Part 1 out of 6
Typed and first proof by Dagny
by HONORE DE BALZAC
To the great and illustrious Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire, a token
of admiration for his works and genius.
Mme. Vauquer (/nee/ de Conflans) is an elderly person, who for the
past forty years has kept a lodging-house in the Rue Nueve-Sainte-
Genevieve, in the district that lies between the Latin Quarter and the
Faubourg Saint-Marcel. Her house (known in the neighborhood as the
/Maison Vauquer/) receives men and women, old and young, and no word
has ever been breathed against her respectable establishment; but, at
the same time, it must be said that as a matter of fact no young woman
has been under her roof for thirty years, and that if a young man
stays there for any length of time it is a sure sign that his
allowance must be of the slenderest. In 1819, however, the time when
this drama opens, there was an almost penniless young girl among Mme.
That word drama has been somewhat discredited of late; it has been
overworked and twisted to strange uses in these days of dolorous
literature; but it must do service again here, not because this story
is dramatic in the restricted sense of the word, but because some
tears may perhaps be shed /intra et extra muros/ before it is over.
Will any one without the walls of Paris understand it? It is open to
doubt. The only audience who could appreciate the results of close
observation, the careful reproduction of minute detail and local
color, are dwellers between the heights of Montrouge and Montmartre,
in a vale of crumbling stucco watered by streams of black mud, a vale
of sorrows which are real and joys too often hollow; but this audience
is so accustomed to terrible sensations, that only some unimaginable
and well-neigh impossible woe could produce any lasting impression
there. Now and again there are tragedies so awful and so grand by
reason of the complication of virtues and vices that bring them about,
that egotism and selfishness are forced to pause and are moved to
pity; but the impression that they receive is like a luscious fruit,
soon consumed. Civilization, like the car of Juggernaut, is scarcely
stayed perceptibly in its progress by a heart less easy to break than
the others that lie in its course; this also is broken, and
Civilization continues on her course triumphant. And you, too, will do
the like; you who with this book in your white hand will sink back
among the cushions of your armchair, and say to yourself, "Perhaps
this may amuse me." You will read the story of Father Goriot's secret
woes, and, dining thereafter with an unspoiled appetite, will lay the
blame of your insensibility upon the writer, and accuse him of
exaggeration, of writing romances. Ah! once for all, this drama is
neither a fiction nor a romance! ALL IS TRUE,--so true, that every one
can discern the elements of the tragedy in his own house, perhaps in
his own heart.
The lodging-house is Mme. Vauquer's own property. It is still standing
in the lower end of the Rue Nueve-Sainte-Genevieve, just where the
road slopes so sharply down to the Rue de l'Arbalete, that wheeled
traffic seldom passes that way, because it is so stony and steep. This
position is sufficient to account for the silence prevalent in the
streets shut in between the dome of the Pantheon and the dome of the
Val-de-Grace, two conspicuous public buildings which give a yellowish
tone to the landscape and darken the whole district that lies beneath
the shadow of their leaden-hued cupolas.
In that district the pavements are clean and dry, there is neither mud
nor water in the gutters, grass grows in the chinks of the walls. The
most heedless passer-by feels the depressing influences of a place
where the sound of wheels creates a sensation; there is a grim look
about the houses, a suggestion of a jail about those high garden
walls. A Parisian straying into a suburb apparently composed of
lodging-houses and public institutions would see poverty and dullness,
old age lying down to die, and joyous youth condemned to drudgery. It
is the ugliest quarter of Paris, and, it may be added, the least
known. But, before all things, the Rue Nueve-Sainte-Genevieve is like
a bronze frame for a picture for which the mind cannot be too well
prepared by the contemplation of sad hues and sober images. Even so,
step by step the daylight decreases, and the cicerone's droning voice
grows hollower as the traveler descends into the Catacombs. The
comparison holds good! Who shall say which is more ghastly, the sight
of the bleached skulls or of dried-up human hearts?
The front of the lodging-house is at right angles to the road, and
looks out upon a little garden, so that you see the side of the house
in section, as it were, from the Rue Nueve-Sainte-Genevieve. Beneath
the wall of the house front there lies a channel, a fathom wide, paved
with cobble-stones, and beside it runs a graveled walk bordered by
geraniums and oleanders and pomegranates set in great blue and white
glazed earthenware pots. Access into the graveled walk is afforded by
a door, above which the words MAISON VAUQUER may be read, and beneath,
in rather smaller letters, "/Lodgings for both sexes, etc./"
During the day a glimpse into the garden is easily obtained through a
wicket to which a bell is attached. On the opposite wall, at the
further end of the graveled walk, a green marble arch was painted once
upon a time by a local artist, and in this semblance of a shrine a
statue representing Cupid is installed; a Parisian Cupid, so blistered
and disfigured that he looks like a candidate for one of the adjacent
hospitals, and might suggest an allegory to lovers of symbolism. The
half-obliterated inscription on the pedestal beneath determines the
date of this work of art, for it bears witness to the widespread
enthusiasm felt for Voltaire on his return to Paris in 1777:
"Whoe'er thou art, thy master see;
He is, or was, or ought to be."
At night the wicket gate is replaced by a solid door. The little
garden is no wider than the front of the house; it is shut in between
the wall of the street and the partition wall of the neighboring
house. A mantle of ivy conceals the bricks and attracts the eyes of
passers-by to an effect which is picturesque in Paris, for each of the
walls is covered with trellised vines that yield a scanty dusty crop
of fruit, and furnish besides a subject of conversation for Mme.
Vauquer and her lodgers; every year the widow trembles for her
A straight path beneath the walls on either side of the garden leads
to a clump of lime-trees at the further end of it; /line/-trees, as
Mme. Vauquer persists in calling them, in spite of the fact that she
was a de Conflans, and regardless of repeated corrections from her
The central space between the walls is filled with artichokes and rows
of pyramid fruit-trees, and surrounded by a border of lettuce, pot-
herbs, and parsley. Under the lime-trees there are a few green-painted
garden seats and a wooden table, and hither, during the dog-days, such
of the lodgers as are rich enough to indulge in a cup of coffee come
to take their pleasure, though it is hot enough to roast eggs even in
The house itself is three stories high, without counting the attics
under the roof. It is built of rough stone, and covered with the
yellowish stucco that gives a mean appearance to almost every house in
Paris. There are five windows in each story in the front of the house;
all the blinds visible through the small square panes are drawn up
awry, so that the lines are all at cross purposes. At the side of the
house there are but two windows on each floor, and the lowest of all
are adorned with a heavy iron grating.
Behind the house a yard extends for some twenty feet, a space
inhabited by a happy family of pigs, poultry, and rabbits; the wood-
shed is situated on the further side, and on the wall between the
wood-shed and the kitchen window hangs the meat-safe, just above the
place where the sink discharges its greasy streams. The cook sweeps
all the refuse out through a little door into the Rue Nueve-Sainte-
Genevieve, and frequently cleanses the yard with copious supplies of
water, under pain of pestilence.
The house might have been built on purpose for its present uses.
Access is given by a French window to the first room on the ground
floor, a sitting-room which looks out upon the street through the two
barred windows already mentioned. Another door opens out of it into
the dining-room, which is separated from the kitchen by the well of
the staircase, the steps being constructed partly of wood, partly of
tiles, which are colored and beeswaxed. Nothing can be more depressing
than the sight of that sitting-room. The furniture is covered with
horse hair woven in alternate dull and glossy stripes. There is a
round table in the middle, with a purplish-red marble top, on which
there stands, by way of ornament, the inevitable white china tea-
service, covered with a half-effaced gilt network. The floor is
sufficiently uneven, the wainscot rises to elbow height, and the rest
of the wall space is decorated with a varnished paper, on which the
principal scenes from /Telemaque/ are depicted, the various classical
personages being colored. The subject between the two windows is the
banquet given by Calypso to the son of Ulysses, displayed thereon for
the admiration of the boarders, and has furnished jokes these forty
years to the young men who show themselves superior to their position
by making fun of the dinners to which poverty condemns them. The
hearth is always so clean and neat that it is evident that a fire is
only kindled there on great occasions; the stone chimney-piece is
adorned by a couple of vases filled with faded artificial flowers
imprisoned under glass shades, on either side of a bluish marble clock
in the very worst taste.
The first room exhales an odor for which there is no name in the
language, and which should be called the odeur de pension. The damp
atmosphere sends a chill through you as you breathe it; it has a
stuffy, musty, and rancid quality; it permeates your clothing; after-
dinner scents seem to be mingled in it with smells from the kitchen
and scullery and the reek of a hospital. It might be possible to
describe it if some one should discover a process by which to distil
from the atmosphere all the nauseating elements with which it is
charged by the catarrhal exhalations of every individual lodger, young
or old. Yet, in spite of these stale horrors, the sitting-room is as
charming and as delicately perfumed as a boudoir, when compared with
the adjoining dining-room.
The paneled walls of that apartment were once painted some color, now
a matter of conjecture, for the surface is incrusted with accumulated
layers of grimy deposit, which cover it with fantastic outlines. A
collection of dim-ribbed glass decanters, metal discs with a satin
sheen on them, and piles of blue-edged earthenware plates of Touraine
ware cover the sticky surfaces of the sideboards that line the room.
In a corner stands a box containing a set of numbered pigeon-holes, in
which the lodgers' table napkins, more or less soiled and stained with
wine, are kept. Here you see that indestructible furniture never met
with elsewhere, which finds its way into lodging-houses much as the
wrecks of our civilization drift into hospitals for incurables. You
expect in such places as these to find the weather-house whence a
Capuchin issues on wet days; you look to find the execrable engravings
which spoil your appetite, framed every one in a black varnished
frame, with a gilt beading round it; you know the sort of tortoise-
shell clock-case, inlaid with brass; the green stove, the Argand
lamps, covered with oil and dust, have met your eyes before. The
oilcloth which covers the long table is so greasy that a waggish
externe will write his name on the surface, using his thumb-nail as a
style. The chairs are broken-down invalids; the wretched little hempen
mats slip away from under your feet without slipping away for good;
and finally, the foot-warmers are miserable wrecks, hingeless,
charred, broken away about the holes. It would be impossible to give
an idea of the old, rotten, shaky, cranky, worm-eaten, halt, maimed,
one-eyed, rickety, and ramshackle condition of the furniture without
an exhaustive description, which would delay the progress of the story
to an extent that impatient people would not pardon. The red tiles of
the floor are full of depressions brought about by scouring and
periodical renewings of color. In short, there is no illusory grace
left to the poverty that reigns here; it is dire, parsimonious,
concentrated, threadbare poverty; as yet it has not sunk into the
mire, it is only splashed by it, and though not in rags as yet, its
clothing is ready to drop to pieces.
This apartment is in all its glory at seven o'clock in the morning,
when Mme. Vauquer's cat appears, announcing the near approach of his
mistress, and jumps upon the sideboards to sniff at the milk in the
bowls, each protected by a plate, while he purrs his morning greeting
to the world. A moment later the widow shows her face; she is tricked
out in a net cap attached to a false front set on awry, and shuffles
into the room in her slipshod fashion. She is an oldish woman, with a
bloated countenance, and a nose like a parrot's beak set in the middle
of it; her fat little hands (she is as sleek as a church rat) and her
shapeless, slouching figure are in keeping with the room that reeks of
misfortune, where hope is reduced to speculate for the meanest stakes.
