Part 2 out of 7
friend/ du Tillet, who would be faithful to him to the last sou. It
was a rope thrown to a drowning man, and Roguin did not perceive that
the perfumer's clerk had flung it round his neck.
Master of Roguin's secret, du Tillet made use of it to establish his
power over wife, mistress, and husband. Madame Roguin, when told of a
disaster she was far from suspecting, accepted du Tillet's attentions,
who about this time left his situation with Birotteau, confident of
future success. He found no difficulty in persuading the mistress to
risk a certain sum of money as a provision against the necessity of
resorting to prostitution if misfortunes overtook her. The wife, on
the other hand, regulated her accounts, and gathered together quite a
little capital, which she gave to the man whom her husband confided
in; for by this time the notary had given a hundred thousand francs of
the remaining trust-money to his accomplice. Du Tillet's relations to
Madame Roguin then became such that her interest in him was
transformed into affection and finally into a violent passion. Through
his three sleeping-partners Ferdinand naturally derived a profit; but
not content with that profit, he had the audacity, when gambling at
the Bourse in their name, to make an agreement with a pretended
adversary, a man of straw, from whom he received back for himself
certain sums which he had charged as losses to his clients. As soon as
he had gained fifty thousand francs he was sure of fortune. He had the
eye of an eagle to discern the phases through which France was then
passing. He played low during the campaign of the allied armies, and
high on the restoration of the Bourbons. Two months after the return
of Louis XVIII., Madame Roguin was worth two hundred thousand francs,
du Tillet three hundred thousand, and the notary had been able to get
his accounts once more into order.
La belle Hollandaise wasted her share of the profits; for she was
secretly a prey to an infamous scoundrel named Maxime de Trailles, a
former page of the Emperor. Du Tillet discovered the real name of this
woman in drawing out a deed. She was Sarah Gobseck. Struck by the
coincidence of the name with that of a well-known usurer, he went to
the old money-lender (that providence of young men of family) to find
out how far he would back the credit of his relation. The Brutus of
usurers was implacable towards his great-niece, but du Tillet himself
pleased him by posing as Sarah's banker, and having funds to invest.
The Norman nature and the rapacious nature suited each other. Gobseck
happened to want a clever young man to examine into an affair in a
foreign country. It chanced that an auditor of the Council of State,
overtaken by the return of the Bourbons and anxious to stand well at
court, had gone to Germany and bought up all the debts contracted by
the princes during the emigration. He now offered the profits of the
affair, which to him was merely political, to any one who would
reimburse him. Gobseck would pay no money down, unless in proportion
to the redemption of the debts, and insisted on a careful examination
of the affair. Usurers never trust any one; they demand vouchers. With
them the bird in the hand is everything; icy when they have no need of
a man, they are wheedling and inclined to be gracious when they can
make him useful.
Du Tillet knew the enormous underground part played in the world by
such men as Werbrust and Gigonnet, commercial money-lenders in the
Rues Saint-Denis and Saint-Martin; by Palma, banker in the Faubourg
Poissonniere,--all of whom were closely connected with Gobseck. He
accordingly offered a cash security, and obtained an interest in the
affair, on condition that these gentlemen would use in their
commercial loans certain moneys he should place in their hands. By
this means he strengthened himself with a solid support on all sides.
Du Tillet accompanied Monsieur Clement Chardin des Lupeaulx to Germany
during the Hundred Days, and came back at the second Restoration,
having done more to increase his means of making a fortune than
augmented the fortune itself. He was now in the secret councils of the
sharpest speculators in Paris; he had secured the friendship of the
man with whom he had examined into the affair of the debts, and that
clever juggler had laid bare to him the secrets of legal and political
science. Du Tillet possessed one of those minds which understand at
half a word, and he completed his education during his travels in
Germany. On his return he found Madame Roguin faithful to him. As to
the notary, he longed for Ferdinand with as much impatience as his
wife did, for la belle Hollandaise had once more ruined him. Du Tillet
questioned the woman, but could find no outlay equal to the sum
dissipated. It was then that he discovered the secret which Sarah had
carefully concealed from him,--her mad passion for Maxime de Trailles,
whose earliest steps in a career of vice showed him for what he was,
one of those good-for-nothing members of the body politic who seem the
necessary evil of all good government, and whose love of gambling
renders them insatiable. On making this discovery, du Tillet at once
saw the reason of Gobseck's insensibility to the claims of his niece.
Under these circumstances du Tillet the banker (for Ferdinand was now
a banker) advised Roguin to lay up something against a rainy day, by
persuading his clients to invest in some enterprise which might enable
him to put by for himself large sums of money, in case he were forced
to go into bankruptcy through the affairs of the bank. After many ups
and downs, which were profitable to none but Madame Roguin and du
Tillet, Roguin heard the fatal hour of his insolvency and final ruin
strike. His misery was then worked upon by his faithful friend.
Ferdinand invented the speculation in lands about the Madeleine. The
hundred thousand francs belonging to Cesar Birotteau, which were in
the hands of the notary, were made over to du Tillet; for the latter,
whose object was to ruin the perfumer, had made Roguin understand that
he would run less risk if he got his nearest friends into the net. "A
friend," he said, "is more considerate, even if angry."
Few people realize to-day how little value the lands about the
Madeleine had at the period of which we write; but at that time they
were likely to be sold even below their then value, because of the
difficulty of finding purchasers willing to wait for the profits of
the enterprise. Now, du Tillet's aim was to seize the profits speedily
without the losses of a protracted speculation. In other words, his
plan was to strangle the speculation and get hold of it as a dead
thing, which he might galvanize back to life when it suited him. In
such a scheme the Gobsecks, Palmas, and Werbrusts would have been
ready to lend a hand, but du Tillet was not yet sufficiently intimate
with them to ask their aid; besides, he wanted to hide his own hand in
conducting the affair, that he might get the profits of his theft
without the shame of it. He felt the necessity of having under his
thumb one of those living lay-figures called in commercial language a
"man of straw." His former tool at the Bourse struck him as a suitable
person for the post; he accordingly trenched upon Divine right, and
created a man. Out of a former commercial traveller, who was without
means or capacity of any kind, except that of talking indefinitely on
all subjects and saying nothing, who was without a farthing or a
chance to make one,--able, nevertheless, to understand a part and act
it without compromising the play or the actors in it, and possessed of
a rare sort of honor, that of keeping a secret and letting himself be
dishonored to screen his employers,--out of such a being du Tillet now
made a banker, who set on foot and directed vast enterprises; the
head, namely, of the house of Claparon.
The fate of Charles Claparon would be, if du Tillet's scheme ended in
bankruptcy, a swift deliverance to the tender mercies of Jews and
Pharisees; and he well knew it. But to a poor devil who was
despondently roaming the boulevard with a future of forty sous in his
pocket when his old comrade du Tillet chanced to meet him, the little
gains that he was to get out of the affair seemed an Eldorado. His
friendship, his devotion, to du Tillet, increased by unreflecting
gratitude and stimulated by the wants of a libertine and vagabond
life, led him to say /amen/ to everything. Having sold his honor, he
saw it risked with so much caution that he ended by attaching himself
to his old comrade as a dog to his master. Claparon was an ugly
poodle, but as ready to jump as Curtius. In the present affair he was
to represent half the purchasers of the land, while Cesar Birotteau
represented the other half. The notes which Claparon was to receive
from Birotteau were to be discounted by one of the usurers whose name
du Tillet was authorized to use, and this would send Cesar headlong
into bankruptcy so soon as Roguin had drawn from him his last funds.
The assignees of the failure would, as du Tillet felt certain, follow
his cue; and he, already possessed of the property paid over by the
perfumer and his associates, could sell the lands at auction and buy
them in at half their value with the funds of Roguin and the assets of
the failure. The notary went into this scheme believing that he should
enrich himself by the spoliation of Birotteau and his copartners; but
the man in whose power he had placed himself intended to take, and
eventually did take, the lion's share. Roguin, unable to sue du Tillet
in any of the courts, was glad of the bone flung to him, month by
month, in the recesses of Switzerland, where he found nymphs at a
reduction. Circumstances, actual facts, and not the imagination of a
tragic author inventing a catastrophe, gave birth to this horrible
scheme. Hatred without a thirst for vengeance is like a seed falling
on stony ground; but vengeance vowed to a Cesar by a du Tillet is a
natural movement of the soul. If it were not, then we must deny the
warfare between the angels of light and the spirits of darkness.
Du Tillet could not very easily assassinate the man who knew him to be
guilty of a petty theft, but he could fling him into the mire and
annihilate him so completely that his word and testimony would count
for nothing. For a long time revenge had germinated in his heart
without budding; for the men who hate most are usually those who have
little time in Paris to make plans; life is too fast, too full, too
much at the mercy of unexpected events. But such perpetual changes,
though they hinder premeditation, nevertheless offer opportunity to
thoughts lurking in the depths of a purpose which is strong enough to
lie in wait for their tidal chances. When Roguin first confided his
troubles to du Tillet, the latter had vaguely foreseen the possibility
of destroying Cesar, and he was not mistaken. Forced at last to give
up his mistress, the notary drank the dregs of his philter from a
broken chalice. He went every day to the Champs Elysees returning home
early in the morning. The suspicions of Madame Cesar were justified.
From the moment when a man consents to play the part which du Tillet
had allotted to Roguin, he develops the talents of a comedian; he has
the eye of a lynx and the penetration of a seer; he magnetizes his
dupe. The notary had seen Birotteau some time before Birotteau had
caught sight of him; when the perfumer did see him, Roguin held out
his hand before they met.
"I have just been to make the will of a great personage who has only
eight days to live," he said, with an easy manner. "They have treated
me like a country doctor,--fetched me in a carriage, and let me walk
home on foot."
These words chased away the slight shade of suspicion which clouded
the face of the perfumer, and which Roguin had been quick to perceive.
The notary was careful not to be the first to mention the land
speculation; his part was to deal the last blow.
"After wills come marriage contracts," said Birotteau. "Such is life.
Apropos, when do we marry the Madeleine? Hey! hey! papa Roguin," he
added, tapping the notary on the stomach.
Among men the most chaste of bourgeois have the ambition to appear
"Well, if it is not to-day," said the notary, with a diplomatic air,
"then never. We are afraid that the affair may get wind. I am much
urged by two of my wealthiest clients, who want a share in this
speculation. There it is, to take or leave. This morning I shall draw
the deeds. You have till one o'clock to make up your mind. Adieu; I am
just on my way to read over the rough draft which Xandrot has been
making out during the night."
"Well, my mind is made up. I pass my word," said Birotteau, running
after the notary and seizing his hand. "Take the hundred thousand
francs which were laid by for my daughter's portion."
"Very good," said Roguin, leaving him.
For a moment, as Birotteau turned to rejoin little Popinot, he felt a
fierce heat in his entrails, the muscles of his stomach contracted,
his ears buzzed.
"What is the matter, monsieur?" asked the clerk, when he saw his
master's pale face.
"Ah, my lad! I have just with one word decided on a great undertaking;
no man is master of himself at such a moment. You are a party to it.
In fact, I brought you here that we might talk of it at our ease; no
one can overhear us. Your aunt is in trouble; how did she lose her
money? Tell me."
