Part 1 out of 4
Etext prepared by John Bickers, email@example.com
and Dagny, firstname.lastname@example.org
by HONORE DE BALZAC
Translated by Katharine Prescott Wormeley
May your name, that of one whose portrait is the noblest ornament
of this work, lie on its opening pages like a branch of sacred
box, taken from an unknown tree, but sanctified by religion, and
kept ever fresh and green by pious hands to bless the house.
There are houses in certain provincial towns whose aspect inspires
melancholy, akin to that called forth by sombre cloisters, dreary
moorlands, or the desolation of ruins. Within these houses there is,
perhaps, the silence of the cloister, the barrenness of moors, the
skeleton of ruins; life and movement are so stagnant there that a
stranger might think them uninhabited, were it not that he encounters
suddenly the pale, cold glance of a motionless person, whose half-
monastic face peers beyond the window-casing at the sound of an
Such elements of sadness formed the physiognomy, as it were, of a
dwelling-house in Saumur which stands at the end of the steep street
leading to the chateau in the upper part of the town. This street--now
little frequented, hot in summer, cold in winter, dark in certain
sections--is remarkable for the resonance of its little pebbly
pavement, always clean and dry, for the narrowness of its tortuous
road-way, for the peaceful stillness of its houses, which belong to
the Old town and are over-topped by the ramparts. Houses three
centuries old are still solid, though built of wood, and their divers
aspects add to the originality which commends this portion of Saumur
to the attention of artists and antiquaries.
It is difficult to pass these houses without admiring the enormous
oaken beams, their ends carved into fantastic figures, which crown
with a black bas-relief the lower floor of most of them. In one place
these transverse timbers are covered with slate and mark a bluish line
along the frail wall of a dwelling covered by a roof /en colombage/
which bends beneath the weight of years, and whose rotting shingles
are twisted by the alternate action of sun and rain. In another place
blackened, worn-out window-sills, with delicate sculptures now
scarcely discernible, seem too weak to bear the brown clay pots from
which springs the heart's-ease or the rose-bush of some poor working-
woman. Farther on are doors studded with enormous nails, where the
genius of our forefathers has traced domestic hieroglyphics, of which
the meaning is now lost forever. Here a Protestant attested his
belief; there a Leaguer cursed Henry IV.; elsewhere some bourgeois has
carved the insignia of his /noblesse de cloches/, symbols of his long-
forgotten magisterial glory. The whole history of France is there.
Next to a tottering house with roughly plastered walls, where an
artisan enshrines his tools, rises the mansion of a country gentleman,
on the stone arch of which above the door vestiges of armorial
bearings may still be seen, battered by the many revolutions that have
shaken France since 1789. In this hilly street the ground-floors of
the merchants are neither shops nor warehouses; lovers of the Middle
Ages will here find the /ouvrouere/ of our forefathers in all its
naive simplicity. These low rooms, which have no shop-frontage, no
show-windows, in fact no glass at all, are deep and dark and without
interior or exterior decoration. Their doors open in two parts, each
roughly iron-bound; the upper half is fastened back within the room,
the lower half, fitted with a spring-bell, swings continually to and
fro. Air and light reach the damp den within, either through the upper
half of the door, or through an open space between the ceiling and a
low front wall, breast-high, which is closed by solid shutters that
are taken down every morning, put up every evening, and held in place
by heavy iron bars.
This wall serves as a counter for the merchandise. No delusive display
is there; only samples of the business, whatever it may chance to be,
--such, for instance, as three or four tubs full of codfish and salt,
a few bundles of sail-cloth, cordage, copper wire hanging from the
joists above, iron hoops for casks ranged along the wall, or a few
pieces of cloth upon the shelves. Enter. A neat girl, glowing with
youth, wearing a white kerchief, her arms red and bare, drops her
knitting and calls her father or her mother, one of whom comes forward
and sells you what you want, phlegmatically, civilly, or arrogantly,
according to his or her individual character, whether it be a matter
of two sous' or twenty thousand francs' worth of merchandise. You may
see a cooper, for instance, sitting in his doorway and twirling his
thumbs as he talks with a neighbor. To all appearance he owns nothing
more than a few miserable boat-ribs and two or three bundles of laths;
but below in the port his teeming wood-yard supplies all the cooperage
trade of Anjou. He knows to a plank how many casks are needed if the
vintage is good. A hot season makes him rich, a rainy season ruins
him; in a single morning puncheons worth eleven francs have been known
to drop to six. In this country, as in Touraine, atmospheric
vicissitudes control commercial life. Wine-growers, proprietors, wood-
merchants, coopers, inn-keepers, mariners, all keep watch of the sun.
They tremble when they go to bed lest they should hear in the morning
of a frost in the night; they dread rain, wind, drought, and want
water, heat, and clouds to suit their fancy. A perpetual duel goes on
between the heavens and their terrestrial interests. The barometer
smooths, saddens, or makes merry their countenances, turn and turn
about. From end to end of this street, formerly the Grand'Rue de
Saumur, the words: "Here's golden weather," are passed from door to
door; or each man calls to his neighbor: "It rains louis," knowing
well what a sunbeam or the opportune rainfall is bringing him.
On Saturdays after midday, in the fine season, not one sou's worth of
merchandise can be bought from these worthy traders. Each has his
vineyard, his enclosure of fields, and all spend two days in the
country. This being foreseen, and purchases, sales, and profits
provided for, the merchants have ten or twelve hours to spend in
parties of pleasure, in making observations, in criticisms, and in
continual spying. A housewife cannot buy a partridge without the
neighbors asking the husband if it were cooked to a turn. A young girl
never puts her head near a window that she is not seen by idling
groups in the street. Consciences are held in the light; and the
houses, dark, silent, impenetrable as they seem, hide no mysteries.
Life is almost wholly in the open air; every household sits at its own
threshold, breakfasts, dines, and quarrels there. No one can pass
along the street without being examined; in fact formerly, when a
stranger entered a provincial town he was bantered and made game of
from door to door. From this came many good stories, and the nickname
/copieux/, which was applied to the inhabitants of Angers, who
excelled in such urban sarcasms.
The ancient mansions of the old town of Saumur are at the top of this
hilly street, and were formerly occupied by the nobility of the
neighborhood. The melancholy dwelling where the events of the
following history took place is one of these mansions,--venerable
relics of a century in which men and things bore the characteristics
of simplicity which French manners and customs are losing day by day.
Follow the windings of the picturesque thoroughfare, whose
irregularities awaken recollections that plunge the mind mechanically
into reverie, and you will see a somewhat dark recess, in the centre
of which is hidden the door of the house of Monsieur Grandet. It is
impossible to understand the force of this provincial expression--the
house of Monsieur Grandet--without giving the biography of Monsieur
Monsieur Grandet enjoyed a reputation in Saumur whose causes and
effects can never be fully understood by those who have not, at one
time or another, lived in the provinces. In 1789 Monsieur Grandet--
still called by certain persons le Pere Grandet, though the number of
such old persons has perceptibly diminished--was a master-cooper, able
to read, write, and cipher. At the period when the French Republic
offered for sale the church property in the arrondissement of Saumur,
the cooper, then forty years of age, had just married the daughter of
a rich wood-merchant. Supplied with the ready money of his own fortune
and his wife's /dot/, in all about two thousand louis-d'or, Grandet
went to the newly established "district," where, with the help of two
hundred double louis given by his father-in-law to the surly
republican who presided over the sales of the national domain, he
obtained for a song, legally if not legitimately, one of the finest
vineyards in the arrondissement, an old abbey, and several farms. The
inhabitants of Saumur were so little revolutionary that they thought
Pere Grandet a bold man, a republican, and a patriot with a mind open
to all the new ideas; though in point of fact it was open only to
vineyards. He was appointed a member of the administration of Saumur,
and his pacific influence made itself felt politically and
commercially. Politically, he protected the ci-devant nobles, and
prevented, to the extent of his power, the sale of the lands and
property of the /emigres/; commercially, he furnished the Republican
armies with two or three thousand puncheons of white wine, and took
his pay in splendid fields belonging to a community of women whose
lands had been reserved for the last lot.
Under the Consulate Grandet became mayor, governed wisely, and
harvested still better pickings. Under the Empire he was called
Monsieur Grandet. Napoleon, however, did not like republicans, and
superseded Monsieur Grandet (who was supposed to have worn the
Phrygian cap) by a man of his own surroundings, a future baron of the
Empire. Monsieur Grandet quitted office without regret. He had
constructed in the interests of the town certain fine roads which led
to his own property; his house and lands, very advantageously
assessed, paid moderate taxes; and since the registration of his
various estates, the vineyards, thanks to his constant care, had
become the "head of the country,"--a local term used to denote those
that produced the finest quality of wine. He might have asked for the
cross of the Legion of honor.
This event occurred in 1806. Monsieur Grandet was then fifty-seven
years of age, his wife thirty-six, and an only daughter, the fruit of
their legitimate love, was ten years old. Monsieur Grandet, whom
Providence no doubt desired to compensate for the loss of his
municipal honors, inherited three fortunes in the course of this year,
--that of Madame de la Gaudiniere, born de la Bertelliere, the mother
of Madame Grandet; that of old Monsieur de la Bertelliere, her
grandfather; and, lastly, that of Madame Gentillet, her grandmother on
the mother's side: three inheritances, whose amount was not known to
any one. The avarice of the deceased persons was so keen that for a
long time they had hoarded their money for the pleasure of secretly
looking at it. Old Monsieur de la Bertelliere called an investment an
extravagance, and thought he got better interest from the sight of his
gold than from the profits of usury. The inhabitants of Saumur
consequently estimated his savings according to "the revenues of the
sun's wealth," as they said.
Monsieur Grandet thus obtained that modern title of nobility which our
mania for equality can never rub out. He became the most imposing
personage in the arrondissement. He worked a hundred acres of
vineyard, which in fruitful years yielded seven or eight hundred
hogsheads of wine. He owned thirteen farms, an old abbey, whose
windows and arches he had walled up for the sake of economy,--a
measure which preserved them,--also a hundred and twenty-seven acres
of meadow-land, where three thousand poplars, planted in 1793, grew
and flourished; and finally, the house in which he lived. Such was his
visible estate; as to his other property, only two persons could give
even a vague guess at its value: one was Monsieur Cruchot, a notary
employed in the usurious investments of Monsieur Grandet; the other
was Monsieur des Grassins, the richest banker in Saumur, in whose
profits Grandet had a certain covenanted and secret share.
