Part 4 out of 4
When the faithful Nanon appeared in the market, many quips and quirks
and complaints about the master whistled in her ears; but however
loudly public opinion condemned Monsieur Grandet, the old servant
defended him, for the honor of the family.
"Well!" she would say to his detractors, "don't we all get hard as we
grow old? Why shouldn't he get horny too? Stop telling lies.
Mademoiselle lives like a queen. She's alone, that's true; but she
likes it. Besides, my masters have good reasons."
At last, towards the end of spring, Madame Grandet, worn out by grief
even more than by illness, having failed, in spite of her prayers, to
reconcile the father and daughter, confided her secret troubles to the
"Keep a girl of twenty-three on bread and water!" cried Monsieur de
Bonfons; "without any reason, too! Why, that constitutes wrongful
cruelty; she can contest, as much in as upon--"
"Come, nephew, spare us your legal jargon," said the notary. "Set your
mind at ease, madame; I will put a stop to such treatment to-morrow."
Eugenie, hearing herself mentioned, came out of her room.
"Gentlemen," she said, coming forward with a proud step, "I beg you
not to interfere in this matter. My father is master in his own house.
As long as I live under his roof I am bound to obey him. His conduct
is not subject to the approbation or the disapprobation of the world;
he is accountable to God only. I appeal to your friendship to keep
total silence in this affair. To blame my father is to attack our
family honor. I am much obliged to you for the interest you have shown
in me; you will do me an additional service if you will put a stop to
the offensive rumors which are current in the town, of which I am
"She is right," said Madame Grandet.
"Mademoiselle, the best way to stop such rumors is to procure your
liberty," answered the old notary respectfully, struck with the beauty
which seclusion, melancholy, and love had stamped upon her face.
"Well, my daughter, let Monsieur Cruchot manage the matter if he is so
sure of success. He understands your father, and how to manage him. If
you wish to see me happy for my few remaining days, you must, at any
cost, be reconciled to your father."
On the morrow Grandet, in pursuance of a custom he had begun since
Eugenie's imprisonment, took a certain number of turns up and down the
little garden; he had chosen the hour when Eugenie brushed and
arranged her hair. When the old man reached the walnut-tree he hid
behind its trunk and remained for a few moments watching his
daughter's movements, hesitating, perhaps, between the course to which
the obstinacy of his character impelled him and his natural desire to
embrace his child. Sometimes he sat down on the rotten old bench where
Charles and Eugenie had vowed eternal love; and then she, too, looked
at her father secretly in the mirror before which she stood. If he
rose and continued his walk, she sat down obligingly at the window and
looked at the angle of the wall where the pale flowers hung, where the
Venus-hair grew from the crevices with the bindweed and the sedum,--a
white or yellow stone-crop very abundant in the vineyards of Saumur
and at Tours. Maitre Cruchot came early, and found the old wine-grower
sitting in the fine June weather on the little bench, his back against
the division wall of the garden, engaged in watching his daughter.
"What may you want, Maitre Cruchot?" he said, perceiving the notary.
"I came to speak to you on business."
"Ah! ah! have you brought some gold in exchange for my silver?"
"No, no, I have not come about money; it is about your daughter
Eugenie. All the town is talking of her and you."
"What does the town meddle for? A man's house is his castle."
"Very true; and a man may kill himself if he likes, or, what is worse,
he may fling his money into the gutter."
"What do you mean?"
"Why, your wife is very ill, my friend. You ought to consult Monsieur
Bergerin; she is likely to die. If she does die without receiving
proper care, you will not be very easy in mind, I take it."
"Ta, ta, ta, ta! you know a deal about my wife! These doctors, if they
once get their foot in your house, will come five and six times a
"Of course you will do as you think best. We are old friends; there is
no one in all Saumur who takes more interest than I in what concerns
you. Therefore, I was bound to tell you this. However, happen what
may, you have the right to do as you please; you can choose your own
course. Besides, that is not what brings me here. There is another
thing which may have serious results for you. After all, you can't
wish to kill your wife; her life is too important to you. Think of
your situation in connection with your daughter if Madame Grandet
dies. You must render an account to Eugenie, because you enjoy your
wife's estate only during her lifetime. At her death your daughter can
claim a division of property, and she may force you to sell Froidfond.
In short, she is her mother's heir, and you are not."
These words fell like a thunderbolt on the old man, who was not as
wise about law as he was about business. He had never thought of a
legal division of the estate.
"Therefore I advise you to treat her kindly," added Cruchot, in
"But do you know what she has done, Cruchot?"
"What?" asked the notary, curious to hear the truth and find out the
cause of the quarrel.
"She has given away her gold!"
"Well, wasn't it hers?" said the notary.
"They all tell me that!" exclaimed the old man, letting his arms fall
to his sides with a movement that was truly tragic.
"Are you going--for a mere nothing,"--resumed Cruchot, "to put
obstacles in the way of the concessions which you will be obliged to
ask from your daughter as soon as her mother dies?"
"Do you call six thousand francs a mere nothing?"
"Hey! my old friend, do you know what the inventory of your wife's
property will cost, if Eugenie demands the division?"
"Two, three, four thousand francs, perhaps! The property would have to
be put up at auction and sold, to get at its actual value. Instead of
that, if you are on good terms with--"
"By the shears of my father!" cried Grandet, turning pale as he
suddenly sat down, "we will see about it, Cruchot."
After a moment's silence, full of anguish perhaps, the old man looked
at the notary and said,--
"Life is very hard! It has many griefs! Cruchot," he continued
solemnly, "you would not deceive me? Swear to me upon your honor that
all you've told me is legally true. Show me the law; I must see the
"My poor friend," said the notary, "don't I know my own business?"
"Then it is true! I am robbed, betrayed, killed, destroyed by my own
"It is true that your daughter is her mother's heir."
"Why do we have children? Ah! my wife, I love her! Luckily she's sound
and healthy; she's a Bertelliere."
"She has not a month to live."
Grandet struck his forehead, went a few steps, came back, cast a
dreadful look on Cruchot, and said,--
"What can be done?"
"Eugenie can relinquish her claim to her mother's property. Should she
do this you would not disinherit her, I presume?--but if you want to
come to such a settlement, you must not treat her harshly. What I am
telling you, old man, is against my own interests. What do I live by,
if it isn't liquidations, inventories, conveyances, divisions of
"We'll see, we'll see! Don't let's talk any more about it, Cruchot; it
wrings my vitals. Have you received any gold?"
"No; but I have a few old louis, a dozen or so, which you may have. My
good friend, make it up with Eugenie. Don't you know all Saumur is
pelting you with stones?"
"Come, the Funds are at ninety-nine. Do be satisfied for once in your
"At ninety-nine! Are they, Cruchot?"
"Hey, hey! Ninety-nine!" repeated the old man, accompanying the notary
to the street-door. Then, too agitated by what he had just heard to
stay in the house, he went up to his wife's room and said,--
"Come, mother, you may have your daughter to spend the day with you.
I'm going to Froidfond. Enjoy yourselves, both of you. This is our
wedding-day, wife. See! here are sixty francs for your altar at the
Fete-Dieu; you've wanted one for a long time. Come, cheer up, enjoy
yourself, and get well! Hurrah for happiness!"
He threw ten silver pieces of six francs each upon the bed, and took
his wife's head between his hands and kissed her forehead.
"My good wife, you are getting well, are not you?"
"How can you think of receiving the God of mercy in your house when
you refuse to forgive your daughter?" she said with emotion.
"Ta, ta, ta, ta!" said Grandet in a coaxing voice. "We'll see about
"Merciful heaven! Eugenie," cried the mother, flushing with joy, "come
and kiss your father; he forgives you!"
But the old man had disappeared. He was going as fast as his legs
could carry him towards his vineyards, trying to get his confused
ideas into order. Grandet had entered his seventy-sixth year. During
the last two years his avarice had increased upon him, as all the
persistent passions of men increase at a certain age. As if to
illustrate an observation which applies equally to misers, ambitious
men, and others whose lives are controlled by any dominant idea, his
affections had fastened upon one special symbol of his passion. The
sight of gold, the possession of gold, had become a monomania. His
despotic spirit had grown in proportion to his avarice, and to part
with the control of the smallest fraction of his property at the death
of his wife seemed to him a thing "against nature." To declare his
fortune to his daughter, to give an inventory of his property, landed
and personal, for the purposes of division--
"Why," he cried aloud in the midst of a field where he was pretending
to examine a vine, "it would be cutting my throat!"
