Part 4 out of 6
Taillefer so tenderly that she lowered her eyes.
"Can you be in trouble, M. Eugene?" Victorine said after a pause.
"Who has not his troubles?" answered Rastignac. "If we men were sure
of being loved, sure of a devotion which would be our reward for the
sacrifices which we are always ready to make, then perhaps we should
have no troubles."
For answer Mlle. Taillefer only gave him a glance but it was
impossible to mistake its meaning.
"You, for instance, mademoiselle; you feel sure of your heart to-day,
but are you sure that it will never change?"
A smile flitted over the poor girl's lips; it seemed as if a ray of
light from her soul had lighted up her face. Eugene was dismayed at
the sudden explosion of feeling caused by his words.
"Ah! but suppose," he said, "that you should be rich and happy to-
morrow, suppose that a vast fortune dropped down from the clouds for
you, would you still love the man whom you loved in your days of
A charming movement of the head was her only answer.
"Even if he were very poor?"
Again the same mute answer.
"What nonsense are you talking, you two?" exclaimed Mme. Vauquer.
"Never mind," answered Eugene; "we understand each other."
"So there is to be an engagement of marriage between M. le Chevalier
Eugene de Rastignac and Mlle. Victorine Taillefer, is there?" The
words were uttered in Vautrin's deep voice, and Vautrin appeared at
the door as he spoke.
"Oh! how you startled me!" Mme. Couture and Mme. Vauquer exclaimed
"I might make a worse choice," said Rastignac, laughing. Vautrin's
voice had thrown him into the most painful agitation that he had yet
"No bad jokes, gentlemen!" said Mme. Couture. "My dear, let us go
Mme. Vauquer followed the two ladies, meaning to pass the evening in
their room, an arrangement that economized fire and candlelight.
Eugene and Vautrin were left alone.
"I felt sure you would come round to it," said the elder man with the
coolness that nothing seemed to shake. "But stay a moment! I have as
much delicacy as anybody else. Don't make up your mind on the spur of
the moment; you are a little thrown off your balance just now. You are
in debt, and I want you to come over to my way of thinking after sober
reflection, and not in a fit of passion or desperation. Perhaps you
want a thousand crowns. There, you can have them if you like."
The tempter took out a pocketbook, and drew thence three banknotes,
which he fluttered before the student's eyes. Eugene was in a most
painful dilemma. He had debts, debts of honor. He owed a hundred louis
to the Marquis d'Ajuda and to the Count de Trailles; he had not the
money, and for this reason had not dared to go to Mme. de Restaud's
house, where he was expected that evening. It was one of those
informal gatherings where tea and little cakes are handed round, but
where it is possible to lose six thousand francs at whist in the
course of a night.
"You must see," said Eugene, struggling to hide a convulsive tremor,
"that after what has passed between us, I cannot possibly lay myself
under any obligation to you."
"Quite right; I should be sorry to hear you speak otherwise," answered
the tempter. "You are a fine young fellow, honorable, brave as a lion,
and as gentle as a young girl. You would be a fine haul for the devil!
I like youngsters of your sort. Get rid of one or two more prejudices,
and you will see the world as it is. Make a little scene now and then,
and act a virtuous part in it, and a man with a head on his shoulders
can do exactly as he likes amid deafening applause from the fools in
the gallery. Ah! a few days yet, and you will be with us; and if you
would only be tutored by me, I would put you in the way of achieving
all your ambitions. You should no sooner form a wish than it should be
realized to the full; you should have all your desires--honors,
wealth, or women. Civilization should flow with milk and honey for
you. You should be our pet and favorite, our Benjamin. We would all
work ourselves to death for you with pleasure; every obstacle should
be removed from your path. You have a few prejudices left; so you
think that I am a scoundrel, do you? Well, M. de Turenne, quite as
honorable a man as you take yourself to be, had some little private
transactions with bandits, and did not feel that his honor was
tarnished. You would rather not lie under any obligation to me, eh?
You need not draw back on that account," Vautrin went on, and a smile
stole over his lips. "Take these bits of paper and write across this,"
he added, producing a piece of stamped paper, "/Accepted the sum of
three thousand five hundred francs due this day twelvemonth/, and fill
in the date. The rate of interest is stiff enough to silence any
scruples on your part; it gives you the right to call me a Jew. You
can call quits with me on the score of gratitude. I am quite willing
that you should despise me to-day, because I am sure that you will
have a kindlier feeling towards me later on. You will find out
fathomless depths in my nature, enormous and concentrated forces that
weaklings call vices, but you will never find me base or ungrateful.
In short, I am neither a pawn nor a bishop, but a castle, a tower of
strength, my boy."
"What manner of man are you?" cried Eugene. "Were you created to
"Why no; I am a good-natured fellow, who is willing to do a dirty
piece of work to put you high and dry above the mire for the rest of
your days. Do you ask the reason of this devotion? All right; I will
tell you that some of these days. A word or two in your ear will
explain it. I have begun by shocking you, by showing you the way to
ring the changes, and giving you a sight of the mechanism of the
social machine; but your first fright will go off like a conscript's
terror on the battlefield. You will grow used to regarding men as
common soldiers who have made up their minds to lose their lives for
some self-constituted king. Times have altered strangely. Once you
could say to a bravo, 'Here are a hundred crowns; go and kill Monsieur
So-and-so for me,' and you could sup quietly after turning some one
off into the dark for the least thing in the world. But nowadays I
propose to put you in the way of a handsome fortune; you have only to
nod your head, it won't compromise you in any way, and you hesitate.
'Tis an effeminate age."
Eugene accepted the draft, and received the banknotes in exchange for
"Well, well. Come, now, let us talk rationally," Vautrin continued. "I
mean to leave this country in a few months' time for America, and set
about planting tobacco. I will send you the cigars of friendship. If I
make money at it, I will help you in your career. If I have no
children--which will probably be the case, for I have no anxiety to
raise slips of myself here--you shall inherit my fortune. That is what
you may call standing by a man; but I myself have a liking for you. I
have a mania, too, for devoting myself to some one else. I have done
it before. You see, my boy, I live in a loftier sphere than other men
do; I look on all actions as means to an end, and the end is all that
I look at. What is a man's life to me? Not /that/," he said, and he
snapped his thumb-nail against his teeth. "A man, in short, is
everything to me, or just nothing at all. Less than nothing if his
name happens to be Poiret; you can crush him like a bug, he is flat
and he is offensive. But a man is a god when he is like you; he is not
a machine covered with a skin, but a theatre in which the greatest
sentiments are displayed--great thoughts and feelings--and for these,
and these only, I live. A sentiment--what is that but the whole world
in a thought? Look at Father Goriot. For him, his two girls are the
whole universe; they are the clue by which he finds his way through
creation. Well, for my own part, I have fathomed the depths of life,
there is only one real sentiment--comradeship between man and man.
Pierre and Jaffier, that is my passion. I knew /Venice Preserved/ by
heart. Have you met many men plucky enough when a comrade says, 'Let
us bury a dead body!' to go and do it without a word or plaguing him
by taking a high moral tone? I have done it myself. I should not talk
like this to just everybody, but you are not like an ordinary man; one
can talk to you, you can understand things. You will not dabble about
much longer among the tadpoles in these swamps. Well, then, it is all
settled. You will marry. Both of us carry our point. Mine is made of
iron, and will never soften, he! he!"
Vautrin went out. He would not wait to hear the student's repudiation,
he wished to put Eugene at his ease. He seemed to understand the
secret springs of the faint resistance still made by the younger man;
the struggles in which men seek to preserve their self-respect by
justifying their blameworthy actions to themselves.
"He may do as he likes; I shall not marry Mlle. Taillefer, that is
certain," said Eugene to himself.
He regarded this man with abhorrence, and yet the very cynicism of
Vautrin's ideas, and the audacious way in which he used other men for
his own ends, raised him in the student's eyes; but the thought of a
compact threw Eugene into a fever of apprehension, and not until he
had recovered somewhat did he dress, call for a cab, and go to Mme. de
For some days the Countess had paid more and more attention to a young
man whose every step seemed a triumphal progress in the great world;
it seemed to her that he might be a formidable power before long. He
paid Messieurs de Trailles and d'Ajuda, played at whist for part of
the evening, and made good his losses. Most men who have their way to
make are more or less of fatalists, and Eugene was superstitious; he
chose to consider that his luck was heaven's reward for his
perseverance in the right way. As soon as possible on the following
morning he asked Vautrin whether the bill he had given was still in
the other's possession; and on receiving a reply in the affirmative,
he repaid the three thousand francs with a not unnatural relief.
"Everything is going on well," said Vautrin.
"But I am not your accomplice," said Eugene.
"I know, I know," Vautrin broke in. "You are still acting like a
child. You are making mountains out of molehills at the outset."
Two days later, Poiret and Mlle. Michonneau were sitting together on a
bench in the sun. They had chosen a little frequented alley in the
Jardin des Plantes, and a gentleman was chatting with them, the same
person, as a matter of fact, about whom the medical student had, not
without good reason, his own suspicions.
"Mademoiselle," this M. Gondureau was saying, "I do not see any cause
for your scruples. His Excellency, Monseigneur the Minister of
"Yes, his Excellency is taking a personal interest in the matter,"
Who would think it probable that Poiret, a retired clerk, doubtless
possessed of some notions of civic virtue, though there might be
nothing else in his head--who would think it likely that such a man
would continue to lend an ear to this supposed independent gentleman
of the Rue de Buffon, when the latter dropped the mask of a decent
citizen by that word "police," and gave a glimpse of the features of a
detective from the Rue de Jerusalem? And yet nothing was more natural.
Perhaps the following remarks from the hitherto unpublished records
made by certain observers will throw a light on the particular species
to which Poiret belonged in the great family of fools. There is a race
of quill-drivers, confined in the columns of the budget between the
first degree of latitude (a kind of administrative Greenland where the
salaries begin at twelve hundred francs) to the third degree, a more
temperate zone, where incomes grow from three to six thousand francs,
a climate where the /bonus/ flourishes like a half-hardy annual in
spite of some difficulties of culture. A characteristic trait that
best reveals the feeble narrow-mindedness of these inhabitants of
petty officialdom is a kind of involuntary, mechanical, and
instinctive reverence for the Grand Lama of every Ministry, known to
the rank and file only by his signature (an illegible scrawl) and by
his title--"His Excellency Monseigneur le Ministre," five words which
produce as much effect as the /il Bondo Cani/ of the /Calife de
Bagdad/, five words which in the eyes of this low order of
intelligence represent a sacred power from which there is no appeal.
