Part 3 out of 6
order, you would have nothing to fear, but it is different when you
have the hot blood of a lion and are ready to get into a score of
scrapes every day of your life. This is the ghastliest form of torture
known in this inferno of God's making, and you will give in to it. Or
suppose that you are a good boy, drink nothing stronger than milk, and
bemoan your hard lot; you, with your generous nature, will endure
hardships that would drive a dog mad, and make a start, after long
waiting, as deputy to some rascal or other in a hole of a place where
the Government will fling you a thousand francs a year like the scraps
that are thrown to the butcher's dog. Bark at thieves, plead the cause
of the rich, send men of heart to the guillotine, that is your work!
Many thanks! If you have no influence, you may rot in your provincial
tribunal. At thirty you will be a Justice with twelve hundred francs a
year (if you have not flung off the gown for good before then). By the
time you are forty you may look to marry a miller's daughter, an
heiress with some six thousand livres a year. Much obliged! If you
have influence, you may possibly be a Public Prosecutor by the time
you are thirty; with a salary of a thousand crowns, you could look to
marry the mayor's daughter. Some petty piece of political trickery,
such as mistaking Villele for Manuel in a bulletin (the names rhyme,
and that quiets your conscience), and you will probably be a Procureur
General by the time you are forty, with a chance of becoming a deputy.
Please to observe, my dear boy, that our conscience will have been a
little damaged in the process, and that we shall endure twenty years
of drudgery and hidden poverty, and that our sisters are wearing
Dian's livery. I have the honor to call your attention to another
fact: to wit, that there are but twenty Procureurs Generaux at a time
in all France, while there are some twenty thousand of you young men
who aspire to that elevated position; that there are some mountebanks
among you who would sell their family to screw their fortunes a peg
higher. If this sort of thing sickens you, try another course. The
Baron de Rastignac thinks of becoming an advocate, does he? There's a
nice prospect for you! Ten years of drudgery straight away. You are
obliged to live at the rate of a thousand francs a month; you must
have a library of law books, live in chambers, go into society, go
down on your knees to ask a solicitor for briefs, lick the dust off
the floor of the Palais de Justice. If this kind of business led to
anything, I should not say no; but just give me the names of five
advocates here in Paris who by the time that they are fifty are making
fifty thousand francs a year! Bah! I would sooner turn pirate on the
high seas than have my soul shrivel up inside me like that. How will
you find the capital? There is but one way, marry a woman who has
money. There is no fun in it. Have you a mind to marry? You hang a
stone around your neck; for if you marry for money, what becomes of
our exalted notions of honor and so forth? You might as well fly in
the face of social conventions at once. Is it nothing to crawl like a
serpent before your wife, to lick her mother's feet, to descend to
dirty actions that would sicken swine--faugh!--never mind if you at
least make your fortune. But you will be as doleful as a dripstone if
you marry for money. It is better to wrestle with men than to wrangle
at home with your wife. You are at the crossway of the roads of life,
my boy; choose your way.
[*] Travaux forces, forced labour.
"But you have chosen already. You have gone to see your cousin of
Beauseant, and you have had an inkling of luxury; you have been to
Mme. de Restaud's house, and in Father Goriot's daughter you have seen
a glimpse of the Parisienne for the first time. That day you came back
with a word written on your forehead. I knew it, I could read
it--'SUCCESS!' Yes, success at any price. 'Bravo,' said I to myself,
'here is the sort of fellow for me.' You wanted money. Where was it
all to come from? You have drained your sisters' little hoard (all
brothers sponge more or less on their sisters). Those fifteen hundred
francs of yours (got together, God knows how! in a country where there
are more chestnuts than five-franc pieces) will slip away like
soldiers after pillage. And, then, what will you do? Shall you begin
to work? Work, or what you understand by work at this moment, means,
for a man of Poiret's calibre, an old age in Mamma Vauquer's lodging-
house. There are fifty thousand young men in your position at this
moment, all bent as you are on solving one and the same problem--how
to acquire a fortune rapidly. You are but a unit in that aggregate.
You can guess, therefore, what efforts you must make, how desperate
the struggle is. There are not fifty thousand good positions for you;
you must fight and devour one another like spiders in a pot. Do you
know how a man makes his way here? By brilliant genius or by skilful
corruption. You must either cut your way through these masses of men
like a cannon ball, or steal among them like a plague. Honesty is
nothing to the purpose. Men bow before the power of genius; they hate
it, and try to slander it, because genius does not divide the spoil;
but if genius persists, they bow before it. To sum it all up in a
phrase, if they fail to smother genius in the mud, they fall on their
knees and worship it. Corruption is a great power in the world, and
talent is scarce. So corruption is the weapon of superfluous
mediocrity; you will be made to feel the point of it everywhere. You
will see women who spend more than ten thousand francs a year on
dress, while their husband's salary (his whole income) is six thousand
francs. You will see officials buying estates on twelve thousand
francs a year. You will see women who sell themselves body and soul to
drive in a carriage belonging to the son of a peer of France, who has
a right to drive in the middle rank at Longchamp. You have seen that
poor simpleton of a Goriot obliged to meet a bill with his daughter's
name at the back of it, though her husband has fifty thousand francs a
year. I defy you to walk a couple of yards anywhere in Paris without
stumbling on some infernal complication. I'll bet my head to a head of
that salad that you will stir up a hornet's nest by taking a fancy to
the first young, rich, and pretty woman you meet. They are all dodging
the law, all at loggerheads with their husbands. If I were to begin to
tell you all that vanity or necessity (virtue is not often mixed up in
it, you may be sure), all that vanity and necessity drive them to do
for lovers, finery, housekeeping, or children, I should never come to
an end. So an honest man is the common enemy.
"But do you know what an honest man is? Here, in Paris, an honest man
is the man who keeps his own counsel, and will not divide the plunder.
I am not speaking now of those poor bond-slaves who do the work of the
world without a reward for their toil--God Almighty's outcasts, I call
them. Among them, I grant you, is virtue in all the flower of its
stupidity, but poverty is no less their portion. At this moment, I
think I see the long faces those good folk would pull if God played a
practical joke on them and stayed away at the Last Judgment.
"Well, then, if you mean to make a fortune quickly, you must either be
rich to begin with, or make people believe that you are rich. It is no
use playing here except for high stakes; once take to low play, it is
all up with you. If in the scores of professions that are open to you,
there are ten men who rise very rapidly, people are sure to call them
thieves. You can draw your own conclusions. Such is life. It is no
cleaner than a kitchen; it reeks like a kitchen; and if you mean to
cook your dinner, you must expect to soil your hands; the real art is
in getting them clean again, and therein lies the whole morality of
our epoch. If I take this tone in speaking of the world to you, I have
the right to do so; I know it well. Do you think that I am blaming it?
Far from it; the world has always been as it is now. Moralists'
strictures will never change it. Mankind are not perfect, but one age
is more or less hypocritical than another, and then simpletons say
that its morality is high or low. I do not think that the rich are any
worse than the poor; man is much the same, high or low, or wherever he
is. In a million of these human cattle there may be half a score of
bold spirits who rise above the rest, above the laws; I am one of
them. And you, if you are cleverer than your fellows, make straight to
your end, and hold your head high. But you must lay your account with
envy and slander and mediocrity, and every man's hand will be against
you. Napoleon met with a Minister of War, Aubry by name, who all but
sent him to the colonies.
"Feel your pulse. Think whether you can get up morning after morning,
strengthened in yesterday's purpose. In that case I will make you an
offer that no one would decline. Listen attentively. You see, I have
an idea of my own. My idea is to live a /patriarchal/ life on a vast
estate, say a hundred thousand acres, somewhere in the Southern States
of America. I mean to be a planter, to have slaves, to make a few snug
millions by selling my cattle, timber, and tobacco; I want to live an
absolute monarch, and to do just as I please; to lead such a life as
no one here in these squalid dens of lath and plaster ever imagines. I
am a great poet; I do not write my poems, I feel them, and act them.
At this moment I have fifty thousand francs, which might possibly buy
forty negroes. I want two hundred thousand francs, because I want to
have two hundred negroes to carry out my notions of the patriarachal
life properly. Negroes, you see, are like a sort of family ready
grown, and there are no inquisitive public prosecutors out there to
interfere with you. That investment in ebony ought to mean three or
four million francs in ten years' time. If I am successful, no one
will ask me who I am. I shall be Mr. Four Millions, an American
citizen. I shall be fifty years old by then, and sound and hearty
still; I shall enjoy life after my own fashion. In two words, if I
find you an heiress with a million, will you give me two hundred
thousand francs? Twenty per cent commission, eh? Is that too much?
Your little wife will be very much in love with you. Once married, you
will show signs of uneasiness and remorse; for a couple of weeks you
will be depressed. Then, some night after sundry grimacings, comes the
confession, between two kisses, 'Two hundred thousand francs of debts,
my darling!' This sort of farce is played every day in Paris, and by
young men of the highest fashion. When a young wife has given her
heart, she will not refuse her purse. Perhaps you are thinking that
you will lose the money for good? Not you. You will make two hundred
thousand francs again by some stroke of business. With your capital
and your brains you should be able to accumulate as large a fortune as
you could wish. ERGO, in six months you will have made your own
fortune, and our old friend Vautrin's, and made an amiable woman very
happy, to say nothing of your people at home, who must blow on their
fingers to warm them, in the winter, for lack of firewood. You need
not be surprised at my proposal, nor at the demand I make. Forty-seven
out of every sixty great matches here in Paris are made after just
such a bargain as this. The Chamber of Notaries compels my gentleman
"What must I do?" said Rastignac, eagerly interrupting Vautrin's
"Next to nothing," returned the other, with a slight involuntary
movement, the suppressed exultation of the angler when he feels a bite
at the end of his line. "Follow me carefully! The heart of a girl
whose life is wretched and unhappy is a sponge that will thirstily
absorb love; a dry sponge that swells at the first drop of sentiment.
If you pay court to a young girl whose existence is a compound of
loneliness, despair, and poverty, and who has no suspicion that she
will come into a fortune, good Lord! it is quint and quatorze at
piquet; it is knowing the numbers of the lottery before-hand; it is
speculating in the funds when you have news from a sure source; it is
building up a marriage on an indestructible foundation. The girl may
come in for millions, and she will fling them, as if they were so many
pebbles, at your feet. 'Take it, my beloved! Take it, Alfred, Adolphe,
Eugene!' or whoever it was that showed his sense by sacrificing
himself for her. And as for sacrificing himself, this is how I
understand it. You sell a coat that is getting shabby, so that you can
take her to the /Cadran bleu/, treat her to mushrooms on toast, and
then go to the Ambigu-Comique in the evening; you pawn your watch to
buy her a shawl. I need not remind you of the fiddle-faddle
sentimentality that goes down so well with all women; you spill a few
drops of water on your stationery, for instance; those are the tears
you shed while far away from her. You look to me as if you were
perfectly acquainted with the argot of the heart. Paris, you see, is
like a forest in the New World, where you have to deal with a score of
varieties of savages--Illinois and Hurons, who live on the proceed of
their social hunting. You are a hunter of millions; you set your
snares; you use lures and nets; there are many ways of hunting. Some
hunt heiresses, others a legacy; some fish for souls, yet others sell
their clients, bound hand and foot. Every one who comes back from the
chase with his game-bag well filled meets with a warm welcome in good
society. In justice to this hospitable part of the world, it must be
said that you have to do with the most easy and good-natured of great
cities. If the proud aristocracies of the rest of Europe refuse
admittance among their ranks to a disreputable millionaire, Paris
stretches out a hand to him, goes to his banquets, eats his dinners,
and hobnobs with his infamy."