He came at last to a decision, and returned to Saumur in time for
dinner, resolved to unbend to Eugenie, and pet and coax her, that he
might die regally, holding the reins of his millions in his own hands
so long as the breath was in his body. At the moment when the old man,
who chanced to have his pass-key in his pocket, opened the door and
climbed with a stealthy step up the stairway to go into his wife's
room, Eugenie had brought the beautiful dressing-case from the oak
cabinet and placed it on her mother's bed. Mother and daughter, in
Grandet's absence, allowed themselves the pleasure of looking for a
likeness to Charles in the portrait of his mother.
"It is exactly his forehead and his mouth," Eugenie was saying as the
old man opened the door. At the look which her husband cast upon the
gold, Madame Grandet cried out,--
"O God, have pity upon us!"
The old man sprang upon the box as a famished tiger might spring upon
a sleeping child.
"What's this?" he said, snatching the treasure and carrying it to the
window. "Gold, good gold!" he cried. "All gold,--it weighs two pounds!
Ha, ha! Charles gave you that for your money, did he? Hein! Why didn't
you tell me so? It was a good bargain, little one! Yes, you are my
daughter, I see that--" Eugenie trembled in every limb. "This came
from Charles, of course, didn't it?" continued the old man.
"Yes, father; it is not mine. It is a sacred trust."
"Ta, ta, ta, ta! He took your fortune, and now you can get it back."
Grandet took his knife to pry out some of the gold; to do this, he
placed the dressing-case on a chair. Eugenie sprang forward to recover
it; but her father, who had his eye on her and on the treasure too,
pushed her back so violently with a thrust of his arm that she fell
upon her mother's bed.
"Monsieur, monsieur!" cried the mother, lifting herself up.
Grandet had opened his knife, and was about to apply it to the gold.
"Father!" cried Eugenie, falling on her knees and dragging herself
close to him with clasped hands, "father, in the name of all the
saints and the Virgin! in the name of Christ who died upon the cross!
in the name of your eternal salvation, father! for my life's sake,
father!--do not touch that! It is neither yours nor mine. It is a
trust placed in my hands by an unhappy relation: I must give it back
to him uninjured!"
"If it is a trust, why were you looking at it? To look at it is as bad
as touching it."
"Father, don't destroy it, or you will disgrace me! Father, do you
"Oh, have pity!" said the mother.
"Father!" cried Eugenie in so startling a voice that Nanon ran
upstairs terrified. Eugenie sprang upon a knife that was close at
"Well, what now?" said Grandet coldly, with a callous smile.
"Oh, you are killing me!" said the mother.
"Father, if your knife so much as cuts a fragment of that gold, I will
stab myself with this one! You have already driven my mother to her
death; you will now kill your child! Do as you choose! Wound for
Grandet held his knife over the dressing-case and hesitated as he
looked at his daughter.
"Are you capable of doing it, Eugenie?" he said.
"Yes, yes!" said the mother.
"She'll do it if she says so!" cried Nanon. "Be reasonable, monsieur,
for once in your life."
The old man looked at the gold and then at his daughter alternately
for an instant. Madame Grandet fainted.
"There! don't you see, monsieur, that madame is dying?" cried Nanon.
"Come, come, my daughter, we won't quarrel for a box! Here, take it!"
he cried hastily, flinging the case upon the bed. "Nanon, go and fetch
Monsieur Bergerin! Come, mother," said he, kissing his wife's hand,
"it's all over! There! we've made up--haven't we, little one? No more
dry bread; you shall have all you want--Ah, she opens her eyes! Well,
mother, little mother, come! See, I'm kissing Eugenie! She loves her
cousin, and she may marry him if she wants to; she may keep his case.
But don't die, mother; live a long time yet, my poor wife! Come, try
to move! Listen! you shall have the finest altar that ever was made in
"Oh, how can you treat your wife and daughter so!" said Madame Grandet
in a feeble voice.
"I won't do so again, never again," cried her husband; "you shall see,
my poor wife!" He went to his inner room and returned with a handful
of louis, which he scattered on the bed. "Here, Eugenie! see, wife!
all these are for you," he said, fingering the coins. "Come, be happy,
wife! feel better, get well; you sha'n't want for anything, nor
Eugenie either. Here's a hundred /louis d'or/ for her. You won't give
these away, will you, Eugenie, hein?"
Madame Grandet and her daughter looked at each other in astonishment.
"Take back your money, father; we ask for nothing but your affection."
"Well, well, that's right!" he said, pocketing the coins; "let's be
good friends! We will all go down to dinner to-day, and we'll play
loto every evening for two sous. You shall both be happy. Hey, wife?"
"Alas! I wish I could, if it would give you pleasure," said the dying
woman; "but I cannot rise from my bed."
"Poor mother," said Grandet, "you don't know how I love you! and you
too, my daughter!" He took her in his arms and kissed her. "Oh, how
good it is to kiss a daughter when we have been angry with her! There,
mother, don't you see it's all over now? Go and put that away,
Eugenie," he added, pointing to the case. "Go, don't be afraid! I
shall never speak of it again, never!"
Monsieur Bergerin, the celebrated doctor of Saumur, presently arrived.
After an examination, he told Grandet positively that his wife was
very ill; but that perfect peace of mind, a generous diet, and great
care might prolong her life until the autumn.
"Will all that cost much?" said the old man. "Will she need
"Not much medicine, but a great deal of care," answered the doctor,
who could scarcely restrain a smile.
"Now, Monsieur Bergerin," said Grandet, "you are a man of honor, are
not you? I trust to you! Come and see my wife how and when you think
necessary. Save my good wife! I love her,--don't you see?--though I
never talk about it; I keep things to myself. I'm full of trouble.
Troubles began when my brother died; I have to spend enormous sums on
his affairs in Paris. Why, I'm paying through my nose; there's no end
to it. Adieu, monsieur! If you can save my wife, save her. I'll spare
no expense, not even if it costs me a hundred or two hundred francs."
In spite of Grandet's fervent wishes for the health of his wife, whose
death threatened more than death to him; in spite of the consideration
he now showed on all occasions for the least wish of his astonished
wife and daughter; in spite of the tender care which Eugenie lavished
upon her mother,--Madame Grandet rapidly approached her end. Every day
she grew weaker and wasted visibly, as women of her age when attacked
by serious illness are wont to do. She was fragile as the foliage in
autumn; the radiance of heaven shone through her as the sun strikes
athwart the withering leaves and gilds them. It was a death worthy of
her life,--a Christian death; and is not that sublime? In the month of
October, 1822, her virtues, her angelic patience, her love for her
daughter, seemed to find special expression; and then she passed away
without a murmur. Lamb without spot, she went to heaven, regretting
only the sweet companion of her cold and dreary life, for whom her
last glance seemed to prophesy a destiny of sorrows. She shrank from
leaving her ewe-lamb, white as herself, alone in the midst of a
selfish world that sought to strip her of her fleece and grasp her
"My child," she said as she expired, "there is no happiness except in
heaven; you will know it some day."
On the morrow of this death Eugenie felt a new motive for attachment
to the house in which she was born, where she had suffered so much,
where her mother had just died. She could not see the window and the
chair on its castors without weeping. She thought she had mistaken the
heart of her old father when she found herself the object of his
tenderest cares. He came in the morning and gave her his arm to take
her to breakfast; he looked at her for hours together with an eye that
was almost kind; he brooded over her as though she had been gold. The
old man was so unlike himself, he trembled so often before his
daughter, that Nanon and the Cruchotines, who witnessed his weakness,
attributed it to his great age, and feared that his faculties were
giving away. But the day on which the family put on their mourning,
and after dinner, to which meal Maitre Cruchot (the only person who
knew his secret) had been invited, the conduct of the old miser was
"My dear child," he said to Eugenie when the table had been cleared
and the doors carefully shut, "you are now your mother's heiress, and
we have a few little matters to settle between us. Isn't that so,
"Is it necessary to talk of them to-day, father?"
"Yes, yes, little one; I can't bear the uncertainty in which I'm
placed. I think you don't want to give me pain?"
"Well, then! let us settle it all to-night."
"What is it you wish me to do?"
"My little girl, it is not for me to say. Tell her, Cruchot."
