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Rise and Fall of Cesar Birotteau by Honore de Balzac

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Etext prepared by John Bickers, jbickers@templar.actrix.gen.nz
and Dagny, dagnyj@hotmail.com

Rise and Fall of Cesar Birotteau

by Honore de Balzac

Translated by Katharine Prescott Wormeley





During winter nights noise never ceases in the Rue Saint-Honore except
for a short interval. Kitchen-gardeners carrying their produce to
market continue the stir of carriages returning from theatres and
balls. Near the middle of this sustained pause in the grand symphony
of Parisian uproar, which occurs about one o'clock in the morning, the
wife of Monsieur Cesar Birotteau, a perfumer established near the
Place Vendome, was startled from her sleep by a frightful dream. She
had seen her double. She had appeared to herself clothed in rags,
turning with a shrivelled, withered hand the latch of her own shop-
door, seeming to be at the threshold, yet at the same time seated in
her armchair behind the counter. She was asking alms of herself, and
heard herself speaking from the doorway and also from her seat at the

She tried to grasp her husband, but her hand fell on a cold place. Her
terror became so intense that she could not move her neck, which
stiffened as if petrified; the membranes of her throat became glued
together, her voice failed her. She remained sitting erect in the same
posture in the middle of the alcove, both panels of which were wide
open, her eyes staring and fixed, her hair quivering, her ears filled
with strange noises, her heart tightened yet palpitating, and her
person bathed in perspiration though chilled to the bone.

Fear is a half-diseased sentiment, which presses so violently upon the
human mechanism that the faculties are suddenly excited to the highest
degree of their power or driven to utter disorganization.
Physiologists have long wondered at this phenomenon, which overturns
their systems and upsets all theories; it is in fact a thunderbolt
working within the being, and, like all electric accidents, capricious
and whimsical in its course. This explanation will become a mere
commonplace in the day when scientific men are brought to recognize
the immense part which electricity plays in human thought.

Madame Birotteau now passed through several of the shocks, in some
sort electrical, which are produced by terrible explosions of the will
forced out, or held under, by some mysterious mechanism. Thus during a
period of time, very short if judged by a watch, but immeasurable when
calculated by the rapidity of her impressions, the poor woman had the
supernatural power of emitting more ideas and bringing to the surface
more recollections than, under any ordinary use of her faculties, she
could put forth in the course of a whole day. The poignant tale of her
monologue may be abridged into a few absurd sentences, as
contradictory and bare of meaning as the monologue itself.

"There is no reason why Birotteau should leave my bed! He has eaten so
much veal that he may be ill. But if he were ill he would have waked
me. For nineteen years that we have slept together in this bed, in
this house, it has never happened that he left his place without
telling me,--poor sheep! He never slept away except to pass the night
in the guard-room. Did he come to bed to-night? Why, of course;
goodness! how stupid I am."

She cast her eyes upon the bed and saw her husband's night-cap, which
still retained the almost conical shape of his head.

"Can he be dead? Has he killed himself? Why?" she went on. "For the
last two years, since they made him deputy-mayor, he is /all-I-don't-
know-how/. To put him into public life! On the word of an honest
woman, isn't it pitiable? His business is doing well, for he gave me a
shawl. But perhaps it isn't doing well? Bah! I should know of it. Does
one ever know what a man has got in his head; or a woman either?--
there is no harm in that. Didn't we sell five thousand francs' worth
to-day? Besides, a deputy mayor couldn't kill himself; he knows the
laws too well. Where is he then?"

She could neither turn her neck, nor stretch out her hand to pull the
bell, which would have put in motion a cook, three clerks, and a shop-
boy. A prey to the nightmare, which still lasted though her mind was
wide awake, she forgot her daughter peacefully asleep in an adjoining
room, the door of which opened at the foot of her bed. At last she
cried "Birotteau!" but got no answer. She thought she had called the
name aloud, though in fact she had only uttered it mentally.

"Has he a mistress? He is too stupid," she added. "Besides, he loves
me too well for that. Didn't he tell Madame Roguin that he had never
been unfaithful to me, even in thought? He is virtue upon earth, that
man. If any one ever deserved paradise he does. What does he accuse
himself of to his confessor, I wonder? He must tell him a lot of
fiddle-faddle. Royalist as he is, though he doesn't know why, he can't
froth up his religion. Poor dear cat! he creeps to Mass at eight
o'clock as slyly as if he were going to a bad house. He fears God for
God's sake; hell is nothing to him. How could he have a mistress? He
is so tied to my petticoat that he bores me. He loves me better than
his own eyes; he would put them out for my sake. For nineteen years he
has never said to me one word louder than another. His daughter is
never considered before me. But Cesarine is here--Cesarine! Cesarine!
--Birotteau has never had a thought which he did not tell me. He was
right enough when he declared to me at the Petit-Matelot that I should
never know him till I tried him. And /not here/! It is extraordinary!"

She turned her head with difficulty and glanced furtively about the
room, then filled with those picturesque effects which are the despair
of language and seem to belong exclusively to the painters of genre.
What words can picture the alarming zig-zags produced by falling
shadows, the fantastic appearance of curtains bulged out by the wind,
the flicker of uncertain light thrown by a night-lamp upon the folds
of red calico, the rays shed from a curtain-holder whose lurid centre
was like the eye of a burglar, the apparition of a kneeling dress,--in
short, all the grotesque effects which terrify the imagination at a
moment when it has no power except to foresee misfortunes and
exaggerate them? Madame Birotteau suddenly saw a strong light in the
room beyond her chamber, and thought of fire; but perceiving a red
foulard which looked like a pool of blood, her mind turned exclusively
to burglars, especially when she thought she saw traces of a struggle
in the way the furniture stood about the room. Recollecting the sum of
money which was in the desk, a generous fear put an end to the chill
ferment of her nightmare. She sprang terrified, and in her night-gown,
into the very centre of the room to help her husband, whom she
supposed to be in the grasp of assassins.

"Birotteau! Birotteau!" she cried at last in a voice full of anguish.

She then saw the perfumer in the middle of the next room, a yard-stick
in his hand measuring the air, and so ill wrapped up in his green
cotton dressing-gown with chocolate-colored spots that the cold had
reddened his legs without his feeling it, preoccupied as he was. When
Cesar turned about to say to his wife, "Well, what do you want,
Constance?" his air and manner, like those of a man absorbed in
calculations, were so prodigiously silly that Madame Birotteau began
to laugh.

"Goodness! Cesar, if you are not an oddity like that!" she said. "Why
did you leave me alone without telling me? I have nearly died of
terror; I did not know what to imagine. What are you doing there,
flying open to all the winds? You'll get as hoarse as a wolf. Do you
hear me, Birotteau?"

"Yes, wife, here I am," answered the perfumer, coming into the

"Come and warm yourself, and tell me what maggot you've got in your
head," replied Madame Birotteau opening the ashes of the fire, which
she hastened to relight. "I am frozen. What a goose I was to get up in
my night-gown! But I really thought they were assassinating you."

The shopkeeper put his candlestick on the chimney-piece, wrapped his
dressing-gown closer about him, and went mechanically to find a
flannel petticoat for his wife.

"Here, Mimi, cover yourself up," he said. "Twenty-two by eighteen," he
resumed, going on with his monologue; "we can get a superb salon."

"Ah, ca! Birotteau, are you on the high road to insanity? Are you

"No, wife, I am calculating."

"You had better wait till daylight for your nonsense," she cried,
fastening the petticoat beneath her short night-gown and going to the
door of the room where her daughter was in bed.

"Cesarine is asleep," she said, "she won't hear us. Come, Birotteau,
speak up. What is it?"

"We can give a ball."

"Give a ball! we? On the word of an honest woman, you are dreaming, my

"I am not dreaming, my beautiful white doe. Listen. People should
always do what their position in life demands. Government has brought
me forward into prominence. I belong to the government; it is my duty
to study its mind, and further its intentions by developing them. The
Duc de Richelieu has just put an end to the occupation of France by
the foreign armies. According to Monsieur de la Billardiere, the
functionaries who represent the city of Paris should make it their
duty, each in his own sphere of influence, to celebrate the liberation
of our territory. Let us show a true patriotism which shall put these
liberals, these damned intriguers, to the blush; hein? Do you think I
don't love my country? I wish to show the liberals, my enemies, that
to love the king is to love France."

"Do you think you have got any enemies, my poor Birotteau?"

"Why, yes, wife, we have enemies. Half our friends in the quarter are
our enemies. They all say, 'Birotteau has had luck; Birotteau is a man
who came from nothing: yet here he is deputy-mayor; everything
succeeds with him.' Well, they are going to be finely surprised. You
are the first to be told that I am made a chevalier of the Legion of
honor. The king signed the order yesterday."

"Oh! then," said Madame Birotteau, much moved, "of course we must give
the ball, my good friend. But what have you done to merit the cross?"

"Yesterday, when Monsieur de la Billardiere told me the news," said
Birotteau, modestly, "I asked myself, as you do, what claims I had to
it; but I ended by seeing what they were, and in approving the action
of the government. In the first place, I am a royalist; I was wounded
at Saint-Roch in Vendemiaire: isn't it something to have borne arms in
those days for the good cause? Then, according to the merchants, I
exercised my judicial functions in a way to give general satisfaction.
I am now deputy-mayor. The king grants four crosses to the
municipality of Paris; the prefect, selecting among the deputies
suitable persons to be thus decorated, has placed my name first on the
list. The king moreover knows me: thanks to old Ragon. I furnish him
with the only powder he is willing to use; we alone possess the
receipt of the late queen,--poor, dear, august victim! The mayor
vehemently supported me. So there it is. If the king gives me the
cross without my asking for it, it seems to me that I cannot refuse it
without failing in my duty to him. Did I seek to be deputy-mayor? So,
wife, since we are sailing before the wind, as your uncle Pillerault
says when he is jovial, I have decided to put the household on a
footing in conformity with our high position. If I can become
anything, I'll risk being whatever the good God wills that I shall be,
--sub-prefect, if such be my destiny. My wife, you are much mistaken
if you think a citizen has paid his debt to his country by merely
selling perfumery for twenty years to those who came to buy it. If the
State demands the help of our intelligence, we are as much bound to
give it as we are to pay the tax on personal property, on windows and
doors, /et caetera/. Do you want to stay forever behind your counter?
You have been there, thank God, a long time. This ball shall be our
fete,--yours and mine. Good-by to economy,--for your sake, be it
understood. I burn our sign, 'The Queen of Roses'; I efface the name,
'Cesar Birotteau, Perfumer, Successor to Ragon,' and put simply,
'Perfumery' in big letters of gold. On the /entresol/ I place the
office, the counting-room, and a pretty little sanctum for you. I make
the shop out of the back-shop, the present dining-room, and kitchen. I
hire the first floor of the next house, and open a door into it
through the wall. I turn the staircase so as to pass from house to
house on one floor; and we shall thus get a grand appartement,
furnished like a nest. Yes, I shall refurnish your bedroom, and
contrive a boudoir for you and a pretty chamber for Cesarine. The
shop-girl whom you will hire, our head clerk, and your lady's-maid
(yes, Madame, you are to have one!) will sleep on the second floor. On
the third will be the kitchen and rooms of the cook and the man-of-
all-work. The fourth shall be a general store-house for bottle,
crystals, and porcelains. The workshop for our people, in the attic!
Passers-by shall no longer see them gumming on the labels, making the
bags, sorting the flasks, and corking the phials. Very well for the
Rue Saint-Denis, but for the Rue Saint-Honore--fy! bad style! Our shop
must be as comfortable as a drawing-room. Tell me, are we the only
perfumers who have reached public honors? Are there not vinegar
merchants and mustard men who command in the National Guard and are
very well received at the Palace? Let us imitate them; let us extend
our business, and at the same time press forward into higher society."