Mme. Vauquer alone can breathe that tainted air without being
disheartened by it. Her face is as fresh as a frosty morning in
autumn; there are wrinkles about the eyes that vary in their
expression from the set smile of a ballet-dancer to the dark,
suspicious scowl of a discounter of bills; in short, she is at once
the embodiment and interpretation of her lodging-house, as surely as
her lodging-house implies the existence of its mistress. You can no
more imagine the one without the other, than you can think of a jail
without a turnkey. The unwholesome corpulence of the little woman is
produced by the life she leads, just as typhus fever is bred in the
tainted air of a hospital. The very knitted woolen petticoat that she
wears beneath a skirt made of an old gown, with the wadding protruding
through the rents in the material, is a sort of epitome of the
sitting-room, the dining-room, and the little garden; it discovers the
cook, it foreshadows the lodgers--the picture of the house is
completed by the portrait of its mistress.
Mme. Vauquer at the age of fifty is like all women who "have seen a
deal of trouble." She has the glassy eyes and innocent air of a
trafficker in flesh and blood, who will wax virtuously indignant to
obtain a higher price for her services, but who is quite ready to
betray a Georges or a Pichegru, if a Georges or a Pichegru were in
hiding and still to be betrayed, or for any other expedient that may
alleviate her lot. Still, "she is a good woman at bottom," said the
lodgers who believed that the widow was wholly dependent upon the
money that they paid her, and sympathized when they heard her cough
and groan like one of themselves.
What had M. Vauquer been? The lady was never very explicit on this
head. How had she lost her money? "Through trouble," was her answer.
He had treated her badly, had left her nothing but her eyes to cry
over his cruelty, the house she lived in, and the privilege of pitying
nobody, because, so she was wont to say, she herself had been through
every possible misfortune.
Sylvie, the stout cook, hearing her mistress' shuffling footsteps,
hastened to serve the lodgers' breakfasts. Beside those who lived in
the house, Mme. Vauquer took boarders who came for their meals; but
these /externes/ usually only came to dinner, for which they paid
thirty francs a month.
At the time when this story begins, the lodging-house contained seven
inmates. The best rooms in the house were on the first story, Mme.
Vauquer herself occupying the least important, while the rest were let
to a Mme. Couture, the widow of a commissary-general in the service of
the Republic. With her lived Victorine Taillefer, a schoolgirl, to
whom she filled the place of mother. These two ladies paid eighteen
hundred francs a year.
The two sets of rooms on the second floor were respectively occupied
by an old man named Poiret and a man of forty or thereabouts, the
wearer of a black wig and dyed whiskers, who gave out that he was a
retired merchant, and was addressed as M. Vautrin. Two of the four
rooms on the third floor were also let--one to an elderly spinster, a
Mlle. Michonneau, and the other to a retired manufacturer of
vermicelli, Italian paste and starch, who allowed the others to
address him as "Father Goriot." The remaining rooms were allotted to
various birds of passage, to impecunious students, who like "Father
Goriot" and Mlle. Michonneau, could only muster forty-five francs a
month to pay for their board and lodging. Mme. Vauquer had little
desire for lodgers of this sort; they ate too much bread, and she only
took them in default of better.
At that time one of the rooms was tenanted by a law student, a young
man from the neighborhood of Angouleme, one of a large family who
pinched and starved themselves to spare twelve hundred francs a year
for him. Misfortune had accustomed Eugene de Rastignac, for that was
his name, to work. He belonged to the number of young men who know as
children that their parents' hopes are centered on them, and
deliberately prepare themselves for a great career, subordinating
their studies from the first to this end, carefully watching the
indications of the course of events, calculating the probable turn
that affairs will take, that they may be the first to profit by them.
But for his observant curiosity, and the skill with which he managed
to introduce himself into the salons of Paris, this story would not
have been colored by the tones of truth which it certainly owes to
him, for they are entirely due to his penetrating sagacity and desire
to fathom the mysteries of an appalling condition of things, which was
concealed as carefully by the victim as by those who had brought it to
Above the third story there was a garret where the linen was hung to
dry, and a couple of attics. Christophe, the man-of-all-work, slept in
one, and Sylvie, the stout cook, in the other. Beside the seven
inmates thus enumerated, taking one year with another, some eight law
or medical students dined in the house, as well as two or three
regular comers who lived in the neighborhood. There were usually
eighteen people at dinner, and there was room, if need be, for twenty
at Mme. Vauquer's table; at breakfast, however, only the seven lodgers
appeared. It was almost like a family party. Every one came down in
dressing-gown and slippers, and the conversation usually turned on
anything that had happened the evening before; comments on the dress
or appearance of the dinner contingent were exchanged in friendly
These seven lodgers were Mme. Vauquer's spoiled children. Among them
she distributed, with astronomical precision, the exact proportion of
respect and attention due to the varying amounts they paid for their
board. One single consideration influenced all these human beings
thrown together by chance. The two second-floor lodgers only paid
seventy-two francs a month. Such prices as these are confined to the
Faubourg Saint-Marcel and the district between La Bourbe and the
Salpetriere; and, as might be expected, poverty, more or less
apparent, weighed upon them all, Mme. Couture being the sole exception
to the rule.
The dreary surroundings were reflected in the costumes of the inmates
of the house; all were alike threadbare. The color of the men's coats
were problematical; such shoes, in more fashionable quarters, are only
to be seen lying in the gutter; the cuffs and collars were worn and
frayed at the edges; every limp article of clothing looked like the
ghost of its former self. The women's dresses were faded, old-
fashioned, dyed and re-dyed; they wore gloves that were glazed with
hard wear, much-mended lace, dingy ruffles, crumpled muslin fichus. So
much for their clothing; but, for the most part, their frames were
solid enough; their constitutions had weathered the storms of life;
their cold, hard faces were worn like coins that have been withdrawn
from circulation, but there were greedy teeth behind the withered
lips. Dramas brought to a close or still in progress are foreshadowed
by the sight of such actors as these, not the dramas that are played
before the footlights and against a background of painted canvas, but
dumb dramas of life, frost-bound dramas that sere hearts like fire,
dramas that do not end with the actors' lives.
Mlle. Michonneau, that elderly young lady, screened her weak eyes from
the daylight by a soiled green silk shade with a rim of brass, an
object fit to scare away the Angel of Pity himself. Her shawl, with
its scanty, draggled fringe, might have covered a skeleton, so meagre
and angular was the form beneath it. Yet she must have been pretty and
shapely once. What corrosive had destroyed the feminine outlines? Was
it trouble, or vice, or greed? Had she loved too well? Had she been a
second-hand clothes dealer, a frequenter of the backstairs of great
houses, or had she been merely a courtesan? Was she expiating the
flaunting triumphs of a youth overcrowded with pleasures by an old age
in which she was shunned by every passer-by? Her vacant gaze sent a
chill through you; her shriveled face seemed like a menace. Her voice
was like the shrill, thin note of the grasshopper sounding from the
thicket when winter is at hand. She said that she had nursed an old
gentleman, ill of catarrh of the bladder, and left to die by his
children, who thought that he had nothing left. His bequest to her, a
life annuity of a thousand francs, was periodically disputed by his
heirs, who mingled slander with their persecutions. In spite of the
ravages of conflicting passions, her face retained some traces of its
former fairness and fineness of tissue, some vestiges of the physical
charms of her youth still survived.
M. Poiret was a sort of automaton. He might be seen any day sailing
like a gray shadow along the walks of the Jardin des Plantes, on his
head a shabby cap, a cane with an old yellow ivory handle in the tips
of his thin fingers; the outspread skirts of his threadbare overcoat
failed to conceal his meagre figure; his breeches hung loosely on his
shrunken limbs; the thin, blue-stockinged legs trembled like those of
a drunken man; there was a notable breach of continuity between the
dingy white waistcoat and crumpled shirt frills and the cravat twisted
about a throat like a turkey gobbler's; altogether, his appearance set
people wondering whether this outlandish ghost belonged to the
audacious race of the sons of Japhet who flutter about on the
Boulevard Italien. What devouring kind of toil could have so shriveled
him? What devouring passions had darkened that bulbous countenance,
which would have seemed outrageous as a caricature? What had he been?
Well, perhaps he had been part of the machinery of justice, a clerk in
the office to which the executioner sends in his accounts,--so much
for providing black veils for parricides, so much for sawdust, so much
for pulleys and cord for the knife. Or he might have been a receiver
at the door of a public slaughter-house, or a sub-inspector of
nuisances. Indeed, the man appeared to have been one of the beasts of
burden in our great social mill; one of those Parisian Ratons whom
their Bertrands do not even know by sight; a pivot in the obscure
machinery that disposes of misery and things unclean; one of those
men, in short, at sight of whom we are prompted to remark that, "After
all, we cannot do without them."
Stately Paris ignores the existence of these faces bleached by moral
or physical suffering; but, then, Paris is in truth an ocean that no
line can plumb. You may survey its surface and describe it; but no
matter how numerous and painstaking the toilers in this sea, there
will always be lonely and unexplored regions in its depths, caverns
unknown, flowers and pearls and monsters of the deep overlooked or
forgotten by the divers of literature. The Maison Vauquer is one of
these curious monstrosities.
Two, however, of Mme. Vauquer's boarders formed a striking contrast to
the rest. There was a sickly pallor, such as is often seen in anaemic
girls, in Mlle. Victorine Taillefer's face; and her unvarying
expression of sadness, like her embarrassed manner and pinched look,
was in keeping with the general wretchedness of the establishment in
the Rue Nueve-Saint-Genevieve, which forms a background to this
picture; but her face was young, there was youthfulness in her voice
and elasticity in her movements. This young misfortune was not unlike
a shrub, newly planted in an uncongenial soil, where its leaves have
already begun to wither. The outlines of her figure, revealed by her
dress of the simplest and cheapest materials, were also youthful.
There was the same kind of charm about her too slender form, her
faintly colored face and light-brown hair, that modern poets find in
mediaeval statuettes; and a sweet expression, a look of Christian
resignation in the dark gray eyes. She was pretty by force of
contrast; if she had been happy, she would have been charming.
Happiness is the poetry of woman, as the toilette is her tinsel. If
the delightful excitement of a ball had made the pale face glow with
color; if the delights of a luxurious life had brought the color to
the wan cheeks that were slightly hollowed already; if love had put
light into the sad eyes, then Victorine might have ranked among the
fairest; but she lacked the two things which create woman a second
time--pretty dresses and love-letters.
A book might have been made of her story. Her father was persuaded
that he had sufficient reason for declining to acknowledge her, and
allowed her a bare six hundred francs a year; he had further taken
measures to disinherit his daughter, and had converted all his real
estate into personalty, that he might leave it undivided to his son.
