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Cousin Pons by Honore de Balzac

Part 7 out of 7

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at last, if it were only from some officious barrister, the gentlemen
of the robe being wont to perform such acts of generosity and
disinterestedness by way of self-advertisement. And the two officials
took their leave of the Presidente with a parting caution against
Fraisier, concerning whom they had naturally made inquiries.

At that very moment Fraisier, straight from the affixing of the seals
in the Rue de Normandie, was waiting for an interview with Mme. de
Marville. Berthier and Godeschal had suggested that he should be shown
into the study; the whole affair was too dirty for the President to
look into (to use their own expression), and they wished to give Mme.
de Marville their opinion in Fraisier's absence.

"Well, madame, where are these gentlemen?" asked Fraisier, admitted to

"They are gone. They advise me to give up," said Mme. de Marville.

"Give up!" repeated Fraisier, suppressed fury in his voice. "Give up!
. . . Listen to this, madame:--

" 'At the request of' . . . and so forth (I will omit the
formalities) . . . 'Whereas there has been deposited in the hands
of M. le President of the Court of First Instance, a will drawn up
by Maitres Leopold Hannequin and Alexandre Crottat, notaries of
Paris, and in the presence of two witnesses, the Sieurs Brunner
and Schwab, aliens domiciled at Paris, and by the said will the
Sieur Pons, deceased, has bequeathed his property to one Sieur
Schmucke, a German, to the prejudice of his natural heirs:

" 'Whereas the applicant undertakes to prove that the said will
was obtained under undue influence and by unlawful means; and
persons of credit are prepared to show that it was the testator's
intention to leave his fortune to Mlle. Cecile, daughter of the
aforesaid Sieur de Marville, and the applicant can show that the
said will was extorted from the testator's weakness, he being
unaccountable for his actions at the time:

" 'Whereas as the Sieur Schmucke, to obtain a will in his favor,
sequestrated the testator, and prevented the family from
approaching the deceased during his last illness; and his
subsequent notorious ingratitude was of a nature to scandalize the
house and residents in the quarter who chanced to witness it when
attending the funeral of the porter at the testator's place of

" 'Whereas as still more serious charges, of which applicant is
collecting proofs, will be formally made before their worships the

" 'I, the undersigned Registrar of the Court, etc., etc., on
behalf of the aforesaid, etc., have summoned the Sieur Schmucke,
pleading, etc., to appear before their worships the judges of the
first chamber of the Tribunal, and to be present when application
is made that the will received by Maitres Hannequin and Crottat,
being evidently obtained by undue influence, shall be regarded as
null and void in law; and I, the undersigned, on behalf of the
aforesaid, etc., have likewise given notice of protest, should the
Sieur Schmucke as universal legatee make application for an order
to be put into possession of the estate, seeing that the applicant
opposes such order, and makes objection by his application bearing
date of to-day, of which a copy has been duly deposited with the
Sieur Schmucke, costs being charged to . . . etc., etc.'

"I know the man, Mme. le Presidente. He will come to terms as soon as
he reads this little love-letter. He will take our terms. Are you
going to give the thousand crowns per annum?"

"Certainly. I only wish I were paying the first installment now."

"It will be done in three days. The summons will come down upon him
while he is stupefied with grief, for the poor soul regrets Pons and
is taking the death to heart."

"Can the application be withdrawn?" inquired the lady.

"Certainly, madame. You can withdraw it at any time."

"Very well, monsieur, let it be so . . . go on! Yes, the purchase of
land that you have arranged for me is worth the trouble; and, besides,
I have managed Vitel's business--he is to retire, and you must pay
Vitel's sixty thousand francs out of Pons' property. So, you see, you
must succeed."

"Have you Vitel's resignation?"

"Yes, monsieur. M. Vitel has put himself in M. de Marville's hands."

"Very good, madame. I have already saved you sixty thousand francs
which I expected to give to that vile creature Mme. Cibot. But I still
require the tobacconist's license for the woman Sauvage, and an
appointment to the vacant place of head-physician at the Quinze-Vingts
for my friend Poulain."

"Agreed--it is all arranged."

"Very well. There is no more to be said. Every one is for you in this
business, even Gaudissart, the manager of the theatre. I went to look
him up yesterday, and he undertook to crush the workman who seemed
likely to give us trouble."

"Oh, I know M. Gaudissart is devoted to the Popinots."

Fraisier went out. Unluckily, he missed Gaudissart, and the fatal
summons was served forthwith.

