Part 3 out of 7
in the shop said, "Mademoiselle Cesarine will marry Roguin's head-
clerk," the poor lame Anselme, with his red hair, did not despair of
winning her himself. A high hope is the proof of a great love.
"Where is he going?" asked Cesarine of her father, trying to appear
"He is to set up for himself in the Rue des Cinq-Diamants; and, my
faith! by the grace of God!" cried Cesar, whose exclamations were not
understood by his wife, nor by his daughter.
When Birotteau encountered a moral difficulty he did as the insects do
when there is an obstacle in their way,--he turned either to the right
or to the left. He therefore changed the conversation, resolving to
talk over Cesarine with his wife.
"I told all your fears and fancies about Roguin to your uncle, and he
laughed," he said to Constance.
"You should never tell what we say to each other!" cried Constance.
"That poor Roguin may be the best man in the world; he is fifty-eight
years old, and perhaps he thinks no longer of--"
She stopped short, seeing that Cesarine was listening attentively, and
made a sign to Cesar.
"Then I have done right to agree to the affair," said Birotteau.
"You are the master," she answered.
Cesar took his wife by the hands and kissed her brow; that answer
always conveyed her tacit assent to her husband's projects.
"Now, then," cried the perfumer, to his clerks, when he went back to
them, "the shop will be closed at ten o'clock. Gentlemen, lend a hand!
a great feat! We must move, during the night, all the furniture from
the first floor to the second floor. We shall have, as they say, to
put the little pots in the big pots, for my architect must have his
elbows free to-morrow morning--Popinot has gone out without my
permission," he cried, looking round and not seeing his cashier. "Ah,
true, he does not sleep here any more, I forget that. He is gone,"
thought Cesar, "either to write down Monsieur Vauquelin's ideas, or
else to hire the shop."
"We all know the cause of this household change," said Celestin,
speaking in behalf of the two other clerks and Raguet, grouped behind
him. "Is it allowable to congratulate monsieur upon an honor which
reflects its light upon the whole establishment? Popinot has told us
"Hey, hey! my children, it is all true. I have been decorated. I am
about to assemble my friends, not only to celebrate the emancipation
of our territory, but to commemorate my promotion to the order of the
Legion of honor. I may, possibly, have shown myself worthy of that
signal and royal favor by my services on the Bench of commerce, and by
fighting for the royal cause; which I defended--at your age--upon the
steps of Saint-Roch on the 13th Vendemiaire, and I give you my word
that Napoleon, called emperor, wounded me himself! wounded me in the
thigh; and Madame Ragon nursed me. Take courage! recompense comes to
every man. Behold, my sons! misfortunes are never wasted."
"They will never fight in the streets again," said Celestin.
"Let us hope so," said Cesar, who thereupon went off into an harangue
to the clerks, which he wound up by inviting them to the ball.
The vision of a ball inspired the three clerks, Raguet, and Virginie
the cook with an ardor that gave them the strength of acrobats. They
came and went up and down the stairs, carrying everything and breaking
nothing. By two o'clock in the morning the removal was effected. Cesar
and his wife slept on the second floor. Popinot's bedroom became that
of Celestin and the second clerk. On the third floor the furniture was
In the grasp of that magnetic ardor, produced by an influx of the
nervous fluid, which lights a brazier in the midriff of ambitious men
and lovers intent on high emprise, Popinot, so gentle and tranquil
usually, pawed the earth like a thoroughbred before the race, when he
came down into the shop after dinner.
"What's the matter with you?" asked Celestin.
"Oh, what a day! my dear fellow, what a day! I am set up in business,
and Monsieur Cesar is decorated."
"You are very lucky if the master helps you," said Celestin.
Popinot did not answer; he disappeared, driven by a furious wind,--the
wind of success.
"Lucky!" said one of the clerks, who was sorting gloves by the dozen,
to another who was comparing prices on the tickets. "Lucky! the master
has found out that Popinot is making eyes at Mademoiselle Cesarine,
and, as the old fellow is pretty clever, he gets rid of Anselme; it
would be difficult to refuse him point-blank, on account of his
relations. Celestin thinks the trick is luck or generosity!"
Anselme Popinot went down the Rue Saint-Honore and rushed along the
Rue des Deux-Ecus to seize upon a young man whom his commercial
/second-sight/ pointed out to him as the principal instrument of his
future fortune. Popinot the judge had once done a great service to the
cleverest of all commercial travellers, to him whose triumphant
loquacity and activity were to win him, in coming years, the title of
The Illustrious. Devoted especially to the hat-trade and the /article-
Paris/, this prince of travellers was called, at the time of which we
write, purely and simply, Gaudissart. At the age of twenty-two he was
already famous by the power of his commercial magnetism. In those days
he was slim, with a joyous eye, expressive face, unwearied memory, and
a glance that guessed the wants of every one; and he deserved to be,
what in fact he became, the king of commercial travellers, the
/Frenchman par excellence/. A few days earlier Popinot had met
Gaudissart, who mentioned that he was on the point of departure; the
hope of finding him still in Paris sent the lover flying into the Rue
des Deux-Ecus, where he learned that the traveller had engaged his
place at the Messageries-Royales. To bid adieu to his beloved capital,
Gaudissart had gone to see a new piece at the Vaudeville; Popinot
resolved to wait for him. Was it not drawing a cheque on fortune to
entrust the launching of the oil of nuts to this incomparable
steersman of mercantile inventions, already petted and courted by the
richest firms? Popinot had reason to feel sure of Gaudissart. The
commercial traveller, so knowing in the art of entangling that most
wary of human beings, the little provincial trader, had himself become
entangled in the first conspiracy attempted against the Bourbons after
the Hundred Days. Gaudissart, to whom the open firmament of heaven was
indispensable, found himself shut up in prison, under the weight of an
accusation for a capital offence. Popinot the judge, who presided at
the trial, released him on the ground that it was nothing worse than
his imprudent folly which had mixed him up in the affair. A judge
anxious to please the powers in office, or a rabid royalist, would
have sent the luckless traveller to the scaffold. Gaudissart, who
believed he owed his life to the judge, cherished the grief of being
unable to make his savior any other return than that of sterile
gratitude. As he could not thank a judge for doing justice, he went to
the Ragons and declared himself liege-vassal forever to the house of
While waiting about for Gaudissart, Anselme naturally went to look at
the shop in the Rue des Cinq-Diamants, and got the address of the
owner, for the purpose of negotiating a lease. As he sauntered through
the dusky labyrinth of the great market, thinking how to achieve a
rapid success, he suddenly came, in the Rue Aubry-le-Boucher, upon a
rare chance, and one of good omen, with which he resolved to regale
Cesar on the morrow. Soon after, while standing about the door of the
Hotel du Commerce, at the end of the Rue des Deux-Ecus, about
midnight, he heard, in the far distance of the Rue de Grenelle, a
vaudeville chorus sung by Gaudissart, with a cane accompaniment
significantly rapped upon the pavement.
"Monsieur," said Anselme, suddenly appearing from the doorway, "two
"Eleven, if you like," said the commercial traveller, brandishing his
loaded cane over the aggressor.
"I am Popinot," said poor Anselme.
"Enough!" cried Gaudissart, recognizing him. "What do you need? Money?
--absent, on leave, but we can get it. My arm for a duel?--all is
yours, from my head to my heels," and he sang,--
A Frenchman true!"
"Come and talk with me for ten minutes; not in your room,--we might be
overheard,--but on the Quai de l'Horloge; there's no one there at this
hour," said Popinot. "It is about something important."
"Exciting, hey? Proceed."
In ten minutes Gaudissart, put in possession of Popinot's secret, saw
"Come forth! perfumers, hair-dressers, petty retailers!"
sang Gaudissart, mimicking Lafon in the role of the Cid. "I shall grab
every shopkeeper in France and Navarre.--Oh, an idea! I was about to
start; I remain; I shall take commissions from the Parisian
"To strangle your rivals, simpleton! If I take their orders I can make
their perfidious cosmetics drink oil, simply by talking and working
for yours only. A first-rate traveller's trick! Ha! ha! we are the
diplomatists of commerce. Famous! As for your prospectus, I'll take
charge of that. I've got a friend--early childhood--Andoche Finot, son
of the hat-maker in the Rue du Coq, the old buffer who launched me
into travelling on hats. Andoche, who has a great deal of wit,--he got
it all out of the heads tiled by his father,--he is in literature; he
does the minor theatres in the 'Courrier des Spectacles.' His father,
an old dog chock-full of reasons for not liking wit, won't believe in
it; impossible to make him see that mind can be sold, sells itself in
fact: he won't believe in anything but the three-sixes. Old Finot
manages young Finot by famine. Andoche, a capable man, no fool,--I
don't consort with fools, except commercially,--Andoche makes epigrams
for the 'Fidele Berger,' which pays; while the other papers, for which
he works like a galley-slave, keep him down on his marrow-bones in the
dust. Are not they jealous, those fellows? Just the same in the
/article-Paris/! Finot wrote a superb comedy in one act for
Mademoiselle Mars, most glorious of the glorious!--ah, there's a woman
I love!--Well, in order to get it played he had to take it to the
Gaite. Andoche understands prospectuses, he worms himself into the
mercantile mind; and he's not proud, he'll concoct it for us gratis.
Damn it! with a bowl of punch and a few cakes we'll get it out of him;
for, Popinot, no nonsense! I am to travel on your commission without
pay: your competitors shall pay; I'll diddle it out of them. Let us
understand each other clearly. As for me, this triumph is an affair of
honor. My reward is to be best man at your wedding! I shall go to
Italy, Germany, England! I shall carry with me placards in all
languages, paste them everywhere, in villages, on doors of churches,
all the best spots I can find in provincial towns! The oil shall
sparkle, scintillate, glisten on every head. Ha! your marriage shall
not be a sham; we'll make it a pageant, colors flying! You shall have
your Cesarine, or my name shall not be ILLUSTRIOUS,--that is what Pere
Finot calls me for having got off his gray hats. In selling your oil I
keep to my own sphere, the human head; hats and oil are well-known
preservatives of the public hair."
Popinot returned to his aunt's house, where he was to sleep, in such a
fever, caused by his visions of success, that the streets seemed to
him to be running oil. He slept little, dreamed that his hair was
madly growing, and saw two angels who unfolded, as they do in
melodramas, a scroll on which was written "Oil Cesarine." He woke,
recollected the dream, and vowed to give the oil of nuts that sacred
name, accepting the sleeping fancy as a celestial mandate.
Cesar and Popinot were at their work-shop in the Faubourg du Temple
the next morning long before the arrival of the nuts. While waiting
for Madame Madou's porters, Popinot triumphantly recounted his treaty
of alliance with Gaudissart.
"Have we indeed the illustrious Gaudissart? Then are we millionaires!"
cried the perfumer, extending his hand to his cashier with an air
which Louis XIV. must have worn when he received the Marechal de
Villars on his return from Denain.
"We have something besides," said the happy clerk, producing from his
pocket a bottle of a squat shape, like a pumpkin, and ribbed on the
sides. "I have found ten thousand bottles like that, all made ready to
hand, at four sous, and six months' credit."
