Part 4 out of 7
Habeneck, the enthusiastic leader of an orchestra raises the rich veil
with a motion of his hand and calls forth the transcendent theme
towards which the powers of music have all converged, poets whose
hearts have throbbed at those sounds will understand how the ball of
Cesar Birotteau produced upon his simple being the same effect that
this fecund harmony wrought in theirs,--an effect to which the
symphony in C minor owes its supremacy over its glorious sisters. A
radiant fairy springs forward, lifting high her wand. We hear the
rustle of the violet silken curtains which the angels raise.
Sculptured golden doors, like those of the baptistery at Florence,
turn on their diamond hinges. The eye is lost in splendid vistas: it
sees a long perspective of rare palaces where beings of a loftier
nature glide. The incense of all prosperities sends up its smoke, the
altar of all joy flames, the perfumed air circulates! Beings with
divine smiles, robed in white tunics bordered with blue, flit lightly
before the eyes and show us visions of supernatural beauty, shapes of
an incomparable delicacy. The Loves hover in the air and waft the
flames of their torches! We feel ourselves beloved; we are happy as we
breathe a joy we understand not, as we bathe in the waves of a harmony
that flows for all, and pours out to all the ambrosia that each
desires. We are held in the grasp of our secret hopes which are
realized, for an instant, as we listen. When he has led us through the
skies, the great magician, with a deep mysterious transition of the
basses, flings us back into the marshes of cold reality, only to draw
us forth once more when, thirsting for his divine melodies, our souls
cry out, "Again! Again!" The psychical history of that rare moment in
the glorious finale of the C minor symphony is also that of the
emotions excited by this fete in the souls of Cesar and of Constance.
The flute of Collinet sounded the last notes of their commercial
Weary, but happy, the Birotteaus fell asleep in the early morning amid
echoes of the fete,--which for building, repairs, furnishing, suppers,
toilets, and the library (repaid to Cesarine), cost not less, though
Cesar was little aware of it, than sixty thousand francs. Such was the
price of the fatal red ribbon fastened by the king to the buttonhole
of an honest perfumer. If misfortunes were to overtake Cesar
Birotteau, this mad extravagance would be sufficient to arraign him
before the criminal courts. A merchant is amenable to the laws if, in
the event of bankruptcy, he is shown to have been guilty of "excessive
expenditure." It is perhaps more dreadful to go before the lesser
courts charged with folly or blundering mistakes, than before the
Court of Assizes for an enormous fraud. In the eyes of some people, it
is better to be criminal than a fool.
CESAR GRAPPLING WITH MISFORTUNE
Eight days after his ball, the last dying flash of a prosperity of
eighteen years now about to be extinguished, Cesar Birotteau watched
the passers-by from the windows of his shop, thinking over the
expansion of his affairs, and beginning to find them burdensome. Until
then all had been simple in his life; he manufactured and sold, or
bought to sell again. To-day the land speculation, his share in the
house of A. Popinot and Company, the repayment of the hundred and
sixty thousand francs thrown upon the market, which necessitated
either a traffic in promissory notes (of which his wife would
disapprove), or else some unheard-of success in Cephalic Oil, all
fretted the poor man by the multiplicity of ideas which they involved;
he felt he had more irons in the fire than he could lay hold of. How
would Anselme guide the helm? Birotteau treated Popinot as a professor
of rhetoric treats a pupil,--he distrusted his methods, and regretted
that he was not at his elbow. The kick he had given Popinot to make
him hold his tongue at Vauquelin's explains the uneasiness which the
young merchant inspired in his mind.
Birotteau took care that neither his wife nor his daughter nor the
clerks should suspect his anxiety; but he was in truth like a humble
boatman on the Seine whom the government has suddenly put in command
of a frigate. Troubled thoughts filled his mind, never very capable of
reflection, as if with a fog; he stood still, as it were, and peered
about to see his way. At this moment a figure appeared in the street
for which he felt a violent antipathy; it was that of his new
landlord, little Molineux. Every one has dreamed dreams filled with
the events of a lifetime, in which there appears and reappears some
wayward being, commissioned to play the mischief and be the villain of
the piece. To Birotteau's fancy Molineux seemed delegated by chance to
fill some part in his life. His weird face had grinned diabolically at
the ball, and he had looked at its magnificence with an evil eye.
Catching sight of him again at this moment, Cesar was all the more
reminded of the impression the little skin-flint (a word of his
vocabulary) had made upon him, because Molineux excited fresh
repugnance by reappearing in the midst of his anxious reverie.
"Monsieur," said the little man, in his atrociously hypocritical
voice, "we settled our business so hastily that you forgot to
guarantee the signatures on the little private deed."
Birotteau took the lease to repair the mistake. The architect came in
at this moment, and bowed to the perfumer, looking about him with a
"Monsieur," he whispered to Cesar presently, "you can easily
understand that the first steps in a profession are difficult; you
said you were satisfied with me, and it would oblige me very much if
you would pay me my commission."
Birotteau, who had stripped himself of ready money when he put his
current cash into Roguin's hands two weeks earlier, called to Celestin
to make out an order for two thousand francs at ninety days' sight,
and to write the form of a receipt.
"I am very glad you took part of your neighbor's rental on yourself,"
said Molineux in a sly, half-sneering tone. "My porter came to tell me
just now that the sheriff has affixed the seals to the Sieur Cayron's
appartement; he has disappeared."
