The Brotherhood of Consolation
Honore de Balzac
Part 4 out of 5
and I shall get almost nothing; one of them is a paper-maker, and God
knows how they may keep down the costs of publication. They will have
my name, and that alone will sell ten thousand copies for them."
"But, monsieur, how could you, a former magistrate!--"
"How could I help it? Not a friend, not a claim that I could make! And
yet I saved many heads, if I made some fall! And, then, my daughter,
my daughter! whose nurse I am, whose companion I must be; so that I
can work but a few hours snatched from sleep. Ah, young man! none but
the wretched can judge the wretched! Sometimes I think I used to be
too stern to misery."
"Monsieur, I do not ask your name. I cannot provide three thousand
francs, especially if I pay Halpersohn and your lesser debts; but I
will save you if you will promise me not to part with your book
without letting me know. It is impossible for me to arrange a matter
as important as this without consulting others. My backers are
powerful, and I can promise you success if you, in return, will
promise me absolute secrecy, even to your children, and keep your
"The only success I care for is the recovery of my poor Vanda; for
such sufferings as hers extinguish every other feeling in a father's
heart. As for fame, what is that to one who sees an open grave before
"I will come and see you this evening; they expect Halpersohn at any
time, and I shall go there day after day until I find him."
"Ah, monsieur! if you should be the cause of my daughter's recovery, I
would like,--yes, I would like to give you my work!"
"Monsieur," said Godefroid, "I am not a publisher."
The old man started with surprise.
"I let that old Vauthier think so in order to discover the traps they
were laying for you."
"Then who are you?"
"Godefroid," replied the initiate; "and since you allow me to offer
you enough to make the pot boil, you can call me, if you like,
Godefroid de Bouillon."
The old man was far too moved to laugh at a joke. He held out his hand
to Godefroid, and pressed that which the young man gave him in return.
"You wish to keep your incognito?" he said, looking at Godefroid
sadly, with some uneasiness.
"If you will allow it."
"Well, as you will. Come to-night, and you shall see my daughter if
her condition permits."
This was evidently a great concession in the eyes of the poor father,
and he had the satisfaction of seeing, by the look on Godefroid's
face, that it was understood.
An hour later, Cartier returned with a number of beautiful flowering
plants, which he placed himself in the jardinieres, covering them with
fresh moss. Godefroid paid his bill; also that of the circulating
library, which was brought soon after. Books and flowers!--these were
the daily bread of this poor invalid, this tortured creature, who was
satisfied with so little.
As he thought of this family, coiled by misfortunes like that of the
Laocoon (sublime image of so many lives), Godefroid, who was now on
his way on foot to the rue Marbeuf, was conscious in his heart of more
curiosity than benevolence. This sick woman, surrounded by luxury in
the midst of such direful poverty, made him forget the horrible
details of the strangest of all nervous disorders, which is happily
rare, though recorded by a few historians. One of our most gossiping
chroniclers, Tallemant des Reaux, cites an instance of it. The mind
instinctively pictures a woman as being elegant in the midst of her
worst sufferings; and Godefroid let himself dwell on the pleasure of
entering that chamber where none but the father, son, and doctor had
been admitted for six years. Nevertheless, he ended by blaming himself
for his curiosity. He even felt that the sentiment, natural as it was,
would cease as he went on exercising his beneficent ministry, from the
mere fact of seeing more distressed homes and many sorrows.
Such agents do reach in time a divine serenity which nothing surprises
or confounds; just as in love we come to the divine quietude of that
emotion, sure of its strength, sure of its lastingness, through our
constant experience of its pains and sweetnesses.
Godefroid was told that Halpersohn had returned during the night, but
had been obliged to go out at once to visit patients who were awaiting
him. The porter told Godefroid to come the next day before nine
o'clock in the morning.
Remembering Monsieur Alain's injunction to parsimony in his personal
expenses, Godefroid dined for twenty-five sous in the rue de Tournon,
and was rewarded for his abnegation by finding himself in the midst of
compositors and pressmen. He heard a discussion on costs of
manufacturing, and learned that an edition of one thousand copies of
an octavo volume of forty sheets did not cost more than thirty sous a
copy, in the best style of printing. He resolved to ascertain the
price at which publishers of law books sold their volumes, so as to be
prepared for a discussion with the men who held Monsieur Bernard in
their clutches if he should have to meet them.
Towards seven in the evening he returned to the boulevard du Mont-
Parnasse, by way of the rue de Vaugiraud and the rue de l'Ouest, and
he saw then how deserted the quarter was, for he met no one. It is
true that the cold was rigorous, and the snow fell in great flakes,
the wheels of the carriages making no noise upon the pavements.
"Ah, here you are, monsieur!" said Madame Vauthier. "If I had known
you were coming home so early I would have made your fire."
"I don't want one," said Godefroid, seeing that the widow followed
him. "I shall spend the evening in Monsieur Bernard's apartment."
"Well, well! you must be his cousin, if you are hand and glove like
that! Perhaps monsieur will finish now the little conversation we
"Ah, yes!--about that four hundred francs. Look here, my good Madame
Vauthier, you are trying to see which way the cat jumps, and you'll
tumble yourself between two stools. As for me, you have betrayed me,
and made me miss the whole affair."
"Now, don't think that, my dear monsieur. To-morrow, while you
"To-morrow I shall not breakfast here. I am going out, like your
authors, at cock-crow."
Godefroid's antecedents, his life as a man of the world and a
journalist, served him in this, that he felt quite sure, unless he
took this tone, that Barbet's spy would warn the old publisher of
danger, and probably lead to active measures under which Monsieur
Bernard would before long be arrested; whereas, if he left the trio of
harpies to suppose that their scheme ran no risk of defeat, they would
But Godefroid did not yet know Parisian human nature when embodied in
a Vauthier. That woman resolved to have Godefroid's money and Barbet's
too. She instantly ran off to her proprietor, while Godefroid changed
his clothes in order to present himself properly before the daughter
of Monsieur Bernard.
AN EVENING WITH VANDA
Eight o'clock was striking from the convent of the Visitation, the
clock of the quarter, when the inquisitive Godefroid tapped gently at
his neighbor's door. Auguste opened it. As it happened to be a
Saturday, the young lad had his evening to himself. Godefroid beheld
him in a little sack-coat of black velvet, a blue silk cravat, and
black trousers. But his surprise at the youth's appearance, so
different from that of this outside life, ceased as soon as he had
entered the invalid's chamber. He then understood the reason why both
father and son were well dressed.
For a moment the contrast between the squalor of the other rooms, as
he had seen them that morning, and the luxury of this chamber, was so
great that Godefroid was dazzled, though habituated for years to the
luxury and elegance procured by wealth.
The walls of the room were hung with yellow silk, relieved by twisted
fringes of a bright green, giving a gay and cheerful aspect to the
chamber, the cold tiled floor of which was hidden by a moquette carpet
with a white ground strewn with flowers. The windows, draped by
handsome curtains lined with white silk, were like conservatories, so
full were they of plants in flower. The blinds were lowered, which
prevented this luxury, so rare in that quarter of the town, from being
seen from the street. The woodwork was painted in white enamel,
touched up, here and there, by a few gold lines.
At the door was a heavy portiere, embroidered by hand with fantastic
foliage on a yellow ground, so thick that all sounds from without were
stifled. This magnificent curtain was made by the sick woman herself,
who could work, when she had the use of her hands, like a fairy.
At the farther end of the room, and opposite to the door, was the
fireplace, with a green velvet mantel-shelf, on which a few extremely
elegant ornaments, the last relics of the opulence of two families,
were arranged. These consisted of a curious clock, in the shape of an
elephant supporting on its back a porcelain tower which was filled
with the choicest flowers; two candelabra in the same style, and
several precious Chinese treasures. The fender, andirons, tongs, and
shovel were all of the handsomest description.
The largest of the flower-stands was placed in the middle of the room,
and above it hung a porcelain chandelier designed with wreaths of
The bed on which the old man's daughter lay was one of those beautiful
white and gold carved bedsteads such as were made in the Louis XV.
period. By the sick woman's pillow was a very pretty marquetry table,
on which were the various articles necessary to this bedridden life.
Against the wall was a bracket lamp with two branches, either of which
could be moved forward or back by a mere touch of the hand. A small
table, adapted to the use of the invalid, extended in front of her.
The bed, covered with a beautiful counterpane, and draped with
curtains held back by cords, was heaped with books, a work-basket, and
articles of embroidery, beneath which Godefroid would scarcely have
distinguished the sick woman herself had it not been for the light of
the bracket lamps.
There was nothing of her to be seen but a face of extreme whiteness,
browned around the eyes by suffering, in which shone eyes of fire, its
principal adornment being a magnificent mass of black hair, the
numerous heavy curls of which, carefully arranged, showed that the
dressing of those beautiful locks occupied a good part of the
invalid's morning. This supposition was further strengthened by the
portable mirror which lay on the bed.
No modern arrangement for comfort was lacking. Even a few knick-
knacks, which amused poor Vanda, proved that the father's love was
The old man rose from an elegant Louis XV. sofa in white and cold,
covered with tapestry, and advanced to Godefroid, who would certainly
not have recognized him elsewhere; for that cold, stern face now wore
the gay expression peculiar to old men of the world, who retain the
manners and apparent frivolity of the nobility about a court. His
wadded violet gown was in keeping with this luxury, and he took snuff
from a gold box studded with diamonds.
"Here, my dear daughter," said Monsieur Bernard, taking Godefroid by
the hand, "is the neighbor of whom I told you."
He signed to his grandson to draw up one of two armchairs, similar in
style to the sofa, which stood beside the fireplace.
"Monsieur's name is Godefroid, and he is full of friendly kindness for
Vanda made a motion with her head in answer to Godefroid's low bow; by
the very way in which her neck bent and then recovered itself,
Godefroid saw that the whole physical life of the invalid was in her
head. The thin arms and flaccid hands lay on the fine, white linen of
the sheets, like things not connected with the body, which, indeed,
seemed to fill no place at all in the bed. The articles necessary for
a sick person were on shelves standing behind the bedstead, and were
concealed by a drawn curtain.