"Anselme, said Birotteau, contemplating the wondrous shape of the
flask, "yesterday [here his tone of voice became solemn] in the
Tuileries,--yes, no later than yesterday,--you said to me, 'I will
succeed.' To-day I--I say to you, 'You will succeed.' Four sous! six
months! an unparalleled shape! Macassar trembles to its foundations!
Was I not right to seize upon the only nuts in Paris? Where did you
find these bottles?"
"I was waiting to speak to Gaudissart, and sauntering--"
"Just like me, when I found the Arab book," cried Birotteau.
"Coming down the Rue Aubry-le-Boucher, I saw in a wholesale glass
place, where they make blown glass and cases,--an immense place,--I
caught sight of this flask; it blinded my eyes like a sudden light; a
voice cried to me, 'Here's your chance!'"
"Born merchant! he shall have my daughter!," muttered Cesar.
"I went in; I saw thousands of these bottles packed in cases."
"You asked about them?"
"Do you think me such a ninny?" cried Anselme, in a grieved tone.
"Born merchant!" repeated Birotteau.
"I asked for glass cases for the little wax Jesus; and while I was
bargaining about them I found fault with the shape of the bottles.
From one thing to another, I trapped the man into admitting that
Faille and Bouchot, who lately failed, were starting a new cosmetic
and wanted a peculiar style of bottle; he was doubtful about them and
asked for half the money down. Faille and Bouchot, expecting to
succeed, paid the money; they failed while the bottles were making.
The assignees, when called upon to pay the bill, arranged to leave him
the bottles and the money in hand, as an indemnity for the manufacture
of articles thought to be ridiculous in shape, and quite unsalable.
They cost originally eight sous; he was glad to get rid of them for
four; for, as he said, God knows how long he might have on his hands a
shape for which there was no sale! 'Are you willing,' I said to him,
'to furnish ten thousand at four sous? If so, I may perhaps relieve
you of them. I am a clerk at Monsieur Birotteau's.' I caught him, I
led him, I mastered him, I worked him up, and he is all ours."
"Four sous!" said Birotteau. "Do you know that we could use oil at
three francs, and make a profit of thirty sous, and give twenty sous
discount to retailers?"
"Oil Cesarine!" cried Popinot.
"Oil Cesarine?--Ah, lover! would you flatter both father and daughter?
Well, well, so be it; Oil Cesarine! The Cesars owned the whole world.
They must have had fine hair."
"Cesar was bald," said Popinot.
"Because he never used our oil. Three francs for the Oil Cesarine,
while Macassar Oil costs double! Gaudissart to the fore! We shall make
a hundred thousand francs this year, for we'll pour on every head that
respects itself a dozen bottles a year,--eighteen francs; say eighteen
thousand heads,--one hundred and eighty thousand francs. We are
The nuts delivered, Raguet, the workmen, Popinot, and Cesar shelled a
sufficient quantity, and before four o'clock they had produced several
pounds of oil. Popinot carried the product to show to Vauquelin, who
made him a present of a recipe for mixing the essence of nuts with
other and less costly oleaginous substances, and scenting it. Popinot
went to work at once to take out a patent for the invention and all
improvements thereon. The devoted Gaudissart lent him the money to pay
the fees, for Popinot was ambitious to pay his share in the
Prosperity brings with it an intoxication which inferior men are
unable to resist. Cesar's exaltation of spirit had a result not
difficult to foresee. Grindot came, and presented a colored sketch of
a charming interior view of the proposed appartement. Birotteau,
seduced, agreed to everything; and soon the house, and the heart of
Constance, began to quiver under the blows of pick and hammer. The
house-painter, Monsieur Lourdois, a very rich contractor, who had
promised that nothing should be wanting, talked of gilding the salon.
On hearing that word Constance interposed.
"Monsieur Lourdois," she said, "you have an income of thirty thousand
francs, you occupy your own house, and you can do what you like to it;
but the rest of us--"
"Madame, commerce ought to shine and not permit itself to be kept in
the shade by the aristocracy. Besides, Monsieur Birotteau is in the
government; he is before the eyes of the world--"
"Yes, but he still keeps a shop," said Constance, in the hearing of
the clerks and the five persons who were listening to her. "Neither
he, nor I, nor his friends, nor his enemies will forget that."
Birotteau rose upon the points of his toes and fell back upon his
heels several times, his hands crossed behind him.
"My wife is right," he said; "we should be modest in prosperity.
Moreover, as long as a man is in business he should be careful of his
expenses, limited in his luxury; the law itself imposes the
obligation,--he must not allow himself 'excessive expenditures.' If
the enlargement of my home and its decoration were to go beyond due
limits, it would be wrong in me to permit it; you yourself would blame
me, Lourdois. The neighborhood has its eye upon me; successful men
incur jealousy, envy. Ah! you will soon know that, young man," he said
to Grindot; "if we are calumniated, at least let us give no handle to
"Neither calumny nor evil-speaking can touch you," said Lourdois;
"your position is unassailable. But your business habits are so strong
that you must argue over every enterprise; you are a deep one--"
"True, I have some experience in business. You know, of course, why I
make this enlargement? If I insist on punctuality in the completion of
the work, it is--"
"Well, my wife and I are about to assemble our friends, as much to
celebrate the emancipation of our territory as to commemorate my
promotion to the order of the Legion of honor--"
"What do you say?" said Lourdois, "have they given you the cross?"
"Yes; I may possibly have shown myself worthy of that signal 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. Come to the ball, and bring your wife and
"Charmed with the honor you deign to pay me," said Lourdois (a
liberal). "But you are a deep one, Papa Birotteau; you want to make
sure that I shall not break my word,--that's the reason you invite me.
Well, I'll employ my best workmen; we'll build the fires of hell and
dry the paint. I must find some desiccating process; it would never do
to dance in a fog from the wet plaster. We will varnish it to hide the
Three days later the commercial circles of the quarter were in a
flutter at the announcement of Birotteau's ball. Everybody could see
for themselves the props and scaffoldings necessitated by the change
of the staircase, the square wooden funnels down which the rubbish was
thrown into the carts stationed in the street. The sight of men
working by torchlight--for there were day workmen and night workmen--
arrested all the idlers and busybodies in the street; gossip, based on
these preparations, proclaimed a sumptuous forthcoming event.
On Sunday, the day Cesar had appointed to conclude the affair of the
lands about the Madeleine, Monsieur and Madame Ragon, and uncle
Pillerault arrived about four o'clock, just after vespers. In view of
the demolition that was going on, so Cesar said, he could only invite
Charles Claparon, Crottat, and Roguin. The notary brought with him the
"Journal des Debats" in which Monsieur de la Billardiere had inserted
the following article:--
"We learn that the deliverance of our territory will be feted with
enthusiasm throughout France. In Paris the members of the
municipal body feel that the time has come to restore the capital
to that accustomed splendor which under a becoming sense of
propriety was laid aside during the foreign occupation. The mayors
and deputy-mayors each propose to give a ball; this national
movement will no doubt be followed, and the winter promises to be
a brilliant one. Among the fetes now preparing, the one most
talked of is the ball of Monsieur Birotteau, lately named
chevalier of the Legion of honor and well-known for his devotion
to the royal cause. Monsieur Birotteau, wounded in the affair of
Saint-Roch, judges in the department of commerce, and therefore
has doubly merited this honor."
"How well they write nowadays," cried Cesar. "They are talking about
us in the papers," he said to Pillerault.
"Well, what of it?" answered his uncle, who had a special antipathy to
the "Journal des Debats."
"That article may help to sell the Paste of Sultans and the
Carminative Balm," whispered Madame Cesar to Madame Ragon, not sharing
the intoxication of her husband.
Madame Ragon, a tall woman, dry and wrinkled, with a pinched nose and
thin lips, bore a spurious resemblance to a marquise of the old court.
The circles round her eyes had spread to a wide circumference, like
those of elderly women who have known sorrow. The severe and
dignified, although affable, expression of her countenance inspired
respect. She had, withal, a certain oddity about her, which excited
notice, but never ridicule; and this was exhibited in her dress and
habits. She wore mittens, and carried in all weathers a cane sunshade,
like that used by Queen Marie-Antoinette at Trianon; her gown (the
favorite color was pale-brown, the shade of dead leaves) fell from her
hips in those inimitable folds the secret of which the dowagers of the
olden time have carried away with them. She retained the black
mantilla trimmed with black lace woven in large square meshes; her
caps, old-fashioned in shape, had the quaint charm which we see in
silhouettes relieved against a white background. She took snuff with
exquisite nicety and with the gestures which young people of the
present day who have had the happiness of seeing their grandmothers
and great-aunts replacing their gold snuff-boxes solemnly on the
tables beside them, and shaking off the grains which strayed upon
their kerchiefs, will doubtless remember.
The Sieur Ragon was a little man, not over five feet high, with a face
like a nut-cracker, in which could be seen only two eyes, two sharp
cheek-bones, a nose and a chin. Having no teeth he swallowed half his
words, though his style of conversation was effluent, gallant,
pretentious, and smiling, with the smile he formerly wore when he
received beautiful great ladies at the door of his shop. Powder, well
raked off, defined upon his cranium a nebulous half-circle, flanked by
two pigeon-wings, divided by a little queue tied with a ribbon. He
wore a bottle-blue coat, a white waistcoat, small-clothes and silk
stockings, shoes with gold buckles, and black silk gloves. The most
marked feature of his behavior was his habit of going through the
street holding his hat in his hand. He looked like a messenger of the
Chamber of Peers, or an usher of the king's bedchamber, or any of
those persons placed near to some form of power from which they get a
reflected light, though of little account themselves.
"Well, Birotteau," he said, with a magisterial air, "do you repent, my
boy, for having listened to us in the old times? Did we ever doubt the
gratitude of our beloved sovereigns?"
"You have been very happy, dear child," said Madame Ragon to Madame
"Yes, indeed," answered Constance, always under the spell of the cane
parasol, the butterfly cap, the tight sleeves, and the great kerchief
/a la Julie/ which Madame Ragon wore.
"Cesarine is charming. Come here, my love," said Madame Ragon, in her
shrill voice and patronizing manner.
"Shall we do the business before dinner?" asked uncle Pillerault.
"We are waiting for Monsieur Claparon," said Roguin, "I left him
"Monsieur Roguin," said Cesar, "I hope you told him that we should
dine in a wretched little room on the /entresol/--"
"He thought it superb sixteen years ago," murmured Constance.
"--among workmen and rubbish."
"Bah! you will find him a good fellow, with no pretension," said
"I have put Raguet on guard in the shop. We can't go through our own
door; everything is pulled down."
"Why did you not bring your nephew?" said Pillerault to Madame Ragon.
"Shall we not see him?" asked Cesarine.
"No, my love," said Madame Ragon; "Anselme, dear boy, is working
himself to death. That bad-smelling Rue des Cinq-Diamants, without sun
and without air, frightens me. The gutter is always blue or green or
black. I am afraid he will die of it. But when a young man has
something in his head--" and she looked at Cesarine with a gesture
which explained that the word head meant heart.