"Mademoiselle, your father does not wish to divide the property, nor
sell the estate, nor pay enormous taxes on the ready money which he
may possess. Therefore, to avoid all this, he must be released from
making the inventory of his whole fortune, part of which you inherit
from your mother, and which is now undivided between you and your
"Cruchot, are you quite sure of what you are saying before you tell it
to a mere child?"
"Let me tell it my own way, Grandet."
"Yes, yes, my friend. Neither you nor my daughter wish to rob me,--do
you, little one?"
"But, Monsieur Cruchot, what am I to do?" said Eugenie impatiently.
"Well," said the notary, "it is necessary to sign this deed, by which
you renounce your rights to your mother's estate and leave your father
the use and disposition, during his lifetime, of all the property
undivided between you, of which he guarantees you the capital."
"I do not understand a word of what you are saying," returned Eugenie;
"give me the deed, and show me where I am to sign it."
Pere Grandet looked alternately at the deed and at his daughter, at
his daughter and at the deed, undergoing as he did so such violent
emotion that he wiped the sweat from his brow.
"My little girl," he said, "if, instead of signing this deed, which
will cost a great deal to record, you would simply agree to renounce
your rights as heir to your poor dear, deceased mother's property, and
would trust to me for the future, I should like it better. In that
case I will pay you monthly the good round sum of a hundred francs.
See, now, you could pay for as many masses as you want for anybody--
Hein! a hundred francs a month--in /livres/?"
"I will do all you wish, father."
"Mademoiselle," said the notary, "it is my duty to point out to you
that you are despoiling yourself without guarantee--"
"Good heavens! what is all that to me?"
"Hold your tongue, Cruchot! It's settled, all settled," cried Grandet,
taking his daughter's hand and striking it with his own. "Eugenie, you
won't go back on your word?--you are an honest girl, hein?"
He kissed her effusively, and pressed her in his arms till he almost
"Go, my good child, you restore your father's life; but you only
return to him that which he gave you: we are quits. This is how
business should be done. Life is a business. I bless you! you are a
virtuous girl, and you love your father. Do just what you like in
future. To-morrow, Cruchot," he added, looking at the horrified
notary, "you will see about preparing the deed of relinquishment, and
then enter it on the records of the court."
The next morning Eugenie signed the papers by which she herself
completed her spoliation. At the end of the first year, however, in
spite of his bargain, the old man had not given his daughter one sou
of the hundred francs he had so solemnly pledged to her. When Eugenie
pleasantly reminded him of this, he could not help coloring, and went
hastily to his secret hiding-place, from whence he brought down about
a third of the jewels he had taken from his nephew, and gave them to
"There, little one," he said in a sarcastic tone, "do you want those
for your twelve hundred francs?"
"Oh! father, truly? will you really give them to me?"
"I'll give you as many more next year," he said, throwing them into
her apron. "So before long you'll get all his gewgaws," he added,
rubbing his hands, delighted to be able to speculate on his daughter's
Nevertheless, the old man, though still robust, felt the importance of
initiating his daughter into the secrets of his thrift and its
management. For two consecutive years he made her order the household
meals in his presence and receive the rents, and he taught her slowly
and successively the names and remunerative capacity of his vineyards
and his farms. About the third year he had so thoroughly accustomed
her to his avaricious methods that they had turned into the settled
habits of her own life, and he was able to leave the household keys in
her charge without anxiety, and to install her as mistress of the
Five years passed away without a single event to relieve the
monotonous existence of Eugenie and her father. The same actions were
performed daily with the automatic regularity of clockwork. The deep
sadness of Mademoiselle Grandet was known to every one; but if others
surmised the cause, she herself never uttered a word that justified
the suspicions which all Saumur entertained about the state of the
rich heiress's heart. Her only society was made up of the three
Cruchots and a few of their particular friends whom they had, little
by little, introduced into the Grandet household. They had taught her
to play whist, and they came every night for their game. During the
year 1827 her father, feeling the weight of his infirmities, was
obliged to initiate her still further into the secrets of his landed
property, and told her that in case of difficulty she was to have
recourse to Maitre Cruchot, whose integrity was well known to him.
Towards the end of this year the old man, then eighty-two, was seized
by paralysis, which made rapid progress. Dr. Bergerin gave him up.
Eugenie, feeling that she was about to be left alone in the world,
came, as it were, nearer to her father, and clasped more tightly this
last living link of affection. To her mind, as in that of all loving
women, love was the whole of life. Charles was not there, and she
devoted all her care and attention to the old father, whose faculties
had begun to weaken, though his avarice remained instinctively acute.
The death of this man offered no contrast to his life. In the morning
he made them roll him to a spot between the chimney of his chamber and
the door of the secret room, which was filled, no doubt, with gold. He
asked for an explanation of every noise he heard, even the slightest;
to the great astonishment of the notary, he even heard the watch-dog
yawning in the court-yard. He woke up from his apparent stupor at the
day and hour when the rents were due, or when accounts had to be
settled with his vine-dressers, and receipts given. At such times he
worked his chair forward on its castors until he faced the door of the
inner room. He made his daughter open it, and watched while she placed
the bags of money one upon another in his secret receptacles and
relocked the door. Then she returned silently to her seat, after
giving him the key, which he replaced in his waistcoat pocket and
fingered from time to time. His old friend the notary, feeling sure
that the rich heiress would inevitably marry his nephew the president,
if Charles Grandet did not return, redoubled all his attentions; he
came every day to take Grandet's orders, went on his errands to
Froidfond, to the farms and the fields and the vineyards, sold the
vintages, and turned everything into gold and silver, which found
their way in sacks to the secret hiding-place.
At length the last struggle came, in which the strong frame of the old
man slowly yielded to destruction. He was determined to sit at the
chimney-corner facing the door of the secret room. He drew off and
rolled up all the coverings which were laid over him, saying to Nanon,
"Put them away, lock them up, for fear they should be stolen."
So long as he could open his eyes, in which his whole being had now
taken refuge, he turned them to the door behind which lay his
treasures, saying to his daughter, "Are they there? are they there?"
in a tone of voice which revealed a sort of panic fear.
"Yes, my father," she would answer.
"Take care of the gold--put gold before me."
Eugenie would then spread coins on a table before him, and he would
sit for hours together with his eyes fixed upon them, like a child
who, at the moment it first begins to see, gazes in stupid
contemplation at the same object, and like the child, a distressful
smile would flicker upon his face.
"It warms me!" he would sometimes say, as an expression of beatitude
stole across his features.
When the cure of the parish came to administer the last sacraments,
the old man's eyes, sightless, apparently, for some hours, kindled at
the sight of the cross, the candlesticks, and the holy-water vessel of
silver; he gazed at them fixedly, and his wen moved for the last time.
When the priest put the crucifix of silver-gilt to his lips, that he
might kiss the Christ, he made a frightful gesture, as if to seize it;
and that last effort cost him his life. He called Eugenie, whom he did
not see, though she was kneeling beside him bathing with tears his
stiffening hand, which was already cold.
"My father, bless me!" she entreated.
"Take care of it all. You will render me an account yonder!" he said,
proving by these last words that Christianity must always be the
religion of misers.
Eugenie Grandet was now alone in the world in that gray house, with
none but Nanon to whom she could turn with the certainty of being
heard and understood,--Nanon the sole being who loved her for herself
and with whom she could speak of her sorrows. La Grande Nanon was a
providence for Eugenie. She was not a servant, but a humble friend.
After her father's death Eugenie learned from Maitre Cruchot that she
possessed an income of three hundred thousand francs from landed and
personal property in the arrondissement of Saumur; also six millions
invested at three per cent in the Funds (bought at sixty, and now
worth seventy-six francs); also two millions in gold coin, and a
hundred thousand francs in silver crown-pieces, besides all the
interest which was still to be collected. The sum total of her
property reached seventeen millions.
"Where is my cousin?" was her one thought.
The day on which Maitre Cruchot handed in to his client a clear and
exact schedule of the whole inheritance, Eugenie remained alone with
Nanon, sitting beside the fireplace in the vacant hall, where all was
now a memory, from the chair on castors which her mother had sat in,
to the glass from which her cousin drank.
"Nanon, we are alone--"
"Yes, mademoiselle; and if I knew where he was, the darling, I'd go on
foot to find him."
"The ocean is between us," she said.