Victorine's mother had died broken-hearted in Mme. Couture's house;
and the latter, who was a near relation, had taken charge of the
little orphan. Unluckily, the widow of the commissary-general to the
armies of the Republic had nothing in the world but her jointure and
her widow's pension, and some day she might be obliged to leave the
helpless, inexperienced girl to the mercy of the world. The good soul,
therefore, took Victorine to mass every Sunday, and to confession once
a fortnight, thinking that, in any case, she would bring up her ward
to be devout. She was right; religion offered a solution of the
problem of the young girl's future. The poor child loved the father
who refused to acknowledge her. Once every year she tried to see him
to deliver her mother's message of forgiveness, but every year
hitherto she had knocked at that door in vain; her father was
inexorable. Her brother, her only means of communication, had not come
to see her for four years, and had sent her no assistance; yet she
prayed to God to unseal her father's eyes and to soften her brother's
heart, and no accusations mingled with her prayers. Mme. Couture and
Mme. Vauquer exhausted the vocabulary of abuse, and failed to find
words that did justice to the banker's iniquitous conduct; but while
they heaped execrations on the millionaire, Victorine's words were as
gentle as the moan of the wounded dove, and affection found expression
even in the cry drawn from her by pain.
Eugene de Rastignac was a thoroughly southern type; he had a fair
complexion, blue eyes, black hair. In his figure, manner, and his
whole bearing it was easy to see that he had either come of a noble
family, or that, from his earliest childhood, he had been gently bred.
If he was careful of his wardrobe, only taking last year's clothes
into daily wear, still upon occasion he could issue forth as a young
man of fashion. Ordinarily he wore a shabby coat and waistcoat, the
limp black cravat, untidily knotted, that students affect, trousers
that matched the rest of his costume, and boots that had been resoled.
Vautrin (the man of forty with the dyed whiskers) marked a transition
stage between these two young people and the others. He was the kind
of man that calls forth the remark: "He looks a jovial sort!" He had
broad shoulders, a well-developed chest, muscular arms, and strong
square-fisted hands; the joints of his fingers were covered with tufts
of fiery red hair. His face was furrowed by premature wrinkles; there
was a certain hardness about it in spite of his bland and insinuating
manner. His bass voice was by no means unpleasant, and was in keeping
with his boisterous laughter. He was always obliging, always in good
spirits; if anything went wrong with one of the locks, he would soon
unscrew it, take it to pieces, file it, oil and clean and set it in
order, and put it back in its place again; "I am an old hand at it,"
he used to say. Not only so, he knew all about ships, the sea, France,
foreign countries, men, business, law, great houses and prisons,--
there was nothing that he did not know. If any one complained rather
more than usual, he would offer his services at once. He had several
times lent money to Mme. Vauquer, or to the boarders; but, somehow,
those whom he obliged felt that they would sooner face death than fail
to repay him; a certain resolute look, sometimes seen on his face,
inspired fear of him, for all his appearance of easy good-nature. In
the way he spat there was an imperturbable coolness which seemed to
indicate that this was a man who would not stick at a crime to
extricate himself from a false position. His eyes, like those of a
pitiless judge, seemed to go to the very bottom of all questions, to
read all natures, all feelings and thoughts. His habit of life was
very regular; he usually went out after breakfast, returning in time
for dinner, and disappeared for the rest of the evening, letting
himself in about midnight with a latch key, a privilege that Mme.
Vauquer accorded to no other boarder. But then he was on very good
terms with the widow; he used to call her "mamma," and put his arm
round her waist, a piece of flattery perhaps not appreciated to the
full! The worthy woman might imagine this to be an easy feat; but, as
a matter of fact, no arm but Vautrin's was long enough to encircle
It was a characteristic trait of his generously to pay fifteen francs
a month for the cup of coffee with a dash of brandy in it, which he
took after dinner. Less superficial observers than young men engulfed
by the whirlpool of Parisian life, or old men, who took no interest in
anything that did not directly concern them, would not have stopped
short at the vaguely unsatisfactory impression that Vautrin made upon
them. He knew or guessed the concerns of every one about him; but none
of them had been able to penetrate his thoughts, or to discover his
occupation. He had deliberately made his apparent good-nature, his
unfailing readiness to oblige, and his high spirits into a barrier
between himself and the rest of them, but not seldom he gave glimpses
of appalling depths of character. He seemed to delight in scourging
the upper classes of society with the lash of his tongue, to take
pleasure in convicting it of inconsistency, in mocking at law and
order with some grim jest worthy of Juvenal, as if some grudge against
the social system rankled in him, as if there were some mystery
carefully hidden away in his life.
Mlle. Taillefer felt attracted, perhaps unconsciously, by the strength
of the one man, and the good looks of the other; her stolen glances
and secret thoughts were divided between them; but neither of them
seemed to take any notice of her, although some day a chance might
alter her position, and she would be a wealthy heiress. For that
matter, there was not a soul in the house who took any trouble to
investigate the various chronicles of misfortunes, real or imaginary,
related by the rest. Each one regarded the others with indifference,
tempered by suspicion; it was a natural result of their relative
positions. Practical assistance not one could give, this they all
knew, and they had long since exhausted their stock of condolence over
previous discussions of their grievances. They were in something the
same position as an elderly couple who have nothing left to say to
each other. The routine of existence kept them in contact, but they
were parts of a mechanism which wanted oil. There was not one of them
but would have passed a blind man begging in the street, not one that
felt moved to pity by a tale of misfortune, not one who did not see in
death the solution of the all-absorbing problem of misery which left
them cold to the most terrible anguish in others.
The happiest of these hapless beings was certainly Mme. Vauquer, who
reigned supreme over this hospital supported by voluntary
contributions. For her, the little garden, which silence, and cold,
and rain, and drought combined to make as dreary as an Asian steppe,
was a pleasant shaded nook; the gaunt yellow house, the musty odors of
a back shop had charms for her, and for her alone. Those cells
belonged to her. She fed those convicts condemned to penal servitude
for life, and her authority was recognized among them. Where else in
Paris would they have found wholesome food in sufficient quantity at
the prices she charged them, and rooms which they were at liberty to
make, if not exactly elegant or comfortable, at any rate clean and
healthy? If she had committed some flagrant act of injustice, the
victim would have borne it in silence.
Such a gathering contained, as might have been expected, the elements
out of which a complete society might be constructed. And, as in a
school, as in the world itself, there was among the eighteen men and
women who met round the dinner table a poor creature, despised by all
the others, condemned to be the butt of all their jokes. At the
beginning of Eugene de Rastignac's second twelvemonth, this figure
suddenly started out into bold relief against the background of human
forms and faces among which the law student was yet to live for
another two years to come. This laughing-stock was the retired
vermicelli-merchant, Father Goriot, upon whose face a painter, like
the historian, would have concentrated all the light in his picture.
How had it come about that the boarders regarded him with a half-
malignant contempt? Why did they subject the oldest among their number
to a kind of persecution, in which there was mingled some pity, but no
respect for his misfortunes? Had he brought it on himself by some
eccentricity or absurdity, which is less easily forgiven or forgotten
than more serious defects? The question strikes at the root of many a
social injustice. Perhaps it is only human nature to inflict suffering
on anything that will endure suffering, whether by reason of its
genuine humility, or indifference, or sheer helplessness. Do we not,
one and all, like to feel our strength even at the expense of some one
or of something? The poorest sample of humanity, the street arab, will
pull the bell handle at every street door in bitter weather, and
scramble up to write his name on the unsullied marble of a monument.
In the year 1813, at the age of sixty-nine or thereabouts, "Father
Goriot" had sold his business and retired--to Mme. Vauquer's boarding
house. When he first came there he had taken the rooms now occupied by
Mme. Couture; he had paid twelve hundred francs a year like a man to
whom five louis more or less was a mere trifle. For him Mme. Vauquer
had made various improvements in the three rooms destined for his use,
in consideration of a certain sum paid in advance, so it was said, for
the miserable furniture, that is to say, for some yellow cotton
curtains, a few chairs of stained wood covered with Utrecht velvet,
several wretched colored prints in frames, and wall papers that a
little suburban tavern would have disdained. Possibly it was the
careless generosity with which Father Goriot allowed himself to be
overreached at this period of his life (they called him Monsieur
Goriot very respectfully then) that gave Mme. Vauquer the meanest
opinion of his business abilities; she looked on him as an imbecile
where money was concerned.
Goriot had brought with him a considerable wardrobe, the gorgeous
outfit of a retired tradesman who denies himself nothing. Mme.
Vauquer's astonished eyes beheld no less than eighteen cambric-
fronted shirts, the splendor of their fineness being enhanced by a
pair of pins each bearing a large diamond, and connected by a short
chain, an ornament which adorned the vermicelli-maker's shirt front.
He usually wore a coat of corn-flower blue; his rotund and portly
person was still further set off by a clean white waistcoat, and a
gold chain and seals which dangled over that broad expanse. When his
hostess accused him of being "a bit of a beau," he smiled with the
vanity of a citizen whose foible is gratified. His cupboards
(/ormoires/, as he called them in the popular dialect) were filled
with a quantity of plate that he brought with him. The widow's eyes
gleamed as she obligingly helped him to unpack the soup ladles, table-
spoons, forks, cruet-stands, tureens, dishes, and breakfast services--
all of silver, which were duly arranged upon shelves, besides a few
more or less handsome pieces of plate, all weighing no inconsiderable
number of ounces; he could not bring himself to part with these gifts
that reminded him of past domestic festivals.
"This was my wife's present to me on the first anniversary of our
wedding day," he said to Mme. Vauquer, as he put away a little silver
posset dish, with two turtle-doves billing on the cover. "Poor dear!
she spent on it all the money she had saved before we were married. Do
you know, I would sooner scratch the earth with my nails for a living,
madame, than part with that. But I shall be able to take my coffee out
of it every morning for the rest of my days, thank the Lord! I am not
to be pitied. There's not much fear of my starving for some time to
Finally, Mme. Vauquer's magpie's eye had discovered and read certain
entries in the list of shareholders in the funds, and, after a rough
calculation, was disposed to credit Goriot (worthy man) with something
like ten thousand francs a year. From that day forward Mme. Vauquer
(/nee/ de Conflans), who, as a matter of fact, had seen forty-eight
summers, though she would only own to thirty-nine of them--Mme.
Vauquer had her own ideas. Though Goriot's eyes seemed to have shrunk
in their sockets, though they were weak and watery, owing to some
glandular affection which compelled him to wipe them continually, she
considered him to be a very gentlemanly and pleasant-looking man.
Moreover, the widow saw favorable indications of character in the
well-developed calves of his legs and in his square-shaped nose,
indications still further borne out by the worthy man's full-moon
countenance and look of stupid good-nature. This, in all probability,
was a strongly-build animal, whose brains mostly consisted in a
capacity for affection. His hair, worn in /ailes de pigeon/, and duly
powdered every morning by the barber from the Ecole Polytechnique,
described five points on his low forehead, and made an elegant setting
to his face. Though his manners were somewhat boorish, he was always
as neat as a new pin and he took his snuff in a lordly way, like a man
who knows that his snuff-box is always likely to be filled with
maccaboy, so that when Mme. Vauquer lay down to rest on the day of M.