"You are the first person, monsieur,--except my doctors, who are not
men to me,--whom I have seen for six years; therefore you cannot doubt
the interest you have excited in my mind, since my father told me this
morning that you were to pay me a visit--interest! no, it was an
unconquerable curiosity, like that of our mother Eve. My father, who
is so good to me, and my son, whom I love so much, do certainly
suffice to fill the desert of a soul which is almost without a body;
but after all, that soul is still a woman's; I feel it in the childish
joy the thought of your visit has brought me. You will do me the
pleasure to take a cup of tea with us, I hope?"
"Monsieur has promised to pass the evening here," said the old man,
with the air of a millionnaire receiving a guest.
Auguste, sitting on a tapestried chair at a marquetry table with brass
trimmings, was reading a book by the light of the candelabra on the
"Auguste, my dear," said his mother, "tell Jean to serve tea in an
hour. Would you believe it monsieur," she added, "that for six years I
have been waited upon wholly by my father and son, and now, I really
think, I could bear no other attendance. If they were to fail me I
should die. My father will not even allow Jean, a poor Norman who has
served us for thirty years, to come into my room."
"I should think not!" said the old man, quickly; "monsieur knows him;
he chops wood and brings it in, and cooks; he wears dirty aprons, and
would soon spoil all this elegance in which you take such pleasure--
this room is really the whole of life to my poor daughter, monsieur."
"Ah! madame, your father is quite right."
"But why?" she said; "if Jean did any damage to my room my father
would restore it."
"Yes, my child; but remember you could not leave it; you don't know
what Parisian tradesmen are; they would take three months to renovate
your room. Let Jean take care of it? no, indeed! how can you think of
it? Auguste and I take such precautions that we allow no dust, and so
avoid all sweeping."
"It is a matter of health, not economy," said Godefroid; "your father
"I am not complaining," said Vanda, in a caressing voice.
That voice was a concert of delightful sounds. Soul, motion, life
itself were concentrated in the glance and in the voice of this woman;
for Vanda had succeeded by study, for which time was certainly not
lacking to her, in conquering the difficulty produced by the loss of
"I have much to make me happy in the midst of my sufferings,
monsieur," she said; "and certainly ample means are a great help in
bearing trouble. If we had been poor I should have died eighteen years
ago, but I still live. Oh, yes, I have many enjoyments, and they are
all the greater because they are perpetually won from death. I am
afraid you will think me quite garrulous," she added, smiling.
"Madame, I should like to listen to you forever," replied Godefroid;
"I have never heard a voice that was comparable to yours; it is music;
Rubini is not more enchanting."
"Don't speak of Rubini or the opera," said the old man, sadly. "That
is a pleasure that, rich as I am, I cannot give to my daughter. She
was once a great musician, and the opera was her greatest pleasure."
"Forgive me," said Godefroid.
"You will soon get accustomed to us," said the old man.
"Yes, and this is the process," said the sick woman, laughing; "when
they've cried 'puss, puss, puss,' often enough you'll learn the puss-
in-the-corner of our conversations."
Godefroid gave a rapid glance at Monsieur Bernard, who, seeing the
tears in the eyes of his new neighbor, seemed to be making him a sign
not to undo the results of the self-command he and his grandson had
practised for so many years.
This sublime and perpetual imposture, proved by the complete illusion
of the sick woman, produced on Godefroid's mind the impression of an
Alpine precipice down which two chamois hunters picked their way. The
magnificent gold snuff-box enriched with diamonds with which the old
man carelessly toyed as he sat by his daughter's bedside was like the
stroke of genius which in the work of a great man elicits a cry of
admiration. Godefroid looked at that snuff-box, wondering it had not
been sold or found its way to the mont-de-piete.
"This evening, Monsieur Godefroid, my daughter received the
announcement of your visit with such excitement that all the curious
symptoms of her malady which have troubled us very much for the last
twelve days have entirely disappeared. You can fancy how grateful I am
"And I, too," said the invalid in her caressing tones, drooping her
head with a motion full of coquetry. "Monsieur is to me a deputy from
the world. Since I was twenty years old, monsieur, I have not seen a
salon, or a party, or a ball. And I must tell you that I love dancing,
and adore the theatre, especially the opera. I imagine everything by
thought! I read a great deal; and then my father, who goes into
society, tells me about social events."
Godefroid made an involuntary movement as if to kneel at the old man's
"Yes, when he goes to the opera, and he often goes, he describes to me
the singing and tells me about the dresses of the ladies. Oh! I would
I were cured for the sake of my father, who lives solely for me as I
live by him and for him, and then for my son, to whom I would fain be
a real mother. Ah! monsieur, what blessed beings my old father and my
good son are! I should also like to recover so as to hear Lablache,
Rubini, Tamburini, Grisi, and 'I Puritani.' But--"
"Come, come, my child, be calm! If we talk music we are lost!" said
the old man, smiling.
That smile, which rejuvenated his face, was evidently a perpetual
deception to the sick woman.
"Yes, yes, I'll be good," said Vanda, with a petulant little air; "but
when will you give me an accordion?"
The portable instrument then called by that name had just been
invented. It could, if desired, be placed at the edge of a bedstead,
and only needed the pressure of a foot to give out the sounds of an
organ. This instrument, in its highest development, was equal to a
piano; but the cost of it was three hundred francs. Vanda, who read
the newspapers and reviews, knew of the existence of the instrument,
and had wished for one for the last two months.
"Yes, madame, you shall have one," said Godefroid, after exchanging a
look with the old man. "A friend of mine who is just starting for
Algiers has a fine instrument and I will borrow it of him. Before
buying, you had better try one. It is possible that the powerful,
vibrating tones may be too much for you."
"Can I have it to-morrow?" she said, with the wilfulness of a creole.
"To-morrow?" said Monsieur Bernard, "that is soon; besides, to-morrow
"Ah--" she exclaimed, looking at Godefroid, who fancied he could see a
soul hovering in the air as he admired the ubiquity of Vanda's
Until then, Godefroid had never known the power of voice and eyes when
the whole of life is put into them. The glance was no longer a glance,
a look, it was a flame, or rather, a divine incandescence, a radiance,
communicating life and mind,--it was thought made visible. The voice,
with its thousand intonations, took the place of motions, gestures,
attitudes. The variations of the complexion, changing color like the
famous chameleon, made the illusion, perhaps we should say the mirage,
complete. That suffering head lying on the white pillow edged with
laces was a whole person in itself.
Never in his life had Godefroid seen so wonderful a sight; he could
scarcely control his emotions. Another wonder, for all was wondrous in
this scene, so full of horror and yet of poesy, was that in those who
saw it soul alone existed. This atmosphere, filled with mental
emotions only, had a celestial influence. Those present felt their
bodies as little as the sick woman felt hers. They were all mind. As
Godefroid contemplated that frail fragment of woman he forgot the
surrounding elegancies of the room, and fancied himself beneath the
open heavens. It was not until half an hour had passed that he came
back to his sense of things about him; he then noticed a fine picture,
which the invalid asked him to examine, saying it was by Gericault.
"Gericault," she told him, "came from Rouen; his family were under
certain obligations to my father, who was president of the court, and
he showed his gratitude by painting that portrait of me when I was a
girl of sixteen."
"It is a beautiful picture," said Godefroid; "and quite unknown to
those who are in search of the rare works of that master."
"To me it is merely an object of affection," replied Vanda; "I live in
my heart only,--and it is a beautiful life," she added, casting a look
at her father in which she seemed to put her very soul. "Ah! monsieur,
if you only knew what my father really is! Who would believe that the
stern and lofty magistrate to whom the Emperor was under such
obligations that he gave him that snuff-box, and on whom Charles X.
bestowed as a reward that Sevres tea-set which you see behind you, who
would suppose that that rigid supporter of power and law, that learned
jurist, should have within his heart of rock the heart of a mother,
too? Oh! papa, papa! kiss me, kiss me! come!"
The old man rose, leaned over the bed and kissed the broad poetic
forehead of his daughter, whose passionate excitements did not always
take the turn of this tempest of affection. Then he walked about the
room; his slippers, embroidered by his daughter, making no noise.
"What are your occupations?" said Vanda to Godefroid, after a pause.
"Madame, I am employed by pious persons to help the unfortunate."
"Ah! what a noble mission, monsieur!" she said. "Do you know the
thought of devoting myself to that very work has often come to me? but
ah! what ideas do not come to me?" she added, with a motion of her
head. "Suffering is like a torch which lights up life. If I were ever
to recover health--"
"You should amuse yourself, my child," said her father.
"Oh yes!" she said; "I have the desire, but should I then have the
faculty? My son will be, I hope a magistrate, worthy of his two
grandfathers, and he will leave me. What should I do then? If God
restores me to life I will dedicate that life to Him--oh! after giving
you all you need of it," she cried, looking tenderly at her father and
son. "There are moments, my dear father, when the ideas of Monsieur de
Maistre work within me powerfully, and I fancy that I am expiating
"See what it is to read too much!" said the old man, evidently
"That brave Polish general, my great grandfather, took part, though
very innocently, in the partition of Poland."
"Well, well! now it is Poland!" said Monsieur Bernard.
"How can I help it, papa? my sufferings are infernal; they give me a
horror of life, they disgust me with myself. Well, I ask you, have I
done anything to deserve them? Such diseases are not a mere
derangement of health, they are caused by a perverted organization
"Sing that national air your poor mother used to sing; Monsieur
Godefroid wants to hear it; I have told him about your voice," said
the old man, endeavoring to distract her mind from the current of such
Vanda began, in a low and tender voice, to sing a Polish song which
held Godefroid dumb with admiration and also with sadness. This
melody, which greatly resembles the long drawn out melancholy airs of
Brittany, is one of those poems which vibrate in the heart long after
the ear has heard them. As he listened, Godefroid looked at Vanda, but
he could not endure the ecstatic glance of that fragment of a woman,
partially insane, and his eyes wandered to two cords which hung one on
each side of the canopy of the bed.