The Minister is administratively infallible for the clerks in the
employ of the Government, as the Pope is infallible for good
Catholics. Something of this peculiar radiance invests everything he
does or says, or that is said or done in his name; the robe of office
covers everything and legalizes everything done by his orders; does
not his very title--His Excellency--vouch for the purity of his
intentions and the righteousness of his will, and serve as a sort of
passport and introduction to ideas that otherwise would not be
entertained for a moment? Pronounce the words "His Excellency," and
these poor folk will forthwith proceed to do what they would not do
for their own interests. Passive obedience is as well known in a
Government department as in the army itself; and the administrative
system silences consciences, annihilates the individual, and ends
(give it time enough) by fashioning a man into a vise or a thumbscrew,
and he becomes part of the machinery of Government. Wherefore, M.
Gondureau, who seemed to know something of human nature, recognized
Poiret at once as one of those dupes of officialdom, and brought out
for his benefit, at the proper moment, the /deus ex machina/, the
magical words "His Excellency," so as to dazzle Poiret just as he
himself unmasked his batteries, for he took Poiret and the Michonneau
for the male and female of the same species.
"If his Excellency himself, his Excellency the Minister . . . Ah! that
is quite another thing," said Poiret.
"You seem to be guided by this gentleman's opinion, and you hear what
he says," said the man of independent means, addressing Mlle.
Michonneau. "Very well, his Excellency is at this moment absolutely
certain that the so-called Vautrin, who lodges at the Maison Vauquer,
is a convict who escaped from penal servitude at Toulon, where he is
known by the nickname /Trompe-la-Mort/."
"Trompe-la-Mort?" said Pioret. "Dear me, he is very lucky if he
deserves that nickname."
"Well, yes," said the detective. "They call him so because he has been
so lucky as not to lose his life in the very risky businesses that he
has carried through. He is a dangerous man, you see! He has qualities
that are out of the common; the thing he is wanted for, in fact, was a
matter which gained him no end of credit with his own set----"
"Then is he a man of honor?" asked Poiret.
"Yes, according to his notions. He agreed to take another man's crime
upon himself--a forgery committed by a very handsome young fellow that
he had taken a great fancy to, a young Italian, a bit of a gambler,
who has since gone into the army, where his conduct has been
"But if his Excellency the Minister of Police is certain that M.
Vautrin is this /Trompe-la-Mort/, why should he want me?" asked Mlle.
"Oh yes," said Poiret, "if the Minister, as you have been so obliging
as to tell us, really knows for a certainty----"
"Certainty is not the word; he only suspects. You will soon understand
how things are. Jacques Collin, nicknamed /Trompe-la-Mort/, is in the
confidence of every convict in the three prisons; he is their man of
business and their banker. He makes a very good thing out of managing
their affairs, which want a /man of mark/ to see about them."
"Ha! ha! do you see the pun, mademoiselle?" asked Poiret. "This
gentleman calls himself a /man of mark/ because he is a /marked man/--
branded, you know."
"This so-called Vautrin," said the detective, "receives the money
belonging to my lords the convicts, invests it for them, and holds it
at the disposal of those who escape, or hands it over to their
families if they leave a will, or to their mistresses when they draw
upon him for their benefit."
"Their mistresses! You mean their wives," remarked Poiret.
"No, sir. A convict's wife is usually an illegitimate connection. We
call them concubines."
"Then they all live in a state of concubinage?"
"Why, these are abominations that his Excellency ought not to allow.
Since you have the honor of seeing his Excellency, you, who seem to
have philanthropic ideas, ought really to enlighten him as to their
immoral conduct--they are setting a shocking example to the rest of
"But the Government does not hold them up as models of all the
virtues, my dear sir----"
"Of course not, sir; but still----"
"Just let the gentleman say what he has to say, dearie," said Mlle.
"You see how it is, mademoiselle," Gondureau continued. "The
Government may have the strongest reasons for getting this illicit
hoard into its hands; it mounts up to something considerable, by all
that we can make out. Trompe-la-Mort not only holds large sums for his
friends the convicts, but he has other amounts which are paid over to
him by the Society of the Ten Thousand----"
"Ten Thousand Thieves!" cried Pioret in alarm.
"No. The Society of the Ten Thousand is not an association of petty
offenders, but of people who set about their work on a large scale--
they won't touch a matter unless there are ten thousand francs in it.
It is composed of the most distinguished of the men who are sent
straight to the Assize Courts when they come up for trial. They know
the Code too well to risk their necks when they are nabbed. Collin is
their confidential agent and legal adviser. By means of the large sums
of money at his disposal he has established a sort of detective system
of his own; it is widespread and mysterious in its workings. We have
had spies all about him for a twelvemonth, and yet we could not manage
to fathom his games. His capital and his cleverness are at the service
of vice and crime; this money furnishes the necessary funds for a
regular army of blackguards in his pay who wage incessant war against
society. If we can catch Trompe-la-Mort, and take possession of his
funds, we should strike at the root of this evil. So this job is a
kind of Government affair--a State secret--and likely to redound to
the honor of those who bring the thing to a successful conclusion.
You, sir, for instance, might very well be taken into a Government
department again; they might make you secretary to a Commissary of
Police; you could accept that post without prejudice to your retiring
Mlle. Michonneau interposed at this point with, "What is there to
hinder Trompe-la-Mort from making off with the money?"
"Oh!" said the detective, "a man is told off to follow him everywhere
he goes, with orders to kill him if he were to rob the convicts. Then
it is not quite as easy to make off with a lot of money as it is to
run away with a young lady of family. Besides, Collin is not the sort
of fellow to play such a trick; he would be disgraced, according to
"You are quite right, sir," said Poiret, "utterly disgraced he would
"But none of all this explains why you do not come and take him
without more ado," remarked Mlle. Michonneau.
"Very well, mademoiselle, I will explain--but," he added in her ear,
"keep your companion quiet, or I shall never have done. The old boy
ought to pay people handsomely for listening to him.--Trompe-la-Mort,
when he came back here," he went on aloud "slipped into the skin of an
honest man; he turned up disguised as a decent Parisian citizen, and
took up his quarters in an unpretending lodging-house. He is cunning,
that he is! You don't catch him napping. Then M. Vautrin is a man of
consequence, who transacts a good deal of business."
"Naturally," said Poiret to himself.
"And suppose that the Minister were to make a mistake and get hold of
the real Vautrin, he would put every one's back up among the business
men in Paris, and public opinion would be against him. M. le Prefet de
Police is on slippery ground; he has enemies. They would take
advantage of any mistake. There would be a fine outcry and fuss made
by the Opposition, and he would be sent packing. We must set about
this just as we did about the Coignard affair, the sham Comte de
Sainte-Helene; if he had been the real Comte de Sainte-Helene, we
should have been in the wrong box. We want to be quite sure what we
"Yes, but what you want is a pretty woman," said Mlle. Michonneau
"Trompe-la-Mort would not let a woman come near him," said the
detective. "I will tell you a secret--he does not like them."
"Still, I do not see what I can do, supposing that I did agree to
identify him for two thousand francs."
"Nothing simpler," said the stranger. "I will send you a little bottle
containing a dose that will send a rush of blood to the head; it will
do him no harm whatever, but he will fall down as if he were in a fit.
The drug can be put into wine or coffee; either will do equally well.
You carry your man to bed at once, and undress him to see that he is
not dying. As soon as you are alone, you give him a slap on the
shoulder, and /presto!/ the letters will appear."
"Why, that is just nothing at all," said Poiret.
"Well, do you agree?" said Gondureau, addressing the old maid.
"But, my dear sir, suppose there are no letters at all," said Mlle.
Michonneau; "am I to have the two thousand francs all the same?"
"What will you give me then?"
"Five hundred francs."
"It is such a thing to do for so little! It lies on your conscience
just the same, and I must quiet my conscience, sir."
"I assure you," said Poiret, "that mademoiselle has a great deal of
conscience, and not only so, she is a very amiable person, and very
"Well, now," Mlle. Michonneau went on, "make it three thousand francs
if he is Trompe-la-Mort, and nothing at all if he is an ordinary man."
"Done!" said Gondureau, "but on the condition that the thing is
"Not quite so soon, my dear sir; I must consult my confessor first."
"You are a sly one," said the detective as he rose to his feet. "Good-
bye till to-morrow, then. And if you should want to see me in a hurry,
go to the Petite Rue Saint-Anne at the bottom of the Cour de la
Sainte-Chapelle. There is one door under the archway. Ask there for M.
Bianchon, on his way back from Cuvier's lecture, overheard the
sufficiently striking nickname of /Trompe-la-Mort/, and caught the
celebrated chief detective's "/Done!/"
"Why didn't you close with him? It would be three hundred francs a
year," said Poiret to Mlle. Michonneau.
"Why didn't I?" she asked. "Why, it wants thinking over. Suppose that
M. Vautrin is this Trompe-la-Mort, perhaps we might do better for
ourselves with him. Still, on the other hand, if you ask him for
money, it would put him on his guard, and he is just the man to clear
out without paying, and that would be an abominable sell."
"And suppose you did warn him," Poiret went on, "didn't that gentleman
say that he was closely watched? You would spoil everything."
"Anyhow," thought Mlle. Michonneau, "I can't abide him. He says
nothing but disagreeable things to me."
"But you can do better than that," Poiret resumed. "As that gentleman
said (and he seemed to me to be a very good sort of man, besides being
very well got up), it is an act of obedience to the laws to rid
society of a criminal, however virtuous he may be. Once a thief,
always a thief. Suppose he were to take it into his head to murder us
all? The deuce! We should be guilty of manslaughter, and be the first
to fall victims into the bargain!"
Mlle. Michonneau's musings did not permit her to listen very closely
to the remarks that fell one by one from Poiret's lips like water
dripping from a leaky tap. When once this elderly babbler began to
talk, he would go on like clockwork unless Mlle. Michonneau stopped
him. He started on some subject or other, and wandered on through
parenthesis after parenthesis, till he came to regions as remote as
possible from his premises without coming to any conclusions by the
By the time they reached the Maison Vauquer he had tacked together a
whole string of examples and quotations more or less irrelevant to the
subject in hand, which led him to give a full account of his own
deposition in the case of the Sieur Ragoulleau versus Dame Morin, when
he had been summoned as a witness for the defence.