Although old Cruchot and Monsieur des Grassins were both gifted with
the deep discretion which wealth and trust beget in the provinces,
they publicly testified so much respect to Monsieur Grandet that
observers estimated the amount of his property by the obsequious
attention which they bestowed upon him. In all Saumur there was no one
not persuaded that Monsieur Grandet had a private treasure, some
hiding-place full of louis, where he nightly took ineffable delight in
gazing upon great masses of gold. Avaricious people gathered proof of
this when they looked at the eyes of the good man, to which the yellow
metal seemed to have conveyed its tints. The glance of a man
accustomed to draw enormous interest from his capital acquires, like
that of the libertine, the gambler, or the sycophant, certain
indefinable habits,--furtive, eager, mysterious movements, which never
escape the notice of his co-religionists. This secret language is in a
certain way the freemasonry of the passions. Monsieur Grandet inspired
the respectful esteem due to one who owed no man anything, who,
skilful cooper and experienced wine-grower that he was, guessed with
the precision of an astronomer whether he ought to manufacture a
thousand puncheons for his vintage, or only five hundred, who never
failed in any speculation, and always had casks for sale when casks
were worth more than the commodity that filled them, who could store
his whole vintage in his cellars and bide his time to put the
puncheons on the market at two hundred francs, when the little
proprietors had been forced to sell theirs for five louis. His famous
vintage of 1811, judiciously stored and slowly disposed of, brought
him in more than two hundred and forty thousand francs.
Financially speaking, Monsieur Grandet was something between a tiger
and a boa-constrictor. He could crouch and lie low, watch his prey a
long while, spring upon it, open his jaws, swallow a mass of louis,
and then rest tranquilly like a snake in process of digestion,
impassible, methodical, and cold. No one saw him pass without a
feeling of admiration mingled with respect and fear; had not every man
in Saumur felt the rending of those polished steel claws? For this
one, Maitre Cruchot had procured the money required for the purchase
of a domain, but at eleven per cent. For that one, Monsieur des
Grassins discounted bills of exchange, but at a frightful deduction of
interest. Few days ever passed that Monsieur Grandet's name was not
mentioned either in the markets or in social conversations at the
evening gatherings. To some the fortune of the old wine-grower was an
object of patriotic pride. More than one merchant, more than one
innkeeper, said to strangers with a certain complacency: "Monsieur, we
have two or three millionaire establishments; but as for Monsieur
Grandet, he does not himself know how much he is worth."
In 1816 the best reckoners in Saumur estimated the landed property of
the worthy man at nearly four millions; but as, on an average, he had
made yearly, from 1793 to 1817, a hundred thousand francs out of that
property, it was fair to presume that he possessed in actual money a
sum nearly equal to the value of his estate. So that when, after a
game of boston or an evening discussion on the matter of vines, the
talk fell upon Monsieur Grandet, knowing people said: "Le Pere
Grandet? le Pere Grandet must have at least five or six millions."
"You are cleverer than I am; I have never been able to find out the
amount," answered Monsieur Cruchot or Monsieur des Grassins, when
either chanced to overhear the remark.
If some Parisian mentioned Rothschild or Monsieur Lafitte, the people
of Saumur asked if he were as rich as Monsieur Grandet. When the
Parisian, with a smile, tossed them a disdainful affirmative, they
looked at each other and shook their heads with an incredulous air. So
large a fortune covered with a golden mantle all the actions of this
man. If in early days some peculiarities of his life gave occasion for
laughter or ridicule, laughter and ridicule had long since died away.
His least important actions had the authority of results repeatedly
shown. His speech, his clothing, his gestures, the blinking of his
eyes, were law to the country-side, where every one, after studying
him as a naturalist studies the result of instinct in the lower
animals, had come to understand the deep mute wisdom of his slightest
"It will be a hard winter," said one; "Pere Grandet has put on his fur
"Pere Grandet is buying quantities of staves; there will be plenty of
wine this year."
Monsieur Grandet never bought either bread or meat. His farmers
supplied him weekly with a sufficiency of capons, chickens, eggs,
butter, and his tithe of wheat. He owned a mill; and the tenant was
bound, over and above his rent, to take a certain quantity of grain
and return him the flour and bran. La Grande Nanon, his only servant,
though she was no longer young, baked the bread of the household
herself every Saturday. Monsieur Grandet arranged with kitchen-
gardeners who were his tenants to supply him with vegetables. As to
fruits, he gathered such quantities that he sold the greater part in
the market. His fire-wood was cut from his own hedgerows or taken from
the half-rotten old sheds which he built at the corners of his fields,
and whose planks the farmers carted into town for him, all cut up, and
obligingly stacked in his wood-house, receiving in return his thanks.
His only known expenditures were for the consecrated bread, the
clothing of his wife and daughter, the hire of their chairs in church,
the wages of la Grand Nanon, the tinning of the saucepans, lights,
taxes, repairs on his buildings, and the costs of his various
industries. He had six hundred acres of woodland, lately purchased,
which he induced a neighbor's keeper to watch, under the promise of an
indemnity. After the acquisition of this property he ate game for the
Monsieur Grandet's manners were very simple. He spoke little. He
usually expressed his meaning by short sententious phrases uttered in
a soft voice. After the Revolution, the epoch at which he first came
into notice, the good man stuttered in a wearisome way as soon as he
was required to speak at length or to maintain an argument. This
stammering, the incoherence of his language, the flux of words in
which he drowned his thought, his apparent lack of logic, attributed
to defects of education, were in reality assumed, and will be
sufficiently explained by certain events in the following history.
Four sentences, precise as algebraic formulas, sufficed him usually to
grasp and solve all difficulties of life and commerce: "I don't know;
I cannot; I will not; I will see about it." He never said yes, or no,
and never committed himself to writing. If people talked to him he
listened coldly, holding his chin in his right hand and resting his
right elbow in the back of his left hand, forming in his own mind
opinions on all matters, from which he never receded. He reflected
long before making any business agreement. When his opponent, after
careful conversation, avowed the secret of his own purposes, confident
that he had secured his listener's assent, Grandet answered: "I can
decide nothing without consulting my wife." His wife, whom he had
reduced to a state of helpless slavery, was a useful screen to him in
business. He went nowhere among friends; he neither gave nor accepted
dinners; he made no stir or noise, seeming to economize in everything,
even movement. He never disturbed or disarranged the things of other
people, out of respect for the rights of property. Nevertheless, in
spite of his soft voice, in spite of his circumspect bearing, the
language and habits of a coarse nature came to the surface, especially
in his own home, where he controlled himself less than elsewhere.
Physically, Grandet was a man five feet high, thick-set, square-built,
with calves twelve inches in circumference, knotted knee-joints, and
broad shoulders; his face was round, tanned, and pitted by the small-
pox; his chin was straight, his lips had no curves, his teeth were
white; his eyes had that calm, devouring expression which people
attribute to the basilisk; his forehead, full of transverse wrinkles,
was not without certain significant protuberances; his yellow-grayish
hair was said to be silver and gold by certain young people who did
not realize the impropriety of making a jest about Monsieur Grandet.
His nose, thick at the end, bore a veined wen, which the common people
said, not without reason, was full of malice. The whole countenance
showed a dangerous cunning, an integrity without warmth, the egotism
of a man long used to concentrate every feeling upon the enjoyments of
avarice and upon the only human being who was anything whatever to
him,--his daughter and sole heiress, Eugenie. Attitude, manners,
bearing, everything about him, in short, testified to that belief in
himself which the habit of succeeding in all enterprises never fails
to give to a man.
Thus, though his manners were unctuous and soft outwardly, Monsieur
Grandet's nature was of iron. His dress never varied; and those who
saw him to-day saw him such as he had been since 1791. His stout shoes
were tied with leathern thongs; he wore, in all weathers, thick
woollen stockings, short breeches of coarse maroon cloth with silver
buckles, a velvet waistcoat, in alternate stripes of yellow and puce,
buttoned squarely, a large maroon coat with wide flaps, a black
cravat, and a quaker's hat. His gloves, thick as those of a gendarme,
lasted him twenty months; to preserve them, he always laid them
methodically on the brim of his hat in one particular spot. Saumur
knew nothing further about this personage.
Only six individuals had a right of entrance to Monsieur Grandet's
house. The most important of the first three was a nephew of Monsieur
Cruchot. Since his appointment as president of the Civil courts of
Saumur this young man had added the name of Bonfons to that of
Cruchot. He now signed himself C. de Bonfons. Any litigant so ill-
advised as to call him Monsieur Cruchot would soon be made to feel his
folly in court. The magistrate protected those who called him Monsieur
le president, but he favored with gracious smiles those who addressed
him as Monsieur de Bonfons. Monsieur le president was thirty-three
years old, and possessed the estate of Bonfons (Boni Fontis), worth
seven thousand francs a year; he expected to inherit the property of
his uncle the notary and that of another uncle, the Abbe Cruchot, a
dignitary of the chapter of Saint-Martin de Tours, both of whom were
thought to be very rich. These three Cruchots, backed by a goodly
number of cousins, and allied to twenty families in the town, formed a
party, like the Medici in Florence; like the Medici, the Cruchots had
Madame des Grassins, mother of a son twenty-three years of age, came
assiduously to play cards with Madame Grandet, hoping to marry her
dear Adolphe to Mademoiselle Eugenie. Monsieur des Grassins, the
banker, vigorously promoted the schemes of his wife by means of secret
services constantly rendered to the old miser, and always arrived in
time upon the field of battle. The three des Grassins likewise had
their adherents, their cousins, their faithful allies. On the Cruchot
side the abbe, the Talleyrand of the family, well backed-up by his
brother the notary, sharply contested every inch of ground with his
female adversary, and tried to obtain the rich heiress for his nephew
This secret warfare between the Cruchots and des Grassins, the prize
thereof being the hand in marriage of Eugenie Grandet, kept the
various social circles of Saumur in violent agitation. Would
Mademoiselle Grandet marry Monsieur le president or Monsieur Adolphe
des Grassins? To this problem some replied that Monsieur Grandet would
never give his daughter to the one or to the other. The old cooper,
eaten up with ambition, was looking, they said, for a peer of France,
to whom an income of three hundred thousand francs would make all the
past, present, and future casks of the Grandets acceptable. Others
replied that Monsieur and Madame des Grassins were nobles, and
exceedingly rich; that Adolphe was a personable young fellow; and that
unless the old man had a nephew of the pope at his beck and call, such
a suitable alliance ought to satisfy a man who came from nothing,--a
man whom Saumur remembered with an adze in his hand, and who had,
moreover, worn the /bonnet rouge/. Certain wise heads called attention
to the fact that Monsieur Cruchot de Bonfons had the right of entry to
the house at all times, whereas his rival was received only on
Sundays. Others, however, maintained that Madame des Grassins was more
intimate with the women of the house of Grandet than the Cruchots
were, and could put into their minds certain ideas which would lead,
sooner or later, to success. To this the former retorted that the Abbe
Cruchot was the most insinuating man in the world: pit a woman against
a monk, and the struggle was even. "It is diamond cut diamond," said a
The oldest inhabitants, wiser than their fellows, declared that the
Grandets knew better than to let the property go out of the family,
and that Mademoiselle Eugenie Grandet of Saumur would be married to
the son of Monsieur Grandet of Paris, a wealthy wholesale wine-
merchant. To this the Cruchotines and the Grassinists replied: "In the
first place, the two brothers have seen each other only twice in
thirty years; and next, Monsieur Grandet of Paris has ambitious
designs for his son. He is mayor of an arrondissement, a deputy,
colonel of the National Guard, judge in the commercial courts; he
disowns the Grandets of Saumur, and means to ally himself with some
ducal family,--ducal under favor of Napoleon." In short, was there
anything not said of an heiress who was talked of through a
circumference of fifty miles, and even in the public conveyances from
Angers to Blois, inclusively!