"I hope I'm not juggled out of five thousand francs," thought
"Cayron always seemed to do a good business," said Lourdois, who just
then came in to bring his bill.
"A merchant is never safe from commercial reverses until he has
retired from business," said little Molineux, folding up his document
with fussy precision.
The architect watched the queer old man with the enjoyment all artists
find in getting hold of a caricature which confirms their theories
about the bourgeoisie.
"When we have got our head under an umbrella we generally think it is
protected from the rain," he said.
Molineux noticed the mustachios and the little chin-tuft of the artist
much more than he did his face, and he despised that individual folly
as much as Grindot despised him. He waited to give him a parting
scratch as he went out. By dint of living so long with his cats
Molineux had acquired, in his manners as well as in his eyes,
something unmistakably feline.
Just at this moment Ragon and Pillerault came in.
"We have been talking of the land affair with the judge," said Ragon
in Cesar's ear; "he says that in a speculation of that kind we must
have a warranty from the sellers, and record the deeds, and pay in
cash, before we are really owners and co-partners."
"Ah! you are talking of the lands about the Madeleine," said Lourdois;
"there is a good deal said about them: there will be some houses to
The painter who had come intending to have his bill settled, suddenly
thought it more to his interest not to press Birotteau.
"I brought my bill because it was the end of the year," he whispered
to Cesar; "but there's no hurry."
"What is the matter, Cesar?" said Pillerault, noticing the amazement
of his nephew, who, having glanced at the bill, made no reply to
either Ragon or Lourdois.
"Oh, a trifle. I took notes to the amount of five thousand francs from
my neighbor, a dealer in umbrellas, and he has failed. If he has given
me bad securities I shall be caught, like a fool."
"And yet I have warned you many times," cried Ragon; "a drowning man
will catch at his father's leg to save himself, and drown him too. I
have seen so many failures! People are not exactly scoundrels when the
disaster begins, but they soon come to be, out of sheer necessity."
"That's true," said Pillerault.
"If I ever get into the Chamber of Deputies, and ever have any
influence in the government," said Birotteau, rising on his toes and
dropping back on his heels,--
"What would you do?" said Lourdois, "for you've a long head."
Molineux, interested in any discussion about law, lingered in the
shop; and as the attention of a few persons is apt to make others
attentive, Pillerault and Ragon listened as gravely as the three
strangers, though they perfectly well knew Cesar's opinions.
"I would have," said the perfumer, "a court of irremovable judges,
with a magistracy to attend to the application and execution of the
laws. After the examination of a case, during which the judge should
fulfil the functions of agent, assignee, and commissioner, the
merchant should be declared /insolvent with rights of reinstatement/,
or else /bankrupt/. If the former, he should be required to pay in
full; he should be left in control of his own property and that of his
wife; all his belongings and his inherited property should belong to
his creditors, and he should administer his affairs in their interests
under supervision; he should still carry on his business, signing
always 'So-and-so, insolvent,' until the whole debt is paid off. If
bankrupt, he should be condemned, as formerly, to the pillory on the
Place de la Bourse, and exposed for two hours, wearing a green cap.
His property and that of his wife, and all his rights of every kind
should be handed over to his creditors, and he himself banished from
"Business would be more secure," said Lourdois; "people would think
twice before launching into speculations."
"The existing laws are not enforced," cried Cesar, lashing himself up.
"Out of every hundred merchants there are more than fifty who never
realize seventy-five per cent of the whole value of their business, or
who sell their merchandise at twenty-five per cent below the invoice
price; and that is the destruction of commerce."
"Monsieur is very right," said Molineux; "the law leaves a great deal
too much latitude. There should either be total relinquishment of
everything, or infamy."
"Damn it!" said Cesar, "at the rate things are going now, a merchant
will soon be a licensed thief. With his mere signature he can dip into
"You have no mercy, Monsieur Birotteau," said Lourdois.
"He is quite right," said old Ragon.
"All insolvents are suspicious characters," said Cesar, exasperated by
his little loss, which sounded in his ears like the first cry of the
view-halloo in the ears of the game.
At this moment the late major-domo brought in Chevet's account,
followed by a clerk sent by Felix, a waiter from the cafe Foy, and
Collinet's clarionet, each with a bill.
"Rabelais' quarter of an hour," said Ragon, smiling.
"It was a fine ball," said Lourdois.
"I am busy," said Cesar to the messengers; who all left the bills and
"Monsieur Grindot," said Lourdois, observing that the architect was
folding up Birotteau's cheque, "will you certify my account? You need
only to add it up; the prices were all agreed to by you on Monsieur
Pillerault looked at Lourdois and Grindot.
"Prices agreed upon between the architect and contractor?" he said in
a low voice to his nephew,--"they have robbed you."
Grindot left the shop, and Molineux followed him with a mysterious
"Monsieur," he said, "you listened to me, but you did not understand
me,--I wish you the protection of an umbrella."
The architect was frightened. The more illegal a man's gains the more
he clings to them: the human heart is so made. Grindot had really
studied the appartement lovingly; he had put all his art and all his
time into it; he had given ten thousand francs worth of labor, and he
felt that in so doing he had been the dupe of his vanity: the
contractors therefore had little trouble in seducing him. The
irresistible argument and threat, fully understood, of injuring him
professionally by calumniating his work were, however, less powerful
than a remark made by Lourdois about the lands near the Madeleine.