"Ah ha!" laughed Vanda, noticing his look, "do you want to know what
those cords are for?"
"Vanda!" said her father, hastily, "calm yourself, my daughter. See!
here comes tea. That, monsieur," he continued, turning to Godefroid,
"is rather a costly affair. My daughter cannot rise, and therefore it
is difficult to change her sheets. Those cords are fastened to
pulleys; by slipping a square of leather beneath her and drawing it up
by the four corners with these pulleys, we are able to make her bed
without fatigue to her or to ourselves."
"They swing me!" cried Vanda, gaily.
Happily, Auguste now came in with a teapot, which he placed on a
table, together with the Sevres tea-set; then he brought cakes and
sandwiches and cream. This sight diverted his mother's mind from the
nervous crisis which seemed to threaten her.
"See, Vanda, here is Nathan's new novel. If you wake in the night you
will have something to read."
"Oh! delightful! 'La Perle de Dol;' it must be a love-story,--Auguste,
I have something to tell you! I'm to have an accordion!"
Auguste looked up suddenly with a strange glance at his grandfather.
"See how he loves his mother!" cried Vanda. "Come and kiss me, my
kitten. No, it is not your grandfather you are to thank, but monsieur,
who is good enough to lend me one. I am to have it to-morrow. How are
they made, monsieur?"
Godefroid, at a sign from the old man, explained an accordion at
length, while sipping the tea which Auguste brought him and which was
in truth, exquisite.
About half-past ten o'clock he retired, weary of beholding the
desperate struggle of the son and father, admiring their heroism, and
the daily, hourly patience with which they played their double parts,
each equally exhausting.
"Well," said Monsieur Bernard, who followed him home, "you now see,
monsieur, the life I live. I am like a thief, on the watch all the
time. A word, a gesture might kill my daughter; a mere gewgaw less
than she is accustomed to seeing about her would reveal all to that
mind that can penetrate everything."
"Monsieur," replied Godefroid, "on Monday next Halpersohn shall
pronounce upon your daughter. He has returned. I myself doubt the
possibility of any science being able to revive that body."
"Oh! I don't expect that," cried the father; "all I ask is that her
life be made supportable. I felt sure, monsieur, of your sympathy, and
I see that you have indeed comprehended everything--Ah! there's the
attack coming on!" he exclaimed, as the sound of a cry came through
the partition; "she went beyond her strength."
Pressing Godefroid's hand, the old man hurriedly returned to his own
At eight o'clock the next morning Godefroid knocked at the door of the
celebrated Polish doctor. He was shown by a footman to the first floor
of a little house Godefroid had been examining while the porter was
seeking and informing the footman.
Happily, Godefroid's early arrival saved him the annoyance of being
kept waiting. He was, he supposed, the first comer. From a very plain
and simple antechamber he passed into a large study, where he saw an
old man in a dressing-gown smoking a long pipe. The dressing-gown, of
black bombazine, shiny with use, dated from the period of the Polish
"What can I do for you?" said the Jewish doctor, "for I see you are
not ill." And he fixed on his visitor a look which had the
inquisitive, piercing expression of the eyes of a Polish Jew, eyes
which seem to have ears of their own.
Halpersohn was, to Godefroid's great astonishment, a man of fifty-six
years of age, with small bow-legs, and a broad, powerful chest and
shoulders. There was something oriental about the man, and his face in
its youth must have been very handsome. The nose was Hebraic, long and
curved like a Damascus blade. The forehead, truly Polish, broad and
noble, but creased like a bit of crumpled paper, resembled that given
by the old Italian masters to Saint Joseph. The eyes, of a sea-green,
and circled, like those of parrots, with a gray and wrinkled membrane,
expressed slyness and avarice in an eminent degree. The mouth, gashed
into the face like a wound, added to the already sinister expression
of the countenance all the sarcasm of distrust.
That pale, thin face, for Halpersohn's whole person was remarkably
thin, surmounted by ill-kept gray hair, ended in a long and very
thick, black beard, slightly touched with white, which hid fully half
the face, so that nothing was really seen of it but the forehead,
nose, eyes, cheek-bones, and mouth.
This friend of the revolutionist Lelewel wore a black velvet cap which
came to a point on the brow, and took a high light worthy of the touch
The question of the physician (who has since become so celebrated, as
much for his genius as for his avarice) caused some surprise in
Godefroid's mind, and he said to himself:--
"I wonder if he takes me for a thief."
The answer to this mental question was on the doctor's table and
fireplace. Godefroid thought he was the first to arrive; he was really
the last. Preceding clients had left large offerings behind them;
among them Godefroid noticed piles of twenty and forty-franc gold
pieces and two notes of a thousand francs each. Could that be the
product of one morning? He doubted it, and suspected the Pole of
intentional trickery. Perhaps the grasping but infallible doctor took
this method of showing his clients, mostly rich persons, that gold
must be dropped into his pouch, and not buttons.
Moses Halpersohn was, undoubtedly, largely paid, for he cured, and he
cured precisely those desperate diseases which science declares
incurable. It is not known in Europe that the Slav races possess many
secrets. They have a collection of sovereign remedies, the fruits of
their connection with the Chinese, Persians, Cossacks, Turks, and
Tartars. Certain peasant women in Poland, who pass for witches, cure
insanity radically with the juice of herbs. A vast body of
observation, not codified, exists in Poland on the effects of certain
plants, and certain barks of trees reduced to powder, which are
transmitted from father to son, and family to family, producing cures
that are almost miraculous.
Halpersohn, who for five or six years was called a quack on account of
his powders and herb medicines, had the innate science of a great
physician. Not only had he studied much and observed much, but he had
travelled in every part of Germany, Russia, Persia, and Turkey, whence
he had gathered many a traditionary secret; and as he knew chemistry
he became a living volume of those wonderful recipes scattered among
the wise women, or, as the French call them, the /bonnes femmes/, of
every land to which his feet had gone, following his father, a
It must not be thought that the scene in "The Talisman" where Saladin
cures the King of England is a fiction. Halpersohn possesses a silk
purse which he steeps in water till the liquid is slightly colored;
certain fevers yield immediately when the patient has drunk the
prescribed dose of it. The virtue of plants, according to his man, is
infinite, and the cure of the worst diseases possible. Nevertheless,
he, like the rest of his professional brethren, stops short at certain
incomprehensibilities. Halpersohn approved of the invention of
homoeopathy, more on account of its therapeutics than for its medical
system; he was corresponding at this time with Hedenius of Dresden,
Chelius of Heidelburg, and the celebrated German doctors, all the
while holding his hand closed, though it was full of discoveries. He
wished for no pupils.
The frame was in keeping with this embodiment of a Rembrandt picture.
The study, hung with a paper imitating green velvet, was shabbily
furnished with a green divan, the cover of which was threadbare. A
worn-out green carpet was on the floor. A large armchair of black
leather, intended for clients, stood before the window, which was
draped with green curtains. A desk chair of Roman shape, made in
mahogany and covered with green morocco, was the doctor's own seat.
Between the fireplace and the long table at which he wrote, a common
iron safe stood against the wall, and on it was a clock of Viennese
granite, surmounted by a group in bronze representing Cupid playing
with Death, the present of a great German sculptor whom Halpersohn had
doubtless cured. On the mantel-shelf was a vase between two
candlesticks, and no other ornament. On either side of the divan were
corner-buffets of ebony, holding plates and dishes, and Godefroid also
noticed upon them two silver bowls, glass decanters, and napkins.
This simplicity, which amounted almost to bareness struck Godefroid,
whose quick eye took it all in as he recovered his self-possession.
"Monsieur, I am, as you say, perfectly well myself; I have come on
behalf of a woman to whom you were asked to pay a visit some time ago.
She lives on the boulevard du Mont-Parnasse."
"Ah! yes; the lady who has sent her son here several times. Well,
monsieur, let her come here to me."
"Come here!" repeated Godefroid, indignantly. "Monsieur, she cannot
even be moved from her bed to a chair; they lift her with pulleys."
"You are not a physician, I suppose?" said the Jewish doctor, with a
singular grimace which made his face appear more wicked than it really
"If the Baron de Nucingen sent word that he was ill and wanted you to
visit him, would you reply, 'Let him come here to me'?"
"I should go to him," said the Jew, coldly, spitting into a Dutch pot
made of mahogany and full of sand.
"You would go," said Godefroid, gently, "because the Baron de Nucingen
has two millions a year, and--"
"The rest has nothing to do with the matter; I should go."
"Well, monsieur, you must go to the lady on the boulevard du Mont-
Parnasse for the same reason. Without possessing the fortune of the
Baron du Nucingen, I am here to tell you that you may yourself put a
price upon this lady's cure, or upon your attendance if you fail; I am
ready to pay it in advance. But perhaps, monsieur, as you are a Polish
refugee and, I believe, a communist, the lady's parentage may induce
you to make a sacrifice to Poland. She is the granddaughter of Colonel
Tarlowski, the friend of Poniatowski."
"Monsieur, you came here to ask me to cure that lady, and not to give
me advice. In Poland I am a Pole; in Paris I am Parisian. Every man
does good in his own way; the greed with which I am credited is not
without its motive. The wealth I am amassing has its destination; it
is a sacred one. I sell health; the rich can afford to purchase it,
and I make them pay. The poor have their doctors. If I had not a
purpose in view I would not practise medicine. I live soberly and I
spend my time in rushing hither and thither; my natural inclination is
to be lazy, and I used to be a gambler. Draw your conclusions, young
man. You are too young still to judge old men."
Godefroid was silent.
"From what you say," went on the doctor, "the lady in question is the
granddaughter of that imbecile who had no courage but that of
fighting, and who took part in delivering over his country to
"Well, be at her house Monday next at three o'clock," said Halpersohn,
taking out a note-book in which he wrote a few words. "You will give
me then two hundred francs; and if I promise to cure the patient you
will give me three thousand. I am told," he added, "that the lady has
shrunk to almost nothing."
