The Lesser Bourgeoisie
Honore de Balzac
Part 4 out of 10
your proxy and will pay him his five hundred francs in the week with
three Thursdays. Then be off with you to Marseilles with these three
thousand francs and your savings in your pocket. If anything happens
to you there, let me know through these gentlemen, and I'll get you
out of the scrape; for, don't you see? I'm not only a Provencal, but
I'm also one of the leading lawyers in Paris, and the friend of the
When the workman found a compatriot sanctioning in a tone of authority
the reasons by which he could betray Cerizet, he capitulated, asking,
however, for three thousand five hundred francs. That demand having
been granted he remarked:--
"It is none too much for a rap over the knuckles; he might put me in
prison for assault."
"Well, you needn't strike unless he insults you," replied la Peyrade,
"and that's self-defence."
When Desroches had assured him that la Peyrade was really a barrister
in good standing, Sauvaignou signed the relinquishment, which
contained a receipt for the amount, principal and interest, of his
claim, made in duplicate between himself and Thuillier, and witnessed
by the two attorneys; so that the paper was a final settlement of the
"We'll leave the remaining fifteen hundred between you," whispered la
Peyrade to Desroches and Godeschal, "on condition that you give me the
relinquishment, which I will have Thuillier accept and sign before his
notary, Cardot. Poor man! he never closed his eyes all night!"
"Very well," replied Desroches. "You may congratulate yourself," he
added, making Sauvaignou sign the paper, "that you've earned that
money pretty easily."
"It is really mine, isn't it, monsieur?" said the Marseillais, already
"Yes, and legally, too," replied Desroches, "only you must let your
man know this morning that you have revoked your proxy under date of
yesterday. Go out through my clerk's office, here, this way."
Desroches told his head-clerk what the man was to do, and he sent a
pupil-clerk with him to see that a sheriff's officer carried the
notice to Cerizet before ten o'clock.
"I thank you, Desroches," said la Peyrade, pressing the attorney's
hand; "you think of everything; I shall never forget this service."
"Don't deposit the deed with Cardot till after twelve o'clock,"
"Hay! comrade," cried the barrister, in Provencal, following
Sauvaignou into the next room, "take your Margot to walk about
Belleville, and be sure you don't go home."
"I hear," said Sauvaignou. "I'm off to-morrow; adieu!"
"Adieu," returned la Peyrade, with a Provencal cry.
"There is something behind all this," said Desroches in an undertone
to Godeschal, as la Peyrade followed Sauvaignou into the clerk's
"The Thuilliers get a splendid piece of property for next to nothing,"
replied Godeschal; "that's all."
"La Peyrade and Cerizet look to me like two divers who are fighting
under water," replied Desroches. "What am I to say to Cerizet, who put
the matter into my hands?" he added, as the barrister returned to
"Tell him that Sauvaignou forced your hand," replied la Peyrade.
"And you fear nothing?" said Desroches, in a sudden manner.
"I? oh no! I want to give Cerizet a lesson."
"To-morrow, I shall know the truth," said Desroches, in a low tone, to
Godeschal; "no one chatters like a beaten man."
La Peyrade departed, carrying with him the deed of relinquishment. At
eleven o'clock he was in the courtroom of the justice-of-peace,
perfectly calm, and firm. When he saw Cerizet come in, pale with rage,
his eyes full of venom, he said in his ear:--
"My dear friend, I'm a pretty good fellow myself, and I hold that
twenty-five thousand francs in good bank-bills at your disposal,
whenever you will return to me those notes of mine which you hold."
Cerizet looked at the advocate of the poor, without being able to say
one word in reply; he was green; the bile had struck in.
THE PERVERSITY OF DOVES
"I am a non-dispossessable property-owner!" cried Thuillier, coming
home after visiting his notary. "No human power can get that house
away from me. Cardot says so."
The bourgeoisie think much more of what their notary tells them than
of what their attorney says. The notary is nearer to them than any
other ministerial officer. The Parisian bourgeois never pays a visit
to his attorney without a sense of fear; whereas he mounts the stairs
with ever-renewed pleasure to see his notary; he admires that
official's virtue and his sound good sense.
"Cardot, who is looking for an apartment for one of his clients, wants
to know about our second floor," continued Thuillier. "If I choose
he'll introduce to me on Sunday a tenant who is ready to sign a lease
for eighteen years at forty thousand francs and taxes! What do you say
to that, Brigitte?"
"Better wait," she replied. "Ah! that dear Theodose, what a fright he
"Hey! my dearest girl, I must tell you that when Cardot asked who put
me in the way of this affair he said I owed him a present of at least
ten thousand francs. The fact is, I owe it all to him."
"But he is the son of the house," responded Brigitte.
"Poor lad! I'll do him the justice to say that he asks for nothing."
"Well, dear, good friend," said la Peyrade, coming in about three
o'clock, "here you are, richissime!"
"And through you, Theodose."
"And you, little aunt, have you come to life again? Ah! you were not
half as frightened as I was. I put your interests before my own; I
haven't breathed freely till this morning at eleven o'clock; and yet I
am sure now of having two mortal enemies at my heels in the two men I
have tricked for your sake. As I walked home, just now, I asked myself
what could be your influence over me to make me commit such a crime,
and whether the happiness of belonging to your family and becoming
your son could ever efface the stain I have put upon my conscience."
"Bah! you can confess it," said Thuillier, the free-thinker.
"And now," said Theodose to Brigitte, "you can pay, in all security,
the cost of the house,--eighty thousand francs, and thirty thousand to
Grindot; in all, with what you have paid in costs, one hundred and
twenty thousand; and this last twenty thousand added make one hundred
and forty thousand. If you let the house outright to a single tenant
ask him for the last year's rent in advance, and reserve for my wife
and me the whole of the first floor above the entresol. Make those
conditions and you'll still get your forty thousand francs a year. If
you should want to leave this quarter so as to be nearer the Chamber,
you can always take up your abode with us on that vast first floor,
which has stables and coach-house belonging to it; in fact, everything
that is needful for a splendid life. And now, Thuillier, I am going to
get the cross of the Legion of honor for you."
Hearing this last promise, Brigitte cried out in her enthusiasm:--
"Faith! my dear boy, you've done our business so well that I'll leave
you to manage that of letting the house."
"Don't abdicate, dear aunt," replied Theodose. "God keep me from ever
taking a step without you! You are the good genius of this family; I
think only of the day when Thuillier will take his seat in the
Chamber. If you let the house you will come into possession of your
forty thousand francs for the last year of the lease in two months
from now; and that will not prevent Thuillier from drawing his
quarterly ten thousand of the rental."
After casting this hope into the mind of the old maid, who was
jubilant, Theodose drew Thuillier into the garden and said to him,
without beating round the bush:--
"Dear, good friend, find means to get ten thousand francs from your
sister, and be sure not to let her suspect that you pay them to me;
tell her that sum is required in the government office to facilitate
your appointment as chevalier of the Legion of honor; tell her, too,
that you know the persons among whom that sum should be distributed."
"That's a good idea," said Thuillier; "besides, I'll pay it back to
her when I get my rents."
"Have the money ready this evening, dear friend. Now I am going out on
business about your cross; to-morrow we shall know something
definitely about it."
"What a man you are!" cried Thuillier.
"The ministry of the 1st of March is going to fall, and we must get it
out of them beforehand," said Theodose, shrewdly.
He now hurried to Madame Colleville, crying out as he entered her
"I've conquered! We shall have a piece of landed property for Celeste
worth a million, a life-interest in which will be given to her by her
marriage-contract; but keep the secret, or your daughter will be
hunted down by peers of France. Besides, this settlement will only be
made in my favor. Now dress yourself, and let us go and call on Madame
du Bruel; she can get the cross for Thuillier. While you are getting
under arms I'll do a little courting to Celeste; you and I can talk as
we drive along."
La Peyrade had seen, as he passed the door of the salon, Celeste and
Felix Phellion in close conversation. Flavie had such confidence in
her daughter that she did not fear to leave them together. Now that
the great success of the morning was secured, Theodose felt the
necessity of beginning his courtship of Celeste. It was high time, he
thought, to bring about a quarrel between the lovers. He did not,
therefore, hesitate to apply his ear to the door of the salon before
entering it, in order to discover what letters of the alphabet of love
they were spelling; he was even invited to commit this domestic
treachery by sounds from within, which seemed to say that they were
disputing. Love, according to one of our poets, is a privilege which
two persons mutually take advantage of to cause each other,
reciprocally, a great deal of sorrow about nothing at all.
When Celeste knew that Felix was elected by her heart to be the
companion of her life, she felt a desire, not so much to study him as
to unite herself closely with him by that communion of souls which is
the basis of all affections, and leads, in youthful minds, to
involuntary examination. The dispute to which Theodose was now to
listen took its rise in a disagreement which had sprung up within the
last few days between the mathematician and Celeste. The young girl's
piety was real; she belonged to the flock of the truly faithful, and
to her, Catholicism, tempered by that mysticism which attracts young
souls, was an inward poem, a life within her life. From this point
young girls are apt to develop into either extremely high-minded women
or saints. But, during this beautiful period of their youth they have
in their heart, in their ideas, a sort of absolutism: before their
eyes is the image of perfection, and all must be celestial, angelic,
or divine to satisfy them. Outside of their ideal, nothing of good can
exist; all is stained and soiled. This idea causes the rejection of
many a diamond with a flaw by girls who, as women, fall in love with
Now, Celeste had seen in Felix, not irreligion, but indifference to
matters of religion. Like most geometricians, chemists,
mathematicians, and great naturalists, he had subjected religion to
reason; he recognized a problem in it as insoluble as the squaring of
the circle. Deist "in petto," he lived in the religion of most
Frenchmen, not attaching more importance to it than he did to the new
laws promulgated in July. It was necessary to have a God in heaven,
just as they set up a bust of the king at the mayor's office. Felix
Phellion, a worthy son of his father, had never drawn the slightest
veil over his opinions or his conscience; he allowed Celeste to read
into them with the candor and the inattention of a student of
problems. The young girl, on her side, professed a horror for atheism,
and her conscience assured her that a deist was cousin-germain to an
"Have you thought, Felix, of doing what you promised me?" asked
Celeste, as soon as Madame Colleville had left them alone.
"No, my dear Celeste," replied Felix.
"Oh! to have broken his word!" she cried, softly.