Birotteau did not expect to hold a single house upon them; he was
speculating only on the value of the land; but architects and
contractors are to each other very much what authors and actors are,--
mutually dependent. Grindot, ordered by Birotteau to stipulate the
costs, went for the interests of the builders against the bourgeoisie;
and the result was that three large contractors--Lourdois, Chaffaroux,
and Thorein the carpenter--proclaimed him "one of those good fellows
it is a pleasure to work for." Grindot guessed that the contractor's
bills, out of which he was to have a share, would be paid, like his
commission, in notes; and little Molineux had just filled his mind
with doubts as to their payment. The architect was about to become
pitiless,--after the manner of artists, who are most intolerant of men
in their dealings with the middle classes.
By the end of December bills to the amount of sixty thousand francs
had been sent in. Felix, the cafe Foy, Tanrade, and all the little
creditors who ought to be paid in ready money, had asked for payment
three times. Failure to pay such trifles as these do more harm in
business than a real misfortune,--they foretell it: known losses are
definite, but a panic defies all reckoning. Birotteau saw his coffers
empty, and terror seized him: such a thing had never happened
throughout his whole commercial life. Like all persons who have never
struggled long with poverty, and who are by nature feeble, this
circumstance, so common among the greater number of the petty Parisian
tradesmen, disturbed for a moment Cesar's brain. He ordered Celestin
to send round the bills of his customers and ask for payment. Before
doing so, the head clerk made him repeat the unheard-of order. The
clients,--a fine term applied by retail shopkeepers to their
customers, and used by Cesar in spite of his wife, who however ended
by saying, "Call them what you like, provided they pay!"--his clients,
then, were rich people, through whom he had never lost money, who paid
when they pleased, and among whom Cesar often had a floating amount of
fifty or sixty thousand francs due to him. The second clerk went
through the books and copied off the largest sums. Cesar dreaded his
wife: that she might not see his depression under this simoom of
misfortune, he prepared to go out.
"Good morning, monsieur," said Grindot, entering with the lively
manner artists put on when they speak of business, and wish to pretend
they know nothing about it; "I cannot get your paper cashed, and I am
obliged to ask you to give me the amount in ready money. I am truly
unhappy in making this request, but I don't wish to go to the usurers.
I have not hawked your signature about; I know enough of business to
feel sure it would injure you. It is really in your own interest that
"Monsieur," said Birotteau, horrified, "speak lower if you please; you
surprise me strangely."
"Lourdois," said Birotteau, smiling, "would you believe--"
The poor man stopped short; he was about to ask the painter to take
the note given to Grindot, ridiculing the architect with the good
nature of a merchant sure of his own standing; but he saw a cloud upon
Lourdois' brow, and he shuddered at his own imprudence. The innocent
jest would have been the death of his suspected credit. In such a case
a prosperous merchant takes back his note, and does not offer it
elsewhere. Birotteau felt his head swim, as though he had looked down
the sides of a precipice into a measureless abyss.
"My dear Monsieur Birotteau," said Lourdois, drawing him to the back
of the shop, "my account has been examined, audited, and certified; I
must ask you to have the money ready for me to-morrow. I marry my
daughter to little Crottat; he wants money, for notaries will not take
paper; besides, I never give promissory notes."
"Send to me on the day after to-morrow," said Birotteau proudly,
counting on the payment of his own bills. "And you too, Monsieur," he
said to the architect.
"Why not pay at once?" said Grindot.
"I have my workmen in the faubourg to pay," said Birotteau, who knew
not how to lie.
He took his hat once more intending to follow them out, but the mason,
Thorein, and Chaffaroux stopped him as he was closing the door.
"Monsieur," said Chaffaroux, "we are in great need of money."
"Well, I have not the mines of Peru," said Cesar, walking quickly away
from them. "There is something beneath all this," he said to himself.
"That cursed ball! All the world thinks I am worth millions. Yet
Lourdois had a look that was not natural; there's a snake in the grass
He walked along the Rue Saint-Honore, in no special direction, and
feeling much discomposed. At the corner of a street he ran against
Alexandre Crottat, just as a ram, or a mathematician absorbed in the
solution of a problem, might have knocked against another of his kind.
"Ah, monsieur," said the future notary, "one word! Has Roguin given
your four hundred thousand francs to Monsieur Claparon?"
"The business was settled in your presence. Monsieur Claparon gave me
no receipt; my acceptances were to be--negotiated. Roguin was to give
him--my two hundred and forty thousand francs. He was told that he was
to pay for the property definitely. Monsieur Popinot the judge said--
The receipt!--but--why do you ask the question?"
"Why ask the question? To know if your two hundred and forty thousand
francs are still with Roguin. Roguin was so long connected with you,
that perhaps out of decent feeling he may have paid them over to
Claparon, and you will escape! But, no! what a fool I am! He has
carried off Claparon's money as well! Happily, Claparon had only paid
over, to my care, one hundred thousand francs. I gave them to Roguin
just as I would give you my purse, and I have no receipt for them. The
owners of the land have not received one penny; they have just been
talking to me. The money you thought you raised upon your property in
the Faubourg du Temple had no existence for you, or the borrower;
Roguin has squandered it, together with your hundred thousand francs,
which he used up long ago,--and your last hundred thousand as well,
for I just remember drawing them from the bank."