As they entered the dining-room, Eugene de Rastignac was talking apart
with Mlle. Taillefer; the conversation appeared to be of such
thrilling interest that the pair never noticed the two older lodgers
as they passed through the room. None of this was thrown away on Mlle.
"I knew how it would end," remarked that lady, addressing Poiret.
"They have been making eyes at each other in a heartrending way for a
"Yes," he answered. "So she was found guilty."
"I am talking about Mlle. Victorine," said Mlle, Michonneau, as she
entered Poiret's room with an absent air, "and you answer, 'Mme.
Morin.' Who may Mme. Morin be?"
"What can Mlle. Victorine be guilty of?" demanded Poiret.
"Guilty of falling in love with M. Eugene de Rastignac and going
further and further without knowing exactly where she is going, poor
That morning Mme. de Nucingen had driven Eugene to despair. In his own
mind he had completely surrendered himself to Vautrin, and
deliberately shut his eyes to the motive for the friendship which that
extraordinary man professed for him, nor would he look to the
consequences of such an alliance. Nothing short of a miracle could
extricate him now out of the gulf into which he had walked an hour
ago, when he exchanged vows in the softest whispers with Mlle.
Taillefer. To Victorine it seemed as if she heard an angel's voice,
that heaven was opening above her; the Maison Vauquer took strange and
wonderful hues, like a stage fairy-palace. She loved and she was
loved; at any rate, she believed that she was loved; and what woman
would not likewise have believed after seeing Rastignac's face and
listening to the tones of his voice during that hour snatched under
the Argus eyes of the Maison Vauquer? He had trampled on his
conscience; he knew that he was doing wrong, and did it deliberately;
he had said to himself that a woman's happiness should atone for this
venial sin. The energy of desperation had lent new beauty to his face;
the lurid fire that burned in his heart shone from his eyes. Luckily
for him, the miracle took place. Vautrin came in in high spirits, and
at once read the hearts of these two young creatures whom he had
brought together by the combinations of his infernal genius, but his
deep voice broke in upon their bliss.
"A charming girl is my Fanchette
In her simplicity,"
he sang mockingly.
Victorine fled. Her heart was more full than it had ever been, but it
was full of joy, and not of sorrow. Poor child! A pressure of the
hand, the light touch of Rastignac's hair against her cheek, a word
whispered in her ear so closely that she felt the student's warm
breath on her, the pressure of a trembling arm about her waist, a kiss
upon her throat--such had been her betrothal. The near neighborhood of
the stout Sylvie, who might invade that glorified room at any moment,
only made these first tokens of love more ardent, more eloquent, more
entrancing than the noblest deeds done for love's sake in the most
famous romances. This /plain-song/ of love, to use the pretty
expression of our forefathers, seemed almost criminal to the devout
young girl who went to confession every fortnight. In that one hour
she had poured out more of the treasures of her soul than she could
give in later days of wealth and happiness, when her whole self
followed the gift.
"The thing is arranged," Vautrin said to Eugene, who remained. "Our
two dandies have fallen out. Everything was done in proper form. It is
a matter of opinion. Our pigeon has insulted my hawk. They will meet
to-morrow in the redoubt at Clignancourt. By half-past eight in the
morning Mlle. Taillefer, calmly dipping her bread and butter in her
coffee cup, will be sole heiress of her father's fortune and
affections. A funny way of putting it, isn't it? Taillefer's youngster
is an expert swordsman, and quite cocksure about it, but he will be
bled; I have just invented a thrust for his benefit, a way of raising
your sword point and driving it at the forehead. I must show you that
thrust; it is an uncommonly handy thing to know."
Rastignac heard him in dazed bewilderment; he could not find a word in
reply. Just then Goriot came in, and Bianchon and a few of the
boarders likewise appeared.
"That is just as I intended." Vautrin said. "You know quite well what
you are about. Good, my little eaglet! You are born to command, you
are strong, you stand firm on your feet, you are game! I respect you."
He made as though he would take Eugene's hand, but Rastignac hastily
withdrew it, sank into a chair, and turned ghastly pale; it seemed to
him that there was a sea of blood before his eyes.
"Oh! so we still have a few dubious tatters of the swaddling clothes
of virtue about us!" murmured Vautrin. "But Papa Doliban has three
millions; I know the amount of his fortune. Once have her dowry in
your hands, and your character will be as white as the bride's white
dress, even in your own eyes."
Rastignac hesitated no longer. He made up his mind that he would go
that evening to warn the Taillefers, father and son. But just as
Vautrin left him, Father Goriot came up and said in his ear, "You look
melancholy, my boy; I will cheer you up. Come with me."
The old vermicelli dealer lighted his dip at one of the lamps as he
spoke. Eugene went with him, his curiosity had been aroused.
"Let us go up to your room," the worthy soul remarked, when he had
asked Sylvie for the law student's key. "This morning," he resumed,
"you thought that SHE did not care about you, did you not? Eh? She
would have nothing to say to you, and you went away out of humor and
out of heart. Stuff and rubbish! She wanted you to go because she was
expecting /me/! Now do you understand? We were to complete the
arrangements for taking some chambers for you, a jewel of a place, you
are to move into it in three days' time. Don't split upon me. She
wants it to be a surprise; but I couldn't bear to keep the secret from
you. You will be in the Rue d'Artois, only a step or two from the Rue
Saint-Lazare, and you are to be housed like a prince! Any one might
have thought we were furnishing the house for a bride. Oh! we have
done a lot of things in the last month, and you knew nothing about it.
My attorney has appeared on the scene, and my daughter is to have
thirty-six thousand francs a year, the interest on her money, and I
shall insist on having her eight hundred thousand invested in sound
securities, landed property that won't run away."
Eugene was dumb. He folded his arms and paced up and down in his
cheerless, untidy room. Father Goriot waited till the student's back
was turned, and seized the opportunity to go to the chimney-piece and
set upon it a little red morocco case with Rastignac's arms stamped in
gold on the leather.
"My dear boy," said the kind soul, "I have been up to the eyes in this
business. You see, there was plenty of selfishness on my part; I have
an interested motive in helping you to change lodgings. You will not
refuse me if I ask you something; will you, eh?"
"What is it?"
"There is a room on the fifth floor, up above your rooms, that is to
let along with them; that is where I am going to live, isn't that so?
I am getting old: I am too far from my girls. I shall not be in the
way, but I shall be there, that is all. You will come and talk to me
about her every evening. It will not put you about, will it? I shall
have gone to bed before you come in, but I shall hear you come up, and
I shall say to myself, 'He has just seen my little Delphine. He has
been to a dance with her, and she is happy, thanks to him.' If I were
ill, it would do my heart good to hear you moving about below, to know
when you leave the house and when you come in. It is only a step to
the Champs-Elysees, where they go every day, so I shall be sure of
seeing them, whereas now I am sometimes too late. And then--perhaps
she may come to see you! I shall hear her, I shall see her in her soft
quilted pelisse tripping about as daintily as a kitten. In this one
month she has become my little girl again, so light-hearted and gay.
Her soul is recovering, and her happiness is owing to you! Oh! I would
do impossibilities for you. Only just now she said to me, 'I am very
happy, papa!' When they say 'father' stiffly, it sends a chill through
me; but when they call me 'papa,' it brings all the old memories back.
I feel most their father then; I even believe that they belong to me,
and to no one else."
The good man wiped his eyes, he was crying.
"It is a long while since I have heard them talk like that, a long,
long time since she took my arm as she did to-day. Yes, indeed, it
must be quite ten years since I walked side by side with one of my
girls. How pleasant it was to keep step with her, to feel the touch of
her gown, the warmth of her arm! Well, I took Delphine everywhere this
morning; I went shopping with her, and I brought her home again. Oh!
you must let me live near you. You may want some one to do you a
service some of these days, and I shall be on the spot to do it. Oh!
if only that great dolt of an Alsatian would die, if his gout would
have the sense to attack his stomach, how happy my poor child would
be! You would be my son-in-law; you would be her husband in the eyes
of the world. Bah! she has known no happiness, that excuses
everything. Our Father in heaven is surely on the side of fathers on
earth who love their children. How fond of you she is!" he said,
raising his head after a pause. "All the time we were going about
together she chatted away about you. 'He is so nice-looking, papa;
isn't he? He is kind-hearted! Does he talk to you about me?' Pshaw!
she said enough about you to fill whole volumes; between the Rue
d'Artois and the Passage des Panoramas she poured her heart out into
mine. I did not feel old once during that delightful morning; I felt
as light as a feather. I told her how you had given the banknote to
me; it moved my darling to tears. But what can this be on your
chimney-piece?" said Father Goriot at last. Rastignac had showed no
sign, and he was dying of impatience.
Eugene stared at his neighbor in dumb and dazed bewilderment. He
thought of Vautrin, of that duel to be fought to-morrow morning, and
of this realization of his dearest hopes, and the violent contrast
between the two sets of ideas gave him all the sensations of
nightmare. He went to the chimney-piece, saw the little square case,
opened it, and found a watch of Breguet's make wrapped in paper, on
which these words were written:
"I want you to think of me every hour, /because/ . . .
That last word doubtless contained an allusion to some scene that had
taken place between them. Eugene felt touched. Inside the gold watch-
case his arms had been wrought in enamel. The chain, the key, the
workmanship and design of the trinket were all such as he had
imagined, for he had long coveted such a possession. Father Goriot was
radiant. Of course he had promised to tell his daughter every little
detail of the scene and of the effect produced upon Eugene by her
present; he shared in the pleasure and excitement of the young people,
and seemed to be not the least happy of the three. He loved Rastignac
already for his own as well as for his daughter's sake.
"You must go and see her; she is expecting you this evening. That
great lout of an Alsatian is going to have supper with his opera-
dancer. Aha! he looked very foolish when my attorney let him know
where he was. He says he idolizes my daughter, does he? He had better
let her alone, or I will kill him. To think that my Delphine is his"--
he heaved a sigh--"it is enough to make me murder him, but it would
not be manslaughter to kill that animal; he is a pig with a calf's
brains.--You will take me with you, will you not?"