"Has he got his lease?" asked Cesar.
"Yesterday, before a notary," replied Ragon. "He took the place for
eighteen years, but they exacted six months' rent in advance."
"Well, Monsieur Ragon, are you satisfied with me?" said the perfumer.
"I have given him the secret of a great discovery--"
"We know you by heart, Cesar," said little Ragon, taking Cesar's hands
and pressing them with religious friendship.
Roguin was not without anxiety as to Claparon's entrance on the scene;
for his tone and manners were quite likely to alarm these virtuous and
worthy people; he therefore thought it advisable to prepare their
"You are going to see," he said to Pillerault and the two ladies, "a
thorough original, who hides his methods under a fearfully bad style
of manners; from a very inferior position he has raised himself up by
intelligence. He will acquire better manners through his intercourse
with bankers. You may see him on the boulevard, or on a cafe tippling,
disorderly, betting at billiards, and think him a mere idler; but he
is not; he is thinking and studying all the time to keep industry
alive by new projects."
"I understand that," said Birotteau; "I got my great ideas when
sauntering on the boulevard; didn't I, Mimi?"
"Claparon," resumed Roguin, "makes up by night-work the time lost in
looking about him in the daytime, and watching the current of affairs.
All men of great talent lead curious lives, inexplicable lives; well,
in spite of his desultory ways he attains his object, as I can
testify. In this instance he has managed to make the owners of these
lands give way: they were unwilling, doubtful, timid; he fooled them
all, tired them out, went to see them every day,--and here we are,
virtually masters of the property."
At this moment a curious /broum! broum!/ peculiar to tipplers of
brandy and other liquors, announced the arrival of the most fantastic
personage of our story, and the arbiter in flesh and blood of the
future destinies of Cesar Birotteau. The perfumer rushed headlong to
the little dark staircase, as much to tell Raguet to close the shop as
to pour out his excuses to Claparon for receiving him in the dining-
"What of that? It's the very place to juggle a--I mean to settle a
piece of business."
In spite of Roguin's clever precautions, Monsieur and Madame Ragon,
people of old-fashioned middle-class breeding, the observer
Pillerault, Cesarine, and her mother were disagreeably impressed at
first sight by this sham banker of high finance.
About twenty-eight years of age at the time of which we write, the
late commercial traveller possessed not a hair on his head, and wore a
wig curled in ringlets. This head-gear needed, by rights, a virgin
freshness, a lacteal purity of complexion, and all the softer
corresponding graces: as it was, however, it threw into ignoble relief
a pimpled face, brownish-red in color, inflamed like that of the
conductor of a diligence, and seamed with premature wrinkles, which
betrayed in the puckers of their deep-cut lines a licentious life,
whose misdeeds were still further evidenced by the badness of the
man's teeth, and the black speckles which appeared here and there on
his corrugated skin. Claparon had the air of a provincial comedian who
knows all the roles, and plays the clown with a wink; his cheeks,
where the rouge never stuck, were jaded by excesses, his lips clammy,
though his tongue was forever wagging, especially when he was drunk;
his glances were immodest, and his gestures compromising. Such a face,
flushed with the jovial features of punch, was enough to turn grave
business matters into a farce; so that the embryo banker had been
forced to put himself through a long course of mimicry before he
managed to acquire even the semblance of a manner that accorded with
his fictitious importance.
Du Tillet assisted in dressing him for this occasion, like the manager
of a theatre who is uneasy about the debut of his principal actor; he
feared lest the vulgar habits of this devil-may-care life should crop
up to the surface of the newly-fledged banker. "Talk as little as you
can," he said to him. "No banker ever gabbles; he acts, thinks,
reflects, listens, weighs. To seem like a banker you must say nothing,
or, at any rate, mere nothings. Check that ribald eye of yours, and
look serious, even if you have to look stupid. If you talk politics,
go for the government, but keep to generalities. For instance: 'The
budget is heavy'; 'No compromise is possible between the parties';
'The Liberals are dangerous'; 'The Bourbons must avoid a conflict';
'Liberalism is the cloak of a coalition'; 'The Bourbons are
inaugurating an era of prosperity: let us sustain them, even if we do
not like them'; 'France has had enough of politics,' etc. Don't gorge
yourself at every table where you dine; recollect you are to maintain
the dignity of a millionaire. Don't shovel in your snuff like an old
Invalide; toy with your snuff-box, glance often at your feet, and
sometimes at the ceiling, before you answer; try to look sagacious, if
you can. Above all, get rid of your vile habit of touching everything;
in society a banker ought to seem tired of seeing and touching things.
Hang it! you are supposed to be passing wakeful nights; finance makes
you brusque, so many elements must be brought together to launch an
enterprise,--so much study! Remember to take gloomy views of business;
it is heavy, dull, risky, unsettled. Now, don't go beyond that, and
mind you specify nothing. Don't sing those songs of Beranger at table;
and don't get fuddled. If you are drunk, your future is lost. Roguin
will keep an eye on you. You are going now among moral people,
virtuous people; and you are not to scare them with any of your pot-
This lecture produced upon the mind of Charles Claparon very much the
effect that his new clothes produced upon his body. The jovial
scapegrace, easy-going with all the world, and long used to a
comfortable shabbiness, in which his body was no more shackled than
his mind was shackled by language, was now encased in the new clothes
his tailor had just sent home, rigid as a picket-stake, anxious about
his motions as well as about his speech; drawing back his hand when it
was imprudently thrust out to grasp a bottle, just as he stopped his
tongue in the middle of a sentence. All this presented a laughable
discrepancy to the keen observation of Pillerault. Claparon's red
face, and his wig with its profligate ringlets, gave the lie to his
apparel and pretended bearing, just as his thoughts clashed and
jangled with his speech. But these worthy people ended by crediting
such discordances to the preoccupation of his busy mind.
"He is so full of business," said Roguin.
"Business has given him little education," whispered Madame Ragon to
Monsieur Roguin overheard her, and put a finger on his lips:--
"He is rich, clever, and extremely honorable," he said, stooping to
Madame Ragon's ear.
"Something may be forgiven in consideration of such qualities," said
Pillerault to Ragon.
"Let us read the deeds before dinner," said Roguin; "we are all
Madame Ragon, Cesarine, and Constance left the contracting parties to
listen to the deeds read over to them by Alexandre Crottat. Cesar
signed, in favor of one of Roguin's clients, a mortgage bond for forty
thousand francs, on his grounds and manufactories in the Faubourg du
Temple; he turned over to Roguin Pillerault's cheque on the Bank of
France, and gave, without receipt, bills for twenty thousand francs
from his current funds, and notes for one hundred and forty thousand
francs payable to the order of Claparon.
"I have no receipt to give you," said Claparon; "you deal, for your
half of the property, with Monsieur Roguin, as I do for ours. The
sellers will get their pay from him in cash; all that I engage to do
is to see that you get the equivalent of the hundred and forty
thousand francs paid to my order."
"That is equitable," said Pillerault.
"Well, gentlemen, let us call in the ladies; it is cold without them,"
said Claparon, glancing at Roguin, as if to ask whether that jest were
"Ladies! Ah! mademoiselle is doubtless yours," said Claparon, holding
himself very straight and looking at Birotteau; "hey! you are not a
bungler. None of the roses you distil can be compared with her; and
perhaps it is because you have distilled roses that--"
"Faith!" said Roguin, interrupting him, "I am very hungry."
"Let us go to dinner," said Birotteau.
"We shall dine before a notary," said Claparon, catching himself up.
"You do a great deal of business?" said Pillerault, seating himself
intentionally next to Claparon.
"Quantities; by the gross," answered the banker. "But it is all heavy,
dull; there are risks, canals. Oh, canals! you have no idea how canals
occupy us; it is easy to explain. Government needs canals. Canals are
a want especially felt in the departments; they concern commerce, you
know. 'Rivers,' said Pascal, 'are walking markets.' We must have
markets. Markets depend on embankments, tremendous earth-works; earth-
works employ the laboring-classes; hence loans, which find their way
back, in the end, to the pockets of the poor. Voltaire said, 'Canaux,
canards, canaille!' But the government has its own engineers; you
can't get a finger in the matter unless you get on the right side of
them; for the Chamber,--oh, monsieur, the Chamber does us all the harm
in the world! It won't take in the political question hidden under the
financial question. There's bad faith on one side or the other. Would
you believe it? there's Keller in the Chamber: now Francois Keller is
an orator, he attacks the government about the budget, about canals.
Well, when he gets home to the bank, and we go to him with proposals,
canals, and so forth, the sly dog is all the other way: everything is
right; we must arrange it with the government which he has just been
been impudently attacking. The interests of the orator and the
interests of the banker clash; we are between two fires! Now, you
understand how it is that business is risky; we have got to please
everybody,--clerks, chambers, antechambers, ministers--"
"Ministers?" said Pillerault, determined to get to the bottom of this
"Yes, monsieur, ministers."
"Well, then the newspapers are right?" said Pillerault.
"There's my uncle talking politics," said Birotteau. "Monsieur
Claparon has won his heart."
"Devilish rogues, the newspapers," said Claparon. "Monsieur, the
newspapers do all the mischief. They are useful sometimes, but they
keep me awake many a night. I wish they didn't. I have put my eyes out
reading and ciphering."
"To go back to the ministers," said Pillerault, hoping for
"Ministers are a mere necessity of government. Ah! what am I eating?
ambrosia?" said Claparon, breaking off. "This is a sauce you'll never
find except at a tradesman's table, for the pot-houses--"
Here the flowers in Madame Ragon's cap skipped like young rams.
Claparon perceived the word was low, and tried to catch himself up.
"In bank circles," he said, "we call the best cafes.--Very, and the
Freres Provencaux,--pot-houses in jest. Well, neither those infamous
pot-houses nor our most scientific cooks can make us a sauce like
this; mellifluous! Some give you clear water soured with lemon, and
the rest drugs, chemicals."
Pillerault tried throughout the dinner to fathom this extraordinary
being; finding only a void, he began to think him dangerous.
"All's well," whispered Roguin to Claparon.
"I shall get out of these clothes to-night, at any rate," answered
Claparon, who was choking.
"Monsieur," said Cesar, addressing him, "we are compelled to dine in
this little room because we are preparing, eighteen days hence, to
assemble our friends, as much to celebrate the emancipation of our
"Right, monsieur; I myself am for the government. I belong, in
opinion, to the /statu quo/ of the great man who guides the destinies
of the house of Austria, jolly dog! Hold fast that you may acquire;
and, above all, acquire that you may hold. Those are my opinions,
which I have the honor to share with Prince Metternich."
"--as to commemorate my promotion to the order of the Legion of
honor," continued Cesar.
"Yes, I know. Who told me of that,--the Kellers, or Nucingen?"
Roguin, surprised at such tact, made an admiring gesture.
"No, no; it was in the Chamber."
"In the Chamber? was it Monsieur de la Billardiere?" said Birotteau.