While the poor heiress wept in company of an old servant, in that cold
dark house, which was to her the universe, the whole province rang,
from Nantes to Orleans, with the seventeen millions of Mademoiselle
Grandet. Among her first acts she had settled an annuity of twelve
hundred francs on Nanon, who, already possessed of six hundred more,
became a rich and enviable match. In less than a month that good soul
passed from single to wedded life under the protection of Antoine
Cornoiller, who was appointed keeper of all Mademoiselle Grandet's
estates. Madame Cornoiller possessed one striking advantage over her
contemporaries. Although she was fifty-nine years of age, she did not
look more than forty. Her strong features had resisted the ravages of
time. Thanks to the healthy customs of her semi-conventual life, she
laughed at old age from the vantage-ground of a rosy skin and an iron
constitution. Perhaps she never looked as well in her life as she did
on her marriage-day. She had all the benefits of her ugliness, and was
big and fat and strong, with a look of happiness on her indestructible
features which made a good many people envy Cornoiller.
"Fast colors!" said the draper.
"Quite likely to have children," said the salt merchant. "She's
pickled in brine, saving your presence."
"She is rich, and that fellow Cornoiller has done a good thing for
himself," said a third man.
When she came forth from the old house on her way to the parish
church, Nanon, who was loved by all the neighborhood, received many
compliments as she walked down the tortuous street. Eugenie had given
her three dozen silver forks and spoons as a wedding present.
Cornoiller, amazed at such magnificence, spoke of his mistress with
tears in his eyes; he would willingly have been hacked in pieces in
her behalf. Madame Cornoiller, appointed housekeeper to Mademoiselle
Grandet, got as much happiness out of her new position as she did from
the possession of a husband. She took charge of the weekly accounts;
she locked up the provisions and gave them out daily, after the manner
of her defunct master; she ruled over two servants,--a cook, and a
maid whose business it was to mend the house-linen and make
mademoiselle's dresses. Cornoiller combined the functions of keeper
and bailiff. It is unnecessary to say that the women-servants selected
by Nanon were "perfect treasures." Mademoiselle Grandet thus had four
servants, whose devotion was unbounded. The farmers perceived no
change after Monsieur Grandet's death; the usages and customs he had
sternly established were scrupulously carried out by Monsieur and
At thirty years of age Eugenie knew none of the joys of life. Her
pale, sad childhood had glided on beside a mother whose heart, always
misunderstood and wounded, had known only suffering. Leaving this life
joyfully, the mother pitied the daughter because she still must live;
and she left in her child's soul some fugitive remorse and many
lasting regrets. Eugenie's first and only love was a wellspring of
sadness within her. Meeting her lover for a few brief days, she had
given him her heart between two kisses furtively exchanged; then he
had left her, and a whole world lay between them. This love, cursed by
her father, had cost the life of her mother and brought her only
sorrow, mingled with a few frail hopes. Thus her upward spring towards
happiness had wasted her strength and given her nothing in exchange
for it. In the life of the soul, as in the physical life, there is an
inspiration and a respiration; the soul needs to absorb the sentiments
of another soul and assimilate them, that it may render them back
enriched. Were it not for this glorious human phenomenon, there would
be no life for the heart; air would be wanting; it would suffer, and
then perish. Eugenie had begun to suffer. For her, wealth was neither
a power nor a consolation; she could not live except through love,
through religion, through faith in the future. Love explained to her
the mysteries of eternity. Her heart and the Gospel taught her to know
two worlds; she bathed, night and day, in the depths of two infinite
thoughts, which for her may have had but one meaning. She drew back
within herself, loving, and believing herself beloved. For seven years
her passion had invaded everything. Her treasuries were not the
millions whose revenues were rolling up; they were Charles's dressing-
case, the portraits hanging above her bed, the jewels recovered from
her father and proudly spread upon a bed of wool in a drawer of the
oaken cabinet, the thimble of her aunt, used for a while by her
mother, which she wore religiously as she worked at a piece of
embroidery,--a Penelope's web, begun for the sole purpose of putting
upon her finger that gold so rich in memories.
It seemed unlikely that Mademoiselle Grandet would marry during the
period of her mourning. Her genuine piety was well known. Consequently
the Cruchots, whose policy was sagely guided by the old abbe,
contented themselves for the time being with surrounding the great
heiress and paying her the most affectionate attentions. Every evening
the hall was filled with a party of devoted Cruchotines, who sang the
praises of its mistress in every key. She had her doctor in ordinary,
her grand almoner, her chamberlain, her first lady of honor, her prime
minister; above all, her chancellor, a chancellor who would fain have
said much to her. If the heiress had wished for a train-bearer, one
would instantly have been found. She was a queen, obsequiously
flattered. Flattery never emanates from noble souls; it is the gift of
little minds, who thus still further belittle themselves to worm their
way into the vital being of the persons around whom they crawl.
Flattery means self-interest. So the people who, night after night,
assembled in Mademoiselle Grandet's house (they called her
Mademoiselle de Froidfond) outdid each other in expressions of
admiration. This concert of praise, never before bestowed upon
Eugenie, made her blush under its novelty; but insensibly her ear
became habituated to the sound, and however coarse the compliments
might be, she soon was so accustomed to hear her beauty lauded that if
any new-comer had seemed to think her plain, she would have felt the
reproach far more than she might have done eight years earlier. She
ended at last by loving the incense, which she secretly laid at the
feet of her idol. By degrees she grew accustomed to be treated as a
sovereign and to see her court pressing around her every evening.
Monsieur de Bonfons was the hero of the little circle, where his wit,
his person, his education, his amiability, were perpetually praised.
One or another would remark that in seven years he had largely
increased his fortune, that Bonfons brought in at least ten thousand
francs a year, and was surrounded, like the other possessions of the
Cruchots, by the vast domains of the heiress.
"Do you know, mademoiselle," said an habitual visitor, "that the
Cruchots have an income of forty thousand francs among them!"
"And then, their savings!" exclaimed an elderly female Cruchotine,
Mademoiselle de Gribeaucourt.
"A gentleman from Paris has lately offered Monsieur Cruchot two
hundred thousand francs for his practice," said another. "He will sell
it if he is appointed /juge de paix/."
"He wants to succeed Monsieur de Bonfons as president of the Civil
courts, and is taking measures," replied Madame d'Orsonval. "Monsieur
le president will certainly be made councillor."
"Yes, he is a very distinguished man," said another,--"don't you think
Monsieur de Bonfons endeavored to put himself in keeping with the role
he sought to play. In spite of his forty years, in spite of his dusky
and crabbed features, withered like most judicial faces, he dressed in
youthful fashions, toyed with a bamboo cane, never took snuff in
Mademoiselle de Froidfond's house, and came in a white cravat and a
shirt whose pleated frill gave him a family resemblance to the race of
turkeys. He addressed the beautiful heiress familiarly, and spoke of
her as "Our dear Eugenie." In short, except for the number of
visitors, the change from loto to whist, and the disappearance of
Monsieur and Madame Grandet, the scene was about the same as the one
with which this history opened. The pack were still pursuing Eugenie
and her millions; but the hounds, more in number, lay better on the
scent, and beset the prey more unitedly. If Charles could have dropped
from the Indian Isles, he would have found the same people and the
same interests. Madame des Grassins, to whom Eugenie was full of
kindness and courtesy, still persisted in tormenting the Cruchots.
Eugenie, as in former days, was the central figure of the picture; and
Charles, as heretofore, would still have been the sovereign of all.
Yet there had been some progress. The flowers which the president
formerly presented to Eugenie on her birthdays and fete-days had now
become a daily institution. Every evening he brought the rich heiress
a huge and magnificent bouquet, which Madame Cornoiller placed
conspicuously in a vase, and secretly threw into a corner of the
court-yard when the visitors had departed.
Early in the spring, Madame des Grassins attempted to trouble the
peace of the Cruchotines by talking to Eugenie of the Marquis de
Froidfond, whose ancient and ruined family might be restored if the
heiress would give him back his estates through marriage. Madame des
Grassins rang the changes on the peerage and the title of marquise,
until, mistaking Eugenie's disdainful smile for acquiescence, she went
about proclaiming that the marriage with "Monsieur Cruchot" was not
nearly as certain as people thought.
"Though Monsieur de Froidfond is fifty," she said, "he does not look
older than Monsieur Cruchot. He is a widower, and he has children,
that's true. But then he is a marquis; he will be peer of France; and
in times like these where you will find a better match? I know it for
a fact that Pere Grandet, when he put all his money into Froidfond,
intended to graft himself upon that stock; he often told me so. He was
a deep one, that old man!"