"Monsieur, if the most celebrated doctors in Paris are to be believed,
it is a neurotic case of so extraordinary a nature that they denied
the possibility of its symptoms until they saw them."
"Ah! yes, I remember now what the young lad told me. To-morrow,
Godefroid withdrew, after bowing to the man who seemed to him as odd
as he was extraordinary. Nothing about him indicated a physician, not
even the study, in which the most notable object was the iron safe,
made by Huret or Fichet.
Godefroid had just time to get to the passage Vivienne before the
shops closed for the day, and there he bought a superb accordion,
which he ordered sent at once to Monsieur Bernard, giving the address.
A LESSON IN CHARITY
From the doctor's house Godefroid made his way to the rue Chanoinesse,
passing along the quai des Augustins, where he hoped to find one of
the shops of the commission-publishers open. He was fortunate enough
to do so, and had a long talk with a young clerk on books of
When he reached the rue Chanoinesse, he found Madame de la Chanterie
and her friends just returning from high mass; in reply to the look
she gave him Godefroid made her a significant sign with his head.
"Isn't our dear father Alain here to-day?" he said.
"No," she replied, "not this Sunday; you will not see him till a week
from to-day--unless you go where he gave you rendezvous."
"Madame," said Godefroid in a low voice, "you know he doesn't
intimidate me as these gentlemen do; I wanted to make my report to
"Oh you! I can tell you all; and I have a great deal to tell. For my
first essay I have found a most extraordinary misfortune; a cruel
mingling of pauperism and the need for luxuries; also scenes of a
sublimity which surpasses all the inventions of our great novelists."
"Nature, especially moral nature, is always greater than art, just as
God is greater than his creatures. But come," said madame de la
Chanterie, "tell me the particulars of your first trip into worlds
unknown to you."
Monsieur Nicolas and Monsieur Joseph (for the Abbe de Veze had
remained a few moments in Notre-Dame) left Madame de la Chanterie
alone with Godefroid, who, being still under the influence of the
emotions he had gone through the night before, related even the
smallest details of his story with the force and ardor and action of a
first experience of such a spectacle and its attendant persons and
things. His narrative had a great success; for the calm and gentle
Madame de la Chanterie wept, accustomed as she was to sound the depths
"You did quite right to send the accordion," she said.
"I would like to do a great deal more," said Godefroid; "inasmuch as
this family is the first that has shown me the pleasures of charity, I
should like to obtain for that splendid old man a full return for his
great book. I don't know if you have confidence enough in my capacity
to give me the means of undertaking such an affair. From information I
have obtained, it will cost nine thousand francs to manufacture an
edition of fifteen hundred copies, and their selling value will be
twenty-four thousand francs. But as we should have to pay off the
three thousand and some hundred francs due to Barbet, it would be an
outlay of twelve thousand francs to risk. Oh! madame, if you only knew
what bitter regrets I feel for having dissipated my little fortune!
The spirit of charity has appeared to me; it fills me with the ardor
of an initiate. I wish to renounce the world, I long to embrace the
life of these gentlemen and be worthy of you. Many a time during the
last two days I have blessed the chance that brought me to this house.
I will obey you in all things until you judge me fit to be one of
"Then," said Madame de la Chanterie, after reflecting for a time,
"listen to me, for I have important things to tell. You have been
allured, my child, by the poesy of misfortune. Yes, misfortunes are
often poetical; for, as I think, poesy is a certain effect on the
sensibilities, and sorrows affect the sensibilities,--life is so
intense in grief!"
"Yes, madame, I know that I have been gripped by the demon of
curiosity. But how could I help it? I have not yet acquired the habit
of penetrating to the heart of these great misfortunes; I cannot go
among them with the calmness of your three soldiers of the Lord. But,
let me tell you, it is since I have recovered from that first
excitement that I have chiefly longed to devote myself to your work."
"Listen to me, my dear angel!" said Madame de la Chanterie, who
uttered the last three words with a gentle solemnity that touched the
young man strangely. "We have forbidden ourselves absolutely,--and we
do not trifle with words here; what is forbidden no longer occupies
our minds,--we have forbidden ourselves to enter into any
speculations. To print a book for sale on the chance of profit is a
matter of business, and any operation of that kind would throw us into
all the entanglements of commerce. Certainly your scheme seems to me
feasible,--even necessary. But do you think it is the first that has
offered itself? A score of times, a hundred times, we have come upon
just such ways of saving families, or firms. What would have become of
us if we had taken part in such affairs? We should be merchants. No,
our true partnership with misfortune is not to take the work into our
own hands, but to help the unfortunate to work themselves. Before long
you will meet with misfortunes more bitter still than these. Would you
then do the same thing,--that is, take the burdens of those
unfortunates wholly on yourself? You would soon be overwhelmed.
Reflect, too, my dear child, that for the last year even the Messieurs
Mongenod find our accounts too heavy for them. Half your time would be
taken up in merely keeping our books. We have to-day over two thousand
debtors in Paris, and we must keep the record of their debts. Not that
we ask for payment; we simply wait. We calculate that if half the
money we expect is lost, the other half comes back to us, sometimes
doubled. Now, suppose your Monsieur Bernard dies, the twelve thousand
francs are probably lost. But if you cure his daughter, if his
grandson is put in the way of succeeding, if he comes, some day, a
magistrate, then, when the family is prosperous, they will remember
the debt, and return the money of the poor with usury. Do you know
that more than one family whom we have rescued from poverty, and put
upon their feet on the road to prosperity by loans of money without
interest, have laid aside a portion for the poor, and have returned to
us the money loaned doubled, and sometimes tripled? Those are our only
speculations. Moreover, reflect that what is now interesting you so
deeply (and you ought to be interested in it), namely, the sale of
this lawyer's book, depends on the value of the work. Have you read
it? Besides, though the book may be an excellent one, how many
excellent books remain one, two, three years without obtaining the
success they deserve. Alas! how many crowns of fame are laid upon a
grave! I know that publishers have ways of negotiating and realizing
profits which make their business the most hazardous to do with, and
the most difficult to unravel, of all the trades of Paris. Monsieur
Joseph can tell you of these difficulties, inherent in the making of
books. Thus, you see, we are sensible; we have experience of all
miseries, also of all trades, for we have studied Paris for many
years. The Mongenods have helped us in this; they have been like
torches to us. It is through them that we know how the Bank of France
holds the publishing business under constant suspicion; although it is
one of the most profitable trades, it is unsound. As for the four
thousand francs necessary to save this noble family from the horrors
of penury,--for that poor boy and his grandfather must be fed and
clothed properly,--I will give them to you at once. There are
sufferings, miseries, wants, which we immediately relieve, without
hesitation, without even asking whom we help; religion, honor,
character, are all indifferent to us; but when it comes to lending
money to the poor to assist them in any active form of industry or
commerce, then we require guarantees, with all the sternness of
usurers. So you must, my dear child, limit your enthusiasm for this
unhappy family to finding for the father an honest publisher. This
concerns Monsieur Joseph. He knows lawyers, professors, authors of
works on jurisprudence; I will speak to him, and next Sunday he will
be sure to have some good advice to give you. Don't feel uneasy; some
way will certainly be found to solve the difficulty. Perhaps it would
be well, however, if Monsieur Joseph were to read the lawyer's book.
If you think it can be done, you had better obtain the manuscript."
Godefroid was amazed at the good sense of this woman, whom he had
thought controlled by the spirit of charity only. He took her
beautiful hand and kissed it, saying:--
"You are good sense and judgment too!"
"We must be all that in our business," she replied, with the soft
gaiety of a real saint.
There was a moment's silence, and then Godefroid exclaimed:--
"Two thousand debtors! did you say that, madame? two thousand accounts
to keep! why, it is immense!"
"Oh! I meant two thousand accounts which rely for liquidation, as I
told you, on the delicacy and good feeling of our debtors; but there
are fully three thousand other families whom we help who make us no
other return than thanks to God. This is why we feel, as I told you,
the necessity of keeping books ourselves. If you prove to us your
discretion and capacity you shall be, if you like, our accountant. We
keep a day-book, a ledger, a book of current accounts, and a bank-
book. We have many notes, but we lose a great deal of time in looking
them up. Ah! here are the gentlemen," she added.
Godefroid, grave and thoughtful, took little part in the general
conversation which now followed. He was stunned by the communication
Madame de la Chanterie had just made to him, in a tone which implied
that she wished to reward his ardor.
"Five thousand families assisted!" he kept repeating to himself. "If
they were to cost what I am to spend on Monsieur Bernard, we must have
millions scattered through Paris."
This thought was the last expiring movement of the spirit of the
world, which had slowly and insensibly become extinguished in
Godefroid. On reflection he saw that the united fortunes of Madame de
la Chanterie, Messieurs Alain, Nicolas, Joseph, and that of Judge
Popinot, the gifts obtained through the Abbe de Veze, and the
assistance lent by the firm of Mongenod must produce a large capital;
and that this capital, increased during the last dozen years by
grateful returns from those assisted, must have grown like a snowball,
inasmuch as the charitable stewards of it spent so little on
themselves. Little by little he began to see clearly into this vast
work, and his desire to co-operate in it increased.
He was preparing at nine o'clock to return on foot to the boulevard du
Mont-Parnasse; but Madame de la Chanterie, fearing the solitude of
that neighborhood at a late hour, made him take a cab. When he reached
the house Godefroid heard the sound of an instrument, though the
shutters were so carefully closed that not a ray of light issued
through them. As soon as he reached the landing, Auguste, who was
probably on the watch for him, opened the door of Monsieur Bernard's
apartment and said:--
"Mamma would like to see you, and my grandfather offers you a cup of
When Godefroid entered, the patient seemed to him transfigured by the
pleasure she felt in making music; her face was radiant, her eyes were
sparkling like diamonds.