"He is charming," whispered Cesar to his uncle.
"He pours out phrases, phrases, phrases," said Pillerault, "enough to
"Possibly I showed myself worthy of this signal, royal favor,--"
"By your labors in perfumery; the Bourbons know how to reward all
merit. Ah! let us support those generous princes, to whom we are about
to owe unheard-of prosperity. Believe me, the Restoration feels that
it must run a tilt against the Empire; the Bourbons have conquests to
make, the conquests of peace. You will see their conquests!"
"Monsieur will perhaps do us the honor to be present at our ball?"
said Madame Cesar.
"To pass an evening with you, Madame, I would sacrifice the making of
"He certainly does chatter," said Cesar to his uncle.
While the declining glory of perfumery was about to send forth its
setting rays, a star was rising with feeble light upon the commercial
horizon. Anselme Popinot was laying the corner-stone of his fortune in
the Rue des Cinq-Diamants. This narrow little street, where loaded
wagons can scarcely pass each other, runs from the Rue des Lombards at
one end, to the Rue Aubry-le-Boucher at the other, entering the latter
opposite to the Rue Quincampoix, that famous thoroughfare of old Paris
where French history has so often been enacted. In spite of this
disadvantage, the congregation of druggists in that neighborhood made
Popinot's choice of the little street a good one. The house, which
stands second from the Rue des Lombards, was so dark that except at
certain seasons it was necessary to use lights in open day. The embryo
merchant had taken possession, the preceding evening, of the dingy and
disgusting premises. His predecessor, who sold molasses and coarse
sugars, had left the stains of his dirty business upon the walls, in
the court, in the store-rooms. Imagine a large and spacious shop, with
great iron-bound doors, painted a dragon-green, strengthened with long
iron bars held on by nails whose heads looked like mushrooms, and
covered with an iron trellis-work, which swelled out at the bottom
after the fashion of the bakers'-shops in former days; the floor paved
with large white stones, most of them broken, the walls yellow, and as
bare as those of a guard-room. Next to the shop came the back-shop,
and two other rooms lighted from the street, in which Popinot proposed
to put his office, his books, and his own workroom. Above these rooms
were three narrow little chambers pushed up against the party-wall,
with an outlook into the court; here he intended to dwell. The three
rooms were dilapidated, and had no view but that of the court, which
was dark, irregular, and surrounded by high walls, to which perpetual
dampness, even in dry weather, gave the look of being daubed with
fresh plaster. Between the stones of this court was a filthy and
stinking black substance, left by the sugars and the molasses that
once occupied it. Only one of the bedrooms had a chimney, all the
walls were without paper, and the floors were tiled with brick.
Since early morning Gaudissart and Popinot, helped by a journeyman
whose services the commercial traveller had invoked, were busily
employed in stretching a fifteen-sous paper on the walls of these
horrible rooms, the workman pasting the lengths. A collegian's
mattress on a bedstead of red wood, a shabby night-stand, an old-
fashioned bureau, one table, two armchairs, and six common chairs, the
gift of Popinot's uncle the judge, made up the furniture. Gaudissart
had decked the chimney-piece with a frame in which was a mirror much
defaced, and bought at a bargain. Towards eight o'clock in the evening
the two friends, seated before the fireplace where a fagot of wood was
blazing, were about to attack the remains of their breakfast.
"Down with the cold mutton!" cried Gaudissart, suddenly, "it is not
worthy of such a housewarming."
"But," said Popinot, showing his solitary coin of twenty francs, which
he was keeping to pay for the prospectus, "I--"
"I--" cried Gaudissart, sticking a forty-franc piece in his own eye.
A knock resounded throughout the court, naturally empty and echoing of
a Sunday, when the workpeople were away from it and the laboratories
"Here comes the faithful slave of the Rue de la Poterie!" cried the
Sure enough, a waiter entered, followed by two scullions bearing in
three baskets a dinner, and six bottles of wine selected with
"How shall we ever eat it all up?" said Popinot.
"The man of letters!" cried Gaudissart, "don't forget him. Finot loves
the pomps and the vanities; he is coming, the innocent boy, armed with
a dishevelled prospectus--the word is pat, hein? Prospectuses are
always thirsty. We must water the seed if we want flowers. Depart,
slaves!" he added, with a gorgeous air, "there is gold for you."
He gave them ten sous with a gesture worthy of Napoleon, his idol.
"Thank you, Monsieur Gaudissart," said the scullions, better pleased
with the jest than with the money.
"As for you, my son," he said to the waiter, who stayed to serve the
dinner, "below is a porter's wife; she lives in a lair where she
sometimes cooks, as in other days Nausicaa washed, for pure amusement.
Find her, implore her goodness; interest her, young man, in the warmth
of these dishes. Tell her she shall be blessed, and above all,
respected, most respected, by Felix Gaudissart, son of Jean-Francois
Gaudissart, grandson of all the Gaudissarts, vile proletaries of
ancient birth, his forefathers. March! and mind that everything is
hot, or I'll deal retributive justice by a rap on your knuckles!"
Another knock sounded.
"Here comes the pungent Andoche!" shouted Gaudissart.
A stout, chubby-faced fellow of medium height, from head to foot the
evident son of a hat-maker, with round features whose shrewdness was
hidden under a restrained and subdued manner, suddenly appeared. His
face, which was melancholy, like that of a man weary of poverty,
lighted up hilariously when he caught sight of the table, and the
bottles swathed in significant napkins. At Gaudissart's shout, his
pale-blue eyes sparkled, his big head, hollowed like that of a Kalmuc
Tartar, bobbed from right to left, and he bowed to Popinot with a
queer manner, which meant neither servility nor respect, but was
rather that of a man who feels he is not in his right place and will
make no concessions. He was just beginning to find out that he
possessed no literary talent whatever; he meant to stay in the
profession, however, by living on the brains of others, and getting
astride the shoulders of those more able than himself, making his
profit there instead of struggling any longer at his own ill-paid
work. At the present moment he had drunk to the dregs the humiliation
of applications and appeals which constantly failed, and he was now,
like people in the higher walks of finance, about to change his tone
and become insolent, advisedly. But he needed a small sum in hand on
which to start, and Gaudissart gave him a share in the present affair
of ushering into the world the oil of Popinot.
"You are to negotiate on his account with the newspapers. But don't
play double; if you do I'll fight you to the death. Give him his
Popinot gazed at "the author" which much uneasiness. People who are
purely commercial look upon an author with mingled sentiments of fear,
compassion, and curiosity. Though Popinot had been well brought up,
the habits of his relations, their ideas, and the obfuscating effect
of a shop and a counting-room, had lowered his intelligence by bending
it to the use and wont of his calling,--a phenomenon which may often
be seen if we observe the transformations which take place in a
hundred comrades, when ten years supervene between the time when they
leave college or a public school, to all intents and purposes alike,
and the period when they meet again after contact with the world.
Andoche accepted Popinot's perturbation as a compliment.
"Now then, before dinner, let's get to the bottom of the prospectus;
then we can drink without an afterthought," said Gaudissart. "After
dinner one reads askew; the tongue digests."
"Monsieur," said Popinot, "a prospectus is often a fortune."
"And for plebeians like myself," said Andoche, "fortune is nothing
more than a prospectus."
"Ha, very good!" cried Gaudissart, "that rogue of a Finot has the wit
of the forty Academicians."
"Of a hundred Academicians," said Popinot, bewildered by these ideas.
The impatient Gaudissart seized the manuscript and began to read in a
loud voice, with much emphasis, "CEPHALIC OIL."
"I should prefer /Oil Cesarienne/," said Popinot.
"My friend," said Gaudissart, "you don't know the provincials; there's
a surgical operation called by that name, and they are such stupids
that they'll think your oil is meant to facilitate childbirth. To drag
them back from that to hair is beyond even my powers of persuasion."
"Without wishing to defend my term," said the author, "I must ask you
to observe that 'Cephalic Oil' means oil for the head, and sums up
your ideas in one word."
"Well, let us see," said Popinot impatiently.
Here follows the prospectus; the same which the trade receives, by the
thousand, to the present day (another /piece justificative/):--
GOLD MEDAL EXPOSITION OF 1819
Patents for Invention and Improvements.
"No cosmetic can make the hair grow, and no chemical preparation
can dye it without peril to the seat of intelligence. Science has
recently made known the fact that hair is a dead substance, and
that no agent can prevent it from falling off or whitening. To
prevent Baldness and Dandruff, it is necessary to protect the bulb
from which the hair issues from all deteriorating atmospheric
influences, and to maintain the temperature of the head at its
right medium. CEPHALIC OIL, based upon principles laid down by the
Academy of Sciences, produces this important result, sought by the
ancients,--the Greeks, the Romans, and all Northern nations,--to
whom the preservation of the hair was peculiarly precious. Certain
scientific researches have demonstrated that nobles, formerly
distinguished for the length of their hair, used no other remedy
than this; their method of preparation, which had been lost in the
lapse of ages, has been intelligently re-discovered by A. Popinot,
the inventor of CEPHALIC OIL.
"To /preserve/, rather than provoke a useless and injurious
stimulation of the instrument which contains the bulbs, is the
mission of CEPHALIC OIL. In short, this oil, which counteracts the
exfoliation of pellicular atoms, which exhales a soothing perfume,
and arrests, by means of the substances of which it is composed
(among them more especially the oil of nuts), the action of the
outer air upon the scalp, also prevents influenzas, colds in the
head, and other painful cephalic afflictions, by maintaining the
normal temperature of the cranium. Consequently, the bulbs, which
contain the generating fluids, are neither chilled by cold nor
parched by heat. The hair of the head, that magnificent product,
priceless alike to man and woman, will be preserved even to
advanced age, in all the brilliancy and lustre which bestow their
charm upon the heads of infancy, by those who make use of CEPHALIC
"DIRECTIONS FOR USE are furnished with each bottle, and serve as a
"METHOD OF USING CEPHALIC OIL.--It is quite useless to oil the
hair; this is not only a vulgar and foolish prejudice, but an
untidy habit, for the reason that all cosmetics leave their trace.
It suffices to wet a little sponge in the oil, and after parting
the hair with the comb, to apply it at the roots in such a manner
that the whole skin of the head may be enabled to imbibe it, after
the scalp has received a preliminary cleansing with brush and
"The oil is sold in bottles bearing the signature of the inventor,
to prevent counterfeits. Price, THREE FRANCS. A. POPINOT, Rue des
Cinq-Diamants, quartier des Lombards, Paris.
"/It is requested that all letters be prepaid./
"N.B. The house of A. Popinot supplies all oils and essences
appertaining to druggists: lavender, oil of almonds, sweet and
bitter, orange oil, cocoa-nut oil, castor oil, and others."
"My dear friend," said the illustrious Gaudissart to Finot, "it is
admirably written. Thunder and lightning! we are in the upper regions
of science. We shirk nothing; we go straight to the point. That's
useful literature; I congratulate you."
"A noble prospectus!" cried Popinot, enthusiastically.