"Goodness! Birotteau, do you know what I am thinking of as I listen to
you? You are like the man who looks for knots in a bulrush. Recollect
what I said when it was a question of making you deputy-mayor: 'your
peace of mind before everything!' You are as fit, I told you, 'to be
put forward in public life as my arm is to turn a windmill. Honors
will be your ruin!' You would not listen to me, and now the ruin has
come. To play a part in politics you must have money: have we any?
What! would you burn your sign, which cost six hundred francs, and
renounce 'The Queen of Roses,' your true glory? Leave ambition to
others. He who puts his hand in the fire gets burned,--isn't that
true? Politics burn in these days. We have one hundred good thousand
francs invested outside of our business, our productions, our
merchandise. If you want to increase your fortune, do as they did in
1793. The Funds are at sixty-two: buy into the Funds. You will get ten
thousand francs' income, and the investment won't hamper our property.
Take advantage of the occasion to marry our daughter; sell the
business, and let us go and live in your native place. Why! for
fifteen years you have talked of nothing but buying Les Tresorieres,
that pretty little property near Chinon, where there are woods and
fields, and ponds and vineyards, and two dairies, which bring in a
thousand crowns a year, with a house which we both like,--all of which
we can have for sixty thousand francs; and, lo! Monsieur now wants to
become something under government! Recollect what we are,--perfumers.
If sixteen years before you invented the DOUBLE PASTE OF SULTANS and
the CARMINATIVE BALM some one had said, 'You are going to make enough
money to buy Les Tresorieres,' wouldn't you have been half sick with
joy? Well, you can acquire that property which you wanted so much that
you hardly opened your mouth about anything else, and now you talk of
spending on nonsense money earned by the sweat of our brow: I can say
ours, for I've sat behind the desk through all that time, like a poor
dog in his kennel. Isn't it much better to come and visit our daughter
after she is married to a notary of Paris, and live eight months of
the year at Chinon, than to begin here to make five sous six blanks,
and of six blanks nothing? Wait for a rise in the Funds, and you can
give eight thousand francs a year to your daughter and we can keep two
thousand for ourselves, and the proceeds of the business will allow us
to buy Les Tresorieres. There in your native place, my good little
cat, with our furniture, which is worth a great deal, we shall live
like princes; whereas here we want at least a million to make any
figure at all."

"I expected you to say all this, wife," said Cesar Birotteau. "I am
not quite such a fool (though you think me a great fool, you do) as
not to have thought of all that. Now, listen to me. Alexandre Crottat
will fit us like a glove for a son-in-law, and he will succeed Roguin;
but do you suppose he will be satisfied with a hundred thousand francs
/dot/?--supposing that we gave our whole property outside of the
business to establish our daughter, and I am willing; I would gladly
live on dry bread the rest of my days to see her happy as a queen, the
wife of a notary of Paris, as you say. Well, then, a hundred thousand
francs, or even eight thousand francs a year, is nothing at all
towards buying Roguin's practice. Little Xandrot, as we call him,
thinks, like all the rest of the world, that we are richer than we
are. If his father, that big farmer who is as close as a snail, won't
sell a hundred thousand francs worth of land Xandrot can't be a
notary, for Roguin's practice is worth four or five hundred thousand.
If Crottat does not pay half down, how could he negotiate the affair?
Cesarine must have two hundred thousand francs /dot/; and I mean that
you and I shall retire solid bourgeois of Paris, with fifteen thousand
francs a year. Hein! If I could make you see that as plain as day,
wouldn't it shut your mouth?"

"Oh, if you've got the mines of Peru--"

"Yes, I have, my lamb. Yes," he said, taking his wife by the waist and
striking her with little taps, under an emotion of joy which lighted
up his features, "I did not wish to tell you of this matter till it
was all cooked; but to-morrow it will be done,--that is, perhaps it
will. Here it is then: Roguin has proposed a speculation to me, so
safe that he has gone into it with Ragon, with your uncle Pillerault,
and two other of his clients. We are to buy property near the
Madeleine, which, according to Roguin's calculations, we shall get for
a quarter of the value which it will bring three years from now, at
which time, the present leases having expired, we shall manage it for
ourselves. We have all six taken certain shares. I furnish three
hundred thousand francs,--that is, three-eighths of the whole. If any
one of us wants money, Roguin will get it for him by hypothecating his
share. To hold the gridiron and know how the fish are fried, I have
chosen to be nominally proprietor of one half, which is, however, to
be the common property of Pillerault and the worthy Ragon and myself.
Roguin will be, under the name of Monsieur Charles Claparon,
co-proprietor with me, and will give a reversionary deed to his
associates, as I shall to mine. The deeds of purchase are made by
promises of sale under private seal, until we are masters of the whole
property. Roguin will investigate as to which of the contracts should
be paid in money, for he is not sure that we can dispense with
registering and yet turn over the titles to those to whom we sell in
small parcels. But it takes too long to explain all this to you. The
ground once paid for, we have only to cross our arms and in three
years we shall be rich by a million. Cesarine will then be twenty, our
business will be sold, and we shall step, by the grace of God,
modestly to eminence."

"Where will you get your three hundred thousand francs?" said Madame

"You don't understand business, my beloved little cat. I shall take
the hundred thousand francs which are now with Roguin; I shall borrow
forty thousand on the buildings and gardens where we now have our
manufactory in the Faubourg du Temple; we have twenty thousand francs
here in hand,--in all, one hundred and sixty thousand. There remain
one hundred and forty thousand more, for which I shall sign notes to
the order of Monsieur Charles Claparon, banker. He will pay the value,
less the discount. So there are the three hundred thousand francs
provided for. He who owns rents owes nothing. When the notes fall due
we can pay them off with our profits. If we cannot pay them in cash,
Roguin will give the money at five per cent, hypothecated on my share
of the property. But such loans will be unnecessary. I have discovered
an essence which will make the hair grow--an Oil Comagene, from Syria!
Livingston has just set up for me a hydraulic press to manufacture the
oil from nuts, which yield it readily under strong pressure. In a
year, according to my calculations, I shall have made a hundred
thousand francs at least. I meditate an advertisement which shall
begin, 'Down with wigs!'--the effect will be prodigious. You have
never found out my wakefulness, Madame! For three months the success
of Macassar Oil has kept me from sleeping. I am resolved to take the
shine out of Macassar!"

"So these are the fine projects you've been rolling in your noddle for
two months without choosing to tell me? I have just seen myself
begging at my own door,--a warning from heaven! Before long we shall
have nothing left but our eyes to weep with. Never while I live shall
you do it; do you hear me, Cesar? Underneath all this there is some
plot which you don't perceive; you are too upright and loyal to
suspect the trickery of others. Why should they come and offer you
millions? You are giving up your property, you are going beyond your
means; and if your oil doesn't succeed, if you don't make the money,
if the value of the land can't be realized, how will you pay your
notes? With the shells of your nuts? To rise in society you are going
to hide your name, take down your sign, 'The Queen of Roses,' and yet
you mean to salaam and bow and scrape in advertisements and
prospectuses, which will placard Cesar Birotteau at every corner, and
on all the boards, wherever they are building."

"Oh! you are not up to it all. I shall have a branch establishment,
under the name of Popinot, in some house near the Rue des Lombards,
where I shall put little Anselme. I shall pay my debt of gratitude to
Monsieur and Madame Ragon by setting up their nephew, who can make his
fortune. The poor Ragonines look to me half-starved of late."

"Bah! all those people want your money."

"But what people, my treasure? Is it your uncle Pillerault, who loves
us like the apple of his eye, and dines with us every Sunday? Is it
good old Ragon, our predecessor, who has forty upright years in
business to boast of, and with whom we play our game of boston? Is it
Roguin, a notary, a man fifty-seven years old, twenty-five of which he
has been in office? A notary of Paris! he would be the flower of the
lot, if honest folk were not all worth the same price. If necessary,
my associates will help me. Where is the plot, my white doe? Look
here, I must tell you your defect. On the word of an honest man it
lies on my heart. You are as suspicious as a cat. As soon as we had
two sous worth in the shop you thought the customers were all thieves.
I had to go down on my knees to you to let me make you rich. For a
Parisian girl you have no ambition! If it hadn't been for your
perpetual fears, no man could have been happier than I. If I had
listened to you I should never have invented the Paste of Sultans nor
the Carminative Balm. Our shop has given us a living, but these two
discoveries have made the hundred and sixty thousand francs which we
possess, net and clear! Without my genius, for I certainly have talent
as a perfumer, we should now be petty retail shopkeepers, pulling the
devil's tail to make both ends meet. I shouldn't be a distinguished
merchant, competing in the election of judges for the department of
commerce; I should be neither a judge nor a deputy-mayor. Do you know
what I should be? A shopkeeper like Pere Ragon,--be it said without
offence, for I respect shopkeeping; the best of our kidney are in it.
After selling perfumery like him for forty years, we should be worth
three thousand francs a year; and at the price things are now, for
they have doubled in value, we should, like them, have barely enough
to live on. (Day after day that poor household wrings my heart more
and more. I must know more about it, and I'll get the truth from
Popinot to-morrow!) If I had followed your advice--you who have such
uneasy happiness and are always asking whether you will have to-morrow
what you have got to-day--I should have no credit, I should have no
cross of the Legion of honor. I should not be on the highroad to
becoming a political personage. Yes, you may shake your head, but if
our affair succeeds I may become deputy of Paris. Ah! I am not named
Cesar for nothing; I succeed. It is unimaginable! outside every one
credits me with capacity, but here the only person whom I want so much
to please that I sweat blood and water to make her happy, is precisely
the one who takes me for a fool."

These phrases, divided by eloquent pauses and delivered like shot,
after the manner of those who recriminate, expressed so deep and
constant an attachment that Madame Birotteau was inwardly touched,
though, like all women, she made use of the love she inspired to gain
her end.

"Well! Birotteau," she said, "if you love me, let me be happy in my
own way. Neither you nor I have education; we don't know how to talk,
nor to play 'your obedient servant' like men of the world; how then do
you expect that we could succeed in government places? I shall be
happy at Les Tresorieres, indeed I shall. I have always loved birds
and animals, and I can pass my life very well taking care of the hens
and the farm. Let us sell the business, marry Cesarine, and give up
your visions. We can come and pass the winters in Paris with our son-
in-law; we shall be happy; nothing in politics or commerce can then
change our way of life. Why do you want to crush others? Isn't our
present fortune enough for us? When you are a millionaire can you eat
two dinners; will you want two wives? Look at my uncle Pillerault! He
is wisely content with his little property, and spends his life in
good deeds. Does he want fine furniture? Not he! I know very well you
have been ordering furniture for me; I saw Braschon here, and it was
not to buy perfumery."

"Well, my beauty, yes! Your furniture is ordered; our improvements
begin to-morrow, and are superintended by an architect recommended to
me by Monsieur de la Billardiere."

"My God!" she cried, "have pity upon us!"

"But you are not reasonable, my love. Do you think that at thirty-
seven years of age, fresh and pretty as you are, you can go and bury
yourself at Chinon? I, thank God, am only thirty-nine. Chance opens to
me a fine career; I enter upon it. If I conduct myself prudently I can
make an honorable house among the bourgeoisie of Paris, as was done in
former times. I can found the house of Birotteau, like the house of
Keller, or Jules Desmartes, or Roguin, Cochin, Guillaume, Lebas,
Nucingen, Saillard, Popinot, Matifat, who make their mark, or have
made it, in their respective quarters. Come now! If this affair were
not as sure as bars of gold--"


"Yes, sure. For two months I have figured at it. Without seeming to do
so, I have been getting information on building from the department of
public works, from architects and contractors. Monsieur Grindot, the
young architect who is to alter our house, is in despair that he has
no money to put into the speculation."

"He hopes for the work; he says that to screw something out of you."

"Can he take in such men as Pillerault, as Charles Claparon, as
Roguin? The profit is as sure as that of the Paste of Sultans."

"But, my dear friend, why should Roguin speculate? He gets his
commissions, and his fortune is made. I see him pass sometimes more
full of care than a minister of state, with an underhand look which I
don't like; he hides some secret anxiety. His face has grown in five
years to look like that of an old rake. Who can be sure that he won't
kick over the traces when he gets all your property into his own
hands. Such things happen. Do we know him well? He has only been a
friend for fifteen years, and I wouldn't put my hand into the fire for
him. Why! he is not decent: he does not live with his wife. He must
have mistresses who ruin him; I don't see any other cause for his
anxiety. When I am dressing I look through the blinds, and I often see
him coming home in the mornings: where from? Nobody knows. He seems to
me like a man who has an establishment in town, who spends on his
pleasures, and Madame on hers. Is that the life of a notary? If they
make fifty thousand francs a year and spend sixty thousand, in twenty
years they will get to the end of their property and be as naked as
the little Saint John; and then, as they can't do without luxury, they
will prey upon their friends without compunction. Charity begins at
home. He is intimate with that little scamp du Tillet, our former
clerk; and I see nothing good in that friendship. If he doesn't know
how to judge du Tillet he must be blind; and if he does know him, why
does he pet him? You'll tell me, because his wife is fond of du
Tillet. Well, I don't look for any good in a man who has no honor with
respect to his wife. Besides, the present owners of that land must be
fools to sell for a hundred sous what is worth a hundred francs. If
you met a child who did not know the value of a louis, wouldn't you
feel bound to tell him of it? Your affair looks to me like a theft, be
it said without offence."