At the beginning of 1811, the Cruchotines won a signal advantage over
the Grassinists. The estate of Froidfond, remarkable for its park, its
mansion, its farms, streams, ponds, forests, and worth about three
millions, was put up for sale by the young Marquis de Froidfond, who
was obliged to liquidate his possessions. Maitre Cruchot, the
president, and the abbe, aided by their adherents, were able to
prevent the sale of the estate in little lots. The notary concluded a
bargain with the young man for the whole property, payable in gold,
persuading him that suits without number would have to be brought
against the purchasers of small lots before he could get the money for
them; it was better, therefore, to sell the whole to Monsieur Grandet,
who was solvent and able to pay for the estate in ready money. The
fine marquisate of Froidfond was accordingly conveyed down the gullet
of Monsieur Grandet, who, to the great astonishment of Saumur, paid
for it, under proper discount, with the usual formalities.
This affair echoed from Nantes to Orleans. Monsieur Grandet took
advantage of a cart returning by way of Froidfond to go and see his
chateau. Having cast a master's eye over the whole property, he
returned to Saumur, satisfied that he had invested his money at five
per cent, and seized by the stupendous thought of extending and
increasing the marquisate of Froidfond by concentrating all his
property there. Then, to fill up his coffers, now nearly empty, he
resolved to thin out his woods and his forests, and to sell off the
poplars in the meadows.
It is now easy to understand the full meaning of the term, "the house
of Monsieur Grandet,"--that cold, silent, pallid dwelling, standing
above the town and sheltered by the ruins of the ramparts. The two
pillars and the arch, which made the porte-cochere on which the door
opened, were built, like the house itself, of tufa,--a white stone
peculiar to the shores of the Loire, and so soft that it lasts hardly
more than two centuries. Numberless irregular holes, capriciously
bored or eaten out by the inclemency of the weather, gave an
appearance of the vermiculated stonework of French architecture to the
arch and the side walls of this entrance, which bore some resemblance
to the gateway of a jail. Above the arch was a long bas-relief, in
hard stone, representing the four seasons, the faces already crumbling
away and blackened. This bas-relief was surmounted by a projecting
plinth, upon which a variety of chance growths had sprung up,--yellow
pellitory, bindweed, convolvuli, nettles, plantain, and even a little
cherry-tree, already grown to some height.
The door of the archway was made of solid oak, brown, shrunken, and
split in many places; though frail in appearance, it was firmly held
in place by a system of iron bolts arranged in symmetrical patterns. A
small square grating, with close bars red with rust, filled up the
middle panel and made, as it were, a motive for the knocker, fastened
to it by a ring, which struck upon the grinning head of a huge nail.
This knocker, of the oblong shape and kind which our ancestors called
/jaquemart/, looked like a huge note of exclamation; an antiquary who
examined it attentively might have found indications of the figure,
essentially burlesque, which it once represented, and which long usage
had now effaced. Through this little grating--intended in olden times
for the recognition of friends in times of civil war--inquisitive
persons could perceive, at the farther end of the dark and slimy
vault, a few broken steps which led to a garden, picturesquely shut in
by walls that were thick and damp, and through which oozed a moisture
that nourished tufts of sickly herbage. These walls were the ruins of
the ramparts, under which ranged the gardens of several neighboring
The most important room on the ground-floor of the house was a large
hall, entered directly from beneath the vault of the porte-cochere.
Few people know the importance of a hall in the little towns of Anjou,
Touraine, and Berry. The hall is at one and the same time antechamber,
salon, office, boudoir, and dining-room; it is the theatre of domestic
life, the common living-room. There the barber of the neighborhood
came, twice a year, to cut Monsieur Grandet's hair; there the farmers,
the cure, the under-prefect, and the miller's boy came on business.
This room, with two windows looking on the street, was entirely of
wood. Gray panels with ancient mouldings covered the walls from top to
bottom; the ceiling showed all its beams, which were likewise painted
gray, while the space between them had been washed over in white, now
yellow with age. An old brass clock, inlaid with arabesques, adorned
the mantel of the ill-cut white stone chimney-piece, above which was a
greenish mirror, whose edges, bevelled to show the thickness of the
glass, reflected a thread of light the whole length of a gothic frame
in damascened steel-work. The two copper-gilt candelabra which
decorated the corners of the chimney-piece served a double purpose: by
taking off the side-branches, each of which held a socket, the main
stem--which was fastened to a pedestal of bluish marble tipped with
copper--made a candlestick for one candle, which was sufficient for
ordinary occasions. The chairs, antique in shape, were covered with
tapestry representing the fables of La Fontaine; it was necessary,
however, to know that writer well to guess at the subjects, for the
faded colors and the figures, blurred by much darning, were difficult
At the four corners of the hall were closets, or rather buffets,
surmounted by dirty shelves. An old card-table in marquetry, of which
the upper part was a chess-board, stood in the space between the two
windows. Above this table was an oval barometer with a black border
enlivened with gilt bands, on which the flies had so licentiously
disported themselves that the gilding had become problematical. On the
panel opposite to the chimney-piece were two portraits in pastel,
supposed to represent the grandfather of Madame Grandet, old Monsieur
de la Bertelliere, as a lieutenant in the French guard, and the
deceased Madame Gentillet in the guise of a shepherdess. The windows
were draped with curtains of red /gros de Tours/ held back by silken
cords with ecclesiastical tassels. This luxurious decoration, little
in keeping with the habits of Monsieur Grandet, had been, together
with the steel pier-glass, the tapestries, and the buffets, which were
of rose-wood, included in the purchase of the house.
By the window nearest to the door stood a straw chair, whose legs were
raised on castors to lift its occupant, Madame Grandet, to a height
from which she could see the passers-by. A work-table of stained
cherry-wood filled up the embrasure, and the little armchair of
Eugenie Grandet stood beside it. In this spot the lives had flowed
peacefully onward for fifteen years, in a round of constant work from
the month of April to the month of November. On the first day of the
latter month they took their winter station by the chimney. Not until
that day did Grandet permit a fire to be lighted; and on the thirty-
first of March it was extinguished, without regard either to the
chills of the early spring or to those of a wintry autumn. A foot-
warmer, filled with embers from the kitchen fire, which la Grande
Nanon contrived to save for them, enabled Madame and Mademoiselle
Grandet to bear the chilly mornings and evenings of April and October.
Mother and daughter took charge of the family linen, and spent their
days so conscientiously upon a labor properly that of working-women,
that if Eugenie wished to embroider a collar for her mother she was
forced to take the time from sleep, and deceive her father to obtain
the necessary light. For a long time the miser had given out the
tallow candle to his daughter and la Grande Nanon just as he gave out
every morning the bread and other necessaries for the daily
La Grande Nanon was perhaps the only human being capable of accepting
willingly the despotism of her master. The whole town envied Monsieur
and Madame Grandet the possession of her. La Grande Nanon, so called
on account of her height, which was five feet eight inches, had lived
with Monsieur Grandet for thirty-five years. Though she received only
sixty francs a year in wages, she was supposed to be one of the
richest serving-women in Saumur. Those sixty francs, accumulating
through thirty-five years, had recently enabled her to invest four
thousand francs in an annuity with Maitre Cruchot. This result of her
long and persistent economy seemed gigantic. Every servant in the
town, seeing that the poor sexagenarian was sure of bread for her old
age, was jealous of her, and never thought of the hard slavery through
which it had been won.
At twenty-two years of age the poor girl had been unable to find a
situation, so repulsive was her face to almost every one. Yet the
feeling was certainly unjust: the face would have been much admired on
the shoulders of a grenadier of the guard; but all things, so they
say, should be in keeping. Forced to leave a farm where she kept the
cows, because the dwelling-house was burned down, she came to Saumur
to find a place, full of the robust courage that shrinks from no
labor. Le Pere Grandet was at that time thinking of marriage and about
to set up his household. He espied the girl, rejected as she was from
door to door. A good judge of corporeal strength in his trade as a
cooper, he guessed the work that might be got out of a female creature
shaped like a Hercules, as firm on her feet as an oak sixty years old
on its roots, strong in the hips, square in the back, with the hands
of a cartman and an honesty as sound as her unblemished virtue.
Neither the warts which adorned her martial visage, nor the red-brick
tints of her skin, nor the sinewy arms, nor the ragged garments of la
Grande Nanon, dismayed the cooper, who was at that time still of an
age when the heart shudders. He fed, shod, and clothed the poor girl,
gave her wages, and put her to work without treating her too roughly.
Seeing herself thus welcomed, la Grande Nanon wept secretly tears of
joy, and attached herself in all sincerity to her master, who from
that day ruled her and worked her with feudal authority. Nanon did
everything. She cooked, she made the lye, she washed the linen in the
Loire and brought it home on her shoulders; she got up early, she went
to bed late; she prepared the food of the vine-dressers during the
harvest, kept watch upon the market-people, protected the property of
her master like a faithful dog, and even, full of blind confidence,
obeyed without a murmur his most absurd exactions.
In the famous year of 1811, when the grapes were gathered with
unheard-of difficulty, Grandet resolved to give Nanon his old watch,--
the first present he had made her during twenty years of service.
Though he turned over to her his old shoes (which fitted her), it is
impossible to consider that quarterly benefit as a gift, for the shoes
were always thoroughly worn-out. Necessity had made the poor girl so
niggardly that Grandet had grown to love her as we love a dog, and
Nanon had let him fasten a spiked collar round her throat, whose
spikes no longer pricked her. If Grandet cut the bread with rather too
much parsimony, she made no complaint; she gaily shared the hygienic
benefits derived from the severe regime of the household, in which no
one was ever ill. Nanon was, in fact, one of the family; she laughed
when Grandet laughed, felt gloomy or chilly, warmed herself, and
toiled as he did. What pleasant compensations there were in such
equality! Never did the master have occasion to find fault with the
servant for pilfering the grapes, nor for the plums and nectarines
eaten under the trees. "Come, fall-to, Nanon!" he would say in years
when the branches bent under the fruit and the farmers were obliged to
give it to the pigs.
To the poor peasant who in her youth had earned nothing but harsh
treatment, to the pauper girl picked up by charity, Grandet's
ambiguous laugh was like a sunbeam. Moreover, Nanon's simple heart and
narrow head could hold only one feeling and one idea. For thirty-five
years she had never ceased to see herself standing before the wood-
yard of Monsieur Grandet, ragged and barefooted, and to hear him say:
"What do you want, young one?" Her gratitude was ever new. Sometimes
Grandet, reflecting that the poor creature had never heard a
flattering word, that she was ignorant of all the tender sentiments
inspired by women, that she might some day appear before the throne of
God even more chaste than the Virgin Mary herself,--Grandet, struck
with pity, would say as he looked at her, "Poor Nanon!" The
exclamation was always followed by an undefinable look cast upon him
in return by the old servant. The words, uttered from time to time,
formed a chain of friendship that nothing ever parted, and to which
each exclamation added a link. Such compassion arising in the heart of
the miser, and accepted gratefully by the old spinster, had something
inconceivably horrible about it. This cruel pity, recalling, as it
did, a thousand pleasures to the heart of the old cooper, was for
Nanon the sum total of happiness. Who does not likewise say, "Poor
Nanon!" God will recognize his angels by the inflexions of their
voices and by their secret sighs.