"Ah! Nanon," said Eugenie, one night as she was going to bed, "how is
it that in seven years he has never once written to me?"
While these events were happening in Saumur, Charles was making his
fortune in the Indies. His commercial outfit had sold well. He began
by realizing a sum of six thousand dollars. Crossing the line had
brushed a good many cobwebs out of his brain; he perceived that the
best means of attaining fortune in tropical regions, as well as in
Europe, was to buy and sell men. He went to the coast of Africa and
bought Negroes, combining his traffic in human flesh with that of
other merchandise equally advantageous to his interests. He carried
into this business an activity which left him not a moment of leisure.
He was governed by the desire of reappearing in Paris with all the
prestige of a large fortune, and by the hope of regaining a position
even more brilliant than the one from which he had fallen.
By dint of jostling with men, travelling through many lands, and
studying a variety of conflicting customs, his ideas had been modified
and had become sceptical. He ceased to have fixed principles of right
and wrong, for he saw what was called a crime in one country lauded as
a virtue in another. In the perpetual struggle of selfish interests
his heart grew cold, then contracted, and then dried up. The blood of
the Grandets did not fail of its destiny; Charles became hard, and
eager for prey. He sold Chinamen, Negroes, birds' nests, children,
artists; he practised usury on a large scale; the habit of defrauding
custom-houses soon made him less scrupulous about the rights of his
fellow men. He went to the Island of St. Thomas and bought, for a mere
song, merchandise that had been captured by pirates, and took it to
ports where he could sell it at a good price. If the pure and noble
face of Eugenie went with him on his first voyage, like that image of
the Virgin which Spanish mariners fastened to their masts, if he
attributed his first success to the magic influence of the prayers and
intercessions of his gentle love, later on women of other kinds,--
blacks, mulattoes, whites, and Indian dancing-girls,--orgies and
adventures in many lands, completely effaced all recollection of his
cousin, of Saumur, of the house, the bench, the kiss snatched in the
dark passage. He remembered only the little garden shut in with
crumbling walls, for it was there he learned the fate that had
overtaken him; but he rejected all connection with his family. His
uncle was an old dog who had filched his jewels; Eugenie had no place
in his heart nor in his thoughts, though she did have a place in his
accounts as a creditor for the sum of six thousand francs.
Such conduct and such ideas explain Charles Grandet's silence. In the
Indies, at St. Thomas, on the coast of Africa, at Lisbon, and in the
United States the adventurer had taken the pseudonym of Shepherd, that
he might not compromise his own name. Charles Shepherd could safely be
indefatigable, bold, grasping, and greedy of gain, like a man who
resolves to snatch his fortune /quibus cumque viis/, and makes haste
to have done with villany, that he may spend the rest of his life as
an honest man.
With such methods, prosperity was rapid and brilliant; and in 1827
Charles Grandet returned to Bordeaux on the "Marie Caroline," a fine
brig belonging to a royalist house of business. He brought with him
nineteen hundred thousand francs worth of gold-dust, from which he
expected to derive seven or eight per cent more at the Paris mint. On
the brig he met a gentleman-in-ordinary to His Majesty Charles X.,
Monsieur d'Aubrion, a worthy old man who had committed the folly of
marrying a woman of fashion with a fortune derived from the West India
Islands. To meet the costs of Madame d'Aubrion's extravagance, he had
gone out to the Indies to sell the property, and was now returning
with his family to France.
Monsieur and Madame d'Aubrion, of the house of d'Aubrion de Buch, a
family of southern France, whose last /captal/, or chief, died before
1789, were now reduced to an income of about twenty thousand francs,
and they possessed an ugly daughter whom the mother was resolved to
marry without a /dot/,--the family fortune being scarcely sufficient
for the demands of her own life in Paris. This was an enterprise whose
success might have seemed problematical to most men of the world, in
spite of the cleverness with which such men credit a fashionable
woman; in fact, Madame d'Aubrion herself, when she looked at her
daughter, almost despaired of getting rid of her to any one, even to a
man craving connection with nobility. Mademoiselle d'Aubrion was a
long, spare, spindling demoiselle, like her namesake the insect; her
mouth was disdainful; over it hung a nose that was too long, thick at
the end, sallow in its normal condition, but very red after a meal,--a
sort of vegetable phenomenon which is particularly disagreeable when
it appears in the middle of a pale, dull, and uninteresting face. In
one sense she was all that a worldly mother, thirty-eight years of age
and still a beauty with claims to admiration, could have wished.
However, to counterbalance her personal defects, the marquise gave her
daughter a distinguished air, subjected her to hygienic treatment
which provisionally kept her nose at a reasonable flesh-tint, taught
her the art of dressing well, endowed her with charming manners,
showed her the trick of melancholy glances which interest a man and
make him believe that he has found a long-sought angel, taught her the
manoeuvre of the foot,--letting it peep beneath the petticoat, to show
its tiny size, at the moment when the nose became aggressively red; in
short, Madame d'Aubrion had cleverly made the very best of her
offspring. By means of full sleeves, deceptive pads, puffed dresses
amply trimmed, and high-pressure corsets, she had obtained such
curious feminine developments that she ought, for the instruction of
mothers, to have exhibited them in a museum.
Charles became very intimate with Madame d'Aubrion precisely because
she was desirous of becoming intimate with him. Persons who were on
board the brig declared that the handsome Madame d'Aubrion neglected
no means of capturing so rich a son-in-law. On landing at Bordeaux in
June, 1827, Monsieur, Madame, Mademoiselle d'Aubrion, and Charles
lodged at the same hotel and started together for Paris. The hotel
d'Aubrion was hampered with mortgages; Charles was destined to free
it. The mother told him how delighted she would be to give up the
ground-floor to a son-in-law. Not sharing Monsieur d'Aubrion's
prejudices on the score of nobility, she promised Charles Grandet to
obtain a royal ordinance from Charles X. which would authorize him,
Grandet, to take the name and arms of d'Aubrion and to succeed, by
purchasing the entailed estate for thirty-six thousand francs a year,
to the titles of Captal de Buch and Marquis d'Aubrion. By thus uniting
their fortunes, living on good terms, and profiting by sinecures, the
two families might occupy the hotel d'Aubrion with an income of over a
hundred thousand francs.
"And when a man has a hundred thousand francs a year, a name, a
family, and a position at court,--for I will get you appointed as
gentleman-of-the-bedchamber,--he can do what he likes," she said to
Charles. "You can then become anything you choose,--master of the
rolls in the council of State, prefect, secretary to an embassy, the
ambassador himself, if you like. Charles X. is fond of d'Aubrion; they
have known each other from childhood."
Intoxicated with ambition, Charles toyed with the hopes thus cleverly
presented to him in the guise of confidences poured from heart to
heart. Believing his father's affairs to have been settled by his
uncle, he imagined himself suddenly anchored in the Faubourg Saint-
Germain,--that social object of all desire, where, under shelter of
Mademoiselle Mathilde's purple nose, he was to reappear as the Comte
d'Aubrion, very much as the Dreux reappeared in Breze. Dazzled by the
prosperity of the Restoration, which was tottering when he left
France, fascinated by the splendor of aristocratic ideas, his
intoxication, which began on the brig, increased after he reached
Paris, and he finally determined to take the course and reach the high
position which the selfish hopes of his would-be mother-in-law pointed
out to him. His cousin counted for no more than a speck in this
brilliant perspective; but he went to see Annette. True woman of the
world, Annette advised her old friend to make the marriage, and
promised him her support in all his ambitious projects. In her heart
she was enchanted to fasten an ugly and uninteresting girl on Charles,
whose life in the West Indies had rendered him very attractive. His
complexion had bronzed, his manners had grown decided and bold, like
those of a man accustomed to make sharp decisions, to rule, and to
succeed. Charles breathed more at his ease in Paris, conscious that he
now had a part to play.
Des Grassins, hearing of his return, of his approaching marriage and
his large fortune, came to see him, and inquired about the three
hundred thousand francs still required to settle his father's debts.