"I ought to have waited to let you hear the first sounds," she said to
Godefroid, "but I flung myself upon the little organ as a starving man
flings himself on food. You have a soul that comprehends me, and I
know you will forgive."
Vanda made a sign to her son, who placed himself in such a way as to
press with his foot the pedal which filled the bellows; and then the
invalid, whose fingers had for the time recovered all their strength
and agility, raising her eyes to heaven like Saint Cecilia, played the
"Prayer of Moses in Egypt," which her son had bought for her and which
she had learned by heart in a few hours. Godefroid recognized in her
playing the same quality as in Chopin's. The soul was satisfied by
divine sounds of which the dominant note was that of tender
melancholy. Monsieur Bernard had received Godefroid with a look that
was long a stranger to his eyes. If tears were not forever dried at
their source, withered by such scorching sorrows, that look would have
The old man sat playing with his snuff-box and looking at his daughter
in silent ecstasy.
"To-morrow, madame," said Godefroid, when the music ceased; "to-morrow
your fate will be decided. I bring you good news. The celebrated
Halpersohn is coming to see you at three o'clock in the afternoon. He
has promised," added Godefroid in a low voice to Monsieur Bernard, "to
tell me the exact truth."
The old man rose, and grasping Godefroid's hand, drew him to a corner
of the room beside the fireplace.
"Ah! what a night I shall pass! a definitive decision! My daughter
cured or doomed!"
"Courage!" said Godefroid; "after tea come out with me."
"My child, my child, don't play any more," said the old man; "you will
bring on an attack; such a strain upon your strength must end in
He made Auguste take away the instrument and offered a cup of tea to
his daughter with the coaxing manner of a nurse quieting the petulance
of a child.
"What is the doctor like?" she asked, her mind already distracted by
the prospect of seeing a new person.
Vanda, like all prisoners, was full of eager curiosity. When the
physical phenomena of her malady ceased, they seemed to betake
themselves to the moral nature; she conceived the strangest fancies,
the most violent caprices; she insisted on seeing Rossini, and wept
when her father, whom she believed to be all powerful, refused to
Godefroid now gave her a minute account of the Jewish doctor and his
study; of which she knew nothing, for Monsieur Bernard had cautioned
Auguste not to tell his mother of his visits to Halpersohn, so much
had he feared to rouse hopes in her mind which might not be realized.
Vanda hung upon Godefroid's words like one fascinated; and she fell
into a sort of ecstasy in her passionate desire to see this strange
"Poland has produced many singular, mysterious beings," said Monsieur
Bernard. "To-day, for instance, besides this extraordinary doctor, we
have Hoene Wronski, the enlightened mathematician, the poet
Mickievicz, Towianksi the mystic, and Chopin, whose talent is
supernatural. Great national convulsions always produce various
species of dwarfed giants."
"Oh! dear papa; what a man you are! If you would only write down what
we hear you say merely to amuse me you would make your reputation.
Fancy, monsieur, my dear old father invents wonderful stories when I
have no novels to read; he often puts me to sleep in that way. His
voice lulls me, and he quiets my mind with his wit. Who can ever
reward him? Auguste, my child, you ought for my sake, to kiss the
print of your grandfather's footsteps."
The young man raised his beautiful moist eyes to his mother, and the
look he gave her, full of a long-repressed compassion, was a poem.
Godefroid rose, took the lad's hand, and pressed it.
"God has placed two angels beside you, madame," he said.
"Yes, I know that. And for that reason I often reproach myself for
harassing them. Come, my dear Auguste, and kiss your mother. He is a
child, monsieur, of whom all mothers might be proud; pure as gold,
frank and honest, a soul without sin--but too passionate a soul, alas!
like that of his poor mother. Perhaps God has fastened me in this bed
to keep me from the follies of women--who have too much heart," she
Godefroid replied with a smile and a bow.
"Adieu, monsieur; and thank your friend for the instrument; tell him
it makes the happiness of a poor cripple."
"Monsieur," said Godefroid, when they were alone in the latter's room.
"I think I may assure you that you shall not be robbed by that trio of
bloodsuckers. I have the necessary sum to free your book, but you must
first show me your written agreement with them. And after that, in
order to do still more for you, you must let me have your work to
read,--not I myself, of course, I have not knowledge enough to judge
of it, but a former magistrate, a lawyer of eminence and of perfect
integrity, who will undertake, according to what he thinks of the
book, to find you an honorable publisher with whom you can make an
equitable agreement. This, however, I will not insist upon. Meantime
here are five hundred francs," he added, giving a bank-note to the
stupefied old man, "to meet your present needs. I do not ask for any
receipt; you will be under obligations to your own conscience only,
and that conscience is not to move you until you have recovered a
sufficient competence,--I undertake to pay Halpersohn."
"Who are you, then?" asked the old man, dropping into a chair.
"I myself," replied Godefroid, "am nothing; but I serve powerful
persons to whom your distress is known, and who feel an interest in
you. Ask me nothing more about them."
"But what induces them to do this?" said the old man.
"Religion! is it possible?"
"Yes, the catholic, apostolic, and Roman religion."
"Ah! do you belong to the order of Jesus?"
"No, monsieur," replied Godefroid. "Do not feel uneasy; these persons
have no designs upon you, except that of helping you to restore your
family to prosperity."
"Can philanthropy be anything but vanity?"
"Ah! monsieur," said Godefroid, hastily; "do not insult the virtue
defined by Saint Paul, sacred, catholic Love!"
Monsieur Bernard, hearing this answer, began to stride up and down
with long steps.
"I accept," he said suddenly, "and I have but one way of thanking you,
and that is to offer you my work. The notes and citations are
unnecessary to the magistrate you speak of; and I have still two
months' work to do in arranging them for the press. To-morrow I will
give you the five volumes," he added, offering Godefroid his hand.
"Can I have made a conversion?" thought Godefroid, struck by the new
expression which he saw on the old man's face.
The next afternoon at three o'clock a cabriolet stopped before the
house, and Godefroid saw Halpersohn getting out of it, wrapped in a
monstrous bear-skin pelisse. The cold had strengthened during the
night, the thermometer marking ten degrees of it.
The Jewish doctor examined with curious eyes, though furtively, the
room in which his client of the day before received him, and Godefroid
detected the suspicious thought which darted from his eyes like the
sharp point of a dagger. This rapid conception of distrust gave
Godefroid a cold chill, for he thought within himself that such a man
would be pitiless in all relations; it is so natural to suppose that
genius is connected with goodness that a strong sensation of disgust
took possession of him.
"Monsieur," he said, "I see that the simplicity of my room makes you
uneasy; therefore you need not be surprised at my method of
proceeding. Here are your two hundred francs, and here, too, are three
notes of a thousand francs each," he added, drawing from his pocket-
book the money Madame de la Chanterie had given him to release
Monsieur Bernard's book; but in case you still feel doubtful of my
solvency I offer you as reference Messrs. Mongenod, bankers, rue de la
"I know them," said Halpersohn, putting the ten gold pieces into his
"He'll inquire of them," thought Godefroid.
"Where is the patient?" asked the doctor, rising like a man who knows
the value of time.
"This way, monsieur," said Godefroid, preceding him to show the way.
The Jew examined with a shrewd and suspicious eye the places he passed
through, giving them the keen, rapid glance of a spy; he saw all the
horrors of poverty through the door of the room in which the
grandfather and the grandson lived; for, unfortunately, Monsieur
Bernard had gone in to change his clothes before entering his
daughter's room, and in his haste to open the outer door to the
doctor, he had forgotten to close that of his lair.
He bowed in a stately manner to Halpersohn, and opened the door of his
daughter's room cautiously.
"Vanda, my child, here is the doctor," he said.
Then he stood aside to allow Halpersohn, who kept on his bear-skin
pelisse, to pass him. The Jew was evidently surprised at the luxury of
the room, which in this quarter, and more especially in this house,
was an anomaly; but his surprise only lasted for an instant, for he
had seen among German and Russian Jews many instances of the same
contrast between apparent misery and hoarded wealth. As he walked from
the door to the bed he kept his eye on the patient, and the moment he
reached her he said in Polish:--
"You are a Pole?"
"No, I am not; my mother was."
"Whom did your grandfather, Colonel Tarlowski, marry?"
"From what province?"
"A Soboleska, of Pinsk."
"Very good; monsieur is your father?"
"Monsieur," he said, turning to the old man; "your wife--"
"Is dead;" said Monsieur Bernard.
"Was she very fair?" said Halpersohn, showing a slight impatience at
"Here is her portrait," said Monsieur Bernard, unhooking from the wall
a handsome frame which enclosed several fine miniatures.
Halpersohn felt the head and handled the hair of the patient while he
looked at the portrait of Vanda Tarlowska, born Countess Sobolewska.
"Relate to me the symptoms of your illness," he said, placing himself
on the sofa and looking fixedly at Vanda during the twenty minutes the
history, given alternately by the father and daughter, lasted.
"How old are you?"
"Ah! good!" he cried, rising; "I will answer for the cure. Mind, I do
not say that I can restore the use of her legs; but cured of the
disease, that she shall be. Only, I must have her in a private
hospital under my own eye."
"But, monsieur, my daughter cannot be moved!"
"I will answer for her," said Halpersohn, curtly; "but I will answer
for her only on those conditions. She will have to exchange her
present malady for another still more terrible, which may last a year,
six months at the very least. You may come and see her at the
hospital, since you are her father."
"Are you certain of curing her?" said Monsieur Bernard.
"Certain," repeated the Jew. "Madame has in her body an element, a
vitiated fluid, the national disease, and it must be eliminated. You
must bring her to me at Challot, rue Basse-Saint-Pierre, private
hospital of Doctor Halpersohn."
"How can I?"
"On a stretcher, just as all sick persons are carried to hospitals."
"But the removal will kill her!"
As he said the word in a curt tone he was already at the door;
Godefroid rejoined him on the staircase. The Jew, who was stifling
with heat, said in his ear:
"Besides the three thousand francs, the cost will be fifteen francs a
day, payable three months in advance."