"A prospectus which slays Macassar at the first word," continued
Gaudissart, rising with a magisterial air to deliver the following
speech, which he divided by gestures and pauses in his most
"No--hair--can be made--to grow! Hair cannot be dyed without--danger!
Ha! ha! success is there. Modern science is in union with the customs
of the ancients. We can deal with young and old alike. We can say to
the old man, 'Ha, monsieur! the ancients, the Greeks and Romans, knew
a thing or two, and were not so stupid as some would have us believe';
and we can say to the young man, 'My dear boy, here's another
discovery due to progress and the lights of science. We advance; what
may we not obtain from steam and telegraphy, and other things! This
oil is based on the scientific treatise of Monsieur Vauquelin!'
Suppose we print an extract from Monsieur Vauquelin's report to the
Academy of Sciences, confirming our statement, hein? Famous! Come,
Finot, sit down; attack the viands! Soak up the champagne! let us
drink to the success of my young friend, here present!"
"I felt," said the author modestly, "that the epoch of flimsy and
frivolous prospectuses had gone by; we are entering upon an era of
science; we need an academical tone,--a tone of authority, which
imposes upon the public."
"We'll boil that oil; my feet itch, and my tongue too. I've got
commissions from all the rival hair people; none of them give more
than thirty per cent discount; we must manage forty on every hundred
remitted, and I'll answer for a hundred thousand bottles in six
months. I'll attack apothecaries, grocers, perfumers! Give 'em forty
per cent, and they'll bamboozle the public."
The three young fellows devoured their dinner like lions, and drank
like lords to the future success of Cephalic Oil.
"The oil is getting into my head," said Finot.
Gaudissart poured out a series of jokes and puns upon hats and heads,
and hair and hair-oil, etc. In the midst of Homeric laughter a knock
resounded, and was heard, in spite of an uproar of toasts and
"It is my uncle!" cried Popinot. "He has actually come to see me."
"An uncle!" said Finot, "and we haven't got a glass!"
"The uncle of my friend Popinot is a judge," said Gaudissart to Finot,
"and he is not to be hoaxed; he saved my life. Ha! when one gets to
the pass where I was, under the scaffold--/Qou-ick/, and good-by to
your hair,"--imitating the fatal knife with voice and gesture. "One
recollects gratefully the virtuous magistrate who saved the gutter
where the champagne flows down. Recollect?--I'd recollect him dead-
drunk! You don't know what it is, Finot, unless you have stood in need
of Monsieur Popinot. Huzza! we ought to fire a salute--from six
The virtuous magistrate was now asking for his nephew at the door.
Recognizing his voice, Anselme went down, candlestick in hand, to
light him up.
"I wish you good evening, gentlemen," said the judge.
The illustrious Gaudissart bowed profoundly. Finot examined the
magistrate with a tipsy eye, and thought him a bit of a blockhead.
"You have not much luxury here," said the judge, gravely, looking
round the room. "Well, my son, if we wish to be something great, we
must begin by being nothing."
"What profound wisdom!" said Gaudissart to Finot.
"Text for an article," said the journalist.
"Ah! you here, monsieur?" said the judge, recognizing the commercial
traveller; "and what are you doing now?"
"Monsieur, I am contributing to the best of my small ability to the
success of your dear nephew. We have just been studying a prospectus
for his oil; you see before you the author of that prospectus, which
seems to us the finest essay in the literature of wigs." The judge
looked at Finot. "Monsieur," said Gaudissart, "is Monsieur Andoche
Finot, a young man distinguished in literature, who does high-class
politics and the little theatres in the government newspapers,--I may
say a statesman on the high-road to becoming an author."
Finot pulled Gaudissart by the coat-tails.
"Well, well, my sons," said the judge, to whom these words explained
the aspect of the table, where there stilled remained the tokens of a
very excusable feast. "Anselme," said the old gentleman to his nephew,
"dress yourself, and come with me to Monsieur Birotteau's, where I
have a visit to pay. You shall sign the deed of partnership, which I
have carefully examined. As you mean to have the manufactory for your
oil on the grounds in the Faubourg du Temple, I think you had better
take a formal lease of them. Monsieur Birotteau might have others in
partnership with him, and it is better to settle everything legally at
once; then there can be no discussion. These walls seem to me very
damp, my dear boy; take up the straw matting near your bed."
"Permit me, monsieur," said Gaudissart, with an ingratiating air, "to
explain to you that we have just pasted up the paper ourselves, and
that's the--reason why--the walls--are not--dry."
"Economy? quite right," said the judge.
"Look here," said Gaudissart in Finot's ear, "my friend Popinot is a
virtuous young man; he is going with his uncle; let's you and I go and
finish the evening with our cousins."
The journalist showed the empty lining of his pockets. Popinot saw the
gesture, and slipped his twenty-franc piece into the palm of the
author of the prospectus.
The judge had a coach at the end of the street, in which he carried
off his nephew to the Birotteaus.
Pillerault, Monsieur and Madame Ragon, and Monsieur Roguin were
playing at boston, and Cesarine was embroidering a handkerchief, when
the judge and Anselme arrived. Roguin, placed opposite to Madame
Ragon, near whom Cesarine was sitting, noticed the pleasure of the
young girl when she saw Anselme enter, and he made Crottat a sign to
observe that she turned as rosy as a pomegranate.
"This is to be a day of deeds, then?" said the perfumer, when the
greetings were over and the judge told him the purpose of the visit.
Cesar, Anselme, and the judge went up to the perfumer's temporary
bedroom on the second floor to discuss the lease and the deed of
partnership drawn up by the magistrate. A lease of eighteen years was
agreed upon, so that it might run the same length of time as the lease
of the shop in the Rue des Cinq-Diamants,--an insignificant
circumstance apparently, but one which did Birotteau good service in
after days. When Cesar and the judge returned to the /entresol/, the
latter, surprised at the general upset of the household, and the
presence of workmen on a Sunday in the house of a man so religious as
Birotteau, asked the meaning of it,--a question which Cesar had been
"Though you care very little for the world, monsieur," he said, "you
will see no harm in celebrating the deliverance of our territory.
That, however, is not all. We are about to assemble a few friends to
commemorate my promotion to the order of the Legion of honor."
"Ah!" exclaimed the judge, who was not decorated.
"Possibly I showed myself worthy of that signal and royal favor by my
services on the Bench--oh! of commerce,--and by fighting for the
Bourbons on the steps--"
"True," said the judge.
"--of Saint-Roch on the 13th Vendemiaire, where I was wounded by
Napoleon. May I not hope that you and Madame Popinot will do us the
honor of being present?"
"Willingly," said the judge. "If my wife is well enough I will bring
"Xandrot," said Roguin to his clerk, as they left the house, "give up
all thoughts of marrying Cesarine; six weeks hence you will thank me
for that advice."
"Why?" asked Crottat.
"My dear fellow, Birotteau is going to spend a hundred thousand francs
on his ball, and he is involving his whole fortune, against my advice,
in that speculation in lands. Six weeks hence he and his family won't
have bread to eat. Marry Mademoiselle Lourdois, the daughter of the
house-painter. She has three hundred thousand francs /dot/. I threw
out that anchor to windward for you. If you will pay me a hundred
thousand francs down for my practice, you may have it to-morrow."
The splendors of the approaching ball were announced by the newspapers
to all Europe, and were also made known to the world of commerce by
rumors to which the preparations, carried on night and day, had given
rise. Some said that Cesar had hired three houses, and that he was
gilding his salons; others that the supper would furnish dishes
invented for the occasion. On one hand it was reported that no
merchants would be invited, the fete being given to the members of the
government; on the other hand, Cesar was severely blamed for his
ambition, and laughed at for his political pretensions: some people
even went so far as to deny his wound. The ball gave rise to more than
one intrigue in the second arrondissement. The friends of the family
were easy in their minds, but the demands of mere acquaintances were
enormous. Honors bring sycophants; and there was a goodly number of
people whose invitations cost them more than one application. The
Birotteaus were fairly frightened at the number of friends whom they
did not know they had. These eager attentions alarmed Madame
Birotteau, and day by day her face grew sadder as the great solemnity
In the first place, as she owned to Cesar, she should never learn the
right demeanor; next, she was terrified by the innumerable details of
such a fete: where should she find the plate, the glass-ware, the
refreshments, the china, the servants? Who would superintend it all?
She entreated Birotteau to stand at the door of the appartement and
let no one enter but invited guests; she had heard strange stories of
people who came to bourgeois balls, claiming friends whose names they
did not know. When, a week before the fateful day, Braschon, Grindot,
Lourdois, and Chaffaroux, the builder, assured Cesar positively that
the rooms would be ready for the famous Sunday of December the 17th,
an amusing conference took place, in the evening after dinner, between
Cesar, his wife, and his daughter, for the purpose of making out the
list of guests and addressing the invitations,--which a stationer had
sent home that morning, printed on pink paper, in flowing English
writing, and in the formula of commonplace and puerile civility.
"Now we mustn't forget any body," said Birotteau.
"If we forget any one," said Constance, "they won't forget it. Madame
Derville, who never called before, sailed down upon me in all her
"She is very pretty," said Cesarine. "I liked her."
"And yet before her marriage she was even less than I was," said
Constance. "She did plain sewing in the Rue Montmartre; she made
shirts for your father."
"Well, now let us begin the list," said Birotteau, "with the upper-
crust people. Cesarine, write down Monsieur le Duc and Madame la
Duchesse de Lenoncourt--"
"Good heavens, Cesar!" said Constance, "don't send a single invitation
to people whom you only know as customers. Are you going to invite the
Princesse de Blamont-Chavry, who is more nearly related to your
godmother, the late Marquise d'Uxelles, than the Duc de Lenoncourt?
You surely don't mean to invite the two Messieurs de Vandenesse,
Monsieur de Marsay, Monsieur de Ronquerolles, Monsieur d'Aiglemont, in
short, all your customers? You are mad; your honors have turned your
"Well, but there's Monsieur le Comte de Fontaine and his family, hein?
--the one that always went by the name of GRAND-JACQUES,--and the
YOUNG SCAMP, who was the Marquis de Montauran, and Monsieur de la
Billardiere, who was called the NANTAIS at 'The Queen of Roses' before
the 13th Vendemiaire. In those days it was all hand-shaking, and
'Birotteau, take courage; let yourself be killed, like us, for the
good cause.' Why, we are all comrades in conspiracy."
"Very good, put them down," said Constance. "If Monsieur de la
Billardiere comes he will want somebody to speak to."
"Cesarine, write," said Birotteau. "/Primo/, Monsieur the prefect of
the Seine; he'll come or he won't come, but any way he commands the
municipality,--honor to whom honor is due. Monsieur de la Billardiere
and his son, the mayor. Put the number of the guests after their
names. My colleague, Monsieur Granet, deputy-mayor, and his wife. She
is very ugly, but never mind, we can't dispense with her. Monsieur
Curel, the jeweller, colonel of the National Guard, his wife, and two
daughters. Those are what I call the authorities. Now come the big
wigs,--Monsieur le Comte and Madame la Comtesse de Fontaine, and their
daughter, Mademoiselle Emilie de Fontaine."