"But where is such a girl to be found?" asked Eugene.
"Under your eyes; she is yours already."
"And what was that you said?"
"She is in love with you already, your little Baronne de Rastignac!"
"She has not a penny," Eugene continued, much mystified.
"Ah! now we are coming to it! Just another word or two, and it will
all be clear enough. Her father, Taillefer, is an old scoundrel; it is
said that he murdered one of his friends at the time of the
Revolution. He is one of your comedians that sets up to have opinions
of his own. He is a banker--senior partner in the house of Frederic
Taillefer and Company. He has one son, and means to leave all he has
to the boy, to the prejudice of Victorine. For my part, I don't like
to see injustice of this sort. I am like Don Quixote, I have a fancy
for defending the weak against the strong. If it should please God to
take that youth away from him, Taillefer would have only his daughter
left; he would want to leave his money to some one or other; an absurd
notion, but it is only human nature, and he is not likely to have any
more children, as I know. Victorine is gentle and amiable; she will
soon twist her father round her fingers, and set his head spinning
like a German top by plying him with sentiment! She will be too much
touched by your devotion to forget you; you will marry her. I mean to
play Providence for you, and Providence is to do my will. I have a
friend whom I have attached closely to myself, a colonel in the Army
of the Loire, who has just been transferred into the garde royale. He
has taken my advice and turned ultra-royalist; he is not one of those
fools who never change their opinions. Of all pieces of advice, my
cherub, I would give you this--don't stick to your opinions any more
than to your words. If any one asks you for them, let him have them--
at a price. A man who prides himself on going in a straight line
through life is an idiot who believes in infallibility. There are no
such things as principles; there are only events, and there are no
laws but those of expediency: a man of talent accepts events and the
circumstances in which he finds himself, and turns everything to his
own ends. If laws and principles were fixed and invariable, nations
would not change them as readily as we change our shirts. The
individual is not obliged to be more particular than the nation. A man
whose services to France have been of the very slightest is a fetich
looked on with superstitious awe because he has always seen everything
in red; but he is good, at the most, to be put into the Museum of Arts
and Crafts, among the automatic machines, and labeled La Fayette;
while the prince at whom everybody flings a stone, the man who
despises humanity so much that he spits as many oaths as he is asked
for in the face of humanity, saved France from being torn in pieces at
the Congress of Vienna; and they who should have given him laurels
fling mud at him. Oh! I know something of affairs, I can tell you; I
have the secrets of many men! Enough. When I find three minds in
agreement as to the application of a principle, I shall have a fixed
and immovable opinion--I shall have to wait a long while first. In the
Tribunals you will not find three judges of the same opinion on a
single point of law. To return to the man I was telling you of. He
would crucify Jesus Christ again, if I bade him. At a word from his
old chum Vautrin he will pick a quarrel with a scamp that will not
send so much as five francs to his sister, poor girl, and" (here
Vautrin rose to his feet and stood like a fencing-master about to
lunge)--"turn him off into the dark!" he added.
"How frightful!" said Eugene. "You do not really mean it? M. Vautrin,
you are joking!"
"There! there! Keep cool!" said the other. "Don't behave like a baby.
But if you find any amusement in it, be indignant, flare up! Say that
I am a scoundrel, a rascal, a rogue, a bandit; but do not call me a
blackleg nor a spy! There, out with it, fire away! I forgive you; it
is quite natural at your age. I was like that myself once. Only
remember this, you will do worse things yourself some day. You will
flirt with some pretty woman and take her money. You have thought of
that, of course," said Vautrin, "for how are you to succeed unless
love is laid under contribution? There are no two ways about virtue,
my dear student; it either is, or it is not. Talk of doing penance for
your sins! It is a nice system of business, when you pay for your
crime by an act of contrition! You seduce a woman that you may set
your foot on such and such a rung of the social ladder; you sow
dissension among the children of a family; you descend, in short, to
every base action that can be committed at home or abroad, to gain
your own ends for your own pleasure or your profit; and can you
imagine that these are acts of faith, hope, or charity? How is it that
a dandy, who in a night has robbed a boy of half his fortune, gets
only a couple of months in prison; while a poor devil who steals a
banknote for a thousand francs, with aggravating circumstances, is
condemned to penal servitude? Those are your laws. Not a single
provision but lands you in some absurdity. That man with yellow gloves
and a golden tongue commits many a murder; he sheds no blood, but he
drains his victim's veins as surely; a desperado forces open a door
with a crowbar, dark deeds both of them! You yourself will do every
one of those things that I suggest to you to-day, bar the bloodshed.
Do you believe that there is any absolute standard in this world?
Despise mankind and find out the meshes that you can slip through in
the net of the Code. The secret of a great success for which you are
at a loss to account is a crime that has never been found out, because
it was properly executed."
"Silence, sir! I will not hear any more; you make me doubt myself. At
this moment my sentiments are all my science."
"Just as you please, my fine fellow; I did think you were so weak-
minded," said Vautrin, "I shall say no more about it. One last word,
however," and he looked hard at the student--"you have my secret," he
"A young man who refuses your offer knows that he must forget it."
"Quite right, quite right; I am glad to hear you say so. Somebody else
might not be so scrupulous, you see. Keep in mind what I want to do
for you. I will give you a fortnight. The offer is still open."
"What a head of iron the man has!" said Eugene to himself, as he
watched Vautrin walk unconcernedly away with his cane under his arm.
"Yet Mme. de Beauseant said as much more gracefully; he has only
stated the case in cruder language. He would tear my heart with claws
of steel. What made me think of going to Mme. de Nucingen? He guessed
my motives before I knew them myself. To sum it up, that outlaw has
told me more about virtue than all I have learned from men and books.
If virtue admits of no compromises, I have certainly robbed my
sisters," he said, throwing down the bags on the table.
He sat down again and fell, unconscious of his surroundings, into deep
"To be faithful to an ideal of virtue! A heroic martyrdom! Pshaw!
every one believes in virtue, but who is virtuous? Nations have made
an idol of Liberty, but what nation on the face of the earth is free?
My youth is still like a blue and cloudless sky. If I set myself to
obtain wealth or power, does it mean that I must make up my mind to
lie, and fawn, and cringe, and swagger, and flatter, and dissemble? To
consent to be the servant of others who have likewise fawned, and
lied, and flattered? Must I cringe to them before I can hope to be
their accomplice? Well, then, I decline. I mean to work nobly and with
a single heart. I will work day and night; I will owe my fortune to
nothing but my own exertions. It may be the slowest of all roads to
success, but I shall lay my head on the pillow at night untroubled by
evil thoughts. Is there a greater thing than this--to look back over
your life and know that it is stainless as a lily? I and my life are
like a young man and his betrothed. Vautrin has put before me all that
comes after ten years of marriage. The devil! my head is swimming. I
do not want to think at all; the heart is a sure guide."
Eugene was roused from his musings by the voice of the stout Sylvie,
who announced that the tailor had come, and Eugene therefore made his
appearance before the man with the two money bags, and was not ill
pleased that it should be so. When he had tried on his dress suit, he
put on his new morning costume, which completely metamorphosed him.
"I am quite equal to M. de Trailles," he said to himself. "In short, I
look like a gentleman."
"You asked me, sir, if I knew the houses where Mme. de Nucingen goes,"
Father Goriot's voice spoke from the doorway of Eugene's room."
"Very well then, she is going to the Marechale Carigliano's ball on
Monday. If you can manage to be there, I shall hear from you whether
my two girls enjoyed themselves, and how they were dressed, and all
about it in fact."
"How did you find that out, my good Goriot?" said Eugene, putting a
chair by the fire for his visitor.
"Her maid told me. I hear all about their doings from Therese and
Constance," he added gleefully.
The old man looked like a lover who is still young enough to be made
happy by the discovery of some little stratagem which brings him
information of his lady-love without her knowledge.
"YOU will see them both!" he said, giving artless expression to a pang
"I do not know," answered Eugene. "I will go to Mme. de Beauseant and
ask her for an introduction to the Marechale."
Eugene felt a thrill of pleasure at the thought of appearing before
the Vicomtesse, dressed as henceforward he always meant to be. The
"abysses of the human heart," in the moralists' phrase, are only
insidious thoughts, involuntary promptings of personal interest. The
instinct of enjoyment turns the scale; those rapid changes of purpose
which have furnished the text for so much rhetoric are calculations
prompted by the hope of pleasure. Rastignac beholding himself well
dressed and impeccable as to gloves and boots, forgot his virtuous
resolutions. Youth, moreover, when bent upon wrongdoing does not dare
to behold himself in the mirror of consciousness; mature age has seen
itself; and therein lies the whole difference between these two phases
A friendship between Eugene and his neighbor, Father Goriot, had been
growing up for several days past. This secret friendship and the
antipathy that the student had begun to entertain for Vautrin arose
from the same psychological causes. The bold philosopher who shall
investigate the effects of mental action upon the physical world will
doubtless find more than one proof of the material nature of our
sentiments in other animals. What physiognomist is as quick to discern
character as a dog is to discover from a stranger's face whether this
is a friend or no? Those by-words--"atoms," "affinities"--are facts
surviving in modern languages for the confusion of philosophic
wiseacres who amuse themselves by winnowing the chaff of language to
find its grammatical roots. We /feel/ that we are loved. Our
sentiments make themselves felt in everything, even at a great
distance. A letter is a living soul, and so faithful an echo of the
voice that speaks in it, that finer natures look upon a letter as one
of love's most precious treasures. Father Goriot's affection was of
the instinctive order, a canine affection raised to a sublime pitch;
he had scented compassion in the air, and the kindly respect and
youthful sympathy in the student's heart. This friendship had,
however, scarcely reached the stage at which confidences are made.
Though Eugene had spoken of his wish to meet Mme. de Nucingen, it was
not because he counted on the old man to introduce him to her house,
for he hoped that his own audacity might stand him in good stead. All
that Father Goriot had said as yet about his daughters had referred to
the remarks that the student had made so freely in public on that day
of the two visits.
"How could you think that Mme. de Restaud bore you a grudge for
mentioning my name?" he had said on the day following that scene at
dinner. "My daughters are very fond of me; I am a happy father; but my
sons-in-law have behaved badly to me, and rather than make trouble
between my darlings and their husbands, I choose to see my daughters
secretly. Fathers who can see their daughters at any time have no idea
of all the pleasure that all this mystery gives me; I cannot always
see mine when I wish, do you understand? So when it is fine I walk out
in the Champs-Elysees, after finding out from their waiting-maids
whether my daughters mean to go out. I wait near the entrance; my
heart beats fast when the carriages begin to come; I admire them in
their dresses, and as they pass they give me a little smile, and it
seems as if everything was lighted up for me by a ray of bright
sunlight. I wait, for they always go back the same way, and then I see
them again; the fresh air has done them good and brought color into
their cheeks; all about me people say, 'What a beautiful woman that
is!' and it does my heart good to hear them.