He found Grandet in conference with a goldsmith, from whom he had
ordered jewels for Mademoiselle d'Aubrion's /corbeille/, and who was
then submitting the designs. Charles had brought back magnificent
diamonds, and the value of their setting, together with the plate and
jewelry of the new establishment, amounted to more than two hundred
thousand francs. He received des Grassins, whom he did not recognize,
with the impertinence of a young man of fashion conscious of having
killed four men in as many duels in the Indies. Monsieur des Grassins
had already called several times. Charles listened to him coldly, and
then replied, without fully understanding what had been said to him,--
"My father's affairs are not mine. I am much obliged, monsieur, for
the trouble you have been good enough to take,--by which, however, I
really cannot profit. I have not earned two millions by the sweat of
my brow to fling them at the head of my father's creditors."
"But suppose that your father's estate were within a few days to be
"Monsieur, in a few days I shall be called the Comte d'Aubrion; you
will understand, therefore, that what you threaten is of no
consequence to me. Besides, you know as well as I do that when a man
has an income of a hundred thousand francs his father has /never
failed/." So saying, he politely edged Monsieur des Grassins to the
At the beginning of August in the same year, Eugenie was sitting on
the little wooden bench where her cousin had sworn to love her
eternally, and where she usually breakfasted if the weather were fine.
The poor girl was happy, for the moment, in the fresh and joyous
summer air, letting her memory recall the great and the little events
of her love and the catastrophes which had followed it. The sun had
just reached the angle of the ruined wall, so full of chinks, which no
one, through a caprice of the mistress, was allowed to touch, though
Cornoiller often remarked to his wife that "it would fall and crush
somebody one of these days." At this moment the postman knocked, and
gave a letter to Madame Cornoiller, who ran into the garden, crying
"Mademoiselle, a letter!" She gave it to her mistress, adding, "Is it
the one you expected?"
The words rang as loudly in the heart of Eugenie as they echoed in
sound from wall to wall of the court and garden.
"Paris--from him--he has returned!"
Eugenie turned pale and held the letter for a moment. She trembled so
violently that she could not break the seal. La Grande Nanon stood
before her, both hands on her hips, her joy puffing as it were like
smoke through the cracks of her brown face.
"Read it, mademoiselle!"
"Ah, Nanon, why did he return to Paris? He went from Saumur."
"Read it, and you'll find out."
Eugenie opened the letter with trembling fingers. A cheque on the
house of "Madame des Grassins and Coret, of Saumur," fluttered down.
Nanon picked it up.
My dear Cousin,--
"No longer 'Eugenie,'" she thought, and her heart quailed.
"He once said 'thou.'" She folded her arms and dared not read another
word; great tears gathered in her eyes.
"Is he dead?" asked Nanon.
"If he were, he could not write," said Eugenie.
She then read the whole letter, which was as follows:
My dear Cousin,--You will, I am sure, hear with pleasure of the
success of my enterprise. You brought me luck; I have come back
rich, and I have followed the advice of my uncle, whose death,
together with that of my aunt, I have just learned from Monsieur
des Grassins. The death of parents is in the course of nature, and
we must succeed them. I trust you are by this time consoled.
Nothing can resist time, as I am well aware. Yes, my dear cousin,
the day of illusions is, unfortunately, gone for me. How could it
be otherwise? Travelling through many lands, I have reflected upon
life. I was a child when I went away,--I have come back a man.
To-day, I think of many I did not dream of then. You are free, my
dear cousin, and I am free still. Nothing apparently hinders the
realization of our early hopes; but my nature is too loyal to hide
from you the situation in which I find myself. I have not
forgotten our relations; I have always remembered, throughout my
long wanderings, the little wooden seat--
Eugenie rose as if she were sitting on live coals, and went away and
sat down on the stone steps of the court.
--the little wooden seat where we vowed to love each other
forever, the passage, the gray hall, my attic chamber, and the
night when, by your delicate kindness, you made my future easier
to me. Yes, these recollections sustained my courage; I said in my
heart that you were thinking of me at the hour we had agreed upon.
Have you always looked at the clouds at nine o'clock? Yes, I am
sure of it. I cannot betray so true a friendship,--no, I must not
deceive you. An alliance has been proposed to me which satisfies
all my ideas of matrimony. Love in marriage is a delusion. My
present experience warns me that in marrying we are bound to obey
all social laws and meet the conventional demands of the world.
Now, between you and me there are differences which might affect
your future, my dear cousin, even more than they would mine. I
will not here speak of your customs and inclinations, your
education, nor yet of your habits, none of which are in keeping
with Parisian life, or with the future which I have marked out for
myself. My intention is to keep my household on a stately footing,
to receive much company,--in short, to live in the world; and I
think I remember that you love a quiet and tranquil life. I will
be frank, and make you the judge of my situation; you have the
right to understand it and to judge it.
I possess at the present moment an income of eighty thousand
francs. This fortune enables me to marry into the family of
Aubrion, whose heiress, a young girl nineteen years of age, brings
me a title, a place of gentleman-of-the-bed-chamber to His
Majesty, and a very brilliant position. I will admit to you, my
dear cousin, that I do not love Mademoiselle d'Aubrion; but in
marrying her I secure to my children a social rank whose
advantages will one day be incalculable: monarchical principles
are daily coming more and more into favor. Thus in course of time
my son, when he becomes Marquis d'Aubrion, having, as he then will
have, an entailed estate with a rental of forty thousand francs a
year, can obtain any position in the State which he may think
proper to select. We owe ourselves to our children.
You see, my cousin, with what good faith I lay the state of my
heart, my hopes, and my fortune before you. Possibly, after seven
years' separation, you have yourself forgotten our youthful loves;
but I have never forgotten either your kindness or my own words. I
remember all, even words that were lightly uttered,--words by
which a man less conscientious than I, with a heart less youthful
and less upright, would scarcely feel himself bound. In telling
you that the marriage I propose to make is solely one of
convenience, that I still remember our childish love, am I not
putting myself entirely in your hands and making you the mistress
of my fate? am I not telling you that if I must renounce my social
ambitions, I shall willingly content myself with the pure and
simple happiness of which you have shown me so sweet an image?
"Tan, ta, ta--tan, ta, ti," sang Charles Grandet to the air of /Non
piu andrai/, as he signed himself,--
Your devoted cousin,
"Thunder! that's doing it handsomely!" he said, as he looked about him
for the cheque; having found it, he added the words:--
P.S.--I enclose a cheque on the des Grassins bank for eight
thousand francs to your order, payable in gold, which includes the
capital and interest of the sum you were kind enough to lend me. I
am expecting a case from Bordeaux which contains a few things
which you must allow me to offer you as a mark of my unceasing
gratitude. You can send my dressing-case by the diligence to the
hotel d'Aubrion, rue Hillerin-Bertin.
"By the diligence!" said Eugenie. "A thing for which I would have laid
down my life!"
Terrible and utter disaster! The ship went down, leaving not a spar,
not a plank, on a vast ocean of hope! Some women when they see
themselves abandoned will try to tear their lover from the arms of a
rival, they will kill her, and rush to the ends of the earth,--to the
scaffold, to their tomb. That, no doubt, is fine; the motive of the
crime is a great passion, which awes even human justice. Other women
bow their heads and suffer in silence; they go their way dying,
resigned, weeping, forgiving, praying, and recollecting, till they
draw their last breath. This is love,--true love, the love of angels,
the proud love which lives upon its anguish and dies of it. Such was
Eugenie's love after she had read that dreadful letter. She raised her
eyes to heaven, thinking of the last words uttered by her dying
mother, who, with the prescience of death, had looked into the future
with clear and penetrating eyes: Eugenie, remembering that prophetic
death, that prophetic life, measured with one glance her own destiny.
Nothing was left for her; she could only unfold her wings, stretch
upward to the skies, and live in prayer until the day of her
"My mother was right," she said, weeping. "Suffer--and die!"
Eugenie came slowly back from the garden to the house, and avoided
passing, as was her custom, through the corridor. But the memory of
her cousin was in the gray old hall and on the chimney-piece, where
stood a certain saucer and the old Sevres sugar-bowl which she used
every morning at her breakfast.
This day was destined to be solemn throughout and full of events.
Nanon announced the cure of the parish church. He was related to the
Cruchots, and therefore in the interests of Monsieur de Bonfons. For
some time past the old abbe had urged him to speak to Mademoiselle
Grandet, from a purely religious point of view, about the duty of
marriage for a woman in her position. When she saw her pastor, Eugenie
supposed he had come for the thousand francs which she gave monthly to
the poor, and she told Nanon to go and fetch them; but the cure only
"To-day, mademoiselle," he said, "I have come to speak to you about a
poor girl in whom the whole town of Saumur takes an interest, who,
through lack of charity to herself, neglects her Christian duties."