There were very many households in Saumur where the servants were
better treated, but where the masters received far less satisfaction
in return. Thus it was often said: "What have the Grandets ever done
to make their Grande Nanon so attached to them? She would go through
fire and water for their sake!" Her kitchen, whose barred windows
looked into the court, was always clean, neat, cold,--a true miser's
kitchen, where nothing went to waste. When Nanon had washed her
dishes, locked up the remains of the dinner, and put out her fire, she
left the kitchen, which was separated by a passage from the living-
room, and went to spin hemp beside her masters. One tallow candle
sufficed the family for the evening. The servant slept at the end of
the passage in a species of closet lighted only by a fan-light. Her
robust health enabled her to live in this hole with impunity; there
she could hear the slightest noise through the deep silence which
reigned night and day in that dreary house. Like a watch-dog, she
slept with one ear open, and took her rest with a mind alert.
A description of the other parts of the dwelling will be found
connected with the events of this history, though the foregoing sketch
of the hall, where the whole luxury of the household appears, may
enable the reader to surmise the nakedness of the upper floors.
In 1819, at the beginning of an evening in the middle of November, la
Grande Nanon lighted the fire for the first time. The autumn had been
very fine. This particular day was a fete-day well known to the
Cruchotines and the Grassinists. The six antagonists, armed at all
points, were making ready to meet at the Grandets and surpass each
other in testimonials of friendship. That morning all Saumur had seen
Madame and Mademoiselle Grandet, accompanied by Nanon, on their way to
hear Mass at the parish church, and every one remembered that the day
was the anniversary of Mademoiselle Eugenie's birth. Calculating the
hour at which the family dinner would be over, Maitre Cruchot, the
Abbe Cruchot, and Monsieur C. de Bonfons hastened to arrive before the
des Grassins, and be the first to pay their compliments to
Mademoiselle Eugenie. All three brought enormous bouquets, gathered in
their little green-houses. The stalks of the flowers which the
president intended to present were ingeniously wound round with a
white satin ribbon adorned with gold fringe. In the morning Monsieur
Grandet, following his usual custom on the days that commemorated the
birth and the fete of Eugenie, went to her bedside and solemnly
presented her with his paternal gift,--which for the last thirteen
years had consisted regularly of a curious gold-piece. Madame Grandet
gave her daughter a winter dress or a summer dress, as the case might
be. These two dresses and the gold-pieces, of which she received two
others on New Year's day and on her father's fete-day, gave Eugenie a
little revenue of a hundred crowns or thereabouts, which Grandet loved
to see her amass. Was it not putting his money from one strong-box to
another, and, as it were, training the parsimony of his heiress? from
whom he sometimes demanded an account of her treasure (formerly
increased by the gifts of the Bertellieres), saying: "It is to be your
The "marriage dozen" is an old custom sacredly preserved and still in
force in many parts of central France. In Berry and in Anjou, when a
young girl marries, her family, or that of the husband, must give her
a purse, in which they place, according to their means, twelve pieces,
or twelve dozen pieces, or twelve hundred pieces of gold. The poorest
shepherd-girl never marries without her dozen, be it only a dozen
coppers. They still tell in Issoudun of a certain "dozen" presented to
a rich heiress, which contained a hundred and forty-four /portugaises
d'or/. Pope Clement VII., uncle of Catherine de' Medici, gave her when
he married her to Henri II. a dozen antique gold medals of priceless
During dinner the father, delighted to see his Eugenie looking well in
a new gown, exclaimed: "As it is Eugenie's birthday let us have a
fire; it will be a good omen."
"Mademoiselle will be married this year, that's certain," said la
Grande Nanon, carrying away the remains of the goose,--the pheasant of
"I don't see any one suitable for her in Saumur," said Madame Grandet,
glancing at her husband with a timid look which, considering her
years, revealed the conjugal slavery under which the poor woman
Grandet looked at his daughter and exclaimed gaily,--
"She is twenty-three years old to-day, the child; we must soon begin
to think of it."
Eugenie and her mother silently exchanged a glance of intelligence.
Madame Grandet was a dry, thin woman, as yellow as a quince, awkward,
slow, one of those women who are born to be down-trodden. She had big
bones, a big nose, a big forehead, big eyes, and presented at first
sight a vague resemblance to those mealy fruits that have neither
savor nor succulence. Her teeth were black and few in number, her
mouth was wrinkled, her chin long and pointed. She was an excellent
woman, a true la Bertelliere. L'abbe Cruchot found occasional
opportunity to tell her that she had not done ill; and she believed
him. Angelic sweetness, the resignation of an insect tortured by
children, a rare piety, a good heart, an unalterable equanimity of
soul, made her universally pitied and respected. Her husband never
gave her more than six francs at a time for her personal expenses.
Ridiculous as it may seem, this woman, who by her own fortune and her
various inheritances brought Pere Grandet more than three hundred
thousand francs, had always felt so profoundly humiliated by her
dependence and the slavery in which she lived, against which the
gentleness of her spirit prevented her from revolting, that she had
never asked for one penny or made a single remark on the deeds which
Maitre Cruchot brought for her signature. This foolish secret pride,
this nobility of soul perpetually misunderstood and wounded by
Grandet, ruled the whole conduct of the wife.
Madame Grandet was attired habitually in a gown of greenish levantine
silk, endeavoring to make it last nearly a year; with it she wore a
large kerchief of white cotton cloth, a bonnet made of plaited straws
sewn together, and almost always a black-silk apron. As she seldom
left the house she wore out very few shoes. She never asked anything
for herself. Grandet, seized with occasional remorse when he
remembered how long a time had elapsed since he gave her the last six
francs, always stipulated for the "wife's pin-money" when he sold his
yearly vintage. The four or five louis presented by the Belgian or the
Dutchman who purchased the wine were the chief visible signs of Madame
Grandet's annual revenues. But after she had received the five louis,
her husband would often say to her, as though their purse were held in
common: "Can you lend me a few sous?" and the poor woman, glad to be
able to do something for a man whom her confessor held up to her as
her lord and master, returned him in the course of the winter several
crowns out of the "pin-money." When Grandet drew from his pocket the
five-franc piece which he allowed monthly for the minor expenses,--
thread, needles, and toilet,--of his daughter, he never failed to say
as he buttoned his breeches' pocket: "And you, mother, do you want
"My friend," Madame Grandet would answer, moved by a sense of maternal
dignity, "we will see about that later."
Wasted dignity! Grandet thought himself very generous to his wife.
Philosophers who meet the like of Nanon, of Madame Grandet, of
Eugenie, have surely a right to say that irony is at the bottom of the
ways of Providence.
After the dinner at which for the first time allusion had been made to
Eugenie's marriage, Nanon went to fetch a bottle of black-currant
ratafia from Monsieur Grandet's bed-chamber, and nearly fell as she
came down the stairs.
"You great stupid!" said her master; "are you going to tumble about
like other people, hey?"
"Monsieur, it was that step on your staircase which has given way."
"She is right," said Madame Grandet; "it ought to have been mended
long ago. Yesterday Eugenie nearly twisted her ankle."
"Here," said Grandet to Nanon, seeing that she looked quite pale, "as
it is Eugenie's birthday, and you came near falling, take a little
glass of ratafia to set you right."
"Faith! I've earned it," said Nanon; "most people would have broken
the bottle; but I'd sooner have broken my elbow holding it up high."
"Poor Nanon!" said Grandet, filling a glass.
"Did you hurt yourself?" asked Eugenie, looking kindly at her.
"No, I didn't fall; I threw myself back on my haunches."
"Well! as it is Eugenie's birthday," said Grandet, "I'll have the step
mended. You people don't know how to set your foot in the corner where
the wood is still firm."
Grandet took the candle, leaving his wife, daughter, and servant
without any other light than that from the hearth, where the flames
were lively, and went into the bakehouse to fetch planks, nails, and
"Can I help you?" cried Nanon, hearing him hammer on the stairs.
"No, no! I'm an old hand at it," answered the former cooper.
At the moment when Grandet was mending his worm-eaten staircase and
whistling with all his might, in remembrance of the days of his youth,
the three Cruchots knocked at the door.
"Is it you, Monsieur Cruchot?" asked Nanon, peeping through the little
"Yes," answered the president.
Nanon opened the door, and the light from the hearth, reflected on the
ceiling, enabled the three Cruchots to find their way into the room.
"Ha! you've come a-greeting," said Nanon, smelling the flowers.
"Excuse me, messieurs," cried Grandet, recognizing their voices; "I'll
be with you in a moment. I'm not proud; I am patching up a step on my
"Go on, go on, Monsieur Grandet; a man's house is his castle," said
the president sententiously.
Madame and Mademoiselle Grandet rose. The president, profiting by the
darkness, said to Eugenie:
"Will you permit me, mademoiselle, to wish you, on this the day of
your birth, a series of happy years and the continuance of the health
which you now enjoy?"
He offered her a huge bouquet of choice flowers which were rare in
Saumur; then, taking the heiress by the elbows, he kissed her on each
side of her neck with a complacency that made her blush. The
president, who looked like a rusty iron nail, felt that his courtship
"Don't stand on ceremony," said Grandet, entering. "How well you do
things on fete-days, Monsieur le president!"
"When it concerns mademoiselle," said the abbe, armed with his own
bouquet, "every day is a fete-day for my nephew."
The abbe kissed Eugenie's hand. As for Maitre Cruchot, he boldly
kissed her on both cheeks, remarking: "How we sprout up, to be sure!
Every year is twelve months."
As he replaced the candlestick beside the clock, Grandet, who never
forgot his own jokes, and repeated them to satiety when he thought
them funny, said,--
"As this is Eugenie's birthday let us illuminate."
He carefully took off the branches of the candelabra, put a socket on
each pedestal, took from Nanon a new tallow candle with paper twisted
round the end of it, put it into the hollow, made it firm, lit it, and
then sat down beside his wife, looking alternately at his friends, his
daughter, and the two candles. The Abbe Cruchot, a plump, puffy little
man, with a red wig plastered down and a face like an old female
gambler, said as he stretched out his feet, well shod in stout shoes
with silver buckles: "The des Grassins have not come?"
"Not yet," said Grandet.
"But are they coming?" asked the old notary, twisting his face, which
had as many holes as a collander, into a queer grimace.
"I think so," answered Madame Grandet.
"Are your vintages all finished?" said Monsieur de Bonfons to Grandet.
"Yes, all of them," said the old man, rising to walk up and down the
room, his chest swelling with pride as he said the words, "all of
them." Through the door of the passage which led to the kitchen he saw
la Grande Nanon sitting beside her fire with a candle and preparing to
spin there, so as not to intrude among the guests.
"Nanon," he said, going into the passage, "put out that fire and that
candle, and come and sit with us. Pardieu! the hall is big enough for
"But monsieur, you are to have the great people."
"Are not you as good as they? They are descended from Adam, and so are
Grandet came back to the president and said,--
"Have you sold your vintage?"