"Yes, dear Father Goriot; you know very well how fond I am of you----"
"Yes, I do know very well. You are not ashamed of me, are you? Not
you! Let me embrace you," and he flung his arms around the student's
"You will make her very happy; promise me that you will! You will go
to her this evening, will you not?"
"Oh! yes. I must go out; I have some urgent business on hand."
"Can I be of any use?"
"My word, yes! Will you go to old Taillefer's while I go to Mme. de
Nucingen? Ask him to make an appointment with me some time this
evening; it is a matter of life and death."
"Really, young man!" cried Father Goriot, with a change of
countenance; "are you really paying court to his daughter, as those
simpletons were saying down below? . . . /Tonnerre de dieu!/ you have
no notion what a tap /a la Goriot/ is like, and if you are playing a
double game, I shall put a stop to it by one blow of the fist. . . Oh!
the thing is impossible!"
"I swear to you that I love but one woman in the world," said the
student. "I only knew it a moment ago."
"Oh! what happiness!" cried Goriot.
"But young Taillefer has been called out; the duel comes off to-
morrow morning, and I have heard it said that he may lose his life in
"But what business is it of yours?" said Goriot.
"Why, I ought to tell him so, that he may prevent his son from putting
in an appearance----"
Just at that moment Vautrin's voice broke in upon them; he was
standing at the threshold of his door and singing:
"Oh! Richard, oh my king!
All the world abandons thee!
Broum! broum! broum! broum! broum!
The same old story everywhere,
A roving heart and a . . . tra la la."
"Gentlemen!" shouted Christophe, "the soup is ready, and every one is
waiting for you."
"Here," Vautrin called down to him, "come and take a bottle of my
"Do you think your watch is pretty?" asked Goriot. "She has good
taste, hasn't she? Eh?"
Vautrin, Father Goriot, and Rastignac came downstairs in company, and,
all three of them being late, were obliged to sit together.
Eugene was as distant as possible in his manner to Vautrin during
dinner; but the other, so charming in Mme. Vauquer's opinion, had
never been so witty. His lively sallies and sparkling talk put the
whole table in good humor. His assurance and coolness filled Eugene
"Why, what has come to you to-day?" inquired Mme. Vauquer. "You are as
merry as a skylark."
"I am always in spirits after I have made a good bargain."
"Bargain?" said Eugene.
"Well, yes, bargain. I have just delivered a lot of goods, and I shall
be paid a handsome commission on them--Mlle. Michonneau," he went on,
seeing that the elderly spinster was scrutinizing him intently, "have
you any objection to some feature in my face, that you are making
those lynx eyes at me? Just let me know, and I will have it changed to
oblige you . . . We shall not fall out about it, Poiret, I dare say?"
he added, winking at the superannuated clerk.
"Bless my soul, you ought to stand as model for a burlesque Hercules,"
said the young painter.
"I will, upon my word! if Mlle. Michonneau will consent to sit as the
Venus of Pere-Lachaise," replied Vautrin.
"There's Poiret," suggested Bianchon.
"Oh! Poiret shall pose as Poiret. He can be a garden god!" cried
Vautrin; "his name means a pear----"
"A sleepy pear!" Bianchon put in. "You will come in between the pear
and the cheese."
"What stuff are you all talking!" said Mme. Vauquer; "you would do
better to treat us to your Bordeaux; I see a glimpse of a bottle
there. It would keep us all in a good humor, and it is good for the
"Gentlemen," said Vautrin, "the Lady President calls us to order. Mme.
Couture and Mlle. Victorine will take your jokes in good part, but
respect the innocence of the aged Goriot. I propose a glass or two of
Bordeauxrama, rendered twice illustrious by the name of Laffite, no
political allusions intended.--Come, you Turk!" he added, looking at
Christophe, who did not offer to stir. "Christophe! Here! What, you
don't answer to your own name? Bring us some liquor, Turk!"
"Here it is, sir," said Christophe, holding out the bottle.
Vautrin filled Eugene's glass and Goriot's likewise, then he
deliberately poured out a few drops into his own glass, and sipped it
while his two neighbors drank their wine. All at once he made a
"Corked!" he cried. "The devil! You can drink the rest of this,
Christophe, and go and find another bottle; take from the right-hand
side, you know. There are sixteen of us; take down eight bottles."
"If you are going to stand treat," said the painter, "I will pay for a
These exclamations came from all parts of the table like squibs from a
"Come, now, Mama Vauquer, a couple of bottles of champagne," called
"/Quien!/ just like you! Why not ask for the whole house at once. A
couple of bottles of champagne; that means twelve francs! I shall
never see the money back again, I know! But if M. Eugene has a mind to
pay for it, I have some currant cordial."
"That currant cordial of hers is as bad as a black draught," muttered
the medical student.
"Shut up, Bianchon," exclaimed Rastignac; "the very mention of black
draught makes me feel----. Yes, champagne, by all means; I will pay
for it," he added.
"Sylvie," called Mme. Vauquer, "bring in some biscuits, and the little
"Those little cakes are mouldy graybeards," said Vautrin. "But trot
out the biscuits."
The Bordeaux wine circulated; the dinner table became a livelier scene
than ever, and the fun grew fast and furious. Imitations of the cries
of various animals mingled with the loud laughter; the Museum official
having taken it into his head to mimic a cat-call rather like the
caterwauling of the animal in question, eight voices simultaneously
struck up with the following variations:
"Scissors to grind!"
"Chick-weeds for singing bir-ds!"
"China to mend!"
"Sticks to beat your wives or your clothes!"
"Cherries all ripe!"
But the palm was awarded to Bianchon for the nasal accent with which
he rendered the cry of "Umbrellas to me-end!"
A few seconds later, and there was a head-splitting racket in the
room, a storm of tomfoolery, a sort of cats' concert, with Vautrin as
conductor of the orchestra, the latter keeping an eye the while on
Eugene and Father Goriot. The wine seemed to have gone to their heads
already. They leaned back in their chairs, looking at the general
confusion with an air of gravity, and drank but little; both of them
were absorbed in the thought of what lay before them to do that
evening, and yet neither of them felt able to rise and go. Vautrin
gave a side glance at them from time to time, and watched the change
that came over their faces, choosing the moment when their eyes
drooped and seemed about to close, to bend over Rastignac and to say
in his ear:--
"My little lad, you are not quite shrewd enough to outwit Papa Vautrin
yet, and he is too fond of you to let you make a mess of your affairs.
When I have made up my mind to do a thing, no one short of Providence
can put me off. Aha! we were for going round to warn old Taillefer,
telling tales out of school! The oven is hot, the dough is kneaded,
the bread is ready for the oven; to-morrow we will eat it up and
whisk away the crumbs; and we are not going to spoil the baking? . . .
No, no, it is all as good as done! We may suffer from a few
conscientious scruples, but they will be digested along with the
bread. While we are having our forty winks, Colonel Count Franchessini
will clear the way to Michel Taillefer's inheritance with the point of
his sword. Victorine will come in for her brother's money, a snug
fifteen thousand francs a year. I have made inquiries already, and I
know that her late mother's property amounts to more than three
Eugene heard all this, and could not answer a word; his tongue seemed
to be glued to the roof of his mouth, an irresistible drowsiness was
creeping over him. He still saw the table and the faces round it, but
it was through a bright mist. Soon the noise began to subside, one by
one the boarders went. At last, when their numbers had so dwindled
that the party consisted of Mme. Vauquer, Mme. Couture, Mlle.
Victorine, Vautrin, and Father Goriot, Rastignac watched as though in
a dream how Mme. Vauquer busied herself by collecting the bottles, and
drained the remainder of the wine out of each to fill others.
"Oh! how uproarious they are! what a thing it is to be young!" said
These were the last words that Eugene heard and understood.
"There is no one like M. Vautrin for a bit of fun like this," said
Sylvie. "There, just hark at Christophe, he is snoring like a top."
"Good-bye, mamma," said Vautrin; "I am going to a theatre on the
boulevard to see M. Marty in /Le Mont Sauvage/, a fine play taken from
/Le Solitaire/. . . . If you like, I will take you and these two
"Thank you; I must decline," said Mme. Couture.
"What! my good lady!" cried Mme. Vauquer, "decline to see a play
founded on the Le Solitaire, a work by Atala de Chateaubriand? We were
so fond of that book that we cried over it like Magdalens under the
line-trees last summer, and then it is an improving work that might
edify your young lady."
"We are forbidden to go to the play," answered Victorine.
"Just look, those two yonder have dropped off where they sit," said
Vautrin, shaking the heads of the two sleepers in a comical way.
He altered the sleeping student's position, settled his head more
comfortably on the back of his chair, kissed him warmly on the
forehead, and began to sing:
"Sleep, little darlings;
I watch while you slumber."
"I am afraid he may be ill," said Victorine.
"Then stop and take care of him," returned Vautrin. " 'Tis your duty
as a meek and obedient wife," he whispered in her ear. "the young
fellow worships you, and you will be his little wife--there's your
fortune for you. In short," he added aloud, "they lived happily ever
afterwards, were much looked up to in all the countryside, and had a
numerous family. That is how all the romances end.--Now, mamma," he
went on, as he turned to Madame Vauquer and put his arm round her
waist, "put on your bonnet, your best flowered silk, and the countess'
scarf, while I go out and call a cab--all my own self."
And he started out, singing as he went:
"Oh! sun! divine sun!
Ripening the pumpkins every one."
"My goodness! Well, I'm sure! Mme. Couture, I could live happily in a
garret with a man like that.--There, now!" she added, looking round
for the old vermicelli maker, "there is that Father Goriot half seas
over. /He/ never thought of taking me anywhere, the old skinflint. But
he will measure his length somewhere. My word! it is disgraceful to
lose his senses like that, at his age! You will be telling me that he
couldn't lose what he hadn't got--Sylvie, just take him up to his
Sylvie took him by the arm, supported him upstairs, and flung him just
as he was, like a package, across the bed.
"Poor young fellow!" said Mme. Couture, putting back Eugene's hair
that had fallen over his eyes; "he is like a young girl, he does not
know what dissipation is."
"Well, I can tell you this, I know," said Mme. Vauquer, "I have taken
lodgers these thirty years, and a good many have passed through my
hands, as the saying is, but I have never seen a nicer nor a more
aristocratic looking young man than M. Eugene. How handsome he looks
sleeping! Just let his head rest on your shoulder, Mme. Couture.