"Monsieur le cure, you have come to me at a moment when I cannot think
of my neighbor, I am filled with thoughts of myself. I am very
unhappy; my only refuge is in the Church; her bosom is large enough to
hold all human woe, her love so full that we may draw from its depths
and never drain it dry."
"Mademoiselle, in speaking of this young girl we shall speak of you.
Listen! If you wish to insure your salvation you have only two paths
to take,--either leave the world or obey its laws. Obey either your
earthly destiny or your heavenly destiny."
"Ah! your voice speaks to me when I need to hear a voice. Yes, God has
sent you to me; I will bid farewell to the world and live for God
alone, in silence and seclusion."
"My daughter, you must think long before you take so violent a step.
Marriage is life, the veil is death."
"Yes, death,--a quick death!" she said, with dreadful eagerness.
"Death? but you have great obligations to fulfil to society,
mademoiselle. Are you not the mother of the poor, to whom you give
clothes and wood in winter and work in summer? Your great fortune is a
loan which you must return, and you have sacredly accepted it as such.
To bury yourself in a convent would be selfishness; to remain an old
maid is to fail in duty. In the first place, can you manage your vast
property alone? May you not lose it? You will have law-suits, you will
find yourself surrounded by inextricable difficulties. Believe your
pastor: a husband is useful; you are bound to preserve what God has
bestowed upon you. I speak to you as a precious lamb of my flock. You
love God too truly not to find your salvation in the midst of his
world, of which you are noble ornament and to which you owe your
At this moment Madame des Grassins was announced. She came incited by
vengeance and the sense of a great despair.
"Mademoiselle," she said--"Ah! here is monsieur le cure; I am silent.
I came to speak to you on business; but I see that you are conferring
"Madame," said the cure, "I leave the field to you."
"Oh! monsieur le cure," said Eugenie, "come back later; your support
is very necessary to me just now."
"Ah, yes, indeed, my poor child!" said Madame des Grassins.
"What do you mean?" asked Eugenie and the cure together.
"Don't I know about your cousin's return, and his marriage with
Mademoiselle d'Aubrion? A woman doesn't carry her wits in her pocket."
Eugenie blushed, and remained silent for a moment. From this day forth
she assumed the impassible countenance for which her father had been
"Well, madame," she presently said, ironically, "no doubt I carry my
wits in my pocket, for I do not understand you. Speak, say what you
mean, before monsieur le cure; you know he is my director."
"Well, then, mademoiselle, here is what des Grassins writes me. Read
Eugenie read the following letter:--
My dear Wife,--Charles Grandet has returned from the Indies and
has been in Paris about a month--
"A month!" thought Eugenie, her hand falling to her side. After a
pause she resumed the letter,--
I had to dance attendance before I was allowed to see the future
Vicomte d'Aubrion. Though all Paris is talking of his marriage and
the banns are published--
"He wrote to me after that!" thought Eugenie. She did not conclude the
thought; she did not cry out, as a Parisian woman would have done,
"The villain!" but though she said it not, contempt was none the less
present in her mind.
The marriage, however, will not come off. The Marquis d'Aubrion
will never give his daughter to the son of a bankrupt. I went to
tell Grandet of the steps his uncle and I took in his father's
business, and the clever manoeuvres by which we had managed to
keep the creditor's quiet until the present time. The insolent
fellow had the face to say to me--to me, who for five years have
devoted myself night and day to his interests and his honor!--that
/his father's affairs were not his/! A solicitor would have had
the right to demand fees amounting to thirty or forty thousand
francs, one per cent on the total of the debts. But patience!
there are twelve hundred thousand francs legitimately owing to the
creditors, and I shall at once declare his father a bankrupt.
I went into this business on the word of that old crocodile
Grandet, and I have made promises in the name of his family. If
Monsieur de vicomte d'Aubrion does not care for his honor, I care
for mine. I shall explain my position to the creditors. Still, I
have too much respect for Mademoiselle Eugenie (to whom under
happier circumstances we once hoped to be allied) to act in this
matter before you have spoken to her about it--
There Eugenie paused, and coldly returned the letter without finishing
"I thank you," she said to Madame des Grassins.
"Ah! you have the voice and manner of your deceased father," Madame
des Grassins replied.
"Madame, you have eight thousand francs to pay us," said Nanon,
producing Charles's cheque.
"That's true; have the kindness to come with me now, Madame
"Monsieur le cure," said Eugenie with a noble composure, inspired by
the thought she was about to express, "would it be a sin to remain a
virgin after marriage?"
"That is a case of conscience whose solution is not within my
knowledge. If you wish to know what the celebrated Sanchez says of it
in his treatise 'De Matrimonio,' I shall be able to tell you
The cure went away; Mademoiselle Grandet went up to her father's
secret room and spent the day there alone, without coming down to
dinner, in spite of Nanon's entreaties. She appeared in the evening at
the hour when the usual company began to arrive. Never was the old
hall so full as on this occasion. The news of Charles's return and his
foolish treachery had spread through the whole town. But however
watchful the curiosity of the visitors might be, it was left
unsatisfied. Eugenie, who expected scrutiny, allowed none of the cruel
emotions that wrung her soul to appear on the calm surface of her
face. She was able to show a smiling front in answer to all who tried
to testify their interest by mournful looks or melancholy speeches.
She hid her misery behind a veil of courtesy. Towards nine o'clock the
games ended and the players left the tables, paying their losses and
discussing points of the game as they joined the rest of the company.
At the moment when the whole party rose to take leave, an unexpected
and striking event occurred, which resounded through the length and
breadth of Saumur, from thence through the arrondissement, and even to
the four surrounding prefectures.
"Stay, monsieur le president," said Eugenie to Monsieur de Bonfons as
she saw him take his cane.
There was not a person in that numerous assembly who was unmoved by
these words. The president turned pale, and was forced to sit down.
"The president gets the millions," said Mademoiselle de Gribeaucourt.
"It is plain enough; the president marries Mademoiselle Grandet,"
cried Madame d'Orsonval.
"All the trumps in one hand," said the abbe.
"A love game," said the notary.
Each and all said his say, made his pun, and looked at the heiress
mounted on her millions as on a pedestal. The drama begun nine years
before had reached its conclusion. To tell the president, in face of
all Saumur, to "stay," was surely the same thing as proclaiming him
her husband. In provincial towns social conventionalities are so
rigidly enforced than an infraction like this constituted a solemn
"Monsieur le president," said Eugenie in a voice of some emotion when
they were left alone, "I know what pleases you in me. Swear to leave
me free during my whole life, to claim none of the rights which
marriage will give you over me, and my hand is yours. Oh!" she added,
seeing him about to kneel at her feet, "I have more to say. I must not
deceive you. In my heart I cherish one inextinguishable feeling.
Friendship is the only sentiment which I can give to a husband. I wish
neither to affront him nor to violate the laws of my own heart. But
you can possess my hand and my fortune only at the cost of doing me an
"I am ready for all things," said the president.
"Here are fifteen hundred thousand francs," she said, drawing from her
bosom a certificate of a hundred shares in the Bank of France. "Go to
Paris,--not to-morrow, but instantly. Find Monsieur des Grassins,
learn the names of my uncle's creditors, call them together, pay them
in full all that was owing, with interest at five per cent from the
day the debt was incurred to the present time. Be careful to obtain a
full and legal receipt, in proper form, before a notary. You are a
magistrate, and I can trust this matter in your hands. You are a man
of honor; I will put faith in your word, and meet the dangers of life
under shelter of your name. Let us have mutual indulgence. We have
known each other so long that we are almost related; you would not
wish to render me unhappy."
The president fell at the feet of the rich heiress, his heart beating
and wrung with joy.
"I will be your slave!" he said.
"When you obtain the receipts, monsieur," she resumed, with a cold
glance, "you will take them with all the other papers to my cousin
Grandet, and you will give him this letter. On your return I will keep
The president understood perfectly that he owed the acquiescence of
Mademoiselle Grandet to some bitterness of love, and he made haste to
obey her orders, lest time should effect a reconciliation between the
When Monsieur de Bonfons left her, Eugenie fell back in her chair and
burst into tears. All was over.
The president took the mail-post, and reached Paris the next evening.