"Monsieur, my uncle and aunt put all their property into the hands of
Monsieur de Nucingen, and they were forced to accept as security
certain shares in the mines at Wortschin, which as yet pay no
dividends; and it is hard at their age to live on hope."
"How do they live, then?"
"They do me the great pleasure of accepting my salary."
"Right, right, Anselme!" said the perfumer, as a tear rolled down his
cheek. "You are worthy of the regard I feel for you. You are about to
receive a great recompense for your fidelity to my interests."
As he said these words the worthy man swelled in his own eyes as much
as he did in those of Popinot, and he uttered them with a plebeian and
naive emphasis which was the genuine expression of his counterfeit
"Ah, monsieur! have you guessed my love for--"
"For whom?" asked his master.
"For Mademoiselle Cesarine."
"Ah, boy, you are bold indeed!" exclaimed Birotteau. "Keep your
secret. I promise to forget it. You leave my house to-morrow. I am not
angry with you; in your place--the devil! the devil!--I should have
done the same. She is so lovely!"
"Oh, monsieur!" said the clerk, who felt his shirt getting wet with
"My boy, this matter is not one to be settled in a day. Cesarine is
her own mistress, and her mother has fixed ideas. Control yourself,
wipe your eyes, hold your heart in hand, and don't let us talk any
more about it. I should not blush to have you for my son-in-law. The
nephew of Monsieur Popinot, a judge of the civil courts, nephew of the
Ragons, you have the right to make your way as well as anybody; but
there are /buts/ and /ifs/ and /hows/ and /whys/. What a devil of a
dog you have let loose upon me, in the midst of a business
conversation! Here, sit down on that chair, and let the lover give
place to the clerk. Popinot, are you a loyal man?" he said, looking
fixedly at the youth. "Do you feel within you the nerve to struggle
with something stronger than yourself, and fight hand to hand?"
"To maintain a long and dangerous battle?"
"To destroy Macassar Oil!" said Birotteau, rising on his toes like a
hero in Plutarch. "Let us not mistake; the enemy is strong, well
entrenched, formidable! Macassar Oil has been vigorously launched. The
conception was strong. The square bottles were original; I have
thought of making ours triangular. Yet on the whole I prefer, after
ripe reflection, smaller bottles of thin glass, encased in wicker;
they would have a mysterious look, and customers like things which
"They would be expensive," said Popinot. "We must get things out as
cheap as we can, so as to make a good reduction at wholesale."
"Good, my lad! That's the right principle. But now, think of it.
Macassar Oil will defend itself; it is specious; the name is
seductive. It is offered as a foreign importation; and we have the
ill-luck to belong to our own country. Come, Popinot, have you the
courage to kill Macassar? Then begin the fight in foreign lands. It
seems that Macassar is really in the Indies. Now, isn't it much better
to supply a French product to the Indians than to send them back what
they are supposed to send to us? Make the venture. Begin the fight in
India, in foreign countries, in the departments. Macassar Oil has been
thoroughly advertised; we must not underrate its power, it has been
pushed everywhere, the public knows it."
"I'll kill it!" cried Popinot, with fire in his eyes.
"What with?" said Birotteau. "That's the way with ardent young people.
Listen till I've done."
Anselme fell into position like a soldier presenting arms to a marshal
"Popinot, I have invented an oil to stimulate the growth of hair, to
titillate the scalp, to revive the color of male and female tresses.
This cosmetic will not be less successful than my Paste or my Lotion.
But I don't intend to work it myself. I think of retiring from
business. It is you, my boy, who are to launch my Oil Comagene,--from
the latin word /coma/, which signifies 'hair,' as Monsieur Alibert,
the King's physician, says. The word is found in the tragedy of
Berenice, where Racine introduces a king of Comagene, lover of the
queen so celebrated for the beauty of her hair; the king--no doubt as
a delicate flattery--gave the name to his country. What wit and
intellect there is in genius! it condescends to the minutest details."
Little Popinot kept his countenance as he listened to this absurd
flourish, evidently said for his benefit as an educated young man.
"Anselme, I have cast my eyes upon you as the one to found a
commercial house in the high-class druggist line, Rue des Lombards. I
will be your secret partner, and supply the funds to start with. After
the Oil Comagene, we will try an essence of vanilla and the spirit of
peppermint. We'll tackle the drug-trade by revolutionizing it, by
selling its products concentrated instead of selling them raw.
Ambitious young man, are you satisfied?"
Anselme could not answer, his heart was full; but his eyes, filled
with tears, answered for him. The offer seemed prompted by indulgent
fatherhood, saying to him: "Deserve Cesarine by becoming rich and
"Monsieur," he answered at last, "I will succeed!"
"That's what I said at your age," cried the perfumer; "that was my
motto. If you don't win my daughter, at least you will win your
fortune. Eh, boy! what is it?"
"Let me hope that in acquiring the one I may obtain the other."
"I can't prevent you from hoping, my friend," said Birotteau, touched
by Anselme's tone.
"Well, then, monsieur, can I begin to-day to look for a shop, so as to
start at once?"
"Yes, my son. To-morrow we will shut ourselves up in the workshop, you
and I. Before you go to the Rue des Lombards, call at Livingston's and
see if my hydraulic press will be ready to use to-morrow morning.
To-night we will go, about dinner-time, to the good and illustrious
Monsieur Vauquelin and consult him. He has lately been employed in
studying the composition of hair; he has discovered the nature of the
coloring matter and whence it comes; also the structure of the hair
itself. The secret is just there, Popinot, and you shall know it; all
we have to do is to work it out cleverly. Before you go to
Livingston's, just stop at Pieri Berard's. My lad, the disinterested
kindness of Monsieur Vauquelin is one of the sorrows of my life. I
cannot make him accept any return. Happily, I found out from
Chiffreville that he wished for the Dresden Madonna, engraved by a man
named Muller. After two years correspondence with Germany, Berard has
at last found one on Chinese paper before lettering. It cost fifteen
hundred francs, my boy. To-day, my benefactor will see it in his
antechamber when he bows us out; it is to be all framed, and I want
you to see about it. We--that is, my wife and I--shall thus recall
ourselves to his mind; as for gratitude, we have prayed to God for him
daily for sixteen years. I can never forget him; but you see, Popinot,
men buried in the depths of science do forget everything,--wives,
friends, and those they have benefited. As for us plain people, our
lack of mind keeps our hearts warm at any rate. That's the consolation
for not being a great man. Look at those gentlemen of the Institute,--
all brain; you will never meet one of them in a church. Monsieur
Vauquelin is tied to his study or his laboratory; but I like to
believe he thinks of God in analyzing the works of His hands.--Now,
then, it is understood; I give you the money and put you in possession
of my secret; we will go shares, and there's no need for any papers
between us. Hurrah for success! we'll act in concert. Off with you, my
boy! As for me, I've got my part to attend to. One minute, Popinot. I
give a great ball three weeks hence; get yourself a dress-coat, and
look like a merchant already launched."
This last kindness touched Popinot so deeply that he caught Cesar's
big hand and kissed it; the worthy soul had flattered the lover by
this confidence, and people in love are capable of anything.
"Poor boy!" thought Birotteau, as he watched him hurrying across the
Tuileries. "Suppose Cesarine should love him? But he is lame, and his
hair is the color of a warming-pan. Young girls are queer; still, I
don't think that Cesarine--And then her mother wants to see her the
wife of a notary. Alexandre Crottat can make her rich; wealth makes
everything bearable, and there is no happiness that won't give way
under poverty. However, I am resolved to leave my daughter mistress of
herself, even if it seems a folly."
Birotteau's neighbor was a small dealer in umbrellas, parasols, and
canes, named Cayron,--a man from Languedoc, doing a poor business,
whom Cesar had several times befriended. Cayron wished nothing better
than to confine himself to the ground-floor and let the rich perfumer
take the floor above it, thus diminishing his rent.
"Well, neighbor," said Birotteau familiarly, as he entered the man's
shop, "my wife consents to the enlargement of our premises. If you
like, we will go and see Monsieur Molineux at eleven o'clock."
"My dear Monsieur Birotteau," said the umbrella-man, "I have not asked
you any compensation for this cession; but you are aware that a good
merchant ought to make money out of everything."
"What the devil!" cried Birotteau. "I'm not made of money. I don't
know that my architect can do the thing at all. He told me that before
concluding my arrangements I must know whether the floors were on the
same level. Then, supposing Monsieur Molineux does allow me to cut a
door in the wall, is it a party-wall? Moreover, I have to turn my
staircase, and make a new landing, so as to get a passage-way on the
same floor. All that costs money, and I don't want to ruin myself."
"Oh, monsieur," said the southerner. "Before you are ruined, the sun
will have married the earth and they'll have had children."
Birotteau stroked his chin, rose on the points of his toes, and fell
back upon his heels.
"Besides," resumed Cayron, "all I ask you to do is to cash these
securities for me--"
And he held out sixteen notes amounting in all to five thousand
"Ah!" said the perfumer turning them over. "Small fry, two months,
"Take them as low as six per cent," said the umbrella-man humbly.
"Am I a usurer?" asked the perfumer reproachfully.
"What can I do, monsieur? I went to your old clerk, du Tillet, and he
would not take them at any price. No doubt he wanted to find out how
much I'd be willing to lose on them."
"I don't know those signatures," said the perfumer.
"We have such queer names in canes and umbrellas; they belong to the
"Well, I won't say that I will take all; but I'll manage the short
"For the want of a thousand francs--sure to be repaid in four months--
don't throw me into the hands of the blood-suckers who get the best of
our profits; do take all, monsieur! I do so little in the way of
discount that I have no credit; that is what kills us little
"Well, I'll cash your notes; Celestin will make out the account. Be
ready at eleven, will you? There's my architect, Monsieur Grindot,"
said the perfumer, catching sight of the young man, with whom he had
made an appointment at Monsieur de la Billardiere's the night before.
"Contrary to the custom of men of talent you are punctual, monsieur,"
said Cesar, displaying his finest commercial graces. "If punctuality,
in the words of our king,--a man of wit as well as a statesman,--is
the politeness of princes, it is also the wealth of merchants. Time,
time is gold, especially to you artists. I permit myself to say to you
that architecture is the union of all the arts. We will not enter
through the shop," he added, opening the private door of his house.
Four years earlier Monsieur Grindot had carried off the /grand prix/
in architecture, and had lately returned from Rome where he had spent
three years at the cost of the State. In Italy the young man had
dreamed of art; in Paris he thought of fortune. Government alone can
pay the needful millions to raise an architect to glory; it is
therefore natural that every ambitious youth of that calling,
returning from Rome and thinking himself a Fontaine or a Percier,
should bow before the administration. The liberal student became a
royalist, and sought to win the favor of influential persons. When a
/grand prix/ man behaves thus, his comrades call him a trimmer. The
young architect in question had two ways open to him,--either to serve
the perfumer well, or put him under contribution. Birotteau the
deputy-mayor, Birotteau the future possessor of half the lands about
the Madeleine, where he would sooner or later build up a fine
neighborhood, was a man to keep on good terms with. Grindot
accordingly resolved to sacrifice his immediate gains to his future
interests. He listened patiently to the plans, the repetitions, and
the ideas of this worthy specimen of the bourgeois class, the constant
butt of the witty shafts and ridicule of artists, and the object of
their everlasting contempt, nodding his head as if to show the
perfumer that he caught his ideas. When Cesar had thoroughly explained
everything, the young man proceeded to sum up for him his own plan.