"No, not I; I shall keep it. If the wine is good this year, it will be
better two years hence. The proprietors, you know, have made an
agreement to keep up the price; and this year the Belgians won't get
the better of us. Suppose they are sent off empty-handed for once,
faith! they'll come back."
"Yes, but let us mind what we are about," said Grandet in a tone which
made the president tremble.
"Is he driving some bargain?" thought Cruchot.
At this moment the knocker announced the des Grassins family, and
their arrival interrupted a conversation which had begun between
Madame Grandet and the abbe.
Madame des Grassins was one of those lively, plump little women, with
pink-and-white skins, who, thanks to the claustral calm of the
provinces and the habits of a virtuous life, keep their youth until
they are past forty. She was like the last rose of autumn,--pleasant
to the eye, though the petals have a certain frostiness, and their
perfume is slight. She dressed well, got her fashions from Paris, set
the tone to Saumur, and gave parties. Her husband, formerly a
quartermaster in the Imperial guard, who had been desperately wounded
at Austerlitz, and had since retired, still retained, in spite of his
respect for Grandet, the seeming frankness of an old soldier.
"Good evening, Grandet," he said, holding out his hand and affecting a
sort of superiority, with which he always crushed the Cruchots.
"Mademoiselle," he added, turning to Eugenie, after bowing to Madame
Grandet, "you are always beautiful and good, and truly I do not know
what to wish you." So saying, he offered her a little box which his
servant had brought and which contained a Cape heather,--a flower
lately imported into Europe and very rare.
Madame des Grassins kissed Eugenie very affectionately, pressed her
hand, and said: "Adolphe wishes to make you my little offering."
A tall, blond young man, pale and slight, with tolerable manners and
seemingly rather shy, although he had just spent eight or ten thousand
francs over his allowance in Paris, where he had been sent to study
law, now came forward and kissed Eugenie on both cheeks, offering her
a workbox with utensils in silver-gilt,--mere show-case trumpery, in
spite of the monogram E.G. in gothic letters rather well engraved,
which belonged properly to something in better taste. As she opened
it, Eugenie experienced one of those unexpected and perfect delights
which make a young girl blush and quiver and tremble with pleasure.
She turned her eyes to her father as if to ask permission to accept
it, and Monsieur Grandet replied: "Take it, my daughter," in a tone
which would have made an actor illustrious.
The three Cruchots felt crushed as they saw the joyous, animated look
cast upon Adolphe des Grassins by the heiress, to whom such riches
were unheard-of. Monsieur des Grassins offered Grandet a pinch of
snuff, took one himself, shook off the grains as they fell on the
ribbon of the Legion of honor which was attached to the button-hole of
his blue surtout; then he looked at the Cruchots with an air that
seemed to say, "Parry that thrust if you can!" Madame des Grassins
cast her eyes on the blue vases which held the Cruchot bouquets,
looking at the enemy's gifts with the pretended interest of a
satirical woman. At this delicate juncture the Abbe Cruchot left the
company seated in a circle round the fire and joined Grandet at the
lower end of the hall. As the two men reached the embrasure of the
farthest window the priest said in the miser's ear: "Those people
throw money out of the windows."
"What does that matter if it gets into my cellar?" retorted the old
"If you want to give gilt scissors to your daughter, you have the
means," said the abbe.
"I give her something better than scissors," answered Grandet.
"My nephew is a blockhead," thought the abbe as he looked at the
president, whose rumpled hair added to the ill grace of his brown
countenance. "Couldn't he have found some little trifle which cost
"We will join you at cards, Madame Grandet," said Madame des Grassins.
"We might have two tables, as we are all here."
"As it is Eugenie's birthday you had better play loto all together,"
said Pere Grandet: "the two young ones can join"; and the old cooper,
who never played any game, motioned to his daughter and Adolphe.
"Come, Nanon, set the tables."
"We will help you, Mademoiselle Nanon," said Madame des Grassins
gaily, quite joyous at the joy she had given Eugenie.
"I have never in my life been so pleased," the heiress said to her; "I
have never seen anything so pretty."
"Adolphe brought it from Paris, and he chose it," Madame des Grassins
whispered in her ear.
"Go on! go on! damned intriguing thing!" thought the president. "If
you ever have a suit in court, you or your husband, it shall go hard
The notary, sitting in his corner, looked calmly at the abbe, saying
to himself: "The des Grassins may do what they like; my property and
my brother's and that of my nephew amount in all to eleven hundred
thousand francs. The des Grassins, at the most, have not half that;
besides, they have a daughter. They may give what presents they like;
heiress and presents too will be ours one of these days."
At half-past eight in the evening the two card-tables were set out.
Madame des Grassins succeeded in putting her son beside Eugenie. The
actors in this scene, so full of interest, commonplace as it seems,
were provided with bits of pasteboard striped in many colors and
numbered, and with counters of blue glass, and they appeared to be
listening to the jokes of the notary, who never drew a number without
making a remark, while in fact they were all thinking of Monsieur
Grandet's millions. The old cooper, with inward self-conceit, was
contemplating the pink feathers and the fresh toilet of Madame des
Grassins, the martial head of the banker, the faces of Adolphe, the
president, the abbe, and the notary, saying to himself:--
"They are all after my money. Hey! neither the one nor the other shall
have my daughter; but they are useful--useful as harpoons to fish
This family gaiety in the old gray room dimly lighted by two tallow
candles; this laughter, accompanied by the whirr of Nanon's spinning-
wheel, sincere only upon the lips of Eugenie or her mother; this
triviality mingled with important interests; this young girl, who,
like certain birds made victims of the price put upon them, was now
lured and trapped by proofs of friendship of which she was the dupe,--
all these things contributed to make the scene a melancholy comedy. Is
it not, moreover, a drama of all times and all places, though here
brought down to its simplest expression? The figure of Grandet,
playing his own game with the false friendship of the two families and
getting enormous profits from it, dominates the scene and throws light
upon it. The modern god,--the only god in whom faith is preserved,--
money, is here, in all its power, manifested in a single countenance.
The tender sentiments of life hold here but a secondary place; only
the three pure, simple hearts of Nanon, of Eugenie, and of her mother
were inspired by them. And how much of ignorance there was in the
simplicity of these poor women! Eugenie and her mother knew nothing of
Grandet's wealth; they could only estimate the things of life by the
glimmer of their pale ideas, and they neither valued nor despised
money, because they were accustomed to do without it. Their feelings,
bruised, though they did not know it, but ever-living, were the secret
spring of their existence, and made them curious exceptions in the
midst of these other people whose lives were purely material.
Frightful condition of the human race! there is no one of its joys
that does not come from some species of ignorance.
At the moment when Madame Grandet had won a loto of sixteen sous,--the
largest ever pooled in that house,--and while la Grande Nanon was
laughing with delight as she watched madame pocketing her riches, the
knocker resounded on the house-door with such a noise that the women
all jumped in their chairs.
"There is no man in Saumur who would knock like that," said the
"How can they bang in that way!" exclaimed Nanon; "do they want to
break in the door?"
"Who the devil is it?" cried Grandet.
Nanon took one of the candles and went to open the door, followed by
"Grandet! Grandet!" cried his wife, moved by a sudden impulse of fear,
and running to the door of the room.
All the players looked at each other.
"Suppose we all go?" said Monsieur des Grassins; "that knock strikes
me as evil-intentioned."
Hardly was Monsieur des Grassins allowed to see the figure of a young
man, accompanied by a porter from the coach-office carrying two large
trunks and dragging a carpet-bag after him, than Monsieur Grandet
turned roughly on his wife and said,--
"Madame Grandet, go back to your loto; leave me to speak with
Then he pulled the door quickly to, and the excited players returned
to their seats, but did not continue the game.
"Is it any one belonging to Saumur, Monsieur des Grassins?" asked his
"No, it is a traveller."
"He must have come from Paris."
"Just so," said the notary, pulling out his watch, which was two
inches thick and looked like a Dutch man-of-war; "it's nine o'clock;
the diligence of the Grand Bureau is never late."
"Is the gentleman young?" inquired the Abbe Cruchot.
"Yes," answered Monsieur des Grassins, "and he has brought luggage
which must weigh nearly three tons."
"Nanon does not come back," said Eugenie.
"It must be one of your relations," remarked the president.
"Let us go on with our game," said Madame Grandet gently. "I know from
Monsieur Grandet's tone of voice that he is annoyed; perhaps he would
not like to find us talking of his affairs."
"Mademoiselle," said Adolphe to his neighbor, "it is no doubt your
cousin Grandet,--a very good-looking young man; I met him at the ball
of Monsieur de Nucingen." Adolphe did not go on, for his mother trod
on his toes; and then, asking him aloud for two sous to put on her
stake, she whispered: "Will you hold your tongue, you great goose!"
At this moment Grandet returned, without la Grande Nanon, whose steps,
together with those of the porter, echoed up the staircase; and he was
followed by the traveller who had excited such curiosity and so filled
the lively imaginations of those present that his arrival at this
dwelling, and his sudden fall into the midst of this assembly, can
only be likened to that of a snail into a beehive, or the introduction
of a peacock into some village poultry-yard.
"Sit down near the fire," said Grandet.
Before seating himself, the young stranger saluted the assembled
company very gracefully. The men rose to answer by a courteous
inclination, and the women made a ceremonious bow.
"You are cold, no doubt, monsieur," said Madame Grandet; "you have,
perhaps, travelled from--"
"Just like all women!" said the old wine-grower, looking up from a
letter he was reading. "Do let monsieur rest himself!"
"But, father, perhaps monsieur would like to take something," said
"He has got a tongue," said the old man sternly.
The stranger was the only person surprised by this scene; all the
others were well-used to the despotic ways of the master. However,
after the two questions and the two replies had been exchanged, the
newcomer rose, turned his back towards the fire, lifted one foot so as
to warm the sole of its boot, and said to Eugenie,--
"Thank you, my cousin, but I dined at Tours. And," he added, looking
at Grandet, "I need nothing; I am not even tired."
"Monsieur has come from the capital?" asked Madame des Grassins.
Monsieur Charles,--such was the name of the son of Monsieur Grandet of
Paris,--hearing himself addressed, took a little eye-glass, suspended
by a chain from his neck, applied it to his right eye to examine what
was on the table, and also the persons sitting round it. He ogled
Madame des Grassins with much impertinence, and said to her, after he
had observed all he wished,--
"Yes, madame. You are playing at loto, aunt," he added. "Do not let me
interrupt you, I beg; go on with your game: it is too amusing to
"I was certain it was the cousin," thought Madame des Grassins,
casting repeated glances at him.
"Forty-seven!" cried the old abbe. "Mark it down, Madame des Grassins.
Isn't that your number?"
Monsieur des Grassins put a counter on his wife's card, who sat
watching first the cousin from Paris and then Eugenie, without
thinking of her loto, a prey to mournful presentiments. From time to
time the young the heiress glanced furtively at her cousin, and the
banker's wife easily detected a /crescendo/ of surprise and curiosity
in her mind.