"But to have kept it would have been a profanation," said Felix. "I
love you so deeply, with a tenderness so little proof against your
wishes, that I promised a thing contrary to my conscience. Conscience,
Celeste, is our treasure, our strength, our mainstay. How can you ask
me to go into a church and kneel at the feet of a priest, in whom I
can see only a man? You would despise me if I obeyed you."
"And so, my dear Felix, you refuse to go to church," said Celeste,
casting a tearful glance at the man she loved. "If I were your wife
you would let me go alone? You do not love me as I love you! for,
alas! I have a feeling in my heart for an atheist contrary to that
which God commands."
"An atheist!" cried Felix. "Oh, no! Listen to me, Celeste. There is
certainly a God; I believe in that; but I have higher ideas of Him
than those of your priests; I do not wish to bring Him down to my
level; I want to rise to Him. I listen to the voice He has put within
me,--a voice which honest men call conscience, and I strive not to
darken that divine ray as it comes to me. For instance, I will never
harm others; I will do nothing against the commandments of universal
morality, which was that of Confucius, Moses, Pythagoras, Socrates, as
well as of Jesus Christ. I will stand in the presence of God; my
actions shall be my prayers; I will never be false in word or deed;
never will I do a base or shameful thing. Those are the precepts I
have learned from my virtuous father, and which I desire to bequeath
to my children. All the good that I can do I shall try to accomplish,
even if I have to suffer for it. What can you ask more of a man than
This profession of the Phellion faith caused Celeste to sadly shake
"Read attentively," she replied, "'The Imitation of Jesus Christ.'
Strive to convert yourself to the holy Catholic, apostolic, and Roman
Church, and you will see how empty your words are. Hear me, Felix;
marriage is not, the Church says, the affair of a day, the mere
satisfaction of our own desires; it is made for eternity. What! shall
we be united day and night, shall we form one flesh, one word, and yet
have two languages, two faiths in our heart, and a cause of perpetual
dissension? Would you condemn me to weep tears over the state of your
soul,--tears that I must ever conceal from you? Could I address myself
in peace to God when I see his arm stretched out in wrath against you?
Must my children inherit the blood of a deist and his convictions? Oh!
God, what misery for a wife! No, no, these ideas are intolerable.
Felix! be of my faith, for I cannot share yours. Do not put a gulf
between us. If you loved me, you would already have read 'The
Imitation of Jesus Christ.'"
The Phellion class, sons of the "Constitutionnel," dislike the
priestly mind. Felix had the imprudence to reply to this sort of
prayer from the depths of an ardent heart:--
"You are repeating, Celeste, the lessons your confessor teaches you;
nothing, believe me, is more fatal to happiness than the interference
of priests in a home."
"Oh!" cried Celeste, wounded to the quick, for love alone inspired
her, "you do not love! The voice of my heart is not in unison with
yours! You have not understood me, because you have not listened to
me; but I forgive you, for you know not what you say."
She wrapped herself in solemn silence, and Felix went to the window
and drummed upon the panes,--music familiar to those who have indulged
in poignant reflections. Felix was, in fact, presenting the following
delicate and curious questions to the Phellion conscience.
"Celeste is a rich heiress, and, in yielding against the voice of
natural religion, to her ideas, I should have in view the making of
what is certainly an advantageous marriage,--an infamous act. I ought
not, as father of a family, to allow the priesthood to have an
influence in my home. If I yield to-day, I do a weak act, which will
be followed by many others equally pernicious to the authority of a
husband and father. All this is unworthy of a philosopher."
Then he returned to his beloved.
"Celeste, I entreat you on my knees," he said, "not to mingle that
which the law, in its wisdom, has separated. We live in two worlds,--
society and heaven. Each has its own way of salvation; but as to
society, is it not obeying God to obey the laws? Christ said: 'Render
unto Caesar that which is Caesar's.' Caesar is the body politic. Dear,
let us forget our little quarrel."
"Little quarrel!" cried the young enthusiast; "I want you to have my
whole heart as I want to have the whole of yours; and you make it into
two parts! Is not that an evil? You forget that marriage is a
"Your priesthood have turned your head," exclaimed the mathematician,
"Monsieur Phellion," said Celeste, interrupting him hastily, "enough
It was at this point of the quarrel that Theodose considered it
judicious to enter the room. He found Celeste pale, and the young
professor as anxious as a lover should be who has just irritated his
"I heard the word 'enough'; then something is too much?" he said,
inquiringly, looking in turn from Celeste to Felix.
"We were talking religion," replied Felix, "and I was saying to
mademoiselle how dangerous ecclesiastical influence is in the bosom of
"That was not the point, monsieur," said Celeste, sharply; "it was to
know if husband and wife could be of one heart when the one is an
atheist and the other Catholic."
"Can there be such a thing as atheists?" cried Theodose, with all the
signs of extreme wonderment. "Could a true Catholic marry a
Protestant? There is no safety possible for a married pair unless they
have perfect conformity in the matter of religious opinions. I, who
come from the Comtat, of a family which counts a pope among its
ancestors--for our arms are: gules, a key argent, with supporters, a
monk holding a church, and a pilgrim with a staff, or, and the motto,
'I open, I shut'--I am, of course, intensely dogmatic on such points.
But in these days, thanks to our modern system of education, it does
not seem to me strange that religion should be called into question. I
myself would never marry a Protestant, had she millions, even if I
loved her distractedly. Faith is a thing that cannot be tampered with.
'Una fides, unus Dominus,' that is my device in life."
"You hear that!" cried Celeste, triumphantly, looking at Felix
"I am not openly devout," continued la Peyrade. "I go to mass at six
every morning, that I may not be observed; I fast on Fridays; I am, in
short, a son of the Church, and I would not undertake any serious
enterprise without prayer, after the ancient fashion of our ancestors;
but no one is able to notice my religion. A singular thing happened to
our family during the Revolution of 1789, which attached us more
closely than ever to our holy mother the Church. A poor young lady of
the elder branch of the Peyrades, who owned the little estate of la
Peyrade,--for we ourselves are Peyrades of Canquoelle, but the two
branches inherit from one another,--well, this young lady married, six
years before the Revolution, a barrister who, after the fashion of the
times, was Voltairean, that is to say, an unbeliever, or, if you
choose, a deist. He took up all the revolutionary ideas, and practised
the charming rites that you know of in the worship of the goddess
Reason. He came into our part of the country imbued with the ideas of
the Convention, and fanatical about them. His wife was very handsome;
he compelled her to play the part of Liberty; and the poor unfortunate
creature went mad. She died insane! Well, as things are going now it
looks as if we might have another 1793."
This history, invented on the spot, made such an impression on
Celeste's fresh and youthful imagination that she rose, bowed to the
young men and hastened to her chamber.
"Ah! monsieur, why did you tell her that?" cried Felix, struck to the
heart by the cold look the young girl, affecting profound
indifference, cast upon him. She fancied herself transformed into a
goddess of Reason.
"Why not? What were you talking about?" asked Theodose.
"About my indifference to religion."
"The great sore of this century," replied Theodose, gravely.
"I am ready," said Madame Colleville, appearing in a toilet of much
taste. "But what is the matter with my poor daughter? She is crying!"
"Crying? madame," exclaimed Felix; "please tell her that I will study
'The Imitation of Christ' at once."
Felix left the house with Theodose and Flavie, whose arm the barrister
pressed to let her know he would explain in the carriage the apparent
dementia of the young professor.
An hour later, Madame Colleville and Celeste, Colleville and Theodose
were entering the Thuilliers' apartment to dine there. Theodose and
Flavie took Thuillier into the garden, where the former said to him:--
"Dear, good friend! you will have the cross within a week. Our
charming friend here will tell you about our visit to the Comtesse du
And Theodose left Thuillier, having caught sight of Desroches in the
act of being brought by Mademoiselle Thuillier into the garden; he
went, driven by a terrible and glacial presentiment, to meet him.
"My good friend," said Desroches in his ear, "I have come to see if
you can procure at once twenty-five thousand francs plus two thousand
six hundred and eighty for costs."
"Are you acting for Cerizet?" asked the barrister.
"Cerizet has put all the papers into the hands of Louchard, and you
know what you have to expect if arrested. Is Cerizet wrong in thinking
you have twenty-five thousand francs in your desk? He says you offered
them to him and he thinks it only natural not to leave them in your
"Thank you for taking the step, my good friend," replied Theodose. "I
have been expecting this attack."
"Between ourselves," replied Desroches, "you have made an utter fool
of him, and he is furious. The scamp will stop at nothing to get his
revenge upon you--for he'll lose everything if he forces you to fling
your barrister's gown, as they say, to the nettles and go to prison."
"I?" said Theodose. "I'm going to pay him. But even so, there will
still be five notes of mine in his hands, for five thousand francs
each; what does he mean to do with them?"
"Oh! after the affair of this morning, I can't tell you; my client is
a crafty, mangy cur, and he is sure to have his little plans."
"Look here, Desroches," said Theodose, taking the hard, unyielding
attorney round the waist, "those papers are in your hands, are not
"Will you pay them?"
"Yes, in three hours."
"Very good, then. Be at my office at nine o'clock; I'll receive the
money and give you your notes; BUT, at half-past nine o'clock, they
will be in the sheriff's hands."
"To-night, then, at nine o'clock," said Theodose.
"Nine o'clock," repeated Desroches, whose glance had taken in the
whole family, then assembled in the garden.
Celeste, with red eyes, was talking to her godmother; Colleville and
Brigitte, Flavie and Thuillier were on the steps of the broad portico
leading to the entrance-hall. Desroches remarked to Theodose, who
followed him to the door:--
"You can pay off those notes."
At a single glance the shrewd attorney had comprehended the whole
scheme of the barrister.
ONE OF CERIZET'S FEMALE CLIENTS
The next morning, at daybreak, Theodose went to the office of the
banker of the poor, to see the effect produced upon his enemy by the
punctual payment of the night before, and to make another effort to
get rid of his hornet.
He found Cerizet standing up, in conference with a woman, and he
received an imperative sign to keep at a distance and not to interrupt
the interview. The barrister was therefore reduced to conjectures as
to the importance of this woman, an importance revealed by the eager
look on the face of the lender "by the little week." Theodose had a
presentiment, though a very vague one, that the upshot of this
conference would have some influence on Cerizet's own arrangements,
for he suddenly beheld on that crafty countenance the change produced
by a dawning hope.