"You have now three front windows on the first floor, besides the
window on the staircase which lights the landing; to these four
windows you mean to add two on the same level in the next house, by
turning the staircase, so as to open a way from one house to the other
on the street side."
"You have understood me perfectly," said the perfumer, surprised.
"To carry out your plan, you must light the new staircase from above,
and manage to get a porter's lodge beneath it."
"Yes, the space over which it rests--"
"I understand, monsieur."
"As for your own appartement, give me carte-blanche to arrange and
decorate it. I wish to make it worthy--"
"Worthy! You have said the word, monsieur."
"How much time do you give me to complete the work?"
"What sum do you mean to put in the workmen's pockets?" asked Grindot.
"How much do you think it will cost?"
"An architect can estimate on a new building almost to a farthing,"
answered the young man; "but as I don't know how to deal with a
bourgeois--ah! excuse me, monsieur, the word slipped out--I must warn
you that it is impossible to calculate the costs of tearing down and
rebuilding. It will take at least eight days before I can give even an
approximate idea of them. Trust yourself to me: you shall have a
charming staircase, lighted from above, with a pretty vestibule
opening from the street, and in the space under the stairway--"
"Must that be used?"
"Don't be worried--I will find room for a little porter's lodge. Your
house shall be studied and remodelled /con amore/. Yes, monsieur, I
look to art and not to fortune. Above all things I do not want fame
before I have earned it. To my mind, the best means of winning credit
is not to play into the hands of contractors, but to get at good
"With such ideas, young man," said Birotteau in a patronizing tone,
"you will succeed."
"Therefore," resumed Grindot, "employ the masons, painters,
locksmiths, carpenters, and upholsterers yourself. I will simply look
over their accounts. Pay me only two thousand francs commission. It
will be money well laid out. Give me the premises to-morrow at twelve
o'clock, and have your workmen on the spot."
"How much it will cost, at a rough guess?" said Birotteau.
"From ten to twelve thousand francs," said Grindot. "That does not
count the furniture; of course you will renew that. Give me the
address of your cabinet-maker; I shall have to arrange with him about
the choice of colors, so as to have everything in keeping."
"Monsieur Braschon, Rue Saint-Antoine, takes my orders," said
Birotteau, assuming a ducal air.
The architect wrote down the address in one of those pretty note-books
which invariably come from women.
"Well," said Birotteau, "I trust to you, monsieur; only you must wait
till the lease of the adjoining house is made over to me, and I will
get permission to cut through the wall."
"Send me a note this evening," said the architect; "it will take me
all night to draw the plans--we would rather work for a bourgeois than
for the King of Prussia, that is to say for ourselves. I will now take
the dimensions, the pitch, the size of the widows, the pictures--"
"It must be finished on the appointed day," said Birotteau. "If not,
"It shall be done," said the architect. "The workmen must do without
sleep; we will use drying oil in the paint. But don't let yourself be
taken in by the contractors; always ask their price in advance, and
have a written agreement."
"Paris is the only place in the world where you can wave a magic wand
like that," said Birotteau, with an Asiatic gesture worthy of the
Arabian Nights. "You will do me the honor to come to my ball,
monsieur? Men of talent are not all disdainful of commerce; and you
will meet a scientific man of the first order, Monsieur Vauquelin of
the Institute; also Monsieur de la Billardiere, Monsieur le comte de
Fontaine, Monsieur Lebas, judge and president of the Court of
commerce, various magistrates, Monsieur le comte de Grandville of the
royal suite, Monsieur Camusot of the Court of commerce, and Monsieur
Cardot, his father-in-law, and, perhaps, Monsieur le duc de
Lenoncourt, first gentleman of the bed-chamber to the king. I assemble
my friends as much--to celebrate the emancipation of our territory--as
to commemorate my--promotion to the order of the Legion of honor,"--
here Grindot made a curious gesture. "Possibly I showed myself worthy
of that--signal--and royal--favor, by my services on the bench, and by
fighting for the Bourbons upon the steps of Saint-Roch on the 13th
Vendemiaire, where I was wounded by Napoleon. These claims--"
Constance, in a morning gown, here came out of her daughter's bedroom,
where she had been dressing; her first glance cut short Cesar's
eloquence just as he was about to formulate in flowing phrase, though
modestly, the tale of his merits.
"/Tiens, Mimi/, this is Monsieur /de/ Grindot, a young man
distinguished in his own sphere of life, and the possessor of a great
talent. Monsieur is the architect recommended to us by Monsieur de la
Billardiere to superintend our /little/ alteration."
The perfumer slipped behind his wife and made a sign to the architect
to take notice of the word /little/, putting his finger on his lips.
Grindot took the cue.
"Will it be very expensive?" said Constance to the architect.
"Oh, no, madame; six thousand francs at a rough guess."
"A rough guess!" exclaimed Madame Birotteau. "Monsieur, I entreat you,
begin nothing without an estimate and the specifications signed. I
know the ways of contractors: six thousand francs means twenty
thousand. We are not in a position to commit such extravagance. I beg
you, monsieur,--though of course my husband is master in his own
house,--give him time to reflect."
"Madame, monsieur the deputy-mayor has ordered me to deliver the
premises, all finished, in twenty days. If we delay, you will be
likely to incur the expense without obtaining the looked-for result."
"There are expenses and expenses," said the handsome mistress of "The
Queen of Roses."
"Ah! madame, do you think an architect who seeks to put up public
buildings finds it glorious to decorate a mere appartement? I have
come down to such details merely to oblige Monsieur de la Billardiere;
and if you fear--"
Here he made a movement to retreat.
"Well, well, monsieur," said Constance re-entering her daughter's
room, where she threw her head on Cesarine's shoulder.
"Ah, my daughter!" she cried, "your father will ruin himself! He has
engaged an architect with mustachios, who talks about public
buildings! He is going to pitch the house out of windows and build us
a Louvre. Cesar is never idle about his follies; he only spoke to me
about it in the night, and he begins it in the morning!"
"Never mind, mamma; let papa do as he likes. The good God has always
taken care of him," said Cesarine, kissing her mother and sitting down
to the piano, to let the architect know that the perfumer's daughter
was not ignorant of the fine arts.
When Grindot came in to measure the bedroom he was surprised and taken
aback at the beauty of Cesarine. Just out of her dressing-room and
wearing a pretty morning-gown, fresh and rosy as a young girl is fresh
and rosy at eighteen, blond and slender, with blue eyes, Cesarine
seemed to the young artist a picture of the elasticity, so rare in
Paris, that fills and rounds the delicate cheek, and tints with the
color adored of painters, the tracery of blue veins throbbing beneath
the whiteness of her clear skin. Though she lived in the lymphatic
atmosphere of a Parisian shop, where the air stagnates and the sun
seldom shines, her habits gave her the same advantages which the open-
air life of Rome gives to the Transteverine peasant-woman. Her hair,--
which was abundant, and grew, like that of her father, in points upon
her forehead,--was caught up in a twist which showed the lines of a
well-set neck, and then rippled downward in curls that were
scrupulously cared for, after the fashion of young shop-women, whose
desire to attract attention inspires the truly English minutiae of
their toilet. The beauty of this young girl was not the beauty of an
English lady, nor of a French duchess, but the round and glowing
beauty of a Flemish Rubens. Cesarine had the turned-up nose of her
father, but it was piquant through the delicacy of its modelling,--
like those noses, essentially French, which have been so well
reproduced by Largilliere. Her skin, of a firm full texture, bespoke
the vitality of a virgin; she had the fine brow of her mother, but it
was clear with the serenity of a young girl who knows no care. Her
liquid blue eyes, bathed in rich fluid, expressed the tender grace of
a glowing happiness. If that happiness took from her head the poetry
which painters insist on giving to their pictures my making them a
shade too pensive, the vague physical languor of a young girl who has
never left her mother's side made up for it, and gave her a species of
ideality. Notwithstanding the graceful lines of her figure, she was
strongly built. Her feet betrayed the peasant origin of her father and
her own defects of race, as did the redness of her hands, the sign of
the thoroughly bourgeois life. Sooner or later she would grow stout.
She had caught the sentiment of dress from the elegant young women who
came to the shop, and had learned from them certain movements of the
head, certain ways of speaking and of moving; and she could play the
well-bred woman in a way that turned the heads of all the young men,
especially the clerks, in whose eyes she appeared truly distinguished.
Popinot swore that he would have no other wife than Cesarine. The
liquid brightness of that eye, which a look, or a tone of reproach,
might cause to overflow in tears, was all that kept him to a sense of
masculine superiority. The charming girl inspired love without leaving
time to ask whether she had mind enough to make it durable. But of
what value is the thing they call in Paris /mind/ to a class whose
principal element of happiness is virtue and good sense?
In her moral qualities Cesarine was like her mother, somewhat bettered
by the superfluities of education; she loved music, drew the Madonna
della Sedia in chalk, and read the works of Mmes. Cottin and
Riccoboni, of Bernadin de Saint-Pierre, Fenelon, and Racine. She was
never seen behind the counter with her mother except for a few moments
before sitting down to dinner, or on some special occasion when she
replaced her. Her father and mother, like all persons who have risen
from small beginnings, and who cultivate the ingratitude of their
children by putting them above themselves, delighted in deifying
Cesarine, who happily had the virtues of her class, and took no
advantage of their weakness.
Madame Birotteau followed the architect with an anxious and appealing
eye, watching with terror, and pointing out to her daughter, the
fantastic movements of the four-foot rule, that wand of architects and
builders, with which Grindot was measuring. She saw in those
mysterious weavings a conjuring spirit that augured evil; she wished
the walls were less high, the rooms less large, and dared not question
the young man on the effects of his sorcery.
"Do not be afraid, madame, I shall carry nothing off," said the
Cesarine could not help smiling.
"Monsieur," said Constance, in a supplicating voice, not even noticing
the tit-for-tat of the young man, "consider economy, and later we may
be able to serve you--"
Before starting to see Monsieur Molineux, the owner of the adjoining
house, Cesar wished to get from Roguin the private deed about the
transference of the lease which Alexandre Crottat had been ordered to
draw up. As he left the notary's house, he saw du Tillet at the window
of Roguin's study. Although the /liaison/ of his former clerk with the
lawyer's wife made it not unlikely that he should see du Tillet there
at this hour when the negotiations about the Madeleine were going on,
Birotteau, in spite of his extreme confidence, felt uneasy. The
excited manner of du Tillet seemed the sign of a discussion. "Can he
be in it?" thought Cesar, with a flash of commercial prudence. The
suspicion passed like lightning through his mind. He looked again and
saw Madame Roguin, and the presence of du Tillet was no longer
suspicious. "Still, suppose Constance were right?" he said to himself.
"What a fool I am to listen to women's notions! I'll speak of it to my
uncle Pillerault this morning; it is only a step from the Cour Batave,
where Monsieur Molineux lives, to the Rue des Bourdonnais."