"Are they not my own flesh and blood? I love the very horses that draw
them; I envy the little lap-dog on their knees. Their happiness is my
life. Every one loves after his own fashion, and mine does no one any
harm; why should people trouble their heads about me? I am happy in my
own way. Is there any law against going to see my girls in the evening
when they are going out to a ball? And what a disappointment it is
when I get there too late, and am told that 'Madame has gone out!'
Once I waited till three o'clock in the morning for Nasie; I had not
seen her for two whole days. I was so pleased, that it was almost too
much for me! Please do not speak of me unless it is to say how good my
daughters are to me. They are always wanting to heap presents upon me,
but I will not have it. 'Just keep your money,' I tell them. 'What
should I do with it? I want nothing.' And what am I, sir, after all?
An old carcase, whose soul is always where my daughters are. When you
have seen Mme. de Nucingen, tell me which you like the most," said the
old man after a moment's pause, while Eugene put the last touches to
his toilette. The student was about to go out to walk in the Garden of
the Tuileries until the hour when he could venture to appear in Mme.
de Beauseant's drawing-room.
That walk was a turning-point in Eugene's career. Several women
noticed him; he looked so handsome, so young, and so well dressed.
This almost admiring attention gave a new turn to his thoughts. He
forgot his sisters and the aunt who had robbed herself for him; he no
longer remembered his own virtuous scruples. He had seen hovering
above his head the fiend so easy to mistake for an angel, the Devil
with rainbow wings, who scatters rubies, and aims his golden shafts at
palace fronts, who invests women with purple, and thrones with a glory
that dazzles the eyes of fools till they forget the simple origins of
royal dominion; he had heard the rustle of that Vanity whose tinsel
seems to us to be the symbol of power. However cynical Vautrin's words
had been, they had made an impression on his mind, as the sordid
features of the old crone who whispers, "A lover, and gold in
torrents," remain engraven on a young girl's memory.
Eugene lounged about the walks till it was nearly five o'clock, then
he went to Mme. de Beauseant, and received one of the terrible blows
against which young hearts are defenceless. Hitherto the Vicomtesse
had received him with the kindly urbanity, the bland grace of manner
that is the result of fine breeding, but is only complete when it
comes from the heart.
Today Mme. de Beauseant bowed constrainedly, and spoke curtly:
"M. de Rastignac, I cannot possibly see you, at least not at this
moment. I am engaged . . ."
An observer, and Rastignac instantly became an observer, could read
the whole history, the character and customs of caste, in the phrase,
in the tones of her voice, in her glance and bearing. He caught a
glimpse of the iron hand beneath the velvet glove--the personality,
the egoism beneath the manner, the wood beneath the varnish. In short,
he heard that unmistakable I THE KING that issues from the plumed
canopy of the throne, and finds its last echo under the crest of the
Eugene had trusted too implicitly to the generosity of a woman; he
could not believe in her haughtiness. Like all the unfortunate, he had
subscribed, in all good faith, the generous compact which should bind
the benefactor to the recipient, and the first article in that bond,
between two large-hearted natures, is a perfect equality. The kindness
which knits two souls together is as rare, as divine, and as little
understood as the passion of love, for both love and kindness are the
lavish generosity of noble natures. Rastignac was set upon going to
the Duchesse de Carigliano's ball, so he swallowed down this rebuff.
"Madame," he faltered out, "I would not have come to trouble you about
a trifling matter; be so kind as to permit me to see you later, I can
"Very well, come and dine with me," she said, a little confused by the
harsh way in which she had spoken, for this lady was as genuinely
kind-hearted as she was high-born.
Eugene was touched by this sudden relenting, but none the less he said
to himself as he went away, "Crawl in the dust, put up with every kind
of treatment. What must the rest of the world be like when one of the
kindest of women forgets all her promises of befriending me in a
moment, and tosses me aside like an old shoe? So it is every one for
himself? It is true that her house is not a shop, and I have put
myself in the wrong by needing her help. You should cut your way
through the world like a cannon ball, as Vautrin said."
But the student's bitter thoughts were soon dissipated by the pleasure
which he promised himself in this dinner with the Vicomtesse. Fate
seemed to determine that the smallest accidents in his life should
combine to urge him into a career, which the terrible sphinx of the
Maison Vauquer had described as a field of battle where you must
either slay or be slain, and cheat to avoid being cheated. You leave
your conscience and your heart at the barriers, and wear a mask on
entering into this game of grim earnest, where, as in ancient Sparta,
you must snatch your prize without being detected if you would deserve
On his return he found the Vicomtesse gracious and kindly, as she had
always been to him. They went together to the dining-room, where the
Vicomte was waiting for his wife. In the time of the Restoration the
luxury of the table was carried, as is well known, to the highest
degree, and M. de Beauseant, like many jaded men of the world, had few
pleasures left but those of good cheer; in this matter, in fact, he
was a gourmand of the schools of Louis XVIII. and of the Duc d'Escars,
and luxury was supplemented by splendor. Eugene, dining for the first
time in a house where the traditions of grandeur had descended through
many generations, had never seen any spectacle like this that now met
his eyes. In the time of the Empire, balls had always ended with a
supper, because the officers who took part in them must be fortified
for immediate service, and even in Paris might be called upon to leave
the ballroom for the battlefield. This arrangement had gone out of
fashion under the Monarchy, and Eugene had so far only been asked to
dances. The self-possession which pre-eminently distinguished him in
later life already stood him in good stead, and he did not betray his
amazement. Yet as he saw for the first time the finely wrought silver
plate, the completeness of every detail, the sumptuous dinner,
noiselessly served, it was difficult for such an ardent imagination
not to prefer this life of studied and refined luxury to the hardships
of the life which he had chosen only that morning.
His thoughts went back for a moment to the lodging-house, and with a
feeling of profound loathing, he vowed to himself that at New Year he
would go; prompted at least as much by a desire to live among cleaner
surroundings as by a wish to shake off Vautrin, whose huge hand he
seemed to feel on his shoulder at that moment. When you consider the
numberless forms, clamorous or mute, that corruption takes in Paris,
common-sense begins to wonder what mental aberration prompted the
State to establish great colleges and schools there, and assemble
young men in the capital; how it is that pretty women are respected,
or that the gold coin displayed in the money-changer's wooden saucers
does not take to itself wings in the twinkling of an eye; and when you
come to think further, how comparatively few cases of crime there are,
and to count up the misdemeanors committed by youth, is there not a
certain amount of respect due to these patient Tantaluses who wrestle
with themselves and nearly always come off victorious? The struggles
of the poor student in Paris, if skilfully drawn, would furnish a most
dramatic picture of modern civilization.
In vain Mme. de Beauseant looked at Eugene as if asking him to speak;
the student was tongue-tied in the Vicomte's presence.
"Are you going to take me to the Italiens this evening?" the
Vicomtesse asked her husband.
"You cannot doubt that I should obey you with pleasure," he answered,
and there was a sarcastic tinge in his politeness which Eugene did not
detect, "but I ought to go to meet some one at the Varietes."
"His mistress," said she to herself.
"Then, is not Ajuda coming for you this evening?" inquired the
"No," she answered, petulantly.
"Very well, then, if you really must have an arm, take that of M. de
The Vicomtess turned to Eugene with a smile.
"That would be a very compromising step for you," she said.
" 'A Frenchman loves danger, because in danger there is glory,' to
quote M. de Chateaubriand," said Rastignac, with a bow.
A few moments later he was sitting beside Mme. de Beauseant in a
brougham, that whirled them through the streets of Paris to a
fashionable theatre. It seemed to him that some fairy magic had
suddenly transported him into a box facing the stage. All the
lorgnettes of the house were pointed at him as he entered, and at the
Vicomtesse in her charming toilette. He went from enchantment to
"You must talk to me, you know," said Mme. de Beauseant. "Ah! look!
There is Mme. de Nucingen in the third box from ours. Her sister and
M. de Trailles are on the other side."
The Vicomtesse glanced as she spoke at the box where Mlle. de
Rochefide should have been; M. d'Ajuda was not there, and Mme. de
Beauseant's face lighted up in a marvelous way.
"She is charming," said Eugene, after looking at Mme. de Nucingen.
"She has white eyelashes."
"Yes, but she has such a pretty slender figure!"
"Her hands are large."
"Such beautiful eyes!"
"Her face is long."
"Yes, but length gives distinction."
"It is lucky for her that she has some distinction in her face. Just
see how she fidgets with her opera-glass! The Goriot blood shows
itself in every movement," said the Vicomtesse, much to Eugene's
Indeed, Mme. de Beauseant seemed to be engaged in making a survey of
the house, and to be unconscious of Mme. Nucingen's existence; but no
movement made by the latter was lost upon the Vicomtesse. The house
was full of the loveliest women in Paris, so that Delphine de Nucingen
was not a little flattered to receive the undivided attention of Mme.
de Beauseant's young, handsome, and well-dressed cousin, who seemed to
have no eyes for any one else.
"If you look at her so persistently, you will make people talk, M. de
Rastignac. You will never succeed if you fling yourself at any one's
head like that."
"My dear cousin," said Eugene, "you have protected me indeed so far,
and now if you would complete your work, I only ask of you a favor
which will cost you but little, and be of very great service to me. I
have lost my heart."
"And to that woman!"
"How could I aspire to find any one else to listen to me?" he asked,
with a keen glance at his cousin. "Her Grace the Duchesse de
Carigliano is a friend of the Duchesse de Berri," he went on, after a
pause; "you are sure to see her, will you be so kind as to present me
to her, and to take me to her ball on Monday? I shall meet Mme. de
Nucingen there, and enter into my first skirmish."
"Willingly," she said. "If you have a liking for her already, your
affairs of the heart are like to prosper. That is de Marsay over there
in the Princesse Galathionne's box. Mme. de Nucingen is racked with
jealousy. There is no better time for approaching a woman, especially
if she happens to be a banker's wife. All those ladies of the
Chaussee-d'Antin love revenge."
"Then, what would you do yourself in such a case?"
"I should suffer in silence."
At this point the Marquis d'Ajuda appeared in Mme. de Beauseant's box.
"I have made a muddle of my affairs to come to you," he said, "and I
am telling you about it, so that it may not be a sacrifice."
Eugene saw the glow of joy on the Vicomtesse's face, and knew that
this was love, and learned the difference between love and the
affectations of Parisian coquetry. He admired his cousin, grew mute,
and yielded his place to M. d'Ajuda with a sigh.
"How noble, how sublime a woman is when she loves like that!" he said
to himself. "And HE could forsake her for a doll! Oh! how could any
one forsake her?"
There was a boy's passionate indignation in his heart. He could have
flung himself at Mme. de Beauseant's feet; he longed for the power of
the devil if he could snatch her away and hide her in his heart, as an
eagle snatches up some white yeanling from the plains and bears it to
its eyrie. It was humiliating to him to think that in all this gallery
of fair pictures he had not one picture of his own. "To have a
mistress and an almost royal position is a sign of power," he said to
himself. And he looked at Mme. de Nucingen as a man measures another
who has insulted him.
The Vicomtesse turned to him, and the expression of her eyes thanked
him a thousand times for his discretion. The first act came to an end
"Do you know Mme. de Nucingen well enough to present M. de Rastignac
to her?" she asked of the Marquis d'Ajuda.