"Good God! how queer women are sometimes, and how they mix up ideas!
If Roguin were not in this business, you would say to me: 'Look here,
Cesar, you are going into a thing without Roguin; therefore it is
worth nothing.' But to-day he is in it, as security, and you tell

"No, that is a Monsieur Claparon."

"But a notary cannot put his own name into a speculation."

"Then why is he doing a thing forbidden by law? How do you answer
that, you who are guided by law?"

"Let me go on. Roguin is in it, and you tell me the business is
worthless. Is that reasonable? You say, 'He is acting against the
law.' But he would put himself openly in the business if it were
necessary. Can't they say the same of me? Would Ragon and Pillerault
come and say to me: 'Why do you have to do with this affair,--you who
have made your money as a merchant?'"

"Merchants are not in the same position as notaries," said Madame

"Well, my conscience is clear," said Cesar, continuing; "the people
who sell, sell because they must; we do not steal from them any more
than you steal from others when you buy their stocks at seventy-five.
We buy the ground to-day at to-day's price. In two years it will be
another thing; just so with stocks. Know then, Constance-Barbe-
Josephine Pillerault, that you will never catch Cesar Birotteau doing
anything against the most rigid honor, nor against the laws, nor
against his conscience, nor against delicacy. A man established and
known for eighteen years, to be suspected in his own household of

"Come, be calm, Cesar! A woman who has lived with you all that time
knows down to the bottom of your soul. You are the master, after all.
You earned your fortune, didn't you? It is yours, and you can spend
it. If we are reduced to the last straits of poverty, neither your
daughter nor I will make you a single reproach. But, listen; when you
invented your Paste of Sultans and Carminative Balm, what did you
risk? Five or six thousand francs. To-day you put all your fortune on
a game of cards. And you are not the only one to play; you have
associates who may be much cleverer than you. Give your ball, remodel
the house, spend ten thousand francs if you like,--it is useless but
not ruinous. As to your speculations near the Madeleine, I formally
object. You are perfumer: be a perfumer, and not a speculator in land.
We women have instincts which do not deceive us. I have warned you;
now follow your own lead. You have been judge in the department of
commerce, you know the laws. So far, you have guided the ship well,
Cesar; I shall follow you! But I shall tremble till I see our fortune
solidly secure and Cesarine well married. God grant that my dream be
not a prophecy!"

This submission thwarted Birotteau, who now employed an innocent ruse
to which he had had recourse on similar occasions.

"Listen, Constance. I have not given my word; though it is the same as
if I had."

"Oh, Cesar, all is said; let us say no more. Honor before fortune.
Come, go to bed, dear friend, there is no more wood. Besides, we shall
talk better in bed, if it amuses you. Oh! that horrid dream! My God!
to see one's self! it was fearful! Cesarine and I will have to make a
pretty number of /neuvaines/ for the success of your speculations."

"Doubtless the help of God can do no harm," said Birotteau, gravely.
"But the oil in nuts is also powerful, wife. I made this discovery
just as I made that of the Double Paste of Sultans,--by chance. The
first time by opening a book; this time by looking at an engraving of
Hero and Leander: you know, the woman who pours oil on the head of her
lover; pretty, isn't it? The safest speculations are those which
depend on vanity, on self-love, on the desire of appearing well. Those
sentiments never die."

"Alas! I know it well."

"At a certain age men will turn their souls inside out to get hair, if
they haven't any. For some time past hair-dressers have told me that
they sell not only Macassar, but all the drugs which are said to dye
hair or make it grow. Since the peace, men are more with women, and
women don't like bald-heads; hey! hey! Mimi? The demand for that
article grows out of the political situation. A composition which will
keep the hair in good health will sell like bread; all the more if it
has the sanction, as it will have, of the Academy of Sciences. My good
Monsieur Vauquelin will perhaps help me once more. I shall go to him
to-morrow and submit my idea; offering him at the same time that
engraving which I have at last found in Germany, after two years'
search. He is now engaged in analyzing hair: Chiffreville, his
associate in the manufacture of chemical products, told me so. If my
discovery should jump with his, my essence will be bought by both
sexes. The idea is a fortune; I repeat it. Mon Dieu! I can't sleep.
Hey! luckily little Popinot has the finest head of hair in the world.
A shop-girl with hair long enough to touch the ground, and who could
say--if the thing were possible without offence to God or my neighbor
--that the Oil Comagene (for it shall be an oil, decidedly) has had
something to do with it,--all the gray-heads in Paris will fling
themselves upon the invention like poverty upon the world. Hey! hey!
Mignonne! how about the ball? I am not wicked, but I should like to
meet that little scamp du Tillet, who swells out with his fortune and
avoids me at the Bourse. He knows that I know a thing about him which
was not fine. Perhaps I have been too kind to him. Isn't it odd, wife,
that we are always punished for our good deeds?--here below, I mean. I
behaved like a father to him; you don't know all I did for him."

"You give me goose-flesh merely speaking of it. If you knew what he
wished to make of you, you would never have kept the secret of his
stealing that three thousand francs,--for I guessed just how the thing
was done. If you had sent him to the correctional police, perhaps you
would have done a service to a good many people."

"What did he wish to make of me?"

"Nothing. If you were inclined to listen to me to-night, I would give
you a piece of good advice, Birotteau; and that is, to let your du
Tillet alone."

"Won't it seem strange if I exclude him from my house,--a clerk for
whom I endorsed to the amount of twenty thousand francs when he first
went into business? Come, let us do good for good's sake. Besides,
perhaps du Tillet has mended his ways."

"Everything is to be turned topsy-turvy, then?"

"What do you mean with your topsy-turvy? Everything will be ruled like
a sheet of music-paper. Have you forgotten what I have just told you
about turning the staircase and hiring the first floor of the next
house?--which is all settled with the umbrella-maker, Cayron. He and I
are going to-morrow to see his proprietor, Monsieur Molineux.
To-morrow I have as much to do as a minister of state."

"You turn my brain with your projects," said Constance. "I am all
mixed up. Besides, Birotteau, I'm asleep."

"Good-day," replied the husband. "Just listen; I say good-day because
it is morning, Mimi. Ah! there she is off, the dear child. Yes! you
shall be rich, /richissime/, or I'll renounce my name of Cesar!"

A few moments later Constance and Cesar were peacefully snoring.


A glance rapidly thrown over the past life of this household will
strengthen the ideas which ought to have been suggested by the
friendly altercation of the two personages in this scene. While
picturing the manners and customs of retail shopkeepers, this sketch
will also show by what singular chances Cesar Birotteau became deputy-
mayor and perfumer, retired officer of the National Guard, and
chevalier of the Legion of honor. In bringing to light the depths of
his character and the causes of his rise, we shall show that
fortuitous commercial events which strong brains dominate, may become
irreparable catastrophes for weak ones. Events are never absolute;
their results depend on individuals. Misfortune is a stepping-stone
for genius, the baptismal font of Christians, a treasure for the
skilful man, an abyss for the feeble.

A vine-dresser in the neighborhood of Chinon, named Jean Birotteau,
married the waiting-maid of a lady whose vines he tilled. He had three
sons; his wife died in giving birth to the last, and the poor man did
not long survive her. The mistress had been fond of the maid, and
brought up with her own sons the eldest child, Francois, and placed
him in a seminary. Ordained priest, Francois Birotteau hid himself
during the Revolution, and led the wandering life of priests not sworn
by the Republic, hunted like wild beasts and guillotined at the first
chance. At the time when this history begins he was vicar of the
cathedral of Tours, and had only once left that city to visit his
brother Cesar. The bustle of Paris so bewildered the good priest that
he was afraid to leave his room. He called the cabriolets "half-
coaches," and wondered at all he saw. After a week's stay he went back
to Tours resolving never to revisit the capital.

The second son of the vine-dresser, Jean Birotteau, was drafted into
the militia, and won the rank of captain early in the wars of the
Revolution. At the battle of Trebia, Macdonald called for volunteers
to carry a battery. Captain Jean Birotteau advanced with his company,
and was killed. The destiny of the Birotteaus demanded, no doubt, that
they should be oppressed by men, or by circumstances, wheresoever they
planted themselves.

The last child is the hero of this story. When Cesar at fourteen years
of age could read, write, and cipher, he left his native place and
came to Paris on foot to seek his fortune, with one louis in his
pocket. The recommendation of an apothecary at Tours got him a place
as shop-boy with Monsieur and Madame Ragon, perfumers. Cesar owned at
this period a pair of hob-nailed shoes, a pair of breeches, blue
stockings, a flowered waistcoat, a peasant's jacket, three coarse
shirts of good linen, and his travelling cudgel. If his hair was cut
like that of a choir-boy, he at least had the sturdy loins of a
Tourangian; if he yielded sometimes to the native idleness of his
birthplace, it was counterbalanced by his desire to make his fortune;
if he lacked cleverness and education, he possessed an instinctive
rectitude and delicate feelings, which he inherited from his mother,--
a being who had, in Tourangian phrase, a "heart of gold." Cesar
received from the Ragons his food, six francs a month as wages, and a
pallet to sleep upon in the garret near the cook. The clerks who
taught him to pack the goods, to do the errands, and sweep up the shop
and the pavement, made fun of him as they did so, according to the
manners and customs of shop-keeping, in which chaff is a principal
element of instruction. Monsieur and Madame Ragon spoke to him like a
dog. No one paid attention to his weariness, though many a night his
feet, blistered by the pavements of Paris, and his bruised shoulders,
made him suffer horribly. This harsh application of the maxim "each
for himself,"--the gospel of large cities,--made Cesar think the life
of Paris very hard. At night he cried as he thought of Touraine, where
the peasant works at his ease, where the mason lays a stone between
breakfast and dinner, and idleness is wisely mingled with labor; but
he always fell asleep without having time to think of running away,
for he had his errands to do in the morning, and obeyed his duty with
the instinct of a watch-dog. If occasionally he complained, the head
clerk would smile with a jovial air, and say,--

"Ah, my boy! all is not rose at 'The Queen of Roses.' Larks don't fall
down roasted; you must run after them and catch them, and then you
must find some way to cook them."

The cook, a big creature from Picardy, took the best bits for herself,
and only spoke to Cesar when she wanted to complain of Monsieur and
Madame Ragon, who left her nothing to steal. Towards the end of the
first month this girl, who was forced to keep house of a Sunday,
opened a conversation with Cesar. Ursula with the grease washed off
seemed charming to the poor shop-boy, who, unless hindered by chance,
was likely to strike on the first rock that lay hidden in his way.
Like all unprotected boys, he loved the first woman who threw him a
kind look. The cook took Cesar under her protection; and thence
followed certain secret relations, which the clerks laughed at
pitilessly. Two years later, the cook happily abandoned Cesar for a
young recruit belonging to her native place who was then hiding in
Paris,--a lad twenty years old, owning a few acres of land, who let
Ursula marry him.

During those two years the cook had fed her little Cesar well, and had
explained to him certain mysteries of Parisian life, which she made
him look at from the bottom; and she impressed upon him, out of
jealousy, a profound horror of evil places, whose dangers seemed not
unknown to her. In 1792 the feet of the deserted Cesar were well-
toughened to the pavements, his shoulders to the bales, and his mind
to what he called the "humbugs" of Paris. So when Ursula abandoned him
he was speedily consoled, for she had realized none of his instinctive
ideas in relation to sentiment. Licentious and surly, wheedling and
pilfering, selfish and a tippler, she clashed with the simple nature
of Birotteau without offering him any compensating perspective.
Sometimes the poor lad felt with pain that he was bound by ties that
are strong enough to hold ingenuous hearts to a creature with whom he
could not sympathize. By the time that he became master of his own
heart he had reached his growth, and was sixteen years old. His mind,
developed by Ursula and by the banter of the clerks, made him study
commerce with an eye in which intelligence was veiled beneath
simplicity: he observed the customers; asked in leisure moments for
explanations about the merchandise, whose divers sorts and proper
places he retained in his head. The day came when he knew all the
articles, and their prices and marks, better than any new-comer; and
from that time Monsieur and Madame Ragon made a practice of employing
him in the business.