A cautious observer, or a merchant who had met with swindlers in his
business career, would have been saved by this sight; but the
antecedents of Birotteau, the incapacity of his mind, which had little
power to follow up the chain of inductions by which a superior man
reaches a conclusion, all conspired to blind him. He found the
umbrella-man in full dress, and they were about to start, when
Virginie, the cook, caught him by the arm:--
"Monsieur, madame does not wish you to go out--"
"Pshaw!" said Birotteau, "more women's notions!"
"--without your coffee, which is ready."
"That's true. My neighbor," he said to Cayron, "I have so many things
in my head that I can't think of my stomach. Do me the kindness to go
forward; we will meet at Monsieur Molineux' door, unless you are
willing to go up and explain matters to him, which would save time."
Monsieur Molineux was a grotesque little man, living on his rents,--a
species of being that exists nowhere but in Paris, like a certain
lichen which grows only in Iceland. This comparison is all the more
apt because he belonged to a mixed nature, to an animal-vegetable
kingdom which some modern Mercier might build up of cryptograms that
push up upon, and flower, and die in or under the plastered walls of
the strange unhealthy houses where they prefer to cluster. The first
aspect of this human plant--umbelliferous, judging by the fluted blue
cap which crowned it, with a stalk encased in greenish trousers, and
bulbous roots swathed in list shoes--offered to the eye a flat and
faded countenance, which certainly betrayed nothing poisonous. In this
queer product might be recognized the typical stockholder, who
believes every report which the daily press baptizes with ink, and is
content, for all response, to say, "Read what the papers say,"--the
bourgeois, essentially the friend of order, always revolting in his
moral being against power, though always obeying it; a creature feeble
in the mass but fierce in isolated circumstances, hard as a constable
when his own rights are in question, yet giving fresh chickweed to his
bird and fish-bones to his cat, interrupting the signing of a lease to
whistle to a canary, suspicious as a jailer, but apt to put his money
into a bad business and then endeavor to get it back by niggardly
avarice. The evil savor of this hybrid flower was only revealed by
use; its nauseous bitterness needed the stewing of some business in
which his interests were mingled with those of other men, to bring it
fully out. Like all Parisians, Molineux had the lust of dominating; he
craved the share of sovereignty which is exercised more or less by
every one, even a porter, over a greater or lesser number of victims,
--over wife, children, tenants, clerks, horses, dogs, monkeys, to whom
they send, on the rebound, the mortifications they have endured in the
higher spheres to which they aspired.
This annoying old man had neither wife, child, nephew, or niece. He
bullied his servant-of-all-work too much to make her a victim; for she
escaped all contact with her master by doing her work and keeping out
of his way. His appetite for tyranny was thus balked; and to satisfy
it in some way he patiently studied the laws relating to rentals and
party-walls; he fathomed the jurisprudence which regulates the
dwellings of Paris in an infinite number of petty questions as to
tenants, abutters, liabilities, taxes, repairs, sweepings, decorations
for the Fete-Dieu, waste-pipes, lighting, projections over the public
way, and the neighborhood of unhealthy buildings. His means, his
strength, in fact his whole mind was spent in keeping his proprietary
rights on a complete war-footing. He had made it an amusement, and the
amusement had become a monomania. He was fond of protecting citizens
against the encroachment of illegal proceedings; but finding such
subjects of complaint rare, he had finally turned upon his own
tenants. A tenant became his enemy, his inferior, his subject, his
vassal; he laid claim to his subservience, and looked upon any man as
a brute who passed him on the stairway without speaking. He wrote out
his bills for rent himself, and sent them on the morning of the day
they fell due. The debtor who was behindhand in his payment received a
legal notice to quit at an appointed time. Then followed seizures,
law-suits, costs, and the whole judicial array set in motion with the
rapidity of what the head's-man calls the "mechanism." Molineux
granted neither grace nor time; his heart was a callus in the
direction of a lease.
"I will lend you the money if you want it," he would say to a man he
thought solvent, "but pay my rent; all delays carry with them a loss
of interest for which the law does not indemnify us."
After long study of the caprices and capers of tenants who persisted,
after the fashion of dynasties, in upsetting the arrangements of their
predecessors, he had drawn up a charter of his own and followed it
religiously. In accordance therewith, the old fellow made no repairs:
no chimney ever smoked, the stairs were clean, the ceilings white, the
cornices irreproachable, the floors firm on their joists, the paint
satisfactory; the locks were never more than three years old, not a
pane of glass was missing, there were no cracks, and he saw no broken
tiles until a tenant vacated the premises. When he met the tenants on
their first arrival he was accompanied by a locksmith and a painter
and glazier,--very convenient folks, as he remarked. The lessee was at
liberty to make improvements; but if the unhappy man did so, little
Molineux thought night and day of how he could dislodge him and relet
the improved appartement on better terms. He watched and waited and
spun the web of his mischievous legal proceedings. He knew all the
tricks of Parisian legislation in the matter of leases. Factious and
fond of scribbling, he wrote polite and specious letters to his
tenants; but at the bottom of all his civil sentences could be seen,
as in his faded and cozening face, the soul of a Shylock. He always
demanded six months' rent in advance, to be deducted from the last
quarter of the lease under an array of prickly conditions which he
invented. If new tenants offered themselves, he got information about
them from the police; for he would not have people of certain
callings,--he was afraid, for instance, of hammers. When the lease was
to be signed, he kept the deed and spelled it over for a week, fearing
what he called the /et caetera/ of lawyers.
Outside of his notions as a proprietor, Jean-Baptiste Molineux seemed
good and obliging. He played at boston without complaining of the
players; he laughed at the things which make a bourgeois laugh; talked
of what others of his kind talked about,--the arbitrary powers of
bakers who nefariously sell false weights, of the police, of the
heroic seventeen deputies of the Left. He read the "Good Sense" of the
Cure Meslier, and went to Mass; not that he had any choice between
deism and Christianity, but he took the wafer when offered to him, and
argued that he was therefore safe from the interfering claims of the
clergy. The indefatigable litigant wrote letters on this subject to
the newspapers, which the newspapers did not insert and never
answered. He was in other respects one of those estimable bourgeois
who solemnly put Christmas logs on their fire, draw kings at play,
invent April-fools, stroll on the boulevards when the weather is fine,
go to see the skating, and are always to be found on the terrace of
the Place Louis XV. at two o'clock on the days of the fireworks, with
a roll in their pockets so that they may get and keep a front place.
The Cour Batave, where the little old man lived, is the product of one
of those fantastic speculations of which no man can explain the
meaning after they are once completed. This cloistral structure, with
arcades and interior galleries built of free-stone, with a fountain at
one end,--a parched fountain, which opens its lion's mouth less to
give water than to ask it from the passers-by,--was doubtless invented
to endow the Saint-Denis quarter with a species of Palais-Royal. The
place, unhealthy and buried on all four sides by the high walls of its
houses, has no life or movement except in the daytime; it is a central
spot where dark passages meet, and connect the quarter of the markets
with the Saint-Martin quarter by means of the famous Rue Quincampoix,
--damp ways in which hurried foot-passengers contract rheumatism. But
at night no spot in Paris is more deserted; it might be called the
catacombs of commerce. In it there are various industrial /cloaca/,
very few Dutchmen, but a great many grocers. The appartements in this
merchant-place have, naturally, no other outlook than that of the
common court on which all the windows give, so that rents are at a
Monsieur Molineux lived in one of the angles, on the sixth floor for
sanitary reasons, the air not being pure at a less height than seventy
feet above the ground. At this altitude the worthy proprietor enjoyed
an enchanting view of the windmills of Montmartre as he walked among
the gutters on the roof, where he cultivated flowers, in spite of
police regulations against the hanging gardens of our modern Babylon.
His appartement was made up of four rooms, without counting the
precious /anglaises/ on the floor above him of which he had the key;
they belonged to him, he had made them, and he felt he was legally
entitled to them. On entering his appartement, a repulsive barrenness
plainly showed the avarice of the owner: in the antechamber were six
straw chairs and a porcelain stove; on the walls, which were covered
with a bottle-green paper, were four engravings bought at auction. In
the dining-room were two sideboards, two cages full of birds, a table
covered with oil-cloth, a barometer, a window-door which opened on the
hanging gardens, and chairs of dark mahogany covered with horse-hair.
The salon had little curtains of some old green-silk stuff, and
furniture of painted white-wood covered with green worsted velvet. As
to the chamber of the old celibate it was furnished with Louis XV.
articles, so dirty and disfigured through long usage that a woman
dressed in white would have been afraid of soiling herself by contact
with them. The chimney-piece was adorned by a clock with two columns,
between which was a dial-case that served as a pedestal to Pallas
brandishing her lance: a myth. The floor was covered with plates full
of scraps intended for the cats, on which there was much danger of
stepping. Above a chest of drawers in rosewood hung a portrait done in
pastel,--Molineux in his youth. There were also books, tables covered
with shabby green bandboxes, on a bracket a number of his deceased
canaries stuffed; and, finally, a chilly bed that might formerly have
belonged to a Carmelite.
Cesar Birotteau was delighted with the extreme politeness of Molineux,
whom he found wrapped in a gray woollen dressing-gown, watching his
milk in a little metal heater on the edge of his fireplace, while his
coffee-grounds were boiling in a little brown earthenware jug from
which, every now and then, he poured a few drops into his coffee-pot.
The umbrella-man, anxious not to disturb his landlord, had gone to the
door to admit Birotteau. Molineux held the mayors and deputies of the
city of Paris in much esteem;: he called them "my municipal officers."
At sight of the magistrate he rose, and remained standing, cap in
hand, until the great Birotteau was seated.
"No, monsieur; yes, monsieur; ah, monsieur, if I had known I should
have had the honor of receiving in the bosom of my humble /penates/ a
member of the municipality of Paris, believe me I should have made it
my duty to call upon you, although I am your landlord--or, on the
point of becoming so."
Birotteau made him a sign to put on his cap.
"No, I shall not; not until you are seated, and have replaced yours,
if you feel the cold. My room is chilly, the smallness of my means not
permitting--God grant your wishes!" he added, as Birotteau sneezed
while he felt in his pockets for the deeds. In presenting them to
Molineux Cesar remarked, to avoid all unnecessary delay, that Monsieur
Roguin had drawn them up.
"I do not dispute the legal talents of Monsieur Roguin, an old name
well-known in the notariat of Paris; but I have my own little customs,
I do my own business (an excusable hobby), and my notary is--"
"But this matter is very simple," said the perfumer, who was used to
the quick business methods of merchants.
"Simple!" cried Molineux. "Nothing is simple in such matters. Ah! you
are not a landlord, monsieur, and you may think yourself happy. If you
knew to what lengths of ingratitude tenants can go, and to what
precautions we are driven! Why, monsieur, I once had a tenant--"
And for a quarter an hour he recounted how a Monsieur Gendrin,
designer, had deceived the vigilance of his porter, Rue Saint-Honore.
Monsieur Gendrin had committed infamies worthy of Marat,--obscene
drawings at which the police winked. This Gendrin, a profoundly
immoral artist, had brought in women of bad lives, and made the
staircase intolerable,--conduct worthy of a man who made caricatures
of the government. And why such conduct? Because his rent had been
asked for on the 15th! Gendrin and Molineux were about to have a
lawsuit, for, though he did not pay, Gendrin insisted on holding the
empty appartement. Molineux received anonymous letters, no doubt from
Gendrin, which threatened him with assassination some night in the
passages about the Cour Batave.