Goriot's installation, her heart, like a larded partridge, sweltered
before the fire of a burning desire to shake off the shroud of Vauquer
and rise again as Goriot. She would marry again, sell her boarding-
house, give her hand to this fine flower of citizenship, become a lady
of consequence in the quarter, and ask for subscriptions for
charitable purposes; she would make little Sunday excursions to
Choisy, Soissy, Gentilly; she would have a box at the theatre when she
liked, instead of waiting for the author's tickets that one of her
boarders sometimes gave her, in July; the whole Eldorado of a little
Parisian household rose up before Mme. Vauquer in her dreams. Nobody
knew that she herself possessed forty thousand francs, accumulated sou
by sou, that was her secret; surely as far as money was concerned she
was a very tolerable match. "And in other respects, I am quite his
equal," she said to herself, turning as if to assure herself of the
charms of a form that the portly Sylvie found moulded in down feathers
For three months from that day Mme. Veuve Vauquer availed herself of
the services of M. Goriot's coiffeur, and went to some expense over
her toilette, expense justifiable on the ground that she owed it to
herself and her establishment to pay some attention to appearances
when such highly-respectable persons honored her house with their
presence. She expended no small amount of ingenuity in a sort of
weeding process of her lodgers, announcing her intention of receiving
henceforward none but people who were in every way select. If a
stranger presented himself, she let him know that M. Goriot, one of
the best known and most highly-respected merchants in Paris, had
singled out her boarding-house for a residence. She drew up a
prospectus headed MAISON VAUQUER, in which it was asserted that hers
was "/one of the oldest and most highly recommended boarding-houses in
the Latin Quarter/." "From the windows of the house," thus ran the
prospectus, "there is a charming view of the Vallee des Gobelins (so
there is--from the third floor), and a /beautiful/ garden, /extending/
down to /an avenue of lindens/ at the further end." Mention was made
of the bracing air of the place and its quiet situation.
It was this prospectus that attracted Mme. la Comtesse de
l'Ambermesnil, a widow of six and thirty, who was awaiting the final
settlement of her husband's affairs, and of another matter regarding a
pension due to her as the wife of a general who had died "on the field
of battle." On this Mme. Vauquer saw to her table, lighted a fire
daily in the sitting-room for nearly six months, and kept the promise
of her prospectus, even going to some expense to do so. And the
Countess, on her side, addressed Mme. Vauquer as "my dear," and
promised her two more boarders, the Baronne de Vaumerland and the
widow of a colonel, the late Comte de Picquoisie, who were about to
leave a boarding-house in the Marais, where the terms were higher than
at the Maison Vauquer. Both these ladies, moreover, would be very well
to do when the people at the War Office had come to an end of their
formalities. "But Government departments are always so dilatory," the
After dinner the two widows went together up to Mme. Vauquer's room,
and had a snug little chat over some cordial and various delicacies
reserved for the mistress of the house. Mme. Vauquer's ideas as to
Goriot were cordially approved by Mme. de l'Ambermesnil; it was a
capital notion, which for that matter she had guessed from the very
first; in her opinion the vermicelli maker was an excellent man.
"Ah! my dear lady, such a well-preserved man of his age, as sound as
my eyesight--a man who might make a woman happy!" said the widow.
The good-natured Countess turned to the subject of Mme. Vauquer's
dress, which was not in harmony with her projects. "You must put
yourself on a war footing," said she.
After much serious consideration the two widows went shopping
together--they purchased a hat adorned with ostrich feathers and a cap
at the Palais Royal, and the Countess took her friend to the Magasin
de la Petite Jeannette, where they chose a dress and a scarf. Thus
equipped for the campaign, the widow looked exactly like the prize
animal hung out for a sign above an a la mode beef shop; but she
herself was so much pleased with the improvement, as she considered
it, in her appearance, that she felt that she lay under some
obligation to the Countess; and, though by no means open-handed, she
begged that lady to accept a hat that cost twenty francs. The fact was
that she needed the Countess' services on the delicate mission of
sounding Goriot; the countess must sing her praises in his ears. Mme.
de l'Ambermesnil lent herself very good-naturedly to this manoeuvre,
began her operations, and succeeded in obtaining a private interview;
but the overtures that she made, with a view to securing him for
herself, were received with embarrassment, not to say a repulse. She
left him, revolted by his coarseness.
"My angel," said she to her dear friend, "you will make nothing of
that man yonder. He is absurdly suspicious, and he is a mean
curmudgeon, an idiot, a fool; you would never be happy with him."
After what had passed between M. Goriot and Mme. de l'Ambermesnil, the
Countess would no longer live under the same roof. She left the next
day, forgot to pay for six months' board, and left behind her
wardrobe, cast-off clothing to the value of five francs. Eagerly and
persistently as Mme. Vauquer sought her quondam lodger, the Comtesse
de l'Ambermesnil was never heard of again in Paris. The widow often
talked of this deplorable business, and regretted her own too
confiding disposition. As a matter of fact, she was as suspicious as a
cat; but she was like many other people, who cannot trust their own
kin and put themselves at the mercy of the next chance comer--an odd
but common phenomenon, whose causes may readily be traced to the
depths of the human heart.
Perhaps there are people who know that they have nothing more to look
for from those with whom they live; they have shown the emptiness of
their hearts to their housemates, and in their secret selves they are
conscious that they are severely judged, and that they deserve to be
judged severely; but still they feel an unconquerable craving for
praises that they do not hear, or they are consumed by a desire to
appear to possess, in the eyes of a new audience, the qualities which
they have not, hoping to win the admiration or affection of strangers
at the risk of forfeiting it again some day. Or, once more, there are
other mercenary natures who never do a kindness to a friend or a
relation simply because these have a claim upon them, while a service
done to a stranger brings its reward to self-love. Such natures feel
but little affection for those who are nearest to them; they keep
their kindness for remoter circles of acquaintance, and show most to
those who dwell on its utmost limits. Mme. Vauquer belonged to both
these essentially mean, false, and execrable classes.
"If I had been there at the time," Vautrin would say at the end of the
story, "I would have shown her up, and that misfortune would not have
befallen you. I know that kind of phiz!"
Like all narrow natures, Mme. Vauquer was wont to confine her
attention to events, and did not go very deeply into the causes that
brought them about; she likewise preferred to throw the blame of her
own mistakes on other people, so she chose to consider that the honest
vermicelli maker was responsible for her misfortune. It had opened her
eyes, so she said, with regard to him. As soon as she saw that her
blandishments were in vain, and that her outlay on her toilette was
money thrown away, she was not slow to discover the reason of his
indifference. It became plain to her at once that there was /some
other attraction/, to use her own expression. In short, it was evident
that the hope she had so fondly cherished was a baseless delusion, and
that she would "never make anything out of that man yonder," in the
Countess' forcible phrase. The Countess seemed to have been a judge of
character. Mme. Vauquer's aversion was naturally more energetic than
her friendship, for her hatred was not in proportion to her love, but
to her disappointed expectations. The human heart may find here and
there a resting-place short of the highest height of affection, but we
seldom stop in the steep, downward slope of hatred. Still, M. Goriot
was a lodger, and the widow's wounded self-love could not vent itself
in an explosion of wrath; like a monk harassed by the prior of his
convent, she was forced to stifle her sighs of disappointment, and to
gulp down her craving for revenge. Little minds find gratification for
their feelings, benevolent or otherwise, by a constant exercise of
petty ingenuity. The widow employed her woman's malice to devise a
system of covert persecution. She began by a course of retrenchment--
various luxuries which had found their way to the table appeared there
"No more gherkins, no more anchovies; they have made a fool of me!"
she said to Sylvie one morning, and they returned to the old bill of
The thrifty frugality necessary to those who mean to make their way in
the world had become an inveterate habit of life with M. Goriot. Soup,
boiled beef, and a dish of vegetables had been, and always would be,
the dinner he liked best, so Mme. Vauquer found it very difficult to
annoy a boarder whose tastes were so simple. He was proof against her
malice, and in desperation she spoke to him and of him slightingly
before the other lodgers, who began to amuse themselves at his
expense, and so gratified her desire for revenge.
Towards the end of the first year the widow's suspicions had reached
such a pitch that she began to wonder how it was that a retired
merchant with a secure income of seven or eight thousand livres, the
owner of such magnificent plate and jewelry handsome enough for a kept
mistress, should be living in her house. Why should he devote so small
a proportion of his money to his expenses? Until the first year was
nearly at an end, Goriot had dined out once or twice every week, but
these occasions came less frequently, and at last he was scarcely
absent from the dinner-table twice a month. It was hardly expected
that Mme. Vauquer should regard the increased regularity of her
boarder's habits with complacency, when those little excursions of his
had been so much to her interest. She attributed the change not so
much to a gradual diminution of fortune as to a spiteful wish to annoy
his hostess. It is one of the most detestable habits of a Liliputian
mind to credit other people with its own malignant pettiness.
Unluckily, towards the end of the second year, M. Goriot's conduct
gave some color to the idle talk about him. He asked Mme. Vauquer to
give him a room on the second floor, and to make a corresponding
reduction in her charges. Apparently, such strict economy was called
for, that he did without a fire all through the winter. Mme. Vauquer
asked to be paid in advance, an arrangement to which M. Goriot
consented, and thenceforward she spoke of him as "Father Goriot."
What had brought about this decline and fall? Conjecture was keen, but
investigation was difficult. Father Goriot was not communicative; in
the sham countess' phrase he was "a curmudgeon." Empty-headed people
who babble about their own affairs because they have nothing else to
occupy them, naturally conclude that if people say nothing of their
doings it is because their doings will not bear being talked about; so
the highly respectable merchant became a scoundrel, and the late beau
was an old rogue. Opinion fluctuated. Sometimes, according to Vautrin,
who came about this time to live in the Maison Vauquer, Father Goriot
was a man who went on 'Change and /dabbled/ (to use the sufficiently
expressive language of the Stock Exchange) in stocks and shares after
he had ruined himself by heavy speculation. Sometimes it was held that
he was one of those petty gamblers who nightly play for small stakes
until they win a few francs. A theory that he was a detective in the
employ of the Home Office found favor at one time, but Vautrin urged
that "Goriot was not sharp enough for one of that sort." There were
yet other solutions; Father Goriot was a skinflint, a shark of a
money-lender, a man who lived by selling lottery tickets. He was by
turns all the most mysterious brood of vice and shame and misery; yet,
however vile his life might be, the feeling of repulsion which he
aroused in others was not so strong that he must be banished from
their society--he paid his way. Besides, Goriot had his uses, every
one vented his spleen or sharpened his wit on him; he was pelted with
jokes and belabored with hard words. The general consensus of opinion
was in favor of a theory which seemed the most likely; this was Mme.
Vauquer's view. According to her, the man so well preserved at his
time of life, as sound as her eyesight, with whom a woman might be
very happy, was a libertine who had strange tastes. These are the
facts upon which Mme. Vauquer's slanders were based.
Early one morning, some few months after the departure of the unlucky
Countess who had managed to live for six months at the widow's
expense, Mme. Vauquer (not yet dressed) heard the rustle of a silk
dress and a young woman's light footstep on the stair; some one was
going to Goriot's room. He seemed to expect the visit, for his door
stood ajar. The portly Sylvie presently came up to tell her mistress
that a girl too pretty to be honest, "dressed like a goddess," and not
a speck of mud on her laced cashmere boots, had glided in from the
street like a snake, had found the kitchen, and asked for M. Goriot's
room. Mme. Vauquer and the cook, listening, overheard several words
affectionately spoken during the visit, which lasted for some time.