"Very good, monsieur. And," continued Godefroid, putting one foot on
the step of the cabriolet, into which the doctor had sprung, "you say
you will answer for the cure?"
"I will answer for it," said the Jewish doctor. "Are you in love with
"No," replied Godefroid.
"You must not repeat what I am about to say to you; I only say it to
prove to you that I am certain of a cure. If you are guilty of the
slightest indiscretion you will kill her."
Godefroid replied with a gesture only.
"For the last seventeen years she has been a victim to the element in
her system called /plica polonica/,[*] which has produced all these
ravages. I have seen more terrible cases than this. Now, I alone in
the present day know how to bring this disease to a crisis, and force
it outward so as to obtain a chance to cure it--for it cannot always
be cured. You see, monsieur, that I am disinterested. If this lady
were of great importance, a Baronne de Nucingen, or any other wife or
daughter of a modern Croesus, this cure would bring me one hundred--two
hundred thousand francs; in short, anything I chose to ask for it.
However, it is only a trifling loss to me."
[*] Balzac's description of /plica polonica/ does not agree with that
given in English medical dictionaries and cyclopedias. But as the
book was written at Wierschovnia, Poland, in 1847, when he was
attended by a celebrated Polish physician, and as, moreover, he
was always so scrupulously accurate in his descriptions, it is
fair to suppose that he knew of some form of the disease other
than that given in the books. His account probably applies to the
period before it takes the visible form described in the books.
"About conveying her?"
"Bah! she'll seem to be dying, but she won't die. There's life enough
in her to last a hundred years, when the disease is out of her system.
Come, Jacques, drive on! quick,--rue de Monsieur! quick!" he said to
Godefroid was left on the boulevard gazing stupidly after the
"Who is that queer man in a bearskin?" asked Madame Vauthier, whom
nothing escaped; "is it true, what the man in the cabriolet told me,
that he is one of the greatest doctors in Paris?"
"What is that to you?"
"Oh! nothing at all," she replied, making a face.
"You made a great mistake in not putting yourself on my side," said
Godefroid, returning slowly to the house; "you would have made more
out of me than you will ever get from Barbet and Metivier; from whom,
mark my words, you'll get nothing."
"I am not for them particularly," said Madame Vauthier, shrugging her
shoulders; "Monsieur Barbet is my proprietor, that's all!"
It required two days' persuasion to induce Monsieur Bernard to
separate from his daughter and take her to Chaillot. Godefroid and the
old man made the trip walking on each side of the litter, canopied
with blue and white striped linen, in which was the dear patient,
partly bound to a mattress, so much did her father dread the possible
convulsions of a nervous attack. They started at three o'clock and
reached their destination at five just as evening was coming on.
Godefroid paid the sum demanded for three months' board in advance,
being careful to obtain a receipt for the money. When he went back to
pay the bearers of the litter, he was followed by Monsieur Bernard,
who took from beneath the mattress a bulky package carefully sealed
up, and gave it to Godefroid.
"One of these men will fetch you a cab," said the old man; "for you
cannot carry these four volumes under your arm. That is my book; give
it to your reader; he may keep it the whole of the coming week. I
shall stay at least that time in this quarter; for I cannot leave my
daughter in such total abandonment. I trust my grandson; he can take
care of our rooms; especially if you keep an eye on him. If I were
what I once was I would ask you the name of my critic, the former
magistrate you spoke of; there were but few of them whom I did not
"Oh, there's no mystery about it!" said Godefroid, interrupting
Monsieur Bernard. "Now that you have shown this entire confidence in
trusting me with your book, I will tell you that your censor is the
former president, Lecamus de Tresnes."
"Oh, yes!--of the Royal Court of Paris. Take him the book; he is one
of the noblest characters of the present day. He and the late Popinot,
a judge of the Lower Court, were both worthy of the days of the old
Parliaments. All my fears, if I had any, are dissipated. Where does he
live? I should like to go and thank him for the trouble he is taking."
"You will find him in the rue Chanoinesse, under the name of Monsieur
Joseph. I am going there now. Where is that agreement you made with
"Auguste will give it to you," said the old man, re-entering the
courtyard of the hospital.
A cab was now brought up by the porter, and Godefroid jumped into it,
--promising the coachman a good pourboire if he would get him to the
rue Chanoinesse in good time, for he wanted to dine there.
Half an hour after Vanda's departure, three men dressed in black, whom
Madame Vauthier let into the house by the door on the rue Notre-Dame
des Champs, filed up the staircase, accompanied by their female Judas,
and knocked gently at the door of Monsieur Bernard's lodging. As it
happened to be a Thursday, Auguste was at home. He opened the door,
and the three men glided in like shadows.
"What do you want, messieurs?" asked the lad.
"These are the rooms of Monsieur Bernard,--that is, Monsieur le baron,
--are they not?"
"Yes; but what do you want?"
"You know very well, young man, what we want! We are informed that
your grandfather has left this house with a covered litter. That's not
surprising; he had the right to do so. But I am the sheriff, and I
have come to seize everything he has left. On Monday he received a
summons to pay three thousand francs, with interest and costs, to
Monsieur Metivier, under pain of arrest for debt duly notified to him,
and like an old stager who is up to the tricks of his own trade, he
has walked off just in time. However, if we can't catch him, his
furniture hasn't taken wings. You see we know all about it, young
"Here are the stamped papers your grandpapa didn't choose to take,"
said Madame Vauthier, thrusting three writs into Auguste's hand.
"Remain here, madame," said the sheriff; "we shall make you legal
guardian of the property. The law gives you forty sous a day, and
that's not to be sneezed at."
"Ha! now I shall see the inside of that fine bedroom!" cried the
"You shall not go into my mother's room!" said the young lad, in a
threatening voice, springing between the door and the three men in
At a sign from the sheriff, two of the men seized Auguste.
"No resistance, young man; you are not master here," said the sheriff.
"We shall draw up the proces-verbal, and you will sleep in jail."
Hearing that dreadful word, Auguste burst into tears.
"Ah, how fortunate," he cried, "that mamma has gone! It would have
A conference now took place between the sheriff, the other men, and
Vauthier, by which Auguste discovered, although they spoke in a low
voice, that his grandfather's manuscripts were what they chiefly
wanted. On that, he opened the door of his mother's bedroom.
"Go in," he said, "but take care to do no injury. You will be paid
Then he went off weeping into the lair, seized his grandfather's
notes and stuck them into the stove, in which, as he knew very well,
there was not a spark of fire.
The thing was done so rapidly that the sheriff--a sly, keen fellow,
worthy of his clients Barbet and Metivier--found the lad weeping in
his chair when he entered the wretched room, after assuring himself
that the manuscripts were not in the antechamber.
Though it is not permissible to seize books or manuscripts for debt,
the bill of sale which Monsieur Bernard had made of his work justified
this proceeding. It was, however, easy to oppose various delays to
this seizure, and Monsieur Bernard, had he been there, would not have
failed to do so. For that reason the whole affair had been conducted
slyly. Madame Vauthier had not attempted to give the writs to Monsieur
Bernard; she meant to have flung them into the room on entering behind
the sheriff's men, so to give the appearance of their being in the old
The proces-verbal of the seizure took an hour to write down; the
sheriff omitted nothing, and declared that the value of the property
seized was sufficient to pay the debt. As soon as he and his men had
departed, Auguste took the writs and rushed to the hospital to find
his grandfather. The sheriff having told him that Madame Vauthier was
now responsible, under heavy penalties, for the safety of the
property, he could leave the house without fear of robbery.
The idea of his grandfather being dragged to prison for debt drove the
poor lad, if not exactly crazy, at any rate as crazy as youth becomes
under one of those dangerous and fatal excitements in which all powers
ferment at once, and lead as often to evil actions as to heroic deeds.
When he reached the rue Basse-Saint-Pierre, the porter told him that
he did not know what had become of the father of the lady who had
arrived that afternoon; the orders of Monsieur Halpersohn were to
admit no one to see her for the next eight days, under pain of putting
her life in danger.
This answer brought Auguste's exasperation to a crisis. He returned to
the boulevard du Mont-Parnasse, turning over in his mind the wildest
and most extravagant plans of action. He reached home at half-past
eight o'clock, half famished, and so exhausted with hunger and
distress that he listened to Madame Vauthier when she asked him to
share her supper, which happened to be a mutton stew with potatoes.
The poor lad fell half dead upon a chair in that atrocious woman's
Persuaded by the wheedling and honeyed words of the old vulture, he
replied to a few questions about Godefroid which she adroitly put to
him, letting her discover that it was really her other lodger who was
to pay his grandfather's debts the next day, and also that it was to
him they owed the improvement in their condition during the past week.
The widow listened to these confidences with a dubious air, plying
Auguste with several glasses of wine meantime.
About ten o'clock a cab stopped before the house, and Madame Vauthier
looking out exclaimed:--
"Oh! it is Monsieur Godefroid."
Auguste at once took the key of his apartment and went up to meet the
protector of his family; but he found Godefroid's face and manner so
changed that he hesitated to address him until, generous lad that he
was, the thought of his grandfather's danger came over him and gave
WHO MONSIEUR BERNARD WAS
The cause of this change and of the sternness in Godefroid's face was
an event which had just taken place in the rue Chanoinesse. When the
initiate arrived there he found Madame de la Chanterie and her friends
assembled in the salon awaiting dinner; and he instantly took Monsieur
Joseph apart to give him the four volumes on "The Spirit of Modern
Laws." Monsieur Joseph took the voluminous manuscript to his room and
returned for dinner; then, after sharing in the conversation for part
of the evening, he went back to his room, intending to begin the
reading of the book that night.
Godefroid was much astonished when Manon came to him soon after
Monsieur Joseph's retirement and asked if he would at once go up and
speak to that gentleman. He went up, conducted by Manon, and was
unable to pay any heed to the apartment (which he had never before
entered) so amazed was he by the agitated look and manner of a man who
was usually calm and placid.