"It has got to such a pass, monsieur," he said, winding up the tale,
"that monsieur the prefect of police, to whom I confided my trouble (I
profited by the occasion to drop him a few words on the modifications
which should be introduced into the laws to meet the case), has
authorized me to carry pistols for my personal safety."
The little old man got up and fetched the pistols.
"There they are!" he cried.
"But, monsieur, you have nothing to fear from me," said Birotteau,
looking at Cayron, and giving him a glance and a smile intended to
express pity for such a man.
Molineux detected it; he was mortified at such a look from an officer
of the municipality, whose duty it was to protect all persons under
his administration. In any one else he might have pardoned it, but in
Birotteau the deputy-mayor, never!
"Monsieur," he said in a dry tone, "an esteemed commercial judge, a
deputy-mayor, and an honorable merchant would not descend to such
petty meannesses,--for they are meannesses. But in your case there is
an opening through the wall which must be agreed to by your landlord,
Monsieur le comte de Grandville; there are stipulations to be made and
agreed upon about replacing the wall at the end of your lease. Besides
which, rents have hitherto been low, but they are rising; the Place
Vendome is looking up, the Rue Castiglione is to be built upon. I am
binding myself--binding myself down!"
"Let us come to a settlement," said Birotteau, amazed. "How much do
you want? I know business well enough to be certain that all your
reasons can be silenced by the superior consideration of money. Well,
how much is it?"
"That's only fair, monsieur the deputy. How much longer does your own
"Seven years," answered Birotteau.
"Think what my first floor will be worth in seven years!" said
Molineux. "Why, what would two furnished rooms let for in that
quarter?--more than two hundred francs a month perhaps! I am binding
myself--binding myself by a lease. The rent ought to be fifteen
hundred francs. At that price I will consent to the transfer of the
two rooms by Monsieur Cayron, here present," he said, with a sly wink
at the umbrella-man; "and I will give you a lease of them for seven
consecutive years. The costs of piercing the wall are to belong to
you; and you must procure the consent of Monsieur le comte de
Grandville and the cession of all his rights in the matter. You are
responsible for all damage done in making this opening. You will not
be expected to replace the wall yourself, that will be my business;
but you will at once pay me five hundred francs as an indemnity
towards it. We never know who may live or die, and I can't run after
anybody to get the wall rebuilt."
"Those conditions seem to me pretty fair," said Birotteau.
"Next," said Molineux. "You must pay me seven hundred and fifty
francs, /hic et hinc/, to be deducted from the last six months of your
lease; this will be acknowledged in the lease itself. Oh, I will
accept small bills for the value of the rent at any date you please! I
am prompt and square in business. We will agree that you are to close
up the door on my staircase (where you are to have no right of entry),
at your own cost, in masonry. Don't fear,--I shall ask you no
indemnity for that at the end of your lease; I consider it included in
the five hundred francs. Monsieur, you will find me just."
"We merchants are not so sharp," said the perfumer. "It would not be
possible to do business if we made so many stipulations."
"Oh, in business, that is very different, especially in perfumery,
where everything fits like a glove," said the old fellow with a sour
smile; "but when you come to letting houses in Paris, nothing is
unimportant. Why, I have a tenant in the Rue Montorgeuil who--"
"Monsieur," said Birotteau, "I am sorry to detain you from your
breakfast: here are the deeds, correct them. I agree to all that you
propose, we will sign them to-morrow; but to-day let us come to an
agreement by word of mouth, for my architect wants to take possession
of the premises in the morning."
"Monsieur," resumed Molineux with a glance at the umbrella-merchant,
"part of a quarter has expired; Monsieur Cayron would not wish to pay
it; we will add it to the rest, so that your lease may run from
January to January. It will be more in order."
"Very good," said Birotteau.
"And the five per cent for the porter--"
"But," said Birotteau, "if you deprive me of the right of entrance,
that is not fair."
"Oh, you are a tenant," said little Molineux, peremptorily, up in arms
for the principle. "You must pay the tax on doors and windows and your
share in all the other charges. If everything is clearly understood
there will be no difficulty. You must be doing well, monsieur; your
affairs are prospering?"
"Yes," said Birotteau. "But my motive is, I may say, something
different. I assemble my friends as much to celebrate the emancipation
of our territory as to commemorate my promotion to the order of the
Legion of honor--"
"Ah! ah!" said Molineux, "a recompense well-deserved!"
"Yes," said Birotteau, "possibly I showed myself worthy of that signal
and royal favor by my services on the Bench of commerce, and by
fighting for the Bourbons upon the steps of Saint-Roch on the 13th
Vendemiaire. These claims--"
"Are equal to those of our brave soldiers of the old army. The ribbon
is red, for it is dyed with their blood."
At these words, taken from the "Constitutionnel," Birotteau could not
keep from inviting little Molineux to the ball, who thanked him
profusely and felt like forgiving the disdainful look. The old man
conducted his new tenant as far as the landing, and overwhelmed him
with politeness. When Birotteau reached the middle of the Cour Batave
he gave Cayron a merry look.
"I did not think there could exist such--weak beings!" he said, with
difficulty keeping back the word /fools/.
"Ah, monsieur," said Cayron, "it is not everybody that has your
Birotteau might easily believe himself a superior being in the
presence of Monsieur Molineux; the answer of the umbrella-man made him
smile agreeably, and he bowed to him with a truly royal air as they
"I am close by the Markets," thought Cesar; "I'll attend to the matter
of the nuts."
After an hour's search, Birotteau, who was sent by the market-women to
the Rue de Lombards where nuts for sugarplums were to be found, heard
from his friend Matifat that the fruit in bulk was only to be had of a
certain Madame Angelique Madou, living in the Rue Perrin-Gasselin, the
sole establishment which kept the true filbert of Provence, and the
veritable white hazel-nut of the Alps.
The Rue Perrin-Gasselin is one of the narrow thoroughfares in a square
labyrinth enclosed by the quay, the Rue Saint-Denis, the Rue de la
Ferronnerie, and the Rue de la Monnaie; it is, as it were, one of the
entrails of the city. There swarm an infinite number of heterogeneous
and mixed articles of merchandise, evil-smelling and jaunty, herrings
and muslin, silks and honey, butter and gauze, and above all a number
of petty trades, of which Paris knows as little as a man knows of what
is going on in his pancreas, and which, at the present moment, had a
blood-sucker named Bidault, otherwise called Gigonnet, a money-lender,
who lived in the Rue Grenetat. In this quarter old stables were filled
with oil-casks, and the carriage-houses were packed with bales of
cotton. Here were stored in bulk the articles that were sold at retail
in the markets.
Madame Madou, formerly a fish-woman, but thrown, some ten years since,
into the dried-fruit trade by a liaison with the former proprietor of
her present business (an affair which had long fed the gossip of the
markets), had originally a vigorous and enticing beauty, now lost
however in a vast embonpoint. She lived on the lower floor of a yellow
house, which was falling to ruins, and was held together at each story
by iron cross-bars. The deceased proprietor had succeeded in getting
rid of all competitors, and had made his business a monopoly. In spite
of a few slight defects of education, his heiress was able to carry it
along, and take care of her stores, which were in coachhouses,
stables, and old workshops, where she fought the vermin with eminent
success. Not troubled with desk or ledgers, for she could neither read
nor write, she answered a letter with a blow of her fist, considering
it an insult. In the main she was a good woman, with a high-colored
face, and a foulard tied over her cap, who mastered with bugle voice
the wagoners when they brought the merchandise; such squabbles usually
ending in a bottle of the "right sort." She had no disputes with the
agriculturists who consigned her the fruit, for they corresponded in
ready money,--the only possible method of communication, to receive
which Mere Madou paid them a visit in the fine season of the year.
Birotteau found this shrewish trader among sacks of filberts, nuts,
"Good-morning, my dear lady," said Birotteau with a jaunty air.
"/Your/ dear!" she said. "Hey! my son, what's there agreeable between
us? Did we ever mount guard over kings and queens together?"
"I am a perfumer, and what is more I am deputy-mayor of the second
arrondissement; thus, as magistrate and as customer, I request you to
take another tone with me."
"I marry when I please," said the virago. "I don't trouble the mayor,
or bother his deputies. As for my customers, they adore me, and I talk
to 'em as I choose. If they don't like it, they can snake off
"This is the result of monopoly," thought Birotteau.
"Popole!--that's my godson,--he must have got into mischief. Have you
come about him, my worthy magistrate?" she said, softening her voice.
"No; I had the honor to tell you that I came as a customer."
"Well, well! and what's your name, my lad? Haven't seen you about
before, have I?"
"If you take that tone, you ought to sell your nuts cheap," said
Birotteau, who proceeded to give his name and all his distinctions.
"Ha! you're the Birotteau that's got the handsome wife. And how many
of the sweet little nuts may you want, my love?"
"Six thousand weight."
"That's all I have," said the seller, in a voice like a hoarse flute.
"My dear monsieur, you are not one of the sluggards who waste their
time on girls and perfumes. God bless you, you've got something to do!
Excuse me a bit. You'll be a jolly customer, dear to the heart of the
woman I love best in the world."
"Who is that?"
"Hey! the dear Madame Madou."
"What's the price of your nuts?"
"For you, old fellow, twenty-five francs a hundred, if you take them
"Twenty-five francs!" cried Birotteau. "Fifteen hundred francs! I
shall want perhaps a hundred thousand a year."
"But just look how fine they are; fresh as a daisy," she said,
plunging her red arm into a sack of filberts. "Plump, no empty ones,
my dear man. Just think! grocers sell their beggarly trash at twenty-
four sous a pound, and in every four pounds they put a pound of
/hollows/. Must I lose my profits to oblige you? You're nice enough,
but you don't please me all that! If you want so many, we might make a
bargain at twenty francs. I don't want to send away a deputy-mayor,--
bad luck to the brides, you know! Now, just handle those nuts; heavy,
aren't they? Less than fifty to the pound; no worms there, I can tell
"Well, then, send six thousand weight, for two thousand francs at
ninety days' sight, to my manufactory, Rue du Faubourg-du-Temple,
to-morrow morning early."
"You're in as great a hurry as a bride! Well, adieu, monsieur the
mayor; don't bear me a grudge. But if it is all the same to you," she
added, following Birotteau through the yard, "I would like your note
at forty days, because I have let you have them too cheap, and I don't
want to lose the discount. Pere Gigonnet may have a tender heart, but
he sucks the soul out of us as a spider sucks a fly."
"Well, then, fifty days. But they are to be weighed by the hundred
pounds, so that there may be no hollow ones. Without that, no
"Ah, the dog! he knows what he's about," said Madame Madou; "can't
make a fool of him! It is those rascals in the Rue des Lombards who
have put him up to that! Those big wolves are all in a pack to eat up
the innocent lambs."
This lamb was five feet high and three feet round, and she looked like
a mile-post, dressed in striped calico, without a belt.