When M. Goriot went downstairs with the lady, the stout Sylvie
forthwith took her basket and followed the lover-like couple, under
pretext of going to do her marketing.
"M. Goriot must be awfully rich, all the same, madame," she reported
on her return, "to keep her in such style. Just imagine it! There was
a splendid carriage waiting at the corner of the Place de l'Estrapade,
and /she/ got into it."
While they were at dinner that evening, Mme. Vauquer went to the
window and drew the curtain, as the sun was shining into Goriot's
"You are beloved of fair ladies, M. Goriot--the sun seeks you out,"
she said, alluding to his visitor. "/Peste!/ you have good taste; she
was very pretty."
"That was my daughter," he said, with a kind of pride in his voice,
and the rest chose to consider this as the fatuity of an old man who
wishes to save appearances.
A month after this visit M. Goriot received another. The same daughter
who had come to see him that morning came again after dinner, this
time in evening dress. The boarders, in deep discussion in the dining-
room, caught a glimpse of a lovely, fair-haired woman, slender,
graceful, and much too distinguished-looking to be a daughter of
"Two of them!" cried the portly Sylvie, who did not recognize the lady
of the first visit.
A few days later, and another young lady--a tall, well-moulded
brunette, with dark hair and bright eyes--came to ask for M. Goriot.
"Three of them!" said Sylvie.
Then the second daughter, who had first come in the morning to see her
father, came shortly afterwards in the evening. She wore a ball dress,
and came in a carriage.
"Four of them!" commented Mme. Vauquer and her plump handmaid. Sylvie
saw not a trace of resemblance between this great lady and the girl in
her simple morning dress who had entered her kitchen on the occasion
of her first visit.
At that time Goriot was paying twelve hundred francs a year to his
landlady, and Mme. Vauquer saw nothing out of the common in the fact
that a rich man had four or five mistresses; nay, she thought it very
knowing of him to pass them off as his daughters. She was not at all
inclined to draw a hard-and-fast line, or to take umbrage at his
sending for them to the Maison Vauquer; yet, inasmuch as these visits
explained her boarder's indifference to her, she went so far (at the
end of the second year) as to speak of him as an "ugly old wretch."
When at length her boarder declined to nine hundred francs a year, she
asked him very insolently what he took her house to be, after meeting
one of these ladies on the stairs. Father Goriot answered that the
lady was his eldest daughter.
"So you have two or three dozen daughters, have you?" said Mme.
"I have only two," her boarder answered meekly, like a ruined man who
is broken in to all the cruel usage of misfortune.
Towards the end of the third year Father Goriot reduced his expenses
still further; he went up to the third story, and now paid forty-five
francs a month. He did without snuff, told his hairdresser that he no
longer required his services, and gave up wearing powder. When Goriot
appeared for the first time in this condition, an exclamation of
astonishment broke from his hostess at the color of his hair--a dingy
olive gray. He had grown sadder day by day under the influence of some
hidden trouble; among all the faces round the table, his was the most
woe-begone. There was no longer any doubt. Goriot was an elderly
libertine, whose eyes had only been preserved by the skill of the
physician from the malign influence of the remedies necessitated by
the state of his health. The disgusting color of his hair was a result
of his excesses and of the drugs which he had taken that he might
continue his career. The poor old man's mental and physical condition
afforded some grounds for the absurd rubbish talked about him. When
his outfit was worn out, he replaced the fine linen by calico at
fourteen sous the ell. His diamonds, his gold snuff-box, watch-chain
and trinkets, disappeared one by one. He had left off wearing the
corn-flower blue coat, and was sumptuously arrayed, summer as well as
winter, in a coarse chestnut-brown coat, a plush waistcoat, and
doeskin breeches. He grew thinner and thinner; his legs were shrunken,
his cheeks, once so puffed out by contented bourgeois prosperity, were
covered with wrinkles, and the outlines of the jawbones were
distinctly visible; there were deep furrows in his forehead. In the
fourth year of his residence in the Rue Neuve-Sainte-Genevieve he was
no longer like his former self. The hale vermicelli manufacturer,
sixty-two years of age, who had looked scarce forty, the stout,
comfortable, prosperous tradesman, with an almost bucolic air, and
such a brisk demeanor that it did you good to look at him; the man
with something boyish in his smile, had suddenly sunk into his dotage,
and had become a feeble, vacillating septuagenarian.
The keen, bright blue eyes had grown dull, and faded to a steel-gray
color; the red inflamed rims looked as though they had shed tears of
blood. He excited feelings of repulsion in some, and of pity in
others. The young medical students who came to the house noticed the
drooping of his lower lip and the conformation of the facial angle;
and, after teasing him for some time to no purpose, they declared that
cretinism was setting in.
One evening after dinner Mme. Vauquer said half banteringly to him,
"So those daughters of yours don't come to see you any more, eh?"
meaning to imply her doubts as to his paternity; but Father Goriot
shrank as if his hostess had touched him with a sword-point.
"They come sometimes," he said in a tremulous voice.
"Aha! you still see them sometimes?" cried the students. "Bravo,
The old man scarcely seemed to hear the witticisms at his expense that
followed on the words; he had relapsed into the dreamy state of mind
that these superficial observers took for senile torpor, due to his
lack of intelligence. If they had only known, they might have been
deeply interested by the problem of his condition; but few problems
were more obscure. It was easy, of course, to find out whether Goriot
had really been a vermicelli manufacturer; the amount of his fortune
was readily discoverable; but the old people, who were most
inquisitive as to his concerns, never went beyond the limits of the
Quarter, and lived in the lodging-house much as oysters cling to a
rock. As for the rest, the current of life in Paris daily awaited
them, and swept them away with it; so soon as they left the Rue Neuve-
Sainte-Genevieve, they forgot the existence of the old man, their butt
at dinner. For those narrow souls, or for careless youth, the misery
in Father Goriot's withered face and its dull apathy were quite
incompatible with wealth or any sort of intelligence. As for the
creatures whom he called his daughters, all Mme. Vauquer's boarders
were of her opinion. With the faculty for severe logic sedulously
cultivated by elderly women during long evenings of gossip till they
can always find an hypothesis to fit all circumstances, she was wont
to reason thus:
"If Father Goriot had daughters of his own as rich as those ladies who
came here seemed to be, he would not be lodging in my house, on the
third floor, at forty-five francs a month; and he would not go about
dressed like a poor man."
No objection could be raised to these inferences. So by the end of the
month of November 1819, at the time when the curtain rises on this
drama, every one in the house had come to have a very decided opinion
as to the poor old man. He had never had either wife or daughter;
excesses had reduced him to this sluggish condition; he was a sort of
human mollusk who should be classed among the capulidoe, so one of the
dinner contingent, an /employe/ at the Museum, who had a pretty wit of
his own. Poiret was an eagle, a gentleman, compared with Goriot.
Poiret would join the talk, argue, answer when he was spoken to; as a
matter of fact, his talk, arguments, and responses contributed nothing
to the conversation, for Poiret had a habit of repeating what the
others said in different words; still, he did join in the talk; he was
alive, and seemed capable of feeling; while Father Goriot (to quote
the Museum official again) was invariably at zero degrees--Reaumur.
Eugene de Rastignac had just returned to Paris in a state of mind not
unknown to young men who are conscious of unusual powers, and to those
whose faculties are so stimulated by a difficult position, that for
the time being they rise above the ordinary level.
Rastignac's first year of study for the preliminary examinations in
law had left him free to see the sights of Paris and to enjoy some of
its amusements. A student has not much time on his hands if he sets
himself to learn the repertory of every theatre, and to study the ins
and outs of the labyrinth of Paris. To know its customs; to learn the
language, and become familiar with the amusements of the capital, he
must explore its recesses, good and bad, follow the studies that
please him best, and form some idea of the treasures contained in
galleries and museums.
At this stage of his career a student grows eager and excited about
all sorts of follies that seem to him to be of immense importance. He
has his hero, his great man, a professor at the College de France,
paid to talk down to the level of his audience. He adjusts his cravat,
and strikes various attitudes for the benefit of the women in the
first galleries at the Opera-Comique. As he passes through all these
successive initiations, and breaks out of his sheath, the horizons of
life widen around him, and at length he grasps the plan of society
with the different human strata of which it is composed.
If he begins by admiring the procession of carriages on sunny
afternoons in the Champs-Elysees, he soon reaches the further stage of
envying their owners. Unconsciously, Eugene had served his
apprenticeship before he went back to Angouleme for the long vacation
after taking his degrees as bachelor of arts and bachelor of law. The
illusions of childhood had vanished, so also had the ideas he brought
with him from the provinces; he had returned thither with an
intelligence developed, with loftier ambitions, and saw things as they
were at home in the old manor house. His father and mother, his two
brothers and two sisters, with an aged aunt, whose whole fortune
consisted in annuities, lived on the little estate of Rastignac. The
whole property brought in about three thousand francs; and though the
amount varied with the season (as must always be the case in a vine-
growing district), they were obliged to spare an unvarying twelve
hundred francs out of their income for him. He saw how constantly the
poverty, which they had generously hidden from him, weighed upon them;
he could not help comparing the sisters, who had seemed so beautiful
to his boyish eyes, with women in Paris, who had realized the beauty
of his dreams. The uncertain future of the whole family depended upon
him. It did not escape his eyes that not a crumb was wasted in the
house, nor that the wine they drank was made from the second pressing;
a multitude of small things, which it is useless to speak of in detail
here, made him burn to distinguish himself, and his ambition to
succeed increased tenfold.
He meant, like all great souls, that his success should be owing
entirely to his merits; but his was pre-eminently a southern
temperament, the execution of his plans was sure to be marred by the
vertigo that seizes on youth when youth sees itself alone in a wide
sea, uncertain how to spend its energies, whither to steer its course,
how to adapt its sails to the winds. At first he determined to fling
himself heart and soul into his work, but he was diverted from this
purpose by the need of society and connections; then he saw how great
an influence women exert in social life, and suddenly made up his mind
to go out into this world to seek a protectress there. Surely a clever
and high-spirited young man, whose wit and courage were set off to
advantage by a graceful figure and the vigorous kind of beauty that
readily strikes a woman's imagination, need not despair of finding a
protectress. These ideas occurred to him in his country walks with his
sisters, whom he had once joined so gaily. The girls thought him very
His aunt, Mme. de Marcillac, had been presented at court, and had
moved among the brightest heights of that lofty region. Suddenly the
young man's ambition discerned in those recollections of hers, which
had been like nursery fairy tales to her nephews and nieces, the
elements of a social success at least as important as the success
which he had achieved at the Ecole de Droit. He began to ask his aunt
about those relations; some of the old ties might still hold good.
After much shaking of the branches of the family tree, the old lady
came to the conclusion that of all persons who could be useful to her
nephew among the selfish genus of rich relations, the Vicomtesse de
Beauseant was the least likely to refuse. To this lady, therefore, she
wrote in the old-fashioned style, recommending Eugene to her; pointing
out to her nephew that if he succeeded in pleasing Mme. de Beauseant,
the Vicomtesse would introduce him to other relations. A few days
after his return to Paris, therefore, Rastignac sent his aunt's letter
to Mme. de Beauseant. The Vicomtesse replied by an invitation to a
ball for the following evening. This was the position of affairs at
the Maison Vauquer at the end of November 1819.
