of some publisher; for this, you know, is a publisher's quarter.
I once lodged the foreman of a printing-house in the rue de Vaugirard,
and his name was the same as yours--"
"What does my business signify to you?" interrupted Godefroid.
"Oh, pooh! you can tell me, or you needn't tell me; I shall know it
all the same," retorted Vauthier. "There's Monsieur Bernard, for
instance, for eighteen months he concealed everything from me, but on
the nineteenth I discovered that he had been a magistrate, a judge
somewhere or other, I forget where, and was writing a book on law
matters. What did he gain by concealing it, I ask you. If he had told
me I'd have said nothing about it--so there!"
"I am not yet a publisher's clerk, but I expect to be," said
"I thought so!" exclaimed Madame Vauthier, turning round from the bed
she had been making as a pretext for staying in the room. "You have
come here to cut the ground from under the feet of--Good! /a man
warned/ is a man armed."
"Stop!" cried Godefroid, placing himself between the Vauthier and the
door. "Look here, what interest have you in the matter?"
"Gracious!" said the old woman, eyeing Godefroid cautiously, "you're a
bold one, anyhow."
She went to the door of the outer room and bolted it; then she came
back and sat down on a chair beside the fire.
"On my word of honor, and as sure as my name is Vauthier, I took you
for a student until I saw you giving your wood to that old Bernard.
Ha! you're a sly one; and what a play-actor! I was so certain you were
a ninny! Look here, will you guarantee me a thousand francs? As sure
as the sun shines, my old Barbet and Monsieur Metivier have promised
me five hundred to keep my eyes open for them."
"They! five hundred francs! nonsense!" cried Godefroid. "I know their
ways; two hundred is the very most, my good woman, and even that is
only promised; you can't assign it. But I will say this: if you will
put me in the way to do the business they want to do with Monsieur
Bernard I will pay you four hundred francs. Now, then, how does the
"They have advanced fifteen hundred francs upon the work," said Madame
Vauthier, making no further effort at deception, "and the old man has
signed an acknowledgment for three thousand. They wouldn't do it under
a hundred per cent. He thought he could easily pay them out of his
book, but they have arranged to get the better of him there. It was
they who sent Cartier here, and the other creditors."
Here Godefroid gave the old woman a glance of ironical intelligence,
which showed her that he saw through the role she was playing in the
interest of her proprietor. Her words were, in fact, a double
illumination to Godefroid; the curious scene between himself and the
gardener was now explained.
"Well," she resumed, "they have got him now. Where is he to find three
thousand francs? They intend to offer him five hundred the day he puts
the first volume of his book into their hands, and five hundred for
each succeeding volume. The affair isn't in their names; they have put
it into the hands of a publisher whom Barbet set up on the quai des
"What, that little fellow?"
"Yes, that little Morand, who was formerly Barbet's clerk. It seems
they expect a good bit of money out of the affair."
"There's a good bit to spend," said Godefroid, with a significant
Just then a gentle rap was heard at the door of the outer room.
Godefroid, glad of the interruption, having got all he wanted to know
out of Madame Vauthier, went to open it.
"What is said, is said, Madame Vauthier," he remarked as he did so.
The visitor was Monsieur Bernard.
"Ah! Monsieur Bernard," cried the widow when she saw him, "I've got a
letter downstairs for you."
The old man followed her down a few steps. When they were out of
hearing from Godefroid's room she stopped.
"No," she said, "I haven't any letter; I only wanted to tell you to
beware of that young man; he belongs to a publishing house."
"That explains everything," thought the old man.
He went back to his neighbor with a very different expression of
The look of calm coldness with which Monsieur Bernard now entered the
room contrasted so strongly with the frank and cordial air he had worn
not an instant earlier that Godefroid was forcibly struck by it.