The perfumer, lost in thought, was ruminating as he went along the Rue
Saint-Honore about his duel with Macassar Oil. He was meditating on
the labels and the shape of the bottles, discussing the quality of the
corks, the color of the placards. And yet people say there is no
poetry in commerce! Newton did not make more calculations for his
famous binomial than Birotteau made for his Comagene Essence,--for by
this time the Oil had subsided into an Essence, and he went from one
description to the other without observing any difference. His head
spun with his computations, and he took the lively activity of its
emptiness for the substantial work of real talent. He was so
preoccupied that he passed the turn leading to his uncle's house in
the Rue des Bourdonnais, and had to return upon his steps.
Claude-Joseph Pillerault, formerly an iron-monger at the sign of the
Cloche d'Or, had one of those faces whose beauty shines from the inner
to the outer; about him all things harmonized,--dress and manners,
mind and heart, thought and speech, words and acts. He was the sole
relation of Madame Birotteau, and had centred all his affections upon
her and upon Cesarine, having lost, in the course of his commercial
career, his wife and son, and also an adopted child, the son of his
house-keeper. These heavy losses had driven the good man into a kind
of Christian stoicism,--a noble doctrine, which gave life to his
existence, and colored his latter days with the warm, and at the same
time chilling, tones which gild the sunsets of winter. His head, thin
and hollowed and swarthy, with ochre and bistre tints harmoniously
blended, offered a striking likeness to that which artists bestow on
Time, though it vulgarized it; for the habits of commercial life
lowered the stern and monumental character which painters, sculptors,
and clock-makers exaggerate. Of medium height, Pillerault was more
thick-set than stout; Nature had built him for hard work and long
life; his broad shoulders showed a strong frame; he was dry by
temperament, and his skin had, as it were, no emotions, though it was
not insensible. Little demonstrative, as was shown by his composed
face and quiet attitude, the old man had an inward calm not expressed
in phrases nor by emphasis. His eye, the pupil of which was green,
mingled with black lines, was remarkable for its unalterable
clearness. His forehead, wrinkled in straight lines and yellowed by
time, was small and narrow, hard, and crowned with silver-gray hair
cut so short that it looked like felt. His delicate mouth showed
prudence, but not avarice. The vivacity of his eye showed the purity
of his life. Integrity, a sense of duty, and true modesty made, as it
were, a halo round his head, bringing his face into the relief of a
sound and healthful existence.
For sixty years he had led the hard and sober life of a determined
worker. His history was like Cesar's, except in happiness. A clerk
till thirty years of age, his property was all in his business at the
time when Cesar put his savings into the Funds; he had suffered, like
others, under the Maximum, and the pickaxes and other implements of
his trade had been requisitioned. His reserved and judicious nature,
his forethought and mathematical reflection, were seen in his methods
of work. The greater part of his business was conducted by word of
mouth, and he seldom encountered difficulties. Like all thoughtful
people he was a great observer; he let people talk, and then studied
them. He often refused advantageous bargains on which his neighbors
pounced; later, when they regretted them, they declared that
Pillerault had "a nose for swindlers." He preferred small and certain
gains to bold strokes which put large sums of money in jeopardy. He
dealt in cast-iron chimney backs, gridirons, coarse fire-dogs, kettles
and boilers in cast or wrought iron, hoes, and all the agricultural
implements of the peasantry. This line, which was sufficiently
unremunerative, required an immense mechanical toil. The gains were
not in proportion to the labor; the profits on such heavy articles,
difficult to move and expensive to store, were small. He himself had
nailed up many a case, packed and unpacked many a bale, unloaded many
a wagon. No fortune was ever more nobly won, more legitimate or more
honorable, than his. He had never overcharged or sought to force a
bargain. In his latter business days he might be seen smoking his pipe
before the door of his shop looking at the passers-by, and watching
his clerks as they worked. In 1814, the period at which he retired
from business, his fortune consisted, in the first place, of seventy
thousand francs, which he placed in the public Funds, and from which
he derived an income of five thousand and some odd hundred francs a
year; next of forty thousand francs, the value of his business, which
he had sold to one of his clerks; this sum was to be paid in full at
the end of five years, without interest. Engaged for thirty years in a
business which amounted to a hundred thousand francs a year, he had
made about seven per cent profit on the amount, and his living had
absorbed one half of that profit. Such was his record. His neighbors,
little envious of such mediocrity, praised his excellence without
At the corner of the Rue de la Monnaie and the Rue Saint-Honore is the
cafe David, where a few old merchants, like Pillerault, take their
coffee in the evenings. There, the adoption of the son of his cook had
been the subject of a few jests, such as might be addressed to a man
much respected, for the iron-monger inspired respectful esteem, though
he never sought it; his inward self-respect sufficed him. So when he
lost the young man, two hundred friends followed the body to the
cemetery. In those days he was heroic. His sorrow, restrained like
that of all men who are strong without assumption, increased the
sympathy felt in his neighborhood for the "worthy man,"--a term
applied to Pillerault in a tone which broadened its meaning and
ennobled it. The sobriety of Claude Pillerault, long become a habit,
did not yield before the pleasures of an idle life when, on quitting
his business, he sought the rest which drags down so many of the
Parisian bourgeoisie. He kept up his former ways of life, and
enlivened his old age by convictions and interests, which belonged, we
must admit, to the extreme Left. Pillerault belonged to that working-
men's party which the Revolution had fused with the bourgeoisie. The
only blot upon his character was the importance he attached to the
triumph of that party; he held to all the rights, to the liberty, and
to the fruits of the Revolution; he believed that his peace of mind
and his political stability were endangered by the Jesuits, whose
secret power was proclaimed aloud by the Liberals, and menaced by the
principles with which the "Constitutionnel" endowed Monsieur. He was
quite consistent in his life and ideas; there was nothing narrow about
his politics; he never insulted his adversaries, he dreaded courtiers
and believed in republican virtues; he thought Manuel a pure man,
General Foy a great one, Casimir Perier without ambition, Lafayette a
political prophet, and Courier a worthy fellow. He had indeed some
noble chimeras. The fine old man lived a family life; he went about
among the Ragons, his niece Birotteau, the judge Popinot, Joseph
Lebas, and his friend Matifat. Fifteen hundred francs a year sufficed
for all his personal wants. As to the rest of his income he spent it
on good deeds, and in presents to his great-niece; he gave a dinner
four times a year to his friends, at Roland's, Rue du Hasard, and took
them afterwards to the theatre. He played the part of those old
bachelors on whom married women draw at sight for their amusements,--a
country jaunt, the opera, the Montagnes-Beaujon, /et caetera/.
Pillerault was made happy by the pleasure he gave; his joys were in
the hearts of others. Though he had sold his business, he did not wish
to leave the neighborhood to which all his habits tied him; and he
took a small appartement of three rooms in the Rue des Bourdonnais on
the fourth floor of an old house.
Just as the moral nature of Molineux could be seen in his strange
interior, the pure and simple life of Pillerault was revealed by the
arrangements of his modest home, consisting of an antechamber, a
sitting-room, and a bed-room. Judged by dimensions, it was the cell of
a Trappist. The antechamber, with a red-tiled floor, had only one
window, screened by a cambric curtain with a red border; mahogany
chairs, covered with reddish sheep's leather put on with gilt nails,
walls hung with an olive-green paper, and otherwise decorated with the
American Declaration of Independence, a portrait of Bonaparte as First
Consul, and a representation of the battle of Austerlitz. The salon,
decorated undoubtedly by an upholsterer, had a set of furniture with
arched tops covered in yellow, a carpet, chimney ornaments of bronze
without gilding, a painted chimney-board, a console bearing a vase of
flowers under a glass case, a round table covered with a cloth, on
which stood a liqueur-stand. The newness of this room proclaimed a
sacrifice made by the old man to the conventions of the world; for he
seldom received any one at home. In his bedroom, as plain as that of a
monk or an old soldier (the two men best able to estimate life), a
crucifix with a basin of holy-water first caught the eye. This
profession of faith in a stoical old republican was strangely moving
to the heart of a spectator.
An old woman came to do his household work; but his respect for women
was so great that he would not let her black his boots, and he
subscribed to a boot-black for that service. His dress was simple, and
invariably the same. He wore a coat and trousers of dark-blue cloth, a
waistcoat of some printed cotton fabric, a white cravat, high shoes,
and on gala days he put on a coat with brass buttons. His habits of
rising, breakfasting, going out, dining, his evening resorts, and his
returning hours were all stamped with the strictest punctuality; for
regular habits are the secret of long life and sound health. Politics
never came to the surface in his intercourse with Cesar, the Ragons,
or the Abbe Loraux; for the good people of that circle knew each other
too well to care to enter the region of proselytism. Like his nephew
and like the Ragons, he put implicit confidence in Roguin. To his mind
the notary was a being worthy of veneration,--the living image of
probity. In the affair of the lands about the Madeleine, Pillerault
had undertaken a private examination, which was the real cause of the
boldness with which Cesar had combated his wife's presentiments.
The perfumer went up the seventy-eight stairs which led to the little
brown door of his uncle's appartement, thinking as he went that the
old man must be very hale to mount them daily without complaining. He
found a frock-coat and pair of trousers hanging on the hat-stand
outside the door. Madame Vaillant brushed and cleaned them while this
genuine philosopher, wrapped in a gray woollen garment, breakfasted in
his chimney-corner and read the parliamentary debates in the
"Constitutionnel" or the "Journal du Commerce."
"Uncle," said Cesar, "the matter is settled; they are drawing up their
deeds; but you have any fears or regrets, there is still time to give
"Why should I give it up? The thing is good; though it may be a long
time before we realize anything, like all safe investments. My fifty
thousand francs are in the bank. I received yesterday the last
instalment, five thousand francs, from my business. As for the Ragons,
they have put their whole fortune into the affair."
"How do they contrive to life?"
"Never mind how; they do live."
"Uncle, I understand!" said Birotteau, deeply moved, pressing the hand
of the austere old man.
"How is the affair arranged?" asked Pillerault, brusquely.
"I am in for three eighths, you and the Ragons for one eighth. I shall
credit you for that on my books until the question of registration is
"Good! My boy, you must be getting rich to put three hundred thousand
francs into it. It seems to me you are risking a good deal outside of
your business. Won't the business suffer? However, that is your
affair. If you get a set-back, why the Funds are at eighty, and I
could sell two thousand francs worth of my consolidated stock. But
take care, my lad; for if you have to come upon me, it will be your
daughter's fortune that you will take."
"Ah! my uncle, how simply you say things! You touch my heart."
"General Foy was touching mine in quite another fashion just now.
Well, go on; settle the business; lands can't fly away. We are getting
them at half price. Suppose we do have to wait six years, there will
always be some returns; there are wood-yards which will bring in a
rent. We can't really lose anything. There is but one chance against
us. Roguin might run off with the money."
"My wife told me so this very night. She fears--"
"That Roguin will carry off our funds?" said Pillerault, laughing.
"She says there is too much in his nose; and like men who can't have
women, he is furious to--"
With a smile of incredulity, Pillerault tore a strip from a little
book, wrote down an amount, and signed the paper.
"There," said he, "there's a cheque on the Bank of France for a
hundred thousand francs for the Ragons and for me. Those poor folks
have just sold to your scoundrel of a du Tillet their fifteen shares
in the mines at Wortschin to make up the amount. Worthy people in
trouble,--it wrings my heart; and such good, noble souls, the very
flower of the old bourgeoisie! Their brother, Popinot, the judge,
knows nothing about it; they hid it from him so that he may not feel
obliged to give up his other works of charity. People who have worked,
like me, for forty years!"