Pshaw! he falls over towards Mlle. Victorine. There's a special
providence for young things. A little more, and he would have broken
his head against the knob of the chair. They'd make a pretty pair
those two would!"
"Hush, my good neighbor," cried Mme. Couture, "you are saying such
"Pooh!" put in Mme. Vauquer, "he does not hear.--Here, Sylvie! come
and help me to dress. I shall put on my best stays."
"What! your best stays just after dinner, madame?" said Sylvie. "No,
you can get some one else to lace you. I am not going to be your
murderer. It's a rash thing to do, and might cost you your life."
"I don't care, I must do honor to M. Vautrin."
"Are you so fond of your heirs as all that?"
"Come, Sylvie, don't argue," said the widow, as she left the room.
"At her age, too!" said the cook to Victorine, pointing to her
mistress as she spoke.
Mme. Couture and her ward were left in the dining-room, and Eugene
slept on Victorine's shoulder. The sound of Christophe's snoring
echoed through the silent house; Eugene's quiet breathing seemed all
the quieter by force of contrast, he was sleeping as peacefully as a
child. Victorine was very happy; she was free to perform one of those
acts of charity which form an innocent outlet for all the overflowing
sentiments of a woman's nature; he was so close to her that she could
feel the throbbing of his heart; there was a look of almost maternal
protection and conscious pride in Victorine's face. Among the
countless thoughts that crowded up in her young innocent heart, there
was a wild flutter of joy at this close contact.
"Poor, dear child!" said Mme. Couture, squeezing her hand.
The old lady looked at the girl. Victorine's innocent, pathetic face,
so radiant with the new happiness that had befallen her, called to
mind some naive work of mediaeval art, when the painter neglected the
accessories, reserving all the magic of his brush for the quiet,
austere outlines and ivory tints of the face, which seems to have
caught something of the golden glory of heaven.
"After all, he only took two glasses, mamma," said Victorine, passing
her fingers through Eugene's hair.
"Indeed, if he had been a dissipated young man, child, he would have
carried his wine like the rest of them. His drowsiness does him
There was a sound of wheels outside in the street.
"There is M. Vautrin, mamma," said the girl. "Just take M. Eugene. I
would rather not have that man see me like this; there are some ways
of looking at you that seem to sully your soul and make you feel as
though you had nothing on."
"Oh, no, you are wrong!" said Mme. Couture. "M. Vautrin is a worthy
man; he reminds me a little of my late husband, poor dear M. Couture,
rough but kind-hearted; his bark is worse than his bite."
Vautrin came in while she was speaking; he did not make a sound, but
looked for a while at the picture of the two young faces--the
lamplight falling full upon them seemed to caress them.
"Well," he remarked, folding his arms, "here is a picture! It would
have suggested some pleasing pages to Bernardin de Saint-Pierre (good
soul), who wrote /Paul et Virginie/. Youth is very charming, Mme.
Couture!--Sleep on, poor boy," he added, looking at Eugene, "luck
sometimes comes while you are sleeping.--There is something touching
and attractive to me about this young man, madame," he continued; "I
know that his nature is in harmony with his face. Just look, the head
of a cherub on an angel's shoulder! He deserves to be loved. If I were
a woman, I would die (no--not such a fool), I would live for him." He
bent lower and spoke in the widow's ear. "When I see those two
together, madame, I cannot help thinking that Providence meant them
for each other; He works by secret ways, and tries the reins and the
heart," he said in a loud voice. "And when I see you, my children,
thus united by a like purity and by all human affections, I say to
myself that it is quite impossible that the future should separate
you. God is just."--He turned to Victorine. "It seems to me," he said,
"that I have seen the line of success in your hand. Let me look at it,
Mlle. Victorine; I am well up in palmistry, and I have told fortunes
many a time. Come, now, don't be frightened. Ah! what do I see? Upon
my word, you will be one of the richest heiresses in Paris before very
long. You will heap riches on the man who loves you. Your father will
want you to go and live with him. You will marry a young and handsome
man with a title, and he will idolize you."
The heavy footsteps of the coquettish widow, who was coming down the
stairs, interrupted Vautrin's fortune-telling. "Here is Mamma
Vauquerre, fair as a starr-r-r, dressed within an inch of her life.--
Aren't we a trifle pinched for room?" he inquired, with his arm round
the lady; "we are screwed up very tightly about the bust, mamma! If we
are much agitated, there may be an explosion; but I will pick up the
fragments with all the care of an antiquary."
"There is a man who can talk the language of French gallantry!" said
the widow, bending to speak in Mme. Couture's ear.
"Good-bye, little ones!" said Vautrin, turning to Eugene and
Victorine. "Bless you both!" and he laid a hand on either head. "Take
my word for it, young lady, an honest man's prayers are worth
something; they should bring you happiness, for God hears them."
"Good-bye, dear," said Mme. Vauquer to her lodger. "Do you think that
M. Vautrin means to run away with me?" she added, lowering her voice.
"Lack-a-day!" said the widow.
"Oh! mamma dear, suppose it should really happen as that kind M.
Vautrin said!" said Victorine with a sigh as she looked at her hands.
The two women were alone together.
"Why, it wouldn't take much to bring it to pass," said the elderly
lady; "just a fall from his horse, and your monster of a brother----"
"Good Lord! Well, perhaps it is a sin to wish bad luck to an enemy,"
the widow remarked. "I will do penance for it. Still, I would strew
flowers on his grave with the greatest pleasure, and that is the
truth. Black-hearted, that he is! The coward couldn't speak up for his
own mother, and cheats you out of your share by deceit and trickery.
My cousin had a pretty fortune of her own, but unluckily for you,
nothing was said in the marriage-contract about anything that she
might come in for."
"It would be very hard if my fortune is to cost some one else his
life," said Victorine. "If I cannot be happy unless my brother is to
be taken out of the world, I would rather stay here all my life."
"/Mon Dieu!/ it is just as that good M. Vautrin says, and he is full
of piety, you see," Mme. Couture remarked. "I am very glad to find
that he is not an unbeliever like the rest of them that talk of the
Almighty with less respect than they do of the Devil. Well, as he was
saying, who can know the ways by which it may please Providence to
With Sylvie's help the two women at last succeeded in getting Eugene
up to his room; they laid him on the bed, and the cook unfastened his
clothes to make him more comfortable. Before they left the room,
Victorine snatched an opportunity when her guardian's back was turned,
and pressed a kiss on Eugene's forehead, feeling all the joy that this
stolen pleasure could give her. Then she looked round the room, and
gathering up, as it were, into one single thought all the untold bliss
of that day, she made a picture of her memories, and dwelt upon it
until she slept, the happiest creature in Paris.
That evening's merry-making, in the course of which Vautrin had given
the drugged wine to Eugene and Father Goriot, was his own ruin.
Bianchon, flustered with wine, forgot to open the subject of Trompe-
la-Mort with Mlle. Michonneau. The mere mention of the name would have
set Vautrin on his guard; for Vautrin, or, to give him his real name,
Jacques Collin, was in fact the notorious escaped convict.
But it was the joke about the Venus of Pere-Lachaise that finally
decided his fate. Mlle. Michonneau had very nearly made up her mind to
warn the convict and to throw herself on his generosity, with the idea
of making a better bargain for herself by helping him to escape that
night; but as it was, she went out escorted by Poiret in search of the
famous chief of detectives in the Petite Rue Saint-Anne, still
thinking that it was the district superintendent--one Gondureau--with
whom she had to do. The head of the department received his visitors
courteously. There was a little talk, and the details were definitely
arranged. Mlle. Michonneau asked for the draught that she was to
administer in order to set about her investigation. But the great
man's evident satisfaction set Mlle. Michonneau thinking; and she
began to see that this business involved something more than the mere
capture of a runaway convict. She racked her brains while he looked in
a drawer in his desk for the little phial, and it dawned upon her that
in consequence of treacherous revelations made by the prisoners the
police were hoping to lay their hands on a considerable sum of money.
But on hinting her suspicions to the old fox of the Petite Rue Saint-
Anne, that officer began to smile, and tried to put her off the scent.
"A delusion," he said. "Collin's /sorbonne/ is the most dangerous that
has yet been found among the dangerous classes. That is all, and the
rascals are quite aware of it. They rally round him; he is the
backbone of the federation, its Bonaparte, in short; he is very
popular with them all. The rogue will never leave his /chump/ in the
Place de Greve."
As Mlle. Michonneau seemed mystified, Gondureau explained the two
slang words for her benefit. /Sorbonne/ and /chump/ are two forcible
expressions borrowed from thieves' Latin, thieves, of all people,
being compelled to consider the human head in its two aspects. A
sorbonne is the head of a living man, his faculty of thinking--his
council; a chump is a contemptuous epithet that implies how little a
human head is worth after the axe has done its work.
"Collin is playing us off," he continued. "When we come across a man
like a bar of steel tempered in the English fashion, there is always
one resource left--we can kill him if he takes it into his head to
make the least resistance. We are reckoning on several methods of
killing Collin to-morrow morning. It saves a trial, and society is rid
of him without all the expense of guarding and feeding him. What with
getting up the case, summoning witnesses, paying their expenses, and
carrying out the sentence, it costs a lot to go through all the proper
formalities before you can get quit of one of these good-for-nothings,
over and above the three thousand francs that you are going to have.
There is a saving in time as well. One good thrust of the bayonet into
Trompe-la-Mort's paunch will prevent scores of crimes, and save fifty
scoundrels from following his example; they will be very careful to
keep themselves out of the police courts. That is doing the work of
the police thoroughly, and true philanthropists will tell you that it
is better to prevent crime than to punish it."
"And you do a service to our country," said Poiret.
"Really, you are talking in a very sensible manner tonight, that you
are," said the head of the department. "Yes, of course, we are serving
our country, and we are very hardly used too. We do society very great
services that are not recognized. In fact, a superior man must rise
above vulgar prejudices, and a Christian must resign himself to the
mishaps that doing right entails, when right is done in an out-of-the-
way style. Paris is Paris, you see! That is the explanation of my
life.--I have the honor to wish you a good-evening, mademoiselle. I
shall bring my men to the Jardin du Roi in the morning. Send
Christophe to the Rue du Buffon, tell him to ask for M. Gondureau in
the house where you saw me before.--Your servant, sir. If you should
ever have anything stolen from you, come to me, and I will do my best
to get it back for you."