When the terrible levy of the year II. made a clean sweep in the shop
of citizen Ragon, Cesar Birotteau, promoted to be second clerk,
profited by the occasion to obtain a salary of fifty francs a month,
and took his seat at the dinner-table of the Ragons with ineffable
delight. The second clerk of "The Queen of Roses," possessing already
six hundred francs, now had a chamber where he could put away, in
long-coveted articles of furniture, the clothing he had little by
little got together. Dressed like other young men of an epoch when
fashion required the assumption of boorish manners, the gentle and
modest peasant had an air and manner which rendered him at least their
equal; and he thus passed the barriers which in other times ordinary
life would have placed between himself and the bourgeoisie. Towards
the end of this year his integrity won him a place in the counting-
room. The dignified citoyenne Ragon herself looked after his linen,
and the two shopkeepers became familiar with him.

In Vendemiaire, 1794, Cesar, who possessed a hundred louis d'or,
changed them for six thousand francs in assignats, with which he
bought into the Funds at thirty, paying for the investment on the very
day before the paper began its course of depreciation at the Bourse,
and locking up his securities with unspeakable satisfaction. From that
day forward he watched the movement of stocks and public affairs with
secret anxieties of his own, which made him quiver at each rumor of
the reverses or successes that marked this period of our history.
Monsieur Ragon, formerly perfumer to her majesty Queen Marie-
Antoinette, confided to Cesar Birotteau, during this critical period,
his attachment to the fallen tyrants. This disclosure was one of the
cardinal events in Cesar's life. The nightly conversations when the
shop was closed, the street quiet, the accounts regulated, made a
fanatic of the Tourangian, who in becoming a royalist obeyed an inborn
instinct. The recital of the virtuous deeds of Louis XVI., the
anecdotes with which husband and wife exalted the memory of the queen,
fired the imagination of the young man. The horrible fate of those two
crowned heads, decapitated a few steps from the shop-door, roused his
feeling heart and made him hate a system of government which was
capable of shedding blood without repugnance. His commercial interests
showed him the death of trade in the Maximum, and in political
convulsions, which are always destructive of business. Moreover, like
a true perfumer, he hated the revolution which made a Titus of every
man and abolished powder. The tranquillity resulting from absolutism
could alone, he thought, give life to money, and he grew bigoted on
behalf of royalty. When Monsieur Ragon saw that Cesar was well-
disposed on this point, he made him head-clerk and initiated him into
the secrets of "The Queen of Roses," several of whose customers were
the most active and devoted emissaries of the Bourbons, and where the
correspondence between Paris and the West secretly went on. Carried
away by the fervor of youth, electrified by his intercourse with the
Georges, the Billardiere, Montauran, Bauvan, Longuy, Manda, Bernier,
du Guenic, and the Fontaines, Cesar flung himself into the conspiracy
by which the royalists and the terrorists combined on the 13th
Vendemiaire against the expiring Convention.

On that day Cesar had the honor of fighting against Napoleon on the
steps of Saint-Roch, and was wounded at the beginning of the affair.
Every one knows the result of that attempt. If the aide-de-camp of
Barras then issued from his obscurity, the obscurity of Birotteau
saved the clerk's life. A few friends carried the belligerent perfumer
to "The Queen of Roses," where he remained hidden in the garret,
nursed by Madame Ragon, and happily forgotten. Cesar Birotteau never
had but that one spurt of martial courage. During the month his
convalescence lasted, he made solid reflections on the absurdity of an
alliance between politics and perfumery. Although he remained
royalist, he resolved to be, purely and simply, a royalist perfumer,
and never more to compromise himself, body and soul, for his country.

On the 18th Brumaire, Monsieur and Madame Ragon, despairing of the
royal cause, determined to give up perfumery, and live like honest
bourgeois without meddling in politics. To recover the value of their
business, it was necessary to find a man who had more integrity than
ambition, more plain good sense than ability. Ragon proposed the
affair to his head-clerk. Birotteau, now master at twenty years of age
of a thousand francs a year from the public Funds, hesitated. His
ambition was to live near Chinon as soon as he could get together an
income of fifteen hundred francs, or whenever the First Consul should
have consolidated the public debt by consolidating himself in the
Tuileries. Why should he risk his honest and simple independence in
commercial uncertainties? he asked himself. He had never expected to
win so large a fortune, and he owed it to happy chances which only
come in early youth; he intended to marry in Touraine some woman rich
enough to enable him to buy and cultivate Les Tresorieres, a little
property which, from the dawn of his reason, he had coveted, which he
dreamed of augmenting, where he could make a thousand crowns a year,
and where he would lead a life of happy obscurity. He was about to
refuse the offer, when love suddenly changed all his resolutions by
increasing tenfold the measure of his ambition.

After Ursula's desertion, Cesar had remained virtuous, as much through
fear of the dangers of Paris as from application to his work. When the
passions are without food they change their wants; marriage then
becomes, to persons of the middle class, a fixed idea, for it is their
only way of winning and appropriating a woman. Cesar Birotteau had
reached that point. Everything at "The Queen of Roses" now rested on
the head-clerk; he had not a moment to give to pleasure. In such a
life wants become imperious, and a chance meeting with a beautiful
young woman, of whom a libertine clerk would scarcely have dreamed,
produced on Cesar an overpowering effect. On a fine June day, crossing
by the Pont-Marie to the Ile Saint-Louis, he saw a young girl standing
at the door of a shop at the angle of the Quai d'Anjou. Constance
Pillerault was the forewoman of a linen-draper's establishment called
Le Petit Matelot,--the first of those shops which have since been
established in Paris with more or less of painted signs, floating
banners, show-cases filled with swinging shawls, cravats arranged like
houses of cards, and a thousand other commercial seductions, such as
fixed prices, fillets of suspended objects, placards, illusions and
optical effects carried to such a degree of perfection that a shop-
front has now become a commercial poem. The low price of all the
articles called "Novelties" which were to be found at the Petit-
Matelot gave the shop an unheard of vogue, and that in a part of Paris
which was the least favorable to fashion and commerce. The young
forewoman was at this time cited for her beauty, as was the case in
later days with the beautiful lemonade-girl of the cafe of the Milles
Colonnnes, and several other poor creatures who flattened more noses,
young and old, against the window-panes of milliners, confectioners,
and linen-drapers, than there are stones in the streets of Paris.

The head-clerk of "The Queen of Roses," living between Saint-Roch and
the Rue de la Sourdiere, knew nothing of the existence of the Petit-
Matelot; for the smaller trades of Paris are more or less strangers to
each other. Cesar was so vigorously smitten by the beauty of Constance
that he rushed furiously into the shop to buy six linen shirts,
disputing the price a long time, and requiring volumes of linen to be
unfolded and shown to him, precisely like an Englishwoman in the humor
for "shopping." The young person deigned to take notice of Cesar,
perceiving, by certain symptoms known to women, that he came more for
the seller than the goods. He dictated his name and address to the
young lady, who grew very indifferent to the admiration of her
customer once the purchase was made. The poor clerk had had little to
do to win the good graces of Ursula; in such matters he was as silly
as a sheep, and love now made him sillier. He dared not utter a word,
and was moreover too dazzled to observe the indifference which
succeeded the smiles of the siren shopwoman.

For eight succeeding days Cesar mounted guard every evening before the
Petit-Matelot, watching for a look as a dog waits for a bone at the
kitchen door, indifferent to the derision of the clerks and the shop-
girls, humbly stepping aside for the buyers and passers-by, and
absorbed in the little revolving world of the shop. Some days later he
again entered the paradise of his angel, less to purchase
handkerchiefs than to communicate to her a luminous idea.

"If you should have need of perfumery, Mademoiselle, I could furnish
you in the same manner," he said as he paid for the handkerchiefs.

Constance Pillerault was daily receiving brilliant proposals, in which
there was no question of marriage; and though her heart was as pure as
her forehead was white, it was only after six months of marches and
counter-marches, in the course of which Cesar revealed his
inextinguishable love, that she condescended to receive his
attentions, and even then without committing herself to an answer,--a
prudence suggested by the number of her swains, wholesale wine-
merchants, rich proprietors of cafes, and others who made soft eyes at
her. The lover was backed up in his suit by the guardian of Constance,
Monsieur Claude-Joseph Pillerault, at that time an ironmonger on the
Quai de la Ferraille, whom the young man had finally discovered by
devoting himself to the subterraneous spying which distinguishes a
genuine love.

The rapidity of this narrative compels us to pass over in silence the
joys of Parisian love tasted with innocence, the prodigalities
peculiar to clerkdom, such as melons in their earliest prime, choice
dinners at Venua's followed by the theatre, Sunday jaunts to the
country in hackney-coaches. Without being handsome, there was nothing
in Cesar's person which made it difficult to love him. The life of
Paris and his sojourn in a dark shop had dulled the brightness of his
peasant complexion. His abundant black hair, his solid neck and
shoulders like those of a Norman horse, his sturdy limbs, his honest
and straightforward manner, all contributed to predispose others in
his favor. The uncle Pillerault, whose duty it was to watch over the
happiness of his brother's daughter, made inquiries which resulted in
his sanctioning the wishes of the young Tourangian. In the year 1800,
and in the pretty month of May, Mademoiselle Pillerault consented to
marry Cesar Birotteau, who fainted with joy at the moment when, under
a linden at Sceaux, Constance-Barbe-Josephine Pillerault accepted him
as her husband.

"My little girl," said Monsieur Pillerault, "you have won a good
husband. He has a warm heart and honorable feelings; he is true as
gold, and as good as an infant Jesus,--in fact, a king of men."

Constance frankly abdicated the more brilliant destiny to which, like
all shop-girls, she may at times have aspired. She wished to be an
honest woman, a good mother of a family, and looked at life according
to the religious programme of the middle classes. Such a career suited
her own ideas far better than the dangerous vanities which seduce so
many youthful Parisian imaginations. Constance, with her narrow
intelligence, was a type of the petty bourgeoisie whose labors are not
performed without grumbling; who begin by refusing what they desire,
and end by getting angry when taken at their word; whose restless
activity is carried into the kitchen and into the counting-room, into
the gravest matters of business, and into the invisible darns of the
household linen; who love while scolding, who conceive no ideas but
the simplest (the small change of the mind); who argue about
everything, fear everything, calculate everything, and fret
perpetually over the future. Her cold but ingenuous beauty, her
touching expression, her freshness and purity, prevented Birotteau
from thinking of her defects, which moreover were more than
compensated by a delicate sense of honor natural to women, by an
excessive love of order, by a fanaticism for work, and by her genius
as a saleswoman. Constance was eighteen years old, and possessed
eleven thousand francs of her own. Cesar, inspired by his love with an
excessive ambition, bought the business of "The Queen of Roses" and
removed it to a handsome building near the Place Vendome. At the early
age of twenty-one, married to a woman he adored, the proprietor of an
establishment for which he had paid three quarters of the price down,
he had the right to view, and did view, the future in glowing colors;
all the more when he measured the path which led from his original
point of departure. Roguin, notary of Ragon, who had drawn up the
marriage contract, gave the new perfumer some sound advice, and
prevented him from paying the whole purchase money down with the
fortune of his wife.

"Keep the means of undertaking some good enterprise, my lad," he had
said to him.