"But, my dear mamma Cardinal--"
"Yes, my good monsieur--"
"What is it you want--?"
"It must be decided--"
These beginnings, or these ends of sentences were the only gleams of
light that the animated conversation, carried on in the lowest tones
with lip to ear and ear to lip, conveyed to the motionless witness,
whose attention was fixed on Madame Cardinal.
Madame Cardinal was one of Cerizet's earliest clients; she peddled
fish. If Parisians know these creations peculiar to their soil,
foreigners have no suspicion of their existence; and Mere Cardinal--
technologically speaking, of course, deserved all the interest she
excited in Theodose. So many women of her species may be met with in
the streets that the passers-by give them no more attention than they
give to the three thousand pictures of the Salon. But as she stood in
Cerizet's office the Cardinal had all the value of an isolated
masterpiece; she was a complete and perfect type of her species.
The woman was mounted on muddy sabots; but her feet, carefully wrapped
in gaiters, were still further protected by stout and thick-ribbed
stockings. Her cotton gown, adorned with a glounce of mud, bore the
imprint of the strap which supported the fish-basket. Her principal
garment was a shawl of what was called "rabbit's-hair cashmere," the
two ends of which were knotted behind, above her bustle--for we must
needs employ a fashionable word to express the effect produced by the
transversal pressure of the basket upon her petticoats, which
projected below it, in shape like a cabbage. A printed cotton
neckerchief, of the coarsest description, gave to view a red neck,
ribbed and lined like the surface of a pond where people have skated.
Her head was covered in a yellow silk foulard, twined in a manner that
was rather picturesque. Short and stout, and ruddy of skin, Mere
Cardinal probably drank her little drop of brandy in the morning. She
had once been handsome. The Halle had formerly reproached her, in the
boldness of its figurative speech, for doing "a double day's-work in
the twenty-four." Her voice, in order to reduce itself to the diapason
of ordinary conversation, was obliged to stifle its sound as other
voices do in a sick-room; but at such times it came thick and muffled,
from a throat accustomed to send to the farthest recesses of the
highest garret the names of the fish in their season. Her nose, a la
Roxelane, her well-cut lips, her blue eyes, and all that formerly made
up her beauty, was now buried in folds of vigorous flesh which told of
the habits and occupations of an outdoor life. The stomach and bosom
were distinguished for an amplitude worthy of Rubens.
"Do you want to make me lie in the straw?" she said to Cerizet. "What
do I care for the Toupilliers? Ain't I a Toupillier myself? What do
you want to do with them, those Toupilliers?"
This savage outburst was hastily repressed by Cerizet, who uttered a
prolonged "Hush-sh!" such as all conspirators obey.
"Well, go and find out all you can about it, and come back to me,"
said Cerizet, pushing the woman toward the door, and whispering, as he
did so, a few words in her ear.
"Well, my dear friend," said Theodose to Cerizet, "you have got your
"Yes," returned Cerizet "we have measured our claws, they are the same
length, the same strength, and the same sharpness. What next?"
"Am I to tell Dutocq that you received, last night, twenty-five
"Oh! my dear friend, not a word, if you love me!" cried Cerizet.
"Listen," said Theodose. "I must know, once for all, what you want. I
am positively determined not to remain twenty-four hours longer on the
gridiron where you have got me. Cheat Dutocq if you will; I am utterly
indifferent to that; but I intend that you and I shall come to an
understanding. It is a fortune that I have paid you, twenty-five
thousand francs, and you must have earned ten thousand more in your
business; it is enough to make you an honest man. Cerizet, if you will
leave me in peace, if you won't prevent my marriage with Mademoiselle
Colleville, I shall certainly be king's attorney-general, or something
of that kind in Paris. You can't do better than make sure of an
influence in that sphere."
"Here are my conditions; and they won't allow of discussion; you can
take them or leave them. You will obtain for me the lease of
Thuillier's new house for eighteen years, and I'll hand you back one
of your five notes cancelled, and you shall not find me any longer in
your way. But you will have to settle with Dutocq for the remaining
four notes. You got the better of ME, and I know Dutocq hasn't the
force to stand against you."
"I'll agree to that, provided you'll pay a rent of forty-eight
thousand francs for the house, the last year in advance, and begin the
lease in October."
"Yes; but I shall not give for the last year's rent more than forty-
three thousand francs; your note will pay the remainder. I have seen
the house, and examined it. It suits me very well."
"One last condition," said Theodose; "you'll help me against Dutocq?"
"No," said Cerizet, "you'll cook him brown yourself; he doesn't need
any basting from me; he'll give out his gravy fast enough. But you
ought to be reasonable. The poor fellow can't pay off the last fifteen
thousand francs due on his practice, and you should reflect that
fifteen thousand francs would certainly buy back your notes."
"Well; give me two weeks to get your lease--"
"No, not a day later than Monday next! Tuesday your notes will be in
Louchard's hands; unless you pay them Monday, or Thuillier signs the
"Well, Monday, so be it!" said Theodose; "are we friends?"
"We shall be Monday," responded Cerizet.
"Well, then, Monday you'll pay for my dinner," said Theodose,
"Yes, at the Rocher de Cancale, if I have the lease. Dutocq shall be
there--we'll all be there--ah! it is long since I've had a good
Theodose and Cerizet shook hands, saying, reciprocally:--
"We'll meet soon."
Cerizet had not calmed down so suddenly without reasons. In the first
place, as Desroches once said, "Bile does not facilitate business,"
and the usurer had too well seen the justice of that remark not to
coolly resolve to get something out of his position, and to squeeze
the jugular vein of the crafty Provencal until he strangled him.
"It is a fair revenge," Desroches said to him; "mind you extract its
quintessence. You hold that fellow."
For ten years past Cerizet had seen men growing rich by practising the
trade of principal tenant. The principal tenant is, in Paris, to the
owners of houses what farmers are to country landlords. All Paris has
seen one of its great tailors, building at his own cost, on the famous
site of Frascati, one of the most sumptuous of houses, and paying, as
principal tenant, fifty thousand francs a year for the ground rent of
the house, which, at the end of nineteen years' lease, was to become
the property of the owner of the land. In spite of the costs of
construction, which were something like seven hundred thousand francs,
the profits of those nineteen years proved, in the end, very large.
Cerizet, always on the watch for business, had examined the chances
for gain offered by the situation of the house which Thuillier had
STOLEN,--as he said to Desroches,--and he had seen the possibility of
letting it for sixty thousand at the end of six years. There were four
shops, two on each side, for it stood on a boulevard corner. Cerizet
expected, therefore, to get clear ten thousand a year for a dozen
years, allowing for eventualities and sundries attendant on renewal of
leases. He therefore proposed to himself to sell his money-lending
business to the widow Poiret and Cadenet for ten thousand francs; he
already possessed thirty thousand; and the two together would enable
him to pay the last year's rent in advance, which house-owners in
Paris usually demand as a guarantee from a principal tenant on a long
lease. Cerizet had spent a happy night; he fell asleep in a glorious
dream; he saw himself in a fair way to do an honest business, and to
become a bourgeois like Thuillier, like Minard, and so many others.
But he had a waking of which he did not dream. He found Fortune
standing before him, and emptying her gilded horns of plenty at his
feet in the person of Madame Cardinal. He had always had a liking for
the woman, and had promised her for a year past the necessary sum to
buy a donkey and a little cart, so that she could carry on her
business on a large scale, and go from Paris to the suburbs. Madame
Cardinal, widow of a porter in the corn-market, had an only daughter,
whose beauty Cerizet had heard of from some of the mother's cronies.
Olympe Cardinal was about thirteen years of age at the time, 1837,
when Cerizet began his system of loans in the quarter; and with a view
to an infamous libertinism, he had paid great attention to the mother,
whom he rescued from utter misery, hoping to make Olympe his mistress.
But suddenly, in 1838, the girl left her mother, and "made her life,"
to use an expression by which the lower classes in Paris describe the
abuse of the most precious gifts of nature and youth.
To look for a girl in Paris is to look for a smelt in the Seine;
nothing but chance can throw her into the net. The chance came. Mere
Cardinal, who to entertain a neighbor had taken her to the Bobino
theatre, recognized in the leading lady her own daughter, whom the
first comedian had held under his control for three years. The mother,
gratified at first at beholding her daughter in a fine gown of gold
brocade, her hair dressed like that of a duchess, and wearing open-
worked stockings, satin shoes, and receiving the plaudits of the
audience, ended by screaming out from her seat in the gallery:--
"You shall soon hear of me, murderer of your own mother! I'll know
whether miserable strolling-players have the right to come and debauch
young girls of sixteen!"
She waited at the stage-door to capture her daughter, but the first
comedian and the leading lady had no doubt jumped across the
footlights and left the theatre with the audience, instead of issuing
by the stage-door, where Madame Cardinal and her crony, Mere
Mahoudeau, made an infernal rumpus, which two municipal guards were
called upon to pacify. Those august personages, before whom the two
women lowered the diapason of their voices, called the mother's
attention to the fact that the girl was of legitimate theatrical age,
and that instead of screaming at the door after the director, she
could summon him before the justice-of-peace, or the police-court,
whichever she pleased.
The next day Madame Cardinal intended to consult Cerizet, in view of
the fact that he was a clerk in the office of the justice-of-peace;
but, before reaching his lair in the rue des Poules, she was met by
the porter of a house in which an uncle of hers, a certain Toupillier,
was living, who told her that the old man hadn't probably two days to
live, being then in the last extremity.
"Well, how do you expect me to help it?" replied the widow Cardinal.
"We count on you, my dear Madame Cardinal; we know you won't forget
the good advice we'll give you. Here's the thing. Lately, your poor
uncle, not being able to stir round, has trusted me to go and collect
the rents of his house, rue Notre-Dame de Nazareth, and the arrears of
his dividends at the Treasury, which come to eighteen hundred francs."
By this time the widow Cardinal's eyes were becoming fixed instead of
"Yes, my dear," continued Perrache, a hump-backed little concierge;
"and, seeing that you are the only person who ever thinks about him,
and that you come and see him sometimes, and bring him fish, perhaps
he may make a bequest in your favor. My wife, who has been nursing him
for the last few days since he has been so ill, spoke to him of you,
but he wouldn't have you told about his illness. But now, don't you
see, it is high time you should show yourself there. It is pretty nigh
two months since he has been able to attend to business."