"An insolent girl, who makes me leave the shop and speak to her at the
door of the carriage, no matter what the weather is," said Madame
Cesar. "If she comes, it will only be to ridicule me."
"Then she'll be sure to come," said Cesar, bent on getting everybody.
"Go on, Cesarine. Monsieur le Comte and Madame la Comtesse de
Grandville, my landlord,--the longest head at the royal court, so
Derville says. Ah ca! Monsieur de la Billardiere is to present me as a
chevalier to-morrow to Monsieur le Comte de Lacepede himself, high
chancellor of the Legion of honor. It is only proper that I should
send him an invitation for the ball, and also to the dinner. Monsieur
Vauquelin; put him down for ball and dinner both, Cesarine. And (so as
not to forget them) put down all the Chiffrevilles and the Protez;
Monsieur and Madame Popinot, judge of the Lower Court of the Seine;
Monsieur and Madame Thirion, gentleman-usher of the bedchamber to the
king, friends of Ragon, and their daughter, who, they tell me, is to
marry the son of Monsieur Camusot by his first wife."
"Cesar, don't forget that little Horace Bianchon, the nephew of
Monsieur Popinot, and cousin of Anselme," said Constance.
"Whew! Cesarine has written a four after the name of Popinot. Monsieur
and Madame Rabourdin, one of the under-secretaries in Monsieur de la
Billardiere's division; Monsieur Cochin, same division, his wife and
son, sleeping-partners of Matifat, and Monsieur, Madame, and
Mademoiselle Matifat themselves."
"The Matifats," said Cesarine, "are fishing for invitations for
Monsieur and Madame Colleville, and Monsieur and Madame Thuillier,
friends of theirs."
"We will see about that," said Cesar. "Put down my broker, Monsieur
and Madame Jules Desmarets."
"She will be the loveliest woman in the room," said Cesarine. "I like
her--oh! better than any one else."
"Derville and his wife."
"Put down Monsieur and Madame Coquelin, the successors to my uncle
Pillerault," said Constance. "They are so sure of an invitation that
the poor little woman has ordered my dressmaker to make her a superb
ball-dress, a skirt of white satin, and a tulle robe with succory
flowers embroidered all over it. A little more and she would have
ordered a court-dress of gold brocade. If you leave them out we shall
make bitter enemies."
"Put them down, Cesarine; all honor to commerce, for we belong to it!
Monsieur and Madame Roguin."
"Mamma, Madame Roguin will wear her diamond fillet and all her other
diamonds, and her dress trimmed with Mechlin."
"Monsieur and Madame Lebas," said Cesar; "also Monsieur le president
of the Court of Commerce,--I forgot him among the authorities,--his
wife, and two daughters; Monsieur and Madame Lourdois and their
daughter; Monsieur Claparon, banker; Monsieur du Tillet; Monsieur
Grindot; Monsieur Molineux; Pillerault and his landlord; Monsieur and
Madame Camusot, the rich silk-merchants, and all their children, the
one at the Ecole Polytechnique, and the lawyer; he is to be made a
judge because of his marriage to Mademoiselle Thirion."
"A provincial judge," remarked Constance.
"Monsieur Cardot, father-in-law of Camusot, and all the Cardot
children. Bless me, and the Guillaumes, Rue du Colombier, the father-
in-law of Lebas--old people, but they'll sit in a corner; Alexandre
"Papa, don't forget Monsieur Andoche Finot and Monsieur Gaudissart,
two young men who are very useful to Monsieur Anselme."
"Gaudissart? he was once in the hands of justice. But never mind, he
is going to travel for our oil and starts in a few days; put him down.
As to the Sieur Andoche Finot, what is he to us?"
"Monsieur Anselme says he will be a great man; he has a mind like
"An author? all atheists."
"Let's put him down, papa; we want more dancers. Besides, he wrote the
beautiful prospectus for the oil."
"He believes in my oil?" said Cesar, "then put him down, dear child."
"I have put down all my proteges," said Cesarine.
"Put Monsieur Mitral, my bailiff; Monsieur Haudry, our doctor, as a
matter of form,--he won't come."
"Yes, he will, for his game of cards."
"Now, Cesar, I do hope you mean to invite the Abbe Loraux to the
dinner," said Constance.
"I have already written to him," said Cesar.
"Oh! and don't forget the sister-in-law of Monsieur Lebas, Madame
Augustine Sommervieux," said Cesarine. "Poor little woman, she is so
delicate; she is dying of grief, so Monsieur Lebas says."
"That's what it is to marry artists!" cried her father. "Look! there's
your mother asleep," he whispered. "La! la! a very good night to you,
Madame Cesar--Now, then," he added, "about your mother's ball-dress?"
"Yes, papa, it will be all ready. Mamma thinks she will wear her
china-crape like mine. The dressmaker is sure there is no need of
trying it on."
"How many people have you got down," said Cesar aloud, seeing that
Constance opened her eyes.
"One hundred and nine, with the clerks."
"Where shall we ever put them all?" said Madame Birotteau. "But,
anyhow, after that Sunday," she added naively, "there will come a
Nothing can be done simply and naturally by people who are stepping
from one social level to another. Not a soul--not Madame Birotteau,
nor Cesar himself--was allowed to put foot into the new appartement on
the first floor. Cesar had promised Raguet, the shop-boy, a new suit
of clothes for the day of the ball, if he mounted guard faithfully and
let no one enter. Birotteau, like the Emperor Napoleon at Compiegne,
when the chateau was re-decorated for his marriage with Maria Louisa
of Austria, was determined to see nothing piecemeal; he wished to
enjoy the surprise of seeing it as a whole. Thus the two antagonists
met once more, all unknown to themselves, not on the field of battle,
but on the peaceful ground of bourgeois vanity. It was arranged that
Monsieur Grindot was to take Cesar by the hand and show him the
appartement when finished,--just as a guide shows a gallery to a
sight-seer. Every member of the family had provided his, or her,
private "surprise." Cesarine, dear child, had spent all her little
hoard, a hundred louis, on buying books for her father. Monsieur
Grindot confided to her one morning that there were two book-cases in
Cesar's room, which enclosed an alcove,--an architectural surprise to
her father. Cesarine flung all her girlish savings upon the counter of
a bookseller's shop, and obtained in return, Bossuet, Racine,
Voltaire, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Montesquieu, Moliere, Buffon,
Fenelon, Delille, Bernardin de Saint-Pierre, La Fontaine, Corneille,
Pascal, La Harpe,--in short, the whole array of matter-of-course
libraries to be found everywhere and which assuredly her father would
never read. A terrible bill for binding was in the background. The
celebrated and dilatory binder, Thouvenin, had promised to deliver the
volumes at twelve o'clock in the morning of the 16th. Cesarine
confided her anxiety to her uncle Pillerault, and he had promised to
pay the bill. The "surprise" of Cesar to his wife was the gown of
cherry-colored velvet, trimmed with lace, of which he spoke to his
accomplice, Cesarine. The "surprise" of Madame Birotteau to the new
chevalier was a pair of gold shoe-buckles, and a diamond pin. For the
whole family there was the surprise of the new appartement, and, a
fortnight later, the still greater surprise of the bills when they
Cesar carefully weighed the question as to which invitations should be
given in person, and which should be sent by Raguet. He ordered a
coach and took his wife--much disfigured by a bonnet with feathers,
and his last gift, a shawl which she had coveted for fifteen years--on
a round of civilities. In their best array, these worthy people paid
twenty-two visits in the course of one morning.
Cesar excused his wife from the labor and difficulty of preparing at
home the various viands demanded by the splendor of the entertainment.
A diplomatic treaty was arranged between the famous Chevet and the
perfumer. Chevet furnished superb silver plate (which brought him an
income equal to that of land); he supplied the dinner, the wines, and
the waiters, under the orders of a major-domo of dignified aspect, who
was responsible for the proper management of everything. Chevet
exacted that the kitchen, and the dining-room on the /entresol/,
should be given up to him as headquarters; a dinner for twenty people
was to be served at six o'clock, a superb supper at one in the
morning. Birotteau arranged with the cafe Foy for ices in the shape of
fruits, to be served in pretty saucers, with gilt spoons, on silver
trays. Tanrade, another illustrious purveyor, furnished the
"Don't be worried," said Cesar to his wife, observing her uneasiness
on the day before the great event, "Chevet, Tanrade, and the cafe Foy
will occupy the /entresol/, Virginie will take charge of the second
floor, the shop will be closed; all we shall have to do is to enshrine
ourselves on the first floor."
At two o'clock, on the 16th, the mayor, Monsieur de la Billardiere,
came to take Cesar to the Chancellerie of the Legion of honor, where
he was to be received by Monsieur le Comte de Lacepede, and about a
dozen chevaliers of the order. Tears were in his eyes when he met the
mayor; Constance had just given him the "surprise" of the gold buckles
and diamond pin.
"It is very sweet to be so loved," he said, getting into the coach in
presence of the assembled clerks, and Cesarine, and Constance. They,
one and all, gazed at Cesar, attired in black silk knee-breeches, silk
stockings, and the new bottle-blue coat, on which was about to gleam
the ribbon that, according to Molineux, was dyed in blood. When Cesar
came home to dinner, he was pale with joy; he looked at his cross in
all the mirrors, for in the first moments of exultation he was not
satisfied with the ribbon,--he wore the cross, and was glorious
without false shame.
"My wife," he said, "Monsieur the high chancellor is a charming man.
On a hint from La Billardiere he accepted my invitation. He is coming
with Monsieur Vauquelin. Monsieur de Lacepede is a great man,--yes, as
great as Monsieur Vauquelin; he has continued the work of Buffon in
forty volumes; he is an author, peer of France! Don't forget to
address him as, Your Excellence, or, Monsieur le comte."
"Do eat something," said his wife. "Your father is worse than a
child," added Constance to Cesarine.
"How well it looks in your button-hole," said Cesarine. "When we walk
out together, won't they present arms?"
"Yes, wherever there are sentries they will present arms."
Just at this moment Grindot was coming downstairs with Braschon. It
had been arranged that after dinner, monsieur, madame, and
mademoiselle were to enjoy a first sight of the new appartement;
Braschon's foreman was now nailing up the last brackets, and three men
were lighting the rooms.
"It takes a hundred and twenty wax-candles," said Braschon.
"A bill of two hundred francs at Trudon's," said Madame Cesar, whose
murmurs were checked by a glance from the chevalier Birotteau.
"Your ball will be magnificent, Monsieur le chevalier," said Braschon.
Birotteau whispered to himself, "Flatterers already! The Abbe Loraux
urged me not to fall into that net, but to keep myself humble. I shall
try to remember my origin."
Cesar did not perceive the meaning of the rich upholsterer's speech.
Braschon made a dozen useless attempts to get invitations for himself,
his wife, daughter, mother-in-law, and aunt. He called the perfumer
Monsieur le chevalier to the door-way, and then he departed his enemy.