If all covetous minds will sympathize with the Presidente, all honest
folk will turn in abhorrence from her joy when Gaudissart came twenty
minutes later to report his conversation with poor Schmucke. She gave
her full approval; she was obliged beyond all expression for the
thoughtful way in which the manager relieved her of any remaining
scruples by observations which seemed to her to be very sensible and

"I thought as I came, Mme. la Presidente, that the poor devil would
not know what to do with the money. 'Tis a patriarchally simple
nature. He is a child, he is a German, he ought to be stuffed and put
in a glass case like a waxen image. Which is to say that, in my
opinion, he is quite puzzled enough already with his income of two
thousand five hundred francs, and here you are provoking him into

"It is very generous of him to wish to enrich the poor fellow who
regrets the loss of our cousin," pronounced the Presidente. "For my
own part, I am sorry for the little squabble that estranged M. Pons
and me. If he had come back again, all would have been forgiven. If
you only knew how my husband misses him! M. de Marville received no
notice of the death, and was in despair; family claims are sacred for
him, he would have gone to the service and the interment, and I myself
would have been at the mass--"

"Very well, fair lady," said Gaudissart. "Be so good as to have the
documents drawn up, and at four o'clock I will bring this German to
you. Please remember me to your charming daughter the Vicomtesse, and
ask her to tell my illustrious friend the great statesman, her good
and excellent father-in-law, how deeply I am devoted to him and his,
and ask him to continue his valued favors. I owe my life to his uncle
the judge, and my success in life to him; and I should wish to be
bound to both you and your daughter by the high esteem which links us
with persons of rank and influence. I wish to leave the theatre and
become a serious person."

"As you are already, monsieur!" said the Presidente.

"Adorable!" returned Gaudissart, kissing the lady's shriveled fingers.

At four o'clock that afternoon several people were gathered together
at Berthier's office; Fraisier, arch-concocter of the whole scheme,
Tabareau, appearing on behalf of Schmucke, and Schmucke himself.
Gaudissart had come with him. Fraisier had been careful to spread out
the money on Berthier's desk, and so dazzled was Schmucke by the sight
of the six thousand-franc bank-notes for which he had asked, and six
hundred francs for the first quarter's allowance, that he paid no heed
whatsoever to the reading of the document. Poor man, he was scarcely
in full possession of his faculties, shaken as they had already been
by so many shocks. Gaudissart had snatched him up on his return from
the cemetery, where he had been talking with Pons, promising to join
him soon--very soon. So Schmucke did not listen to the preamble in
which it was set forth that Maitre Tabareau, bailiff, was acting as
his proxy, and that the Presidente, in the interests of her daughter,
was taking legal proceedings against him. Altogether, in that preamble
the German played a sorry part, but he put his name to the document,
and thereby admitted the truth of Fraisier's abominable allegations;
and so joyous was he over receiving the money for the Topinards, so
glad to bestow wealth according to his little ideas upon the one
creature who loved Pons, that he heard not a word of lawsuit nor

But in the middle of the reading a clerk came into the private office
to speak to his employer. "There is a man here, sir, who wishes to
speak to M. Schmucke," said he.

The notary looked at Fraisier, and, taking his cue from him, shrugged
his shoulders.

"Never disturb us when we are signing documents. Just ask his name--is
it a man or a gentleman? Is he a creditor?"

The clerk went and returned. "He insists that he must speak to M.

"His name?"

"His name is Topinard, he says."

"I will go out to him. Sign without disturbing yourself," said
Gaudissart, addressing Schmucke. "Make an end of it; I will find out
what he wants with us."

Gaudissart understood Fraisier; both scented danger.

"Why are you here?" Gaudissart began. "So you have no mind to be
cashier at the theatre? Discretion is a cashier's first


"Just mind your own business; you will never be anything if you meddle
in other people's affairs."

"Sir, I cannot eat bread if every mouthful of it is to stick in my
throat. . . . Monsieur Schmucke!--M. Schmucke!" he shouted aloud.

Schmucke came out at the sound of Topinard's voice. He had just
signed. He held the money in his hand.

"Thees ees for die liddle German maiden und for you," he said.

"Oh! my dear M. Schmucke, you have given away your wealth to inhuman
wretches, to people who are trying to take away your good name. I took
this paper to a good man, an attorney who knows this Fraisier, and he
says that you ought to punish such wickedness; you ought to let them
summon you and leave them to get out of it.--Read this," and
Schmucke's imprudent friend held out the summons delivered in the Cite

Standing in the notary's gateway, Schmucke read the document, saw the
imputations made against him, and, all ignorant as he was of the
amenities of the law, the blow was deadly. The little grain of sand
stopped his heart's beating. Topinard caught him in his arms, hailed a
passing cab, and put the poor German into it. He was suffering from
congestion of the brain; his eyes were dim, his head was throbbing,
but he had enough strength left to put the money into Topinard's

Schmucke rallied from the first attack, but he never recovered
consciousness, and refused to eat. Ten days afterwards he died without
a complaint; to the last he had not spoken a word. Mme. Topinard
nursed him, and Topinard laid him by Pons' side. It was an obscure
funeral; Topinard was the only mourner who followed the son of Germany
to his last resting-place.