"Do you know," asked Monsieur Joseph, once more a judge, "who the
author of this work is?"
"He is Monsieur Bernard," said Godefroid; "I know him only under that
name. I did not open the package."
"True," said Monsieur Joseph, as if to himself, "I broke the seals
myself. You have not tried to find out anything about his
"No, I only know that he made a love-match with the daughter of
General Tarlowski; that the daughter is named after the mother, Vanda;
the grandson is called Auguste; and I have seen a portrait of Monsieur
Bernard in the red robes of a president of the Royal Courts."
"Here, read that," said Monsieur Joseph, pointing to the titlepage of
the manuscript, written probably in Auguste's handwriting:--
SPIRIT OF MODERN LAWS
By M. Bernard-Jean-Baptiste Macloud,
Formerly attorney-general to the Royal Court of Rouen.
Grand officer of the Legion of honor.
[Aha! Thought so.--JB.]
"Ha! the slayer of Madame's daughter! of the Chevalier du Vissard! the
man who condemned her to twenty years' imprisonment!" said Godefroid,
in a feeble voice. His legs gave way under him, and he dropped into a
chair. "What a beginning!" he muttered.
"This matter, my dear Godefroid," resumed Monsieur Joseph, "concerns
us all. You have done your part; leave the rest to us. I beg you to
have no more to do with it; go and fetch the things you have left
behind you. Don't say a word of all this. Practise absolute
discretion. Tell the Baron de Bourlac to address himself to me. By
that time we shall have decided how to act under the circumstances."
Godefroid left him, took a cab, and went back as fast as he could to
the boulevard du Mont-Parnasse, filled with horror as he remembered
that indictment signed with Bourlac's name, the bloody drama ending on
the scaffold, and Madame de la Chanterie's imprisonment at Bicetre. He
understood now the abandonment in which this former attorney-general,
another Fourquier-Tinville in the public mind, was ending his days,
and the true reasons for the concealment of his name.
"May Monsieur Joseph avenge her terribly!" he thought. As he uttered
the wish in his own mind, he saw Auguste.
"What do you want of me?" he asked.
"My good friend, such a dreadful misfortune has overtaken us that I am
almost mad. Wretches have come here and seized all my mother's
property, and they are going to put my grandfather in prison. But it
is not on account of those misfortunes that I come to implore you,"
said the lad, with Roman pride; "it is to ask you to do me a service
such as people do to those who are condemned to die."
"Go on, what is it?" said Godefroid.
"They came here to seize my grandfather's manuscript; and as I think
he gave you the book itself I want you to take the notes, for Madame
Vauthier will not let me carry anything out of the house. Put them
with the volumes and--"
"Yes, yes," said Godefroid, "go and get them at once."
While the lad went back to his own rooms, returning immediately,
Godefroid reflected that the poor child was guilty of no crime, and
that he ought not to put despair into that young heart by speaking of
his grandfather and of the punishment for his savage political actions
that had overtaken his old age. He therefore took the little package
with a good grace.
"What is your mother's name?" he asked.
"My mother is the Baronne de Mergi; my father was the son of the
president of the Royal Court at Rouen."
"Ah!" said Godefroid; "then your grandfather married his daughter to
the son of the famous president Mergi."
"Now, my little friend, leave me," said Godefroid. He went with young
Mergi to the landing, and called to Madame Vauthier.
"Mere Vauthier," he said, "you can let my rooms. I shall not come back
He gathered his things together, went downstairs, and got into the
"Have you given anything to that gentleman?" said the Vauthier to
"Yes," said the young man.
"You're a pretty fellow! that's the agent of your grandfather's
enemies. He managed this whole business, and the proof is that, now
that the trick is played, he goes off and isn't coming back any more.
He has just told me I can let his lodgings."
Auguste flew to the boulevard and ran after the cab shouting so loudly
that he finally stopped it.
"What do you want?" asked Godefroid.
"My grandfather's manuscripts."
"Tell them he can get them from Monsieur Joseph."
The youth thought the words were intended as a cruel joke. He sat down
in the snow as he saw the cab disappearing rapidly. Presently he
sprang up with momentary vigor, returned to his room and went to bed
worn out with fatigue and distress.
The next morning, when the poor boy woke alone in that apartment so
lately occupied by his mother and grandfather, the painful emotions of
his cruel position filled his mind. The solitude of his home, where up
to this time every moment had had its duty and its occupation, seemed
so hard to bear that he went down to Madame Vauthier to ask if she had
received any news of his grandfather. The woman answered sneeringly
that he knew very well, or he might know, where to find his
grandfather; the reason why he had not come in, she said, was because
he had gone to live at the chateau de Clichy. This malicious speech,
from the woman who had coaxed and wheedled him the evening before, put
the lad into another frenzy, and he rushed to the hospital once more,
desperate with the idea that his grandfather was in prison.
Baron Bourlac had wandered all night round the hospital, where he was
refused entrance, and round the private residence of Dr. Halpersohn
from whom he wished, naturally, to obtain an explanation of such
treatment. The doctor did not get home till two in the morning. At
half-past one the old man was at his door; on being told he was
absent, he turned and walked about the grand alley of the Champs
Elysees until half-past two. When he again went to the house, the
porter told him that Monsieur Halpersohn had returned, gone to bed,
was asleep, and could not be disturbed.
The poor father, in despair, wandered along the quay and under the
frost-laden trees of the Cours-la-reine, waiting for daylight. At nine
o'clock in the morning he again presented himself at the doctor's
house, demanding to know the reason why his daughter was thus
"Monsieur," replied the doctor, to whose presence he was admitted,
"yesterday I told you I would answer for your daughter's recovery; but
to-day I am responsible for her life and you will readily understand
that I must be the sovereign master in such a case. Yesterday your
daughter took a medicine intended to bring out her disease, the /plica
polonica/; until that horrible disease shows itself on the surface you
cannot see her. I will not allow excitement or any mistake of
management to carry off my patient and your daughter. If you
positively insist on seeing her, I shall call a consultation of three
physicians, so as to relieve myself of responsibility, for the patient
may die of it."
The old man, worn out with fatigue, dropped on a chair; but he rose
"Forgive me, monsieur. I have spent the night waiting for you in
dreadful distress of mind. You cannot know to what degree I love my
daughter; I have nursed her for fifteen years hovering between life
and death, and this week of waiting is torture to me."
The baron left the room staggering like a drunken man. The doctor
followed and supported him by the arm until he saw him safely down the
An hour later Auguste de Mergi entered the doctor's room. On
questioning the porter at the hospital the unhappy lad heard that his
grandfather had been refused an entrance and had gone away to find
Monsieur Halpersohn, who could probably give information about him. As
Auguste entered the doctor's study Halpersohn was breakfasting on a
cup of chocolate and a glass of water. He did not disturb himself at
the young man's entrance, but went on sopping his bread in the
chocolate; for he never ate anything for breakfast but a small roll
cut into four strips with careful precision.
"Well, young man," he said, glancing at Vanda's son, "so you have
come, too, to find out about your mother?"
"Yes, monsieur;" replied Auguste de Mergi.
Auguste was standing near the table on which lay several bank-notes
among a pile of gold louis. Under the circumstances in which the
unhappy boy was placed the temptation was stronger than his
principles, solid as they were. He saw a means of saving his
grandfather and the fruits of almost a lifetime of toil. He yielded.
The fascination was rapid as thought; and it was justified to the
child's mind by the idea of self-devotion. "I destroy myself, but I
save my mother and my grandfather," he thought. Under the strain put
upon his reason by this criminal temptation he acquired, like madmen,
a singular and momentary dexterity.
Halpersohn, an experienced observer, had divined, retrospectively, the
life of the old man and that of the lad and of the mother. He felt or
perceived the truth; the Baronne de Mergi's remarks had helped to
unveil it to him; and the result was a feeling of benevolent pity for
his new clients. As for respect or admiration, he was incapable of
"Well, my dear boy," he replied familiarly, "I am taking care of your
mother, and I shall return her to you young and handsome and perfectly
well in health. Here is one of those rare cases in which physicians
take an interest. Besides, through her mother, she is a compatriot of
mine. You and your grandfather must for two weeks have the courage to
keep away from Madame--?"
"The Baronne de Mergi."
"Ah! if she is a baroness, you must be a baron," remarked Halpersohn.
At that instant the theft was accomplished. While the doctor was
looking at his sopped bread heavy with chocolate, Auguste snatched
four notes and put them into his pocket, as if he were merely putting
his hand there by accident.
"Yes, monsieur," he replied, "I am a baron, and so is my grandfather;
he was attorney-general under the Restoration."
"You blush, young man; there's no need to blush for being a poor
baron; that's common enough."
"Who told you, monsieur, that we are poor?"
"Your grandfather told me he had spent the night in the Champs
Elysees; and though I know no palace with half so fine a ceiling as
that of the skies at two o'clock this morning, I assure you it was
pretty cold in the palace where your grandfather passed the night. We
don't select the 'Star' inn from choice."
"Has my grandfather been here this morning?" said Auguste, seizing the
opportunity to get away. "I thank you, monsieur, and I will call
again, if you will permit me, to ask for news of my mother."
As soon as he was in the street the young baron took a cab to go as
rapidly as he could to the sheriff's office, where he paid his
grandfather's debt. The sheriff gave him the papers and a receipted
bill of costs, and told one of his clerks to accompany the young man
home and relieve the legal guardian of her functions.
"As Messieurs Barbet and Metivier live in your quarter," he said, "I
will tell my young man to carry the money there and obtain the bill of
sale of the books and return it to you."
Auguste who did not understand either the terms or the formalities of
the law, did exactly as he was told. He received seven hundred francs
change from the four thousand francs he had stolen, and went away with
the clerk. He got back into the cab in a condition of semi-stupor;
for, the result being now obtained, remorse began; he saw himself
dishonored, cursed by his grandfather, whose inflexible nature was
well-known to him, and he felt that his mother would surely die if she
knew him guilty. All nature changed for him. He was hot; he did not
see the snow; the houses looked like spectres flitting past him.