The rehearsal began. Cesar, his wife, and Cesarine went out by the
shop-door and re-entered the house from the street. The entrance had
been remodelled in the grand style, with double doors, divided into
square panels, in the centre of which were architectural ornaments in
cast-iron, painted. This style of door, since become common in Paris,
was then a novelty. At the further end of the vestibule the staircase
went up in two straight flights, and between them was the space which
had given Cesar some uneasiness, and which was now converted into a
species of box, where it was possible to seat an old woman. The
vestibule, paved in black and white marble, with its walls painted to
resemble marble, was lighted by an antique lamp with four jets. The
architect had combined richness with simplicity. A narrow red carpet
relieved the whiteness of the stairs, which were polished with pumice-
stone. The first landing gave an entrance to the /entresol/; the doors
to each appartement were of the same character as the street-door, but
of finer work by a cabinet-maker.
The family reached the first floor and entered an ante-chamber in
excellent taste, spacious, parquetted, and simply decorated. Next came
a salon, with three windows on the street, in white and red, with
cornices of an elegant design which had nothing gaudy about them. On a
chimney-piece of white marble supported by columns were a number of
mantel ornaments chosen with taste; they suggested nothing to
ridicule, and were in keeping with the other details. A soft harmony
prevailed throughout the room, a harmony which artists alone know how
to attain by carrying uniformity of decoration into the minutest
particulars,--an art of which the bourgeois mind is ignorant, though
it is much taken with its results. A glass chandelier, with twenty-
four wax-candles, brought out the color of the red silk draperies; the
polished floor had an enticing look, which tempted Cesarine to dance.
"How charming!" she said; "and yet there is nothing to seize the eye."
"Exactly, mademoiselle," said the architect; "the charm comes from the
harmony which reigns between the wainscots, walls, cornices, and the
decorations; I have gilded nothing, the colors are sober, and not
extravagant in tone."
"It is a science," said Cesarine.
A boudoir in green and white led into Cesar's study.
"Here I have put a bed," said Grindot, opening the doors of an alcove
cleverly hidden between the two bookcases. "If you or madame should
chance to be ill, each can have your own room."
"But this bookcase full of books, all bound! Oh! my wife, my wife!"
"No; that is Cesarine's surprise."
"Pardon the feelings of a father," said Cesar to the architect, as he
kissed his daughter.
"Oh! of course, of course, monsieur," said Grindot; "you are in your
Brown was the prevailing color in the study, relieved here and there
with green, for a thread of harmony led through all the rooms and
allied them with one another. Thus the color which was the leading
tone of one room became the relieving tint of another. The engraving
of Hero and Leander shone on one of the panels of Cesar's study.
"Ah! /thou/ wilt pay for all this," said Birotteau, looking gaily at
"That beautiful engraving is given to you by Monsieur Anselme," said
(Anselme, too, had allowed himself a "surprise.")
"Poor boy! he has done just as I did for Monsieur Vauquelin."
The bedroom of Madame Birotteau came next. The architect had there
displayed a magnificence well calculated to please the worthy people
whom he was anxious to snare; he had really kept his word and
/studied/ this decoration. The room was hung in blue silk, with white
ornaments; the furniture was in white cassimere touched with blue. On
the chimney-piece, of white marble, stood a clock representing Venus
crouching, on a fine block of marble; a moquette carpet, of Turkish
design, harmonized this room with that of Cesarine, which opened out
of it, and was coquettishly hung with Persian chintz. A piano, a
pretty wardrobe with a mirror door, a chaste little bed with simple
curtains, and all the little trifles that young girls like, completed
the arrangements of the room. The dining-room was behind the bedroom
of Cesar and his wife, and was entered from the staircase; it was
treated in the style called Louis XIV., with a clock in buhl, buffets
of the same, inlaid with brass and tortoise-shell; the walls were hung
with purple stuff, fastened down by gilt nails. The happiness of these
three persons is not to be described, more especially when,
re-entering her room, Madame Birotteau found upon her bed (where
Virginie had just carried it, on tiptoe) the robe of cherry-colored
velvet, with lace trimmings, which was her husband's "surprise."
"Monsieur, this appartement will win you great distinction," said
Constance to Grindot. "We shall receive a hundred and more persons
to-morrow evening, and you will win praises from everybody."
"I shall recommend you," said Cesar. "You will meet the very /heads/
of commerce, and you will be better known through that one evening
than if you had built a hundred houses."
Constance, much moved, thought no longer of costs, nor of blaming her
husband; and for the following reason: That morning, when he brought
the engraving of Hero and Leander, Anselme Popinot, whom Constance
credited with much intelligence and practical ability, had assured her
of the inevitable success of Cephalic Oil, for which he was working
night and day with a fury that was almost unprecedented. The lover
promised that no matter what was the round sum of Birotteau's
extravagance, it should be covered in six months by Cesar's share in
the profits of the oil. After fearing and trembling for nineteen years
it was so sweet to give herself up to one day of unalloyed happiness,
that Constance promised her daughter not to poison her husband's
pleasure by any doubts or disapproval, but to share his happiness
heartily. When therefore, about eleven o'clock, Grindot left them, she
threw herself into her husband's arms and said to him with tears of
joy, "Cesar! ah, I am beside myself! You have made me very happy!"
"Provided it lasts, you mean?" said Cesar, smiling.
"It will last; I have no more fears," said Madame Birotteau.
"That's right," said the perfumer; "you appreciate me at last."
People who are sufficiently large-minded to perceive their own innate
weakness will admit that an orphan girl who eighteen years earlier was
saleswoman at the Petit-Matelot, Ile Saint-Louis, and a poor peasant
lad coming from Touraine to Paris with hob-nailed shoes and a cudgel
in his hand, might well be flattered and happy in giving such a fete
for such praiseworthy reasons.
"Bless my heart!" cried Cesar. "I'd give a hundred francs if someone
would only come in now and pay us a visit."
"Here is Monsieur l'Abbe Loraux," said Virginie.
The abbe entered. He was at that time vicar of Saint-Sulpice. The
power of the soul was never better manifested than in this saintly
priest, whose intercourse with others left upon the minds of all an
indelible impression. His grim face, so plain as to check confidence,
had grown sublime through the exercise of Catholic virtues; upon it
shone, as it were by anticipation, the celestial glories. Sincerity
and candor, infused into his very blood, gave harmony to his unsightly
features, and the fires of charity blended the discordant lines by a
phenomenon, the exact counterpart of that which in Claparon had
debased and brutalized the human being. Faith, Hope, and Charity, the
three noblest virtues of humanity, shed their charm among the abbe's
wrinkles; his speech was gentle, slow, and penetrating. His dress was
that of the priests of Paris, and he allowed himself to wear a brown
frock-coat. No ambition had ever crept into that pure heart, which the
angels would some day carry to God in all its pristine innocence. It
required the gentle firmness of the daughter of Louis XVI. to induce
him to accept a benefice in Paris, humble as it was. As he now entered
the room he glanced with an uneasy eye at the magnificence before him,
smiled at the three delighted people, and shook his gray head.
"My children," he said, "my part in life is not to share in gaieties,
but to visit the afflicted. I came to thank Monsieur Cesar for his
invitation, and to congratulate you. I shall come to only one fete
here,--the marriage of this dear child."
After the short visit the abbe went away without seeing the various
apartments, which the perfumer and his wife dared not show him. This
solemn apparition threw a few drops of cold water into the boiling
delight of Cesar's heart. Each of the party slept amid their new
luxury, taking possession of the good things and the pretty things
they had severally wished for. Cesarine undressed her mother before a
toilet-table of white marble with a long mirror. Cesar had given
himself a few superfluities, and longed to make use of them at once:
and they all went to sleep thinking of the joys of the morrow.
On that morrow Cesarine and her mother, having been to Mass, and
having read their vespers, dressed about four o'clock in the
afternoon, after resigning the /entresol/ to the secular arm of Chevet
and his people. No attire ever suited Madame Cesar better than this
cherry-colored velvet dress with lace trimmings, and short sleeves
made with jockeys: her beautiful arms, still fresh and youthful, her
bosom, sparklingly white, her throat and shoulders of a lovely shape,
were all heightened in effect by the rich material and the resplendent
color. The naive delight which every woman feels when she sees herself
in the plenitude of her power gave an inexpressible sweetness to the
Grecian profile of this charming woman, whose beauty had all the
delicacy of a cameo. Cesarine, dressed in white crape, wore a wreath
of white roses, a rose at her waist, and a scarf chastely covering her
shoulders and bust: Popinot was beside himself.
"These people crush us," said Madame Roguin to her husband as they
went through the appartement.
The notary's wife was furious at appearing less beautiful than Madame
Cesar; for every woman knows how to judge the superiority or the
inferiority of a rival.
"Bah!" whispered Roguin to his wife, "it won't last long; you will
soon bespatter her when you meet her a-foot in the streets, ruined."
Vauquelin showed perfect tact; he came with Monsieur de Lacepede, his
colleague of the Institute, who had called to fetch him in a carriage.
On beholding the resplendent mistress of the fete they both launched
into scientific compliments.
"Ah, madame, you possess a secret of which science is ignorant," said
the chemist, "the recipe for remaining young and beautiful."
"You are, as I may say, partly at home here, Monsieur l'academicien,"
said Birotteau. "Yes, Monsieur le comte," he added, turning to the
high chancellor of the Legion of honor, "I owe my fortune to Monsieur
Vauquelin. I have the honor to present to your lordship Monsieur le
president of the Court of Commerce. This is Monsieur le Comte de
Lacepede, peer of France," he said to Joseph Lebas, who accompanied
The guests were punctual. The dinner, like all commercial dinners, was
extremely gay, full of good humor, and enlivened by the rough jests
which always raise a laugh. The excellence of the dishes and the
goodness of the wines were fully appreciated. It was half-past nine
o'clock when the company returned to the salons to take their coffee.
A few hackney-coaches had already brought the first impatient dancers.
An hour later the rooms were full, and the ball took the character of
a rout. Monsieur de Lacepede and Monsieur Vauquelin went away, much to
the grief of Cesar, who followed them to the staircase, vainly
entreating them to remain. He succeeded, however, in keeping Monsieur
Popinot the judge, and Monsieur de la Billardiere. With the exception
of three women who severally represented the aristocracy, finance, and
government circles,--namely, Mademoiselle de Fontaine, Madame Jules,
and Madame Rabourdin, whose beauty, dress, and manners were sharply
defined in this assemblage,--all the other women wore heavy, over-
loaded dresses, and offered to the eye that anomalous air of richness
which gives to the bourgeois masses their vulgar aspect, made cruelly
apparent on this occasion by the airy graces of the three other women.