The pupils of Cesar's eyes dilated so enormously that he saw only red
"Your hundred thousand francs in his hands, my hundred thousand for
his practice, a hundred thousand from Claparon,--there's three hundred
thousand francs purloined, not to speak of other thefts which will be
discovered," exclaimed the young notary. "Madame Roguin is not to be
counted on. Du Tillet has had a narrow escape. Roguin tormented him
for a month to get into that land speculation, but happily all his
funds were tied up in an affair with Nucingen. Roguin has written an
atrocious letter to his wife; I have read it. He has been making free
with his clients' money for years; and why? for a mistress,--la belle
Hollandaise. He left her two weeks ago. The squandering hussy hasn't a
farthing left; they sold her furniture,--she had signed promissory
notes. To escape arrest, she took refuge in a house in the Palais-
Royal, where she was assassinated last night by a captain in the army.
God has quickly punished her; she has wasted Roguin's whole fortune
and much more. There are some women to whom nothing is sacred: think
of squandering the trust moneys of a notary! Madame Roguin won't have
a penny, except by claiming her rights of dower; the scoundrel's whole
property is encumbered to its full value. I bought the practice for
three hundred thousand francs,--I, who thought I was getting a good
thing!--and paid a hundred thousand down. I have no receipt; the
creditors will think I am an accomplice if I say a word about that
hundred thousand francs, and when a man is starting in life he must be
careful of his reputation. There will hardly be thirty per cent saved
for the creditors. At my age, to get such a set-back! A man fifty-nine
years of age to keep a mistress! the old villain! It is only two weeks
since he told me not to marry Cesarine; he said you would soon be
without bread,--the monster!"
Alexandre might have talked on indefinitely, for Birotteau stood
still, petrified. Every phrase was a calamity, like the blows of a
bludgeon. He heard the death-bells tolling in his ears,--just as his
eyes had seen, at the first word, the flames of his fortune. Alexandre
Crottat, who thought the worthy perfumer a strong and able man, was
alarmed at his paleness and rigidity. He was not aware that Roguin had
carried off Cesar's whole property. The thought of immediate suicide
passed through the brain of the victim, deeply religious as he was. In
such a case suicide is only a way to escape a thousand deaths; it
seems logical to take it. Alexandre Crottat gave him his arm, and
tried to make him walk on, but it was impossible: his legs gave way
under him as if he were drunk.
"What is the matter?" said Crottat. "Dear Monsieur Cesar, take
courage! it is not the death of a man. Besides, you will get back your
forty thousand francs. The lender hadn't the money ready, you never
received it,--that is sufficient to set aside the agreement."
"My ball--my cross--two hundred thousand francs in paper on the
market,--no money in hand! The Ragons, Pillerault,--and my wife, who
A rain of confused words, revealing a weight of crushing thoughts and
unutterable suffering, poured from his lips, like hail lashing the
flowers in the garden of "The Queen of Roses."
"I wish they would cut off my head," he said at last; "its weight
troubles me, it is good for nothing."
"Poor Pere Birotteau," said Alexandre, "are you in danger?"
"Well, take courage; make an effort."
"Du Tillet was your clerk; he has a good head; he will help you."
"Come, try to walk."
"My God! I cannot go home as I am," said Birotteau. "You who are my
friend, if there are friends,--you in whom I took an interest, who
have dined at my house,--take me somewhere in a carriage, for my
wife's sake. Xandrot, go with me!"
The young notary compassionately put the inert mechanism which bore
the name of Cesar into a street coach, not without great difficulty.
"Xandrot," said the perfumer, in a voice choked with tears,--for the
tears were now falling from his eyes, and loosening the iron band
which bound his brow,--"stop at my shop; go in and speak to Celestin
for me. My friend, tell him it is a matter of life or death, that on
no consideration must he or any one talk about Roguin's flight. Tell
Cesarine to come down to me, and beg her not to say a word to her
mother. We must beware of our best friends, of Pillerault, Ragon,
The change in Birotteau's voice startled Crottat, who began to
understand the importance of the warning; he fulfilled the
instructions of the poor man, whom Celestin and Cesarine were
horrified to find pale and half insensible in a corner of the
"Keep the secret," he said.
"Ah!" said Xandrot to himself, "he is coming to. I thought him lost."
From thence they went, at Cesar's request, to a judge of the
commercial courts. The conference between Crottat and the magistrate
lasted long, and the president of the chamber of notaries was
summoned. Cesar was carried about from place to place, like a bale of
goods; he never moved, and said nothing. Towards seven in the evening
Alexandre Crottat took him home. The thought of appearing before
Constance braced his nerves. The young notary had the charity to go
before, and warn Madame Birotteau that her husband had had a rush of
blood to the head.
"His ideas are rather cloudy," he said, with a gesture implying
disturbance of the brain. "Perhaps he should be bled, or leeches
"No wonder," said Constance, far from dreaming of a disaster; "he did
not take his precautionary medicine at the beginning of the winter,
and for the last two months he has been working like a galley slave,--
just as if his fortune were not made."
The wife and daughter entreated Cesar to go to bed, and they sent for
his old friend Monsieur Haudry. The old man was a physician of the
school of Moliere, a great practitioner and in favor of the old-
fashioned formulas, who dosed his patients neither more nor less than
a quack, consulting physician though he was. He came, studied the
expression of Cesar's face, and observing symptoms of cerebral
congestion, ordered an immediate application of mustard plasters to
the soles of his feet.