"Well, now," Poiret remarked to Mlle. Michonneau, "there are idiots
who are scared out of their wits by the word police. That was a very
pleasant-spoken gentleman, and what he wants you to do is as easy as
saying 'Good-day.' "
The next day was destined to be one of the most extraordinary in the
annals of the Maison Vauquer. Hitherto the most startling occurrence
in its tranquil existence had been the portentous, meteor-like
apparition of the sham Comtesse de l'Ambermesnil. But the catastrophes
of this great day were to cast all previous events into the shade, and
supply an inexhaustible topic of conversation for Mme. Vauquer and her
boarders so long as she lived.
In the first place, Goriot and Eugene de Rastignac both slept till
close upon eleven o'clock. Mme. Vauquer, who came home about midnight
from the Gaite, lay a-bed till half-past ten. Christophe, after a
prolonged slumber (he had finished Vautrin's first bottle of wine),
was behindhand with his work, but Poiret and Mlle. Michonneau uttered
no complaint, though breakfast was delayed. As for Victorine and Mme.
Couture, they also lay late. Vautrin went out before eight o'clock,
and only came back just as breakfast was ready. Nobody protested,
therefore, when Sylvie and Christophe went up at a quarter past
eleven, knocked at all the doors, and announced that breakfast was
waiting. While Sylvie and the man were upstairs, Mlle. Michonneau, who
came down first, poured the contents of the phial into the silver cup
belonging to Vautrin--it was standing with the others in the bain-
marie that kept the cream hot for the morning coffee. The spinster had
reckoned on this custom of the house to do her stroke of business. The
seven lodgers were at last collected together, not without some
difficulty. Just as Eugene came downstairs, stretching himself and
yawning, a commissionaire handed him a letter from Mme. de Nucingen.
It ran thus:--
"I feel neither false vanity nor anger where you are concerned, my
friend. Till two o'clock this morning I waited for you. Oh, that
waiting for one whom you love! No one that had passed through that
torture could inflict it on another. I know now that you have never
loved before. What can have happened? Anxiety has taken hold of me. I
would have come myself to find out what had happened, if I had not
feared to betray the secrets of my heart. How can I walk out or drive
out at this time of day? Would it not be ruin? I have felt to the full
how wretched it is to be a woman. Send a word to reassure me, and
explain how it is that you have not come after what my father told
you. I shall be angry, but I will forgive you. One word, for pity's
sake. You will come to me soon, will you not? If you are busy, a line
will be enough. Say, 'I will hasten to you,' or else, 'I am ill.' But
if you were ill my father would have come to tell me so. What can have
happened? . . ."
"Yes, indeed, what has happened?" exclaimed Eugene, and, hurrying down
to the dining-room, he crumpled up the letter without reading any
more. "What time is it?"
"Half-past eleven," said Vautrin, dropping a lump of sugar into his
The escaped convict cast a glance at Eugene, a cold and fascinating
glance; men gifted with this magnetic power can quell furious lunatics
in a madhouse by such a glance, it is said. Eugene shook in every
limb. There was the sound of wheels in the street, and in another
moment a man with a scared face rushed into the room. It was one of M.
Taillefer's servants; Mme. Couture recognized the livery at once.
"Mademoiselle," he cried, "your father is asking for you--something
terrible has happened! M. Frederic has had a sword thrust in the
forehead in a duel, and the doctors have given him up. You will
scarcely be in time to say good-bye to him! he is unconscious."
"Poor young fellow!" exclaimed Vautrin. "How can people brawl when
they have a certain income of thirty thousand livres? Young people
have bad manners, and that is a fact."
"Sir!" cried Eugene.
"Well, what then, you big baby!" said Vautrin, swallowing down his
coffee imperturbably, an operation which Mlle. Michonneau watched with
such close attention that she had no emotion to spare for the amazing
news that had struck the others dumb with amazement. "Are there not
duels every morning in Paris?" added Vautrin.
"I will go with you, Victorine," said Mme. Couture, and the two women
hurried away at once without either hats or shawls. But before she
went, Victorine, with her eyes full of tears, gave Eugene a glance
that said--"How little I thought that our happiness should cost me
"Dear me, you are a prophet, M. Vautrin," said Mme. Vauquer.
"I am all sorts of things," said Vautrin.
"Queer, isn't it?" said Mme. Vauquer, stringing together a succession
of commonplaces suited to the occasion. "Death takes us off without
asking us about it. The young often go before the old. It is a lucky
thing for us women that we are not liable to fight duels, but we have
other complaints that men don't suffer from. We bear children, and it
takes a long time to get over it. What a windfall for Victorine! Her
father will have to acknowledge her now!"
"There!" said Vautrin, looking at Eugene, "yesterday she had not a
penny; this morning she has several millions to her fortune."
"I say, M. Eugene!" cried Mme. Vauquer, "you have landed on your
At this exclamation, Father Goriot looked at the student, and saw the
crumpled letter still in his hand.
"You have not read it through! What does this mean? Are you going to
be like the rest of them?" he asked.
"Madame, I shall never marry Mlle. Victorine," said Eugene, turning to
Mme. Vauquer with an expression of terror and loathing that surprised
the onlookers at this scene.
Father Goriot caught the student's hand and grasped it warmly. He
could have kissed it.
"Oh, ho!" said Vautrin, "the Italians have a good proverb--/Col
"Is there any answer?" said Mme. de Nucingen's messenger, addressing
"Say that I will come directly."
The man went. Eugene was in a state of such violent excitement that he
could not be prudent.
"What is to be done?" he exclaimed aloud. "There are no proofs!"
Vautrin began to smile. Though the drug he had taken was doing its
work, the convict was so vigorous that he rose to his feet, gave
Rastignac a look, and said in hollow tones, "Luck comes to us while we
sleep, young man," and fell stiff and stark, as if he were struck
"So there is a Divine Justice!" said Eugene.
"Well, if ever! What has come to that poor dear M. Vautrin?"
"A stroke!" cried Mlle. Michonneau.
"Here, Sylvie! girl, run for the doctor," called the widow. "Oh, M.
Rastignac, just go for M. Bianchon, and be as quick as you can; Sylvie
might not be in time to catch our doctor, M. Grimprel."
Rastignac was glad of an excuse to leave that den of horrors, his
hurry for the doctor was nothing but a flight.
"Here, Christophe, go round to the chemist's and ask for something
that's good for the apoplexy."
Christophe likewise went.
"Father Goriot, just help us to get him upstairs."
Vautrin was taken up among them, carried carefully up the narrow
staircase, and laid upon his bed.
"I can do no good here, so I shall go to see my daughter," said M.
"Selfish old thing!" cried Mme. Vauquer. "Yes, go; I wish you may die
like a dog."
"Just go and see if you can find some ether," said Mlle. Michonneau to
Mme. Vauquer; the former, with some help from Poiret, had unfastened
the sick man's clothes.
Mme. Vauquer went down to her room, and left Mlle. Michonneau mistress
of the situation.
"Now! just pull down his shirt and turn him over, quick! You might be
of some use in sparing my modesty," she said to Poiret, "instead of
standing there like a stock."
Vautrin was turned over; Mlle. Michonneau gave his shoulder a sharp
slap, and the two portentous letters appeared, white against the red.
"There, you have earned your three thousand francs very easily,"
exclaimed Poiret, supporting Vautrin while Mlle. Michonneau slipped on
the shirt again.--"Ouf! How heavy he is," he added, as he laid the
"Hush! Suppose there is a strong-box here!" said the old maid briskly;
her glances seemed to pierce the walls, she scrutinized every article
of the furniture with greedy eyes. "Could we find some excuse for
opening that desk?"
"It mightn't be quite right," responded Poiret to this.
"Where is the harm? It is money stolen from all sorts of people, so it
doesn't belong to any one now. But we haven't time, there is the
"Here is the ether," said that lady. "I must say that this is an
eventful day. Lord! that man can't have had a stroke; he is as white
"White as curds?" echoed Poiret.
"And his pulse is steady," said the widow, laying her hand on his
"Steady?" said the astonished Poiret.
"He is all right."
"Do you think so?" asked Poiret.
"Lord! Yes, he looks as if he were sleeping. Sylvie has gone for a
doctor. I say, Mlle. Michonneau, he is sniffing the ether. Pooh! it is
only a spasm. His pulse is good. He is as strong as a Turk. Just look,
mademoiselle, what a fur tippet he has on his chest; that is the sort
of man to live till he is a hundred. His wig holds on tightly,
however. Dear me! it is glued on, and his own hair is red; that is why
he wears a wig. They say that red-haired people are either the worst
or the best. Is he one of the good ones, I wonder?"
"Good to hang," said Poiret.
"Round a pretty woman's neck, you mean," said Mlle Michonneau,
hastily. "Just go away, M. Poiret. It is a woman's duty to nurse you
men when you are ill. Besides, for all the good you are doing, you may
as well take yourself off," she added. "Mme. Vauquer and I will take
great care of dear M. Vautrin.
Poiret went out on tiptoe without a murmur, like a dog kicked out of
the room by his master.
Rastignac had gone out for the sake of physical exertion; he wanted to
breathe the air, he felt stifled. Yesterday evening he had meant to
prevent the murder arranged for half-past eight that morning. What had
happened? What ought he to do now? He trembled to think that he
himself might be implicated. Vautrin's coolness still further dismayed
"Yet, how if Vautrin should die without saying a word?" Rastignac
He hurried along the alleys of the Luxembourg Gardens as if the hounds
of justice were after him, and he already heard the baying of the
"Well?" shouted Bianchon, "you have seen the /Pilote/?"
The /Pilote/ was a Radical sheet, edited by M. Tissot. It came out
several hours later than the morning papers, and was meant for the
benefit of country subscribers; for it brought the morning news into
provincial districts twenty-four hours sooner than the ordinary local
"There is a wonderful history in it," said the house student of the
Hopital Cochin. "Young Taillefer called out Count Franchessini, of the
Old Guard, and the Count put a couple of inches of steel into his
forehead. And here is little Victorine one of the richest heiresses in
Paris! If we had known that, eh? What a game of chance death is! They
say Victorine was sweet on you; was there any truth in it?"
"Shut up, Bianchon; I shall never marry her. I am in love with a
charming woman, and she is in love with me, so----"
"You said that as if you were screwing yourself up to be faithful to
her. I should like to see the woman worth the sacrifice of Master
"Are all the devils of hell at my heels?" cried Rastignac.