The bourgeoisie of the Rue Saint-Denis displayed itself majestically
in the plenitude of its native powers of jocose silliness. It was a
fair specimen of that middle class which dresses its children like
lancers or national guards, buys the "Victoires et Conquetes," the
"Soldat-laboureur," admires the "Convoi du Pauvre," delights in
mounting guard, goes on Sunday to its own country-house, is anxious to
acquire the distinguished air, and dreams of municipal honors,--that
middle class which is jealous of all and of every one, and yet is
good, obliging, devoted, feeling, compassionate, ready to subscribe
for the children of General Foy, or for the Greeks, whose piracies it
knows nothing about, or the Exiles until none remained; duped through
its virtues and scouted for its defects by a social class that is not
worthy of it, for it has a heart precisely because it is ignorant of
social conventions,--that virtuous middle-class which brings up
ingenuous daughters to an honorable toil, giving them sterling
qualities which diminish as soon as they are brought in contact with
the superior world of social life; girls without mind, among whom the
worthy Chrysale would have chosen his wife,--in short, a middle-class
admirably represented by the Matifats, druggists in the Rue des
Lombards, whose firm had supplied "The Queen of Roses" for more than
Madame Matifat, wishing to give herself a dignified air, danced in a
turban and a heavy robe of scarlet shot with gold threads,--a toilet
which harmonized well with a self-important manner, a Roman nose, and
the splendors of a crimson complexion. Monsieur Matifat, superb at a
review of the National Guard, where his protuberant paunch could be
distinguished at fifty paces, and upon which glittered a gold chain
and a bunch of trinkets, was under the yoke of this Catherine II. of
commerce. Short and fat, harnessed with spectacles and a shirt-collar
worn above his ears, he was chiefly distinguished for his bass voice
and the richness of his vocabulary. He never said Corneille, but "the
sublime Corneille"; Racine was "the gentle Racine"; Voltaire, "Oh!
Voltaire, second in everything, with more wit than genius, but
nevertheless a man of genius"; Rousseau, "a gloomy mind, a man full of
pride, who hanged himself." He related in his prosy way vulgar
anecdotes of Piron, a poet who passes for a prodigy among the
bourgeoisie. Matifat, a passionate lover of the stage, had a slight
leaning to obscenity. It was even said that, in imitation of Cadot and
the rich Camusot, he kept a mistress. Sometimes Madame Matifat, seeing
him about to relate some questionable anecdote, would hasten to
interrupt him by screaming out: "Take care what you are saying, old
man!" She called him habitually her "old man." This voluminous queen
of drugs caused Mademoiselle de Fontaine to lose her aristocratic
countenance, for the impertinent girl could not help laughing as she
overheard her saying to her husband: "Don't fling yourself upon the
ices, old man, it is bad style."
It is more difficult to explain the nature of the difference between
the great world and the bourgeoisie than it is for the bourgeoisie to
obliterate it. These women, embarrassed by their fine clothes and very
conscious of them, displayed a naive pleasure which proved that a ball
was a rarity in their busy lives; while the three women, who each
represented a sphere in the great world, were then exactly what they
would be on the morrow. They had no appearance of having dressed
purposely for the ball, they paid no heed to the splendor of their
jewels, nor to the effect which they themselves produced; all had been
arranged when they stood before their mirrors and put the last touches
on their toilets. Their faces showed no excitement or excessive
interest, and they danced with the grace and ease which unknown genius
has given to certain statues of antiquity.
The others, on the contrary, stamped with the mark of toil, retained
their vulgar attitudes, and amused themselves too heartily; their eyes
were full of inconsiderate curiosity; their voices ranged above the
low murmur which gives inimitable piquancy to the conversations of a
ball-room; above all, they had none of that composed impertinence
which contains the germs of epigram, nor the tranquil attitude which
characterizes those who are accustomed to maintain empire over
themselves. Thus Madame Rabourdin, Madame Jules, and Mademoiselle de
Fontaine, who had expected much amusement from the ball of their
perfumer, were detached from the background of the bourgeoisie about
them by their soft and easy grace, by the exquisite taste of their
dress and bearing,--just as three leading singers at an opera stand
out in relief from the stolid array of their supernumeraries. They
were watched with jealous, wondering eyes. Madame Roguin, Constance,
and Cesarine formed, as it were, a link which united the three types
of feminine aristocracy to the commercial figures about them.
There came, as there does at all balls, a moment when the animation of
the scene, the torrents of light, the gaiety, the music, the
excitement of dancing brought on a species of intoxication which puts
out of sight these gradations in the /crescendo/ of the /tutti/. The
ball was beginning to be noisy, and Mademoiselle de Fontaine made a
movement to retire; but when she looked about for the arm of her
venerable Vendeen, Birotteau, his wife, and daughter made haste to
prevent such a desertion of the aristocracy.
"There is a perfume of good taste about this appartement which really
amazes me," remarked that impertinent young woman to the perfumer. "I
Birotteau was so intoxicated by compliments that he did not comprehend
her meaning; but his wife colored, and was at a loss how to reply.
"This is a national fete which does you honor," said Camusot.
"I have seldom seen such a ball," said Monsieur de la Billardiere, to
whom an official falsehood was of no consequence.
Birotteau took all these compliments seriously.
"What an enchanting scene! What a fine orchestra! Will you often give
us a ball?" said Madame Lebas.
"What a charming appartement! Is this your own taste?" said Madame
Birotteau ventured on a fib, and allowed her to suppose that he had
Cesarine, who was asked, of course, for all the dances, understood
very well Anselme's delicacy in that matter.
"If I thought only of my own wishes," he had whispered as they left
the dinner-table, "I should beg you to grant me the favor of a
quadrille; but my happiness would be too costly to our mutual self-
Cesarine, who thought all men walked ungracefully if they stood
straight on their legs, was resolved to open the ball with Popinot.
Popinot, emboldened by his aunt, who told him to dare all, ventured to
tell his love to the charming girl, during the pauses of the
quadrille, using, however, the roundabout terms of a timid lover.
"My fortune depends on you, mademoiselle."
"There is but one hope that can enable me to make it."
"Do you know what you have said to me in those two words?" murmured
"Hope for fortune," said Cesarine, with an arch smile.
"Gaudissart! Gaudissart!" exclaimed Anselme, when the quadrille was
over, pressing the arm of his friend with Herculean force. "Succeed,
or I'll blow my brains out! Success, and I shall marry Cesarine! she
has told me so: see how lovely she is!"
"Yes, she is prettily tricked out," said Gaudissart, "and rich. We'll
fry her in oil."
The good understanding between Mademoiselle Lourdois and Alexandre
Crottat, the promised successor to Roguin, was noticed by Madame
Birotteau, who could not give up without a pang the hope of seeing her
daughter the wife of a notary of Paris.
Uncle Pillerault, who had exchanged bows with little Molineux, seated
himself in an armchair near the bookshelves. He looked at the card-
players, listened to the conversations, and went to the doorway every
now and then to watch the oscillating bouquet of flowers formed by the
circling heads of the dancers in the /moulinet/. The expression of his
face was that of a true philosopher. The men were dreadful,--all, that
is, except du Tillet, who had acquired the manners of the great world,
little La Billardiere, a budding fashionable, Monsieur Desmarets, and
the official personages. But among all the faces, more or less
comical, from which the assemblage took its character, there was one
that was particularly washed-out, like a five-franc piece of the
Republic, and whose owner's apparel rendered him a curiosity. We guess
at once the little tyrant of the Cour Batave, arrayed with linen
yellowed by lying by in a cupboard, and exhibiting to the eye a shirt-
frill of lace that had been an heirloom, fastened with a bluish cameo
set as a pin; he wore short black-silk breeches which revealed the
skinny legs on which he boldly stood. Cesar showed him, triumphantly,
the four rooms constructed by the architect out of the first floors of
the two houses.
"Hey! hey! Well, it is your affair, Monsieur Birotteau," said
Molineux. "My first floor thus improved will be worth more than three
thousand francs to me."
Birotteau answered with a jest; but he was pricked as if with a pin at
the tone in which the little old man had pronounced the words.
"I shall soon have my first floor back again; the man will ruin
himself." Such was the real meaning of the speech which Molineux
delivered like the scratch of a claw.
The sallow face and vindictive eye of the old man struck du Tillet,
whose attention had first been attracted by a watch-chain from which
hung a pound of jingling gew-gaws, and by a green coat with a collar
whimsically cocked up, which gave the old man the semblance of a
rattlesnake. The banker approached the usurer to find out how and why
he had thus bedizened himself.
"There, monsieur," said Molineux, planting one foot in the boudoir, "I
stand upon the property of Monsieur le Comte de Grandville; but here,"
he added, showing the other, "I stand upon my own. I am the owner of
Molineux was so ready to lend himself to any one who would listen to
him, and so delighted by du Tillet's attentive manner, that he gave a
sketch of his life, related his habits and customs, told the improper
conduct of the Sieur Gendrin, and, finally, explained all his
arrangements with the perfumer, without which, he said, the ball could
not have been given.
"Ah! Monsieur Cesar let you settle the lease?" said du Tillet. "It is
contrary to his habits."
"Oh! I asked it of him. I am good to my tenants."
"If Pere Birotteau fails," thought du Tillet, "this little imp would
make an excellent assignee. His sharpness is invaluable; when he is
alone he must amuse himself by catching flies, like Domitian."
Du Tillet went to the card-table, where Claparon was already
stationed, under orders; Ferdinand thought that under shelter of a
game of /bouillotte/ his counterfeit banker might escape notice. Their
demeanor to each other was that of two strangers, and the most
suspicious man could have detected nothing that betrayed an
understanding between them. Gaudissart, who knew the career of
Claparon, dared not approach him after receiving a solemnly frigid
glance from the promoted commercial traveller which warned him that
the upstart banker was not to be recognized by any former comrade. The
ball, like a brilliant rocket, was extinguished by five o'clock in the
morning. At that hour only some forty hackney-coaches remained, out of
the hundred or more which had crowded the Rue Saint-Honore. Within,
they were dancing the /boulangere/, which has since been dethroned by
the cotillon and the English galop. Du Tillet, Roguin, Cardot junior,
the Comte de Grandville, and Jules Desmarets were playing at
/bouillotte/. Du Tillet won three thousand francs. The day began to
dawn, the wax lights paled, the players joined the dancers for a last
quadrille. In such houses the final scenes of a ball never pass off
without some impropriety. The dignified personages have departed; the
intoxication of dancing, the heat of the atmosphere, the spirits
concealed in the most innocent drinks, have mellowed the angularities
of the old women, who good-naturedly join in the last quadrille and
lend themselves to the excitement of the moment; the men are heated,
their hair, lately curled, straggles down their faces, and gives them
a grotesque expression which excites laughter; the young women grow
volatile, and a few flowers drop from their garlands. The bourgeois
Momus appears, followed by his revellers. Laughs ring loudly; all
present surrender to the amusement of the moment, knowing that on the
morrow toil will resume its sway. Matifat danced with a woman's bonnet
on his head; Celestin called the figures of the interminable country
dance, and some of the women beat their hands together excitedly at
the words of command.
"How they do amuse themselves!" cried the happy Birotteau.
"I hope they won't break anything," said Constance to her uncle.
"You have given the most magnificent ball I have ever seen, and I have
seen many," said du Tillet, bowing to his old master.
Among the eight symphonies of Beethoven there is a theme, glorious as
a poem, which dominates the finale of the symphony in C minor. When,
after slow preparations by the sublime magician, so well understood by