The World's Greatest Books, Vol. I
Part 4 out of 7
unfastidious, and so garrulous," she would marry to-morrow.
But Mr. Elton was unaware of Emma having thought of making such a
self-denying ordinance; and so one night when the Woodhouses and the
Knightleys were returning home from a party at Randalls he took
advantage of his being alone in a carriage with her to propose to her,
seeming never to doubt his being accepted. When he learned, however, for
whom his hand had been destined, he became very indignant and
"Never, madam!" cried he. "Never, I assure you! _I_ think seriously of
Miss Smith! Miss Smith is a very good sort of girl; and I should be
happy to see her respectably settled. I wish her extremely well; and, no
doubt, there are men who might not object to--Everybody has their level;
but as for myself, I am not, I think, quite so much at a loss. I need
not so totally despair of an equal alliance as to be addressing myself
to Miss Smith! No, madam; my visits to Hatfield have been for yourself
Needless to say, Emma refused him, and they parted on terms of mutually
deep mortification. Fortunately, the task of enlightening Harriet as to
the state of Mr. Elton's feelings proved less troublesome than Emma had
expected it to be. Harriet's tears fell abundantly, but otherwise she
bore the intelligence very meekly and well.
_III.--Emma's Schemes in a Tangle_
As if to make up for the absence of Mr. Elton, who went to spend a few
weeks in Bath, in an endeavour to cure his wounded affections. Highbury
society was shortly enlarged by the arrival of two such welcome
additions as Miss Jane Fairfax and Mr. Frank Churchill.
Miss Fairfax, who was the orphan daughter of Lieutenant Fairfax, and
Miss Janes Bates had for many years been living with her father's
brother-officer, Colonel Campbell, and his wife and daughter. A
beautiful girl of nineteen, with only a few hundred pounds of her own,
and no monetary expectations from her adoptive father, she had received
such an education as qualified her to become a governess; and though as
long as Colonel and Mrs. Campbell lived their home might always be hers,
she had all along resolved to start earning her own living at one-and-
twenty. Her friend, Miss Campbell, had recently married a rich and
agreeable young man called Dixon; and though the Dixons had urgently
invited her to join Colonel and Mrs. Campbell in a visit to them in
Ireland, Jane preferred to spend three months' holiday with her aunt and
grandmother at Highbury, with some vague intention of starting her
scholastic career at the end of this period. Emma did not like Jane
Fairfax, partly because Jane's aunt was always boring people by talking
of her; partly, perhaps, because--as Mr. Knightley once told her--she
saw in her the really accomplished young woman which she wanted to be
thought herself. At any rate, she still found her as reserved as ever.
Jane had been a little acquainted with Mr. Frank Churchill at Weymouth,
but she either could not, or would not, tell Emma anything about him.
That gentleman, however, soon presented himself in person. He was the
son of Mr. Weston by his first wife. At the age of three he had been
adopted by his maternal uncle, Mr. Churchill; and so avowedly had he
been brought up as their heir by Mr. and Mrs. Churchill--who had no
children of their own--that on his coming of age he had assumed the name
of Churchill. For some months he had been promising to pay a visit to
his father and stepmother to compliment them on their marriage; but on
the pretext of his not being able to leave Enscombe, his uncle's place,
it had been repeatedly postponed.
Emma was inclined to make allowances for him as a young man dependent on
the caprices of relations. But Mr. Knightley condemned his conduct
roundly. "He cannot want money, he cannot want leisure," he said. "We
know, on the contrary, that he has so much of both that he is glad to
get rid of them at the idlest haunts in the kingdom." Notwithstanding,
when he did arrive, Frank Churchill carried all before him by reason of
his good looks, sprightliness, and amiability. Emma and he soon became
great friends. He favoured an idea of hers, that Jane's refusal to go to
the Dixons' in Ireland was due either to Mr. Dixon's attachment to her,
or to her attachment to Mr. Dixon. When a Broadwood pianoforte arrived
for Jane--which was generally taken to be a gift from Colonel
Campbell--he agreed with her in thinking that this was another
occurrence for which Mr. Dixon's love was responsible; and he was busily
engaged in planning out the details of a projected ball at the Crown Inn
when a letter from Mr. Churchill urging his instant departure compelled
him to make a hurried return to Enscombe.
Meanwhile, while Emma was entertaining no doubt of her being in love
with Frank, and only wondering how deep her feeling was, while she was
content to think that Frank was very much in love with her, and was
concluding every imaginary declaration on his side with a refusal of his
proposals, Mr. Elton returned to Highbury with his bride. Miss Augusta
Hawkins--to give Mrs. Elton her maiden name--was the younger of the two
daughters of a Bristol tradesman, and was credited with having ten
thousand pounds of her own. A self-important, presuming, familiar,
ignorant, and ill-bred woman, with a little beauty and a little
accomplishment, who was always expatiating on the charms of Mr.
Suckling's--her brother-in-law's--place, Maple Grove, she soon excited
disgust in Emma, who offended her by the scanty encouragement with which
she received her proposals of intimacy, and was herself offended by the
great fancy which Mrs. Elton took to Jane Fairfax. Long before Emma had
forfeited her confidence, she was not satisfied with expressing a
natural and reasonable admiration of Jane, but, without solicitation, or
plea, or privilege, she must be wanting to assist and befriend her. The
ill-feeling thus aroused found significant expression on the occasion of
the long-talked-of ball at the Crown, which Mr. Weston was able to give
one evening in May, thanks to the settlement of the Churchills at
Richmond, and the consequent reappearance of Frank Churchill at
Highbury. Indeed, Emma met with two annoyances on that famous evening.
Mr. Weston had entreated her to come early, before any other person
came, for the purpose of taking her opinion as to the propriety and
comfort of the rooms; and when she got there, she found that quite half
the company had come, by particular desire, to help Mr. Weston's
judgment. She felt that to be the favourite and intimate of a man who
had so many intimates was not the first distinction in the scale of
The other vexing circumstance was due to the conduct of Mr. Elton, who,
asked by Mrs. Weston to dance with Harriet Smith, declined on the ground
that he was an old married man, and that his dancing days were over.
Fortunately, Mr. Knightley, who has recently disappointed Mrs. Weston,
and pleased Emma by disclaiming any idea of being attached to Jane
Fairfax, was able in some measure to redeem the situation by leading
Harriet to the set himself. Emma had no opportunity of speaking to him
till after supper; and then he said to her: "They aimed at wounding more
than Harriet. Emma, why is it that they are your enemies?" He looked
with smiling penetration, and, on receiving no answer, added: "_She_
ought not to be angry with you, I suspect, whatever he may be. To that
surmise you say nothing, of course; but confess, Emma, that you did want
him to marry Harriet." "I did," replied Emma, "and they cannot forgive
A day or two afterwards, Harriet figured as the heroine of another
little scene. She was rescued by Frank Churchill from an encounter with
some gipsies; and after telling Emma, in a very serious tone, a few days
later, that she should never marry, confessed that she had come to this
resolution because the person she might prefer to marry was one so
greatly her superior in situation.
_IV.--Love Finds its Own Way_
His own attentions, his father's hints, his stepmother's guarded
silence, all seemed to declare that Emma was Frank Churchill's object.
But while so many were devoting him to Emma, and Emma herself was making
him over to Harriet, Mr. Knightley began to suspect him of some
inclination to trifle with Jane Fairfax. When Mr. Knightley mentioned
these suspicions to Emma, she declared them sheer imagination, and said
that she could _answer_ for there being no attachment on the side of the
gentleman; while he himself, as if to ridicule the whole idea, flirted
outrageously with Emma on an excursion to Box Hill at which Jane was
present, and even asked the former lady to choose a wife for him. The
next day Emma, calling on Miss Bates, learned that Jane, who, was at
present too unwell to see her, had just accepted a post as governess,
obtained for her by Mrs. Elton, and that Frank Churchill had been
summoned to return immediately to Richmond in consequence of Mrs.
Churchill's state of health. On the following day an express arrived at
Randalls to announce the death of Mrs. Churchill.
Emma, seeing in this latter event a circumstance favourable to the union
of Frank and Harriet (for Mr. Churchill, independent of his wife, was
feared by nobody), now only wished for some proof of the former's
attachment to her friend. She could, however, for the moment do nothing
for Harriet, whereas she could show some attention to Jane, whose
prospects were closing, while Harriet's were opening. But here she
proved to be mistaken; all her endeavours were to no purpose. The
invalid refused everything that was offered, no matter what its
character; and Emma had to console herself with the thought that her
intentions were good, and would have satisfied even so strict an
investigator of motives as Mr. Knightley.
One morning, about ten days after Mrs. Churchill's death, Emma was
called downstairs to Mr. Weston, who asked her to come to Randalls as
Mrs. Weston wanted to see her alone. Relieved to find that the matter
was not one of illness, either there or at Brunswick Square, Emma
resolved to wait patiently till she could see her old friend. But what
was her surprise, on Mr. Weston leaving them together, when his wife
revealed the fact that Frank and Jane had been secretly engaged since
October of the previous year! It was almost greater than Mrs. Weston's
relief when she learned, to her joy, that Emma now cared nothing at all
for Frank, and so had been in no wise injured by this clandestine
understanding, the divulgence of which was due, it seemed, to the fact
that, immediately on hearing of Jane's agreement to take up the post of
governess, Frank had gone to his uncle, told him of the engagement, and
with little difficulty obtained his consent to it.
It was with a heavy heart that Emma went home to give Harriet the news
that must blast her hopes of happiness once more. But, again, a surprise
was in store for her. Harriet had already been told by Mr. Weston, and
seemed to bear her misfortune quite stoically, the reason being that the
person of "superior situation" whom she despaired of securing was not
Mr. Frank Churchill, but Mr. George Knightley.
Emma was not prepared for this development. It darted through her, with
the speed of an arrow, that Mr. Knightley must marry no one but herself!
Which desirable consummation was brought about at their next interview;
for, after trying to console her for the abominable conduct of Frank
Churchill, under the mistaken impression that that young gentleman had
succeeded in engaging her affections, Mr. Knightley proposed marriage to
her, and was accepted. As for Harriet, she was invited, at Emma's
suggestion, to spend a fortnight with Mr. and Mrs. John Knightley in
Brunswick Square, and there, meeting Mr. Robert Martin, through Mr.
George Knightley's contrivance, was easily persuaded to become his wife.
About this same time, too, Mrs. Weston's husband and friends were all
made happy by knowing her to be the mother of a little girl; while Emma
and Mrs. Weston were enabled to take a more lenient view of Frank
Churchill's conduct, thanks to a long letter which he wrote to the
latter lady in which he apologised for his equivocal conduct to Emma,
and expressed his regret that those attentions should have caused such
poignant distress to the lady whom he was shortly to make his wife. The
much discussed pianoforte had been his gift.
* * * * *
Jane Austen began her last book soon after she had finished
"Emma," and completed it in August, 1816. "Persuasion" is
connected with "Northanger Abbey" not only by the fact that
the two books were originally bound up in one volume and
published together two years later, and are still so issued,
but in the circumstance that in both stories the scene is laid
partly in Bath, a health resort with which Jane Austen was
well acquainted, as having been her place of residence from
the year 1801 till 1805.