"She will be delighted," said the Marquis. The handsome Portuguese
rose as he spoke and took the student's arm, and in another moment
Eugene found himself in Mme. de Nucingen's box.
"Madame," said the Marquis, "I have the honor of presenting to you the
Chevalier Eugene de Rastignac; he is a cousin of Mme. de Beauseant's.
You have made so deep an impression upon him, that I thought I would
fill up the measure of his happiness by bringing him nearer to his
Words spoken half jestingly to cover their somewhat disrespectful
import; but such an implication, if carefully disguised, never gives
offence to a woman. Mme. de Nucingen smiled, and offered Eugene the
place which her husband had just left.
"I do not venture to suggest that you should stay with me, monsieur,"
she said. "Those who are so fortunate as to be in Mme. de Beauseant's
company do not desire to leave it."
"Madame," Eugene said, lowering his voice, "I think that to please my
cousin I should remain with you. Before my lord Marquis came we were
speaking of you and of your exceedingly distinguished appearance," he
M. d'Ajuda turned and left them.
"Are you really going to stay with me, monsieur?" asked the Baroness.
"Then we shall make each other's acquaintance. Mme. de Restaud told me
about you, and has made me anxious to meet you."
"She must be very insincere, then, for she has shut her door on me."
"Madame, I will tell you honestly the reason why; but I must crave
your indulgence before confiding such a secret to you. I am your
father's neighbor; I had no idea that Mme. de Restaud was his
daughter. I was rash enough to mention his name; I meant no harm, but
I annoyed your sister and her husband very much. You cannot think how
severely the Duchesse de Langeais and my cousin blamed this apostasy
on a daughter's part, as a piece of bad taste. I told them all about
it, and they both burst out laughing. Then Mme. de Beauseant made some
comparison between you and your sister, speaking in high terms of you,
and saying how very fond you were of my neighbor, M. Goriot. And,
indeed, how could you help loving him? He adores you so passionately
that I am jealous already. We talked about you this morning for two
hours. So this evening I was quite full of all that your father had
told me, and while I was dining with my cousin I said that you could
not be as beautiful as affectionate. Mme. de Beauseant meant to
gratify such warm admiration, I think, when she brought me here,
telling me, in her gracious way, that I should see you."
"Then, even now, I owe you a debt of gratitude, monsieur," said the
banker's wife. "We shall be quite old friends in a little while."
"Although a friendship with you could not be like an ordinary
friendship," said Rastignac; "I should never wish to be your friend."
Such stereotyped phrases as these, in the mouths of beginners, possess
an unfailing charm for women, and are insipid only when read coldly;
for a young man's tone, glance and attitude give a surpassing
eloquence to the banal phrases. Mme. de Nucingen thought that
Rastignac was adorable. Then, woman-like, being at a loss how to reply
to the student's outspoken admiration, she answered a previous remark.
"Yes, it is very wrong of my sister to treat our poor father as she
does," she said; "he has been a Providence to us. It was not until M.
de Nucingen positively ordered me only to receive him in the mornings
that I yielded the point. But I have been unhappy about it for a long
while; I have shed many tears over it. This violence to my feelings,
with my husband's brutal treatment, have been two causes of my unhappy
married life. There is certainly no woman in Paris whose lot seems
more enviable than mine, and yet, in reality, there is not one so much
to be pitied. You will think I must be out of my senses to talk to you
like this; but you know my father, and I cannot regard you as a
"You will find no one," said Eugene, "who longs as eagerly as I do to
be yours. What do all women seek? Happiness." (He answered his own
question in low, vibrating tones.) "And if happiness for a woman means
that she is to be loved and adored, to have a friend to whom she can
pour out her wishes, her fancies, her sorrows and joys; to whom she
can lay bare her heart and soul, and all her fair defects and her
gracious virtues, without fear of a betrayal; believe me, the devotion
and the warmth that never fails can only be found in the heart of a
young man who, at a bare sign from you, would go to his death, who
neither knows nor cares to know anything as yet of the world, because
you will be all the world to him. I myself, you see (you will laugh at
my simplicity), have just come from a remote country district; I am
quite new to this world of Paris; I have only known true and loving
hearts; and I made up my mind that here I should find no love. Then I
chanced to meet my cousin, and to see my cousin's heart from very
near; I have divined the inexhaustible treasures of passion, and, like
Cherubino, I am the lover of all women, until the day comes when I
find THE woman to whom I may devote myself. As soon as I saw you, as
soon as I came into the theatre this evening, I felt myself borne
towards you as if by the current of a stream. I had so often thought
of you already, but I had never dreamed that you would be so
beautiful! Mme. de Beauseant told me that I must not look so much at
you. She does not know the charm of your red lips, your fair face, nor
see how soft your eyes are. . . . I also am beginning to talk
nonsense; but let me talk."
Nothing pleases a woman better than to listen to such whispered words
as these; the most puritanical among them listens even when she ought
not to reply to them; and Rastignac, having once begun, continued to
pour out his story, dropping his voice, that she might lean and
listen; and Mme. de Nucingen, smiling, glanced from time to time at de
Marsay, who still sat in the Princesse Galathionne's box.
Rastignac did not leave Mme. de Nucingen till her husband came to take
"Madame," Eugene said, "I shall have the pleasure of calling upon you
before the Duchesse de Carigliano's ball."
"If Matame infites you to come," said the Baron, a thickset Alsatian,
with indications of a sinister cunning in his full-moon countenance,
"you are quide sure of being well receifed."
"My affairs seem to be in a promising way," said Eugene to himself.--"
'Can you love me?' I asked her, and she did not resent it. The bit is
in the horse's mouth, and I have only to mount and ride;" and with
that he went to pay his respects to Mme. de Beauseant, who was leaving
the theatre on d'Ajuda's arm.
The student did not know that the Baroness' thoughts had been
wandering; that she was even then expecting a letter from de Marsay,
one of those letters that bring about a rupture that rends the soul;
so, happy in his delusion, Eugene went with the Vicomtesse to the
peristyle, where people were waiting till their carriages were
"That cousin of yours is hardly recognizable for the same man," said
the Portuguese laughingly to the Vicomtesse, when Eugene had taken
leave of them. "He will break the bank. He is as supple as an eel; he
will go a long way, of that I am sure. Who else could have picked out
a woman for him, as you did, just when she needed consolation?"
"But it is not certain that she does not still love the faithless
lover," said Mme. de Beauseant.
The student meanwhile walked back from the Theatre-Italien to the Rue
Neuve-Sainte-Genevieve, making the most delightful plans as he went.
He had noticed how closely Mme. de Restaud had scrutinized him when he
sat beside Mme. de Nucingen, and inferred that the Countess' doors
would not be closed in the future. Four important houses were now open
to him--for he meant to stand well with the Marechale; he had four
supporters in the inmost circle of society in Paris. Even now it was
clear to him that, once involved in this intricate social machinery,
he must attach himself to a spoke of the wheel that was to turn and
raise his fortunes; he would not examine himself too curiously as to
the methods, but he was certain of the end, and conscious of the power
to gain and keep his hold.
"If Mme. de Nucingen takes an interest in me, I will teach her how to
manage her husband. That husband of hers is a great speculator; he
might put me in the way of making a fortune by a single stroke."
He did not say this bluntly in so many words; as yet, indeed, he was
not sufficient of a diplomatist to sum up a situation, to see its
possibilities at a glance, and calculate the chances in his favor.
These were nothing but hazy ideas that floated over his mental
horizon; they were less cynical than Vautrin's notions; but if they
had been tried in the crucible of conscience, no very pure result
would have issued from the test. It is by a succession of such like
transactions that men sink at last to the level of the relaxed
morality of this epoch, when there have never been so few of those who
square their courses with their theories, so few of those noble
characters who do not yield to temptation, for whom the slightest
deviation from the line of rectitude is a crime. To these magnificent
types of uncompromising Right we owe two masterpieces--the Alceste of
Moliere, and, in our own day, the characters of Jeanie Deans and her
father in Sir Walter Scott's novel. Perhaps a work which should
chronicle the opposite course, which should trace out all the devious
courses through which a man of the world, a man of ambitions, drags
his conscience, just steering clear of crime that he may gain his end
and yet save appearances, such a chronicle would be no less edifying
and no less dramatic.
Rastignac went home. He was fascinated by Mme. de Nucingen; he seemed
to see her before him, slender and graceful as a swallow. He recalled
the intoxicating sweetness of her eyes, her fair hair, the delicate
silken tissue of the skin, beneath which it almost seemed to him that
he could see the blood coursing; the tones of her voice still exerted
a spell over him; he had forgotten nothing; his walk perhaps heated
his imagination by sending a glow of warmth through his veins. He
knocked unceremoniously at Goriot's door.
"I have seen Mme. Delphine, neighbor," said he.
"At the Italiens."
"Did she enjoy it?. . . . Just come inside," and the old man left his
bed, unlocked the door, and promptly returned again.
It was the first time that Eugene had been in Father Goriot's room,
and he could not control his feeling of amazement at the contrast
between the den in which the father lived and the costume of the
daughter whom he had just beheld. The window was curtainless, the
walls were damp, in places the varnished wall-paper had come away and
gave glimpses of the grimy yellow plaster beneath. The wretched bed on
which the old man lay boasted but one thin blanket, and a wadded quilt
made out of large pieces of Mme. Vauquer's old dresses. The floor was
damp and gritty. Opposite the window stood a chest of drawers made of
rosewood, one of the old-fashioned kind with a curving front and brass
handles, shaped like rings of twisted vine stems covered with flowers
and leaves. On a venerable piece of furniture with a wooden shelf
stood a ewer and basin and shaving apparatus. A pair of shoes stood in
one corner; a night-table by the bed had neither a door nor marble
slab. There was not a trace of a fire in the empty grate; the square
walnut table with the crossbar against which Father Goriot had crushed
and twisted his posset-dish stood near the hearth. The old man's hat
was lying on a broken-down bureau. An armchair stuffed with straw and
a couple of chairs completed the list of ramshackle furniture. From
the tester of the bed, tied to the ceiling by a piece of rag, hung a
strip of some cheap material in large red and black checks. No poor
drudge in a garret could be worse lodged than Father Goriot in Mme.
Vauquer's lodging-house. The mere sight of the room sent a chill
through you and a sense of oppression; it was like the worst cell in a
prison. Luckily, Goriot could not see the effect that his surroundings
produced on Eugene as the latter deposited his candle on the night-
table. The old man turned round, keeping the bedclothes huddled up to
"Well," he said, "and which do you like the best, Mme. de Restaud or
Mme. de Nucingen?"
"I like Mme. Delphine the best," said the law student, "because she
loves you the best."
At the words so heartily spoken the old man's hand slipped out from
under the bedclothes and grasped Eugene's.
"Thank you, thank you," he said, gratefully. "Then what did she say
The student repeated the Baroness' remarks with some embellishments of
his own, the old man listening the while as though he heard a voice
"Dear child!" he said. "Yes, yes, she is very fond of me. But you must
not believe all that she tells you about Anastasie. The two sisters
are jealous of each other, you see, another proof of their affection.