Monsieur Charles Grandet, a handsome young man of twenty-two,
presented at this moment a singular contrast to the worthy
provincials, who, considerably disgusted by his aristocratic manners,
were all studying him with sarcastic intent. This needs an
explanation. At twenty-two, young people are still so near childhood
that they often conduct themselves childishly. In all probability, out
of every hundred of them fully ninety-nine would have behaved
precisely as Monsieur Charles Grandet was now behaving.
Some days earlier than this his father had told him to go and spend
several months with his uncle at Saumur. Perhaps Monsieur Grandet was
thinking of Eugenie. Charles, sent for the first time in his life into
the provinces, took a fancy to make his appearance with the
superiority of a man of fashion, to reduce the whole arrondissement to
despair by his luxury, and to make his visit an epoch, importing into
those country regions all the refinements of Parisian life. In short,
to explain it in one word, he mean to pass more time at Saumur in
brushing his nails than he ever thought of doing in Paris, and to
assume the extra nicety and elegance of dress which a young man of
fashion often lays aside for a certain negligence which in itself is
not devoid of grace. Charles therefore brought with him a complete
hunting-costume, the finest gun, the best hunting-knife in the
prettiest sheath to be found in all Paris. He brought his whole
collection of waistcoats. They were of all kinds,--gray, black, white,
scarabaeus-colored: some were shot with gold, some spangled, some
/chined/; some were double-breasted and crossed like a shawl, others
were straight in the collar; some had turned-over collars, some
buttoned up to the top with gilt buttons. He brought every variety of
collar and cravat in fashion at that epoch. He brought two of
Buisson's coats and all his finest linen He brought his pretty gold
toilet-set,--a present from his mother. He brought all his dandy
knick-knacks, not forgetting a ravishing little desk presented to him
by the most amiable of women,--amiable for him, at least,--a fine lady
whom he called Annette and who at this moment was travelling,
matrimonially and wearily, in Scotland, a victim to certain suspicions
which required a passing sacrifice of happiness; in the desk was much
pretty note-paper on which to write to her once a fortnight.
In short, it was as complete a cargo of Parisian frivolities as it was
possible for him to get together,--a collection of all the implements
of husbandry with which the youth of leisure tills his life, from the
little whip which helps to begin a duel, to the handsomely chased
pistols which end it. His father having told him to travel alone and
modestly, he had taken the coupe of the diligence all to himself,
rather pleased at not having to damage a delightful travelling-
carriage ordered for a journey on which he was to meet his Annette,
the great lady who, etc.,--whom he intended to rejoin at Baden in the
following June. Charles expected to meet scores of people at his
uncle's house, to hunt in his uncle's forests,--to live, in short, the
usual chateau life; he did not know that his uncle was in Saumur, and
had only inquired about him incidentally when asking the way to
Froidfond. Hearing that he was in town, he supposed that he should
find him in a suitable mansion.
In order that he might make a becoming first appearance before his
uncle either at Saumur or at Froidfond, he had put on his most elegant
travelling attire, simple yet exquisite,--"adorable," to use the word
which in those days summed up the special perfections of a man or a
thing. At Tours a hairdresser had re-curled his beautiful chestnut
locks; there he changed his linen and put on a black satin cravat,
which, combined with a round shirt-collar, framed his fair and smiling
countenance agreeably. A travelling great-coat, only half buttoned up,
nipped in his waist and disclosed a cashmere waistcoat crossed in
front, beneath which was another waistcoat of white material. His
watch, negligently slipped into a pocket, was fastened by a short gold
chain to a buttonhole. His gray trousers, buttoned up at the sides,
were set off at the seams with patterns of black silk embroidery. He
gracefully twirled a cane, whose chased gold knob did not mar the
freshness of his gray gloves. And to complete all, his cap was in
excellent taste. None but a Parisian, and a Parisian of the upper
spheres, could thus array himself without appearing ridiculous; none
other could give the harmony of self-conceit to all these fopperies,
which were carried off, however, with a dashing air,--the air of a
young man who has fine pistols, a sure aim, and Annette.
Now if you wish to understand the mutual amazement of the provincial
party and the young Parisian; if you would clearly see the brilliance
which the traveller's elegance cast among the gray shadows of the room
and upon the faces of this family group,--endeavor to picture to your
minds the Cruchots. All three took snuff, and had long ceased to
repress the habit of snivelling or to remove the brown blotches which
strewed the frills of their dingy shirts and the yellowing creases of
their crumpled collars. Their flabby cravats were twisted into ropes
as soon as they wound them about their throats. The enormous quantity
of linen which allowed these people to have their clothing washed only
once in six months, and to keep it during that time in the depths of
their closets, also enabled time to lay its grimy and decaying stains
upon it. There was perfect unison of ill-grace and senility about
them; their faces, as faded as their threadbare coats, as creased as
their trousers, were worn-out, shrivelled-up, and puckered. As for the
others, the general negligence of their dress, which was incomplete
and wanting in freshness,--like the toilet of all country places,
where insensibly people cease to dress for others and come to think
seriously of the price of a pair of gloves,--was in keeping with the
negligence of the Cruchots. A horror of fashion was the only point on
which the Grassinists and the Cruchotines agreed.
When the Parisian took up his eye-glass to examine the strange
accessories of this dwelling,--the joists of the ceiling, the color of
the woodwork, and the specks which the flies had left there in
sufficient number to punctuate the "Moniteur" and the "Encyclopaedia
of Sciences,"--the loto-players lifted their noses and looked at him
with as much curiosity as they might have felt about a giraffe.
Monsieur des Grassins and his son, to whom the appearance of a man of
fashion was not wholly unknown, were nevertheless as much astonished
as their neighbors, whether it was that they fell under the
indefinable influence of the general feeling, or that they really
shared it as with satirical glances they seemed to say to their
"That is what you see in Paris!"
They were able to examine Charles at their leisure without fearing to
displease the master of the house. Grandet was absorbed in the long
letter which he held in his hand; and to read it he had taken the only
candle upon the card-table, paying no heed to his guests or their
pleasure. Eugenie, to whom such a type of perfection, whether of dress
or of person, was absolutely unknown, thought she beheld in her cousin
a being descended from seraphic spheres. She inhaled with delight the
fragrance wafted from the graceful curls of that brilliant head. She
would have liked to touch the soft kid of the delicate gloves. She
envied Charles his small hands, his complexion, the freshness and
refinement of his features. In short,--if it is possible to sum up the
effect this elegant being produced upon an ignorant young girl
perpetually employed in darning stockings or in mending her father's
clothes, and whose life flowed on beneath these unclean rafters,
seeing none but occasional passers along the silent street,--this
vision of her cousin roused in her soul an emotion of delicate desire
like that inspired in a young man by the fanciful pictures of women
drawn by Westall for the English "Keepsakes," and that engraved by the
Findens with so clever a tool that we fear, as we breathe upon the
paper, that the celestial apparitions may be wafted away. Charles drew
from his pocket a handkerchief embroidered by the great lady now
travelling in Scotland. As Eugenie saw this pretty piece of work, done
in the vacant hours which were lost to love, she looked at her cousin
to see if it were possible that he meant to make use of it. The
manners of the young man, his gestures, the way in which he took up
his eye-glass, his affected superciliousness, his contemptuous glance
at the coffer which had just given so much pleasure to the rich
heiress, and which he evidently regarded as without value, or even as
ridiculous,--all these things, which shocked the Cruchots and the des
Grassins, pleased Eugenie so deeply that before she slept she dreamed
long dreams of her phoenix cousin.
The loto-numbers were drawn very slowly, and presently the game came
suddenly to an end. La Grand Nanon entered and said aloud: "Madame, I
want the sheets for monsieur's bed."
Madame Grandet followed her out. Madame des Grassins said in a low
voice: "Let us keep our sous and stop playing." Each took his or her
two sous from the chipped saucer in which they had been put; then the
party moved in a body toward the fire.
"Have you finished your game?" said Grandet, without looking up from
"Yes, yes!" replied Madame des Grassins, taking a seat near Charles.
Eugenie, prompted by a thought often born in the heart of a young girl
when sentiment enters it for the first time, left the room to go and
help her mother and Nanon. Had an able confessor then questioned her
she would, no doubt, have avowed to him that she thought neither of
her mother nor of Nanon, but was pricked by a poignant desire to look
after her cousin's room and concern herself with her cousin; to supply
what might be needed, to remedy any forgetfulness, to see that all was
done to make it, as far as possible, suitable and elegant; and, in
fact, she arrived in time to prove to her mother and Nanon that
everything still remained to be done. She put into Nanon's head the
notion of passing a warming-pan between the sheets. She herself
covered the old table with a cloth and requested Nanon to change it
every morning; she convinced her mother that it was necessary to light
a good fire, and persuaded Nanon to bring up a great pile of wood into
the corridor without saying anything to her father. She ran to get,
from one of the corner-shelves of the hall, a tray of old lacquer
which was part of the inheritance of the late Monsieur de la
Bertelliere, catching up at the same time a six-sided crystal goblet,
a little tarnished gilt spoon, an antique flask engraved with cupids,
all of which she put triumphantly on the corner of her cousin's
chimney-piece. More ideas surged through her head in one quarter of an
hour than she had ever had since she came into the world.
"Mamma," she said, "my cousin will never bear the smell of a tallow
candle; suppose we buy a wax one?" And she darted, swift as a bird, to
get the five-franc piece which she had just received for her monthly
expenses. "Here, Nanon," she cried, "quick!"
"What will your father say?" This terrible remonstrance was uttered by
Madame Grandet as she beheld her daughter armed with an old Sevres
sugar-basin which Grandet had brought home from the chateau of
Froidfond. "And where will you get the sugar? Are you crazy?"
"Mamma, Nanon can buy some sugar as well as the candle."
"But your father?"
"Surely his nephew ought not to go without a glass of /eau sucree/?
Besides, he will not notice it."
"Your father sees everything," said Madame Grandet, shaking her head.
Nanon hesitated; she knew her master.
"Come, Nanon, go,--because it is my birthday."
Nanon gave a loud laugh as she heard the first little jest her young
mistress had ever made, and then obeyed her.
While Eugenie and her mother were trying to embellish the bedroom
assigned by Monsieur Grandet for his nephew, Charles himself was the
object of Madame des Grassins' attentions; to all appearances she was
setting her cap at him.
"You are very courageous, monsieur," she said to the young dandy, "to
leave the pleasures of the capital at this season and take up your
abode in Saumur. But if we do not frighten you away, you will find
there are some amusements even here."
She threw him the ogling glance of the provinces, where women put so
much prudence and reserve into their eyes that they impart to them the
prudish concupiscence peculiar to certain ecclesiastics to whom all
pleasure is either a theft or an error. Charles was so completely out
of his element in this abode, and so far from the vast chateau and the
sumptuous life with which his fancy had endowed his uncle, that as he
looked at Madame des Grassins he perceived a dim likeness to Parisian
faces. He gracefully responded to the species of invitation addressed
to him, and began very naturally a conversation, in which Madame des
Grassins gradually lowered her voice so as to bring it into harmony
with the nature of the confidences she was making. With her, as with
Charles, there was the need of conference; so after a few moments
spent in coquettish phrases and a little serious jesting, the clever
provincial said, thinking herself unheard by the others, who were
discussing the sale of wines which at that season filled the heads of
every one in Saumur,--
"Monsieur if you will do us the honor to come and see us, you will
give as much pleasure to my husband as to myself. Our salon is the
only one in Saumur where you will find the higher business circles
mingling with the nobility. We belong to both societies, who meet at
our house simply because they find it amusing. My husband--I say it
with pride--is as much valued by the one class as by the other. We
will try to relieve the monotony of your visit here. If you stay all
the time with Monsieur Grandet, good heavens! what will become of you?