A few days later, after Mme. de Beauseant's ball, Eugene came in at
two o'clock in the morning. The persevering student meant to make up
for the lost time by working until daylight. It was the first time
that he had attempted to spend the night in this way in that silent
quarter. The spell of a factitious energy was upon him; he had beheld
the pomp and splendor of the world. He had not dined at the Maison
Vauquer; the boarders probably would think that he would walk home at
daybreak from the dance, as he had done sometimes on former occasions,
after a fete at the Prado, or a ball at the Odeon, splashing his silk
stockings thereby, and ruining his pumps.
It so happened that Christophe took a look into the street before
drawing the bolts of the door; and Rastignac, coming in at that
moment, could go up to his room without making any noise, followed by
Christophe, who made a great deal. Eugene exchanged his dress suit for
a shabby overcoat and slippers, kindled a fire with some blocks of
patent fuel, and prepared for his night's work in such a sort that the
faint sounds he made were drowned by Christophe's heavy tramp on the
Eugene sat absorbed in thought for a few moments before plunging into
his law books. He had just become aware of the fact that the
Vicomtesse de Beauseant was one of the queens of fashion, that her
house was thought to be the pleasantest in the Faubourg Saint-Germain.
And not only so, she was, by right of her fortune, and the name she
bore, one of the most conspicuous figures in that aristocratic world.
Thanks to the aunt, thanks to Mme. de Marcillac's letter of
introduction, the poor student had been kindly received in that house
before he knew the extent of the favor thus shown to him. It was
almost like a patent of nobility to be admitted to those gilded
salons; he had appeared in the most exclusive circle in Paris, and now
all doors were open for him. Eugene had been dazzled at first by the
brilliant assembly, and had scarcely exchanged a few words with the
Vicomtesse; he had been content to single out a goddess among this
throng of Parisian divinities, one of those women who are sure to
attract a young man's fancy.
The Comtesse Anastasie de Restaud was tall and gracefully made; she
had one of the prettiest figures in Paris. Imagine a pair of great
dark eyes, a magnificently moulded hand, a shapely foot. There was a
fiery energy in her movements; the Marquis de Ronquerolles had called
her "a thoroughbred," "a pure pedigree," these figures of speech have
replaced the "heavenly angel" and Ossianic nomenclature; the old
mythology of love is extinct, doomed to perish by modern dandyism. But
for Rastignac, Mme. Anastasie de Restaud was the woman for whom he had
sighed. He had contrived to write his name twice upon the list of
partners upon her fan, and had snatched a few words with her during
the first quadrille.
"Where shall I meet you again, Madame?" he asked abruptly, and the
tones of his voice were full of the vehement energy that women like so
"Oh, everywhere!" said she, "in the Bois, at the Bouffons, in my own
With the impetuosity of his adventurous southern temper, he did all he
could to cultivate an acquaintance with this lovely countess, making
the best of his opportunities in the quadrille and during a waltz that
she gave him. When he told her that he was a cousin of Mme. de
Beauseant's, the Countess, whom he took for a great lady, asked him to
call at her house, and after her parting smile, Rastignac felt
convinced that he must make this visit. He was so lucky as to light
upon some one who did not laugh at his ignorance, a fatal defect among
the gilded and insolent youth of that period; the coterie of
Maulincourts, Maximes de Trailles, de Marsays, Ronquerolles, Ajuda-
Pintos, and Vandenesses who shone there in all the glory of coxcombry
among the best-dressed women of fashion in Paris--Lady Brandon, the
Duchesse de Langeais, the Comtesse de Kergarouet, Mme. de Serizy, the
Duchesse de Carigliano, the Comtesse Ferraud, Mme. de Lanty, the
Marquise d'Aiglemont, Mme. Firmiani, the Marquise de Listomere and the
Marquise d'Espard, the Duchesse de Maufrigneuse and the Grandlieus.
Luckily, therefore, for him, the novice happened upon the Marquis de
Montriveau, the lover of the Duchesse de Langeais, a general as simple
as a child; from him Rastignac learned that the Comtesse lived in the
Rue du Helder.
Ah, what it is to be young, eager to see the world, greedily on the
watch for any chance that brings you nearer the woman of your dreams,
and behold two houses open their doors to you! To set foot in the
Vicomtesse de Beauseant's house in the Faubourg Saint-Germain; to fall
on your knees before a Comtesse de Restaud in the Chaussee d'Antin; to
look at one glance across a vista of Paris drawing-rooms, conscious
that, possessing sufficient good looks, you may hope to find aid and
protection there in a feminine heart! To feel ambitious enough to
spurn the tight-rope on which you must walk with the steady head of an
acrobat for whom a fall is impossible, and to find in a charming woman
the best of all balancing poles.
He sat there with his thoughts for a while, Law on the one hand, and
Poverty on the other, beholding a radiant vision of a woman rise above
the dull, smouldering fire. Who would not have paused and questioned
the future as Eugene was doing? who would not have pictured it full of
success? His wondering thoughts took wings; he was transported out of
the present into that blissful future; he was sitting by Mme. de
Restaud's side, when a sort of sigh, like the grunt of an overburdened
St. Joseph, broke the silence of the night. It vibrated through the
student, who took the sound for a death groan. He opened his door
noiselessly, went out upon the landing, and saw a thin streak of light
under Father Goriot's door. Eugene feared that his neighbor had been
taken ill; he went over and looked through the keyhole; the old man
was busily engaged in an occupation so singular and so suspicious that
Rastignac thought he was only doing a piece of necessary service to
society to watch the self-styled vermicelli maker's nocturnal
The table was upturned, and Goriot had doubtless in some way secured a
silver plate and cup to the bar before knotting a thick rope round
them; he was pulling at this rope with such enormous force that they
were being crushed and twisted out of shape; to all appearance he
meant to convert the richly wrought metal into ingots.
"/Peste!/ what a man!" said Rastignac, as he watched Goriot's muscular
arms; there was not a sound in the room while the old man, with the
aid of the rope, was kneading the silver like dough. "Was he then,
indeed, a thief, or a receiver of stolen goods, who affected
imbecility and decrepitude, and lived like a beggar that he might
carry on his pursuits the more securely?" Eugene stood for a moment
revolving these questions, then he looked again through the keyhole.
Father Goriot had unwound his coil of rope; he had covered the table
with a blanket, and was now employed in rolling the flattened mass of
silver into a bar, an operation which he performed with marvelous
"Why, he must be as strong as Augustus, King of Poland!" said Eugene
to himself when the bar was nearly finished.
Father Goriot looked sadly at his handiwork, tears fell from his eyes,
he blew out the dip which had served him for a light while he
manipulated the silver, and Eugene heard him sigh as he lay down
"He is mad," thought the student.
"/Poor child!/" Father Goriot said aloud. Rastignac, hearing those
words, concluded to keep silence; he would not hastily condemn his
neighbor. He was just in the doorway of his room when a strange sound
from the staircase below reached his ears; it might have been made by
two men coming up in list slippers. Eugene listened; two men there
certainly were, he could hear their breathing. Yet there had been no
sound of opening the street door, no footsteps in the passage.
Suddenly, too, he saw a faint gleam of light on the second story; it
came from M. Vautrin's room.
"There are a good many mysteries here for a lodging-house!" he said to
He went part of the way downstairs and listened again. The rattle of
gold reached his ears. In another moment the light was put out, and
again he distinctly heard the breathing of two men, but no sound of a
door being opened or shut. The two men went downstairs, the faint
sounds growing fainter as they went.
"Who is there?" cried Mme. Vauquer out of her bedroom window.
"I, Mme. Vauquer," answered Vautrin's deep bass voice. "I am coming
"That is odd! Christophe drew the bolts," said Eugene, going back to
his room. "You have to sit up at night, it seems, if you really mean
to know all that is going on about you in Paris."
These incidents turned his thought from his ambitious dreams; he
betook himself to his work, but his thought wandered back to Father
Goriot's suspicious occupation; Mme. de Restaud's face swam again and
again before his eyes like a vision of a brilliant future; and at last
he lay down and slept with clenched fists. When a young man makes up
his mind that he will work all night, the chances are that seven times
out of ten he will sleep till morning. Such vigils do not begin before
we are turned twenty.
The next morning Paris was wrapped in one of the dense fogs that throw
the most punctual people out in their calculations as to the time;
even the most business-like folk fail to keep their appointments in
such weather, and ordinary mortals wake up at noon and fancy it is
eight o'clock. On this morning it was half-past nine, and Mme. Vauquer
still lay abed. Christophe was late, Sylvie was late, but the two sat
comfortably taking their coffee as usual. It was Sylvie's custom to
take the cream off the milk destined for the boarders' breakfast for
her own, and to boil the remainder for some time, so that madame
should not discover this illegal exaction.
"Sylvie," said Christophe, as he dipped a piece of toast into the
coffee, "M. Vautrin, who is not such a bad sort, all the same, had two
people come to see him again last night. If madame says anything, mind
you say nothing about it."
"Has he given you something?"
"He gave me a five-franc piece this month, which is as good as saying,
'Hold your tongue.' "
"Except him and Mme. Couture, who doesn't look twice at every penny,
there's no one in the house that doesn't try to get back with the left
hand all that they give with the right at New Year," said Sylvie.
"And, after all," said Christophe, "what do they give you? A miserable
five-franc piece. There is Father Goriot, who has cleaned his shoes
himself these two years past. There is that old beggar Poiret, who
goes without blacking altogether; he would sooner drink it than put it
on his boots. Then there is that whipper-snapper of a student, who
gives me a couple of francs. Two francs will not pay for my brushes,
and he sells his old clothes, and gets more for them than they are
worth. Oh! they're a shabby lot!"
"Pooh!" said Sylvie, sipping her coffee, "our places are the best in
the Quarter, that I know. But about that great big chap Vautrin,
Christophe; has any one told you anything about him?"
"Yes. I met a gentleman in the street a few days ago; he said to me,
'There's a gentleman in your place, isn't there? a tall man that dyes
his whiskers?' I told him, 'No, sir; they aren't dyed. A gay fellow
like him hasn't the time to do it.' And when I told M. Vautrin about
it afterwards, he said, 'Quite right, my boy. That is the way to
answer them. There is nothing more unpleasant than to have your little
weaknesses known; it might spoil many a match.' "
"Well, and for my part," said Sylvie, "a man tried to humbug me at the
market wanting to know if I had seen him put on his shirt. Such bosh!
There," she cried, interrupting herself, "that's a quarter to ten
striking at the Val-de-Grace, and not a soul stirring!"
"Pooh! they are all gone out. Mme. Couture and the girl went out at
eight o'clock to take the wafer at Saint-Etienne. Father Goriot
started off somewhere with a parcel, and the student won't be back
from his lecture till ten o'clock. I saw them go while I was sweeping
the stairs; Father Goriot knocked up against me, and his parcel was as
hard as iron. What is the old fellow up to, I wonder? He is as good as
a plaything for the rest of them; they can never let him alone; but he
is a good man, all the same, and worth more than all of them put
together. He doesn't give you much himself, but he sometimes sends you
with a message to ladies who fork out famous tips; they are dressed
"His daughters, as he calls them, eh? There are a dozen of them."