_I.--The Vain Baronet of Kellynch Hall_
Sir Walter Elliot, of Kellynch Hall, in Somersetshire, was a man who,
for his own amusement, never took up any book but the Baronetage. There
he found occupation for an idle hour, and consolation in a distressed
one; there his faculties were roused into admiration and respect by
contemplating the limited remnant of the earliest patents; there any
unwelcome sensations derived from domestic affairs changed naturally
into pity and contempt as he turned over the almost endless creations of
the last century; and there, if every other leaf was powerless, he could
read his own history with an interest which never failed. This was the
page at which the favourite volume always opened:
"ELLIOT OF KELLYNCH HALL."
"Walter Elliot, born March 1, 1760, married July 15, 1784,
Elizabeth, daughter of James Stevenson, Esq., of South Park,
in the county of Gloucester; by which lady (who died 1800) he
has issue, Elizabeth, born June 1, 1785; Anne, born August 9,
1787; a still-born son, November 5, 1789; Mary, born November
Precisely thus had the paragraph originally stood from the printer's
hands. But Sir Walter had improved it by adding, for the information of
himself and his family, these words, after the date of Mary's birth:
"Married, December 16, 1810, Charles, son and heir of Charles Musgrove,
Esq., of Uppercross, in the county of Somerset," and by inserting most
accurately the day of the month on which he had lost his wife.
Then followed the history and rise of the ancient and respectable family
in the usual terms; how it had been first settled in Cheshire; how
mentioned in Dugdale, serving the office of High Sheriff, representing a
borough in three successive parliaments, exertions of loyalty, and
dignity of baronet, in the first year of Charles II., with all the Marys
and Elizabeths they had married; forming altogether two handsome
duodecimo pages, and concluding with the arms and motto: "Principal
seat, Kellynch Hall, in the county of Somerset," and Sir Walter's
handwriting again in the finale: "Heir-presumptive, William Walter
Elliot, Esq., great-grandson of the second Sir Walter."
Vanity was the beginning and end of Sir Walter Elliot's
character--vanity of person and of situation. He had been remarkably
handsome in his youth, and, at fifty-four, was still a very fine man.
Few women could think more of their personal appearance than he did, nor
could the valet of any new-made lord be more delighted with the place he
held in society. He considered the blessing of beauty as inferior only
to the blessing of a baronetcy; and the Sir Walter Elliot, who united
these gifts, was the constant object of his warmest respect and
His good looks and his rank had a fair claim on his attachment, since to
them he must have owed a wife of very superior character to anything
deserved by his own. Lady Elliot had been an excellent woman, sensible
and amiable, whose judgment and conduct, if they might be pardoned the
youthful infatuation which made her Lady Elliot, had never required
indulgence afterwards. Three girls, however--the two eldest sixteen and
fourteen--were an awful legacy for a mother to bequeath, an awful charge
rather to confide, to the authority of a conceited, silly father.
Fortunately, Lady Elliot had one very intimate friend, Lady Russell, a
sensible, deserving woman, who had been brought, by strong attachment to
herself, to settle close by her in the village of Kellynch; and on her
kindness Lady Elliot mainly relied for the best help and maintenance of
the good principles and instruction which she had been anxiously giving
Elizabeth had succeeded at sixteen to all that was possible of her
mother's rights and consequence; and being very handsome, and very like
himself, her influence had always been great, and they had gone on
together most happily. His two other children were of very inferior
value. Mary had acquired a little artificial importance by becoming Mrs.
Charles Musgrove; but Anne, with an elegance of mind and sweetness of
character which must have placed her high with any people of real
understanding, was nobody with either father or sister. To Lady Russell,
indeed, she was a most dear and highly valued god-daughter, favourite
and friend. Lady Russell loved them all; but it was only in Anne that
she could fancy the mother to revive again.
It sometimes happens that a woman is handsomer at twenty-nine than she
was ten years before; and, generally speaking, it is a time of life at
which scarcely any charm is lost. It was so with Elizabeth, still the
same handsome Miss Elliot that she had begun to be thirteen years ago;
and Sir Walter might be excused, therefore, in forgetting her age, or,
at least, be deemed only half a fool for thinking himself and Elizabeth
as blooming as ever, amid the wreck of the good looks of everybody else.
Elizabeth did not quite equal her father in personal contentment. She
had the consciousness of being nine-and-twenty to give her some regrets
and some apprehensions. Moreover, she had been disappointed by the
heir-presumptive, the very William Walter Elliot, Esq., whose rights had
been so generously supported by her father. Soon after Lady Elliot's
death, Sir Walter had sought Mr. Elliot's society, and had introduced
him to Elizabeth, who was quite ready to marry him. But despite the
assiduity of the baronet, the younger man let the acquaintance drop, and
married a rich woman of inferior birth, for whom, at the present time
(the summer of 1814), Elizabeth was wearing black ribbons.
Anne, too, had had her disappointment. Eight years ago, before she had
lost her bloom, when, in fact, she had been an extremely pretty girl,
with gentleness, modesty, taste and feeling added, she had fallen in
love with Captain Wentworth, a young naval officer who had distinguished
himself in the action off Domingo; but her father and Lady Russell had
frowned upon the match, and, persuaded chiefly by the arguments of the
latter that it would be prejudicial to the professional interests of her
lover, who had still his fortune to make, she had rather weakly
submitted to have the engagement broken off. But though he had angrily
cast her out of his heart, she still loved him, having in the meantime
rejected Charles Musgrove, who subsequently consoled himself by marrying
her sister Mary. So that when her father's embarrassed affairs compelled
him to let Kellynch Hall to Admiral Croft, an eminent seaman who had
fought at Trafalgar, and had happened to marry a sister of Captain
Wentworth, she could not help thinking, with a gentle sigh, as she
walked along her favourite grove: "A few months more, and he, perhaps,
may be walking here."
_II.--Anne Elliot and her Old Lover_
Sir Walter and Elizabeth went to Bath, and settled themselves in a good
house in Camden Place, while it was arranged that Anne should divide her
time between Uppercross Cottage--where Mr. and Mrs. Charles Musgrove
lived--and Kellynch Lodge, and come on from the latter house to Bath
when Lady Russell was prepared to take her. Sir Walter had included in
his party a Mrs. Clay, a young widow, with whom, despite the fact that
she had freckles and a projecting tooth, and was the daughter of Mr.
Shepherd, the family solicitor, Elizabeth had recently struck up a great
friendship. Anne had tried to warn her sister against this attractive
and seemingly designing young woman, but her advice had not been taken
in good part; and she had to content herself with hoping that, though
her suspicion had been resented, it might yet be remembered.
At Uppercross she found things very little altered. The
Musgroves saw too much of one another. The two families were so
continually meeting, so much in the habit of running in and out of each
other's houses at all hours, that their various members inevitably found
much to complain of in one another's conduct. These complaints were
brought to Anne, who was treated with such confidence by all parties
that if she had not been a very discreet young lady she might have
considerably increased the difficulties of the situation. Mary she found
as selfish, as querulous, as ready to think herself ailing, as lacking
in sense and understanding, as unable to manage her children as ever.
Charles Musgrove was civil and agreeable; in sense and temper he was
undoubtedly superior to his wife, though neither his powers nor his
conversation were remarkable. He did nothing with much zeal but sport;
and his time was otherwise trifled away without benefit from books or
anything else. He had, however, excellent spirits, which never seemed
much affected by his wife's occasional moroseness; and he bore with her
unreasonableness sometimes to Anne's admiration. As for the Miss
Musgroves, Henrietta and Louisa, young ladies of nineteen and twenty,
they were living to be fashionable, happy and merry. Their dress had
every advantage, their faces were pretty, their spirits good, their
manners unembarrassed and pleasant; they were of consequence at home,
and favourites abroad.
The Crofts took possession of Kellynch Hall with true naval alertness,
and, naturally enough, intercourse was soon established between them and
the Musgroves. Soon it was known that the admiral's brother-in-law,
Captain Wentworth, had come to stop with them; and one day he made the
inevitable call at the Cottage on his way to shoot with Charles. It was
soon over. Anne's eyes half met his; a bow, a courtesy passed. He talked
to Mary, said all that was right, said something to the Miss Musgroves,
enough to mark an easy footing. Charles showed himself at the window,
all was ready, their visitor had bowed and was gone; the Miss Musgroves
were gone, too, suddenly resolving to walk to the end of the village
with the sportsmen.
She had seen him; they had met. They had been once more in the same
room. Now, how were his sentiments to be read? On one question she was
soon spared all suspense; for, after the Miss Musgroves had returned and
finished their visit at the Cottage, she had this spontaneous
information from Mary: "Captain Wentworth is not very gallant by you,
Anne, though he was so attentive to me. Henrietta asked him what he
thought of you. 'You were so altered he should not have known you
again,' he said."
Doubtless it was so; and she could take no revenge, for he was not
altered, or not for the worse. No; the years which had destroyed her
bloom had only given him a more glowing, manly, open look, in no respect
lessening his personal advantages.
"Altered beyond his knowledge." Frederick Wentworth had used such words,
or something like them, but without an idea that they would be carried
round to her. He had thought her wretchedly altered, and, in the first
moment of appeal, had spoken as he felt. He had not forgiven Anne
Elliot. She had used him ill--deserted and disappointed him; and worse,
in doing so had shown weakness and timidity. He had been most warmly
attached to her, and had never seen a woman since whom he thought her
equal. It was now his object to marry. He was rich, and, being turned on
shore, intended to settle as soon as he could be tempted. "Yes, here I
am, Sophia," he said to his sister, "quite ready to make a foolish
match. Anybody between fifteen and thirty may have me for the asking. A
little beauty, and a few smiles, and a few compliments to the navy, and
I am a lost man."
It looked, indeed, as if he would soon be lost, either to Louisa or to
Henrietta. It was soon Uppercross with him almost every day. The
Musgroves could hardly be more ready to invite than he to come; and as
for Henrietta and Louisa, they both seemed so entirely occupied by him
that nothing but the continued appearance of the most perfect goodwill
between themselves could have made it credible that they were not
decided rivals. Indeed, Mr. Charles Hayter, a young curate with some
expectations, who was a cousin of the Musgroves, began to get uneasy.
Previous to Captain Wentworth's introduction, there had been a
considerable appearance of attachment between Henrietta and himself; but
now he seemed to be very much forgotten.
_III.--Love-making at Lyme Regis_
At this interesting juncture the scene of action was changed from
Uppercross to Lyme Regis, owing to Captain Wentworth's receipt of a
letter from his old friend Captain Harville, announcing his being
settled at this latter place. Captain Wentworth, after a visit to Lyme
Regis, gave so interesting an account of the adjacent country that the
young people were all wild to see it. Accordingly, it was agreed to stay
the night there, and not to be expected back till the next day's dinner.
They found Captain Harville a tall, dark man, with a sensible,
benevolent countenance: a little lame, but unaffected, warm and
obliging. Mrs. Harville, a degree less polished than her husband, seemed
to have the same good feelings and cordiality; while Captain Benwick,
who was the youngest of the three naval officers and a comparatively
little man, had a pleasing face and a melancholic air, just as he ought
to have. He had been engaged to Captain Harville's sister, and was now
mourning her loss. They had been a year or two waiting for fortune and
promotion. Fortune came, his prize-money as lieutenant being great;
promotion, too, came at last; but Fanny Harville did not live to know
it. She had died the preceding summer while he was at sea; and the
friendship between him and the Harvilles having been augmented by the
event which closed all their views of alliance, he was now living with
them entirely. A man of retiring manners and of sedentary pursuits, with
a decided taste for reading, he was drawn a good deal to Anne Elliot
during this excursion, and talked to her of poetry, of Scott and Byron,
of "Marmion" and "The Lady of the Lake," of "The Giaour" and "The Bride
of Abydos." He repeated with such feeling the various lines of Byron
which imaged a broken heart, or a mind destroyed by wretchedness, and
looked so entirely as if he meant to be understood, that Anne ventured
to recommend to him a larger allowance of prose in his daily study.