Mme. de Restaud is very fond of me too. I know she is. A father sees
his children as God sees all of us; he looks into the very depths of
their hearts; he knows their intentions; and both of them are so
loving. Oh! if I only had good sons-in-law, I should be too happy, and
I dare say there is no perfect happiness here below. If I might live
with them--simply hear their voices, know that they are there, see
them go and come as I used to do at home when they were still with me;
why, my heart bounds at the thought. . . . Were they nicely dressed?"
"Yes," said Eugene. "But, M. Goriot, how is it that your daughters
have such fine houses, while you live in such a den as this?"
"Dear me, why should I want anything better?" he replied, with seeming
carelessness. "I can't quite explain to you how it is; I am not used
to stringing words together properly, but it all lies there----" he
said, tapping his heart. "My real life is in my two girls, you see;
and so long as they are happy, and smartly dressed, and have soft
carpets under their feet, what does it matter what clothes I wear or
where I lie down of a night? I shall never feel cold so long as they
are warm; I shall never feel dull if they are laughing. I have no
troubles but theirs. When you, too, are a father, and you hear your
children's little voices, you will say to yourself, 'That has all come
from me.' You will feel that those little ones are akin to every drop
in your veins, that they are the very flower of your life (and what
else are they?); you will cleave so closely to them that you seem to
feel every movement that they make. Everywhere I hear their voices
sounding in my ears. If they are sad, the look in their eyes freezes
my blood. Some day you will find out that there is far more happiness
in another's happiness than in your own. It is something that I cannot
explain, something within that sends a glow of warmth all through you.
In short, I live my life three times over. Shall I tell you something
funny? Well, then, since I have been a father, I have come to
understand God. He is everywhere in the world, because the whole world
comes from Him. And it is just the same with my children, monsieur.
Only, I love my daughters better than God loves the world, for the
world is not so beautiful as God Himself is, but my children are more
beautiful than I am. Their lives are so bound up with mine that I felt
somehow that you would see them this evening. Great Heaven! If any man
would make my little Delphine as happy as a wife is when she is loved,
I would black his boots and run on his errands. That miserable M. de
Marsay is a cur; I know all about him from her maid. A longing to
wring his neck comes over me now and then. He does not love her! does
not love a pearl of a woman, with a voice like a nightingale and
shaped like a model. Where can her eyes have been when she married
that great lump of an Alsatian? They ought both of them to have
married young men, good-looking and good-tempered--but, after all,
they had their own way."
Father Goriot was sublime. Eugene had never yet seen his face light up
as it did now with the passionate fervor of a father's love. It is
worthy of remark that strong feeling has a very subtle and pervasive
power; the roughest nature, in the endeavor to express a deep and
sincere affection, communicates to others the influence that has put
resonance into the voice, and eloquence into every gesture, wrought a
change in the very features of the speaker; for under the inspiration
of passion the stupidest human being attains to the highest eloquence
of ideas, if not of language, and seems to move in some sphere of
light. In the old man's tones and gesture there was something just
then of the same spell that a great actor exerts over his audience.
But does not the poet in us find expression in our affections?
"Well," said Eugene, "perhaps you will not be sorry to hear that she
is pretty sure to break with de Marsay before long. That sprig of
fashion has left her for the Princesse Galathionne. For my part, I
fell in love with Mme. Delphine this evening."
"Stuff!" said Father Goriot.
"I did indeed, and she did not regard me with aversion. For a whole
hour we talked of love, and I am to go to call on her on Saturday, the
day after to-morrow."
"Oh! how I should love you, if she should like you. You are kind-
hearted; you would never make her miserable. If you were to forsake
her, I would cut your throat at once. A woman does not love twice, you
see! Good heavens! what nonsense I am talking, M. Eugene! It is cold;
you ought not to stay here. /Mon Dieu!/ so you have heard her speak?
What message did she give you for me?"
"None at all," said Eugene to himself; aloud he answered, "She told me
to tell you that your daughter sends you a good kiss."
"Good-night, neighbor! Sleep well, and pleasant dreams to you! I have
mine already made for me by that message from her. May God grant you
all your desires! You have come in like a good angel on me to-night,
and brought with you the air that my daughter breathes."
"Poor old fellow!" said Eugene as he lay down. "It is enough to melt a
heart of stone. His daughter no more thought of him than of the Grand
Ever after this conference Goriot looked upon his neighbor as a
friend, a confidant such as he had never hoped to find; and there was
established between the two the only relationship that could attach
this old man to another man. The passions never miscalculate. Father
Goriot felt that this friendship brought him closer to his daughter
Delphine; he thought that he should find a warmer welcome for himself
if the Baroness should care for Eugene. Moreover, he had confided one
of his troubles to the younger man. Mme. de Nucingen, for whose
happiness he prayed a thousand times daily, had never known the joys
of love. Eugene was certainly (to make use of his own expression) one
of the nicest young men that he had ever seen, and some prophetic
instinct seemed to tell him that Eugene was to give her the happiness
which had not been hers. These were the beginnings of a friendship
that grew up between the old man and his neighbor; but for this
friendship the catastrophe of the drama must have remained a mystery.
The affection with which Father Goriot regarded Eugene, by whom he
seated himself at breakfast, the change in Goriot's face, which as a
rule, looked as expressionless as a plaster cast, and a few words that
passed between the two, surprised the other lodgers. Vautrin, who saw
Eugene for the first time since their interview, seemed as if he would
fain read the student's very soul. During the night Eugene had had
some time in which to scan the vast field which lay before him; and
now, as he remembered yesterday's proposal, the thought of Mlle.
Taillefer's dowry came, of course, to his mind, and he could not help
thinking of Victorine as the most exemplary youth may think of an
heiress. It chanced that their eyes met. The poor girl did not fail to
see that Eugene looked very handsome in his new clothes. So much was
said in the glance, thus exchanged, that Eugene could not doubt but
that he was associated in her mind with the vague hopes that lie
dormant in a girl's heart and gather round the first attractive
newcomer. "Eight hundred thousand francs!" a voice cried in his ears,
but suddenly he took refuge in the memories of yesterday evening,
thinking that his extemporized passion for Mme. de Nucingen was a
talisman that would preserve him from this temptation.
"They gave Rossini's /Barber of Seville/ at the Italiens yesterday
evening," he remarked. "I never heard such delicious music. Good
gracious! how lucky people are to have a box at the Italiens!"
Father Goriot drank in every word that Eugene let fall, and watched
him as a dog watches his master's slightest movement.
"You men are like fighting cocks," said Mme. Vauquer; "you do what you
"How did you get back?" inquired Vautrin.
"I walked," answered Eugene.
"For my own part," remarked the tempter, "I do not care about doing
things by halves. If I want to enjoy myself that way, I should prefer
to go in my carriage, sit in my own box, and do the thing comfortably.
Everything or nothing; that is my motto."
"And a good one, too," commented Mme. Vauquer.
"Perhaps you will see Mme. de Nucingen to-day," said Eugene,
addressing Goriot in an undertone. "She will welcome you with open
arms, I am sure; she would want to ask you for all sorts of little
details about me. I have found out that she will do anything in the
world to be known by my cousin Mme. de Beauseant; don't forget to tell
her that I love her too well not to think of trying to arrange this."
Rastignac went at once to the Ecole de Droit. He had no mind to stay a
moment longer than was necessary in that odious house. He wasted his
time that day; he had fallen a victim to that fever of the brain that
accompanies the too vivid hopes of youth. Vautrin's arguments had set
him meditating on social life, and he was deep in these reflections
when he happened on his friend Bianchon in the Jardin du Luxembourg.
"What makes you look so solemn?" said the medical student, putting an
arm through Eugene's as they went towards the Palais.
"I am tormented by temptations."
"What kind? There is a cure for temptation."
"Yielding to it."
"You laugh, but you don't know what it is all about. Have you read
"Do you remember that he asks the reader somewhere what he would do if
he could make a fortune by killing an old mandarin somewhere in China
by mere force of wishing it, and without stirring from Paris?"
"Pshaw! I am at my thirty-third mandarin."
"Seriously, though. Look here, suppose you were sure that you could do
it, and had only to give a nod. Would you do it?"
"Is he well stricken in years, this mandarin of yours? Pshaw! after
all, young or old, paralytic, or well and sound, my word for it. . . .
Well, then. Hang it, no!"
"You are a good fellow, Bianchon. But suppose you loved a woman well
enough to lose your soul in hell for her, and that she wanted money
for dresses and a carriage, and all her whims, in fact?"
"Why, here you are taking away my reason, and want me to reason!"
"Well, then, Bianchon, I am mad; bring me to my senses. I have two
sisters as beautiful and innocent as angels, and I want them to be
happy. How am I to find two hundred thousand francs apiece for them in
the next five years? Now and then in life, you see, you must play for
heavy stakes, and it is no use wasting your luck on low play."
"But you are only stating the problem that lies before every one at
the outset of his life, and you want to cut the Gordian knot with a
sword. If that is the way of it, dear boy, you must be an Alexander,
or to the hulks you go. For my own part, I am quite contented with the
little lot I mean to make for myself somewhere in the country, when I
mean to step into my father's shoes and plod along. A man's affections
are just as fully satisfied by the smallest circle as they can be by a
vast circumference. Napoleon himself could only dine once, and he
could not have more mistresses than a house student at the Capuchins.
Happiness, old man, depends on what lies between the sole of your foot
and the crown of your head; and whether it costs a million or a
hundred louis, the actual amount of pleasure that you receive rests
entirely with you, and is just exactly the same in any case. I am for
letting that Chinaman live."
"Thank you, Bianchon; you have done me good. We will always be
"I say," remarked the medical student, as they came to the end of a
broad walk in the Jardin des Plantes, "I saw the Michonneau and Poiret
a few minutes ago on a bench chatting with a gentleman whom I used to
see in last year's troubles hanging about the Chamber of Deputies; he
seems to me, in fact, to be a detective dressed up like a decent
retired tradesman. Let us keep an eye on that couple; I will tell you
why some time. Good-bye; it is nearly four o'clock, and I must be in
to answer to my name."
When Eugene reached the lodging-house, he found Father Goriot waiting
"Here," cried the old man, "here is a letter from her. Pretty
Eugene broke the seal and read:--
"Sir,--I have heard from my father that you are fond of Italian
music. I shall be delighted if you will do me the pleasure of
accepting a seat in my box. La Fodor and Pellegrini will sing on
Saturday, so I am sure that you will not refuse me. M. de Nucingen
and I shall be pleased if you will dine with us; we shall be quite
by ourselves. If you will come and be my escort, my husband will
be glad to be relieved from his conjugal duties. Do not answer,
but simply come.--Yours sincerely, D. DE N."
"Let me see it," said Father Goriot, when Eugene had read the letter.
"You are going, aren't you?" he added, when he had smelled the
writing-paper. "How nice it smells! Her fingers have touched it, that
"A woman does not fling herself at a man's head in this way," the
student was thinking. "She wants to use me to bring back de Marsay;
nothing but pique makes a woman do a thing like this."
"Well," said Father Goriot, "what are you thinking about?"