"What is the matter with you? Are you mad? Give us your hand," said
Bianchon, "and let me feel your pulse. You are feverish."
"Just go to Mother Vauquer's," said Rastignac; "that scoundrel Vautrin
has dropped down like one dead."
"Aha!" said Bianchon, leaving Rastignac to his reflections, "you
confirm my suspicions, and now I mean to make sure for myself."
The law student's long walk was a memorable one for him. He made in
some sort a survey of his conscience. After a close scrutiny, after
hesitation and self-examination, his honor at any rate came out
scatheless from this sharp and terrible ordeal, like a bar of iron
tested in the English fashion. He remembered Father Goriot's
confidences of the evening before; he recollected the rooms taken for
him in the Rue d'Artois, so that he might be near Delphine; and then
he thought of his letter, and read it again and kissed it.
"Such a love is my anchor of safety," he said to himself. "How the old
man's heart must have been wrung! He says nothing about all that he
has been through; but who could not guess? Well, then, I will be like
a son to him; his life shall be made happy. If she cares for me, she
will often come to spend the day with him. That grand Comtesse de
Restaud is a heartless thing; she would make her father into her hall
porter. Dear Delphine! she is kinder to the old man; she is worthy to
be loved. Ah! this evening I shall be very happy!"
He took out his watch and admired it.
"I have had nothing but success! If two people mean to love each other
for ever, they may help each other, and I can take this. Besides, I
shall succeed, and I will pay her a hundredfold. There is nothing
criminal in this liaison; nothing that could cause the most austere
moralist to frown. How many respectable people contract similar
unions! We deceive nobody; it is deception that makes a position
humiliating. If you lie, you lower yourself at once. She and her
husband have lived apart for a long while. Besides, how if I called
upon that Alsatian to resign a wife whom he cannot make happy?"
Rastignac's battle with himself went on for a long while; and though
the scruples of youth inevitably gained the day, an irresistible
curiosity led him, about half-past four, to return to the Maison
Vauquer through the gathering dusk.
Bianchon had given Vautrin an emetic, reserving the contents of the
stomach for chemical analysis at the hospital. Mlle. Michonneau's
officious alacrity had still further strengthened his suspicions of
her. Vautrin, moreover, had recovered so quickly that it was
impossible not to suspect some plot against the leader of all frolics
at the lodging-house. Vautrin was standing in front of the stove in
the dining-room when Rastignac came in. All the lodgers were assembled
sooner than usual by the news of young Taillefer's duel. They were
anxious to hear any detail about the affair, and to talk over the
probable change in Victorine's prospects. Father Goriot alone was
absent, but the rest were chatting. No sooner did Eugene come into the
room, than his eyes met the inscrutable gaze of Vautrin. It was the
same look that had read his thoughts before--the look that had such
power to waken evil thoughts in his heart. He shuddered.
"Well, dear boy," said the escaped convict, "I am likely to cheat
death for a good while yet. According to these ladies, I have had a
stroke that would have felled an ox, and come off with flying colors."
"A bull you might say," cried the widow.
"You really might be sorry to see me still alive," said Vautrin in
Rastignac's ear, thinking that he guessed the student's thoughts. "You
must be mighty sure of yourself."
"Mlle. Michonneau was talking the day before yesterday about a
gentleman named /Trompe-la-Mort/," said Bianchon; "and, upon my word,
that name would do very well for you."
Vautrin seemed thunderstruck. He turned pale, and staggered back. He
turned his magnetic glance, like a ray of vivid light, on Mlle.
Michonneau; the old maid shrank and trembled under the influence of
that strong will, and collapsed into a chair. The mask of good-nature
had dropped from the convict's face; from the unmistakable ferocity of
that sinister look, Poiret felt that the old maid was in danger, and
hastily stepped between them. None of the lodgers understood this
scene in the least, they looked on in mute amazement. There was a
pause. Just then there was a sound of tramping feet outside; there
were soldiers there, it seemed, for there was a ring of several rifles
on the pavement of the street. Collin was mechanically looking round
the walls for a way of escape, when four men entered by way of the
"In the name of the King and the Law!" said an officer, but the words
were almost lost in a murmur of astonishment.
Silence fell on the room. The lodgers made way for three of the men,
who had each a hand on a cocked pistol in a side pocket. Two
policemen, who followed the detectives, kept the entrance to the
sitting-room, and two more men appeared in the doorway that gave
access to the staircase. A sound of footsteps came from the garden,
and again the rifles of several soldiers rang on the cobblestones
under the window. All chance of salvation by flight was cut off for
Trompe-la-Mort, to whom all eyes instinctively turned. The chief
walked straight up to him, and commenced operations by giving him a
sharp blow on the head, so that the wig fell off, and Collin's face
was revealed in all its ugliness. There was a terrible suggestion of
strength mingled with cunning in the short, brick-red crop of hair,
the whole head was in harmony with his powerful frame, and at that
moment the fires of hell seemed to gleam from his eyes. In that flash
the real Vautrin shone forth, revealed at once before them all; they
understood his past, his present, and future, his pitiless doctrines,
his actions, the religion of his own good pleasure, the majesty with
which his cynicism and contempt for mankind invested him, the physical
strength of an organization proof against all trials. The blood flew
to his face, and his eyes glared like the eyes of a wild cat. He
started back with savage energy and a fierce growl that drew
exclamations of alarm from the lodgers. At that leonine start the
police caught at their pistols under cover of the general clamor.
Collin saw the gleaming muzzles of the weapons, saw his danger, and
instantly gave proof of a power of the highest order. There was
something horrible and majestic in the spectacle of the sudden
transformation in his face; he could only be compared to a cauldron
full of the steam that can send mountains flying, a terrific force
dispelled in a moment by a drop of cold water. The drop of water that
cooled his wrathful fury was a reflection that flashed across his
brain like lightning. He began to smile, and looked down at his wig.
"You are not in the politest of humors to-day," he remarked to the
chief, and he held out his hands to the policemen with a jerk of his
"Gentlemen," he said, "put on the bracelets or the handcuffs. I call
on those present to witness that I make no resistance."
A murmur of admiration ran through the room at the sudden outpouring
like fire and lava flood from this human volcano, and its equally
"There's a sell for you, master crusher," the convict added, looking
at the famous director of police.
"Come, strip!" said he of the Petite Rue Saint-Anne, contemptuously.
"Why?" asked Collin. "There are ladies present; I deny nothing, and
He paused, and looked round the room like an orator who is about to
overwhelm his audience.
"Take this down, Daddy Lachapelle," he went on, addressing a little,
white-haired old man who had seated himself at the end of the table;
and after drawing a printed form from the portfolio, was proceeding to
draw up a document. "I acknowledge myself to be Jacques Collin,
otherwise known as Trompe-la-Mort, condemned to twenty years' penal
servitude, and I have just proved that I have come fairly by my
nickname.--If I had as much as raised my hand," he went on, addressing
the other lodgers, "those three sneaking wretches yonder would have
drawn claret on Mamma Vauquer's domestic hearth. The rogues have laid
their heads together to set a trap for me."
Mme. Vauquer felt sick and faint at these words.
"Good Lord!" she cried, "this does give one a turn; and me at the
Gaite with him only last night!" she said to Sylvie.
"Summon your philosophy, mamma," Collin resumed. "Is it a misfortune
to have sat in my box at the Gaite yesterday evening? After all, are
you better than we are? The brand upon our shoulders is less shameful
than the brand set on your hearts, you flabby members of a society
rotten to the core. Not the best man among you could stand up to me."
His eyes rested upon Rastignac, to whom he spoke with a pleasant smile
that seemed strangely at variance with the savage expression in his
eyes.--"Our little bargain still holds good, dear boy; you can accept
any time you like! Do you understand?" And he sang:
"A charming girl is my Fanchette
In her simplicity."
"Don't you trouble yourself," he went on; "I can get in my money. They
are too much afraid of me to swindle me."
The convicts' prison, its language and customs, its sudden sharp
transitions from the humorous to the horrible, its appalling grandeur,
its triviality and its dark depths, were all revealed in turn by the
speaker's discourse; he seemed to be no longer a man, but the type and
mouthpiece of a degenerate race, a brutal, supple, clear-headed race
of savages. In one moment Collin became the poet of an inferno,
wherein all thoughts and passions that move human nature (save
repentance) find a place. He looked about him like a fallen archangel
who is for war to the end. Rastignac lowered his eyes, and
acknowledged this kinship claimed by crime as an expiation of his own
"Who betrayed me?" said Collin, and his terrible eyes traveled round
the room. Suddenly they rested on Mlle. Michonneau.
"It was you, old cat!" he said. "That sham stroke of apoplexy was your
doing, lynx eyes! . . . Two words from me, and your throat would be
cut in less than a week, but I forgive you, I am a Christian. You did
not sell me either. But who did?----Aha! you may rummage upstairs," he
shouted, hearing the police officers opening his cupboards and taking
possession of his effects. "The nest is empty, the birds flew away
yesterday, and you will be none the wiser. My ledgers are here," he
said tapping his forehead. "Now I know who sold me! It could only be
that blackguard Fil-de-Soie. That is who it was, old catchpoll, eh?"
he said, turning to the chief. "It was timed so neatly to get the
banknotes up above there. There is nothing left for you--spies! As for
Fil-de-Soie, he will be under the daisies in less than a fortnight,
even if you were to tell off the whole force to protect him. How much
did you give the Michonnette?" he asked of the police officers. "A
thousand crowns? Oh you Ninon in decay, Pompadour in tatters, Venus of
the graveyard, I was worth more than that! If you had given me
warning, you should have had six thousand francs. Ah! you had no
suspicion of that, old trafficker in flesh and blood, or I should have
had the preference. Yes, I would have given six thousand francs to
save myself an inconvenient journey and some loss of money," he said,
as they fastened the handcuffs on his wrists. "These folks will amuse
themselves by dragging out this business till the end of time to keep
me idle. If they were to send me straight to jail, I should soon be
back at my old tricks in spite of the duffers at the Quai des
Orfevres. Down yonder they will all turn themselves inside out to help
their general--their good Trompe-la-Mort--to get clear away. Is there
a single one among you that can say, as I can, that he has ten
thousand brothers ready to do anything for him?" he asked proudly.