"I have never been to more than two--the two who came here."
"There is madame moving overhead; I shall have to go, or she will
raise a fine racket. Just keep an eye on the milk, Christophe; don't
let the cat get at it."
Sylvie went up to her mistress' room.
"Sylvie! How is this? It's nearly ten o'clock, and you let me sleep
like a dormouse! Such a thing has never happened before."
"It's the fog; it is that thick, you could cut it with a knife."
"But how about breakfast?"
"Bah! the boarders are possessed, I'm sure. They all cleared out
before there was a wink of daylight."
"Do speak properly, Sylvie," Mme. Vauquer retorted; "say a blink of
"Ah, well, madame, whichever you please. Anyhow, you can have
breakfast at ten o'clock. La Michonnette and Poiret have neither of
them stirred. There are only those two upstairs, and they are sleeping
like the logs they are."
"But, Sylvie, you put their names together as if----"
"As if what?" said Sylvie, bursting into a guffaw. "The two of them
make a pair."
"It is a strange thing, isn't it, Sylvie, how M. Vautrin got in last
night after Christophe had bolted the door?"
"Not at all, madame. Christophe heard M. Vautrin, and went down and
undid the door. And here are you imagining that----?"
"Give me my bodice, and be quick and get breakfast ready. Dish up the
rest of the mutton with the potatoes, and you can put the stewed pears
on the table, those at five a penny."
A few moments later Mme. Vauquer came down, just in time to see the
cat knock down a plate that covered a bowl of milk, and begin to lap
in all haste.
"Mistigris!" she cried.
The cat fled, but promptly returned to rub against her ankles.
"Oh! yes, you can wheedle, you old hypocrite!" she said. "Sylvie!
"Yes, madame; what is it?"
"Just see what the cat has done!"
"It is all that stupid Christophe's fault. I told him to stop and lay
the table. What has become of him? Don't you worry, madame; Father
Goriot shall have it. I will fill it up with water, and he won't know
the difference; he never notices anything, not even what he eats."
"I wonder where the old heathen can have gone?" said Mme. Vauquer,
setting the plates round the table.
"Who knows? He is up to all sorts of tricks."
"I have overslept myself," said Mme. Vauquer.
"But madame looks as fresh as a rose, all the same."
The door bell rang at that moment, and Vautrin came through the
sitting-room, singing loudly:
" 'Tis the same old story everywhere,
A roving heart and a roving glance . .
"Oh! Mamma Vauquer! good-morning!" he cried at the sight of his
hostess, and he put his arm gaily round her waist.
"There! have done----"
" 'Impertinence!' Say it!" he answered. "Come, say it! Now, isn't that
what you really mean? Stop a bit, I will help you to set the table.
Ah! I am a nice man, am I not?
"For the locks of brown and the golden hair
A sighing lover . . .
"Oh! I have just seen something so funny----
. . . . led by chance."
"What?" asked the widow.
"Father Goriot in the goldsmith's shop in the Rue Dauphine at half-
past eight this morning. They buy old spoons and forks and gold lace
there, and Goriot sold a piece of silver plate for a good round sum.
It had been twisted out of shape very neatly for a man that's not used
to the trade."
"Really? You don't say so?"
"Yes. One of my friends is expatriating himself; I had been to see him
off on board the Royal Mail steamer, and was coming back here. I
waited after that to see what Father Goriot would do; it is a comical
affair. He came back to this quarter of the world, to the Rue des
Gres, and went into a money-lender's house; everybody knows him,
Gobseck, a stuck-up rascal, that would make dominoes out of his
father's bones, a Turk, a heathen, an old Jew, a Greek; it would be a
difficult matter to rob /him/, for he puts all his coin into the
"Then what was Father Goriot doing there?"
"Doing?" said Vautrin. "Nothing; he was bent on his own undoing. He is
a simpleton, stupid enough to ruin himself by running after----"
"There he is!" cried Sylvie.
"Christophe," cried Father Goriot's voice, "come upstairs with me."
Christophe went up, and shortly afterwards came down again.
"Where are you going?" Mme. Vauquer asked of her servant.
"Out on an errand for M. Goriot."
"What may that be?" said Vautrin, pouncing on a letter in Christophe's
hand. "/Mme. la Comtesse Anastasie de Restaud/," he read. "Where are
you going with it?" he added, as he gave the letter back to
"To the Rue du Helder. I have orders to give this into her hands
"What is there inside it?" said Vautrin, holding the letter up to the
light. "A banknote? No." He peered into the envelope. "A receipted
account!" he cried. "My word! 'tis a gallant old dotard. Off with you,
old chap," he said, bringing down a hand on Christophe's head, and
spinning the man round like a thimble; "you will have a famous tip."
By this time the table was set. Sylvie was boiling the milk, Mme.
Vauquer was lighting a fire in the stove with some assistance from
Vautrin, who kept humming to himself:
"The same old story everywhere,
A roving heart and a roving glance."
When everything was ready, Mme. Couture and Mlle. Taillefer came in.
"Where have you been this morning, fair lady?" said Mme. Vauquer,
turning to Mme. Couture.
"We have just been to say our prayers at Saint-Etienne du Mont. To-day
is the day when we must go to see M. Taillefer. Poor little thing! She
is trembling like a leaf," Mme. Couture went on, as she seated herself
before the fire and held the steaming soles of her boots to the blaze.
"Warm yourself, Victorine," said Mme. Vauquer.
"It is quite right and proper, mademoiselle, to pray to Heaven to
soften your father's heart," said Vautrin, as he drew a chair nearer
to the orphan girl; "but that is not enough. What you want is a friend
who will give the monster a piece of his mind; a barbarian that has
three millions (so they say), and will not give you a dowry; and a
pretty girl needs a dowry nowadays."
"Poor child!" said Mme. Vauquer. "Never mind, my pet, your wretch of a
father is going just the way to bring trouble upon himself."
Victorine's eyes filled with tears at the words, and the widow checked
herself at a sign from Mme. Couture.
"If we could only see him!" said the Commissary-General's widow; "if I
could speak to him myself and give him his wife's last letter! I have
never dared to run the risk of sending it by post; he knew my
" 'Oh woman, persecuted and injured innocent!' " exclaimed Vautrin,
breaking in upon her. "So that is how you are, is it? In a few days'
time I will look into your affairs, and it will be all right, you
"Oh! sir," said Victorine, with a tearful but eager glance at Vautrin,
who showed no sign of being touched by it, "if you know of any way of
communicating with my father, please be sure and tell him that his
affection and my mother's honor are more to me than all the money in
the world. If you can induce him to relent a little towards me, I will
pray to God for you. You may be sure of my gratitude----"
"/The same old story everywhere/," sang Vautrin, with a satirical
intonation. At this juncture, Goriot, Mlle. Michonneau, and Poiret
came downstairs together; possibly the scent of the gravy which Sylvie
was making to serve with the mutton had announced breakfast. The seven
people thus assembled bade each other good-morning, and took their
places at the table; the clock struck ten, and the student's footstep
was heard outside.
"Ah! here you are, M. Eugene," said Sylvie; "every one is breakfasting
at home to-day."
The student exchanged greetings with the lodgers, and sat down beside
"I have just met with a queer adventure," he said, as he helped
himself abundantly to the mutton, and cut a slice of bread, which Mme.
Vauquer's eyes gauged as usual.
"An adventure?" queried Poiret.
"Well, and what is there to astonish you in that, old boy?" Vautrin
asked of Poiret. "M. Eugene is cut out for that kind of thing."
Mlle. Taillefer stole a timid glance at the young student.
"Tell us about your adventure!" demanded M. Vautrin.
"Yesterday evening I went to a ball given by a cousin of mine, the
Vicomtesse de Beauseant. She has a magnificent house; the rooms are
hung with silk--in short, it was a splendid affair, and I was as happy
as a king---"
"Fisher," put in Vautrin, interrupting.
"What do you mean, sir?" said Eugene sharply.
"I said 'fisher,' because kingfishers see a good deal more fun than
"Quite true; I would much rather be the little careless bird than a
king," said Poiret the ditto-ist, "because----"
"In fact"--the law-student cut him short--"I danced with one of the
handsomest women in the room, a charming countess, the most exquisite
creature I have ever seen. There was peach blossom in her hair, and
she had the loveliest bouquet of flowers--real flowers, that scented
the air----but there! it is no use trying to describe a woman glowing
with the dance. You ought to have seen her! Well, and this morning I
met this divine countess about nine o'clock, on foot in the Rue de
Gres. Oh! how my heart beat! I began to think----"
"That she was coming here," said Vautrin, with a keen look at the
student. "I expect that she was going to call on old Gobseck, a money-
lender. If ever you explore a Parisian woman's heart, you will find
the money-lender first, and the lover afterwards. Your countess is
called Anastasie de Restaud, and she lives in the Rue du Helder."
The student stared hard at Vautrin. Father Goriot raised his head at
the words, and gave the two speakers a glance so full of intelligence
and uneasiness that the lodgers beheld him with astonishment.
"Then Christophe was too late, and she must have gone to him!" cried
Goriot, with anguish in his voice.
"It is just as I guessed," said Vautrin, leaning over to whisper in
Mme. Vauquer's ear.
Goriot went on with his breakfast, but seemed unconscious of what he
was doing. He had never looked more stupid nor more taken up with his
own thoughts than he did at that moment.
"Who the devil could have told you her name, M. Vautrin?" asked
"Aha! there you are!" answered Vautrin. "Old Father Goriot there knew
it quite well! and why should I not know it too?"
"M. Goriot?" the student cried.
"What is it?" asked the old man. "So she was very beautiful, was she,
"Mme. de Restaud."
"Look at the old wretch," said Mme. Vauquer, speaking to Vautrin; "how
his eyes light up!"
"Then does he really keep her?" said Mlle. Michonneau, in a whisper to
"Oh! yes, she was tremendously pretty," Eugene answered. Father Goriot
watched him with eager eyes. "If Mme. de Beauseant had not been there,
my divine countess would have been the queen of the ball; none of the
younger men had eyes for any one else. I was the twelfth on her list,
and she danced every quadrille. The other women were furious. She must
have enjoyed herself, if ever creature did! It is a true saying that
there is no more beautiful sight than a frigate in full sail, a
galloping horse, or a woman dancing."
"So the wheel turns," said Vautrin; "yesterday night at a duchess'
ball, this morning in a money-lender's office, on the lowest rung of
the ladder--just like a Parisienne! If their husbands cannot afford to
pay for their frantic extravagance, they will sell themselves. Or if
they cannot do that, they will tear out their mothers' hearts to find
something to pay for their splendor. They will turn the world upside
down. Just a Parisienne through and through!"
Father Goriot's face, which had shone at the student's words like the
sun on a bright day, clouded over all at once at this cruel speech of
"Well," said Mme. Vauquer, "but where is your adventure? Did you speak
to her? Did you ask her if she wanted to study law?"
"She did not see me," said Eugene. "But only think of meeting one of
the prettiest women in Paris in the Rue des Gres at nine o'clock! She
could not have reached home after the ball till two o'clock this
morning. Wasn't it queer? There is no place like Paris for this sort
"Pshaw! much funnier things than /that/ happen here!" exclaimed
Mlle. Taillefer had scarcely heeded the talk, she was so absorbed by
the thought of the new attempt that she was about to make. Mme.