"What can have caused it?" asked Constance.
"The damp weather," said the doctor, to whom Cesarine had given a
It often becomes a physician's duty to utter deliberately some silly
falsehood, to save honor or life, to those who are about a sick-bed.
The old doctor had seen much in his day, and he caught the meaning of
half a word. Cesarine followed him to the staircase, and asked for
directions in managing the case.
"Quiet and silence; when the head is clear we will try tonics."
Madame Cesar passed two days at the bedside of her husband, who seemed
to her at times delirious. He lay in her beautiful blue room, and as
he looked at the curtains, the furniture, and all the costly
magnificence about him, he said things that were wholly
incomprehensible to her.
"He must be out of his mind," she whispered to Cesarine, as Cesar rose
up in bed and recited clauses of the commercial Code in a solemn
"'If the expenditure is judged excessive!' Away with those curtains!"
At the end of three terrible days, during which his reason was in
danger, the strong constitution of the Tourangian peasant triumphed;
his head grew clear. Monsieur Haudry ordered stimulants and generous
diet, and before long, after an occasional cup of coffee, Cesar was on
his feet again. Constance, wearied out, took her husband's place in
"Poor woman!" said Cesar, looking at her as she slept.
"Come, papa, take courage! you are so superior a man that you will
triumph in the end. This trouble won't last; Monsieur Anselme will
Cesarine said these vague words in the tender tones which give courage
to a stricken heart, just as the songs of a mother soothe the weary
child tormented with pain as its cuts its teeth.
"Yes, my child, I shall struggle on; but say not a word to any one,--
not to Popinot who loves us, nor to your uncle Pillerault. I shall
first write to my brother; he is canon and vicar of the cathedral. He
spends nothing, and I have no doubt he has means. If he saves only
three thousand francs a year, that would give him at the end of twenty
years one hundred thousand francs. In the provinces the priests lay up
Cesarine hastened to bring her father a little table with writing-
things upon it,--among them the surplus of invitations printed on pink
"Burn all that!" cried her father. "The devil alone could have
prompted me to give that ball. If I fail, I shall seem to have been a
swindler. Stop!" he added, "words are of no avail." And he wrote the
My dear Brother,--I find myself in so severe a commercial crisis
that I must ask you to send me all the money you can dispose of,
even if you have to borrow some for the purpose.
Your niece, Cesarine, who is watching me as I write, while my poor
wife sleeps, sends you her tender remembrances.
This postscript was added at Cesarine's urgent request; she then took
the letter and gave it to Raguet.
"Father," she said, returning, "here is Monsieur Lebas, who wants to
speak to you."
"Monsieur Lebas!" cried Cesar, frightened, as though his disaster had
made him a criminal,--"a judge!"
"My dear Monsieur Birotteau, I take too great an interest in you,"
said the stout draper, entering the room, "we have known each other
too long,--for we were both elected judges at the same time,--not to
tell you that a man named Bidault, called Gigonnet, a usurer, has
notes of yours turned over to his order, and marked 'not guaranteed,'
by the house of Claparon. Those words are not only an affront, but
they are the death of your credit."
"Monsieur Claparon wishes to speak to you," said Celestin, entering;
"may I tell him to come up?"
"Now we shall learn the meaning of this insult," said Lebas.
"Monsieur," said Cesar to Claparon, as he entered, "this is Monsieur
Lebas, a judge of the commercial courts, and my friend--"
"Ah! monsieur is Monsieur Lebas?" interrupted Claparon. "Delighted
with the opportunity, Monsieur Lebas of the commercial courts; there
are so many Lebas, you know, of one kind or another--"
"He has seen," said Birotteau, cutting the gabbler short, "the notes
which I gave you, and which I understood from you would not be put
into circulation. He has seen them bearing the words 'not
"Well," said Claparon, "they are not in general circulation; they are
in the hands of a man with whom I do a great deal of business,--Pere
Bidault. That is why I affixed the words 'not guaranteed.' If the
notes were intended for circulation you would have made them payable
to his order. Monsieur Lebas will understand my position. What do
these notes represent? The price of landed property. Paid by whom? By
Birotteau. Why should I guarantee Birotteau by my signature? We are to
pay, each on his own account, our half of the price of the said land.
Now, it is enough to be jointly and separately liable to the sellers.
I hold inflexibly to one commercial rule: I never give my guarantee
uselessly, any more than I give my receipt for moneys not yet paid. He
who signs, pays. I don't wish to be liable to pay three times."
"Three times!" said Cesar.
"Yes, monsieur," said Claparon, "I have already guaranteed Birotteau
to the sellers, why should I guarantee him again to the bankers? The
circumstances in which we are placed are very hard. Roguin has carried
off a hundred thousand francs of mine; therefore, my half of the
property costs me five hundred thousand francs instead of four hundred
thousand. Roguin has also carried off two hundred and forty thousand
francs of Birotteau's. What would you do in my place, Monsieur Lebas?
Stand in my skin for a moment and view the case. Give me your
attention. Say that we are engaged in a transaction on equal shares;
you provide the money for your share, I give bills for mine; I offer
them to you, and you undertake, purely out of kindness, to convert
them into money. You learn that I, Claparon,--banker, rich, respected
(I accept all the virtues under the sun),--that the virtuous Claparon
is on the verge of failure, with six million of liabilities to meet:
would you, at such a moment, give your signature to guarantee mine? Of
course not; you would be mad to do it. Well, Monsieur Lebas, Birotteau
is in the position which I have supposed for Claparon. Don't you see
that if I endorse for him I am liable not only for my own share of the
purchase, but I shall also be compelled to reimburse to the full
amount of Birotteau's paper, and without--"
"To whom?" asked Birotteau, interrupting him.