Eugene did not know the fever or vanity that possessed some women in
those days; how should he imagine that to open a door in the Faubourg
Saint-Germain a banker's wife would go to almost any length. For the
coterie of the Faubourg Saint-Germain was a charmed circle, and the
women who moved in it were at that time the queens of society; and
among the greatest of these /Dames du Petit-Chateau/, as they were
called, were Mme. de Beauseant and her friends the Duchesse de
Langeais and the Duchesse de Maufrigneause. Rastignac was alone in his
ignorance of the frantic efforts made by women who lived in the
Chausee-d'Antin to enter this seventh heaven and shine among the
brightest constellations of their sex. But his cautious disposition
stood him in good stead, and kept his judgment cool, and the not
altogether enviable power of imposing instead of accepting conditions.
"Yes, I am going," he replied.
So it was curiosity that drew him to Mme. de Nucingen; while, if she
had treated him disdainfully, passion perhaps might have brought him
to her feet. Still he waited almost impatiently for to-morrow, and the
hour when he could go to her. There is almost as much charm for a
young man in a first flirtation as there is in first love. The
certainty of success is a source of happiness to which men do not
confess, and all the charm of certain women lies in this. The desire
of conquest springs no less from the easiness than from the difficulty
of triumph, and every passion is excited or sustained by one or the
other of these two motives which divide the empire of love. Perhaps
this division is one result of the great question of temperaments;
which, after all, dominates social life. The melancholic temperament
may stand in need of the tonic of coquetry, while those of nervous or
sanguine complexion withdraw if they meet with a too stubborn
resistance. In other words, the lymphatic temperament is essentially
despondent, and the rhapsodic is bilious.
Eugene lingered over his toilette with an enjoyment of all its little
details that is grateful to a young man's self-love, though he will
not own to it for fear of being laughed at. He thought, as he arranged
his hair, that a pretty woman's glances would wander through the dark
curls. He indulged in childish tricks like any young girl dressing for
a dance, and gazed complacently at his graceful figure while he
smoothed out the creases of his coat.
"There are worse figures, that is certain," he said to himself.
Then he went downstairs, just as the rest of the household were
sitting down to dinner, and took with good humor the boisterous
applause excited by his elegant appearance. The amazement with which
any attention to dress is regarded in a lodging-house is a very
characteristic trait. No one can put on a new coat but every one else
must say his say about it.
"Clk! clk! clk!" cried Bianchon, making the sound with his tongue
against the roof of his mouth, like a driver urging on a horse.
"He holds himself like a duke and a peer of France," said Mme.
"Are you going a-courting?" inquired Mlle. Michonneau.
"Cock-a-doodle-doo!" cried the artist.
"My compliments to my lady your wife," from the /employe/ at the
"Your wife; have you a wife?" asked Poiret.
"Yes, in compartments, water-tight and floats, guaranteed fast color,
all prices from twenty-five to forty sous, neat check patterns in the
latest fashion and best taste, will wash, half-linen, half-cotton,
half-wool; a certain cure for toothache and other complaints under the
patronage of the Royal College of Physicians! children like it! a
remedy for headache, indigestion, and all other diseases affecting the
throat, eyes, and ears!" cried Vautrin, with a comical imitation of
the volubility of a quack at a fair. "And how much shall we say for
this marvel, gentlemen? Twopence? No. Nothing of the sort. All that is
left in stock after supplying the Great Mogul. All the crowned heads
of Europe, including the Gr-r-rand Duke of Baden, have been anxious to
get a sight of it. Walk up! walk up! gentlemen! Pay at the desk as you
go in! Strike up the music there! Brooum, la, la, trinn! la, la, boum!
boum! Mister Clarinette, there you are out of tune!" he added gruffly;
"I will rap your knuckles for you!"
"Goodness! what an amusing man!" said Mme. Vauquer to Mme. Couture; "I
should never feel dull with him in the house."
This burlesque of Vautrin's was the signal for an outburst of
merriment, and under cover of jokes and laughter Eugene caught a
glance from Mlle. Taillefer; she had leaned over to say a few words in
Mme. Couture's ear.
"The cab is at the door," announced Sylvie.
"But where is he going to dine?" asked Bianchon.
"With Madame la Baronne de Nucingen."
"M. Goriot's daughter," said the law student.
At this, all eyes turned to the old vermicelli maker; he was gazing at
Eugene with something like envy in his eyes.
Rastignac reached the house in the Rue Saint-Lazare, one of those
many-windowed houses with a mean-looking portico and slender columns,
which are considered the thing in Paris, a typical banker's house,
decorated in the most ostentatious fashion; the walls lined with
stucco, the landings of marble mosaic. Mme. de Nucingen was sitting in
a little drawing-room; the room was painted in the Italian fashion,
and decorated like a restaurant. The Baroness seemed depressed. The
effort that she made to hide her feelings aroused Eugene's interest;
it was plain that she was not playing a part. He had expected a little
flutter of excitement at his coming, and he found her dispirited and
sad. The disappointment piqued his vanity.
"My claim to your confidence is very small, madame," he said, after
rallying her on her abstracted mood; "but if I am in the way, please
tell me so frankly; I count on your good faith."
"No, stay with me," she said; "I shall be all alone if you go.
Nucingen is dining in town, and I do not want to be alone; I want to
be taken out of myself."
"But what is the matter?"
"You are the very last person whom I should tell," she exclaimed.
"Then I am connected in some way in this secret. I wonder what it is?"
"Perhaps. Yet, no," she went on; "it is a domestic quarrel, which
ought to be buried in the depths of the heart. I am very unhappy; did
I not tell you so the day before yesterday? Golden chains are the
heaviest of all fetters."
When a woman tells a young man that she is very unhappy, and when the
young man is clever, and well dressed, and has fifteen hundred francs
lying idle in his pocket, he is sure to think as Eugene said, and he
becomes a coxcomb.
"What can you have left to wish for?" he answered. "You are young,
beautiful, beloved, and rich."
"Do not let us talk of my affairs," she said shaking her head
mournfully. "We will dine together /tete-a-tete/, and afterwards we
will go to hear the most exquisite music. Am I to your taste?" she
went on, rising and displaying her gown of white cashmere, covered
with Persian designs in the most superb taste.
"I wish that you were altogether mine," said Eugene; "you are
"You would have a forlorn piece of property," she said, smiling
bitterly. "There is nothing about me that betrays my wretchedness; and
yet, in spite of appearances, I am in despair. I cannot sleep; my
troubles have broken my night's rest; I shall grow ugly."
"Oh! that is impossible," cried the law student; "but I am curious to
know what these troubles can be that a devoted love cannot efface."
"Ah! if I were to tell you about them, you would shun me," she said.
"Your love for me is as yet only the conventional gallantry that men
use to masquerade in; and, if you really loved me, you would be driven
to despair. I must keep silence, you see. Let us talk of something
else, for pity's sake," she added. "Let me show you my rooms."
"No; let us stay here," answered Eugene; he sat down on the sofa
before the fire, and boldly took Mme. de Nucingen's hand in his. She
surrendered it to him; he even felt the pressure of her fingers in one
of the spasmodic clutches that betray terrible agitation.
"Listen," said Rastignac; "if you are in trouble, you ought to tell me
about it. I want to prove to you that I love you for yourself alone.
You must speak to me frankly about your troubles, so that I can put an
end to them, even if I have to kill half-a-dozen men; or I shall go,
never to return."
"Very well," she cried, putting her hand to her forehead in an agony
of despair, "I will put you to the proof, and this very moment. Yes,"
she said to herself, "I have no other resource left."
She rang the bell.
"Are the horses put in for the master?" she asked of the servant.
"I shall take his carriage myself. He can have mine and my horses.
Serve dinner at seven o'clock."
"Now, come with me," she said to Eugene, who thought as he sat in the
banker's carriage beside Mme. de Nucingen that he must surely be
"To the Palais-Royal," she said to the coachman; "stop near the
She seemed to be too troubled and excited to answer the innumerable
questions that Eugene put to her. He was at a loss what to think of
her mute resistance, her obstinate silence.
"Another moment and she will escape me," he said to himself.
When the carriage stopped at last, the Baroness gave the law student a
glance that silenced his wild words, for he was almost beside himself.
"Is it true that you love me?" she asked.
"Yes," he answered, and in his manner and tone there was no trace of
the uneasiness that he felt.
"You will not think ill of me, will you, whatever I may ask of you?"
"Are you ready to do my bidding?"
"Have you ever been to a gaming-house?" she asked in a tremulous
"Ah! now I can breathe. You will have luck. Here is my purse," she
said. "Take it! there are a hundred francs in it, all that such a
fortunate woman as I can call her own. Go up into one of the gaming-
houses--I do not know where they are, but there are some near the
Palais-Royal. Try your luck with the hundred francs at a game they
call roulette; lose it all or bring me back six thousand francs. I
will tell you about my troubles when you come back."
"Devil take me, I'm sure, if I have a glimmer of a notion of what I am
about, but I will obey you," he added, with inward exultation, as he
thought, "She has gone too far to draw back--she can refuse me
Eugene took the dainty little purse, inquired the way of a second-hand
clothes-dealer, and hurried to number 9, which happened to be the
nearest gaming-house. He mounted the staircase, surrendered his hat,
and asked the way to the roulette-table, whither the attendant took
him, not a little to the astonishment of the regular comers. All eyes
were fixed on Eugene as he asked, without bashfulness, where he was to
deposit his stakes.
"If you put a louis on one only of those thirty-six numbers, and it
turns up, you will win thirty-six louis," said a respectable-looking,
white-haired old man in answer to his inquiry.
Eugene staked the whole of his money on the number 21 (his own age).
There was a cry of surprise; before he knew what he had done, he had
"Take your money off, sir," said the old gentleman; "you don't often
win twice running by that system."
Eugene took the rake that the old man handed to him, and drew in his
three thousand six hundred francs, and, still perfectly ignorant of
what he was about, staked again on the red. The bystanders watched him
enviously as they saw him continue to play. The disc turned, and again
he won; the banker threw him three thousand six hundred francs once
"You have seven thousand, two hundred francs of your own," the old
gentleman said in his ear. "Take my advice and go away with your
winnings; red has turned up eight times already. If you are
charitable, you will show your gratitude for sound counsel by giving a
trifle to an old prefect of Napoleon who is down on his luck."
Rastignac's head was swimming; he saw ten of his louis pass into the
white-haired man's possession, and went down-stairs with his seven
thousand francs; he was still ignorant of the game, and stupefied by
"So, that is over; and now where will you take me?" he asked, as soon
as the door was closed, and he showed the seven thousand francs to
Mme. de Nucingen.
Delphine flung her arms about him, but there was no passion in that
"You have saved me!" she cried, and tears of joy flowed fast.