Another interesting person whom the Uppercross party met at Lyme was Mr.
Elliot. He did not recognise Anne and her friends, or did they till he
had left the town find out who he was; but he was obviously struck with
Anne, and gazed at her with a degree of earnest admiration which she
could not be insensible of. She was looking remarkably well, her very
regular, very pretty features having the bloom and freshness of youth
restored by the fine wind which had been blowing on her complexion, and
by the animation of eye which it had also produced.
It was evident that the gentleman admired her exceedingly. Captain
Wentworth looked round at her, in a way which showed his noticing of it.
He gave her a momentary glance, a glance of brightness, which seemed to
say: "That man is struck with you; and even I, at this moment, see
something like Anne Elliot again."
But the folly of Louisa Musgrove, and the consequences that attended it,
soon obliterated from Anne's memory all such recollections as these.
Louisa, who was walking with Captain Wentworth, persuaded him to jump
her down the steps on the Lower Cob. Contrary to his advice, she ran up
the steps to be jumped down again; and, being too precipitate by a
second, fell on the pavement and was taken up senseless. Fortunately, no
bones were broken, the only injury was to the head; and Captain and Mrs.
Harville insisting on her being taken to their house, she recovered
health so steadily that before Anne and Lady Russell left Kellynch Lodge
for Bath there was talk of the possibility of her being able to be
removed to Uppercross.
When the accident occurred, Captain Wentworth's attitude was very much
that of the lover. "Oh, God! that I had not given way at the fatal
moment!" he cried. "Had I but done as I ought! But so eager and so
resolute; dear, sweet Louisa!"
Anne feared there could not be a doubt as to what would follow the
recovery; but she was amused to hear Charles Musgrove tell how much
Captain Benwick admired herself--"elegance, sweetness, beauty!" Oh,
there was no end to Miss Elliot's charms!
Another surprise awaited her at Bath, where she found her father and
sister Elizabeth happy in the submission and society of the
heir-presumptive. He had explained away all the appearance of neglect on
his own side as originating in misapprehension. He had never had an idea
of throwing himself off; he had feared that he was thrown off, and
delicacy had kept him silent. These explanations having been made, Sir
Walter took him by the hand, affirming that "Mr. Elliot was better to
look at than most men, and that he had no objection to being seen with
The gentleman called one evening, soon after Anne's arrival in the town;
and his little start of surprise on being introduced to her showed that
he was not more astonished than delighted at meeting, in the character
of Sir Walter's daughter, the young lady who had so strongly struck his
fancy at Lyme. He stopped an hour, and his tone, his expressions, his
choice of subject, all showed the operation of a sensible, discerning
Still, Anne could not understand what his object was in seeking this
reconciliation. Even the engagement of Louisa Musgrove to Captain
Benwick, which was announced to her by Mary about a month later, seemed
more susceptible of explanation--had not the young couple been thrown
together for weeks?--than this determination of Mr. Elliot to become
friends with relations from whom he could derive no possible advantage.
Following close on the news of Louisa's engagement came the arrival at
Bath of Admiral and Mrs. Croft. He had come for the cure of his gout;
and he was soon followed by Captain Wentworth, who, for the first time
since their second meeting, deliberately sought Anne out at a concert
which she and her people were attending. The most significant part of
their conversation was his comment on Louisa's engagement to Captain
Benwick. He frankly confessed he could not understand it as far as it
"A man like him, in his situation, with a heart pierced, wounded, almost
broken! Fanny Harville was a very superior person, and his attachment to
her was indeed attachment. A man does not recover from such a devotion
of the heart to such a woman. He ought not; he does not."
But the captain was prevented from saying much more by the assiduous
attention which Mr. Elliot paid to her at this concert.
"Very long," said he, "has the name of Anne Elliot possessed a charm
over my fancy; and, if I dared, I would breathe my wishes that the name
might never change."
Such language might almost be taken to be a proposal; but Anne was too
much interested in watching Captain Wentworth to pay much attention to
She had still in mind the words which her sometime lover had spoken at
the concert, when a visit she had paid to an invalid friend, an old
schoolfellow of hers called Mrs. Smith, gave her complete enlightenment
as to the character and present objects of Mr. Elliot. Mrs. Smith, who
was a widow, and whose husband had been a bosom friend of Mr. Elliot's,
described him as "a man without heart or conscience, a designing, wary,
cold-blooded being, who thinks only of himself; who for his own interest
or ease would be guilty of any cruelty, or any treachery that could be
perpetrated without risk of damaging his general character." She told
how he had encouraged her husband, to whom he was under great
obligations, to indulge in the most ruinous expense, and then, on his
death, caused her endless difficulties and distress by refusing to act
as his executor. She also informed Anne that he had married his first
wife, whom he treated badly, entirely on account of her fortune, and
that, though among the present reasons for continuing the acquaintance
with his relations was a genuine attachment to herself, his original
intention in seeking a reconciliation with Sir Walter had been to secure
for himself the reversion of the baronetcy by preventing the holder of
the title from falling into the snares of Mrs. Clay.
The next day a party of the Musgroves appeared at Camden Place. Mrs.
Musgrove, senior, had some old friends at Bath whom she wanted to see;
Mrs. Charles Musgrove could not bear to be left behind in any excursion
which her husband was taking; Henrietta, who had arrived at an
understanding with Mr. Charles Hayter, had come to buy wedding clothes
for herself and Louisa; and Captain Harville had come on business. It
was on a visit to the Musgroves, who were stopping at the White Hart
Hotel, that Anne had a momentous conversation with the last-named
person. The captain had been reverting to the topic of his friend
Benwick's engagement, and Anne had been saying that women did not forget
as readily as men.
"No, no," said Harville, "it is not man's nature to forget. I will not
allow it to be more man's nature than woman's to be inconstant and to
forget those they do love or have loved. I believe the reverse. I
believe in a true analogy between our bodily frames and our mental; and
that as our bodily frames are stronger than yours, so are our feelings."
"Your feelings may be the stronger," replied Anne, "but the same spirit
of analogy will authorise me to assert that ours are the more tender.
Man is more robust than woman, but he is not longer lived; which exactly
explains my view of the nature of their attachment."
Captain Wentworth, who was sitting down at a writing-table in another
part of the room, engaged in correspondence, seemed very much interested
in this conversation; and a few minutes later he placed before Anne,
with eyes of glowing entreaty, a letter addressed to "Miss A. E."
"I offer myself to you again," he wrote, "with a heart even more your
own than when you almost broke it eight years and a half ago. Dare not
say that man forgets sooner than woman, that his love has an earlier
death; I have loved none but you."
To such a declaration there could be but one answer; and soon Frederick
Wentworth and Anne Elliot were exchanging again those feelings and those
promises which once before had seemed to secure everything, but which
had been followed by so many years of division and estrangement.
This time there was no opposition to the engagement. Captain Wentworth's
wealth, personal appearance, and well-sounding name enabled Sir Walter
to prepare his pen, with a very good grace, for the insertion of the
marriage in the volume of honour.
As for Mr. Elliot, the news of his cousin Anne's engagement burst on him
with unexpected suddenness. He soon quitted Bath; and on Mrs. Clay's
leaving it shortly afterwards and being next heard of as established
under his protection in London, it was evident how double a game he had
been playing, and how determined he was to save himself at all events
from being cut out by one artful woman at least.
* * * * *
HONORE DE BALZAC
Honore de Balzac was born May 20, 1799, at Tours, in France,
and died at Paris, Aug. 18, 1850. His early life was filled
with hard work and oppressed by poverty. He attained success
by the publication of "Les Derniers Chouans" in 1829, and he
soon established his fame as the leader of realistic fiction.
In spite of frequent coarseness, he stands for all time as a
great writer by reason of his powers of character analysis.
"Eugenie Grandet" is, justly, one of the most famous of
Balzac's novels. As a study of avarice, in the character of
old Grandet, it is superb, and the picture of manners in the
country town of Saumur is painted as only a supreme artist
like Balzac could paint it. The pathos of Eugenie's wasted
life, the long suffering of Mme. Grandet, the craft and
cunning of the Des Grassins and the Cruchots, the fidelity of
Nanon, and the frank egotism of Charles Grandet--all these
things combine to make the book a masterpiece of French
fiction. "Eugenie Grandet" was written in the full vigour of
Balzac's genius in 1833, and was published in the first volume
of "Scenes of Provincial Life" in 1834, and finally included
in the "Human Comedy" in 1843.
_I.--The Rich Miser of Saumur_
The town of Saumur is old-fashioned and in every way "provincial." Its
houses are dark within, its shops, undecorated, recall the workshops of
the Middle Ages. Its inhabitants gossip freely, according to the fashion
of country towns, and the arrival of a stranger in the town is an
important item of news. The trade of Saumur depends upon the vineyards
of the district. The prosperity of landowners, vinegrowers, coopers, and
innkeepers rises or falls according to whether the season is good or bad
for the grapes.
A certain house in Saumur, larger and more sombre than most, and once
the residence of nobility, belonged to M. Grandet.
This M. Grandet was a master cooper in 1789, a good man of business with
a remarkable head for accounts. He prospered in the Revolution, bought
the confiscated Church lands at a low price, married the daughter of a
wealthy timber merchant, was made mayor under the consulate, became
Monsieur Grandet when the empire was established, and every year grew
wealthier and more miserly.
In 1817 M. Grandet was 68, his wife 47, and their only child, Eugenie,
A careful, cunning, silent man was M. Grandet, who loved his gold and to
get the better in a bargain beyond all else. He cultivated 100 acres of
vineyard, had thirteen little farms, an old abbey, and 127 acres of
grazing land, and owned the house he lived in. The town estimated old
Grandet's income to be five or six million francs, but only two people
were in a position to guess with any chance of probability, and these
were M. Cruchot the notary, and M. des Grassins the banker, and they
disclosed no secrets.
Both M. Cruchot and M. des Grassins were men of considerable importance
in Saumur, and enjoyed the right of entry to M. Grandet's house--a
privilege extended to only a very few of their neighbours.
There was rivalry between these two families of the Cruchots and Des
Grassins, rivalry for the hand of Grandet's daughter, Eugenie. Cruchot's
nephew was a rising lawyer, already, at the age of thirty-three, a
president of the court of first instance, and Cruchot's brother was an
abbe of Tours. The hopes of the Cruchots were centred on the successful
marriage of the nephew (who called himself Cruchot de Bonfons, after an
estate he had bought) with Grandet's heiress.
Mme. des Grassins was equally hopeful and indefatigable on behalf of her
The whole town knew of the struggle between these two families, and
watched it with interest. Would Mlle. Grandet marry M. Adolphe des
Grassins or M. le President? There were others who declared the old
cooper was rich enough to marry his daughter to a peer in France.