By the time he reached home the young baron had decided on his course
which was certainly that of an honest man. He went to his mother's
room, took the gold snuff-box set with diamonds given to his
grandfather by the Emperor, and wrapped it in a parcel with the seven
hundred francs and the following letter, which required several rough
copies before it was satisfactory. Then he directed the whole to
Monsieur,--The fruits of twenty years of my grandfather's toil
were about to be seized by usurers, who even threatened to put him
in prison. Three thousand three hundred francs were enough to save
him. Seeing all that money on your table, I could not resist the
happiness of freeing my grandfather from his danger. I borrowed,
without your consent, four thousand francs of you; but as three
thousand three hundred were all that was necessary, I send the
other seven hundred in money, together with a gold snuff-box set
with diamonds, given to my grandfather by the Emperor, the value
of which will probably cover the whole sum.
In case you do not believe in the honor of him who will forever
regard you as a benefactor, I pray you to keep silence about an
act which would be quite unjustifiable under other circumstances;
for by so doing you will save my grandfather's life, just as you
are saving my mother's life; and I shall be forever
Your devoted servant,
Auguste de Mergi.
About half-past two o'clock in the afternoon, Auguste, who went
himself as far as the Champs Elysees, sent the package from there by a
street messenger to Doctor Halpersohn's house; then he walked slowly
homeward by the pont de Jena, the Invalides, and the boulevards,
relying on Halpersohn's generosity.
The Polish doctor had meanwhile discovered the theft, and he instantly
changed his opinion of his clients. He now thought the old man had
come to rob him, and being unable to succeed, had sent the boy. He
doubted the rank they had claimed, and went straight to the police-
office where he lodged a complaint, requesting that the lad might be
arrested at once.
The prudence with which the law proceeds seldom allows it to move as
rapidly as complainants desire; but about three o'clock of that day a
commissary of police, accompanied by agents who kept watch outside the
house, was questioning Madame Vauthier as to her lodgers, and the
widow was increasing, without being aware of it, the suspicions of the
When Nepomucene saw the police agents stationed outside the house, he
thought they had come to arrest the old man, and as he was fond of
Monsieur Auguste, he rushed to meet Monsieur Bernard, whom he now saw
on his way home in the avenue de l'Observatoire.
"Hide yourself, monsieur!" he cried, "the police have come to arrest
you. The sheriff was here yesterday and seized everything. Madame
Vauthier didn't give you the stamped papers, and she says you'll be in
Clichy to-night or to-morrow. There, don't you see those policemen?"
Baron Bourlac immediately resolved to go straight to Barbet. The
former publisher lived in the rue Saint-Catherine d'Enfer, and it took
him a quarter of an hour to reach the house.
"Ah! I suppose you have come to get that bill of sale," said Barbet,
replying to the salutation of his victim. "Here it is."
And, to Baron Bourlac's great astonishment, he held out the document,
which the baron took, saying,--
"I do not understand."
"Didn't you pay me?" said the usurer.
"Are you paid?"
"Yes, your grandson took the money to the sheriff this morning."
"Then it is true you made a seizure at my house yesterday?"
"Haven't you been home for two days?" asked Barbet. "But an old
magistrate ought to know what a notification of arrest means."
Hearing that remark, the baron bowed coldly to Barbet and returned
home, thinking that the policemen whom Nepomucene had pointed out must
have come for the two impecunious authors on the upper floor. He
walked slowly, lost in vague apprehensions; for, in spite of the
explanation he gave himself, Nepomucene's words came back, and seemed
to him more and more obscure and inexplicable. Was it possible that
Godefroid had betrayed him?
The old man walked mechanically along the rue Notre-Dame des Champs,
and entered the house by the little door, which he noticed was open.
There he came suddenly upon Nepomucene.
"Oh, monsieur, come quick! they are taking Monsieur Auguste to prison!
They arrested him on the boulevard; it was he they were looking for;
they have examined him."
The old man bounded like a tiger, rushed through the house with the
speed of an arrow, and reached the door on the boulevard in time to
see his grandson getting into a hackney-coach with three men.
"Auguste," he said, "what does all this mean?"
The poor boy burst into tears and fainted away.
"Monsieur, I am the Baron Bourlac, formerly attorney-general," he said
to the commissary of police, whose scarf now attracted his eye. "I
entreat you to explain all this."
"Monsieur, if you are Baron Bourlac, two words will be enough. I have
just examined this young man, and he admits--"
"The robbery of four thousand francs from Doctor Halpersohn!"
"Is that true, Auguste?"
"Grandpapa, I sent him as security your diamond snuff-box. I did it to
save you from going to prison."
"Unhappy boy! what have you done? The diamonds are false!" cried the
baron; "I sold the real ones three years ago!"
The commissary of police and his agents looked at each other. That
look, full of many things, was intercepted by Baron Bourlac, and
seemed to blast him.
"Monsieur," he said to the commissary, "you need not feel uneasy; I
shall go myself to the prefect; but you are witness to the fact that I
kept my grandson ignorant of the loss of the diamonds. Do your duty;
but I implore you, in the name of humanity, put that lad in a cell by
himself; I will go to the prison. To which one are you taking him?"
"Are you really Baron Bourlac?" asked the commissary.
"The fact is that the municipal judge and I doubted if it were
possible that you and your grandson could be guilty. We thought, and
the doctor, too, that some scoundrels had taken your name."
He took the baron aside, and added:--
"Did you go to see Doctor Halpersohn this morning?"
"Your grandson went there half an hour after you."
"Did he? I knew nothing of that. I have just returned home, and have
not seen my grandson for two days."
"The writs he has shown me and the examination explain everything,"
said the commissary of police. "I see the cause of the crime.
Monsieur, I ought by rights to arrest you as accomplice to your
grandson; for your answers confirm the allegations in Doctor
Halpersohn's complaint. But these papers, which I here return to you,"
holding out to the old man a bundle of papers, "do prove you to be
Baron Bourlac. Nevertheless, you must hold yourself ready to appear
before Monsieur Marest, the judge of the Municipal Court who has
cognizance of the case. As for your grandson, I will speak to the
/procureur du roi/, and we will take all the care of him that is due
to the grandson of a former judge,--the victim, no doubt, of youthful
error. But the complaint has been made, the delinquent admits his
guilt, I have drawn up the proces-verbal, and served the warrant of
arrest; I cannot go back on that. As for the incarceration, I will put
him in the Conciergerie."
"Thank you, monsieur," said the unhappy Bourlac.
With the words he fell rigid on the snow, and rolled into one of the
hollows round the trees of the boulevard.
The commissary of police called for help, and Nepomucene ran up,
together with Madame Vauthier. The old man was carried to his room,
and Madame Vauthier begged the commissary to call on his way in the
rue d'Enfer, and send Doctor Berton as soon as possible.
"What is the matter with my grandfather?" asked poor Auguste.
"He is out of his head. You see what it is to steal," said the
Auguste made a movement as though he would dash out his brains. The
two agents caught him.
"Come, young man, be calm," said the commissary of police; "you have
done wrong, but it may not be irreparable--"
"Monsieur, will you tell that woman my grandfather hasn't had anything
to ear for twenty-four hours?"
"Oh! the poor things!" exclaimed the commissary under his breath.
He stopped the coach, which had started, and said a word in the ear of
one of his agents, who got out and ran to Madame Vauthier, and then
When Dr. Berton arrived he declared that Monsieur Bernard (he knew him
only under that name) had a high fever of great intensity. After
hearing from Madame Vauthier all the events which had brought on this
crisis (related after the manner of such women) he informed Monsieur
Alain the next morning, at Saint-Jacques du Haut-Pas, of the present
state of affairs; on which Monsieur Alain despatched a note in pencil
by a street messenger to Monsieur Joseph.
Godefroid had given Monsieur Joseph, on his return from the boulevard
du Mont-Parnasse the night before, the notes confided to him by
Auguste, and Monsieur Joseph had spent part of the night in reading
the first volume of Baron Bourlac's work.
The next morning after breakfast Madame de la Chanterie told her
neophyte that he should, if his resolution still held good, be put to
work at once. Godefroid, initiated by her into the financial secrets
of the society, worked steadily seven or eight hours a day for several
months, under the inspection of Frederic Mongenod, who came every
Sunday to examine the work, and from whom he received much praise and
"You are," he said, when the books were all in order and the accounts
audited, "a precious acquisition to the saints among whom you live.
Two or three hours a day will now suffice to keep the current accounts
in order, and you will have plenty of surplus time to help the work in
other ways, if you still have the vocation you showed for it six
It was now July, 1838. During the time that had elapsed since his
opening attempt on the boulevard du Mont-Parnasse, Godefroid, eager to
prove himself worthy of his friends, had refrained from asking any
question relating to Baron Bourlac. Not hearing a single word on the
subject, and finding no record of any transaction concerning it in the
accounts, he regarded the silence maintained about the enemy of Madame
de la Chanterie and his family either as a test to which he himself
was subjected, or as a proof that the friends of the noble woman had
in some way avenged her.
Some two months after he had left Madame Vauthier's lodgings he turned
his steps when out for a walk towards the boulevard du Mont-Parnasse,
where he came upon the widow herself, and asked for news of the
"Just as if I knew what has become of them!" she replied. "Two days
after your departure--for it was you, slyboots, who got the affair
away from my proprietor--some men came here and rid me of that
arrogant old fool and all his belongings. Bless me! if they didn't
move everything out within twenty-four hours; and as close as wax they
were too; not a word would they say to me. I think he went off to
Algiers with his rogue of a grandson; for Nepomucene, who had a fancy
for that young thief, being no better himself, couldn't find him at
the Conciergerie. I dare say Nepomucene knows where he is, though, for
he, too, has run away. That's what it is to bring up foundlings!
that's how they reward you for all your trouble, leaving you in the
lurch! I haven't yet been able to get a man in his place, and as the
quarter is looking up the house is full, and I am worked to death."
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