"I will tell you everything, my friend. For you will be my friend,
will you not? I am rich, you think, very rich; I have everything I
want, or I seem as if I had everything. Very well, you must know that
M. de Nucingen does not allow me the control of a single penny; he
pays all the bills for the house expenses; he pays for my carriages
and opera box; he does not give me enough to pay for my dress, and he
reduces me to poverty in secret on purpose. I am too proud to beg from
him. I should be the vilest of women if I could take his money at the
price at which he offers it. Do you ask how I, with seven hundred
thousand francs of my own, could let myself be robbed? It is because I
was proud, and scorned to speak. We are so young, so artless when our
married life begins! I never could bring myself to ask my husband for
money; the words would have made my lips bleed, I did not dare to ask;
I spent my savings first, and then the money that my poor father gave
me, then I ran into debt. Marriage for me is a hideous farce; I cannot
talk about it, let it suffice to say that Nucingen and I have separate
rooms, and that I would fling myself out of the window sooner than
consent to any other manner of life. I suffered agonies when I had to
confess to my girlish extravagance, my debts for jewelry and trifles
(for our poor father had never refused us anything, and spoiled us),
but at last I found courage to tell him about them. After all, I had a
fortune of my own. Nucingen flew into a rage; he said that I should be
the ruin of him, and used frightful language! I wished myself a
hundred feet down in the earth. He had my dowry, so he paid my debts,
but he stipulated at the same time that my expenses in future must not
exceed a certain fixed sum, and I gave way for the sake of peace. And
then," she went on, "I wanted to gratify the self-love of some one
whom you know. He may have deceived me, but I should do him the
justice to say that there was nothing petty in his character. But,
after all, he threw me over disgracefully. If, at a woman's utmost
need, SOMEBODY heaps gold upon her, he ought never to forsake her;
that love should last for ever! But you, at one-and-twenty, you, the
soul of honor, with the unsullied conscience of youth, will ask me how
a woman can bring herself to accept money in such a way? MON DIEU! is
it not natural to share everything with the one to whom we owe our
happiness? When all has been given, why should we pause and hesitate
over a part? Money is as nothing between us until the moment when the
sentiment that bound us together ceases to exist. Were we not bound to
each other for life? Who that believes in love foresees such an end to
love? You swear to love us eternally; how, then, can our interests be
"You do not know how I suffered to-day when Nucingen refused to give
me six thousand francs; he spends as much as that every month on his
mistress, an opera dancer! I thought of killing myself. The wildest
thoughts came into my head. There have been moments in my life when I
have envied my servants, and would have changed places with my maid.
It was madness to think of going to our father, Anastasie and I have
bled him dry; our poor father would have sold himself if he could have
raised six thousand francs that way. I should have driven him frantic
to no purpose. You have saved me from shame and death; I was beside
myself with anguish. Ah! monsieur, I owed you this explanation after
my mad ravings. When you left me just now, as soon as you were out of
sight, I longed to escape, to run away . . . where, I did not know.
Half the women in Paris lead such lives as mine; they live in apparent
luxury, and in their souls are tormented by anxiety. I know of poor
creatures even more miserable than I; there are women who are driven
to ask their tradespeople to make out false bills, women who rob their
husbands. Some men believe that an Indian shawl worth a thousand louis
only cost five hundred francs, others that a shawl costing five
hundred francs is worth a hundred louis. There are women, too, with
narrow incomes, who scrape and save and starve their children to pay
for a dress. I am innocent of these base meannesses. But this is the
last extremity of my torture. Some women will sell themselves to their
husbands, and so obtain their way, but I, at any rate, am free. If I
chose, Nucingen would cover me with gold, but I would rather weep on
the breast of a man whom I can respect. Ah! tonight, M. de Marsay will
no longer have a right to think of me as a woman whom he has paid."
She tried to conceal her tears from him, hiding her face in her hands;
Eugene drew them away and looked at her; she seemed to him sublime at
"It is hideous, is it not," she cried, "to speak in a breath of money
and affection. You cannot love me after this," she added.
The incongruity between the ideas of honor which make women so great,
and the errors in conduct which are forced upon them by the
constitution of society, had thrown Eugene's thoughts into confusion;
he uttered soothing and consoling words, and wondered at the beautiful
woman before him, and at the artless imprudence of her cry of pain.
"You will not remember this against me?" she asked; "promise me that
you will not."
"Ah! madame, I am incapable of doing so," he said. She took his hand
and held it to her heart, a movement full of grace that expressed her
"I am free and happy once more, thanks to you," she said. "Oh! I have
felt lately as if I were in the grasp of an iron hand. But after this
I mean to live simply and to spend nothing. You will think me just as
pretty, will you not, my friend? Keep this," she went on, as she took
only six of the banknotes. "In conscience I owe you a thousand crowns,
for I really ought to go halves with you."
Eugene's maiden conscience resisted; but when the Baroness said, "I am
bound to look on you as an accomplice or as an enemy," he took the
"It shall be a last stake in reserve," he said, "in case of
"That was what I was dreading to hear," she cried, turning pale. "Oh,
if you would that I should be anything to you, swear to me that you
will never re-enter a gaming-house. Great Heaven! that I should
corrupt you! I should die of sorrow!"
They had reached the Rue Saint-Lazare by this time. The contrast
between the ostentation of wealth in the house, and the wretched
condition of its mistress, dazed the student; and Vautrin's cynical
words began to ring in his ears.
"Seat yourself there," said the Baroness, pointing to a low chair
beside the fire. "I have a difficult letter to write," she added.
"Tell me what to say."
"Say nothing," Eugene answered her. "Put the bills in an envelope,
direct it, and send it by your maid."
"Why, you are a love of a man," she said. "Ah! see what it is to have
been well brought up. That is the Beauseant through and through," she
went on, smiling at him.
"She is charming," thought Eugene, more and more in love. He looked
round him at the room; there was an ostentatious character about the
luxury, a meretricious taste in the splendor.
"Do you like it?" she asked, as she rang for the maid.
"Therese, take this to M. de Marsay, and give it into his hands
yourself. If he is not at home, bring the letter back to me."
Therese went, but not before she had given Eugene a spiteful glance.
Dinner was announced. Rastignac gave his arm to Mme. de Nucingen, she
led the way into a pretty dining-room, and again he saw the luxury of
the table which he had admired in his cousin's house.
"Come and dine with me on opera evenings, and we will go to the
Italiens afterwards," she said.
"I should soon grow used to the pleasant life if it could last, but I
am a poor student, and I have my way to make."
"Oh! you will succeed," she said laughing. "You will see. All that you
wish will come to pass. _I_ did not expect to be so happy."
It is the wont of women to prove the impossible by the possible, and
to annihilate facts by presentiments. When Mme. de Nucingen and
Rastignac took their places in her box at the Bouffons, her face wore
a look of happiness that made her so lovely that every one indulged in
those small slanders against which women are defenceless; for the
scandal that is uttered lightly is often seriously believed. Those who
know Paris, believe nothing that is said, and say nothing of what is
Eugene took the Baroness' hand in his, and by some light pressure of
the fingers, or a closer grasp of the hand, they found a language in
which to express the sensations which the music gave them. It was an
evening of intoxicating delight for both; and when it ended, and they
went out together, Mme. de Nucingen insisted on taking Eugene with her
as far as the Pont Neuf, he disputing with her the whole of the way
for a single kiss after all those that she had showered upon him so
passionately at the Palais-Royal; Eugene reproached her with
"That was gratitude," she said, "for devotion that I did not dare to
hope for, but now it would be a promise."
"And will you give me no promise, ingrate?"
He grew vexed. Then, with one of those impatient gestures that fill a
lover with ecstasy, she gave him her hand to kiss, and he took it with
a discontented air that delighted her.
"I shall see you at the ball on Monday," she said.
As Eugene went home in the moonlight, he fell to serious reflections.
He was satisfied, and yet dissatisfied. He was pleased with an
adventure which would probably give him his desire, for in the end one
of the prettiest and best-dressed women in Paris would be his; but, as
a set-off, he saw his hopes of fortune brought to nothing; and as soon
as he realized this fact, the vague thoughts of yesterday evening
began to take a more decided shape in his mind. A check is sure to
reveal to us the strength of our hopes. The more Eugene learned of the
pleasures of life in Paris, the more impatient he felt of poverty and
obscurity. He crumpled the banknote in his pocket, and found any
quantity of plausible excuses for appropriating it.
He reached the Rue Neuve-Sainte-Genevieve at last, and from the
stairhead he saw a light in Goriot's room; the old man had lighted a
candle, and set the door ajar, lest the student should pass him by,
and go to his room without "telling him all about his daughter," to
use his own expression. Eugene, accordingly, told him everything
"Then they think that I am ruined!" cried Father Goriot, in an agony
of jealousy and desperation. "Why, I have still thirteen hundred
livres a year! /Mon Dieu!/ Poor little girl! why did she not come to
me? I would have sold my rentes; she should have had some of the
principal, and I would have bought a life-annuity with the rest. My
good neighbor, why did not YOU come to tell me of her difficulty? How
had you the heart to go and risk her poor little hundred francs at
play? This is heart-breaking work. You see what it is to have sons-in-
law. Oh! if I had hold of them, I would wring their necks. /Mon Dieu!
crying!/ Did you say she was crying?"
"With her head on my waistcoat," said Eugene.
"Oh! give it to me," said Father Goriot. "What! my daughter's tears
have fallen there--my darling Delphine, who never used to cry when she
was a little girl! Oh! I will buy you another; do not wear it again;
let me have it. By the terms of her marriage-contract, she ought to
have the use of her property. To-morrow morning I will go and see
Derville; he is an attorney. I will demand that her money should be
invested in her own name. I know the law. I am an old wolf, I will
show my teeth."
"Here, father; this is a banknote for a thousand francs that she
wanted me to keep out of our winnings. Keep them for her, in the
pocket of the waistcoat."
Goriot looked hard at Eugene, reached out and took the law student's
hand, and Eugene felt a tear fall on it.
"You will succeed," the old man said. "God is just, you see. I know an
honest man when I see him, and I can tell you, there are not many men
like you. I am to have another dear child in you, am I? There, go to
sleep; you can sleep; you are not yet a father. She was crying! and I
have to be told about it!--and I was quietly eating my dinner, like an
idiot, all the time--I, who would sell the Father, Son and Holy Ghost
to save one tear to either of them."
"An honest man!" said Eugene to himself as he lay down. "Upon my word,
I think I will be an honest man all my life; it is so pleasant to obey
the voice of conscience." Perhaps none but believers in God do good in
secret; and Eugene believed in a God.
The next day Rastignac went at the appointed time to Mme. de
Beauseant, who took him with her to the Duchesse de Carigliano's ball.
The Marechale received Eugene most graciously. Mme. de Nucingen was
there. Delphine's dress seemed to suggest that she wished for the
admiration of others, so that she might shine the more in Eugene's
eyes; she was eagerly expecting a glance from him, hiding, as she
thought, this eagerness from all beholders. This moment is full of
charm for one who can guess all that passes in a woman's mind. Who has
not refrained from giving his opinion, to prolong her suspense,
concealing his pleasure from a desire to tantalize, seeking a
confession of love in her uneasiness, enjoying the fears that he can
dissipate by a smile? In the course of the evening the law student
suddenly comprehended his position; he saw that, as the cousin of Mme.
de Beauseant, he was a personage in this world. He was already
credited with the conquest of Mme. de Nucingen, and for this reason
was a conspicuous figure; he caught the envious glances of other young
men, and experienced the earliest pleasures of coxcombry. People
wondered at his luck, and scraps of these conversations came to his
ears as he went from room to room; all the women prophesied his
success; and Delphine, in her dread of losing him, promised that this
evening she would not refuse the kiss that all his entreaties could
scarcely win yesterday.