With all his wealth and the fortune his wife brought him, M. Grandet
lived as meanly and cheaply as he could. His house was cold and dreary,
and his table was supplied with poultry, eggs, butter and corn by his
tenants. M. Grandet never paid visits or invited people to dinner.
One servant, Nanon, a big, strong woman of five feet eight inches, did
all the work of the house, the cooking and washing, the baking and
cleaning, and watched over her master's interests with an absolute
fidelity. The strength of Nanon appealed to M. Grandet when he was on
the lookout for a housekeeper before his marriage, and the girl, out of
work and wretched, had never lost her gratitude for having been taken
into his service. For twenty-eight years Nanon had worked early and late
for the Grandets, and on a yearly wage of seventy livres had accumulated
more money than any other servant in Saumur. She was one of the family,
spending her evenings in the sitting-room of her employers, where a
single candle was all that was allowed for illumination. M. Grandet also
decided that no fire must be lit in the sitting-room from April 1 to
October 31, and every morning he went into the kitchen and doled out the
bread, sugar, and other provisions for the day to Nanon, and candles to
As for Mme. Grandet, her gentleness and meekness could not stand up
against her husband's force of character. She had brought more than
300,000 francs to her husband, and yet had no money save an occasional
six francs for pocket-money, and the only certain source of income was
four or five louis which Grandet made the Belgian merchants, who bought
his wine, pay over and above the stipulated price. Often enough he would
borrow some of this money even. Mme. Grandet was too gentle to revolt,
but her pride forbade her ever asking a sou from her husband. With her
daughter she attended to the household linen, and found compensation for
the unhappiness of her lot in the consolations of religion, and also in
the company of Eugenie. It never occurred to M. Grandet that his wife
suffered, or had reason to suffer. He was making money; every year his
riches increased. He paid for sittings in church, and gave his daughter
five francs a month for a dress allowance. That his wife hardly ever
left the house except occasionally to go to church, that her dress was
invariably the same, and that she never asked him for anything, never
troubled M. Grandet. Avarice was his consuming passion, and it was
satisfactory to him that no one attempted to cross him.
Twice a year, on her birthday, and on the day of her patron saint,
Eugenie received some rare gold coin from her father, and then he would
take pleasure in looking at her store--for these coins were not to be
spent. Old M. Grandet liked to think that his daughter was learning to
appreciate gold, and that in giving her these precious coins he was not
parting with his money, but only putting it in another box.
_II.--Eugenie's Springtime of Love_
On Eugenie's twenty-third birthday, November, 1819, the three
Cruchots--the notary, the abbe, and the magistrate--and the three Des
Grassins--M. des Grassins, Mme. des Grassins, and their son Adolphe--
hastened to pay their respects to the heiress as soon as dinner was
over. Mr. Grandet, in honour of the occasion, lit a second candle in the
sitting-room. "It is Eugenie's birthday, and we must have an
illumination," he remarked. The Cruchots all brought handsome bouquets
of flowers for Eugenie, but their gifts were eclipsed by a showy workbox
fitted with trumpery gilded silver fittings, which Mme. des Grassins
presented, and which filled Eugenie with delight. "Adolphe brought it
from Paris," whispered Mme. des Grassins in the girl's ear. Old Grandet
quite understood that both families were in pursuit of his daughter for
the sake of her fortune, and made up his mind that neither of them
should have her.
They all sat down to play lotto at half-past eight, except old Grandet,
who never played any game. Just as Mme. Grandet had won a pool of
sixteen sous, a heavy knock at the front door startled everybody in the
room. Nanon took up one of the candles and went to the door, followed by
Grandet. Presently they returned with a young man, good-looking, and
fashionably dressed. This was Charles Grandet, the son of the old
cooper's brother, a merchant in Paris. The young man brought a good many
trunks, and while Nanon saw to the bestowal of his luggage, all the
lotto players looked at the visitor. Old Grandet took the only remaining
candle from the table to read a long letter which his nephew had
brought. Charles had set off from Paris at his father's bidding to pay a
visit to his uncle at Saumur. He was a dandy, and his appearance was in
striking contrast to the attire of the Cruchots and the Des Grassins.
Moreover, he already had had a love affair with a great lady whom he
called Annette, and he was a good shot. Altogether, Charles Grandet was
a vain and selfish youth, conscious of his superiority over the
unfashionable provincials of Saumur, but determined at all costs to
enjoy himself as best he could.
As for Eugenie, it seemed to her that she had never seen such a perfect
gentleman as this cousin from Paris, and, at the risk of incurring her
father's wrath, succeeded in persuading Nanon to do what she could to
make things comfortable for their guest in the cold and dreary house.
Nanon was milking the cow when Eugenie preferred her kindly and
considerate request, and the faithful serving-maid at once obligingly
promised to save a little cream from her master's supply of milk. The
Cruchots and Des Grassins retired discomfited before the presence of
Charles Grandet. The young Parisian, brought up in luxury by his father,
could not understand why he should have been sent to this outlandish
place, and he was the more mystified by his uncle telling him they would
talk over "important business" on the morrow. Then, indeed, in plain and
brutal words he learnt the contents of the fatal letter he had brought
from his father. It was twenty-three years since old Grandet had seen
his brother in Paris, but this brother had become a rich man, too; of
that old Grandet was aware. And now Victor-Ange-Guillaume Grandet wrote
to him from Paris, saying: "By the time that this letter is in your
hands, I shall cease to exist. The failure of my stockbroker and my
notary has ruined me, and while I owe nearly four million francs, my
assets are only a quarter of my debts. I cannot survive the disgrace of
bankruptcy. I know you cannot satisfy my creditors, but you can be a
father to my unhappy child, Charles, who is now alone in the world. Lay
everything before him, and tell him that in my work he can restore the
fortune he has lost. My failure is due neither to dishonesty nor to
carelessness, but to causes beyond my control."
Old Grandet told his nephew plainly that his father was dead, and even
showed him a paragraph already in the papers referring to the ruin and
suicide of the unhappy man--so quickly is such news spread abroad.
For the moment, his penniless state was nothing to the young man; the
loss of his father was the only grief.
Old Grandet let him alone, and in a day or two Charles gathered up
strength to face the situation.
Mme. Grandet and Eugenie were full of tender sympathy for the unhappy
young man, and this sympathy in Eugenie's case ripened into love. One
day, when Eugenie passed her cousin's chamber, the door stood ajar; she
thrust it open, and saw that Charles had fallen asleep in his chair. She
entered and found out from a letter her cousin had written to Annette,
which she read as it lay on the table, that he was in want of money--for
old Grandet was resolved to do nothing for his nephew beyond paying his
passage to Nantes. The next night she brought him all her store of gold
coins, worth six thousand francs. Her confidence and devoted affection
touched Charles deeply. He accepted the money, and in return gave into
her keeping a small leather box containing portraits of his father and
mother, richly set in gold. Eugenie promised to guard this box until he
For it was decided that Charles Grandet must go to the Indies to seek
his fortune. He sold his jewels and finery, and paid his personal debts
in Paris, and waited on at Saumur till the ship should be ready to sail
And in those few weeks came the springtime of love for Eugenie.
Old Grandet was too busy to trouble about his nephew, who was so shortly
to be got rid of, and both Nanon and Mme. Grandet liked and pities the
Charles Grandet, on his side, was conscious that his Parisian friends
would not have shown him a like kindness, and the purity and truth of
Eugenie's love were something he had not hitherto experienced.
The cousins would snatch a few moments together in the early morning,
and once, only a few days before his departure, they met in the long,
dark passage at the foot of the staircase. "Dear cousin, I cannot expect
to return for many years," Charles said sadly. "We must not consider
ourselves bound in any way."
"You love me?" was all Eugenie asked. And on his reply, she added: "Then
I will wait for you, Charles."
Presently his arms were round her waist. Eugenie made no resistance,
and, pressed to his heart, received her lover's kiss.
"Dear Eugenie, a cousin is better than a brother; he can marry you,"
Thus the lovers vowed themselves to each other. Then came the terrible
hour of parting, and Charles Grandet sailed from Nantes for the Indies;
and the old house at Saumur suddenly seemed to Eugenie to have become
very empty and bare indeed.
_III.--M. Grandet's Discovery_
Grandet, on the advice of M. Cruchot, the notary, saved the honour of
his dead brother. There was no act of bankruptcy. M. Cruchot, to gain
favour with old Grandet, proposed to go to Paris to look after the dead
man's affairs, but suggested the payment of expenses. It was M. des
Grassins, however, who went to Paris, for he undertook to make no
charge; and the banker not only attended to Guillaume Grandet's
creditors, but stayed on in Paris--having been made a deputy--and fell
in love with an actress. Adolphe joined his father, and achieved an
equally unpleasant reputation.
The property of Guillaume Grandet realised enough money to pay the
creditors a dividend of 47 per cent. They agreed that they would
deposit, upon certain conditions, their bills with an accredited notary,
and each one said to himself that Grandet of Saumur would pay.
Grandet of Saumur, however, did not pay. Endless delays were
forthcoming, and Des Grassins was always holding out promises that were
As years went by some of the creditors gave up all hope of payment,
others died; till at the end of five years the deficit stood at
In the meantime, a terrible blow had fallen on Mine. Grandet. On January
1, 1820, old Grandet, according to his wont, presented his daughter with
a gold coin, and asked to see her store of gold pieces.
All Eugenie would tell him was that her money was gone. In vain the old
man stormed. Eugenie kept on saying: "I am of age; the money was mine."
Grandet raved at his wife, who, weary and ill, gave him no satisfaction.
In fact, Mine. Grandet's character had become stronger through her
daughter's trouble, and she refused to support her husband's angry
Then old Grandet ordered Eugenie to retire to her own apartment. "Do you
hear what I say? Go!" he shouted.
Soon all the town knew that Eugenie was a prisoner in her own room,
seeing no one but her mother and old Nanon; and public opinion, knowing
nothing of the cause of the quarrel, blamed the old cooper. For six
months this state of things lasted, and Mine. Grandet's illness became
steadily worse. M. Cruchot, the notary, warned old Grandet that, in the
event of his wife's death, he would have to give an account to Eugenie
of her mother's share in the joint estate; and that Eugenie could then,
if she chose, demand her mother's fortune, to which she would be
This seriously alarmed the avaricious old cooper, and he made up his
mind to a reconciliation, for his wife assured him she would never get
better while Eugenie was treated so badly. Eugenie and her mother were
talking of Charles, from whom no letter had come, and getting what
pleasure they could from looking at the portraits of his parents, when
old Grandet burst into the room. Catching sight of the gold fittings, he
snatched up the dressing-case, and would have wrenched off the precious
metal. "Father, father," Eugenie called out, "this case is not yours; it
is not mine, it is a sacred trust! It belongs to my unhappy cousin. Do
not pull it to pieces!"
Old Grandet took no notice.
"Oh, have pity; you are killing me!" said the mother.
Eugenie caught up a knife, and her cry brought Nanon on the scene.
"Father, if you cut away a single piece of gold, I shall stab myself.
You are killing my mother, and you will kill me, too."
Old Grandet for once was frightened. He tried to make it up with his
wife, he kissed Eugenie, and even promised that Eugenie should marry her
cousin if she wanted to.
Mme. Grandet lingered till October, and then died. "There is no
happiness to be had except in heaven; some day you will understand
that," she said to her daughter just before she passed away.