Couture made a sign that it was time to go upstairs and dress; the two
ladies went out, and Father Goriot followed their example.
"Well, did you see?" said Mme. Vauquer, addressing Vautrin and the
rest of the circle. "He is ruining himself for those women, that is
"Nothing will ever make me believe that that beautiful Comtesse de
Restaud is anything to Father Goriot," cried the student.
"Well, and if you don't," broke in Vautrin, "we are not set on
convincing you. You are too young to know Paris thoroughly yet; later
on you will find out that there are what we call men with a
Mlle. Michonneau gave Vautrin a quick glance at these words. They
seemed to be like the sound of a trumpet to a trooper's horse. "Aha!"
said Vautrin, stopping in his speech to give her a searching glance,
"so we have had our little experiences, have we?"
The old maid lowered her eyes like a nun who sees a statue.
"Well," he went on, "when folk of that kind get a notion into their
heads, they cannot drop it. They must drink the water from some
particular spring--it is stagnant as often as not; but they will sell
their wives and families, they will sell their own souls to the devil
to get it. For some this spring is play, or the stock-exchange, or
music, or a collection of pictures or insects; for others it is some
woman who can give them the dainties they like. You might offer these
last all the women on earth--they would turn up their noses; they will
have the only one who can gratify their passion. It often happens that
the woman does not care for them at all, and treats them cruelly; they
buy their morsels of satisfaction very dear; but no matter, the fools
are never tired of it; they will take their last blanket to the
pawnbroker's to give their last five-franc piece to her. Father Goriot
here is one of that sort. He is discreet, so the Countess exploits
him--just the way of the gay world. The poor old fellow thinks of her
and of nothing else. In all other respects you see he is a stupid
animal; but get him on that subject, and his eyes sparkle like
diamonds. That secret is not difficult to guess. He took some plate
himself this morning to the melting-pot, and I saw him at Daddy
Gobseck's in the Rue des Gres. And now, mark what follows--he came
back here, and gave a letter for the Comtesse de Restaud to that
noodle of a Christophe, who showed us the address; there was a
receipted bill inside it. It is clear that it was an urgent matter if
the Countess also went herself to the old money lender. Father Goriot
has financed her handsomely. There is no need to tack a tale together;
the thing is self-evident. So that shows you, sir student, that all
the time your Countess was smiling, dancing, flirting, swaying her
peach-flower crowned head, with her gown gathered into her hand, her
slippers were pinching her, as they say; she was thinking of her
protested bills, or her lover's protested bills."
"You have made me wild to know the truth," cried Eugene; "I will go to
call on Mme. de Restaud to-morrow."
"Yes," echoed Poiret; "you must go and call on Mme. de Restaud."
"And perhaps you will find Father Goriot there, who will take payment
for the assistance he politely rendered."
Eugene looked disgusted. "Why, then, this Paris of yours is a slough."
"And an uncommonly queer slough, too," replied Vautrin. "The mud
splashes you as you drive through it in your carriage--you are a
respectable person; you go afoot and are splashed--you are a
scoundrel. You are so unlucky as to walk off with something or other
belonging to somebody else, and they exhibit you as a curiosity in the
Place du Palais-de-Justice; you steal a million, and you are pointed
out in every salon as a model of virtue. And you pay thirty millions
for the police and the courts of justice, for the maintenance of law
and order! A pretty slate of things it is!"
"What," cried Mme. Vauquer, "has Father Goriot really melted down his
"There were two turtle-doves on the lid, were there not?" asked
"Yes, that there were."
"Then, was he fond of it?" said Eugene. "He cried while he was
breaking up the cup and plate. I happened to see him by accident."
"It was dear to him as his own life," answered the widow.
"There! you see how infatuated the old fellow is!" cried Vautrin. "The
woman yonder can coax the soul out of him"
The student went up to his room. Vautrin went out, and a few moments
later Mme. Couture and Victorine drove away in a cab which Sylvie had
called for them. Poiret gave his arm to Mlle. Michonneau, and they
went together to spend the two sunniest hours of the day in the Jardin
"Well, those two are as good as married," was the portly Sylvie's
comment. "They are going out together to-day for the first time. They
are such a couple of dry sticks that if they happen to strike against
each other they will draw sparks like flint and steel."
"Keep clear of Mlle. Michonneau's shawl, then, said Mme. Vauquer,
laughing; "it would flare up like tinder."
At four o'clock that evening, when Goriot came in, he saw, by the
light of two smoky lamps, that Victorine's eyes were red. Mme. Vauquer
was listening to the history of the visit made that morning to M.
Taillefer; it had been made in vain. Taillefer was tired of the annual
application made by his daughter and her elderly friend; he gave them
a personal interview in order to arrive at an understanding with them.
"My dear lady," said Mme. Couture, addressing Mme. Vauquer, "just
imagine it; he did not even ask Victorine to sit down, she was
standing the whole time. He said to me quite coolly, without putting
himself in a passion, that we might spare ourselves the trouble of
going there; that the young lady (he would not call her his daughter)
was injuring her cause by importuning him (/importuning!/ once a year,
the wretch!); that as Victorine's mother had nothing when he married
her, Victorine ought not to expect anything from him; in fact, he said
the most cruel things, that made the poor child burst out crying. The
little thing threw herself at her father's feet and spoke up bravely;
she said that she only persevered in her visits for her mother's sake;
that she would obey him without a murmur, but that she begged him to
read her poor dead mother's farewell letter. She took it up and gave
it to him, saying the most beautiful things in the world, most
beautifully expressed; I do not know where she learned them; God must
have put them into her head, for the poor child was inspired to speak
so nicely that it made me cry like a fool to hear her talk. And what
do you think the monster was doing all the time? Cutting his nails! He
took the letter that poor Mme. Taillefer had soaked with tears, and
flung it on to the chimney-piece. 'That is all right,' he said. He
held out his hands to raise his daughter, but she covered them with
kisses, and he drew them away again. Scandalous, isn't it? And his
great booby of a son came in and took no notice of his sister."
"What inhuman wretches they must be!" said Father Goriot.
"And then they both went out of the room," Mme. Couture went on,
without heeding the worthy vermicelli maker's exclamation; "father and
son bowed to me, and asked me to excuse them on account of urgent
business! That is the history of our call. Well, he has seen his
daughter at any rate. How he can refuse to acknowledge her I cannot
think, for they are as alike as two peas."
The boarders dropped in one after another, interchanging greetings and
empty jokes that certain classes of Parisians regard as humorous and
witty. Dulness is their prevailing ingredient, and the whole point
consists in mispronouncing a word or a gesture. This kind of argot is
always changing. The essence of the jest consists in some catchword
suggested by a political event, an incident in the police courts, a
street song, or a bit of burlesque at some theatre, and forgotten in a
month. Anything and everything serves to keep up a game of battledore
and shuttlecock with words and ideas. The diorama, a recent invention,
which carried an optical illusion a degree further than panoramas, had
given rise to a mania among art students for ending every word with
RAMA. The Maison Vauquer had caught the infection from a young artist
among the boarders.
"Well, Monsieur-r-r Poiret," said the /employe/ from the Museum, "how
is your health-orama?" Then, without waiting for an answer, he turned
to Mme. Couture and Victorine with a "Ladies, you seem melancholy."
"Is dinner ready?" cried Horace Bianchon, a medical student, and a
friend of Rastignac's; "my stomach is sinking /usque ad talones/."
"There is an uncommon /frozerama/ outside," said Vautrin. "Make room
there, Father Goriot! Confound it, your foot covers the whole front of
"Illustrious M. Vautrin," put in Bianchon, "why do you say
/frozerama/? It is incorrect; it should be /frozenrama/."
"No, it shouldn't," said the official from the Museum; "/frozerama/ is
right by the same rule that you say 'My feet are /froze/.' "
"Here is his Excellency the Marquis de Rastignac, Doctor of the Law of
Contraries," cried Bianchon, seizing Eugene by the throat, and almost
"Hallo there! hallo!"
Mlle. Michonneau came noiselessly in, bowed to the rest of the party,
and took her place beside the three women without saying a word.
"That old bat always makes me shudder," said Bianchon in a low voice,
indicating Mlle. Michonneau to Vautrin. "I have studied Gall's system,
and I am sure she has the bump of Judas."
"Then you have seen a case before?" said Vautrin.
"Who has not?" answered Bianchon. "Upon my word, that ghastly old maid
looks just like one of the long worms that will gnaw a beam through,
give them time enough."
"That is the way, young man," returned he of the forty years and the
"The rose has lived the life of a rose--
A morning's space."
"Aha! here is a magnificent /soupe-au-rama/," cried Poiret as
Christophe came in bearing the soup with cautious heed.
"I beg your pardon, sir," said Mme. Vauquer; "it is /soupe aux
All the young men roared with laughter.
"Had you there, Poiret!"
"Poir-r-r-rette! she had you there!"
"Score two points to Mamma Vauquer," said Vautrin.
"Did any of you notice the fog this morning?" asked the official.
"It was a frantic fog," said Bianchon, "a fog unparalleled, doleful,
melancholy, sea-green, asthmatical--a Goriot of a fog!"
"A Goriorama," said the art student, "because you couldn't see a thing
"Hey! Milord Gaoriotte, they air talking about yoo-o-ou!"
Father Goriot, seated at the lower end of the table, close to the door
through which the servant entered, raised his face; he had smelt at a
scrap of bread that lay under his table napkin, an old trick acquired
in his commercial capacity, that still showed itself at times.
"Well," Madame Vauquer cried in sharp tones, that rang above the
rattle of spoons and plates and the sound of other voices, "and is
there anything the matter with the bread?"
"Nothing whatever, madame," he answered; "on the contrary, it is made
of the best quality of corn; flour from Etampes."
"How could you tell?" asked Eugene.
"By the color, by the flavor."
"You knew the flavor by the smell, I suppose," said Mme. Vauquer. "You
have grown so economical, you will find out how to live on the smell
of cooking at last."
"Take out a patent for it, then," cried the Museum official; "you
would make a handsome fortune."
"Never mind him," said the artist; "he does that sort of thing to
delude us into thinking that he was a vermicelli maker."
"Your nose is a corn-sampler, it appears?" inquired the official.
"Corn /what/?" asked Bianchon.
The eight responses came like a rolling fire from every part of the
room, and the laughter that followed was the more uproarious because
poor Father Goriot stared at the others with a puzzled look, like a
foreigner trying to catch the meaning of words in a language which he
does not understand.
"Corn? . . ." he said, turning to Vautrin, his next neighbor.
"Corn on your foot, old man!" said Vautrin, and he drove Father
Goriot's cap down over his eyes by a blow on the crown.
The poor old man thus suddenly attacked was for a moment too
bewildered to do anything. Christophe carried off his plate, thinking
that he had finished his soup, so that when Goriot had pushed back his
cap from his eyes his spoon encountered the table. Every one burst out
laughing. "You are a disagreeable joker, sir," said the old man, "and
if you take any further liberties with me----"
"Well, what then, old boy?" Vautrin interrupted.
"Well, then, you shall pay dearly for it some day----"
"Down below, eh?" said the artist, "in the little dark corner where