Rastignac received several invitations. His cousin presented him to
other women who were present; women who could claim to be of the
highest fashion; whose houses were looked upon as pleasant; and this
was the loftiest and most fashionable society in Paris into which he
was launched. So this evening had all the charm of a brilliant debut;
it was an evening that he was to remember even in old age, as a woman
looks back upon her first ball and the memories of her girlish
The next morning, at breakfast, he related the story of his success
for the benefit of Father Goriot and the lodgers. Vautrin began to
smile in a diabolical fashion.
"And do you suppose," cried that cold-blooded logician, "that a young
man of fashion can live here in the Rue Neuve-Sainte-Genevieve, in the
Maison Vauquer--an exceedingly respectable boarding-house in every
way, I grant you, but an establishment that, none the less, falls
short of being fashionable? The house is comfortable, it is lordly in
its abundance; it is proud to be the temporary abode of a Rastignac;
but, after all, it is in the Rue Neuve-Sainte-Genevieve, and luxury
would be out of place here, where we only aim at the purely
/patriarchalorama/. If you mean to cut a figure in Paris, my young
friend," Vautrin continued, with half-paternal jocularity, "you must
have three horses, a tilbury for the mornings, and a closed carriage
for the evening; you should spend altogether about nine thousand
francs on your stables. You would show yourself unworthy of your
destiny if you spent no more than three thousand francs with your
tailor, six hundred in perfumery, a hundred crowns to your shoemaker,
and a hundred more to your hatter. As for your laundress, there goes
another thousand francs; a young man of fashion must of necessity make
a great point of his linen; if your linen comes up to the required
standard, people often do not look any further. Love and the Church
demand a fair altar-cloth. That is fourteen thousand francs. I am
saying nothing of losses at play, bets, and presents; it is impossible
to allow less than two thousand francs for pocket money. I have led
that sort of life, and I know all about these expenses. Add the cost
of necessaries next; three hundred louis for provender, a thousand
francs for a place to roost in. Well, my boy, for all these little
wants of ours we had need to have twenty-five thousand francs every
year in our purse, or we shall find ourselves in the kennel, and
people laughing at us, and our career is cut short, good-bye to
success, and good-bye to your mistress! I am forgetting your valet and
your groom! Is Christophe going to carry your /billets-doux/ for you?
Do you mean to employ the stationery you use at present? Suicidal
policy! Hearken to the wisdom of your elders!" he went on, his bass
voice growing louder at each syllable. "Either take up your quarters
in a garret, live virtuously, and wed your work, or set about the
thing in a different way."
Vautrin winked and leered in the direction of Mlle. Taillefer to
enforce his remarks by a look which recalled the late tempting
proposals by which he had sought to corrupt the student's mind.
Several days went by, and Rastignac lived in a whirl of gaiety. He
dined almost every day with Mme. de Nucingen, and went wherever she
went, only returning to the Rue Neuve-Sainte-Genevieve in the small
hours. He rose at mid-day, and dressed to go into the Bois with
Delphine if the day was fine, squandering in this way time that was
worth far more than he knew. He turned as eagerly to learn the lessons
of luxury, and was as quick to feel its fascination, as the flowers of
the date palm to receive the fertilizing pollen. He played high, lost
and won large sums of money, and at last became accustomed to the
extravagant life that young men lead in Paris. He sent fifteen hundred
francs out of his first winnings to his mother and sisters, sending
handsome presents as well as the money. He had given out that he meant
to leave the Maison Vauquer; but January came and went, and he was
still there, still unprepared to go.
One rule holds good of most young men--whether rich or poor. They
never have money for the necessaries of life, but they have always
money to spare for their caprices--an anomaly which finds its
explanation in their youth and in the almost frantic eagerness with
which youth grasps at pleasure. They are reckless with anything
obtained on credit, while everything for which they must pay in ready
money is made to last as long as possible; if they cannot have all
that they want, they make up for it, it would seem, by squandering
what they have. To state the matter simply--a student is far more
careful of his hat than of his coat, because the latter being a
comparatively costly article of dress, it is in the nature of things
that a tailor should be a creditor; but it is otherwise with the
hatter; the sums of money spent with him are so modest, that he is the
most independent and unmanageable of his tribe, and it is almost
impossible to bring him to terms. The young man in the balcony of a
theatre who displays a gorgeous waistcoat for the benefit of the fair
owners of opera glasses, has very probably no socks in his wardrobe,
for the hosier is another of the genus of weevils that nibble at the
purse. This was Rastignac's condition. His purse was always empty for
Mme. Vauquer, always full at the demand of vanity; there was a
periodical ebb and flow in his fortunes, which was seldom favorable to
the payment of just debts. If he was to leave that unsavory and mean
abode, where from time to time his pretensions met with humiliation,
the first step was to pay his hostess for a month's board and lodging,
and the second to purchase furniture worthy of the new lodgings he
must take in his quality of dandy, a course that remained impossible.
Rastignac, out of his winnings at cards, would pay his jeweler
exorbitant prices for gold watches and chains, and then, to meet the
exigencies of play, would carry them to the pawnbroker, that discreet
and forbidding-looking friend of youth; but when it was a question of
paying for board or lodging, or for the necessary implements for the
cultivation of his Elysian fields, his imagination and pluck alike
deserted him. There was no inspiration to be found in vulgar
necessity, in debts contracted for past requirements. Like most of
those who trust to their luck, he put off till the last moment the
payment of debts that among the bourgeoisie are regarded as sacred
engagements, acting on the plan of Mirabeau, who never settled his
baker's bill until it underwent a formidable transformation into a
bill of exchange.
It was about this time when Rastignac was down on his luck and fell
into debt, that it became clear to the law student's mind that he must
have some more certain source of income if he meant to live as he had
been doing. But while he groaned over the thorny problems of his
precarious situation, he felt that he could not bring himself to
renounce the pleasures of this extravagant life, and decided that he
must continue it at all costs. His dreams of obtaining a fortune
appeared more and more chimerical, and the real obstacles grew more
formidable. His initiation into the secrets of the Nucingen household
had revealed to him that if he were to attempt to use this love affair
as a means of mending his fortunes, he must swallow down all sense of
decency, and renounce all the generous ideas which redeem the sins of
youth. He had chosen this life of apparent splendor, but secretly
gnawed by the canker worm of remorse, a life of fleeting pleasure
dearly paid for by persistent pain; like /Le Distrait/ of La Bruyere,
he had descended so far as to make his bed in a ditch; but (also like
/Le Distrait/) he himself was uncontaminated as yet by the mire that
stained his garments.
"So we have killed our mandarin, have we?" said Bianchon one day as
they left the dinner table.
"Not yet," he answered, "but he is at his last gasp."
The medical student took this for a joke, but it was not a jest.
Eugene had dined in the house that night for the first time for a long
while, and had looked thoughtful during the meal. He had taken his
place beside Mlle. Taillefer, and stayed through the dessert, giving
his neighbor an expressive glance from time to time. A few of the
boarders discussed the walnuts at the table, and others walked about
the room, still taking part in the conversation which had begun among
them. People usually went when they chose; the amount of time that
they lingered being determined by the amount of interest that the
conversation possessed for them, or by the difficulty of the process
of digestion. In winter-time the room was seldom empty before eight
o'clock, when the four women had it all to themselves, and made up for
the silence previously imposed upon them by the preponderating
masculine element. This evening Vautrin had noticed Eugene's
abstractedness, and stayed in the room, though he had seemed to be in
a hurry to finish his dinner and go. All through the talk afterwards
he had kept out of the sight of the law student, who quite believed
that Vautrin had left the room. He now took up his position cunningly
in the sitting-room instead of going when the last boarders went. He
had fathomed the young man's thoughts, and felt that a crisis was at
hand. Rastignac was, in fact, in a dilemma, which many another young
man must have known.
Mme. de Nucingen might love him, or might merely be playing with him,
but in either case Rastignac had been made to experience all the
alternations of hope and despair of genuine passion, and all the
diplomatic arts of a Parisienne had been employed on him. After
compromising herself by continually appearing in public with Mme. de
Beauseant's cousin she still hesitated, and would not give him the
lover's privileges which he appeared to enjoy. For a whole month she
had so wrought on his senses, that at last she had made an impression
on his heart. If in the earliest days the student had fancied himself
to be master, Mme. de Nucingen had since become the stronger of the
two, for she had skilfully roused and played upon every instinct, good
or bad, in the two or three men comprised in a young student in Paris.
This was not the result of deep design on her part, nor was she
playing a part, for women are in a manner true to themselves even
through their grossest deceit, because their actions are prompted by a
natural impulse. It may have been that Delphine, who had allowed this
young man to gain such an ascendency over her, conscious that she had
been too demonstrative, was obeying a sentiment of dignity, and either
repented of her concessions, or it pleased her to suspend them. It is
so natural to a Parisienne, even when passion has almost mastered her,
to hesitate and pause before taking the plunge; to probe the heart of
him to whom she intrusts her future. And once already Mme. de
Nucingen's hopes had been betrayed, and her loyalty to a selfish young
lover had been despised. She had good reason to be suspicious. Or it
may have been that something in Eugene's manner (for his rapid success
was making a coxcomb of him) had warned her that the grotesque nature
of their position had lowered her somewhat in his eyes. She doubtless
wished to assert her dignity; he was young, and she would be great in
his eyes; for the lover who had forsaken her had held her so cheap
that she was determined that Eugene should not think her an easy
conquest, and for this very reason--he knew that de Marsay had been
his predecessor. Finally, after the degradation of submission to the
pleasure of a heartless young rake, it was so sweet to her to wander
in the flower-strewn realms of love, that it was not wonderful that
she should wish to dwell a while on the prospect, to tremble with the
vibrations of love, to feel the freshness of the breath of its dawn.
The true lover was suffering for the sins of the false. This
inconsistency is unfortunately only to be expected so long as men do
not know how many flowers are mown down in a young woman's soul by the
first stroke of treachery.
Whatever her reasons may have been, Delphine was playing with
Rastignac, and took pleasure in playing with him, doubtless because
she felt sure of his love, and confident that she could put an end to
the torture as soon as it was her royal pleasure to do so. Eugene's
self-love was engaged; he could not suffer his first passage of love
to end in a defeat, and persisted in his suit like a sportsman
determined to bring down at least one partridge to celebrate his first
Feast of Saint-Hubert. The pressure of anxiety, his wounded self-love,
his despair, real or feigned, drew him nearer and nearer to this
woman. All Paris credited him with this conquest, and yet he was
conscious that he had made no progress since the day when he saw Mme.
de Nucingen for the first time. He did not know as yet that a woman's
coquetry is sometimes more delightful than the pleasure of secure
possession of her love, and was possessed with helpless rage. If, at
this time, while she denied herself to love, Eugene gathered the
springtide spoils of his life, the fruit, somewhat sharp and green,
and dearly bought, was no less delicious to the taste. There were
moments when he had not a sou in his pockets, and at such times he
thought in spite of his conscience of Vautrin's offer and the
possibility of fortune by a marriage with Mlle. Taillefer. Poverty
would clamor so loudly that more than once he was on the point of
yielding to the cunning temptations of the terrible sphinx, whose
glance had so often exerted a strange spell over him.
Poiret and Mlle. Michonneau went up to their rooms; and Rastignac,
thinking that he was alone with the women in the dining-room, sat
between Mme. Vauquer and Mme. Couture, who was nodding over the woolen
cuffs that she was knitting by the stove, and looked at Mlle.