Your uncle is a sordid miser who thinks of nothing but his vines; your
aunt is a pious soul who can't put two ideas together; and your cousin
is a little fool, without education, perfectly common, no fortune, who
will spend her life in darning towels."
"She is really very nice, this woman," thought Charles Grandet as he
duly responded to Madame des Grassins' coquetries.
"It seems to me, wife, that you are taking possession of monsieur,"
said the stout banker, laughing.
On this remark the notary and the president said a few words that were
more or less significant; but the abbe, looking at them slyly, brought
their thoughts to a focus by taking a pinch of snuff and saying as he
handed round his snuff-box: "Who can do the honors of Saumur for
monsieur so well as madame?"
"Ah! what do you mean by that, monsieur l'abbe?" demanded Monsieur des
"I mean it in the best possible sense for you, for madame, for the
town of Saumur, and for monsieur," said the wily old man, turning to
The Abbe Cruchot had guessed the conversation between Charles and
Madame des Grassins without seeming to pay attention to it.
"Monsieur," said Adolphe to Charles with an air which he tried to make
free and easy, "I don't know whether you remember me, but I had the
honor of dancing as your /vis-a-vis/ at a ball given by the Baron de
"Perfectly; I remember perfectly, monsieur," answered Charles, pleased
to find himself the object of general attention.
"Monsieur is your son?" he said to Madame des Grassins.
The abbe looked at her maliciously.
"Yes, monsieur," she answered.
"Then you were very young when you were in Paris?" said Charles,
"You must know, monsieur," said the abbe, "that we send them to
Babylon as soon as they are weaned."
Madame des Grassins examined the abbe with a glance of extreme
"It is only in the provinces," he continued, "that you will find women
of thirty and more years as fresh as madame, here, with a son about to
take his degree. I almost fancy myself back in the days when the young
men stood on chairs in the ball-room to see you dance, madame," said
the abbe, turning to his female adversary. "To me, your triumphs are
but of yesterday--"
"The old rogue!" thought Madame Grassins; "can he have guessed my
"It seems that I shall have a good deal of success in Saumur," thought
Charles as he unbuttoned his great-coat, put a hand into his
waistcoat, and cast a glance into the far distance, to imitate the
attitude which Chantrey has given to Lord Byron.
The inattention of Pere Grandet, or, to speak more truly, the
preoccupation of mind into which the reading of the letter had plunged
him, did not escape the vigilance of the notary and the president, who
tried to guess the contents of the letter by the almost imperceptible
motions of the miser's face, which was then under the full light of
the candle. He maintained the habitual calm of his features with
evident difficulty; we may, in fact, picture to ourselves the
countenance such a man endeavored to preserve as he read the fatal
letter which here follows:--
My Brother,--It is almost twenty-three years since we have seen
each other. My marriage was the occasion of our last interview,
after which we parted, and both of us were happy. Assuredly I
could not then foresee that you would one day be the prop of the
family whose prosperity you then predicted.
When you hold this letter within your hands I shall be no longer
living. In the position I now hold I cannot survive the disgrace
of bankruptcy. I have waited on the edge of the gulf until the
last moment, hoping to save myself. The end has come, I must sink
into it. The double bankruptcies of my broker and of Roguin, my
notary, have carried off my last resources and left me nothing. I
have the bitterness of owing nearly four millions, with assets not
more than twenty-five per cent in value to pay them. The wines in
my warehouses suffer from the fall in prices caused by the
abundance and quality of your vintage. In three days Paris will
cry out: "Monsieur Grandet was a knave!" and I, an honest man,
shall be lying in my winding-sheet of infamy. I deprive my son of
a good name, which I have stained, and the fortune of his mother,
which I have lost. He knows nothing of all this,--my unfortunate
child whom I idolize! We parted tenderly. He was ignorant,
happily, that the last beatings of my heart were spent in that
farewell. Will he not some day curse me? My brother, my brother!
the curses of our children are horrible; they can appeal against
ours, but theirs are irrevocable. Grandet, you are my elder
brother, you owe me your protection; act for me so that Charles
may cast no bitter words upon my grave! My brother, if I were
writing with my blood, with my tears, no greater anguish could I
put into this letter,--nor as great, for then I should weep, I
should bleed, I should die, I should suffer no more, but now I
suffer and look at death with dry eyes.
From henceforth you are my son's father; he has no relations, as
you well know, on his mother's side. Why did I not consider social
prejudices? Why did I yield to love? Why did I marry the natural
daughter of a great lord? Charles has no family. Oh, my unhappy
son! my son! Listen, Grandet! I implore nothing for myself,--
besides, your property may not be large enough to carry a mortgage
of three millions,--but for my son! Brother, my suppliant hands
are clasped as I think of you; behold them! Grandet, I confide my
son to you in dying, and I look at the means of death with less
pain as I think that you will be to him a father. He loved me
well, my Charles; I was good to him, I never thwarted him; he will
not curse me. Ah, you see! he is gentle, he is like his mother, he
will cause you no grief. Poor boy! accustomed to all the
enjoyments of luxury, he knows nothing of the privations to which
you and I were condemned by the poverty of our youth. And I leave
him ruined! alone! Yes, all my friends will avoid him, and it is I
who have brought this humiliation upon him! Would that I had the
force to send him with one thrust into the heavens to his mother's
side! Madness! I come back to my disaster--to his. I send him to
you that you may tell him in some fitting way of my death, of his
future fate. Be a father to him, but a good father. Do not tear
him all at once from his idle life, it would kill him. I beg him
on my knees to renounce all rights that, as his mother's heir, he
may have on my estate. But the prayer is superfluous; he is
honorable, and he will feel that he must not appear among my
creditors. Bring him to see this at the right time; reveal to him
the hard conditions of the life I have made for him: and if he
still has tender thoughts of me, tell him in my name that all is
not lost for him. Yes, work, labor, which saved us both, may give
him back the fortune of which I have deprived him; and if he
listens to his father's voice as it reaches him from the grave, he
will go the Indies. My brother, Charles is an upright and
courageous young man; give him the wherewithal to make his
venture; he will die sooner than not repay you the funds which you
may lend him. Grandet! if you will not do this, you will lay up
for yourself remorse. Ah, should my child find neither tenderness
nor succor in you, I would call down the vengeance of God upon
If I had been able to save something from the wreck, I might have
had the right to leave him at least a portion of his mother's
property; but my last monthly payments have absorbed everything. I
did not wish to die uncertain of my child's fate; I hoped to feel
a sacred promise in a clasp of your hand which might have warmed
my heart: but time fails me. While Charles is journeying to you I
shall be preparing my assignment. I shall endeavor to show by the
order and good faith of my accounts that my disaster comes neither
from a faulty life nor from dishonesty. It is for my son's sake
that I strive to do this.
Farewell, my brother! May the blessing of God be yours for the
generous guardianship I lay upon you, and which, I doubt not, you
will accept. A voice will henceforth and forever pray for you in
that world where we must all go, and where I am now as you read
"So you are talking?" said Pere Grandet as he carefully folded the
letter in its original creases and put it into his waistcoat-pocket.
He looked at his nephew with a humble, timid air, beneath which he hid
his feelings and his calculations. "Have you warmed yourself?" he said
"Thoroughly, my dear uncle."
"Well, where are the women?" said his uncle, already forgetting that
his nephew was to sleep at the house. At this moment Eugenie and
Madame Grandet returned.
"Is the room all ready?" said Grandet, recovering his composure.
"Well then, my nephew, if you are tired, Nanon shall show you your
room. It isn't a dandy's room; but you will excuse a poor wine-grower
who never has a penny to spare. Taxes swallow up everything."
"We do not wish to intrude, Grandet," said the banker; "you may want
to talk to your nephew, and therefore we will bid you good-night."
At these words the assembly rose, and each made a parting bow in
keeping with his or her own character. The old notary went to the door
to fetch his lantern and came back to light it, offering to accompany
the des Grassins on their way. Madame des Grassins had not foreseen
the incident which brought the evening prematurely to an end, her
servant therefore had not arrived.
"Will you do me the honor to take my arm, madame?" said the abbe.
"Thank you, monsieur l'abbe, but I have my son," she answered dryly.
"Ladies cannot compromise themselves with me," said the abbe.
"Take Monsieur Cruchot's arm," said her husband.
The abbe walked off with the pretty lady so quickly that they were
soon some distance in advance of the caravan.
"That is a good-looking young man, madame," he said, pressing her arm.
"Good-by to the grapes, the vintage is done. It is all over with us.
We may as well say adieu to Mademoiselle Grandet. Eugenie will belong
to the dandy. Unless this cousin is enamoured of some Parisian woman,
your son Adolphe will find another rival in--"
"Not at all, monsieur l'abbe. This young man cannot fail to see that
Eugenie is a little fool,--a girl without the least freshness. Did you
notice her to-night? She was as yellow as a quince."
"Perhaps you made the cousin notice it?"
"I did not take the trouble--"
"Place yourself always beside Eugenie, madame, and you need never take
the trouble to say anything to the young man against his cousin; he
will make his own comparisons, which--"
"Well, he has promised to dine with me the day after to-morrow."
"Ah! if you only /would/, madame--" said the abbe.
"What is it that you wish me to do, monsieur l'abbe? Do you mean to
offer me bad advice? I have not reached the age of thirty-nine,
without a stain upon my reputation, thank God! to compromise myself
now, even for the empire of the Great Mogul. You and I are of an age
when we both know the meaning of words. For an ecclesiastic, you
certainly have ideas that are very incongruous. Fie! it is worthy of
"You have read Faublas?"
"No, monsieur l'abbe; I meant to say the /Liaisons dangereuses/."
"Ah! that book is infinitely more moral," said the abbe, laughing.
"But you make me out as wicked as a young man of the present day; I
"Do you dare to tell me you were not thinking of putting wicked things
into my head? Isn't it perfectly clear? If this young man--who I admit
is very good-looking--were to make love to me, he would not think of
his cousin. In Paris, I know, good mothers do devote themselves in
this way to the happiness and welfare of their children; but we live
in the provinces, monsieur l'abbe."
"And," she continued, "I do not want, and Adolphe himself would not
want, a hundred millions brought at such a price."
"Madame, I said nothing about a hundred millions; that temptation
might be too great for either of us to withstand. Only, I do think
that an honest woman may permit herself, in all honor, certain
harmless little coquetries, which are, in fact, part of her social
duty and which--"
"Do you think so?"
"Are we not bound, madame, to make ourselves agreeable to each other?
--Permit me to blow my nose.--I assure you, madame," he resumed, "that
the young gentleman ogled you through his glass in a more flattering
manner than he put on when he looked at me; but I forgive him for
doing homage to beauty in preference to old age--"
"It is quite apparent," said the president in his loud voice, "that
Monsieur Grandet of Paris has sent his son to Saumur with extremely
"But in that case the cousin wouldn't have fallen among us like a
cannon-ball," answered the notary.