"You may well think, you old thief," replied Madame Cardinal, hurrying
at top speed toward the rue Honore-Chevalier, where her uncle lived in
a wretched garret, "that the hair would grow on my hand before I could
ever imagine that. What! my uncle Toupillier rich! the old pauper of
the church of Saint-Sulpice!"
"Ah!" returned the porter, "but he fed well. He went to bed every
night with his best friend, a big bottle of Roussillon. My wife has
tasted it, though he told us it was common stuff. The wine-merchant in
the rue des Canettes supplies it to him."
"Don't say a word about all this," said the widow, when she parted
from the man who had given her the information. "I'll take care and
remember you--if anything comes of it."
Toupillier, former drum-major in the French Guards, had been for the
two years preceding 1789 in the service of the Church as beadle of
Saint-Sulpice. The Revolution deprived him of that post, and he then
dropped down into a state of abject misery. He was even obliged to
take to the profession of model, for he ENJOYED, as they say, a fine
physique. When public worship was restored, he took up his beadle's
staff once more; but in 1816 he was dismissed, as much on account of
his immorality as for his political opinions. Nevertheless, he was
allowed to stay about the door of the church and distribute the holy
water. Later, an unfortunate affair, which we shall presently mention,
made him lose even that position; but, still finding means to keep to
the sanctuary, he obtained permission to be allowed as a pauper in the
porch. At this period of life, being then seventy-two years of age, he
made himself ninety-six, and began the profession of centenarian.
In all Paris it was impossible to find another such beard and head of
hair as Toupillier's. As he walked he appeared bent double; he held a
stick in his shaking hand,--a hand that was covered with lichen, like
a granite rock, and with the other he held out the classic hat with a
broad brim, filthy and battered, into which, however, there fell
abundant alms. His legs were swathed in rags and bandages, and his
feet shuffled along in miserable overshoes of woven mat-weed, inside
of which he had fastened excellent cork soles. He washed his face with
certain compounds, which gave it an appearance of forms of illness,
and he played the senility of a centenarian to the life. He reckoned
himself a hundred years old in 1830, at which time his actual age was
eighty; he was the head of the paupers of Saint-Sulpice, the master of
the place, and all those who came to beg under the arcades of the
church, safe from the persecutions of the police and beneath the
protection of the beadle and the giver of holy water, were forced to
pay him a sort of tithe.
When a new heir, a bridegroom, or some godfather left the church,
saying, "Here, this is for all of you; don't torment any of my party,"
Toupillier, appointed by the beadle to receive these alms, pocketed
three-fourths, and distributed only the remaining quarter among his
henchmen, whose tribute amounted to a sou a day. Money and wine were
his last two passions; but he regulated the latter and gave himself up
to the former, with neglecting his personal comfort. He drank at night
only, after his dinner, and for twenty years he slept in the arms of
drunkenness, his last mistress.
In the early morning he was at his post with all his faculties. From
then until his dinner, which he took at Pere Lathuile's (made famous
by Charlet), he gnawed crusts of bread by way of nourishment; and he
gnawed them artistically, with an air of resignation which earned him
abundant alms. The beadle and the giver of holy water, with whom he
may have had some private understanding, would say of him:--
"He is one of the worthy poor of the church; he used to know the
rector Languet, who built Saint-Sulpice; he was for twenty years
beadle of the church before the Revolution, and he is now over a
hundred years old."
This little biography, well known to all the pious attendants of the
church, was, of course, the best of his advertisements, and no hat was
so well lined as his. He bought his house in 1826, and began to invest
his money in the Funds in 1830. From the value of the two investments
he must have made something like six thousand francs a year, and
probably turned them over by usury, after Cerizet's own fashion; for
the sum he paid for the house was forty thousand francs, while his
investment in 1830 was forty-eight thousand more. His niece, deceived
by the old man as much as he deceived the functionaries and the pious
souls of the church, believed him the most miserable of paupers, and
when she had any fish that were spoiling she sometimes took them to
the aged beggar.
Consequently, she now felt it her right to get what she could in
return for her pity and her liberality to an uncle who was likely to
have a crowd of collateral heirs; she herself being the third and last
Toupillier daughter. She had four brothers, and her father, a porter
with a hand-cart, had told her, in her childhood, of three aunts and
four uncles, who all led an existence of the baser sort.
After inspecting the sick man, she went, at full speed, to consult
Cerizet, telling him, in the first place, how she had found her
daughter, and then the reasons and indications which made her think
that her uncle Toupillier was hoarding a pile of gold in his mattress.
Mere Cardinal did not feel herself strong enough to seize upon the
property, legally or illegally, and she therefore came to confide in
Cerizet and get his advice.
So, then, the banker of the poor, like other scavengers, had, at last,
found diamonds in the slime in which he had paddled for the last four
years, being always on the watch for some such chance,--a chance, they
say, occasionally met with in the purlieus, which give birth to
heiresses in sabots. This was the secret of his unexpected gentleness
to la Peyrade, the man whose ruin he had vowed. It is easy to imagine
the anxiety with which he awaited the return of Madame Cardinal, to
whom this wily schemer of nefarious plots had given means to verify
her suspicions as to the existence of the hoarded treasure, promising
her complete success if she would trust him to obtain for her so rich
a harvest. He was not the man to shrink from a crime, above all, when
he saw that others could commit it, while he obtained the benefits.
"Well, monsieur," cried the fishwife, entering Cerizet's den with a
face as much inflamed by cupidity as by the haste of her movements,
"my uncle sleeps on more than a hundred thousand francs in gold, and I
am certain that those Perraches, by dint of nursing him, have smelt
"Shared among forty heirs that won't be much to each," said Cerizet.
"Listen to me, Mere Cardinal: I'll marry your daughter; give her your
uncle's gold, and I'll guarantee to you a life-interest in the house
and the dividends from the money in the Funds."
"We sha'n't run any risk?"
"Agreed, then," said the widow Cardinal, holding out her hand to her
future son-in-law. "Six thousand francs a year; hey! what a fine life
"With a son-in-law like me!" added Cerizet.
"I shall be a bourgeoisie of Paris!"
"Now," resumed Cerizet, after a pause, "I must study the ground. Don't
leave your uncle alone a minute; tell the Perraches that you expect a
doctor. I'll be the doctor, and when I get there you must seem not to
"Aren't you sly, you old rogue," said Madame Cardinal, with a punch on
Cerizet's stomach by way of farewell.
An hour later, Cerizet, dressed in black, disguised by a rusty wig and
an artificially painted physiognomy, arrived at the house in the rue
Honore-Chevalier in the regulation cabriolet. He asked the porter to
tell him how to find the lodging of an old beggar named Toupillier.
"Is monsieur the doctor whom Madame Cardinal expects?" asked Perrache.
Cerizet had no doubt reflected on the gravity of the affair he was
undertaking, for he avoided giving an answer to that question.
"Is this the way?" he said, turning at random to one side of the
"No, monsieur," replied Perrache, who then took him to the back stairs
of the house, which led up to the wretched attic occupied by the
Nothing remained for the inquisitive porter to do but to question the
driver of the cabriolet; to which employment we will leave him, while
we pursue our own inquiries elsewhere.
THE DIFFICULTIES THAT CROP UP IN THE EASIEST OF THEFTS
The house in which Toupillier lived is one of those which have lost
half their depth, owing to the straightening of the line of the
street, the rue Honore-Chevalier being one of the narrowest in the
Saint-Sulpice quarter. The owner, forbidden by the law to repair it,
or to add new storeys, was compelled to let the wretched building in
the condition in which he bought it. It consisted of a first storey
above the ground-floor, surmounted by garrets, with two small wings
running back on either side. The courtyard thus formed ended in a
garden planted with trees, which was always rented to the occupant of
the first floor. This garden, separated by an iron railing from the
courtyard, would have allowed a rich owner to sell the front buildings
to the city, and to build a new house upon the courtyard; but the
whole of the first floor was let on an eighteen years' lease to a
mysterious personage, about whom neither the official policing of the
concierge nor the curiosity of the other tenants could find anything
This tenant, now seventy years of age, had built, in 1829, an outer
stairway, leading from the right wing of the first floor to the
garden, so that he could get there without going through the
courtyard. Half the ground-floor was occupied by a book-stitcher, who
for the last ten years had used the stable and coach-house for
workshops. A book-binder occupied the other half. The binder and the
stitcher lived, each of them, in half the garret rooms over the front
building on the street. The garrets above the rear wings were
occupied, the one on the right by the mysterious tenant, the one on
the left by Toupillier, who paid a hundred francs a year for it, and
reached it by a dark staircase, lighted by small round windows. The
porte-cochere was made in the circular form indispensable in a street
so narrow that two carriages cannot pass in it.
Cerizet laid hold of the rope which served as a baluster, to climb the
species of ladder leading to the room where the so-called beggar was
dying,--a room in which the odious spectacle of pretended pauperism
was being played. In Paris, everything that is done for a purpose is
thoroughly done. Would-be paupers are as clever at mounting their
disguise as shopkeepers in preparing their show-windows, or sham rich
men in obtaining credit.
The floor had never been swept; the bricks had disappeared beneath
layers of dirt, dust, dried mud, and any and every thing thrown down
by Toupillier. A miserable stove of cast-iron, the pipe of which
entered a crumbling chimney, was the most apparent piece of furniture
in this hovel. In an alcove stood a bed, with tester and valence of
green serge, which the moths had transformed into lace. The window,
almost useless, had a heavy coating of grease upon its panes, which
dispensed with the necessity of curtains. The whitewashed walls
presented to the eye fuliginous tones, due to the wood and peat burned
by the pauper in his stove. On the fireplace were a broken water-
pitcher, two bottles, and a cracked plate. A worm-eaten chest of
drawers contained his linen and decent clothes. The rest of the
furniture consisted of a night-table of the commonest description,
another table, worth about forty sous, and two kitchen chairs with the
straw seats almost gone. The extremely picturesque costume of the
centenarian pauper was hanging from a nail, and below it, on the
floor, were the shapeless mat-weed coverings that served him for
shoes, the whole forming, with his amorphous old hat and knotty stick,
a sort of panoply of misery.
As he entered, Cerizet gave a rapid glance at the old man, whose head
lay on a pillow brown with grease and without a pillow-case; his
angular profile, like those which engravers of the last century were
fond of making out of rocks in the landscapes they engraved, was
strongly defined in black against the green serge hangings of the
tester. Toupillier, a man nearly six feet tall, was looking fixedly at
some object at the foot of his bed; he did not move on hearing the
groaning of the heavy door, which, being armed with iron bolts and a
strong lock, closed his domicile securely.