"--without gaining his half of the property?" said Claparon, paying no
attention to the interruption. "For I should have no rights in it; I
should have to buy it over again; consequently, I repeat, I should
have to pay for it three times."
"Reimburse whom?" persisted Birotteau.
"Why, the holder of the notes, if I were to endorse, and you were to
"I shall not fail, monsieur," said Birotteau.
"Very good," said Claparon. "But you have been a judge, and you are a
clever merchant; you know very well that we should look ahead and
foresee everything; you can't be surprised that I should attend to my
"Monsieur Claparon is right," said Joseph Lebas.
"I am right," said Claparon,--"right commercially. But this is an
affair of landed property. Now, what must I have? Money, to pay the
sellers. We won't speak now of the two hundred and forty thousand
francs,--which I am sure Monsieur Birotteau will be able to raise
soon," said Claparon, looking at Lebas. "I have come now to ask for a
trifle, merely twenty-five thousand francs," he added, turning to
"Twenty-five thousand francs!" cried Cesar, feeling ice in his veins
instead of blood. "What claim have you, monsieur?"
"What claim? Hey! we have to make a payment and execute the deeds
before a notary. Among ourselves, of course, we could come to an
understanding about the payment, but when we have to do with a
financial public functionary it is quite another thing! He won't
palaver; he'll trust you no farther than he can see. We have got to
come down with forty thousand francs, to secure the registration, this
week. I did not expect reproaches in coming here, for, thinking this
twenty-five thousand francs might be inconvenient to you just now, I
meant to tell you that, by a mere chance, I have saved you--"
"What?" said Birotteau, with that rending cry of anguish which no man
"A trifle! The notes amounting to twenty-five thousand francs on
divers securities which Roguin gave me to negotiate I have credited to
you, for the registration payment and the fees, of which I will send
you an account; there will be a small amount to deduct, and you will
then owe me about six or seven thousand francs."
"All that seems to me perfectly proper," said Lebas. "In your place,
monsieur, I should do the same towards a stranger."
"Monsieur Birotteau won't die of it," said Claparon; "it takes more
than one shot to kill an old wolf. I have seen wolves with a ball in
their head run, by God, like--wolves!"
"Who could have foreseen such villany as Roguin's?" said Lebas, as
much alarmed by Cesar's silence as by the discovery of such enormous
speculations outside of his friend's legitimate business of perfumery.
"I came very near giving Monsieur Birotteau a receipt for his four
hundred thousand francs," said Claparon. "I should have blown up if I
had, for I had given Roguin a hundred thousand myself the day before.
Our mutual confidence is all that saved me. Whether the money were in
a lawyer's hands or in mine until the day came to pay for the land,
seemed to us all a matter of no importance."
"It would have been better," said Lebas, "to have kept the money in
the Bank of France until the time came to make the payments."
"Roguin was the bank to me," said Cesar. "But he is in the
speculation," he added, looking at Claparon.
"Yes, for one-fourth, by verbal agreement only. After being such a
fool as to let him run off with my money, I sha'n't be such a fool as
to throw any more after it. If he sends me my hundred thousand francs,
and two hundred thousand more for his half of our share, I shall then
see about it. But he will take good care not to send them for an
affair which needs five years' pot-boiling before you get any broth.
If he has only carried off, as they say, three hundred thousand
francs, he will want the income of all of that to live suitably in
"Eh! the devil take him! It was a woman who got him where he is," said
Claparon. "Where's the old man who can answer for himself that he
won't be the slave of his last fancy? None of us, who think ourselves
so virtuous, know how we shall end. A last passion,--eh! it is the
most violent of all! Look at Cardot, Camusot, Matifat; they all have
their mistresses! If we have been gobbled up to satisfy Roguin's,
isn't it our own fault? Why didn't we distrust a notary who meddles
with speculations? Every notary, every broker, every trustee who
speculates is an object of suspicion. Failure for them is fraudulent
bankruptcy; they are sure to go before the criminal courts, and
therefore they prefer to run out of the country. I sha'n't commit such
a stupid blunder again. Well, well! we are too shaky ourselves in the
matter not to let judgment go by default against the men we have dined
with, who have given us fine balls,--men of the world, in short.
Nobody complains; we are all to blame."
"Very much to blame," said Birotteau. "The laws about failures and
insolvency should be looked into."
"If you have any need of me," said Lebas to Cesar, "I am at your
"Monsieur does not need any one," said the irrepressible chatterbox,
whose floodgates du Tillet had set wide open when he turned on the
water,--for Claparon was now repeating a lesson du Tillet had cleverly
taught him. "His course is quite clear. Roguin's assets will give
fifty per cent to the creditors, so little Crottat tells me. Besides
this, Monsieur Birotteau gets back the forty thousand on his note to
Roguin's client, which the lender never paid over; then, of course, he
can borrow on that property. We have four months ahead before we are
obliged to make a payment of two hundred thousand francs to the
sellers. Between now and then, Monsieur Birotteau can pay off his
notes; though of course he can't count on what Roguin has carried off
to meet them. Even if Monsieur Birotteau should be rather pinched,
with a little manipulation he will come out all right."