"God grant that the Oil of Comagene may triumph!" cried Birotteau. "I
shall be doubly happy. Adieu; come and dine on Sunday with the Ragons,
Roguin, and Monsieur Claparon. We shall sign the papers the day after
to-morrow, for to-morrow is Friday, you know, and I shouldn't like--"
"You don't surely give in to such superstitions?"
"Uncle, I shall never believe that the day on which the Son of God was
put to death by man can be a fortunate day. Why, we ourselves stop all
business on the twenty-first of January."
"On Sunday, then," said Pillerault brusquely.
"If it were not for his political opinions," thought Birotteau as he
went down stairs, "I don't believe he would have his equal here below.
What are politics to him? He would be just as well off if he never
thought of them. His obstinacy in that direction only shows that there
can't be a perfect man."
"Three o'clock already!" cried Cesar, as he got back to "The Queen of
"Monsieur, do you mean to take these securities?" asked Celestin,
showing him the notes of the umbrella-maker.
"Yes; at six per cent, without commission. Wife, get my dressing
things all ready; I am going to see Monsieur Vauquelin,--you know why.
A white cravat, of course."
Birotteau gave a few orders to the clerks. Not seeing Popinot, he
concluded that his future partner had gone to dress; and he went gaily
up to his room, where the Dresden Madonna, magnificently framed
according to his orders, awaited him.
"Hey! that's pretty," he said to his daughter.
"Papa, you must say beautiful, or people will laugh at you."
"Upon my word! a daughter who scolds her father! Well, well! To my
taste I like Hero and Leander quite as much. The Virgin is a religious
subject, suitable for a chapel; but Hero and Leander, ah! I shall buy
it, for that flask of oil gave me an idea--"
"Papa, I don't know what you are talking about."
"Virginie! a hackney-coach!" cried Cesar, in stentorian tones, as soon
as he had trimmed his beard and seen little Popinot appear, who was
dragging his foot timidly because Cesarine was there.
The lover had never yet perceived that his infirmity no longer existed
in the eyes of his mistress. Delicious sign of love!--which they on
whom chance has inflicted a bodily imperfection can alone obtain.
"Monsieur," he said, "the press will be ready to work to-morrow."
"Why, what's the matter, Popinot?" asked Cesar, as he saw Anselme
"Monsieur, it is the joy of having found a shop, a back-shop, kitchen,
chambers above them, and store-rooms,--all for twelve hundred francs a
year, in the Rue des Cinq-Diamants."
"We must take a lease of eighteen years," said Birotteau. "But let us
start for Monsieur Vauquelin's. We can talk as we go."
Cesar and Popinot got into the hackney-coach before the eyes of the
astonished clerks, who did not know what to make of these gorgeous
toilets and the abnormal coach, ignorant as they were of the great
project revolving in the mind of the master of "The Queen of Roses."
"We are going to hear the truth about nuts," said Cesar, half to
"Nuts?" said Popinot.
"There you have my secret," said the perfumer. "I've let loose the
word /nuts/,--all is there. The oil of nuts is the only oil that has
any real effect upon hair. No perfumer has ever dreamed of it. I saw
an engraving of Hero and Leander, and I said to myself, If the
ancients used all that oil on their heads they had some reason for it;
for the ancients are the ancients, in spite of all the moderns may
say; I stand by Boileau about the ancients. I took my departure from
that point and got the oil of nuts, thanks to your relation, little
Bianchon the medical student; he told me that at school his comrades
used nut oil to promote the growth of their whiskers and mustachios.
All we need is the approval of Monsieur Vauquelin; enlightened by his
science, we shall mislead the public. I was in the markets just now,
talking to a seller of nuts, so as to get hold of the raw material,
and now I am about to meet one of the greatest scientific men in
France, to get at the quintessence of that commodity. Proverbs are no
fools; extremes meet. Now see, my boy, commerce is the intermediary
between the productions of the vegetable kingdom and science.
Angelique Madou gathers, Monsieur Vauquelin extracts, we sell an
essence. Nuts are worth five sous a pound, Monsieur Vauquelin will
increase their value one hundredfold, and we shall, perhaps, do a
service to humanity; for if vanity is the cause of the greatest
torments of mankind, a good cosmetic becomes a benefaction."
The religious admiration with which Popinot listened to the father of
Cesarine stimulated Birotteau's eloquence, who allowed himself to
expatiate in phrases which certainly were extremely wild for a
"Be respectful, Anselme," he said, as they reached the street where
Monsieur Vauquelin lived, "we are about to enter the sanctuary of
science. Put the Virgin in full sight, but not ostentatiously, in the
dining-room, on a chair. Pray heaven, I may not get mixed up in what I
have to say!" cried Cesar, naively. "Popinot, this man has a chemical
effect upon me; his voice heats my stomach, and even gives me a slight
colic. He is my benefactor, and in a few moments he will be yours."
These words struck Popinot with a cold chill, and he began to step as
if he were walking on eggs, looking nervously at the wall. Monsieur
Vauquelin was in his study when Birotteau was announced. The
academician knew that the perfumer and deputy-mayor was high in favor,
and he admitted him.
"You do not forget me in the midst of your distinctions," he said,
"there is only a hand's-breadth, however, between a chemist and a
"Ah, monsieur! between your genius and the plainness of a man like me
there is infinity. I owe to you what you call my distinctions: I shall
never forget it in this world, nor in the next."
"Oh! in the next they say we shall be all alike, kings and cobblers."
"Provided kings and cobblers lead a holy life here below," said
"Is that your son?" asked Vauquelin, looking at little Popinot, who
was amazed at not seeing anything extraordinary in the sanctum, where
he expected to find monstrosities, gigantic engines, flying-machines,
and material substances all alive.
"No, monsieur, but a young man whom I love, and who comes to ask a
kindness equal to your genius,--and that is infinite," said Cesar with
shrewd courtesy. "We have come to consult you, a second time, on an
important matter, about which I am ignorant as a perfumer can be."
"Let me hear what it is."
"I know that hair has lately occupied all your vigils, and that you
have given yourself up to analyzing it; while you have thought of
glory, I have thought of commerce."
"Dear Monsieur Birotteau, what is it you want of me,--the analysis of
hair?" He took up a little paper. "I am about to read before the
Academy of Sciences a monograph on that subject. Hair is composed of a
rather large quantity of mucus, a small quantity of white oil, a great
deal of greenish oil, iron, a few atoms of oxide of manganese, some
phosphate of lime, a tiny quantity of carbonate of lime, a little
silica, and a good deal of sulphur. The differing proportions of these
component parts cause the differences in the color of the hair. Red
hair, for instance, has more greenish oil than any other."
Cesar and Popinot opened their eyes to a laughable extent.
"Nine things!" cried Birotteau. "What! are there metals and oils in
hair? Unless I heard it from you, a man I venerate, I could not
believe it. How amazing! God is great, Monsieur Vauquelin."
"Hair is produced by a follicular organ," resumed the great chemist,--
"a species of pocket, or sack, open at both extremities. By one end it
is fastened to the nerves and the blood vessels; from the other
springs the hair itself. According to some of our scientific
brotherhood, among them Monsieur Blainville, the hair is really a dead
matter expelled from that pouch, or crypt, which is filled with a
species of pulp."
"Then hair is what you might call threads of sweat!" cried Popinot, to
whom Cesar promptly administered a little kick on his heels.
Vauquelin smiled at Popinot's idea.
"He knows something, doesn't he?" said Cesar, looking at Popinot.
"But, monsieur, if the hair is still-born, it is impossible to give it
life, and I am lost! my prospectus will be ridiculous. You don't know
how queer the public is; you can't go and tell it--"
"That it has got manure upon its head," said Popinot, wishing to make
Vauquelin laugh again.
"Cephalic catacombs," said Vauquelin, continuing the joke.
"My nuts are bought!" cried Birotteau, alive to the commercial loss.
"If this is so why do they sell--"
"Don't be frightened," said Vauquelin, smiling, "I see it is a
question of some secret about making the hair grow or keeping it from
turning gray. Listen! this is my opinion on the subject, as the result
of my studies."
Here Popinot pricked up his ears like a frightened hare.
"The discoloration of this substance, be it living or dead, is, in my
judgment, produced by a check to the secretion of the coloring matter;
which explains why in certain cold climates the fur of animals loses
all color and turns white in winter."
"It is evident," resumed Vauquelin, "that alterations in the color of
the hair come from changes in the circumjacent atmosphere--"
"Circumjacent, Popinot! recollect, hold fast to that," cried Cesar.
"Yes," said Vauquelin, "from hot and cold changes, or from internal
phenomena which produce the same effect. Probably headaches and other
cephalagic affections absorb, dissipate, or displace the generating
fluids. However, the interior of the head concerns physicians. As for
the exterior, bring on your cosmetics."
"Monsieur," said Birotteau, "you restore me to life! I have thought of
selling an oil of nuts, believing that the ancients made use of that
oil for their hair; and the ancients are the ancients, as you know: I
agree with Boileau. Why did the gladiators oil themselves--"
"Olive oil is quite as good as nut oil," said Vauquelin, who was not
listening to Birotteau. "All oil is good to preserve the bulb from
receiving injury to the substances working within it, or, as we should
say in chemistry, in liquefaction. Perhaps you are right; Dupuytren
told me the oil of nuts had a stimulating property. I will look into
the differences between the various oils, beech-nut, colza, olive, and
"Then I am not mistaken," cried Birotteau, triumphantly. "I have
coincided with a great man. Macassar is overthrown! Macassar,
monsieur, is a cosmetic given--that is, sold, and sold dear--to make
the hair grow."
"My dear Monsieur Birotteau," said Vauquelin, "there are not two
ounces of Macassar oil in all Europe. Macassar oil has not the
slightest action upon the hair; but the Malays buy it up for its
weight in gold, thinking that it preserves the hair: they don't know
that whale-oil is just as good. No power, chemical, or divine--"
"Divine! oh, don't say that, Monsieur Vauquelin."
"But, my dear monsieur, the first law of God is to be consistent with
Himself; without unity, no power--"
"Ah! in that light--"
"No power, as I say, can make the hair grow on bald heads; just as you
can never dye, without serious danger, red or white hair. But in
advertising the benefits of oil you commit no mistake, you tell no
falsehood, and I think that those who use it will probably preserve
"Do you think that the royal Academy of Sciences would approve of--"
"Oh! there is no discovery in all that," said Vauquelin. "Besides,
charlatans have so abused the name of the Academy that it would not
help you much. My conscience will not allow me to think the oil of
nuts a prodigy."
"What would be the best way to extract it; by pressure, or decoction?"
"Pressure between two hot slabs will cause the oil to flow more
abundantly; but if obtained by pressure between cold slabs it will be
of better quality. It should be applied to the skin itself," added
Vauquelin, kindly, "and not to the hair; otherwise the effect might be
"Recollect all that, Popinot," said Birotteau, with an enthusiasm that
sent a glow into his face. "You see before you, monsieur, a young man
who will count this day among the finest in his life. He knew you, he
venerated you, without ever having seen you. We often talk of you in
our home: a name that is in the heart is often on the lips. We pray
for you every day, my wife and daughter and I, as we ought to pray for
"Too much for so little," said Vauquelin, rather bored by the voluble
gratitude of the perfumer.