Birotteau looked up to the notary with admiration, fell into the habit
of consulting him, and made him his friend. Like Ragon and Pillerault,
he had so much faith in the profession that he gave himself up to
Roguin without allowing himself a suspicion. Thanks to this advice,
Cesar, supplied with the eleven thousand francs of his wife for his
start in business, would have scorned to exchange his possessions for
those of the First Consul, brilliant as the prospects of Napoleon
might seem. At first the Birotteaus kept only a cook, and lived in the
/entresol/ above the shop,--a sort of den tolerably well decorated by
an upholsterer, where the bride and bridegroom began a honeymoon that
was never to end. Madame Cesar appeared to advantage behind the
counter. Her celebrated beauty had an enormous influence upon the
sales, and the beautiful Madame Birotteau became a topic among the
fashionable young men of the Empire. If Cesar was sometimes accused of
royalism, the world did justice to his honesty; if a few neighboring
shopkeepers envied his happiness, every one at least thought him
worthy of it. The bullet which struck him on the steps of Saint-Roch
gave him the reputation of being mixed up with political secrets, and
also of being a courageous man,--though he had no military courage in
his heart, and not the smallest political idea in his brain. Upon
these grounds the worthy people of the arrondissement made him captain
of the National Guard; but he was cashiered by Napoleon, who,
according to Birotteau, owed him a grudge for their encounter on the
13th Vendemiaire. Cesar thus obtained at a cheap rate a varnish of
persecution, which made him interesting in the eyes of the opposition,
and gave him a certain importance.


Such was the history of this household, lastingly happy through its
feeling, and agitated only by commercial anxieties.

During the first year Cesar instructed his wife about the sales of
their merchandise and the details of perfumery,--a business which she
understood admirably. She really seemed to have been created and sent
into the world to fit on the gloves of customers. At the close of that
year the assets staggered our ambitious perfumer; all costs
calculated, he would be able in less than twenty years to make a
modest capital of one hundred thousand francs, which was the sum at
which he estimated their happiness. He then resolved to reach fortune
more rapidly, and determined to manufacture articles as well as retail
them. Contrary to the advice of his wife, he hired some sheds, with
the ground about them, in the Faubourg du Temple, and painted upon
them in big letters, "Manufactory of Cesar Birotteau." He enticed a
skilful workman from Grasse, with whom he began, on equal shares, the
manufacture of soaps, essences, and eau-de-cologne. His connection
with this man lasted only six months, and ended by losses which fell
upon him alone. Without allowing himself to be discouraged, Birotteau
determined to get better results at any price, solely to avoid being
scolded by his wife,--to whom he acknowledged later that in those
depressing days his head had boiled like a saucepan, and that several
times, if it had not been for his religious sentiments, he should have
flung himself into the Seine.

Harassed by some unprofitable enterprise, he was lounging one day
along the boulevard on his way to dinner,--for the Parisian lounger is
as often a man filled with despair as an idler,--when among a parcel
of books for six sous a-piece, laid out in a hamper on the pavement,
his eyes lighted on the following title, yellow with dust: "Abdeker,
or the Art of Preserving Beauty." He picked up the so-called Arab
book, a sort of romance written by a physician of the preceding
century, and happened on a page which related to perfumes. Leaning
against a tree on the boulevard to turn over the leaves at his ease,
he read a note by the author which explained the nature of the skin
and the cuticle, and showed that a certain soap, or a certain paste,
often produced effects quite contrary to those expected of them, if
the soap and the paste toned up a skin which needed relaxing, or
relaxed a skin which required tones. Birotteau bought the book, in
which he saw his fortune. Nevertheless, having little confidence in
his own lights, he consulted a celebrated chemist, Vauquelin, from
whom he naively inquired how to mix a two-sided cosmetic which should
produce effects appropriate to the diversified nature of the human
epidermis. Truly scientific men--men who are really great in the sense
that they never attain in their lifetime the renown which their
immense and unrecognized labors deserve--are nearly always kind, and
willing to serve the poor in spirit. Vauquelin accordingly patronized
the perfumer, and allowed him to call himself the inventor of a paste
to whiten the hands, the composition of which he dictated to him.
Birotteau named this cosmetic the "Double Paste of Sultans." To
complete the work, he applied the same recipe to the manufacture of a
lotion for the complexion, which he called the "Carminative Balm." He
imitated in his own line the system of the Petit-Matelot, and was the
first perfumer to display that redundancy of placards, advertisements,
and other methods of publication which are called, perhaps unjustly,

The Paste of Sultans and the Carminative Balm were ushered into the
world of fashion and commerce by colored placards, at the head of
which were these words, "Approved by the Institute." This formula,
used for the first time, had a magical effect. Not only all France,
but the continent flaunted with the posters, yellow, red, and blue, of
the monarch of the "The Queen of Roses," who kept in stock, supplied,
and manufactured, at moderate prices, all that belonged to his trade.
At a period when nothing was talked of but the East, to name any sort
of cosmetic the "Paste of Sultans" thus divining the magic force of
such words in a land where every man hoped to be a sultan as much as
every woman longed to be a sultana, was an inspiration which could
only have come to a common man or a man of genius. The public always
judges by results. Birotteau passed for a superior man, commercially
speaking; all the more because he compiled a prospectus whose
ridiculous phraseology was an element of success. In France they only
made fun of things which occupy the public mind, and the public does
not occupy itself with things that do not succeed. Though Birotteau
perpetrated this folly in good faith and not as a trick, the world
gave him credit for knowing how to play the fool for a purpose. We
have found, not without difficulty, a copy of this prospectus at the
establishment of Popinot and Co., druggists, Rue des Lombards. This
curious document belongs to the class which, in a higher sphere,
historians call /pieces justificatives/. We give it here:



Of Cesar Birotteau.


Approved by the Institute of France.

"For many years a paste for the hands and a lotion for the face
offering superior results to those obtained from Eau-de-Cologne in
the domain of the toilet, has been widely sought by both sexes in
Europe. Devoting long vigils to the study of the skin and cuticle
of the two sexes, each of whom, one as much as the other, attach
the utmost importance to the softness, suppleness, brilliancy, and
velvet texture of the complexion, the Sieur Birotteau, perfumer,
favorably known in this metropolis and abroad, has discovered a
Paste and a Lotion justly hailed as marvellous by the fashion and
elegance of Paris. In point of fact, this Paste and this Lotion
possess amazing properties which act upon the skin without
prematurely wrinkling it,--the inevitable result of drugs
thoughtlessly employed, and sold in these days by ignorance and
cupidity. This discovery rests upon diversities of temperament,
which divide themselves into two great classes, indicated by the
color of the Paste and the Lotion, which will be found /pink/ for
the skin and cuticle of persons of lymphatic habit, and /white/
for those possessed of a sanguine temperament.

"This Paste is named the 'Paste of Sultans,' because the discovery
was originally made for the Seraglio by an Arabian physician. It
has been approved by the Institute on the recommendation of our
illustrious chemist, Vauquelin; together with the Lotion,
fabricated on the same principles which govern the composition of
the Paste.

"This precious Paste, exhaling as it does the sweetest perfumes,
removes all blotches, even those that are obstinately rebellious,
whitens the most recalcitrant epidermis, and dissipates the
perspirations of the hand, of which both sexes equally complain.

"The Carminative Balm will disperse the little pimples which
appear inopportunely at certain times, and interfere with a lady's
projects for a ball; it refreshes and revives the color by opening
or shutting the pores of the skin according to the exigencies of
the individual temperament. It is so well known already for its
effect in arresting the ravages of time that many, out of
gratitude, have called it the 'Friend of Beauty.'

"Eau-de-Cologne is, purely and simply, a trivial perfume without
special efficacy of any kind; while the Double Paste of Sultans
and the Carminative Balm are two operative compounds, of a motive
power which acts without risk upon the internal energies and
seconds them. Their perfumes (essentially balsamic, and of a
stimulating character which admirably revives the heart and brain)
awake ideas and vivify them; they are as wonderful for their
simplicity as for their merits. In short, they offer one
attraction the more to women, and to men a means of seduction
which it is within their power to secure.

"The daily use of the Balm will relieve the smart occasioned by
the heat of the razor; it will protect the lips from chapping, and
restore their color; it dispels in time all discolorations, and
revives the natural tones of the skin. Such results demonstrate in
man a perfect equilibrium of the juices of life, which tends to
relieve all persons subject to headache from the sufferings of
that horrible malady. Finally, the Carminative Balm, which can be
employed by women in all stages of their toilet, will prevent
cutaneous diseases by facilitating the transpiration of the
tissues, and communicating to them a permanent texture like that
of velvet.

"Address, post-paid, Monsieur Cesar Birotteau, successor to Ragon,
former perfumer to the Queen Marie Antoinette, at The Queen of
Roses, Rue Saint-Honore, Paris, near the Place Vendome.

"The price of a cake of Paste is three francs; that of the bottle
six francs.

"Monsieur Cesar Birotteau, to avoid counterfeits, informs the
public that the Paste is wrapped in paper bearing his signature,
and that the bottles have a stamp blown in the glass."

The success was owing, without Cesar's suspecting it, to Constance,
who advised him to send cases of the Carminative Balm and the Paste of
Sultans to all perfumers in France and in foreign cities, offering
them at the same time a discount of thirty per cent if they would buy
the two articles by the gross. The Paste and the Balm were, in
reality, worth more than other cosmetics of the sort; and they
captivated ignorant people by the distinctions they set up among the
temperaments. The five hundred perfumers of France, allured by the
discount, each bought annually from Birotteau more than three hundred
gross of the Paste and the Lotion,--a consumption which, if it gave
only a limited profit on each article, became enormous considered in
bulk. Cesar was then able to buy the huts and the land in the Faubourg
du Temple; he built large manufactories, and decorated his shop at
"The Queen of Roses" with much magnificence; his household began to
taste the little joys of competence, and his wife no longer trembled
as before.

In 1810 Madame Cesar, foreseeing a rise in rents, pushed her husband
into becoming chief tenant of the house where they had hitherto
occupied only the shop and the /entresol/, and advised him to remove
their own appartement to the first floor. A fortunate event induced
Constance to shut her eyes to the follies which Birotteau committed
for her sake in fitting up the new appartement. The perfumer had just
been elected judge in the commercial courts: his integrity, his well-
known sense of honor, and the respect he enjoyed, earned for him this
dignity, which ranked him henceforth among the leading merchants of
Paris. To improve his knowledge, he rose daily at five o'clock, and
read law-reports and books treating of commercial litigation. His
sense of justice, his rectitude, his conscientious intentions,--
qualities essential to the understanding of questions submitted for
consular decision,--soon made him highly esteemed among the judges.
His defects contributed not a little to his reputation. Conscious of
his inferiority, Cesar subordinated his own views to those of his
colleagues, who were flattered in being thus deferred to. Some sought
the silent approbation of a man held to be sagacious, in his capacity
of listener; others, charmed with his modesty and gentleness, praised
him publicly. Plaintiffs and defendants extolled his kindness, his
conciliatory spirit; and he was often chosen umpire in contests where
his own good sense would have suggested the swift justice of a Turkish
cadi. During his whole period in office he contrived to use language
which was a medley of commonplaces mixed with maxims and computations
served up in flowing phrases mildly put forth, which sounded to the
ears of superficial people like eloquence. Thus he pleased that great
majority, mediocre by nature, who are condemned to perpetual labor and
to views which are of the earth earthy. Cesar, however, lost so much
time in court that his wife obliged him finally to resign the
expensive dignity.

Towards 1813, the Birotteau household, thanks to its constant harmony,
and after steadily plodding on through life, saw the dawn of an era of
prosperity which nothing seemed likely to interrupt. Monsieur and
Madame Ragon, their predecessors, the uncle Pillerault, Roguin the
notary, the Messrs. Matifat, druggists in the Rue des Lombards and
purveyors to "The Queen of Roses," Joseph Lebas, woollen draper and
successor to the Messrs. Guillaume at the Maison du Chat-qui-pelote
(one of the luminaries of the Rue Saint-Denis), Popinot the judge,
brother of Madame Ragon, Chiffreville of the firm of Protez &
Chiffreville, Monsieur and Madame Cochin, employed in the treasury
department and sleeping partners in the house of Matifat, the Abbe
Loraux, confessor and director of the pious members of this coterie,
with a few other persons, made up the circle of their friends. In
spite of the royalist sentiments of Birotteau, public opinion was in
his favor; he was considered very rich, though in fact he possessed
only a hundred thousand francs over and above his business. The
regularity of his affairs, his punctuality, his habit of making no
debts, of never discounting his paper, and of taking, on the contrary,
safe securities from those whom he could thus oblige, together with
his general amiability, won him enormous credit. His household cost
him nearly twenty thousand francs a year, and the education of
Cesarine, an only daughter, idolized by Constance as well as by
himself, necessitated heavy expenses. Neither husband nor wife
considered money when it was a question of giving pleasure to their
child, from whom they had never been willing to separate. Imagine the
happiness of the poor parvenu peasant as he listened to his charming
Cesarine playing a sonata of Steibelt's on the piano, and singing a
ballad; or when he found her writing the French language correctly, or
reading Racine, father and son, and explaining their beauties, or
sketching a landscape, or painting in sepia! What joy to live again in
a flower so pure, so lovely, which had never left the maternal stem;
an angel whose budding graces and whose earliest developments he had
passionately watched; an only daughter, incapable of despising her
father, or of ridiculing his defective education, so truly was she an
ingenuous young girl.