"There is some good there," he said tapping his heart; "I have never
betrayed any one!--Look you here, you slut," he said to the old maid,
"they are all afraid of me, do you see? but the sight of you turns
them sick. Rake in your gains."
He was silent for a moment, and looked round at the lodgers' faces.
"What dolts you are, all of you! Have you never seen a convict before?
A convict of Collin's stamp, whom you see before you, is a man less
weak-kneed than others; he lifts up his voice against the colossal
fraud of the Social Contract, as Jean Jacques did, whose pupil he is
proud to declare himself. In short, I stand here single-handed against
a Government and a whole subsidized machinery of tribunals and police,
and I am a match for them all."
"Ye gods!" cried the painter, "what a magnificent sketch one might
make of him!"
"Look here, you gentlemen-in-waiting to his highness the gibbet,
master of ceremonies to the widow" (a nickname full of sombre poetry,
given by prisoners to the guillotine), "be a good fellow, and tell me
if it really was Fil-de-Soie who sold me. I don't want him to suffer
for some one else, that would not be fair."
But before the chief had time to answer, the rest of the party
returned from making their investigations upstairs. Everything had
been opened and inventoried. A few words passed between them and the
chief, and the official preliminaries were complete.
"Gentlemen," said Collin, addressing the lodgers, "they will take me
away directly. You have all made my stay among you very agreeable, and
I shall look back upon it with gratitude. Receive my adieux, and
permit me to send you figs from Provence."
He advanced a step or two, and then turned to look once more at
"Good-bye, Eugene," he said, in a sad and gentle tone, a strange
transition from his previous rough and stern manner. "If you should be
hard up, I have left you a devoted friend," and, in spite of his
shackles, he managed to assume a posture of defence, called, "One,
two!" like a fencing-master, and lunged. "If anything goes wrong,
apply in that quarter. Man and money, all at your service."
The strange speaker's manner was sufficiently burlesque, so that no
one but Rastignac knew that there was a serious meaning underlying the
As soon as the police, soldiers, and detectives had left the house,
Sylvie, who was rubbing her mistress' temples with vinegar, looked
round at the bewildered lodgers.
"Well," said she, "he was a man, he was, for all that."
Her words broke the spell. Every one had been too much excited, too
much moved by very various feelings to speak. But now the lodgers
began to look at each other, and then all eyes were turned at once on
Mlle. Michonneau, a thin, shriveled, dead-alive, mummy-like figure,
crouching by the stove; her eyes were downcast, as if she feared that
the green eye-shade could not shut out the expression of those faces
from her. This figure and the feeling of repulsion she had so long
excited were explained all at once. A smothered murmur filled the
room; it was so unanimous, that it seemed as if the same feeling of
loathing had pitched all the voices in one key. Mlle. Michonneau heard
it, and did not stir. It was Bianchon who was the first to move; he
bent over his neighbor, and said in a low voice, "If that creature is
going to stop here, and have dinner with us, I shall clear out."
In the twinkling of an eye it was clear that every one in the room,
save Poiret, was of the medical student's opinion, so that the latter,
strong in the support of the majority, went up to that elderly person.
"You are more intimate with Mlle. Michonneau than the rest of us," he
said; "speak to her, make her understand that she must go, and go at
"At once!" echoed Poiret in amazement.
Then he went across to the crouching figure, and spoke a few words in
"I have paid beforehand for the quarter; I have as much right to be
here as any one else," she said, with a viperous look at the boarders.
"Never mind that! we will club together and pay you the money back,"
"Monsieur is taking Collin's part" she said, with a questioning,
malignant glance at the law student; "it is not difficult to guess
Eugene started forward at the words, as if he meant to spring upon her
and wring her neck. That glance, and the depths of treachery that it
revealed, had been a hideous enlightenment.
"Let her alone!" cried the boarders.
Rastignac folded his arms and was silent.
"Let us have no more of Mlle. Judas," said the painter, turning to
Mme. Vauquer. "If you don't show the Michonneau the door, madame, we
shall all leave your shop, and wherever we go we shall say that there
are only convicts and spies left there. If you do the other thing, we
will hold our tongues about the business; for when all is said and
done, it might happen in the best society until they brand them on the
forehead, when they send them to the hulks. They ought not to let
convicts go about Paris disguised like decent citizens, so as to carry
on their antics like a set of rascally humbugs, which they are."
At this Mme. Vauquer recovered miraculously. She sat up and folded her
arms; her eyes were wide open now, and there was no sign of tears in
"Why, do you really mean to be the ruin of my establishment, my dear
sir? There is M. Vautrin----Goodness," she cried, interrupting
herself, "I can't help calling him by the name he passed himself off
by for an honest man! There is one room to let already, and you want
me to turn out two more lodgers in the middle of the season, when no
one is moving----"
"Gentlemen, let us take our hats and go and dine at Flicoteaux's in
the Place Sorbonne," cried Bianchon.
Mme. Vauquer glanced round, and saw in a moment on which side her
interest lay. She waddled across to Mlle. Michonneau.
"Come, now," she said; "you would not be the ruin of my establishment,
would you, eh? There's a dear, kind soul. You see what a pass these
gentlemen have brought me to; just go up to your room for this
"Never a bit of it!" cried the boarders. "She must go, and go this
"But the poor lady has had no dinner," said Poiret, with piteous
"She can go and dine where she likes," shouted several voices.
"Turn her out, the spy!"
"Turn them both out! Spies!"
"Gentlemen," cried Poiret, his heart swelling with the courage that
love gives to the ovine male, "respect the weaker sex."
"Spies are of no sex!" said the painter.
"A precious sexorama!"
"Turn her into the streetorama!"
"Gentlemen, this is not manners! If you turn people out of the house,
it ought not to be done so unceremoniously and with no notice at all.
We have paid our money, and we are not going," said Poiret, putting on
his cap, and taking a chair beside Mlle. Michonneau, with whom Mme.
Vauquer was remonstrating.
"Naughty boy!" said the painter, with a comical look; "run away,
naughty little boy!"
"Look here," said Bianchon; "if you do not go, all the rest of us
will," and the boarders, to a man, made for the sitting-room-door.
"Oh! mademoiselle, what is to be done?" cried Mme. Vauquer. "I am a
ruined woman. You can't stay here; they will go further, do something
Mlle. Michonneau rose to her feet.
"She is going!--She is not going!--She is going!--No, she isn't."
These alternate exclamations, and a suggestion of hostile intentions,
borne out by the behavior of the insurgents, compelled Mlle.
Michonneau to take her departure. She made some stipulations, speaking
in a low voice in her hostess' ear, and then--"I shall go to Mme.
Buneaud's," she said, with a threatening look.
"Go where you please, mademoiselle," said Mme. Vauquer, who regarded
this choice of an opposition establishment as an atrocious insult. "Go
and lodge with the Buneaud; the wine would give a cat the colic, and
the food is cheap and nasty."
The boarders stood aside in two rows to let her pass; not a word was
spoken. Poiret looked so wistfully after Mlle. Michonneau, and so
artlessly revealed that he was in two minds whether to go or stay,
that the boarders, in their joy at being quit of Mlle. Michonneau,
burst out laughing at the sight of him.
"Hist!--st!--st! Poiret," shouted the painter. "Hallo! I say, Poiret,
hallo!" The /employe/ from the Museum began to sing:
"Partant pour la Syrie,
Le jeune et beau Dunois . . ."
"Get along with you; you must be dying to go, /trahit sua quemque
voluptas!/" said Bianchon.
"Every one to his taste--free rendering from Virgil," said the tutor.
Mlle. Michonneau made a movement as if to take Poiret's arm, with an
appealing glance that he could not resist. The two went out together,
the old maid leaning upon him, and there was a burst of applause,
followed by peals of laughter.
"Who would have thought it of old Poiret!"
A messenger came in at that moment with a letter for Mme. Vauquer, who
read it through, and collapsed in her chair.
"The house might as well be burned down at once," cried she, "if there
are to be any more of these thunderbolts! Young Taillefer died at
three o'clock this afternoon. It serves me right for wishing well to
those ladies at that poor man's expense. Mme. Couture and Victorine
want me to send their things, because they are going to live with her
father. M. Taillefer allows his daughter to keep old Mme. Couture as
her lady companion. Four rooms to let! and five lodgers gone! . . ."
She sat up, and seemed about to burst into tears.
"Bad luck has come to lodge here, I think," she cried.
Once more there came a sound of wheels from the street outside.
"What! another windfall for somebody!" was Sylvie's comment.
But it was Goriot who came in, looking so radiant, so flushed with
happiness, that he seemed to have grown young again.
"Goriot in a cab!" cried the boarders; "the world is coming to an
The good soul made straight for Eugene, who was standing wrapped in
thought in a corner, and laid a hand on the young man's arm.
"Come," he said, with gladness in his eyes.
"Then you haven't heard the news?" said Eugene. "Vautrin was an
escaped convict; they have just arrested him; and young Taillefer is
"Very well, but what business is it of ours?" replied Father Goriot.
"I am going to dine with my daughter in /your house/, do you
understand? She is expecting you. Come!"
He carried off Rastignac with him by main force, and they departed in
as great a hurry as a pair of eloping lovers.
"Now, let us have dinner," cried the painter, and every one drew his
chair to the table.
"Well, I never," said the portly Sylvie. "Nothing goes right to-day!
The haricot mutton has caught! Bah! you will have to eat it, burned as
it is, more's the pity!"
Mme. Vauquer was so dispirited that she could not say a word as she
looked round the table and saw only ten people where eighteen should
be; but every one tried to comfort and cheer her. At first the dinner
contingent, as was natural, talked about Vautrin and the day's events;
but the conversation wound round to such topics of interest as duels,
jails, justice, prison life, and alterations that ought to be made in
the laws. They soon wandered miles away from Jacques Collin and
Victorine and her brother. There might be only ten of them, but they
made noise enough for twenty; indeed, there seemed to be more of them
than usual; that was the only difference between yesterday and to-day.
Indifference to the fate of others is a matter of course in this
selfish world, which, on the morrow of tragedy, seeks among the events
of Paris for a fresh sensation for its daily renewed appetite, and
this indifference soon gained the upper hand. Mme. Vauquer herself
grew calmer under the soothing influence of hope, and the mouthpiece
of hope was the portly Sylvie.