The poor man took courage, as he heard Claparon analyzing the affair
and summing it up with advice as to his future conduct. His
countenance grew firm and decided; and he began to think highly of the
late commercial traveller's capacity. Du Tillet had thought best to
let Claparon believe himself really the victim of Roguin. He had given
Claparon a hundred thousand francs to pay over to Roguin the day
before the latter's flight, and Roguin had returned the money to du
Tillet. Claparon, therefore, to that extent was playing a genuine
part; and he told whoever would listen to him that Roguin had cost him
a hundred thousand francs. Du Tillet thought Claparon was not bold
enough, and fancied he had still too much honor and decency to make it
safe to trust him with the full extent of his plans; and he knew him
to be mentally incapable of conjecturing them.
"If our first friend is not our first dupe, we shall never find a
second," he made answer to Claparon, on the day when his catchpenny
banker reproached him for the trick; and he flung him away like a
Monsieur Lebas and Claparon went out together.
"I shall pull through," said Birotteau to himself. "My liabilities
amount to two hundred and thirty-five thousand francs; that is, sixty-
five thousand in bills for the cost of the ball, and a hundred and
seventy-five thousand given in notes for the lands. To meet these, I
have my share of Roguin's assets, say perhaps one hundred thousand
francs; and I can cancel the loan on my property in the Faubourg du
Temple, as the mortgage never paid the money,--in all, one hundred and
forty thousand. All depends on making a hundred thousand francs out of
Cephalic Oil, and waiting patiently, with the help of a few notes, or
a credit at a banker's, until I repair my losses or the lands about
the Madeleine reach their full value."
When a man crushed by misfortune is once able to make the fiction of a
hope for himself by a series of arguments, more or less reasonable,
with which he bolsters himself up to rest his head, it often happens
that he is really saved. Many a man has derived energy from the
confidence born of illusions. Possibly, hope is the better half of
courage; indeed, the Catholic religion makes it a virtue. Hope! has it
not sustained the weak, and given the fainting heart time and patience
to await the chances and changes of life? Cesar resolved to confide
his situation to his wife's uncle before seeking for succor elsewhere.
But as he walked down the Rue Saint-Honore towards the Rue des
Bourdonnais, he endured an inward anguish and distress which shook him
so violently that he fancied his health was giving way. His bowels
seemed on fire. It is an established fact that persons who feel
through their diaphragms suffer in those parts when overtaken by
misfortune, just as others whose perceptions are in their heads suffer
from cerebral pains and affections. In great crises, the physical
powers are attacked at the point where the individual temperament has
placed the vital spark. Feeble beings have the colic. Napoleon slept.
Before assailing the confidence of a life-long friendship, and
breaking down all the barriers of pride and self-assurance, an
honorable man must needs feel in his heart--and feel it more than once
--the spur of that cruel rider, necessity. Thus it happened that
Birotteau had been goaded for two days before he could bring himself
to seek his uncle; it was, indeed, only family reasons which finally
decided him to do so. In any state of the case, it was his duty to
explain his position to the severe old ironmonger, his wife's uncle.
Nevertheless, as he reached the house he felt that inward faintness
which a child feels when taken to a dentist's; but this shrinking of
the heart involved the whole of his life, past, present, and to come,
--it was not the fugitive pain of a moment. He went slowly up the
The old man was reading the "Constitutionnel" in his chimney-corner,
before a little round table on which stood his frugal breakfast,--a
roll, some butter, a plate of Brie cheese, and a cup of coffee.
"Here is true wisdom," thought Birotteau, envying his uncle's life.
"Well!" said Pillerault, taking off his spectacles, "I heard at the
cafe David last night about Roguin's affair, and the assassination of
his mistress, la belle Hollandaise. I hope, as we desire to be actual
owners of the property, that you obtained Claparon's receipt for the
"Alas! uncle, no. The trouble is just there,--you have put your finger
upon the sore."
"Good God! you are ruined!" cried Pillerault, letting fall his
newspaper, which Birotteau picked up, though it was the
Pillerault was so violently roused by his reflections that his face--
like the image on a medal and of the same stern character--took a deep
bronze tone, such as the metal itself takes under the oscillating tool
of a coiner; he remained motionless, gazing through the window-panes
at the opposite wall, but seeing nothing,--listening, however, to
Birotteau. Evidently he heard and judged, and weighed the /pros/ and
/cons/ with the inflexibility of a Minos who had crossed the Styx of
commerce when he quitted the Quai des Morfondus for his little third
"Well, uncle?" said Birotteau, who waited for an answer, after closing
what he had to say with an entreaty that Pillerault would sell sixty
thousand francs out of the Funds.
"Well, my poor nephew, I cannot do it; you are too heavily involved.
The Ragons and I each lose our fifty thousand francs. Those worthy
people have, by my advice, sold their shares in the mines of
Wortschin: I feel obliged, in case of loss, not to return the capital
of course, but to succor them, and to succor my niece and Cesarine.
You may all want bread, and you shall find it with me."
"Want bread, uncle?"
"Yes, bread. See things as they are, Cesar. /You cannot extricate
yourself./ With five thousand six hundred francs income, I could set
aside four thousand francs for you and the Ragons. If misfortune
overtakes you,--I know Constance, she will work herself to the bone,
she will deny herself everything; and so will you, Cesar."