When he first came to Paris, Cesar had known how to read, write, and
cipher, but his education stopped there; his laborious life had kept
him from acquiring ideas and knowledge outside the business of
perfumery. Mixing wholly with people to whom science and letters were
of no importance, and whose information did not go beyond their
specialty, having no time to give to higher studies, the perfumer had
become a merely practical man. He adopted necessarily the language,
blunders, and opinions of the bourgeois of Paris, who admires Moliere,
Voltaire, and Rousseau on faith, and buys their books without ever
reading them; who maintains that people should say /ormoires/, because
women put away their gold and their dresses and moire in those
articles of furniture, and that it is only a corruption of the
language to say /armoires/. Potier, Talma, and Mademoiselle Mars were
ten times millionaires, and did not live like other human beings; the
great tragedian ate raw meat, and Mademoiselle Mars sometimes drank
dissolved pearls, in imitation of a celebrated Egyptian actress. The
Emperor had leather pockets in his waistcoat, so that he could take
his snuff by the handful; he rode on horseback at full gallop up the
stairway of the orangery at Versailles. Writers and artists died in
the hospital, as a natural consequence of their eccentricities; they
were, moreover, all atheists, and people should be very careful not to
admit them into their households. Joseph Lebas cited with horror the
history of his step-sister Augustine's marriage with the painter
Sommervieux. Astronomers lived on spiders.

These striking points of information on the French language, on
dramatic art, politics, literature, and science, will explain the
bearings of the bourgeois intellect. A poet passing through the Rue
des Lombards may dream of Araby as he inhales certain perfumes. He may
admire the /danseuses/ in a /chauderie/, as he breathes the odors of
an Indian root. Dazzled by the blaze of cochineal, he recalls the
poems of the Veda, the religion of Brahma and its castes; brushing
against piles of ivory in the rough, he mounts the backs of elephants;
seated in a muslin cage, he makes love like the King of Lahore. But
the little retail merchant is ignorant from whence have come, or where
may grow, the products in which he deals. Birotteau, perfumer, did not
know an iota of natural history, nor of chemistry. Though regarding
Vauquelin as a great man, he thought him an exception,--of about the
same capacity as the retired grocer who summed up a discussion on the
method of importing teas, by remarking with a knowing air, "There are
but two ways: tea comes either by caravan, or by Havre." According to
Birotteau aloes and opium were only to be found in the Rue des
Lombards. Rosewater, said to be brought from Constantinople, was made
in Paris like eau-de-cologne. The names of these places were shams,
invented to please Frenchmen who could not endure the things of their
own country. A French merchant must call his discoveries English to
make them fashionable, just as in England the druggists attribute
theirs to France.

Nevertheless, Cesar was incapable of being wholly stupid or a fool.
Honesty and goodness cast upon all the acts of his life a light which
made them creditable; for noble conduct makes even ignorance seem
worthy. Success gave him confidence. In Paris confidence is accepted
as power, of which it is the outward sign. As for Madame Birotteau,
having measured Cesar during the first three years of their married
life, she was a prey to continual terror. She represented in their
union the sagacious and fore-casting side,--doubt, opposition, and
fear; while Cesar, on the other hand, was the embodiment of audacity,
energy, and the inexpressible delights of fatalism. Yet in spite of
these appearances the husband often quaked, while the wife, in
reality, was possessed of patience and true courage.

Thus it happened that a man who was both mediocre and pusillanimous,
without education, without ideas, without knowledge, without force of
character, and who might be expected not to succeed in the slipperiest
city in the world, came by his principles of conduct, by his sense of
justice, by the goodness of a heart that was truly Christian, and
through his love for the only woman he had really won, to be
considered as a remarkable man, courageous, and full of resolution.
The public saw results only. Excepting Pillerault and Popinot the
judge, all the people of his own circle knew him superficially, and
were unable to judge him. Moreover, the twenty or thirty friends he
had collected about him talked the same nonsense, repeated the same
commonplaces, and all thought themselves superior in their own line.
The women vied with each other in dress and good dinners; each had
said her all when she dropped a contemptuous word about her husband.
Madame Birotteau alone had the good sense to treat hers with honor and
respect in public; she knew him to be a man who, in spite of his
secret disabilities, had earned their fortune, and whose good name she
shared. It is true that she sometimes asked herself what sort of world
this could be, if all the men who were thought superior were like her
husband. Such conduct contributed not a little to maintain the
respectful esteem bestowed upon the perfumer in a community where
women are much inclined to complain of their husbands and bring them
into discredit.


The first days of the year 1814, so fatal to imperial France, were
marked at the Birotteaus by two events, not especially remarkable in
other households, but of a nature to impress such simple souls as
Cesar and his wife, who casting their eyes along the past could find
nothing but tender memories. They had taken as head-clerk a young man
twenty-two years of age, named Ferdinand du Tillet. This lad--who had
just left a perfumery where he was refused a share in the business,
and who was reckoned a genius--had made great efforts to get employed
at "The Queen of Roses," whose methods, facilities, and customs were
well known to him. Birotteau took him, and gave him a salary of a
thousand francs, intending to make him eventually his successor.

Ferdinand had so great an influence on the destinies of this family
that it is necessary to say a few words about him. In the first place
he was named simply Ferdinand, without surname. This anonymous
condition seemed to him an immense advantage at the time when Napoleon
conscripted all families to fill the ranks. He was, however, born
somewhere, as the result of some cruel and voluptuous caprice. The
following are the only facts preserved about his civil condition. In
1793 a poor girl of Tillet, a village near Andelys, came by night and
gave birth to a child in the garden of the curate of the church at
Tillet, and after rapping on the window-shutters went away and drowned
herself. The good priest took the child, gave him the name of the
saint inscribed on the calendar for that day, and fed and brought him
up as his own son. The curate died in 1804, without leaving enough
property to carry on the education he had begun. Ferdinand, thrown
upon Paris, led a filibustering life whose chances might bring him to
the scaffold, to fortune, the bar, the army, commerce, or domestic
life. Obliged to live like a Figaro, he was first a commercial
traveller, then a perfumer's clerk in Paris, where he turned up after
traversing all France, having studied the world and made up his mind
to succeed at any price.

In 1813 Ferdinand thought it necessary to register his age, and obtain
a civil standing by applying to the courts at Andelys for a judgment,
which should enable his baptismal record to be transferred from the
registry of the parish to that of the mayor's office; and he obtained
permission to rectify the document by inserting the name of du Tillet,
under which he was known, and which legally belonged to him through
the fact of his exposure and abandonment in that township. Without
father, mother, or other guardian than the /procureur imperial/, alone
in the world and owing no duty to any man, he found society a hard
stepmother, and he handled it, in his turn, without gloves,--as the
Turks the Moors; he knew no guide but his own interests, and any means
to fortune he considered good. This young Norman, gifted with
dangerous abilities, coupled his desires for success with the harsh
defects which, justly or unjustly, are attributed to the natives of
his province. A wheedling manner cloaked a quibbling mind, for he was
in truth a hard judicial wrangler. But if he boldly contested the
rights of others, he certainly yielded none of his own; he attacked
his adversary at the right moment, and wearied him out with his
inflexible persistency. His merits were those of the Scapins of
ancient comedy; he had their fertility of resource, their cleverness
in skirting evil, their itching to lay hold of all that was good to
keep. In short, he applied to his own poverty a saying which the Abbe
Terray uttered in the name of the State,--he kept a loophole to become
in after years an honest man. Gifted with passionate energy, with a
boldness that was almost military in requiring good as well as evil
actions from those about him, and justifying such demands on the
theory of personal interest, he despised men too much, believing them
all corruptible, he was too unscrupulous in the choice of means,
thinking all equally good, he was too thoroughly convinced that the
success of money was the absolution of all moral mechanism, not to
attain his ends sooner or later.

Such a man, standing between the hulks and a vast fortune, was
necessarily vindictive, domineering, quick in decisions, yet as
dissimulating as a Cromwell planning to decapitate the head of
integrity. His real depth was hidden under a light and jesting mind.
Mere clerk as he was, his ambition knew no bounds. With one
comprehensive glance of hatred he had taken in the whole of society,
saying boldly to himself, "Thou shalt be mine!" He had vowed not to
marry till he was forty, and kept his word. Physically, Ferdinand was
a tall, slender young man, with a good figure and adaptive manners,
which enabled him to take, on occasion, the key-note of the various
societies in which he found himself. His ignoble face was rather
pleasant at first sight; but later, on closer acquaintance,
expressions were caught such as come to the surface of those who are
ill at ease in their own minds, and whose consciences groan at certain
times. His complexion, which was sanguine under the soft skin of a
Norman, had a crude or acrid color. The glance of his eye, whose iris
was circled with a whitish rim as if it were lined with silver, was
evasive yet terrible when he fixed it straight upon his victim. His
voice had a hollow sound, like that of a man worn out with much
speaking. His thin lips were not wanting in charm, but his pointed
nose and slightly projecting forehead showed defects of race; and his
hair, of a tint like hair that has been dyed black, indicated a
mongrel descent, through which he derived his mental qualities from
some libertine lord, his low instincts from a seduced peasant-girl,
his knowledge from an incomplete education, and his vices from his
deserted and abandoned condition.

Birotteau discovered with much amazement that his clerk went out in
the evening very elegantly dressed, came home late, and was seen at
the balls of bankers and notaries. Such habits displeased Cesar,
according to whose ideas clerks should study the books of the firm and
think only of their business. The worthy man was shocked by trifles,
and reproached du Tillet gently for wearing linen that was too fine,
for leaving cards on which his name was inscribed, F. du Tillet,--a
fashion, according to commercial jurisprudence, which belonged only to
the great world. Ferdinand had entered the employ of this Orgon with
the intentions of a Tartuffe. He paid court to Madame Cesar, tried to
seduce her, and judged his master very much as the wife judged him
herself, and all with alarming rapidity. Though discreet, reserved,
and accustomed to say only what he meant to say, du Tillet unbosomed
his opinions on men and life in a way to shock a scrupulous woman who
shared the religious feelings of her husband, and who thought it a
crime to do the least harm to a neighbor. In spite of Madame
Birotteau's caution, du Tillet suspected the contempt in which she
held him. Constance, to whom Ferdinand had written a few love-letters,
soon noticed a change in his manners, which grew presuming, as if
intended to convey the idea of a mutual good understanding. Without
giving the secret reason to her husband, she advised him to send
Ferdinand away. Birotteau agreed with his wife, and the dismissal was
determined upon.

Two days before it was carried into effect, on a Saturday night when
Birotteau was making up his monthly accounts, three thousand francs
were found to be missing. His consternation was dreadful, less for the
loss than for the suspicions which fell upon three clerks, one cook, a
shop-boy, and several habitual workmen. On whom should he lay the
blame? Madame Birotteau never left her counter. The clerk who had
charge of the desk was a nephew of Monsieur Ragon named Popinot, a
young man nineteen years old, who lived with the Birotteaus and was
integrity itself. His figures, which disagreed with the money in the
desk, revealed the deficit, and showed that the abstraction had been
made after the balance had been added up. Husband and wife resolved to
keep silence and watch the house. On the following day, Sunday, they
received their friends. The families who made up their coterie met at
each other's houses for little festivities, turn and turn about. While
playing at /bouillote/, Roguin the notary placed on the card-table
some old louis d'or which Madame Cesar had taken only a few days
before from a bride, Madame d'Espart.

"Have you been robbing the poor-box?" asked the perfumer, laughing.