Fraisier, now a justice of the peace, is very intimate with the
President's family, and much valued by the Presidente. She could not
think of allowing him to marry "that girl of Tabareau's," and promised
infinitely better things for the clever man to whom she considers she
owes not merely the pasture-land and the English cottage at Marville,
but also the President's seat in the Chamber of Deputies, for M. le
President was returned at the general election in 1846.

Every one, no doubt, wishes to know what became of the heroine of a
story only too veracious in its details; a chronicle which, taken with
its twin sister the preceding volume, /La Cousine Bette/, proves that
Character is a great social force. You, O amateurs, connoisseurs, and
dealers, will guess at once that Pons' collection is now in question.
Wherefore it will suffice if we are present during a conversation that
took place only a few days ago in Count Popinot's house. He was
showing his splendid collection to some visitors.

"M. le Comte, you possess treasures indeed," remarked a distinguished

"Oh! as to pictures, nobody can hope to rival an obscure collector,
one Elie Magus, a Jew, an old monomaniac, the prince of picture-
lovers," the Count replied modestly. "And when I say nobody, I do not
speak of Paris only, but of all Europe. When the old Croesus dies,
France ought to spare seven or eight millions of francs to buy the
gallery. For curiosities, my collection is good enough to be talked

"But how, busy as you are, and with a fortune so honestly earned in
the first instance in business--"

"In the drug business," broke in Popinot; "you ask how I can continue
to interest myself in things that are a drug in the market--"

"No," returned the foreign visitor, "no, but how do you find time to
collect? The curiosities do not come to find you."

"My father-in-law owned the nucleus of the collection," said the young
Vicomtess; "he loved the arts and beautiful work, but most of his
treasures came to him through me."

"Through you, madame?--So young! and yet have you such vices as this?"
asked a Russian prince.

Russians are by nature imitative; imitative indeed to such an extent
that the diseases of civilization break out among them in epidemics.
The bric-a-brac mania had appeared in an acute form in St. Petersburg,
and the Russians caused such a rise of prices in the "art line," as
Remonencq would say, that collection became impossible. The prince who
spoke had come to Paris solely to buy bric-a-brac.

"The treasures came to me, prince, on the death of a cousin. He was
very fond of me," added the Vicomtesse Popinot, "and he had spent some
forty odd years since 1805 in picking up these masterpieces
everywhere, but more especially in Italy--"

"And what was his name?" inquired the English lord.

"Pons," said President Camusot.

"A charming man he was," piped the Presidente in her thin, flute
tones, "very clever, very eccentric, and yet very good-hearted. This
fan that you admire once belonged to Mme. de Pompadour; he gave it to
me one morning with a pretty speech which you must permit me not to
repeat," and she glanced at her daughter.

"Mme. la Vicomtesse, tell us the pretty speech," begged the Russian

"The speech was as pretty as the fan," returned the Vicomtesse, who
brought out the stereotyped remark on all occasions. "He told my
mother that it was quite time that it should pass from the hands of
vice into those of virtue."

The English lord looked at Mme. Camusot de Marville with an air of
doubt not a little gratifying to so withered a woman.

"He used to dine at our house two or three times a week," she said;
"he was so fond of us! We could appreciate him, and artists like the
society of those who relish their wit. My husband was, besides, his
one surviving relative. So when, quite unexpectedly, M. de Marville
came into the property, M. le Comte preferred to take over the whole
collection to save it from a sale by auction; and we ourselves much
preferred to dispose of it in that way, for it would have been so
painful to us to see the beautiful things, in which our dear cousin
was so much interested, all scattered abroad. Elie Magus valued them,
and in that way I became possessed of the cottage that your uncle
built, and I hope you will do us the honor of coming to see us there."

Gaudissart's theatre passed into other hands a year ago, but M.
Topinard is still the cashier. M. Topinard, however, has grown gloomy
and misanthropic; he says little. People think that he has something
on his conscience. Wags at the theatre suggest that his gloom dates
from his marriage with Lolotte. Honest Topinard starts whenever he
hears Fraisier's name mentioned. Some people may think it strange that
the one nature worthy of Pons and Schmucke should be found on the
third floor beneath the stage of a boulevard theatre.