M. Cruchot was called in after Mine. Grandet's death, and in his
presence Eugenie agreed to sign a deed renouncing her claim to her
mother's fortune while her father lived. She signed it without making
any objection, to old Grandet's great relief, and he promised to allow
her 100 francs a month. But the old man himself was failing. Bit by bit
he relinquished his many activities, but lived on till seven years had
passed. Then he died, his eyes kindling at the end at the sight of the
priest's sacred vessels of silver. His brother's creditors were still
unpaid. Eugenie was informed by M. Cruchot that her property amounted to
17,000,000 francs. "Where can my cousin be?" she asked herself. "If only
we knew where the young gentleman was, I would set off myself and find
him," Nanon said to her. The poor heiress was very lonely. The faithful
Nanon, now fifty-nine, married Antoine Cornoiller, the bailiff of the
estates, and these two, who had known one another for years, lived in
The Cruchots still hoped to marry M. le President to Eugenie, and every
birthday the magistrate brought a handsome bouquet. But the heart of
Eugenie remained steadfast to her cousin.
"Ah, Nanon," she would say, "why has he never written to me once all
Mme. des Grassins, unwilling to see the triumph of her old rivals, the
Cruchots, went about saying that the heiress of the Grandet millions
would marry a peer of France rather than a magistrate. Eugenie, however,
thought neither of the peer nor of the magistrate. She gave away
enormous sums in charity, and lived on quietly in the dreary old house.
Her wealth brought her no comfort, her only treasures were the two
portraits left in her charge. Yet she went on loving, and believed
herself loved in return.
_IV.--The Honour of the Grandets_
Charles Grandet, in the course of eight years, met with considerable
success in his trading ventures. He saw very quickly that the way to
make money in the tropics, as in Europe, was to go in for buying and
selling men, and so he plunged into the slave trade of Africa, and under
the name of Carl Shepherd was known in the East Indies, in the United
States, and on the African coasts. His plan was to get rich as speedily
as possible, and then return to Paris and live respected. For a
time--that is, on his first voyage--the thought of Eugenie gave him
infinite pleasure; but soon all recollection of Saumur was blotted out,
and his cousin became merely a person to whom he owed 6,000 francs.
In 1827, Charles returned to Bordeaux with 1,900,000 francs in gold
dust. On board the ship he became very intimate with the d'Aubrions, an
old aristocratic but impoverished family. Mme. d'Aubrion was anxious to
secure Charles Grandet for her only daughter, and they all travelled to
Paris together. Mme. d'Aubrion pointed out to Grandet that her influence
would get him a court appointment, with title of Comte d'Aubrion; and
Annette, with whom Grandet took counsel, approved the alliance.
Des Grassins, hearing of the wanderer's return, called, and, anxious to
get some remuneration for all the trouble he had taken, explained that
300,000 francs were still owing to his father's creditors. But Charles
Grandet answered coolly that he had nothing to do with his father's
Des Grassins, however, wrote to his wife that he would yet make the dead
Guillaume Grandet a bankrupt, and that would stop the marriage, and Mme.
des Grassins showed the letter to Eugenie.
Eugenie had already heard from her cousin. Charles Grandet sent a cheque
for 8,000 francs, asked for the return of his dressing-case, and
casually mentioned that he was going to make a brilliant marriage with
Mlle. d'Aubrion, for whom he admitted he had not the slightest
This was the shipwreck of all Eugenie's hopes--the utter and complete
"My mother was right," she said, weeping. "To suffer, and then die--that
is our lot!"
That same evening when M. Cruchot de Bonfons, the magistrate, called on
Eugenie, she promised to marry him on condition that he claimed none of
the rights of marriage over her, and that he would immediately go and
settle all her uncle's creditors in full.
M. de Bonfons, only too thankful to win the heiress of the Grandet
millions on any terms, agreed, and set off at once for Paris with a
cheque for 1,500,000 francs. He carried a letter from Eugenie to Charles
Grandet, a letter that contained no word of reproach, but announced the
full discharge of his father's debts.
Charles was astonished to hear from M. de Bonfons of his forthcoming
marriage with Eugenie, and he was dumfounded when the president told him
that Mlle. Grandet possessed 17,000,000 francs.
Mme. d'Aubrion interrupted the interview; her husband's objection to
Grandet's marriage with his daughter was removed with the payment of the
long-standing creditors and the restoration of the family honour of the
M. de Bonfons, who now dropped the name of Cruchot, married Eugenie, and
shortly afterwards was made Councillor to the Court Royal at Angers. His
loyalty to the government was rewarded with further office. M. de
Bonfons became deputy of Saumur; and then, dreaming of higher honours,
perhaps a peerage, he died.
M. de Bonfons always respected his wife's request that they should live
apart; with remarkable cunning he had drafted the marriage contract, in
which, "In case there was no issue of the marriage, husband and wife
bequeathed to each other all their property, without exception or
reservation." Death disappointed his schemes. Mme. de Bonfons was left a
widow three years after marriage, with an income of 800,000 livres.
She is a beautiful woman still, but pale and sorrowful. In spite of her
income she lives on in the old house, and cold and sunless it bears a
likeness to her own life. Spending little on herself, Mme. de Bonfons
gives away large sums in succouring the unfortunate; but she is very
lonely--without husband, children, or kindred. She dwells in the world,
but is not of it.
* * * * *
"Old Goriot," or, to give it its French title, "Le Pere
Goriot," is one of the series of novels to which Balzac gave
the title of "The Comedy of Human Life." It is a comedy,
mingled with lurid tragic touches, of society in the French
capital in the early decades of the nineteenth century. The
leading character in this story is, of course, Old Goriot, and
the passion which dominates him is that of paternity. In the
picture which Balzac draws of Parisian life, from the sordid
boarding-house to the luxurious mansions of the gilded
aristocracy in the days of the Bourbon Restoration, the author
exhibits that tendency to over-description for which he was
criticised by his contemporaries, and to dwell too much on
petty details. It may be urged, however, that it is the
cumulative effect of these minute touches that is necessary
for the true realisation of character.
_I.--In a Paris Boarding-House_
Madame Vauquer, nee Conflans, is an elderly lady who for forty years
past has kept a Parisian middle-class boarding-house, situated in the
Rue Neuve Sainte-Genevieve, between the Latin Quarter and the Faubourg
Saint Marcel. This pension, known under the name of the Maison Vauquer,
receives men as well as women--young men and old; but hitherto scandal
has never attacked the moral principles on which the respectable
establishment has been conducted. Moreover, for more than thirty years,
no young woman has been seen in the house; and if any young man ever
lived there, it was because his family were able to make him only a very
slender allowance. Nevertheless, in 1819, the date at which this drama
begins, a poor young girl was found there.
The Maison Vauquer is of three stories, with attic chambers, and a tiny
garden at the back. The ground floor consists of a parlour lighted by
two windows looking upon the street. Nothing could be more depressing
than this chamber, which is used as the sitting-room. It is furnished
with chairs, the seats of which are covered with strips of alternate
dull and shining horsehair stuff, while in the centre is a round table
with a marble top. The room exhales a smell for which there is no name,
in any language, except that of _odour de pension_. And yet, if you
compare it with the dining-room which adjoins, you will find the
sitting-room as elegant and as perfumed as a lady's boudoir. There
misery reigns without a redeeming touch of poesie--poverty, penetrating,
concentrated, rasping. This room appears at its best when at seven in
the morning Madame Vauquer, preceded by her cat, enters it from her
sleeping chamber. She wears a tulle cap, under which hangs awry a front
of false hair; her gaping slippers flop as she walks across the room.
Her features are oldish and flabby; from their midst springs a nose like
the beak of a parrot. Her small fat hands, her person plump as a church
rat, her bust too full and tremulous, are all in harmony with the room.
About fifty years of age, Madame Vauquer looks as most women do who say
that they have had misfortunes.
At the date when this story opens there were seven boarders in the
house. The first floor contained the two best suites of rooms. Madame
Vauquer occupied the small, and the other was let to Madame Couture, the
widow of a paymaster in the army of the French Republic. She had with
her a very young girl, named Victorine Taillefer. On the second floor,
one apartment was tenanted by an old gentleman named Poiret; the other
by a man of about forty years of age, who wore a black wig, dyed his
whiskers, gave out that he was a retired merchant, and called himself
Monsieur Vautrin. The third story was divided into four single rooms, of
which one was occupied by an old maid named Mademoiselle Michonneau, and
another by an aged manufacturer of vermicelli, who allowed himself to be
called "Old Goriot." The two remaining rooms were allotted to a medical
student known as Bianchon, and to a law student named Eugene de
Rastignac. Above the third story were a loft where linen was dried, and
two attic rooms, in one of which slept the man of all work, Christophe,
and in the other the fat cook, Sylvie.
The desolate aspect of the interior of the establishment repeated itself
in the shabby attire of the boarders. Mademoiselle Michonneau protected
her weak eyes with a shabby green silk shade mounted on brass wire,
which would have scared the Angel of Pity. Although the play of passions
had ravished her features, she retained certain traces of a fine
complexion, which suggested that the figure conserved some fragments of
beauty. Poiret was a human automaton, who had earned a pension by
mechanical labour as a government functionary.
Mademoiselle Victorine Taillefer was of a sickly paleness, like a girl
in feeble health; but her grey-black eyes expressed the sweetness and
resignation of a Christian. Her dress, simple and cheap, betrayed her
youthful form. Happy, she might have been beautiful, for happiness
imparts a poetic charm to women, as dress is the artifice of it. If love
had ever given sparkle to her eyes, Victorine would have been able to
hold her own with the fairest of her compeers. Her father believed he
had reason to doubt his paternity, though she loved him with passionate
tenderness; and after making her a yearly allowance of six hundred
francs, he disinherited her in favour of his only son, who was to be the
sole successor to his millions. Madame Couture was a distant relation of
Victorine's mother, who had died in her arms, and she had brought up the
orphan as her own daughter in a strictly pious fashion, taking her with
rigid regularity to mass and confession.
Eugene de Rastignac, the eldest son of a poor baron of Angouleme, was a
characteristic son of the South. His complexion was clear, hair black,
eyes blue. His figure, manner, and habitual poses proved that he was a
scion of a noble family, and that his early education had been based on
aristocratic traditions. The connecting link between these two
individuals and the other boarders was Vautrin--the man of forty, with
the dyed whiskers. He was one of that sort of men who are familiarly
described as "jolly good fellows." His face, furrowed with premature
wrinkles, showed signs of hardness which belied his insinuating address.
He was invariably obliging, with a breezy cheerfulness, though at times
there was a steely expression in the eyes which inspired his
fellow-boarders with a sense of fear. He knew or guessed the affairs of
everybody in the house, but no one could divine his real business or his
most inmost thoughts.
_II.--The Beginnings of the Tragedy_
Such a household ought to offer, and did present in miniature, the
elements of a complete society. Among the inmates there was, as in the
world at large, one poor discouraged creature--a butt on whom mocking
pleasantries were rained. This patient sufferer was the old vermicelli
maker, Goriot. Six years before, he had come to live at the Maison
Vauquer, having, so he said, retired from business. He dressed
handsomely, wore a gold watch, with thick gold chain and seals,
flourished a gold snuff-box, and, when Madame Vauquer insinuated that he
was a gallant, he smiled with the complacency of vanity tickled. Among
the china and silver articles with which he decorated his sitting-room
were a dish and porringer, on the cover of which were figures
representing two doves billing and cooing.