"That doesn't prove anything," said Monsieur des Grassins; "the old
miser is always making mysteries."
"Des Grassins, my friend, I have invited the young man to dinner. You
must go and ask Monsieur and Madame de Larsonniere and the du Hautoys,
with the beautiful demoiselle du Hautoy, of course. I hope she will be
properly dressed; that jealous mother of hers does make such a fright
of her! Gentlemen, I trust that you will all do us the honor to come,"
she added, stopping the procession to address the two Cruchots.
"Here you are at home, madame," said the notary.
After bowing to the three des Grassins, the three Cruchots returned
home, applying their provincial genius for analysis to studying, under
all its aspects, the great event of the evening, which undoubtedly
changed the respective positions of Grassinists and Cruchotines. The
admirable common-sense which guided all the actions of these great
machinators made each side feel the necessity of a momentary alliance
against a common enemy. Must they not mutually hinder Eugenie from
loving her cousin, and the cousin from thinking of Eugenie? Could the
Parisian resist the influence of treacherous insinuations, soft-spoken
calumnies, slanders full of faint praise and artless denials, which
should be made to circle incessantly about him and deceive him?
When the four relations were left alone, Monsieur Grandet said to his
"We must go to bed. It is too late to talk about the matters which
have brought you here; to-morrow we will take a suitable moment. We
breakfast at eight o'clock; at midday we eat a little fruit or a bit
of bread, and drink a glass of white wine; and we dine, like the
Parisians, at five o'clock. That's the order of the day. If you like
to go and see the town and the environs you are free to do so. You
will excuse me if my occupations do not permit me to accompany you.
You may perhaps hear people say that I am rich,--Monsieur Grandet
this, Monsieur Grandet that. I let them talk; their gossip does not
hurt my credit. But I have not a penny; I work in my old age like an
apprentice whose worldly goods are a bad plane and two good arms.
Perhaps you'll soon know yourself what a franc costs when you have got
to sweat for it. Nanon, where are the candles?"
"I trust, my nephew, that you will find all you want," said Madame
Grandet; "but if you should need anything else, you can call Nanon."
"My dear aunt, I shall need nothing; I have, I believe, brought
everything with me. Permit me to bid you good-night, and my young
Charles took a lighted wax candle from Nanon's hand,--an Anjou candle,
very yellow in color, and so shopworn that it looked like tallow and
deceived Monsieur Grandet, who, incapable of suspecting its presence
under his roof, did not perceive this magnificence.
"I will show you the way," he said.
Instead of leaving the hall by the door which opened under the
archway, Grandet ceremoniously went through the passage which divided
the hall from the kitchen. A swing-door, furnished with a large oval
pane of glass, shut this passage from the staircase, so as to fend off
the cold air which rushed through it. But the north wind whistled none
the less keenly in winter, and, in spite of the sand-bags at the
bottom of the doors of the living-room, the temperature within could
scarcely be kept at a proper height. Nanon went to bolt the outer
door; then she closed the hall and let loose a wolf-dog, whose bark
was so strangled that he seemed to have laryngitis. This animal, noted
for his ferocity, recognized no one but Nanon; the two untutored
children of the fields understood each other.
When Charles saw the yellow, smoke-stained walls of the well of the
staircase, where each worm-eaten step shook under the heavy foot-fall
of his uncle, his expectations began to sober more and more. He
fancied himself in a hen-roost. His aunt and cousin, to whom he turned
an inquiring look, were so used to the staircase that they did not
guess the cause of his amazement, and took the glance for an
expression of friendliness, which they answered by a smile that made
"Why the devil did my father send me to such a place?" he said to
When they reached the first landing he saw three doors painted in
Etruscan red and without casings,--doors sunk in the dusty walls and
provided with iron bars, which in fact were bolts, each ending with
the pattern of a flame, as did both ends of the long sheath of the
lock. The first door at the top of the staircase, which opened into a
room directly above the kitchen, was evidently walled up. In fact, the
only entrance to that room was through Grandet's bedchamber; the room
itself was his office. The single window which lighted it, on the side
of the court, was protected by a lattice of strong iron bars. No one,
not even Madame Grandet, had permission to enter it. The old man chose
to be alone, like an alchemist in his laboratory. There, no doubt,
some hiding-place had been ingeniously constructed; there the title-
deeds of property were stored; there hung the scales on which to weigh
the louis; there were devised, by night and secretly, the estimates,
the profits, the receipts, so that business men, finding Grandet
prepared at all points, imagined that he got his cue from fairies or
demons; there, no doubt, while Nanon's loud snoring shook the rafters,
while the wolf-dog watched and yawned in the courtyard, while Madame
and Mademoiselle Grandet were quietly sleeping, came the old cooper to
cuddle, to con over, to caress and clutch and clasp his gold. The
walls were thick, the screens sure. He alone had the key of this
laboratory, where--so people declared--he studied the maps on which
his fruit-trees were marked, and calculated his profits to a vine, and
almost to a twig.
The door of Eugenie's chamber was opposite to the walled-up entrance
to this room. At the other end of the landing were the appartements of
the married pair, which occupied the whole front of the house. Madame
Grandet had a room next to that of Eugenie, which was entered through
a glass door. The master's chamber was separated from that of his wife
by a partition, and from the mysterious strong-room by a thick wall.
Pere Grandet lodged his nephew on the second floor, in the high
mansarde attic which was above his own bedroom, so that he might hear
him if the young man took it into his head to go and come. When
Eugenie and her mother reached the middle of the landing they kissed
each other for good-night; then with a few words of adieu to Charles,
cold upon the lips, but certainly very warm in the heart of the young
girl, they withdrew into their own chambers.
"Here you are in your room, my nephew," said Pere Grandet as he opened
the door. "If you need to go out, call Nanon; without her, beware! the
dog would eat you up without a word. Sleep well. Good-night. Ha! why,
they have made you a fire!" he cried.
At this moment Nanon appeared with the warming pan.
"Here's something more!" said Monsieur Grandet. "Do you take my nephew
for a lying-in woman? Carry off your brazier, Nanon!"
"But, monsieur, the sheets are damp, and this gentleman is as delicate
as a woman."
"Well, go on, as you've taken it into your head," said Grandet,
pushing her by the shoulders; "but don't set things on fire." So
saying, the miser went down-stairs, grumbling indistinct sentences.
Charles stood aghast in the midst of his trunks. After casting his
eyes on the attic-walls covered with that yellow paper sprinkled with
bouquets so well known in dance-houses, on the fireplace of ribbed
stone whose very look was chilling, on the chairs of yellow wood with
varnished cane seats that seemed to have more than the usual four
angles, on the open night-table capacious enough to hold a small
sergeant-at-arms, on the meagre bit of rag-carpet beside the bed, on
the tester whose cloth valance shook as if, devoured by moths, it was
about to fall, he turned gravely to la Grande Nanon and said,--
"Look here! my dear woman, just tell me, am I in the house of Monsieur
Grandet, formerly mayor of Saumur, and brother to Monsieur Grandet of
"Yes, monsieur; and a very good, a very kind, a very perfect
gentleman. Shall I help you to unpack your trunks?"
"Faith! yes, if you will, my old trooper. Didn't you serve in the
marines of the Imperial Guard?"
"Ho, ho, ho!" laughed Nanon. "What's that,--the marines of the guard?
Is it salt? Does it go in the water?"
"Here, get me my dressing-gown out of that valise; there's the key."
Nanon was wonder-struck by the sight of a dressing-gown made of green
silk, brocaded with gold flowers of an antique design.
"Are you going to put that on to go to bed with?" she asked.
"Holy Virgin! what a beautiful altar-cloth it would make for the
parish church! My dear darling monsieur, give it to the church, and
you'll save your soul; if you don't, you'll lose it. Oh, how nice you
look in it! I must call mademoiselle to see you."
"Come, Nanon, if Nanon you are, hold your tongue; let me go to bed.
I'll arrange my things to-morrow. If my dressing-gown pleases you so
much, you shall save your soul. I'm too good a Christian not to give
it to you when I go away, and you can do what you like with it."
Nanon stood rooted to the ground, gazing at Charles and unable to put
faith into his words.
"Good night, Nanon."
"What in the world have I come here for?" thought Charles as he went
to sleep. "My father is not a fool; my journey must have some object.
Pshaw! put off serious thought till the morrow, as some Greek idiot
"Blessed Virgin! how charming he is, my cousin!" Eugenie was saying,
interrupting her prayers, which that night at least were never
Madame Grandet had no thoughts at all as she went to bed. She heard
the miser walking up and down his room through the door of
communication which was in the middle of the partition. Like all timid
women, she had studied the character of her lord. Just as the petrel
foresees the storm, she knew by imperceptible signs when an inward
tempest shook her husband; and at such times, to use an expression of
her own, she "feigned dead."
Grandet gazed at the door lined with sheet-iron which he lately put to
his sanctum, and said to himself,--
"What a crazy idea of my brother to bequeath his son to me! A fine
legacy! I have not fifty francs to give him. What are fifty francs to
a dandy who looked at my barometer as if he meant to make firewood of
In thinking over the consequences of that legacy of anguish Grandet
was perhaps more agitated than his brother had been at the moment of
"I shall have that golden robe," thought Nanon, who went to sleep
tricked out in her altar-cloth, dreaming for the first time in her
life of flowers, embroidery, and damask, just as Eugenie was dreaming
In the pure and monotonous life of young girls there comes a delicious
hour when the sun sheds its rays into their soul, when the flowers
express their thoughts, when the throbbings of the heart send upward
to the brain their fertilizing warmth and melt all thoughts into a
vague desire,--day of innocent melancholy and of dulcet joys! When
babes begin to see, they smile; when a young girl first perceives the
sentiment of nature, she smiles as she smiled when an infant. If light
is the first love of life, is not love a light to the heart? The
moment to see within the veil of earthly things had come for Eugenie.
An early riser, like all provincial girls, she was up betimes and said
her prayers, and then began the business of dressing,--a business
which henceforth was to have a meaning. First she brushed and smoothed
her chestnut hair and twisted its heavy masses to the top of her head
with the utmost care, preventing the loose tresses from straying, and
giving to her head a symmetry which heightened the timid candor of her
face; for the simplicity of these accessories accorded well with the
innocent sincerity of its lines. As she washed her hands again and
again in the cold water which hardened and reddened the skin, she
looked at her handsome round arms and asked herself what her cousin
did to make his hands so softly white, his nails so delicately curved.
She put on new stockings and her prettiest shoes. She laced her corset
straight, without skipping a single eyelet. And then, wishing for the
first time in her life to appear to advantage, she felt the joy of
having a new gown, well made, which rendered her attractive.
As she finished her toilet the clock of the parish church struck the
hour; to her astonishment, it was only seven. The desire of having
plenty of time for dressing carefully had led her to get up too early.
Ignorant of the art of retouching every curl and studying every
effect, Eugenie simply crossed her arms, sat down by the window, and
looked at the court-yard, the narrow garden, and the high terraced