"Is he conscious?" said Cerizet, before whom Madame Cardinal started
back, not having recognized him till he spoke.
"Pretty nearly," she replied.
"Come out on the staircase, so that he doesn't hear us," whispered
Cerizet. "This is how we'll manage it," he continued, in the ear of
his future mother-in-law. "He is weak, but he isn't so very low; we
have fully a week before us. I'll send you a doctor who'll suit us,--
you understand? and later in the evening I'll bring you six poppy-
heads. In the state he's in, you see, a decoction of poppy-heads will
send him into a sound sleep. I'll send you a cot-bed on pretence of
your sleeping in the room with him. We'll move him from one bed to the
other, and when we've found the money there won't be any difficulty in
carrying it off. But we ought to know who the people are who live in
this old barrack. If Perrache suspects, as you think, about the money,
he might give an alarm, and so many tenants, so many spies, you
"Oh! as for that," said Madame Cardinal, "I've found out already that
Monsieur du Portail, the old man who occupies the first floor, has
charge of an insane woman; I heard their Dutch servant-woman, Katte,
calling her Lydie this morning. The only other servant is an old valet
named Bruneau; he does everything, except cook."
"But the binder and the stitcher down below," returned Cerizet, "they
begin work very early in the morning--Well, anyhow, we must study the
matter," he added, in the tone of a man whose plans are not yet
decided. "I'll go to the mayor's office of your arrondissement, and
get Olympe's register of birth, and put up the banns. The marriage
must take place a week from Saturday."
"How he goes it, the rascal!" cried the admiring Madame Cardinal,
pushing her formidable son-in-law by the shoulder.
As he went downstairs Cerizet was surprised to see, through one of the
small round windows, an old man, evidently du Portail, walking in the
garden with a very important member of the government, Comte Martial
de la Roche-Hugon. He stopped in the courtyard when he reached it, as
if to examine the old house, built in the reign of Louis XIV., the
yellow walls of which, though of freestone, were bent like the elderly
beggar they contained. Then he looked at the workshops, and counted
the workmen. The house was otherwise as silent as a cloister. Being
observed himself, Cerizet departed, thinking over in his mind the
various difficulties that might arise in extracting the sum hidden
beneath the dying man.
"Carry off all that gold at night?" he said to himself; "why, those
porters will be on the watch, and twenty persons might see us! It is
hard work to carry even twenty-five thousand francs of gold on one's
Societies have two goals of perfection; the first is a state of
civilization in which morality equally infused and pervasive does not
admit even the idea of crime; the Jesuits reached that point, formerly
presented by the primitive Church. The second is the state of another
civilization in which the supervision of citizens over one another
makes crime impossible. The end which modern society has placed before
itself is the latter; namely, that in which a crime presents such
difficulties that a man must abandon all reasoning in order to commit
it. In fact, iniquities which the law cannot reach are not left
actually unpunished, for social judgment is even more severe than that
of courts. If a man like Minoret, the post-master at Nemours [see
"Ursule Mirouet"] suppresses a will and no one witnesses the act, the
crime is traced home to him by the watchfulness of virtue as surely as
a robbery is followed up by the detective police. No wrong-doing
passes actually unperceived; and wherever a lesion in rectitude takes
place the scar remains. Things can be no more made to disappear than
men; so carefully, in Paris especially, are articles and objects
ticketed and numbered, houses watched, streets observed, places spied
upon. To live at ease, crime must have a sanction like that of the
Bourse; like that conceded by Cerizet's clients; who never complained
of his usury, and, indeed, would have been troubled in mind if their
flayer were not in his den of a Tuesday.
"Well, my dear monsieur," said Madame Perrache, the porter's wife, as
he passed her lodge, "how do you find him, that friend of God, that
"I am not the doctor," replied Cerizet, who now decidedly declined
that role. "I am Madame Cardinal's business man. I have just advised
her to have a cot-bed put up, so as to nurse her uncle night and day;
though, perhaps, she will have to get a regular nurse."
"I can help her," said Madame Perrache. "I nurse women in childbed."
"Well, we'll see about it," said Cerizet; "I'll arrange all that. Who
is the tenant on your first floor?"
"Monsieur du Portail. He has lodged here these thirty years. He is a
man with a good income, monsieur; highly respectable, and elderly. You
know people who invest in the Funds live on their incomes. He used to
be in business. But it is more than eleven years now since he has been
trying to restore the reason of a daughter of one of his friends,
Mademoiselle Lydie de la Peyrade. She has the best advice, I can tell
you; the very first doctors in Paris; only this morning they had a
consultation. But so far nothing has cured her; and they have to watch
her pretty close; for sometimes she gets up and walks at night--"
"Mademoiselle Lydie de la Peyrade!" exclaimed Cerizet; "are you sure
of the name?"
"I've heard Madame Katte, her nurse, who also does the cooking, call
her so a thousand times, monsieur; though, generally, neither Monsieur
Bruneau, the valet, nor Madame Katte say much. It's like talking to
the wall to try and get any information out of them. We have been
porters here these twenty years and we've never found out anything
about Monsieur du Portail yet. More than that, monsieur, he owns the
little house alongside; you see the double door from here. Well, he
can go out that way and receive his company too, and we know nothing
about it. Our owner doesn't know anything more than we do; when people
ring at that door, Monsieur Bruneau goes and opens it."
"Then you didn't see the gentleman who is talking with him in the
garden go by this way?"
"Bless me! no, that I didn't!"
"Ah!" thought Cerizet as he got into the cabriolet, "she must be the
daughter of that uncle of Theodose. I wonder if du Portail can be the
secret benefactor who sent money from time to time to that rascal?
Suppose I send an anonymous letter to the old fellow, warning him of
the danger the barrister runs from those notes for twenty-five
An hour later the cot-bed had arrived for Madame Cardinal, to whom the
inquisitive portress offered her services to bring her something to
"Do you want to see the rector?" Madame Cardinal inquired of her
She had noticed that the arrival of the bed seemed to draw him from
"I want wine!" replied the pauper.
"How do you feel now, Pere Toupillier?" asked Madame Perrache, in a
"I tell you I want wine," repeated the old man, with an energetic
insistence scarcely to be expected of his feebleness.
"We must first find out if it is good for you, uncle," said Madame
Cardinal, soothingly. "Wait till the doctor comes."
"Doctor! I won't have a doctor!" cried Toupillier; "and you, what are
you doing here? I don't want anybody."
"My good uncle, I came to know if you'd like something tasty. I've got
some nice fresh soles--hey! a bit of fried sole, with a squeeze of
lemon on it?"
"Your fish, indeed!" cried Toupillier; "all rotten! That last you
brought me, more than six weeks ago, it is there in the cupboard; you
can take it away with you."
"Heavens! how ungrateful sick men are!" whispered the widow Cardinal
Nevertheless, to exhibit solicitude, she arranged the pillow under the
patient's head, saying:--
"There! uncle, don't you feel better like that?"
"Let me alone!" shouted Toupillier, angrily; "I want no one here; I
want wine; leave me in peace."
"Don't get angry, little uncle; we'll fetch you some wine."
"Number six wine, rue des Canettes," cried the pauper.
"Yes, I know," replied Madame Cardinal; "but let me count out my
coppers. I want to get something better for you than that kind of
wine; for, don't you see, an uncle, he's a kind of father, and one
shouldn't mind what one does for him."
So saying, she sat down, with her legs apart, on one of the
dilapidated chairs, and poured into her apron the contents of her
pockets, namely: a knife, her snuff-box, two pawn-tickets, some crusts
of bread, and a handful of copper, from which she extracted a few
This exhibition, intended to prove her generous and eager devotion,
had no result. Toupillier seemed not to notice it. Exhausted by the
feverish energy with which he had demanded his favorite remedy, he
made an effort to change his position, and, with his back turned to
his two nurses, he again muttered: "Wine! wine!" after which nothing
more was heard of him but a stentorous breathing, that plainly showed
the state of his lungs, which were beginning to congest.
"I suppose I must go and fetch his wine!" said the Cardinal, restoring
to her pockets, with some ill-humor, the cargo she had just pulled out
"If you don't want to go--" began Madame Perrache, always ready to
offer her services.
The fishwife hesitated for a moment; then, reflecting that something
might be got out of a conversation with the wine-merchant, and sure,
moreover, that as long as Toupillier lay on his gold she could safely
leave him alone with the portress, she said:--
"Thank you, Madame Perrache, but I'd better make acquaintance with his
Then, having spied behind the night-table a dirty bottle which might
hold about two quarts,--
"Did he say the rue des Canelles?" she inquired of the portress.
"Corner of the rue Guisarde," replied Madame Perrache. "Monsieur
Legrelu, a tall, fine man with big whiskers and no hair." Then,
lowering her voice, she added: "His number-six wine, you know, is
Roussillon, and the best, too. However, the wine-merchant knows; it is
enough if you tell him you have come from his customer, the pauper of
"No need to tell me anything twice," said the Cardinal, opening the
door and making, as they say, a false exit. "Ah ca!" she said, coming
back; "what does he burn in his stove, supposing I want to heat some
remedy for him?"
"Goodness!" said the portress, "he doesn't make much provision for
winter, and here we are in the middle of summer!"
"And not a saucepan! not a pot, even! Gracious! what a way to live.
I'll have to fetch him some provisions; I hope nobody will see the
things I bring back; I'd be ashamed they should--"
"I'll lend you a hand-bag," said the portress, always ready and
"No, I'll buy a basket," replied the fishwife, more anxious about what
she expected to carry away than what she was about to bring home to
the pauper. "There must be some Auvergnat in the neighborhood who
sells wood," she added.
"Corner of the rue Ferou; you'll find one there. A fine establishment,
with logs of wood painted in a kind of an arcade all round the shop--
so like, you'd think they were going to speak to you."
Before going finally off, Madame Cardinal went through a piece of very
deep hypocrisy. We have seen how she hesitated about leaving the
portress alone with the sick man:--
"Madame Perrache," she said to her, "you won't leave him, the poor
darling, will you, till I get back?"