The morning after his arrival he went to see des Grassins, and
together they summoned the creditors to meet at the notary's office
where the vouchers had been deposited. Not a single creditor failed to
be present. Creditors though they were, justice must be done to them,
--they were all punctual. Monsieur de Bonfons, in the name of
Mademoiselle Grandet, paid them the amount of their claims with
interest. The payment of interest was a remarkable event in the
Parisian commerce of that day. When the receipts were all legally
registered, and des Grassins had received for his services the sum of
fifty thousand francs allowed to him by Eugenie, the president made
his way to the hotel d'Aubrion and found Charles just entering his own
apartment after a serious encounter with his prospective father-in-
law. The old marquis had told him plainly that he should not marry his
daughter until all the creditors of Guillaume Grandet had been paid in
The president gave Charles the following letter:--
My Cousin,--Monsieur le president de Bonfons has undertaken to
place in your hands the aquittance for all claims upon my uncle,
also a receipt by which I acknowledge having received from you the
sum total of those claims. I have heard of a possible failure, and
I think that the son of a bankrupt may not be able to marry
Mademoiselle d'Aubrion. Yes, my cousin, you judged rightly of my
mind and of my manners. I have, it is true, no part in the world;
I understand neither its calculations nor its customs; and I could
not give you the pleasures that you seek in it. Be happy,
according to the social conventions to which you have sacrificed
our love. To make your happiness complete I can only offer you
your father's honor. Adieu! You will always have a faithful friend
in your cousin
The president smiled at the exclamation which the ambitious young man
could not repress as he received the documents.
"We shall announce our marriages at the same time," remarked Monsieur
"Ah! you marry Eugenie? Well, I am delighted; she is a good girl.
But," added Charles, struck with a luminous idea, "she must be rich?"
"She had," said the president, with a mischievous smile, "about
nineteen millions four days ago; but she has only seventeen millions
Charles looked at him thunderstruck.
"Seventeen millions; yes, monsieur. We shall muster, Mademoiselle
Grandet and I, an income of seven hundred and fifty thousand francs
when we marry."
"My dear cousin," said Charles, recovering a little of his assurance,
"we can push each other's fortunes."
"Agreed," said the president. "Here is also a little case which I am
charged to give into your own hands," he added, placing on the table
the leather box which contained the dressing-case.
"Well, my dear friend," said Madame d'Aubrion, entering the room
without noticing the president, "don't pay any attention to what poor
Monsieur d'Aubrion has just said to you; the Duchesse de Chaulieu has
turned his head. I repeat, nothing shall interfere with the
"Very good, madame. The three millions which my father owed were paid
"In money?" she asked.
"Yes, in full, capital and interest; and I am about to do honor to his
"What folly!" exclaimed his mother-in-law. "Who is this?" she
whispered in Grandet's ear, perceiving the president.
"My man of business," he answered in a low voice.
The marquise bowed superciliously to Monsieur de Bonfons.
"We are pushing each other's fortunes already," said the president,
taking up his hat. "Good-by, cousin."
"He is laughing at me, the old cockatoo! I'd like to put six inches of
iron into him!" muttered Charles.
The president was out of hearing. Three days later Monsieur de
Bonfons, on his return to Saumur, announced his marriage with Eugenie.
Six months after the marriage he was appointed councillor in the Cour
royale at Angers. Before leaving Saumur Madame de Bonfons had the gold
of certain jewels, once so precious to her, melted up, and put,
together with the eight thousand francs paid back by her cousin, into
a golden pyx, which she gave to the parish church where she had so
long prayed for /him/. She now spent her time between Angers and
Saumur. Her husband, who had shown some public spirit on a certain
occasion, became a judge in the superior courts, and finally, after a
few years, president of them. He was anxiously awaiting a general
election, in the hope of being returned to the Chamber of deputies. He
hankered after a peerage; and then--
"The king will be his cousin, won't he?" said Nanon, la Grande Nanon,
Madame Cornoiller, bourgeoise of Saumur, as she listened to her
mistress, who was recounting the honors to which she was called.
Nevertheless, Monsieur de Bonfons (he had finally abolished his
patronymic of Cruchot) did not realize any of his ambitious ideas. He
died eight days after his election as deputy of Saumur. God, who sees
all and never strikes amiss, punished him, no doubt, for his sordid
calculations and the legal cleverness with which, /accurante Cruchot/,
he had drawn up his marriage contract, in which husband and wife gave
to each other, "in case they should have no children, their entire
property of every kind, landed or otherwise, without exception or
reservation, dispensing even with the formality of an inventory;
provided that said omission of said inventory shall not injure their
heirs and assigns, it being understood that this deed of gift is,
etc., etc." This clause of the contract will explain the profound
respect which monsieur le president always testified for the wishes,
and above all, for the solitude of Madame de Bonfons. Women cited him
as the most considerate and delicate of men, pitied him, and even went
so far as to find fault with the passion and grief of Eugenie, blaming
her, as women know so well how to blame, with cruel but discreet
"Madame de Bonfons must be very ill to leave her husband entirely
alone. Poor woman! Is she likely to get well? What is it? Something
gastric? A cancer?"--"She has grown perfectly yellow. She ought to
consult some celebrated doctor in Paris."--"How can she be happy
without a child? They say she loves her husband; then why not give him
an heir?--in his position, too!"--"Do you know, it is really dreadful!
If it is the result of mere caprice, it is unpardonable. Poor
Endowed with the delicate perception which a solitary soul acquires
through constant meditation, through the exquisite clear-sightedness
with which a mind aloof from life fastens on all that falls within its
sphere, Eugenie, taught by suffering and by her later education to
divine thought, knew well that the president desired her death that he
might step into possession of their immense fortune, augmented by the
property of his uncle the notary and his uncle the abbe, whom it had
lately pleased God to call to himself. The poor solitary pitied the
president. Providence avenged her for the calculations and the
indifference of a husband who respected the hopeless passion on which
she spent her life because it was his surest safeguard. To give life
to a child would give death to his hopes,--the hopes of selfishness,
the joys of ambition, which the president cherished as he looked into
God thus flung piles of gold upon this prisoner to whom gold was a
matter of indifference, who longed for heaven, who lived, pious and
good, in holy thoughts, succoring the unfortunate in secret, and never
wearying of such deeds. Madame de Bonfons became a widow at thirty-
six. She is still beautiful, but with the beauty of a woman who is
nearly forty years of age. Her face is white and placid and calm; her
voice gentle and self-possessed; her manners are simple. She has the
noblest qualities of sorrow, the saintliness of one who has never
soiled her soul by contact with the world; but she has also the rigid
bearing of an old maid and the petty habits inseparable from the
narrow round of provincial life. In spite of her vast wealth, she
lives as the poor Eugenie Grandet once lived. The fire is never
lighted on her hearth until the day when her father allowed it to be
lighted in the hall, and it is put out in conformity with the rules
which governed her youthful years. She dresses as her mother dressed.
The house in Saumur, without sun, without warmth, always in shadow,
melancholy, is an image of her life. She carefully accumulates her
income, and might seem parsimonious did she not disarm criticism by a
noble employment of her wealth. Pious and charitable institutions, a
hospital for old age, Christian schools for children, a public library
richly endowed, bear testimony against the charge of avarice which
some persons lay at her door. The churches of Saumur owe much of their
embellishment to her. Madame de Bonfons (sometimes ironically spoken
of as mademoiselle) inspires for the most part reverential respect:
and yet that noble heart, beating only with tenderest emotions, has
been, from first to last, subjected to the calculations of human
selfishness; money has cast its frigid influence upon that hallowed
life and taught distrust of feelings to a woman who is all feeling.
"I have none but you to love me," she says to Nanon.
The hand of this woman stanches the secret wounds in many families.
She goes on her way to heaven attended by a train of benefactions. The
grandeur of her soul redeems the narrowness of her education and the
petty habits of her early life.
Such is the history of Eugenie Grandet, who is in the world but not of
it; who, created to be supremely a wife and mother, has neither
husband nor children nor family. Lately there has been some question
of her marrying again. The Saumur people talk of her and of the
Marquis de Froidfond, whose family are beginning to beset the rich
widow just as, in former days, the Cruchots laid siege to the rich
heiress. Nanon and Cornoiller are, it is said, in the interests of the
marquis. Nothing could be more false. Neither la Grande Nanon nor
Cornoiller has sufficient mind to understand the corruptions of the
The following personages appear in other stories of the Human Comedy.
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Lupeaulx, Clement Chardin des
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