Roguin replied that he had won the money, at the house of a banker,
from du Tillet, who confirmed the answer without blushing. Cesar, on
the other hand, grew scarlet. When the evening was over, and just as
Ferdinand was going to bed, Birotteau took him into the shop on a
pretext of business.

"Du Tillet," said the worthy man, "three thousand francs are missing
from the desk. I suspect no one; but the circumstance of the old louis
seems too much against you not to oblige me to speak of it. We will
not go to bed till we have found where the error lies,--for, after
all, it may be only an error. Perhaps you took something on account of
your salary?"

Du Tillet said at once that he had taken the louis. The perfumer
opened his ledger and found that his clerk's account had not been

"I was in a hurry; but I ought to have made Popinot enter the sum,"
said Ferdinand.

"That is true," said Birotteau, bewildered by the cool unconcern of
the Norman, who well knew the worthy people among whom he had come
meaning to make his fortune. The perfumer and his clerk passed the
whole night in examining accounts, a labor which the good man knew to
be useless. In coming and going about the desk Cesar slipped three
bills of a thousand francs each into the money-drawer, catching them
against the top of it; then he pretended to be much fatigued and to
fall asleep and snore. Du Tillet awoke him triumphantly, with an
excessive show of joy at discovering the error. The next day Birotteau
scolded Popinot and his little wife publicly, as if very angry with
them for their negligence. Fifteen days later Ferdinand du Tillet got
a situation with a stockbroker. He said perfumery did not suit him,
and he wished to learn banking. In leaving Birotteau, he spoke of
Madame Cesar in a way to make people suppose that his master had
dismissed him out of jealousy. A few months later, however, du Tillet
went to see Birotteau and asked his endorsement for twenty thousand
francs, to enable him to make up the securities he needed in an
enterprise which was to put him on the high-road to fortune. Observing
the surprise which Cesar showed at this impudence, du Tillet frowned,
and asked if he had no confidence in him. Matifat and two other
merchants, who were present on business with Birotteau, also observed
the indignation of the perfumer, who repressed his anger in their
presence. Du Tillet, he thought, might have become an honest man; his
previous fault might have been committed for some mistress in distress
or from losses at cards; the public reprobation of an honest man might
drive one still young, and possibly repentant, into a career of crime.
So this angel took up his pen and endorsed du Tillet's notes, telling
him that he was heartily willing thus to oblige a lad who had been
very useful to him. The blood rushed to his face as he uttered the
falsehood. Du Tillet could not meet his eye, and no doubt vowed to him
at that moment the undying hatred which the spirits of darkness feel
towards the angels of light.

From this time du Tillet held his balance-pole so well as he danced
the tight-rope of financial speculation, that he was rich and elegant
in appearance before he became so in reality. As soon as he got hold
of a cabriolet he was always in it; he kept himself in the high sphere
of those who mingle business with pleasure, and make the foyer of the
opera-house a branch of the Bourse,--in short, the Turcarets of the
period. Thanks to Madame Roguin, whom he had known at the Birotteau's,
he was received at once among people of the highest standing in
finance; and, at the moment of which we write, he had reached a
prosperity in which there was nothing fictitious. He was on the best
terms with the house of Nucingen, to which Roguin had introduced him,
and he had promptly become connected with the brothers Keller and with
several other great banking-houses. No one knew from whence this youth
had derived the immense capital which he handled, but every one
attributed his success to his intelligence and his integrity.


The Restoration made Cesar a personage, and the turmoil of political
crises naturally lessened his recollection of these domestic
misadventures. The constancy of his royalist opinions (to which he had
become exceedingly indifferent since his wound, though he remained
faithful to them out of decency) and the memory of his devotion in
Vendemiaire won him very high patronage, precisely because he had
asked for none. He was appointed major in the National Guard, although
he was utterly incapable of giving the word of command. In 1815
Napoleon, always his enemy, dismissed him. During the Hundred Days
Birotteau was the bugbear of the liberals of his quarter; for it was
not until 1815 that differences of political opinion grew up among
merchants, who had hitherto been unanimous in their desires for public
tranquillity, of which, as they knew, business affairs stood much in

At the second Restoration the royal government was obliged to remodel
the municipality of Paris. The prefect wished to nominate Birotteau as
mayor. Thanks to his wife, the perfumer would only accept the place of
deputy-mayor, which brought him less before the public. Such modesty
increased the respect generally felt for him, and won him the
friendship of the new mayor, Monsieur Flamet de la Billardiere.
Birotteau, who had seen him in the shop in the days when "The Queen of
Roses" was the headquarters of royalist conspiracy, mentioned him to
the prefect of the Seine when that official consulted Cesar on the
choice to be made. Monsieur and Madame Birotteau were therefore never
forgotten in the invitations of the mayor. Madame Birotteau frequently
took up the collections at Saint-Roch in the best of good company. La
Billardiere warmly supported Birotteau when the question of bestowing
the crosses given to the municipality came up, and dwelt upon his
wound at Saint-Roch, his attachment to the Bourbons, and the respect
which he enjoyed. The government, wishing on the one hand to cheapen
Napoleon's order by lavishing the cross of the Legion of honor, and on
the other to win adherents and rally to the Bourbons the various
trades and men of arts and sciences, included Birotteau in the coming
promotion. This honor, which suited well with the show that Cesar made
in his arrondissement, put him in a position where the ideas of a man
accustomed to succeed naturally enlarged themselves. The news which
the mayor had just given him of his preferment was the determining
reason that decided him to plunge into the scheme which he now for the
first time revealed to his wife; he believed it would enable him to
give up perfumery all the more quickly, and rise into the regions of
the higher bourgeoisie of Paris.

Cesar was now forty years old. The work he had undertaken in his
manufactories had given him a few premature wrinkles, and had slightly
silvered the thick tufts of hair on which the pressure of his hat left
a shining circle. His forehead, where the hair grew in a way to mark
five distinct points, showed the simplicity of his life. The heavy
eyebrows were not alarming because the limpid glance of his frank blue
eyes harmonized with the open forehead of an honest man. His nose,
broken at the bridge and thick at the end, gave him the wondering look
of a gaby in the streets of Paris. His lips were very thick, and his
large chin fell in a straight line below them. His face, high-colored
and square in outline, revealed, by the lines of its wrinkles and by
the general character of its expression, the ingenuous craftiness of a
peasant. The strength of his body, the stoutness of his limbs, the
squareness of his shoulders, the width of his feet,--all denoted the
villager transplanted to Paris. His powerful hairy hands, with their
large square nails, would alone have attested his origin if other
vestiges had not remained in various parts of his person. His lips
wore the cordial smile which shopkeepers put on when a customer
enters; but this commercial sunshine was really the image of his
inward content, and pictured the state of his kindly soul. His
distrust never went beyond the lines of his business, his craftiness
left him on the steps of the Bourse, or when he closed the pages of
his ledger. Suspicion was to him very much what his printed bill-
heads were,--a necessity of the sale itself. His countenance presented
a sort of comical assurance and conceit mingled with good nature,
which gave it originality and saved it from too close a resemblance to
the insipid face of a Parisian bourgeois. Without this air of naive
self-admiration and faith in his own person, he would have won too
much respect; he drew nearer to his fellows by thus contributing his
quota of absurdity. When speaking, he habitually crossed his hands
behind his back. When he thought he had said something striking or
gallant, he rose imperceptibly on the points of his toes twice, and
dropped back heavily on his heels, as if to emphasize what he said. In
the midst of an argument he might be seen turning round upon himself
and walking off a few steps, as if he had gone to find objections with
which he returned upon his adversary brusquely. He never interrupted,
and was sometimes a victim to this careful observance of civility; for
others would take the words out of his mouth, and the good man had to
yield his ground without opening his lips. His great experience in
commercial matters had given him a few fixed habits, which some people
called eccentricities. If a note were overdue he sent for the bailiff,
and thought only of recovering capital, interest, and costs; and the
bailiff was ordered to pursue the matter until the debtor went into
bankruptcy. Cesar then stopped all proceedings, never appeared at any
meeting of creditors, and held on to his securities. He adopted this
system and his implacable contempt for bankrupts from Monsieur Ragon,
who in the course of his commercial life had seen such loss of time in
litigation that he had come to look upon the meagre and uncertain
dividends obtained by such compromises as fully counterbalanced by a
better employment of the time spent in coming and going, in making
proposals, or in listening to excuses for dishonesty.

"If the bankrupt is an honest man, and recovers himself, he will pay
you," Ragon would say. "If he is without means and simply unfortunate,
why torment him? If he is a scoundrel, you will never get anything.
Your known severity will make you seem uncompromising; it will be
impossible to negotiate with you; consequently you are the one who
will get paid as long as there is anything to pay with."

Cesar came to all appointments at the expected hour; but if he were
kept waiting, he left ten minutes later with an inflexibility which
nothing ever changed. Thus his punctuality compelled all persons who
had dealings with him to be punctual themselves.

The dress adopted by the worthy man was in keeping with his manners
and his countenance. No power could have made him give up the white
muslin cravats, with ends embroidered by his wife or daughter, which
hung down beneath his chin. His waistcoat of white pique, squarely
buttoned, came down low over his stomach, which was rather
protuberant, for he was somewhat fat. He wore blue trousers, black
silk stockings, and shoes with ribbon ties, which were often
unfastened. His surtout coat, olive-green and always too large, and
his broad-brimmed hat gave him the air of a Quaker. When he dressed
for the Sunday evening festivities he put on silk breeches, shoes with
gold buckles, and the inevitable square waistcoat, whose front edges
opened sufficiently to show a pleated shirt-frill. His coat, of maroon
cloth, had wide flaps and long skirts. Up to the year 1819 he kept up
the habit of wearing two watch-chains, which hung down in parallel
lines; but he only put on the second when he dressed for the evening.


Such was Cesar Birotteau; a worthy man, to whom the fates presiding at
the birth of men had denied the faculty of judging politics and life
in their entirety, and of rising above the social level of the middle
classes; who followed ignorantly the track of routine, whose opinions
were all imposed upon him from the outside and applied by him without
examination. Blind but good, not spiritual but deeply religious, he
had a pure heart. In that heart there shone one love, the light and
strength of his life; for his desire to rise in life, and the limited
knowledge he had gained of the world, both came from his affection for
his wife and for his daughter.

As for Madame Cesar, then thirty-seven years old, she bore so close a
resemblance to the Venus of Milo that all who knew her recognized the
likeness when the Duc de Riviere sent the beautiful statue to Paris.
In a few months sorrows were to dim with yellowing tints that dazzling
fairness, to hollow and blacken the bluish circle round the lovely
greenish-gray eyes so cruelly that she then wore the look of an old
Madonna; for amid the coming ruin she retained her gentle sincerity,
her pure though saddened glance; and no one ever thought her less than
a beautiful woman, whose bearing was virtuous and full of dignity. At
the ball now planned by Cesar she was to shine with a last lustre of
beauty, remarked upon at the time and long remembered.

Every life has its climax,--a period when causes are at work, and are
in exact relation to results. This mid-day of life, when living forces
find their equilibrium and put forth their productive powers with full
effect, is common not only to organized beings but to cities, nations,
ideas, institutions, commerce, and commercial enterprises, all of
which, like noble races and dynasties, are born and rise and fall.
From whence comes the vigor with which this law of growth and decay
applies itself to all organized things in this lower world? Death
itself, in times of scourge, has periods when it advances, slackens,
sinks back, and slumbers. Our globe is perhaps only a rocket a little
more continuing than the rest. History, recording the causes of the
rise and fall of all things here below, could enlighten man as to the
moment when he might arrest the play of all his faculties; but neither
the conquerors, nor the actors, nor the women, nor the writers in the
great drama will listen to the salutary voice.

Cesar Birotteau, who might with reason think himself at the apogee of
his fortunes, used this crucial pause as the point of a new departure.
He did not know, moreover neither nations nor kings have attempted to
make known in characters ineffaceable, the cause of the vast
overthrows with which history teems, and of which so many royal and
commercial houses offer signal examples. Why are there no modern
pyramids to recall ceaselessly the one principle which dominates the
common-weal of nations and of individual life? /When the effect
produced is no longer in direct relation nor in equal proportion to
the cause, disorganization has begun./ And yet such monuments stand
everywhere; it is tradition and the stones of the earth which tell us
of the past, which set a seal upon the caprices of indomitable
destiny, whose hand wipes out our dreams, and shows us that all great
events are summed up in one idea. Troy and Napoleon are but poems. May
this present history be the poem of middle-class vicissitudes, to
which no voice has given utterance because they have seemed poor in
dignity, enormous as they are in volume. It is not one man with whom
we are now to deal, but a whole people, or world, of sorrows.