It may have been noticed that Cerizet had not decided on any definite
course of action in the new affair he was now undertaking. The part of
doctor, which for a moment he thought of assuming, frightened him, and
he gave himself out, as we have seen, to Madame Perrache as the
business agent of his accomplice. Once alone, he began to see that his
original idea complicated with a doctor, a nurse, and a notary,
presented the most serious difficulties. A regular will drawn in favor
of Madame Cardinal was not a thing to be improvised in a moment. It
would take some time to acclimatize the idea in the surly and
suspicious mind of the old pauper, and death, which was close at hand,
might play them a trick at any moment, and balk the most careful
It was true that unless a will were made the income of eight thousand
francs on the Grand Livre and the house in the rue Notre-Dame de
Nazareth would go to the heirs-at-law, and Madame Cardinal would get
only her share of the property; but the abandonment of this visible
portion of the inheritance was the surest means of laying hands on the
invisible part of it. Besides, if the latter were secured, what
hindered their returning to the idea of a will?
Resolving, therefore, to confine the OPERATION to the simplest terms
at first, Cerizet summed them up in the manoeuvre of the poppy-heads,
already mentioned, and he was making his way back to Toupillier's
abode, armed with that single weapon of war, intending to give Madame
Cardinal further instructions, when he met her, bearing on her arm the
basket she had just bought; and in that basket was the sick man's
"Upon my word!" cried the usurer, "is this the way you keep your
"I had to go out and buy him wine," replied the Cardinal; "he is
howling like a soul in hell that he wants to be at peace, and to be
let alone, and get his wine! It is his one idea that Roussillon is
good for his disease. Well, when he has drunk it, I dare say he will
"You are right," said Cerizet, sententiously; "never contradict a sick
man. But this wine, you know, ought to be improved; by infusing these"
(and lifting one of the covers of the basket he slipped in the
poppies) "you'll procure the poor man a good, long sleep,--five or six
hours at least. This evening I'll come and see you, and nothing, I
think, need prevent us from examining a little closer those matters of
"I see," said Madame Cardinal, winking.
"To-night, then," said Cerizet, not wishing to prolong the
He had a strong sense of the difficulty and danger of the affair, and
was very reluctant to be seen in the street conversing with his
Returning to her uncle's garret, Madame Cardinal found him still in a
state of semi-torpor; she relieved Madame Perrache, and bade her good-
bye, going to the door to receive a supply of wood, all sawed, which
she had ordered from the Auvergnat in the rue Ferou.
Into an earthen pot, which she had bought of the right size to fit
upon the hole in the stoves of the poor where they put their soup-
kettles, she now threw the poppies, pouring over them two-thirds of
the wine she had brought back with her. Then she lighted a fire
beneath the pot, intending to obtain the decoction agreed upon as
quickly as possible. The crackling of the wood and the heat, which
soon spread about the room, brought Toupillier out of his stupor.
Seeing the stove lighted he called out:--
"Who is making a fire here? Do you want to burn the house down?"
"Why, uncle," said the Cardinal, "it is wood I bought with my own
money, to warm your wine. The doctor doesn't want you to drink it
"Where is it, that wine?" demanded Toupillier, calming down a little
at the thought that the fire was not burning at his expense.
"It must come to a boil," said his nurse; "the doctor insisted upon
that. Still, if you'll be good I'll give you half a glass of it cold,
just to wet your whistle. I'll take that upon myself, but don't you
tell the doctor."
"Doctor! I won't have a doctor; they are all scoundrels, invented to
kill people," cried Toupillier, whom the idea of drink had revived.
"Come, give me the wine!" he said, in the tone of a man whose patience
had come to an end.
Convinced that though this compliance would do no harm it could do no
good, Madame Cardinal poured out half a glass, and while she gave it
with one hand to the sick man, with the other she raised him to a
sitting posture that he might drink it.
With his fleshless, eager fingers Toupillier clutched the glass,
emptied it at a gulp, and exclaimed:--
"Ah! that's a fine drop, that is! though you've watered it."
"You mustn't say that, uncle; I went and bought it myself of Pere
Legrelu, and I've given it you quite pure. But you let me simmer the
rest; the doctor said I might then give you all you wanted."
Toupillier resigned himself with a shrug of the shoulders. At the end
of fifteen minutes, the infusion being in condition to serve, Madame
Cardinal brought him, without further appeal, a full cup of it.
The avidity with which the old pauper drank it down prevented him from
noticing at first that the wine was drugged; but as he swallowed the
last drops he tasted the sickly and nauseating flavor, and flinging
the cup on the bed he cried out that some one was trying to poison
"Poison! nonsense!" said the fishwife, pouring into her own mouth a
few drops of that which remained in the bottle, declaring to the old
man that if the wine did not seem to him the same as usual, it was
because his mouth had a "bad taste to it."
Before the end of the dispute, which lasted some time, the narcotic
began to take effect, and at the end of an hour the sick man was sound
While idly waiting for Cerizet, an idea took possession of the
Cardinal's mind. She thought that in view of their comings and goings
with the treasure, it would be well if the vigilance of the Perrache
husband and wife could be dulled in some manner. Consequently, after
carefully flinging the refuse poppy-heads into the privy, she called
to the portress:--
"Madame Perrache, come up and taste his wine. Wouldn't you have
thought to hear him talk he was ready to drink a cask of it? Well, a
cupful satisfied him."
"Your health!" said the portress, touching glasses with the Cardinal,
who was careful to have hers filled with the unboiled wine. Less
accomplished as a gourmet than the old beggar, Madame Perrache
perceived nothing in the insidious liquid (cold by the time she drank
it) to make her suspect its narcotic character; on the contrary, she
declared it was "velvet," and wished that her husband were there to
have a share in the treat. After a rather long gossip, the two women
separated. Then, with the cooked meat she had provided for herself,
and the remains of the Roussillon, Madame Cardinal made a repast which
she finished off with a siesta. Without mentioning the emotions of the
day, the influence of one of the most heady wines of the country would
have sufficed to explain the soundness of her sleep; when she woke
darkness was coming on.
Her first care was to give a glance at her patient; his sleep was
restless, and he was dreaming aloud.
"Diamonds," he said; "those diamonds? At my death, but not before."
"Gracious!" thought Madame Cardinal, "that was the one thing lacking,
--diamonds! that he should have diamonds!"
Then, as Toupillier seemed to be in the grasp of a violent nightmare,
she leaned over him so as not to lose a word of his speech, hoping to
gather from it some important revelation. At this moment a slight rap
given to the door, from which the careful nurse had removed the key,
announced the arrival of Cerizet.
"Well?" he said, on entering.
"He has taken the drug. He's been sound asleep these two hours; just
now, in dreaming, he was talking of diamonds."
"Well," said Cerizet, "it wouldn't be surprising if we found some.
These paupers when they set out to be rich, like to pile up
"Ah ca!" cried the Cardinal, suddenly, "what made you go and tell Mere
Perrache that you were my man of business, and that you weren't a
doctor? I thought we agreed this morning that you were coming as a
Cerizet did not choose to admit that the usurpation of that title had
seemed to him dangerous; he feared to discourage his accomplice.
"I saw that the woman was going to propose a consultation," he
replied, "and I got out of it that way."
"Goodness!" exclaimed Madame Cardinal, "they say fine minds come
together; that was my dodge, too. Calling you my man of business
seemed to give that old pilferer a few ideas. Did they see you come
in, those porters?"
"I thought, as I went by," replied Cerizet, "that the woman was asleep
in her chair."
"And well she might be," said the Cardinal, significantly.
"What, really?" said Cerizet.
"Parbleu!" replied the fishwife; "what's enough for one is enough for
two; the rest of the stuff went that way."
"As for the husband, he was there," said Cerizet; "for he gave me a
gracious sign of recognition, which I could have done without."
"Wait till it is quite dark, and we'll play him a comedy that shall
fool him finely."
Accordingly, ten minutes later, the fishwife, with a vim that
delighted the usurer, organized for the innocent porter the comedy of
a MONSIEUR who would not, out of politeness, let her accompany him to
the door; she herself with equal politeness insisting. Appearing to
conduct the sham physician into the street gate she pretended that the
wind had blown out of her lamp, and under pretext of relighting it she
put out that of Perrache. All this racket, accompanied by exclamations
and a bewildering loquacity, was so briskly carried out that the
porter, if summoned before the police-court, would not have hesitated
to swear that the doctor, whose arrival he had witnessed, left the
house between nine and ten o'clock.
When the two accomplices were thus in tranquil possession of the field
of operations Madame Cardinal hung up her rabbit's-hair shawl before
the window to exclude all possible indiscretion on the part of a
neighbor. In the Luxembourg quarter life quiets down early. By ten
o'clock all the sounds in the house as well as those out of doors were
stilled, and Cerizet declared that the moment had come to go to work;
by beginning at once they were certain that the sleeper would remain
under the influence of the drug; besides, if the booty were found at
once, Madame Cardinal could, under pretence of a sudden attack on her
patient, which required her to fetch a remedy from the apothecary, get
the porter to open the street gate for her without suspicion. As all
porters pull the gate-cord from their beds, Cerizet would be able to
get away at the same time without notice.
Powerful in advice, Cerizet was a very incapable hand in action; and,
without the robust assistance of Mere Cardinal he could never have
lifted what might almost be called the corpse of the former drum-
major. Completely insensible, Toupillier was now an inert mass, a
dead-weight, which could, fortunately, be handled without much
precaution, and the athletic Madame Cardinal, gathering strength from
her cupidity, contrived, notwithstanding Cerizet's insufficient
assistance, to effect the transfer of her uncle from one bed to the
On rummaging the bed from which the body was moved, nothing was found,
and Madame Cardinal, pressed by Cerizet to explain why she had
confidently asserted that her uncle "was lying on one hundred thousand
francs in gold," was forced to admit that a talk with Madame Perrache,
and her own fervid imagination were the sole grounds of her certainty.
Cerizet was furious; having for one whole day dallied with the idea
and hope of fortune, having, moreover, entered upon a dangerous and
compromising course of action, only to find himself, at the supreme
moment, face to face with--nothing! The disappointment was so bitter
that if he had not been afraid of the muscular strength of his future
mother-in-law, he would have rushed upon her with some frantic
His anger, however, spent itself in words. Harshly abused, Madame
Cardinal contented herself by remarking that all hope was not lost,
and then, with a faith that ought to have moved mountains, she set to
work to empty the straw from the mattress she had already vainly
explored in all directions. But Cerizet would not allow that extreme
measure; he remarked that after the autopsy of a straw mattress such
detritus would remain upon the floor as must infallibly give rise to
suspicion. But the Cardinal, who thought this caution ridiculous, was
determined to, at least, take apart the flock bedstead. The passion of
the search gave extraordinary vigilance to her senses, and as she
raised the wooden side-frame she heard the fall of some tiny object on
the floor. Seizing the light she began to search in the mound of filth
of all kinds that was under the bed, and finally laid her hand on a
bit of polished steel about half an inch long, the use of which was to
"That's a key!" cried Cerizet, who was standing beside her with some
indifference, but whose imagination now set off at a gallop.