"That," said Goriot, "is the present which my wife made to me on the
first anniversary of our wedding-day. Poor dear, she bought it with the
little savings she hoarded before our marriage. Look you, madame, I
would rather scratch the ground with my nails for a living than part
with that porringer. God be praised, however, I shall be able to drink
my coffee out of this dish every morning during the rest of my days. I
cannot complain. I have on the shelf, as the saying is, plenty of baked
bread for a long time to come."
At the close of his first year Goriot began to practise little
economies; at the end of the second he removed his rooms to the second
floor, and did without a fire all the winter. This although, as Madame
Vauquer's prying eyes had seen, Goriot's name appeared in the list of
state funds for a sum representing an income of from eight to ten
thousand francs. Henceforth she denounced him to the other paying-guests
as an unprincipled old libertine, who lavished his enormous income from
the funds on unknown youthful charmers. The boarders agreed; and when
two young ladies in the most fashionable and costly attire visited him
in succession in a semi-stealthy manner, their suspicions, as they
believed, were confirmed. On one occasion, Sylvie followed Old Goriot
and his beautiful visitor to a side street, and saw that there was a
splendid carriage waiting and that she got into it. When challenged upon
the point, the old man meekly declared that they were his daughters,
though he never disclosed that their occasional visits were paid only to
wheedle money from him.
The years passed, and with the gentleness of a broken spirit, beaten
down to the docility of misery, Goriot curtailed his personal expenses,
and again removed his lodgings; this time to the third floor. His dress
turned shabbier; with each ascending grade his diamonds, gold snuff-box,
and jewels disappeared. He grew thinner in person; his face, which had
once the beaming roundness of a well-to-do middle-class gentleman,
became furrowed with wrinkles. Lines appeared in his forehead, his jaws
grew gaunt and sharp; and at the end of the fourth year he bore no
longer the likeness of his former self. He was now a wan, worn-out
Eugene de Rastignac had ambitions, not only to win distinction as a
lawyer, but also to play a part in the aristocratic society of Paris. He
observed the influence which women exert upon society; and at his
suggestion his aunt, Madame de Marcillac, who lived with his father in
the old family chateau near Angouleme, and who had been at court in the
days before the French Revolution, wrote to one of her great relatives,
the Viscomtesse de Beauseant, one of the queens of Parisian society,
asking her to give kindly recognition to her nephew. On the strength of
that letter Eugene was invited to a ball at the mansion of the
viscomtesse in the Faubourg Saint-Germain. The viscomtesse became
interested in him, especially as she was suffering from the desertion of
the Marquis d'Ajuda-Pinto, a Portuguese nobleman who had been long her
lover, and stood sponsor for him in society. At the Faubourg, Eugene met
the Duchesse de Langeais, from whom he learned the history of Old
"During the Revolution," said the duchesse, "Goriot was a flour and
vermicelli merchant, and, being president of his section, was behind the
scenes. When a great scarcity of food was at hand he made his fortune by
selling his goods for ten times what they cost him. He had but one
passion; he loved his daughters, and by endowing each of them with a dot
of eight hundred thousand francs, he married the eldest, Anastasie, to
the Count de Restaud, and the youngest, Delphine, to the Baron de
Nucingen, a rich German financier. During the Empire, his daughters
sometimes asked their father to visit them; but after the Restoration
the old man became an annoyance to his sons-in-law. He saw that his
daughters were ashamed of him; he made the sacrifice which only a father
can, and banished himself from their homes. There is," continued the
duchesse, "something in these Goriot sisters even more shocking than
their neglect of their father, for whose death they wish. I mean their
rivalry to each other. Restaud is of ancient family; his wife has been
adopted by his relatives and presented at court. But the rich sister,
the beautiful Madame Delphine de Nucingen, is dying with envy, the
victim of jealousy. She is a hundred leagues lower in society than her
sister. They renounce each other as they both renounced their father.
Madame de Nucingen would lap up all the mud between the Rue Saint-Lazare
and the Rue de Crenelle to gain admission to my salon." What the
duchesse did not reveal was that Anastasie had a lover, Count Maxime de
Trailles, a gambler and a duellist. To pay the gambling losses of this
unscrupulous lover, to the extent of two hundred thousand francs, the
Countess de Restaud induced Old Goriot to sell out of the funds nearly
all that remained of his great fortune, and give the proceeds to her.
Returning to his lodgings from a ball in the Faubourg Saint-Germain,
Eugene saw a light in Goriot's room; and, without being noticed, watched
the old man laboriously twisting two pieces of silver plate--his
precious dish and porringer--into one lump.
"He must be mad," thought the student.
"The poor child!" groaned Goriot.
The next morning Goriot visited a silversmith, and the Countess de
Restaud received the money to redeem a note of hand which she had given
to a moneylender on behalf of her lover.
"Old Goriot is sublime," muttered Eugene when he heard of the
Delphine de Nucingen also had an admirer, Count de Marsay, through whose
influence she expected to be introduced into the exclusive aristocratic
society to which even the great wealth of her husband and his German
patent of nobility could not secure an entry. Apart from her social
aspirations, Delphine was personally extravagant; and as the baron was
miserly and only gave her a very scanty allowance, she visited the
gambling dens of the Palais Royale to try and raise the money which she
could no longer coax from her old father.
_III.--A Temptation and a Murder_
To be young, to thirst after a position in the world of fashion, to
hunger for the smiles of beautiful women, to obtain an entry into the
salons of the Faubourg, meant to Rastignac large expenditure. He wrote
home asking for a loan of twelve hundred francs, which, he said, he must
have at all costs. The Viscomtesse de Beauseant had taken him under her
protection, and he was in a situation to make an immediate fortune. He
must go into society, but had not a penny even to buy gloves. The loan
would be returned tenfold.
The mother sold her jewels, the aunt her old laces, his sisters
sacrificed their economies, and the twelve hundred francs were sent to
Eugene. With this sum he launched into the gay life of a man of fashion,
dressed extravagantly, and gambled recklessly. One day Vautrin arrived
in high spirits, surprising Eugene conversing with Victorine. This was
Vautrin's opportunity, for which he had been preparing. When Victorine
retired, Vautrin pointed out how impossible it was to maintain a
position in society as a law student, and if Eugene wished to get on
quickly he must either be rich, or make believe to be so.
"In view of all the circumstances, therefore, I make a proposition to
you," said Vautrin to Eugene, "which I think no man in your position
should refuse. I wish to become a great planter in the Southern States
of America, and need two hundred thousand francs. If I get you a dot of
a million, will you give me two hundred thousand francs? Is twenty per
cent, commission on such a transaction too much? You will secure the
affection of a little wife. A few weeks after marriage you will seem
distracted. Some night, between kisses, you can own a debt of two
hundred thousand francs, and ask your darling to pay it. The farce is
acted every day by young men of good family, and no amorous young wife
will refuse the money to the man she adores. Moreover, you will not lose
the money; you will easily get it back by judicious speculation!"
"But where can I find such a girl?" said Eugene.
"She is here, close at hand."
"But how can that be?"
"She loves you; already she thinks herself the little Baroness de
"She has not a penny!" cried Eugene in amazement.
"Ah, now we are coming to the point," said Vautrin.
Thereupon, Vautrin insinuated that if papa Taillefer lost his son
through the interposition of a wise Providence, he would take back his
pretty and amiable daughter, who would inherit his millions. To this end
he, Vautrin, frankly volunteered to play the part of destiny. He had a
friend, a colonel in the army of the Loire, who would pick a quarrel
with Frederic, the young blackguard son who had never sent a five-franc
piece to his poor sister, and then "to the shades"--making a pass as if
with a sword.
"Silence, monsieur! I will hear no more."
"As you please, my beautiful boy! I thought you were stronger."
A few days after this scene, Mademoiselle Michonneau and Poiret were
sitting on a bench in the Jardin des Plantes, when they were accosted by
the chief of the detective force. He told them that the minister of
police believed that a man calling himself Vautrin, who lived with them
in the Maison Vauquer, was an escaped convict from Toulon galleys,
Jacques Collin, but known by the nickname of Trompe-la-Mort, and one of
the most dangerous criminals in all France. In order to obtain certainty
as to the identity of Vautrin with Collin he offered a bribe of three
thousand francs if mademoiselle would administer a potion in his coffee
or wine, which would affect him as if he were stricken with apoplexy.
During his insensibility they could easily discover whether Vautrin had
the convict's brand on his shoulder. The pair accepted the bribe, and
the plot succeeded. Vautrin was identified as Collin and arrested, just
as a messenger came to announce that Frederic Taillefer had been killed
in a duel, and Victorine was carried off with Madame Couture to her
father's home, the sole heir to his millions. When he was being pinioned
to be conveyed back to the galleys, Collin looked upon his late fellow
boarders with fierce scorn. "Are you any better than we convicts are?"
said he. "We have less infamy branded on our shoulders than you have in
your hearts--you flabby members of a gangrened society. There is some
virtue here," exclaimed he, striking his breast. "I have never betrayed
anyone. As for you, you old female Judas," turning to Mademoiselle
Michonneau, "look at these people. They regard me with terror, but their
hearts turn with disgust even to glance at you. Pick up your ill-gotten
gains and begone." As Jacques Collin disappeared from the Maison
Vauquer, and from our story, Sylvie, the fat cook, exclaimed: "Well, he
was a man all the same!"
Although the way was now clear for Rastignac to marry the enormously
wealthy Victorine, he paid court instead to Delphine, the Baroness de
Nucingen, and dined with her every night. Old Goriot was informed of the
intrigue by the baroness's maid. He did not resent but rather encouraged
the liaison, and spent his last ten thousand francs in furnishing a
suite of apartments for the young couple, on condition that he was to be
allowed to occupy an adjoining room, and see his daughter every day.
_IV.--Old Goriot's Death-Bed_
The Viscomtesse de Beauseant was broken-hearted when the marriage of her
lover was accomplished, but to maintain a brave spirit in the face of
society she gave a farewell ball before retiring to her country estate.
Among those invited was the Countess de Restaud, who ordered a rich
costume for the occasion, which, however, she was unable to pay for. Her
husband, the count, insisted on her appearing at the ball and wearing
the family diamonds, which she had pawned to discharge her lover's
gambling debts, and which had been redeemed to save the family honour.
Anastasie sent her maid to Old Goriot, who rose from a sick-bed, sold
his last forks and spoons for six hundred francs, pledged his annuity
for four hundred francs, and so raised a thousand, which enabled
Anastasie to obtain the gown and shine at the ball. Through Rastignac's
influence, Delphine, Baroness de Nucingen, received from the viscomtesse
a ticket for the dance, and insisted on going, as Rastignac declared
"even over the dead body of her father," to challenge her sister's
social precedence at the supreme society function. The ball was the most
brilliant of the Parisian season. Both Goriot's daughters satisfied
their selfish ambitions and gave never a thought to their old parent in
the wretched Maison Vauquer.
For Old Goriot was sick unto death. His garret was bare; the walls
dripped with moisture; the floor was damp; the bed was comfortless, and
the few faggots which made the handful of fire had been bought only by
the money got from pawning Eugene's watch. Christophe, the man servant,
was sent by Rastignac to tell the daughters of their father's condition.