Mme. Remonencq, much impressed with Mme. Fontaine's prediction,
declines to retire to the country. She is still living in her splendid
shop on the Boulevard de la Madeleine, but she is a widow now for the
second time. Remonencq, in fact, by the terms of the marriage
contract, settled the property upon the survivor, and left a little
glass of vitriol about for his wife to drink by mistake; but his wife,
with the very best intentions, put the glass elsewhere, and Remonencq
swallowed the draught himself. The rascal's appropriate end vindicates
Providence, as well as the chronicler of manners, who is sometimes
accused of neglect on this head, perhaps because Providence has been
so overworked by playwrights of late.

Pardon the transcriber's errors.


The following personages appear in other stories of the Human Comedy.

Baudoyer, Isidore
The Government Clerks
The Middle Classes

Berthier (Parisian notary)
Cousin Betty

Berthier, Madame
The Muse of the Department

Bixiou, Jean-Jacques
The Purse
A Bachelor's Establishment
The Government Clerks
Modeste Mignon
Scenes from a Courtesan's Life
The Firm of Nucingen
The Muse of the Department
Cousin Betty
The Member for Arcis
A Man of Business
Gaudissart II.
The Unconscious Humorists

A Distinguished Provincial at Paris
Cousin Betty

Brisetout, Heloise
Cousin Betty
The Middle Classes

A Distinguished Provincial at Paris
A Bachelor's Establishment
The Muse of the Department
Cesar Birotteau
At the Sign of the Cat and Racket

Camusot de Marville
Jealousies of a Country Town
The Commission in Lunacy
Scenes from a Courtesan's Life

Camusot de Marville, Madame
The Vendetta
Cesar Birotteau
Jealousies of a Country Town
Scenes from a Courtesan's Life

Cardot (Parisian notary)
The Muse of the Department
A Man of Business
Jealousies of a Country Town
Pierre Grassou
The Middle Classes

Cousin Betty

Crevel, Celestin
Cesar Birotteau
Cousin Betty

Crottat, Alexandre
Cesar Birotteau
Colonel Chabert
A Start in Life
A Woman of Thirty

The Atheist's Mass
Lost Illusions
The Thirteen
The Government Clerks
A Bachelor's Establishment
The Seamy Side of History
Modeste Mignon
Scenes from a Courtesan's Life

Cousin Betty

Fontaine, Madame
The Unconscious Humorists

Gaudissart, Felix
Scenes from a Courtesan's Life
Cesar Birotteau
Gaudissart the Great

Godeschal, Francois-Claude-Marie
Colonel Chabert
A Bachelor's Establishment
A Start in Life
The Commission in Lunacy
The Middle Classes

Godeschal, Marie
A Bachelor's Establishment
A Start in Life
Scenes from a Courtesan's Life

Gouraud, General, Baron

Graff, Wolfgang
Cousin Betty

Granville, Vicomte de (later Comte)
The Gondreville Mystery
A Second Home
Farewell (Adieu)
Cesar Birotteau
Scenes from a Courtesan's Life
A Daughter of Eve

Grassou, Pierre
Pierre Grassou
A Bachelor's Establishment
Cousin Betty
The Middle Classes

Hannequin, Leopold
Albert Savarus
Cousin Betty

Haudry (doctor)
Cesar Birotteau
The Thirteen
A Bachelor's Establishment
The Seamy Side of History

Lebrun (physician)
Scenes from a Courtesan's Life

Scenes from a Courtesan's Life

Scenes from a Courtesan's Life

Magus, Elie
The Vendetta
A Marriage Settlement
A Bachelor's Establishment
Pierre Grassou

Matifat (wealthy druggist)
Cesar Birotteau
A Bachelor's Establishment
Lost Illusions
A Distinguished Provincial at Paris
The Firm of Nucingen

Minard, Prudence
The Middle Classes

Pillerault, Claude-Joseph
Cesar Birotteau

Popinot, Anselme
Cesar Birotteau
Gaudissart the Great
Cousin Betty

Popinot, Madame Anselme
Cesar Birotteau
A Prince of Bohemia
Cousin Betty

Popinot, Vicomte
Cousin Betty

Rivet, Achille
Cousin Betty

Schmucke, Wilhelm
A Daughter of Eve
Ursule Mirouet
Scenes from a Courtesan's Life

Stevens, Dinah
A Marriage Settlement

Modeste Mignon
The Member for Arcis
Cousin Betty
The Unconscious Humorists

Cesar Birotteau

The Member for Arcis
The Middle Classes

Vinet, Olivier
The Member for Arcis
The Middle Classes

Vivet, Madeleine
Scenes from a Courtesan's Life

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