"Ta, ta, ta!" exclaimed Birotteau, "you can't prevent our loving you,
you who will take nothing from us. You are like the sun; you give
light, and those whom you illuminate can give you nothing in return."
The man of science smiled and rose; the perfumer and Popinot rose
"Anselme, look well at this room. You permit it, monsieur? Your time
is precious, I know, but he will never have another opportunity."
"Well, have you got all you wanted?" said Vauquelin to Birotteau.
"After all, we are both commercial men."
"Pretty nearly, monsieur," said Birotteau, retreating towards the
dining-room, Vauquelin following. "But to launch our Comagene Essence
we need a good foundation--"
"'Comagene' and 'Essence' are two words that clash. Call your cosmetic
'Oil of Birotteau'; or, if you don't want to give your name to the
world, find some other. Why, there's the Dresden Madonna! Ah, Monsieur
Birotteau, do you mean that we shall quarrel?"
"Monsieur Vauquelin," said the perfumer, taking the chemist's hand.
"This treasure has no value except the time that I have spent in
finding it. We had to ransack all Germany to find it on China paper
before lettering. I knew that you wished for it and that your
occupations did not leave you time to search for it; I have been your
commercial traveller, that is all. Accept therefore, not a paltry
engraving, but efforts, anxieties, despatches to and fro, which are
the evidence of my complete devotion. Would that you had wished for
something growing on the sides of precipices, that I might have sought
it and said to you, 'Here it is!' Do not refuse my gift. We have so
much reason to be forgotten; allow me therefore to place myself, my
wife, my daughter, and the son-in-law I expect to have, beneath your
eyes. You must say when you look at the Virgin, 'There are some people
in the world who are thinking of me.'"
"I accept," said Vauquelin.
Popinot and Birotteau wiped their eyes, so affected were they by the
kindly tone in which the academician uttered the words.
"Will you crown your goodness?" said the perfumer.
"What's that?" exclaimed Vauquelin.
"I assemble my friends"--he rose from his heels, taking, nevertheless,
a modest air--"as much to celebrate the emancipation of our territory
as to commemorate my promotion to the order of the Legion of honor--"
"Ah!" exclaimed Vauquelin, surprised.
"Possibly I showed myself worthy of that signal and royal favor, by my
services on the Bench of commerce, and by fighting for the Bourbons
upon the steps of Saint-Roch, on the 13th Vendemiaire, where I was
wounded by Napoleon. My wife gives a ball, three weeks from Sunday;
pray come to it, monsieur. Do us the honor to dine with us on that
day. Your presence would double the happiness with which I receive my
cross. I will write you beforehand."
"Well, yes," said Vauquelin.
"My heart swells with joy!" cried the perfumer, when he got into the
street. "He comes to my house! I am afraid I've forgotten what he said
about hair: do you remember it, Popinot!"
"Yes, monsieur; and twenty years hence I shall remember it still."
"What a great man! what a glance, what penetration!" said Birotteau.
"Ah! he made no bones about it; he guessed our thoughts at the first
word; he has given us the means of annihilating Macassar oil. Yes!
nothing can make the hair grow; Macassar, you lie! Popinot, our
fortune is made. We'll go to the manufactory to-morrow morning at
seven o'clock; the nuts will be there, and we will press out some oil.
It is all very well for him to say that any oil is good; if the public
knew that, we should be lost. If we didn't put some scent and the name
of nuts into the oil, how could we sell it for three or four francs
the four ounces?"
"You are about to be decorated, monsieur?" said Popinot, "what glory
"Commerce; that is true, my boy."
Cesar's triumphant air, as if certain of fortune, was observed by the
clerks, who made signs at each other; for the trip in the hackney-
coach, and the full dress of the cashier and his master had thrown
them all into the wildest regions of romance. The mutual satisfaction
of Cesar and Anselme, betrayed by looks diplomatically exchanged, the
glance full of hope which Popinot cast now and then at Cesarine,
proclaimed some great event and gave color to the conjectures of the
clerks. In their busy and half cloistral life the smallest events have
the interest which a prisoner feels in those of his prison. The
bearing of Madame Cesar, who replied to the Olympian looks of her lord
with an air of distrust, seemed to point to some new enterprise; for
in ordinary times Madame Cesar, delighted with the smallest routine
success, would have shared his contentment. It happened, accidentally,
that the receipts for the day amounted to more than six thousand
francs; for several outstanding bills chanced to be paid.
The dining-room and the kitchen, lighted from a little court, and
separated from the dining-room by a passage, from which the staircase,
taken out of a corner of the backshop, opened up, was on the
/entresol/ where in former days Cesar and Constance had their
appartement; in fact, the dining-room, where the honey-moon had been
passed, still wore the look of a little salon. During dinner Raguet,
the trusty boy of all work, took charge of the shop; but the clerks
came down when the dessert was put on table, leaving Cesar, his wife
and daughter to finish their dinner alone by the chimney corner. This
habit was derived from the Ragons, who kept up the old-fashioned
usages and customs of former commercial days, which placed an enormous
distance between the masters and the apprentices. Cesarine or
Constance then prepared for Birotteau his cup of coffee, which he took
sitting on a sofa by the corner of the fire. At this hour he told his
wife all the little events of the day, and related what he had seen in
the streets, what was going on in the Faubourg du Temple, and the
difficulties he had met with in the manufactory, /et caetera/.
"Wife," he said, when the clerks had gone down, "this is certainly one
of the most important days in our life! The nuts are bought, the
hydraulic press is ready to go to work, the land affair is settled.
Here, lock up that cheque on the Bank of France, he added, handing her
Pillerault's paper. "The improvements in the house are ordered, the
dignity of our appartement is about to be increased. Bless me! I saw,
down in the Cour Batave, a very singular man,"--and he told the tale
of Monsieur Molineux.
"I see," said his wife, interrupting him in the middle of a tirade,
"that you have gone in debt two hundred thousand francs."
"That is true, wife," said Cesar, with mock humility, "Good God, how
shall we pay them? It counts for nothing that the lands about the
Madeleine will some day become the finest quarter of Paris."
"Some day, Cesar!"
"Alas!" he said, going on with his joke, "my three eighths will only
be worth a million in six years. How shall I ever pay that two hundred
thousand francs?" said Cesar, with a gesture of alarm. "Well, we shall
be reduced to pay them with that," he added, pulling from his pocket a
nut, which he had taken from Madame Madou and carefully preserved.
He showed the nut between his fingers to Constance and Cesarine. His
wife was silent, but Cesarine, much puzzled, said to her father, as
she gave him his coffee, "What do you mean, papa,--are you joking?"
The perfumer, as well as the clerks, had detected during dinner the
glances which Popinot had cast at Cesarine, and he resolved to clear
up his suspicions.
"Well, my little daughter," he said, "this nut will revolutionize our
home. From this day forth there will be one person the less under my
Cesarine looked at her father with an eye which seemed to say, "What
is that to me?"
"Popinot is going away."
Though Cesar was a poor observer, and had, moreover, prepared his
phrase as much to herald the creation of the house of A. Popinot and
Company, as to set a trap for his daughter, yet his paternal
tenderness made him guess the confused feelings which rose in
Cesarine's heart, blossomed in roses on her cheek, suffused her
forehead and even her eyes as she lowered them. Cesar thought that
words must have passed between Cesarine and Popinot. He was mistaken;
the two children comprehended each other, like all timid lovers,
without a word.
Some moralists hold that love is an involuntary passion, the most
disinterested, the least calculating, of all the passions, except
maternal love. This opinion carries with it a vulgar error. Though the
majority of men may be ignorant of the causes of love, it is none the
less true that all sympathy, moral or physical, is based upon
calculations made either by the mind, or by sentiment or brutality.
Love is an essentially selfish passion. Self means deep calculation.
To every mind which looks only at results, it will seem at first sight
singular and unlikely that a beautiful girl like Cesarine should love
a poor lame fellow with red hair. Yet this phenomenon is completely in
harmony with the arithmetic of middle-class sentiments. To explain it,
would be to give the reason of marriages which are constantly looked
upon with surprise,--marriages between tall and beautiful women and
puny men, or between ugly little creatures and handsome men. Every man
who is cursed with some bodily infirmity, no matter what it is,--club-
feet, a halting-gait, a humped-back, excessive ugliness, claret stains
upon the cheek, Roguin's species of deformity, and other monstrosities
the result of causes beyond the control of the sufferer,--has but two
courses open to him: either he must make himself feared, or he must
practise the virtues of exquisite loving-kindness; he is not permitted
to float in the middle currents of average conduct which are habitual
to other men. If he takes the first course he probably has talent,
genius, or strength of will; a man inspires terror only by the power
of evil, respect by genius, fear through force of mind. If he chooses
the second course, he makes himself adored; he submits to feminine
tyranny, and knows better how to love than men of irreproachable
Anselme, brought up by virtuous people, by the Ragons, models of the
honorable bourgeoisie, and by his uncle the judge, had been led,
through his ingenuous nature and his deep religious sentiments, to
redeem the slight deformity of his person by the perfection of his
character. Constance and Cesar, struck by these tendencies, so
attractive in youth, had repeatedly sung his praises before Cesarine.
Petty as they might be in many ways, husband and wife were noble by
nature, and understood the deep things of the heart. Their praises
found an echo in the mind of the young girl, who, despite her
innocence, had read in Anselme's pure eyes the violent feeling, which
is always flattering whatever be the lover's age, or rank, or personal
appearance. Little Popinot had far more reason to adore a woman than a
handsome man could ever have. If she were beautiful, he would love her
madly to her dying day; his fondness would inspire him with ambition;
he would sacrifice his own life that his wife's might be happy; he
would make her mistress of their home, and be himself the first to
accept her sway. Thus thought Cesarine, involuntarily perhaps, yet not
altogether crudely; she gave a bird's-eye glance at the harvest of
love in her own home, and reasoned by induction; the happiness of her
mother was before her eyes,--she wished for no better fate; her
instinct told her that Anselme was another Cesar, improved by his
education, as she had been improved by hers. She dreamed of Popinot as
mayor of an arrondissement, and liked to picture herself taking up the
collections in their parish church as her mother did at Saint-Roch.
She had reached the point of no longer perceiving the difference
between the left leg and the right leg of her lover, and was even
capable of saying, in all sincerity, "Does he limp?" She loved those
liquid eyes, and liked to watch the effect her own glance had upon
them, as they lighted up for a moment with a chaste flame, and then
Roguin's head-clerk, Alexandre Crottat, who was gifted with the
precocious experience which comes from knowledge acquired in a
lawyer's office, had an air and manner that was half cynical, half
silly, which revolted Cesarine, already disgusted by the trite and
commonplace character of his conversation. The silence of Popinot, on
the other hand, revealed his gentle nature; she loved the smile,
partly mournful, with which he listened to trivial vulgarities. The
silly nonsense which made him smile filled her with repulsion; they
were grave or gay in sympathy. This hidden vantage-ground did not
hinder Anselme from plunging into his work, and his indefatigable
ardor in it pleased Cesarine, for she guessed that when his comrades