"Tell them that I am not very well," said Old Goriot; "that I should
like to see them, to kiss them before I die."
By and by, when the messenger had gone, the old man said: "I don't want
to die. To die, my good Eugene, is--not to see them there, where I am
going. How lonely I shall be! Hell, to a father, is to be without his
children. Tell me, if I go to heaven, can I come back in spirit and
hover near them? You saw them at the ball; they did not know that I was
ill, did they?"
On the return of the messenger, Old Goriot was told that both his
daughters refused to come and see him. Delphine was too tired and
sleepy; Anastasie was discussing with her husband the future disposition
of her marriage portion. Then alternately Goriot blamed his daughters
and pardoned their unfilial and selfish behaviour.
"My daughters were my vice--my mistresses. Oh, they will come! Come, my
darlings! A kiss, a last kiss, the viaticum of your father! I am justly
punished; my children were good, and I have spoiled them; on my head be
their sins. I alone am guilty; but guilty through love." Eugene tried to
soothe the old man by saying that he would go himself to fetch his
daughters; but Goriot kept muttering in his semi-delirium. "Here, Nasie!
here Delphine, come to your father who has been so good to you, and who
is dying! Are they coming? No? Am I to die like a dog? This is my
reward; forsaken, abandoned! They are wicked; they are criminal. I hate
them. I will rise from my coffin to curse them. Oh, this is horrible!
Ah, it is my sons-in-law who keep them away from me!"
"My good Old Goriot," said Eugene, "be calm."
"Not to see them--it is the agony of death!"
"You shall see them."
"Ah! my angels!"
And with these feeble words, Old Goriot sank back on the pillow and
breathed his last.
Anastasie did come to the death-chamber, but too late. "I could not
escape soon enough," she said to Rastignac. The student smiled sadly,
and Madame de Restaud took her father's hand and kissed it, saying,
"Forgive me, my father."
Goriot had a pauper's funeral. The aristocratic sons-in-law refused to
pay the expenses of the burial. These were scraped together with
difficulty by Eugene de Rastignac, the law student, and Bianchon, the
medical student, who had nursed him with loving tenderness to the last.
At the graveside in Pere Lachaise, Eugene and Christophe were the only
mourners; Bianchon's duties detained him at the hospital. When the body
of Old Goriot was lowered into the earth, the clergy recited a short
prayer--all that could be given for the student's money. The pall of
night was falling; the mist struck a chill on Eugene's nerves, and when
he took a last glance at the shell containing all that was mortal of his
old friend, he buried the last tear of his young manhood--a tear drawn
by a sacred emotion from a pure heart.
Eugene wandered to the most elevated part of the cemetery, whence he
surveyed that portion of the city between the Place Vendome and the dome
of the Invalides, where lives that world of fashion which he had
hungered to penetrate. With bitterness he muttered: "Now there is
relentless war between us." And as the first act of defiance which he
had sworn against society, Rastignac went to dine with Madame Nucingen!
* * * * *
The Magic Skin
In no other work is the special quality of Balzac's genius
displayed so completely as in "La Peau de Chagrin," which we
render as "The Magic Skin." Published in 1831, it is the
earliest in date of his veritable masterpieces, and the finest
in conception. There is no novel more soberly true to life
than this strange fairy tale. His hero, the Marquis de
Valentin, is a young aristocrat of the Byronic type. He
rejects the simple joys and stern realities of human
existence; he wants more than life can give. He gets what he
wants. He obtains a magic skin which enables him to fulfil his
every wish. But in so doing he uses up his vital powers. Such
is the idea which makes this fantastic story a profound
_I.--The Seal of Solomon_
On a dull morning towards the end of October, 1830, a tall, pale, and
rather handsome young man came to the Pont Royal, and leaned over the
bridge, and gazed with wild and yet resolute eyes at the swirling waters
below. Just as he was preparing to leap down, a ragged old woman passed
"Wretched weather for drowning oneself, isn't it?" she said, with a
grin. "How cold and dirty the Seine looks!"
The young man turned and smiled at her in the delirium of his courage.
Then, suddenly he shuddered. On a shed by the Tuileries he saw, written
in large letters: "Help for the drowned." He foresaw the whole thing. A
boat would put off to the rescue. If the rowers did not smash his skull
in with their oars as he came to the surface, he would be taken to the
shed and revived. If he were dead, a crowd would collect, newspaper men
would come; his body would be recognised; and the Press would publish
the news of the suicide of Raphael de Valentin. No! He would wait till
nightfall, and then in a decent, private manner bequeath an
unrecognizable corpse to a world that had disregarded his genius.
With the air of a wealthy man of leisure sauntering about the streets to
kill time, the young marquis strolled down the Quai Voltaire, and
followed the line of shops, looking listlessly at every window. But as
he thought of the fate awaiting him at nightfall, men and houses swam in
a mist before his eyes. To recover himself he entered a curiosity shop.
"If you care to go through our galleries," said the red-haired shop-boy,
"you will find something worth looking at."
Raphael climbed up a dark staircase lined with mummies, Indian idols,
stuffed crocodiles, and goggle-eyed monsters. They all seemed to grin at
him as he passed. Haunted by these strange shapes belonging to the
borderland between life and death, he walked in a kind of dream through
a series of long, dimly lighted galleries, in which was piled, in mad
confusion, the work of every age and every clime. Here was a lovely
statue by Michael Angelo, from which dangled the scalp of a Red Indian.
There, cold and impassive, was the lord of the ancient world, the
Emperor Augustus, with a modern air-pump sticking in his eye. The walls
were hung with priceless pictures, which were half-hidden by grimacing
skeletons, rude wooden idols with horrible features, tall suits of
gleaming armour, and figures of Egyptian deities, with the bodies of men
and heads of animals. The place was a kitchen of all the arts and
religions and interests of mankind.
This extraordinary confusion was rendered still more bizarre by the dim
cross-lights that played upon everything. Raphael's eyes grew weary with
gazing, and his mind was oppressed by the spectacle of the ruined
splendours of thousands of years of human life. A fever born of hunger
and exhaustion possessed him. The pictures appeared to light up, the
statues seemed to move. Everything danced and swayed around him. Then a
horrible Chinese monster advanced upon him with menacing eyes from the
other side of the room, and he swooned away in terror.
When he came to, his eyes were dazzled by a flood or radiance streaming
from a circle of crimson light. Before him, holding a bright red lamp,
was a frail, white-haired, extraordinary man, clad in a long robe of
black velvet. His body was wasted by extreme old age. His skin was like
wrinkled parchment, and his lips were so thin and colourless that it was
hardly possible to discern on his ivory-white face the line made by his
mouth. But his eyes were marvellous. They were calm, clear and
searching, and they glowed with the light and freshness of youth.
"So you have been looking over my collection," the old man said. "Do you
wish to buy anything?"
"Buy?" said Raphael, with a strange smile. "I am utterly penniless. I
have been examining your treasures just to while away the time till I
could drown myself quietly and secretly at night. You will not grudge
this last pleasure to a poet and man of learning, will you?"
"Penniless?" said the old man. "But you do not want to die because you
are penniless! A young, handsome, intellectual lad like you could pick
up a living somehow. What is it? Some woman, eh? Now let me help----"
"I want no help or advice or consolation," said Raphael furiously.
"And I will give you none," said the old man. "But as you are resolved
to die, will you do something for me. I want to get rid of this."
He held the lamp up the wall, and showed Raphael a piece of very old
shagreen, about the size of a fox's skin.
"Ah!" said Raphael. "A wild ass's skin engraved with Sanscrit
characters. Why, here's the mark that some of the Eastern races call the
Seal of Solomon!"
"You are truly a man of learning," said the strange old merchant, his
breath coming in quick pants through his nostrils. "No doubt you can
read the inscription."
"I should translate it thus," said Raphael, fixing his eyes upon the
POSSESSING ME THOU POSSESSEST EVERYTHING. YET I
POSSESS THEE. SO GOD HAS WILLED IT. WISH, AND
THY WISHES SHALL BE ACCOMPLISHED. BUT MEASURE
THE WISHES ACCORDING TO THY LIFE. HERE
IT IS. I SHALL SHRINK WITH EACH WISH, AND
SO SHALL THY LIFE, WILT THOU TAKE ME?
TAKE ME! GOD WILL HEAR THEE. AMEN.
"Is it a joke or a mystery?"
"I do not know," said the old man. "I have offered the magic skin to
many men. They laughed at it; but none would take it. I am like them. I
doubt its power, but will not put it to the test."
"What!" said Raphael. "You have never formed a wish all the time you had
"No!" said the old man. "I have discovered the great secret of human
life. Look! I am a hundred and two years old. Do you know why men die?
Because they use up the energy of life by wishing to do things and doing
them. I am content to know things. My days have been spent wandering
quietly over all the earth in the calm acquisition of knowledge. All
desire, all lust after power are dead within me. So this skin, which I
picked up in India, has never shrunk an inch since it came into my
"You have never lived!" cried Raphael, turning from the old man, and
seizing the skin. "Yes, I will take you. Now for a test. I am starving.
Set before me a splendid banquet. Let me have as guests all the wildest,
gayest, wittiest minds of young France. And women? Oh, the prettiest,
wickedest women of the town! Wine, wit and women!"
A roar of laughter came from the old man. It resounded in the ears of
Raphael like the laughter of a fiend from hell.
"Do you think my floors are going to open, and tables, waiters, and
guests pop up before your eyes?" he said. "No! Your first wish is mean
and vulgar; but it will be fulfilled in a natural manner. You wanted to
die, eh? Your suicide is only postponed."
Raphael put the skin in his pocket, and abruptly left, saying, "You have
never lived. I wish you knew what love was."
He heard the old man groan strangely, but without listening to his
reproaches he rushed out of the shop, and in the street ran full tilt up
against three young men.
"Brute! Ass! Idiot! Why, it's Raphael!" they cried. "You must come. Talk
about a Roman orgy I We've been all over Paris looking, for you. A
gorgeous feed. And all the girls from the Opera! The ancient Romans
aren't in it."
"One at a time," said Raphael. "Now, Emile, just tell me what are you
all shouting about?"
"Do you know Taillefer, the wealthy banker?" said Emile. "He is founding
a newspaper. All the talent of young France is to be enlisted. You're
invited to the inaugural festival to-night at the Rue Joubert. The
ballot girls of the Opera are coming. Oh, Taillefer's doing the thing in
Arm linked in arm, the four friends made their way to Taillefer's
mansion, and there, in a large room brilliantly set out, they were
welcomed by all the younger men of note in Paris. For some time Raphael
felt ill at ease. He was surprised by the natural manner in which his
wish had suddenly been accomplished. He took the magic skin out of his
pocket, and looked at it. Magic? What man could believe nowadays in
magic? But, nevertheless, he marvelled at the accidents of human life.
_II--A Fight Against Fate_
Although the banquet which he had desired was now set before him,
Raphael was still very moody. Deaf to the loud, wild merriment of his
companions, he thought sadly of the misfortune which had driven him that
morning to the brink of the grave. Many noblemen find it difficult to
exist in Paris on an income of several thousand pounds. The young
Marquis de Valentin had lived there very happily on L12 a year. In 1826,
his father, who had lost his wealth and lands in the Revolution, had
died, leaving him L40. Taking a garret in the Rue des Cordiers, he had
set about earning his living with his pen, and for three years he had
laboured at a great work on "The Theory of the Will." He never went into
society, but found a pleasant distraction from his studies in educating
the daughter of his landlady.