Cesar's last thought as he fell asleep was a fear that his wife would
make peremptory objections in the morning, and he ordered himself to
get up very early and escape them. At the dawn of day he slipped out
noiselessly, leaving his wife in bed, dressed quickly, and went down
to the shop, just as the boy was taking down the numbered shutters.
Birotteau, finding himself alone, the clerks not having appeared, went
to the doorway to see how the boy, named Raguet, did his work,--for
Birotteau knew all about it from experience. In spite of the sharp air
the weather was beautiful.

"Popinot, get your hat, put on your shoes, and call Monsieur Celestin;
you and I will go and have a talk in the Tuileries," he said, when he
saw Anselme come down.

Popinot, the admirable antipodes of du Tillet, apprenticed to Cesar by
one of those lucky chances which lead us to believe in a Sub-
Providence, plays so great a part in this history that it becomes
absolutely necessary to sketch his profile here. Madame Ragon was a
Popinot. She had two brothers. One, the youngest of the family, was at
this time a judge in the Lower courts of the Seine,--courts which take
cognizance of all civil contests involving sums above a certain
amount. The eldest, who was in the wholesale wool-trade, lost his
property and died, leaving to the care of Madame Ragon and his brother
an only son, who had lost his mother at his birth. To give him a
trade, Madame Ragon placed her nephew at "The Queen of Roses," hoping
he might some day succeed Birotteau. Anselme Popinot was a little
fellow and club-footed,--an infirmity bestowed by fate on Lord Byron,
Walter Scott, and Monsieur de Talleyrand, that others so afflicted
might suffer no discouragement. He had the brilliant skin, with
frequent blotches, which belongs to persons with red hair; but his
clear brow, his eyes the color of a grey-veined agate, his pleasant
mouth, his fair complexion, the charm of his modest youth and the
shyness which grew out of his deformity, all inspired feelings of
protection in those who knew him: we love the weak, and Popinot was
loved. Little Popinot--everybody called him so--belonged to a family
essentially religious, whose virtues were intelligent, and whose lives
were simple and full of noble actions. The lad himself, brought up by
his uncle the judge, presented a union of qualities which are the
beauty of youth; good and affectionate, a little shame-faced though
full of eagerness, gentle as a lamb but energetic in his work, devoted
and sober, he was endowed with the virtues of a Christian in the early
ages of the Church.

When he heard of a walk in the Tuileries,--certainly the most
eccentric proposal that his august master could have made to him at
that hour of the day,--Popinot felt sure that he must intend to speak
to him about setting up in business. He thought suddenly of Cesarine,
the true queen of roses, the living sign of the house, whom he had
loved from the day when he was taken into Birotteau's employ, two
months before the advent of du Tillet. As he went upstairs he was
forced to pause; his heart swelled, his arteries throbbed violently.
However, he soon came down again, followed by Celestin, the head-
clerk. Anselme and his master turned without a word in the direction
of the Tuileries.

Popinot was twenty-one years old. Birotteau himself had married at
that age. Anselme therefore could see no hindrance to his marriage
with Cesarine, though the wealth of the perfumer and the beauty of the
daughter were immense obstacles in the path of his ambitious desires:
but love gets onward by leaps of hope, and the more absurd they are
the greater faith it has in them; the farther off was the mistress of
Anselme's heart, the more ardent became his desires. Happy the youth
who in those levelling days when all hats looked alike, had contrived
to create a sense of distance between the daughter of a perfumer and
himself, the scion of an old Parisian family! In spite of all his
doubts and fears he was happy; did he not dine every day beside
Cesarine? So, while attending to the business of the house, he threw a
zeal and energy into his work which deprived it of all hardship; doing
it for the sake of Cesarine, nothing tired him. Love, in a youth of
twenty, feeds on devotion.

"He is a true merchant; he will succeed," Cesar would say to Madame
Ragon, as he praised Anselme's activity in preparing the work at the
factory, or boasted of his readiness in learning the niceties of the
trade, or recalled his arduous labors when shipments had to be made,
and when, with his sleeves rolled up and his arms bare, the lame lad
packed and nailed up, himself alone, more cases than all the other
clerks put together.

The well-known and avowed intentions of Alexandre Crottat, head-clerk
to Roguin, and the wealth of his father, a rich farmer of Brie, were
certainly obstacles in the lad's way; but even these were not the
hardest to conquer. Popinot buried in the depths of his heart a sad
secret, which widened the distance between Cesarine and himself. The
property of the Ragons, on which he might have counted, was involved,
and the orphan lad had the satisfaction of enabling them to live by
making over to them his meagre salary. Yet with all these drawbacks he
believed in success! He had sometimes caught a glance of dignified
approval from Cesarine; in the depths of her blue eyes he had dared to
read a secret thought full of caressing hopes. He now walked beside
Cesar, heaving with these ideas, trembling, silent, agitated, as any
young lad might well have been by such an occurrence in the burgeoning
time of youth.

"Popinot," said the worthy man, "is your aunt well?"

"Yes, monsieur."

"She has seemed rather anxious lately. Does anything trouble her?
Listen, my boy; you must not be too reticent with me. I am half one of
the family. I have known your uncle Ragon thirty-five years. I went to
him in hob-nailed shoes, just as I came from my village. That place is
called Les Tresorieres, but I can tell you that all my worldly goods
were one louis, given me by my godmother the late Marquise d'Uxelles,
a relation of Monsieur le Duc and Madame la Duchesse de Lenoncourt,
who are now customers of ours. I pray every Sunday for her and for all
her family; I send yearly to her niece in Touraine, Madame de
Mortsauf, all her perfumery. I get a good deal of custom through them;
there's Monsieur de Vandenesse who spends twelve hundred francs a year
with us. If I were not grateful out of good feeling, I ought to be so
out of policy; but as for you Anselme, I wish you well for you own
sake, and without any other thought."

"Ah, monsieur! if you will allow me to say so, you have got a head of

"No, no, my boy, that's not it. I don't say that my head-piece isn't
as good as another's; but the thing is, I've been honest,--
/tenaciously/! I've kept to good conduct; I never loved any woman
except my wife. Love is a famous /vehicle/,--happy word used by
Monsieur Villele in the tribune yesterday."

"Love!" exclaimed Popinot. "Oh, monsieur! can it be--"

"Bless me! there's Pere Roguin, on foot at this hour, at the top of
the Place Louis XV. I wonder what he is doing there!" thought Cesar,
forgetting all about Anselme and the oil of nuts.

The suspicions of his wife came back to his mind; and instead of
turning in to the Tuileries Gardens, Birotteau walked on to meet the
notary. Anselme followed his master at a distance, without being able
to define the reason why he suddenly felt an interest in a matter so
apparently unimportant, and full of joy at the encouragement he
derived from Cesar's mention of the hob-nailed shoes, the one louis,
and love.

In times gone by, Roguin--a large stout man, with a pimpled face, a
very bald forehead, and black hair--had not been wanting in a certain
force of character and countenance. He had once been young and daring;
beginning as a mere clerk, he had risen to be a notary; but at this
period his face showed, to the eyes of an observer, certain haggard
lines, and an expression of weariness in the pursuit of pleasure. When
a man plunges into the mire of excesses it is seldom that his face
shows no trace of it. In the present instance the lines of the
wrinkles and the heat of the complexion were markedly ignoble. Instead
of the pure glow which suffuses the tissues of a virtuous man and
stamps them, as it were, with the flower of health, the impurities of
his blood could be seen to master the soundness of his body. His nose
was ignominiously shortened like those of men in whom scrofulous
humors, attacking that organ, produce a secret infirmity which a
virtuous queen of France innocently believed to be a misfortune common
to the whole human race, for she had never approached any man but the
king sufficiently near to become aware of her blunder. Roguin hoped to
conceal this misfortune by the excessive use of snuff, but he only
increased the trouble which was the principal cause of his disasters.

Is it not a too-prolonged social flattery to paint men forever under
false colors, and never to reveal the actual causes which underlie
their vicissitudes, caused as they so often are by maladies? Physical
evil, considered under the aspect of its moral ravages, examined as to
its influence upon the mechanism of life, has been perhaps too much
neglected by the historians of the social kingdom. Madame Cesar had
guessed the secret of Roguin's household.

From the night of her marriage, the charming and only daughter of the
banker Chevrel conceived for the unhappy notary an insurmountable
antipathy, and wished to apply at once for a divorce. But Roguin,
happy in obtaining a rich wife with five hundred thousand francs of
her own, to say nothing of expectations, entreated her not to
institute an action for divorce, promising to leave her free, and to
accept all the consequences of such an agreement. Madame Roguin thus
became sovereign mistress of the situation, and treated her husband as
a courtesan treats an elderly lover. Roguin soon found his wife too
expensive, and like other Parisian husbands he set up a private
establishment of his own, keeping the cost, in the first instance,
within the limits of moderate expenditure. In the beginning he
encountered, at no great expense, grisettes who were glad of his
protection; but for the past three years he had fallen a prey to one
of those unconquerable passions which sometimes invade the whole being
of a man between fifty and sixty years of age. It was roused by a
magnificent creature known as /la belle Hollandaise/ in the annals of
prostitution, for into that gulf she was to fall back and become a
noted personage through her death. She was originally brought from
Bruges by a client of Roguin, who soon after left Paris in consequence
of political events, presenting her to the notary in 1815. Roguin
bought a house for her in the Champs-Elysees, furnished it handsomely,
and in trying to satisfy her costly caprices had gradually eaten up
his whole fortune.

The gloomy look on the notary's face, which he hastened to lay aside
when he saw Birotteau, grew out of certain mysterious circumstances
which were at the bottom of the secret fortune so rapidly acquired by
du Tillet. The scheme originally planned by that adventurer had
changed on the first Sunday when he saw, at Birotteau's house, the
relations existing between Monsieur and Madame Roguin. He had come
there not so much to seduce Madame Cesar as to obtain the offer of her
daughter's hand by way of compensation for frustrated hopes, and he
found little difficulty in renouncing his purpose when he discovered
that Cesar, whom he supposed to be rich, was in point of fact
comparatively poor. He set a watch on the notary, wormed himself into
his confidence, was presented to la belle Hollandaise, made a study of
their relation to each other, and soon found that she threatened to
renounce her lover if he limited her luxuries. La belle Hollandaise
was one of those mad-cap women who care nothing as to where the money
comes from, or how it is obtained, and who are capable of giving a
ball with the gold obtained by a parricide. She never thought of the
morrow; for her the future was after dinner, and the end of the month
eternity, even if she had bills to pay. Du Tillet, delighted to have
found such a lever, exacted from la belle Hollandaise a promise that
she would love Roguin for thirty thousand francs a year instead of
fifty thousand,--a service which infatuated old men seldom forget.

One evening, after a supper where the wine flowed freely, Roguin
unbosomed himself to du Tillet on the subject of his financial
difficulties. His own estate was tied up and legally settled on his
wife, and he had been led by his fatal passion to take from the funds
entrusted to him by his clients a sum which was already more than half
their amount. When the whole were gone, the unfortunate man intended
to blow out his brains, hoping to mitigate the disgrace of his conduct
by making a demand upon public pity. A fortune, rapid and secure,
darted before du Tillet's eyes like a flash of lightning in a
saturnalian night. He promptly reassured Roguin, and made him fire his
pistols into the air.

"With such risks as yours," he said, "a man of your calibre should not
behave like a fool and walk on tiptoe, but speculate--boldly."

He advised Roguin to take a large sum from the remaining trust-moneys
and give it to him, du Tillet, with permission to stake it bravely on
some large operation, either at the Bourse, or in one of the thousand
enterprises of private speculation then about to be launched. Should
he win, they were to form a banking-house, where they could turn to
good account a portion of the deposits, while the profits could be
used by Roguin for his pleasures. If luck went against them, Roguin
was to get away and live in foreign countries, and trust to /his

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