"Pardon me, monsieur," said the old man, stiffly, "but you have shown
me many favors, and a benefactor creates certain rights in those he
"I, who for the last five years have endured a passion like that of
our Lord, I, who for thirty-six years represented social welfare,
government, public vengeance, have, as you may well believe, no
illusions--no, I have nothing left but anguish. Well, monsieur, I was
about to say that your little act in closing the door of my wretched
lair, that simple little thing, was to me the glass of water Bossuet
tells of. Yes, I did find in my heart, that exhausted heart which
cannot weep, just as my withered body cannot sweat, I did find a last
drop of the elixir which makes us fancy in our youth that all human
beings are noble, and I came to offer you my hand; I came to bring you
that celestial flower of belief in good--"
"Monsieur Bernard," said Godefroid, remembering the kind old Alain's
lessons. "I have done nothing to obtain your gratitude. You are quite
"Ah, that is frankness indeed!" said the former magistrate. "Well, it
pleases me. I was about to reproach you; pardon me, I now esteem you.
So you are a publisher, and you have come here to get my work away
from Barbet, Metivier, and Morand? All is now explained. You are
making me advances in money as they did, only you do it with some
"Did Madame Vauthier just tell you that I was employed by a
publisher?" asked Godefroid.
"Well, then, Monsieur Bernard, before I can say how much I can /give/
over what those other gentlemen /offer/, I must know the terms on
which you stand with them."
"That is fair," said Monsieur Bernard, who seemed rather pleased to
find himself the object of a competition by which he might profit. "Do
you know what my work is?"
"No; I only know it is a good enterprise from a business point of
"It is only half-past nine, my daughter has breakfasted, and Cartier
will not bring the flowers for an hour or more; we have time to talk,
"Monsieur Godefroid, the work in question was projected by me in 1825,
at the time when the ministry, being alarmed by the persistent
destruction of landed estates, proposed that law of primogeniture
which was, you will remember, defeated. I had remarked certain
imperfections in our codes and in the fundamental institutions of
France. Our codes have often been the subject of important works, but
those works were all from the point of view of jurisprudence. No one
had even ventured to consider the work of the Revolution, or (if you
prefer it) of Napoleon, as a whole; no one had studied the spirit of
those laws, and judged them in their application. That is the main
purpose of my work; it is entitled, provisionally, 'The Spirit of the
New Laws;' it includes organic laws as well as codes, all codes; for
we have many more than five codes. Consequently, my work is in several
volumes; six in all, the last being a volume of citations, notes, and
references. It will take me now about three months to finish it. The
proprietor of this house, a former publisher, of whom I made a few
inquiries, perceived, scented I may say, the chance of a speculation.
I, in the first instance, thought only of doing a service to my
country, and not of my own profit. Well, this Barbet has circumvented
me. You will ask me how it was possible for a publisher to get the
better of a magistrate, a man who knows the laws. Well, it was in this
way: You know my history; Barbet is an usurer; he has the keen glance
and the shrewd action of that breed of men. His money was always at my
heels to help me over my worst needs. Strange to say, on the days I
was most defenceless against despair he happened to appear."
"No, no, my dear Monsieur Bernard," said Godefroid, "he had a spy in
Madame Vauthier; she told him when you needed money. But the terms,
the conditions? Tell them to me briefly."
"He has lent me from time to time fifteen hundred francs, for which I
have signed three notes of a thousand francs each, and those notes are
secured by a sort of mortgage on the copyright of my book, so that I
cannot sell my book unless I pay off those notes, and the notes are
now protested,--he has taken the matter into court and obtained a
judgment against me. Such are the complications of poverty! At the
lowest valuation, the first edition of my great work, a work
representing ten years' toil and thirty-six years' experience, is
fully worth ten thousand francs. Well, ten days ago Morand proposed to
give me three thousand francs and my notes cancelled for the entire
rights in perpetuity. Now as it is not possible for me to refund the
amount of my notes and interest, namely, three thousand two hundred
and forty francs, I must,--unless you intend to step between those
usurers and me,--I must yield to them. They are not content with my
word of honor; they first obtained the notes, then they had them
protested, and now I am threatened with arrest for debt. If I could
manage to pay them back, those scoundrels would have doubled their
money. If I accept their terms they will make a fortune out of my book
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