Pauline Gaudin was a charming and beautiful child; her father, a baron
of the empire, and an officer in the Grand Army, had been taken prisoner
by the Russians in 1812, and never heard of since. Raphael was moved by
the grace and innocence of the lovely human flower, that grew from a bud
into an opening blossom under his care. But as he was too poor to marry
her, he never made love to her.
Then, in January, 1830, he met the Countess Foedora, a brilliant,
wealthy woman of society, widowed at the age of thirty, and eager to
shine and astonish and captivate. For her sake, Raphael had put aside
his scholarly studies and engaged in money-making hack-work. But after
keeping him dangling about her for some months, she had cast him off,
and in his misery he had resolved to end his life. Now he had got the
magic skin. What if it were true what the strange old man had said?
Should he wish to win the heart of Foedora? No! She was a woman without
a heart. He would have nothing to do with women. Still, this skin!
"Measure it! Measure it!" he cried, flinging it down on the table.
"Measure what?" said Emile. "Has Taillefer's wine got into your head
Raphael told them of the curiosity shop.
"That can be easily tested," said Emile, taking the skin and drawing its
outline on a napkin. "Now wish, and see if it shrinks."
"I wish for six million pounds!" said Raphael.
"Hurrah!" said Emile. "And while you're about it make us all
Taillefer's notary, Cardot, who had been gazing at Raphael during the
dinner, walked across the room to him.
"My dear marquis," he said, "I've been looking for you all the evening.
Wasn't your mother a Miss O'Flaharty?"
"Yes, she was," said Raphael--"Barbara O'Flaharty."
"Well, you are the sole heir of Major O'Flaharty, who died last August
at Calcutta, leaving a fortune of six millions."
"An incalculable fortune," said Emile. Raphael spread out the skin upon
the napkin. He shuddered violently on seeing a slight margin between the
pencil-line on the napkin and the edge of the skin.
"What's the matter?" said the notary. "He has got a fortune very
"Hold him up," said some one. "The joy will kill him."
A ghostly whiteness spread over the face of the happy heir. He had seen
Death! He stared at the shrunken skin and the merciless outline on the
napkin, and a feeling of horror came over him. The whole world was his;
he could have all things. But at what a cost!
"Do you wish for some asparagus, sir?" said, a waiter.
"_I wish for nothing!_" shrieked Raphael. And he fled from the banquet.
"So," he said, when he was at last alone, "in this enlightened age, when
science has stripped the very stars of their secrets, here am I
frightened out of my senses by an old piece of wild ass's skin.
To-morrow I will have it examined by Planchette, and put an end to this
Planchette, the celebrated professor of mechanics, treated the thing as
"Come with me to Spieghalter," he said. "He has just built a new kind of
hydraulic press which I designed."
Arrived there, Planchette asked Spieghalter to stretch the magic skin.
"Our friend," he said, "doubts if we can do it."
"You see this crank?" said Spieghalter to Raphael, pointing to the new
press. "Seven turns to it, and a solid steel bar would break into
thousands of pieces."
"The very thing I want," said Raphael.
Planchette put the skin between the metal plates, and, proud of his new
invention, he energetically twisted the crank.
"Lie flat all of you!" shouted Spieghalter. "We're dead men."
There was an explosion, and a jet of water spurted out with terrific
force. Falling on a furnace it twisted up the mass of iron as if it had
been paper. The hydraulic chamber of the press had given way.
"The skin is untouched," said Planchette. "There was a flaw in the
"No, no!" said Spieghalter. "My press was as sound as a bell. The
devil's in your skin, sir. Take it away!"
Spieghalter seized the talisman, and flung it on an anvil, and furiously
belaboured it with a heavy sledgehammer. He then pitched it in a
furnace, and ordered his workmen to blow the coal into a fierce white
heat. At the end of ten minutes he drew it out with a pair of tongs
uninjured. With a cry of horror the workmen fled from the foundry.
"I now believe in the devil," said Spieghalter.
"And I believe in God," said Planchette.
Raphael departed in a hard, bitter rage. He was resolved to fight like a
man against his strange fate. He would follow the example of the former
owner of the magic skin, and give himself up to study and meditation,
and live his life in the tranquil acquisition of knowledge, undisturbed
by passion and desire, and lust for power, and dominion and glory. On
receiving his vast inheritance, he bought a mansion in the Rue de
Varenne, and engaged a crowd of intelligent, quiet servants to wait upon
But his first care had been to seek out his foster-father, Jonathan, the
old and devoted servitor of his family. To him he confided his dreadful
"You must stand between the world and me, Jonathan," he said. "Treat me
as a baby. Never ask me for orders. See that the servants feed me, and
tend me, and care for me in absolute silence. Above all things, never
let anyone pester me. Never let me form a wish of any kind."
For some months, the eccentric Marquis de Valentin was the talk of
Paris. He lived in monastic silence and seclusion, and Jonathan never
permitted any of his friends to enter the mansion. But one morning his
old tutor, Porriquet, called, and Jonathan thought he might cheer his
young master. He could not ask Raphael: "Do you wish to see M.
Porriquet?" But after some thought he found a way of putting the
question: "M. Porriquet is here, my lord. Do you think he ought to
Raphael nodded. Porriquet was alarmed at the appearance of his pupil. He
looked like a plant bleached by darkness. The fact was, Raphael had
surrendered every right in life in order to live. He had despoiled his
soul of all the romance that lies in a wish. The better to struggle with
the cruel power that he had challenged, he had stifled his imagination.
He did not allow himself even the pleasures of fancy, lest they should
awaken some desire. He had become an automaton.
Porriquet, unfortunately, was now an irritating old proser. He had
failed in life and wanted to air all his grievances. At the end of five
minutes' talk Raphael was about to wish that he would depart, when he
caught sight of the magic skin hanging in a frame, with a red line drawn
around it. Suppressing, with a shudder, his secret desire, he patiently
bore with the old man's prolixity. Porriquet wanted very much to ask him
for money, but did not like to do so, and after complaining for quite an
hour or more about things in general, he rose to depart.
"Perhaps," he said, as he turned to leave the room, "I shall hear of a
headmastership of a good school."
"The very thing for you!" said Raphael. "I _wish_ you could get it."
Then, with a sudden cry, he looked at the frame. There was a thin white
edge between the skin and the red line.
"Go, you fool!" he shouted. "I have made you a headmaster. Why didn't
you ask me for an annuity of a thousand pounds instead of using up ten
years of my life on a silly wish? I could have won Foedora at the price!
Conquered a kingdom!"
His lips were covered with froth, and there was a savage light in his
eyes. Porriquet fled in terror. Then Raphael fell back in a chair, and
"Oh, my precious life!" he sobbed. "No more kindly thoughts! No more
_III.--The Agony of Death_
Raphael's condition had by now become so critical that a trip to Savoy
was advised, and a few weeks later he was at Aix. One day, moving among
the crowd of pleasure-seekers and invalids, a number of young men
deliberately picked a quarrel with him, with the result that from one of
them he received a challenge to fight a duel. Raphael did his utmost to
persuade the other to apologise, even going to the extent of informing
him of the terrible powers he possessed. Failing in his object, the
fatal morning came round, and the unfortunate individual was shot
through the heart. Not heeding the fallen man, Raphael hurriedly glanced
at the skin to see what another man's life had cost him. The talisman
had shrunk to the size of a small oak-leaf.
Seeing that his master was given over to a gloomy despair that verged
upon madness, Jonathan resolved to distract his mind at all costs, and
knowing that he was passionately fond of music, he engaged a box for him
at the Opera. But Raphael was afraid above all things, of falling in
love. Under the illimitable desire of passion the magic skin would
shrivel up in an hour. So he used a strange, distorting opera-glass
which made the loveliest face seem hideous.
With this he sat in his box, he surveyed the scene around him. Who was
that old man over there, sitting beside a dancing-girl that Raphael had
seen at Taillefer's? The owner of the curiosity shop! He had at last
fallen in love, as Raphael had jestingly desired. No doubt the magic
skin had shrunk under that wish before Raphael had measured it. A
beautiful woman entered the theatre with a peer of France at her side. A
murmur of admiration arose as she took her seat. She smiled at Raphael.
In spite of the distorted image on his opera-glass, Raphael knew her. It
was the Countess Foedora! In a single glance of intolerable scorn the
man she had played false avenged himself. He did not waste an ill-wish
on her. He merely took the glasses from his eyes, and answered her smile
with a look of cold contempt. Everybody observed the sudden pallor of
the countess; it was a public rejection.
The marquis turned at the sound of a beloved voice. Pauline was sitting
in the box next to his. How beautiful she had grown! How maidenly she
was still! Putting down his opera-glasses, Raphael talked to her of old
"You must come and see me to-morrow," said Pauline. "I have your great
work on 'The Theory of the Will.' Don't you remember leaving it in the
"I was mad and blind then," said Raphael. "But I am cured at last."
"I wish Pauline to love me!" he kept repeating to himself all the way
home. "I wish Pauline to love me!"
With a strange mixture of wild anguish and fierce joy, he looked at the
magic skin to see what this vehement wish had cost him. Nothing! Not a
sign of shrinkage could be discerned. The fact was that even the
greatest talisman could not realise a desire which had long since been
fulfilled. Pauline had loved Raphael from the time when they first met;
while he had been priding himself on living on twelve pounds a year, she
had been painting screens up to two or three o'clock every night, in
order to buy him food and firing.
"Oh, my simple-minded darling," she said to him the next day, sitting on
his lap and twining her arms about his neck, "you will never know what a
pleasure it was for me to pay my handsome tutor for all his kindness.
And wasn't I cunning? You never found me out."
"But I've found out now," said Raphael, "and I am going to punish you
severely. Instead of marrying you in three months' time, as you suggest,
I shall marry you at the end of this week."
Raphael was now the happiest man in Paris. Seeing that the magic skin
had not shrunk with his last wish, he thought that the spell over his
life was removed. And that morning he had thrown the talisman down a
disused well in the garden.
At the end of the week, Pauline was sitting at breakfast with Raphael in
the conservatory overlooking the garden. She was wearing a light
dressing-gown; her long hair was all dishevelled, and her little, white,
blue-veined feet peeped out of their velvet slippers. She gave a little
cry of dismay, when the gardener appeared.
"I've just found this strange thing at the bottom of one of the wells,"
He gave Raphael the magic skin. It was now scarcely as large as a rose
"Leave me, Pauline! Leave me at once!" cried Raphael. "If you remain I
shall die before your eyes."
"Die?" she said. "Die? You cannot. I love you--I love you!"
"Yes, die!" he exclaimed, showing her the little bit of skin. "Look,
dearest. This is a talisman which represents the length of my life, and
accomplishes my wishes. You see how little is left."
Pauline thought he had suddenly grown mad. She bent over him, and took
up the magic skin. As Raphael saw her, beautiful with love and terror,
he lost all control over his desires. To possess her again, and die on
"Come to me Pauline!" he said.
She felt the skin tickling her hand as it rapidly shrivelled up. She
rushed into the bedroom, and closed the door.
"Pauline! Pauline!" cried the dying man, stumbling after her. "I love
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