"Ha! ha! you see I was right," cried the Cardinal. "But what can it
open?" she added, on reflection; "nothing bigger than a doll's house."
"No," said Cerizet, "it is a modern invention, and very strong locks
can be opened with that little instrument."
With a rapid glance he took in all the pieces of furniture in the
room; went to the bureau and pulled out the drawers; looked in the
stove, in the table; but nowhere did he find a lock to which the
little key could be adapted.
Suddenly the Cardinal had a flash of illumination.
"See here!" she said. "I remarked that the old thief, as he lay on his
bed, never took his eyes off the wall just opposite to him."
"A cupboard hidden in the wall!" cried Cerizet, seizing the light
eagerly; "it is not impossible!"
Examining attentively the door of the alcove, which was opposite the
bed's head, he could see nothing there but a vast accumulation of dust
and spiders' webs. He next employed the sense of touch, and began to
rap and sound the wall in all directions. At the spot to which
Toupillier's constant gaze was directed he thought he perceived in a
very narrow space a slight sonority, and he presently perceived that
he was rapping on wood. He then rubbed the spot vigorously with his
handkerchief, and beneath the thick layer of dust and dirt which he
thus removed he found a piece of oak plank carefully inserted in the
wall. On one side of this plank was a small round hole; it was that of
the lock which the key fitted!
While Cerizet was turning the key, which worked with great difficulty,
Madame Cardinal, holding the light, was pale and breathless; but, oh!
cruel deception! the cupboard, at last unlocked and open, showed only
an empty space, into which the light in her hand fell uselessly.
Allowing this bacchante to give vent to her despair by saluting her
much-beloved uncle with the harshest epithets, Cerizet quietly
inserted his arm into the cupboard, and after feeling it over at the
back, he cried out, "An iron safe!" adding, impatiently, "Give me more
light, Madame Cardinal."
Then, as the light did not penetrate to the depths of the cupboard, he
snatched the candle from the bottle, where, in default of a
candlestick, the Cardinal had stuck it, and, taking it in his hand,
moved it carefully over all parts of the iron safe, the existence of
which was now a certainty.
"There is no visible lock," he said. "There must be a secret opening."
"Isn't he sly, that old villain!" exclaimed Madame Cardinal, while
Cerizet's bony fingers felt the side of the safe over minutely.
"Ha!" he exclaimed, after groping for ten minutes, "I have it!"
During this time Madame Cardinal's life seemed actually suspended.
Under the pressure which Cerizet now applied, the iron side rose
quickly into the thickness of the wall above, and in the midst of a
mass of gold thrown pell-mell into a large excavation that was now
exposed to view, lay a case of red morocco, which, from its size and
appearance, gave promise of magnificent booty.
"I take the diamonds for myself," said Cerizet, when he had opened the
case and seen the splendid jewels it contained; "you won't know how to
get rid of them. I'll leave you the gold for your share. As for the
house and the money in the Funds, they are not worth the trouble it
would be to get the old fellow to make a will."
"Not so fast, my little man!" replied the Cardinal, who thought this
decision rather summary; "we will first count the money--"
"Hush!" exclaimed Cerizet, apparently listening to a sound.
"What is it?" asked the Cardinal.
"Don't you hear some one moving below?"
"No, I hear nothing."
Cerizet, making her a sign to be silent, listened attentively.
"I hear a step on the stairs," he said, a moment later.
Then he hastily replaced the morocco case, and made desperate but
unavailing efforts to lower the panel.
"Yes!" cried Madame Cardinal, terrified; "some one is really coming."
Then, fastening to a hope of safety, she added, "I dare say it is that
insane girl; they say she walks at night."
At any rate, the insane girl (if it were she) had a key to the room,
for a moment later, this key was inserted in the lock. With a rapid
glance Madame Cardinal measured the distance to the door; should she
have time to push the bolt? No; certain that it was then too late, so
she blew out the candle to give herself at least some chances in the
Useless effort! the intruder who now appeared had brought a candle
When Madame Cerizet saw that she had to do with a small, old man of
puny appearance, she flung herself before him with flaming eyes, like
a lioness from whom the hunter is seeking to take her cubs.
"Be calm, my good woman," said the little man, in a jeering tone; "the
police are sent for; they will be here in a moment."
At the word "police" the Cardinal's legs gave way.
"But, monsieur," she said, "why the police? we are not robbers."
"No matter for that; if I were in your place I shouldn't wait for
them," said the little old man; "they make unfortunate mistakes
"Can I clear out?" asked the woman, incredulously.
"Yes, if you empty your pockets of anything which has, BY ACCIDENT,
got into them."
"Oh! my good monsieur, I haven't a thing in my hands or my pockets; I
wasn't here to harm any one,--only to nurse my poor dear uncle; you
can search me."
"Come, be off with you! that will do," said the old man.
Madame Cardinal did not oblige him to repeat the order, and she
rapidly disappeared down the staircase.
Cerizet made as though he would take the same road.
"You, monsieur, are quite another thing," said the little old man.
"You and I must talk together; but if you are tractable, the affair
between us can be settled amicably."
Whether it was that the narcotic had ceased to operate, or that the
noise going on about Toupillier put an end to his sleep, he now opened
his eyes and cast around him the glance of a man who endeavors to
remember where he is; then, seeing his precious cupboard open, he
found in the emotion that sight produced the strength to cry out two
or three times, "Help! help! robbers!" in a voice that was loud enough
to rouse the house.
"No, Toupillier," said the little old man; "you have not been robbed;
I came here in time to prevent it; nothing has been taken."
"Why don't you arrest that villain?" shouted the old pauper, pointing
"Monsieur is not a thief," replied the old man. "On the contrary, he
came up with me to lend assistance." Then, turning to Cerizet, he
added, in a low voice: "I think, my good friend, that we had better
postpone the interview I desire to have with you until to-morrow. Come
at ten o'clock to the adjoining house, and ask for Monsieur du
Portail. After what has passed this evening, there will, I ought to
warn you, be some danger to you in not accepting this conference. I
shall find you elsewhere, infallibly; for I have the honor to know who
you are; you are the man whom the Opposition journals were accustomed
to call 'the courageous Cerizet.'"
In spite of the profound sarcasm of this remark, Cerizet, perceiving
that he was not to be treated more rigorously than Madame Cardinal,
felt so pleased with this conclusion that he promised, very readily,
to keep the appointment, and then slipped away with all the haste he
The next day Cerizet did not fail to appear at the rendezvous given to
him. Examined, at first, through the wicket of the door, he was
admitted, after giving his name, into the house, and was ushered
immediately to the study of Monsieur du Portail, whom he found at his
Without rising, and merely making a sign to his guest to take a chair,
the little old man continued the letter he was then writing. After
sealing it with wax, with a care and precision that denoted a nature
extremely fastidious and particular, or else a man accustomed to
discharge diplomatic functions, du Portail rang for Bruneau, his
valet, and said, as he gave him the letter:--
"For the justice-of-peace of the arrondissement."
Then he carefully wiped the steel pen he had just used, restored to
their places, symmetrically, all the displaced articles on his desk,
and it was only when these little arrangements were completed that he
turned to Cerizet, and said:--
"You know, of course, that we lost that poor Monsieur Toupillier last
"No, really?" said Cerizet, putting on the most sympathetic air he
could manage. "This is my first knowledge of it."
"But you probably expected it. When one gives a dying man an immense
bowl of hot wine, which has also been narcotized,--for the Perrache
woman slept all night in a sort of lethargy after drinking a small
glass of it,--it is evident that the catastrophe has been hastened."
"I am ignorant, monsieur," said Cerizet, with dignity, "of what Madame
Cardinal may have given to her uncle. I have no doubt committed a
great piece of thoughtlessness in assisting this woman to obtain an
inheritance to which she assured me she had legal rights; but as to
attempting the life of that old pauper, I am quite incapable of such a
thing; nothing of the kind ever entered my mind."
"You wrote me this letter, I think," said du Portail, abruptly, taking
from beneath a bohemian glass bowl a paper which he offered to
"A letter?" replied Cerizet, with the hesitation of a man who doesn't
know whether to lie or speak the truth.
"I am quite sure of what I say," continued du Portail. "I have a mania
for autographs, and I possess one of yours, obtained at the period
when the Opposition exalted you to the glorious rank of martyr. I have
compared the two writings, and I find that you certainly wrote me,
yesterday, the letter which you hold in your hand, informing me of the
money embarrassments of young la Peyrade at the present moment."
"Well," said Cerizet, "knowing that you had given a home to
Mademoiselle de la Peyrade, who is probably cousin of Theodose, I
thought I recognized in you the mysterious protector from whom, on
more than one occasion, my friend has received the most generous
assistance. Now, as I have a sincere affection for that poor fellow,
it was in his interests that I permitted myself--"
"You did quite right," interrupted du Portail. "I am delighted to have
fallen in with a friend of la Peyrade. I ought not to conceal from you
that it was this particular fact which protected you last night. But
tell me, what is this about notes for twenty-five thousand francs? Is
our friend so badly off in his affairs? Is he leading a dissipated
"On the contrary," replied Cerizet, "he's a puritan. Given to the
deepest piety, he did not choose to take, as a barrister, any other
cases but those of the poor. He is now on the point of making a rich
"Ah! is he going to be married? and to whom?"
"To a Demoiselle Colleville, daughter of the secretary of the mayor of
the 12th arrondissement. In herself, the girl has no fortune, but a
certain Monsieur Thuillier, her godfather, member of the Council-
general of the Seine, has promised her a suitable 'dot.'"
"Who has handled this affair?"
"La Peyrade has been devoted to the Thuillier family, into which he
was introduced by Monsieur Dutocq, clerk of the justice-of-peace of
"But you wrote me that these notes were signed in favor of Monsieur
Dutocq. The affair is a bit of matrimonial brokerage, in short?"
"Well, something of that kind," replied Cerizet. "You know, monsieur,
that in Paris such transactions are very common. Even the clergy won't
disdain to have a finger in them."
"Is the marriage a settled thing?"
"Yes, and within the last few days especially."
"Well, my good sir, I rely on you to put an end to it. I have other
views for Theodose,--another marriage to propose to him."
"Excuse me!" said Cerizet, "to break up this marriage would make it
impossible for him to pay his notes; and I have the honor to call your
attention to the fact that these particular bills of exchange are
serious matters. Monsieur Dutocq is in the office of the justice-of-
peace; in other words, he couldn't be easily defeated in such a
"The debt to Monsieur Dutocq you shall buy off yourself," replied du
Portail. "Make arrangements with him to that effect. Should Theodose
prove reluctant to carry out my plans, those notes may become a useful
weapon in our hands. You will take upon yourself to sue him for them,
and you shall have no money responsibility in the matter. I will pay
you the amount of the notes for Dutocq, and your costs in suing
"You are square in business, monsieur," said Cerizet. "There's some
pleasure in being your agent. Now, if you think the right moment has
come, I should be glad if you would give me some better light on the
mission you are doing me the honor to place in my hands."
"You spoke just now," replied du Portail, "of the cousin of Theodose,
Mademoiselle Lydie de la Peyrade. This young woman, who is not in her
first youth, for she is nearly thirty, is the natural daughter of the
celebrated Mademoiselle Beaumesnil of the Theatre Francais and
Peyrade, the commissary-general of police under the Empire, and the
uncle of our friend. Until his death, which occurred suddenly, leaving
his daughter, whom he loved tenderly, without means of support, I was
bound to that excellent man with the warmest friendship."
Glad to show that he had some knowledge of du Portail's interior life,
Cerizet hastened to remark:--
"And you have secretly fulfilled the duties of that friendship,
monsieur; for, in taking into your home that interesting orphan you
assumed a difficult guardianship. Mademoiselle de la Peyrade's state
of health requires, I am told, a care not only affectionate, but
"Yes," replied du Portail, "the poor girl, after the death of her
father, was so cruelly tried that her mind has been somewhat affected;
but a fortunate change has lately occurred in her condition, and only
yesterday I called in consultation Doctor Bianchon and the two
physicians-in-charge of Bicetre and the Salpetriere. These gentlemen
unanimously declare that marriage and the birth of a first child would
undoubtedly restore her to perfect health. You can readily understand
that the remedy is too easy and agreeable not to be attempted."
"Then," said Cerizet, "it is to Mademoiselle Lydie de la Peyrade, his
cousin, that you wish to marry Theodose."
"You have said it," returned du Portail, "and you must not think that
our young friend, if he accepts the marriage, will be called upon to
show a gratuitous devotion. Lydie is very agreeable in person; she has
talents, a charming disposition, and she can bring to bear, in her
husband's interest, a strong influence in public life. She has,
moreover, a pretty fortune, consisting of what her mother left her,
and of my entire property, which, having no heirs myself, I intend to
secure to her in the marriage contract. Besides all this, she has this
very night acquired a not inconsiderable legacy."
"What!" exclaimed Cerizet, "do you mean that old Toupillier--"
"By a will in his own handwriting, which I have here, that old pauper
constitutes her his sole legatee. You see, therefore, that I showed
some kindness in not proceeding against you and Madame Cardinal for
your little attempt last night; it was simply our property that you
were trying to pillage."
"Heavens!" cried Cerizet, "I won't pretend to excuse Madame Cardinal's
misconduct; and yet, as one of the legal heirs, dispossessed by a
stranger, she had, it seems to me, some right to the indulgence which
you certainly showed to her."
"In that you are mistaken," said du Portail; "the apparent liberality
of the old beggar to Mademoiselle de la Peyrade happens to be only a
"A restitution!" exclaimed Cerizet, in a tone of curiosity.
"A restitution," repeated du Portail, "and nothing is easier than to
prove it. Do you remember the robbery of some diamonds from one of our
dramatic celebrities about ten years ago?"
"Yes," replied Cerizet. "I was manager of one of my newspapers at the
time, and I used to write the 'Paris items.' But stay, I remember, the
actress who lost them was Mademoiselle Beaumesnil."
"Precisely; the mother of Mademoiselle de la Peyrade."
"Consequently, this miserable old Toupillier--no, I remember that the
thief was convicted; his name was Charles Crochard. It was said, under
the rose, that he was the natural son of a great personage, the Comte
de Granville, attorney-general under the Restoration." [See "A Double
"Well," said du Portail, "this is how it happened. The robbery was
committed in a house in the rue de Tournon, occupied by Mademoiselle
Beaumesnil. Charles Crochard, who was a handsome fellow, was said to
have the run of it--"
"Yes, yes," cried Cerizet, "I remember Mademoiselle Beaumesnil's
embarrassment when she gave her testimony--and also the total
extinction of voice that attacked her when the judge asked her age."
"The robbery," continued du Portail, "was audaciously committed in the
daytime; and no sooner did Charles Crochard get possession of the
casket than he went to the church of Saint-Sulpice, where he had an
appointment with an accomplice, who, being supplied with a passport,
was to start immediately with the diamonds for foreign parts. It so
chanced that on entering the church, instead of meeting the man he
expected, who was a trifle late, Charles Crochard came face to face
with a celebrated agent of the detective force, who was well known to
him, inasmuch as the young rascal was not at his first scrimmage with
the police. The absence of his accomplice, this encounter with the
detective, and, lastly, a rapid movement made by the latter, by the
merest chance, toward the door, induced the robber to fancy he was
being watched. Losing his head under this idea, he wanted, at any
cost, to put the casket out of his possession, knowing that if
arrested, as he expected, at the door of the church, it would be a
damning proof against him. Catching sight at that moment of
Toupillier, who was then the giver of holy water, 'My man,' said he,
making sure that no one overheard their colloquy, 'will you take care
of this little package for me? It is a box of lace. I am going near by
to a countess who is slow to pay her bill; and if I have the lace with
me she'll want to see it, for it is a new style, and she'll ask me to
leave it with her on credit, instead of paying the bill; therefore I
don't want to take it. But,' he added, 'be sure not to touch the paper
that wraps the box, for there's nothing harder than to do up a package
in the same folds--'"
"The booby!" cried Cerizet, naively; "why, that very caution would
make the man want to open it."
"You are an able casuist," said du Portail. "Well, an hour later,
Charles Crochard, finding that nothing happened to him, returned to
the church to obtain his deposit, but Toupillier was no longer there.
You can imagine the anxiety with which Charles Crochard attended early
mass the next day, and approached the giver of holy water, who was
there, sure enough, attending to his functions. But night, they say,
brings counsel; the worthy beggar audaciously declared that he had
received no package, and did not know what his interlocutor meant."
"And there was no possibility of arguing with him, for that would be
exposure," remarked Cerizet, who was not far from sympathizing in a
trick so boldly played.
"No doubt," resumed du Portail; "the robbery was already noised about,
and Toupillier, who was a very able fellow, had calculated that
Charles Crochard would not dare to publicly accuse him, for that would
reveal the theft. In fact, on his trial Charles Crochard never said a
word of his mishap, and during the six years he spent at the galleys
(he was condemned to ten, but four were remitted) he did not open his
lips to a single soul about the treachery of which he had been a
"That was pretty plucky," said Cerizet; the tale excited him, and he
showed openly that he saw the matter as an artist and a connoisseur.
"In that interval," continued du Portail, "Madame Beaumesnil died,
leaving her daughter a few fragments of a once great fortune, and the
diamonds which the will expressly stated Lydie was to receive 'in case
they were recovered.'"
"Ha! ha!" exclaimed Cerizet, "bad for Toupillier, because, having to
do with a man of your calibre--"
"Charles Crochard's first object on being liberated was vengeance on
Toupillier, and his first step was to denounce him to the police as
receiver of the stolen property. Taken in hand by the law, Toupillier
defended himself with such singular good-humor, being able to show
that no proof whatever existed against him, that the examining judge
let him off. He lost his place, however, as giver of holy water,
obtaining, with great difficulty, permission to beg at the door of the
church. For my part, I was certain of his guilt; and I managed to have
the closest watch kept upon him; though I relied far more upon myself.
Being a man of means and leisure, I stuck, as you may say, to the skin
of my thief, and did, in order to unmask him, one of the cleverest
things of my career. He was living at that time in the rue du Coeur-
Volant. I succeeded in becoming the tenant of the room adjoining his;
and one night, through a gimlet hole I had drilled in the partition, I
saw my man take the case of diamonds from a very cleverly contrived
hiding-place. He sat for an hour gazing at them and fondling them; he
made them sparkle in the light, he pressed them passionately to his
lips. The man actually loved those diamonds for themselves, and had
never thought of turning them to money."
"I understand," said Cerizet,--"a mania like that of Cardillac, the
jeweller, which has now been dramatized."
"That is just it," returned du Portail; "the poor wretch was in love
with that casket; so that when, shortly after, I entered his room and
told him I knew all, he proposed to me to leave him the life use of
what he called the consolation of his old age, pledging himself to
make Mademoiselle de la Peyrade his sole heir, revealing to me at the
same time the existence of a hoard of gold (to which he was adding
every day), and also the possession of a house and an investment in
"If he made that proposal in good faith," said Cerizet, "it was a
desirable one. The interest of the capital sunk in the diamonds was
more than returned by that from the other property."
"You now see, my dear sir," said du Portail, "that I was not mistaken
in trusting him. All my precautions were well taken; I exacted that he
should occupy a room in the house I lived in, where I could keep a
close eye upon him. I assisted him in making that hiding-place, the
secret of which you discovered so cleverly; but what you did not find
out was that in touching the spring that opened the iron safe you rang
a bell in my apartment, which warned me of any attempt that was made
to remove our treasure."
"Poor Madame Cardinal!" cried Cerizet, good-humoredly, "how far she
was from suspecting it!"
"Now here's the situation," resumed du Portail. "On account of the
interest I feel in the nephew of my old friend, and also, on account
of the relationship, this marriage seems to me extremely desirable; in
short, I unite Theodose to his cousin and her 'dot.' As it is possible
that, considering the mental state of his future wife, Theodose may
object to sharing my views, I have not thought it wise to make this
proposal directly to himself. You have suddenly turned up upon my
path; I know already that you are clever and wily, and that knowledge
induces me to put this little matrimonial negotiation into your hands.
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