"All is not hopeless, uncle."
"I cannot see it as you do."
"I will prove that you are mistaken."
"Nothing would give me greater happiness."
Birotteau left Pillerault without another word. He had come to seek
courage and consolation, and he received a blow less severe, perhaps,
than the first; but instead of striking his head it struck his heart,
and his heart was the whole of life to the poor man. After going down
a few stairs he returned.
"Monsieur," he said, in a cold voice, "Constance knows nothing. Keep
my secret at any rate; beg the Ragons to say nothing, and not to take
from my home the peace I need so much in my struggle against
Pillerault made a gesture of assent.
"Courage, Cesar!" he said. "I see you are angry with me; but later,
when you think of your wife and daughter, you will do me justice."
Discouraged by his uncle's opinion, and recognizing its clear-
sightedness, Cesar tumbled from the heights of hope into the miry
marshes of doubt and uncertainty. In such horrible commercial straits
a man, unless his soul is tempered like that of Pillerault, becomes
the plaything of events; he follows the ideas of others, or his own,
as a traveller pursues a will-o'-the-wisp. He lets the gust whirl him
along, instead of lying flat and not looking up as it passes; or else
gathering himself together to follow the direction of the storm till
he can escape from the edges of it. In the midst of his pain Birotteau
bethought him of the steps he ought to take about the mortgage on his
property. He turned towards the Rue Vivienne to find Derville, his
solicitor, and institute proceedings at once, in case the lawyer
should see any chance of annulling the agreement. He found Derville
sitting by the fire, wrapped in a white woollen dressing-gown, calm
and composed in manner, like all lawyers long used to receiving
terrible confidences. Birotteau noticed for the first time in his life
this necessary coldness, which struck a chill to the soul of a man
grasped by the fever of imperilled interests,--passionate, wounded,
and cruelly gashed in his life, his honor, his wife, his child, as
Cesar showed himself to be while he related his misfortunes.
"If it can be proved," said Derville, after listening to him, "that
the lender no longer had in Roguin's hands the sum which Roguin
pretended to borrow for you upon your property, then, as there has
been no delivery of the money, there is ground for annulling the
contract; the lender may seek redress through the warranty, as you
will for your hundred thousand francs. I will answer for the case,
however, as much as one can ever answer. No case is won till it is
The opinion of so able a lawyer restored Cesar's courage a little, and
he begged Derville to obtain a judgment within a fortnight. The
solicitor replied that it might take three months to get such a
judgment as would annul the agreement.
"Three months!" cried Birotteau, who needed immediate resources.
"Though we may get the case at once on the docket, we cannot make your
adversary keep pace with us. He will employ all the law's delays, and
the barristers are seldom ready. Perhaps your opponents will let the
case go by default. We can't always get on as we wish," said Derville,
"In the commercial courts--" began Birotteau.
"Oh!" said the lawyer, "the judges of the commercial courts and the
judges of the civil courts are different sorts of judges. You dash
through things. At the Palais de Justice we have stricter forms. Forms
are the bulwarks of law. How would you like slap-dash judgments, which
can't be appealed, and which would make you lose forty thousand
francs? Well, your adversary, who sees that sum involved, will defend
himself. Delays may be called judicial fortifications."
"You are right," said Birotteau, bidding Derville good-by, and going
hurriedly away, with death in his heart.
"They are all right. Money! money! I must have money!" he cried as he
went along the streets, talking to himself like other busy men in the
turbulent and seething city, which a modern poet has called a vat.
When he entered his shop, the clerk who had carried round the bills
informed him that the customers had returned the receipts and kept the
accounts, as it was so near the first of January.
"Then there is no money to be had anywhere," said the perfumer, aloud.
He bit his lips, for the clerks all raised their heads and looked at
Five days went by; five days during which Braschon, Lourdois, Thorein,
Grindot, Chaffaroux, and all the other creditors with unpaid bills
passed through the chameleon phases that are customary to uneasy
creditors before they take the sanguinary colors of the commercial
Bellona, and reach a state of peaceful confidence. In Paris the
astringent stage of suspicion and mistrust is as quick to declare
itself as the expansive flow of confidence is slow in gathering way.
The creditor who has once turned into the narrow path of commercial
fears and precautions speedily takes a course of malignant meanness
which puts him below the level of his debtor. He passes from specious
civility to impatient rage, to the surly clamor of importunity, to
bursts of disappointment, to the livid coldness of a mind made up to
vengeance, and the scowling insolence of a summons before the courts.
Braschon, the rich upholsterer of the Faubourg Saint-Antoine, who was
not invited to the ball, and was therefore stabbed in his self-love,
sounded the charge; he insisted on being paid within twenty-four
hours. He demanded security; not an attachment on the furniture, but a
second mortgage on the property in the Faubourg du Temple.
In spite of such attacks and the violence of these recriminations, a
few peaceful intervals occurred, when Birotteau breathed once more;
but instead of resolutely facing and vanquishing the first
skirmishings of adverse fortune, Cesar employed his whole mind in the
effort to keep his wife, the only person able to advise him, from
knowing anything about them. He guarded the very threshold of his
door, and set a watch on all around him. He took Celestin into
confidence so far as to admit a momentary embarrassment, and Celestin
examined him with an amazed and inquisitive look. In his eyes Cesar
lessened, as men lessen in presence of disasters when accustomed only
to success, and when their whole mental strength consists of knowledge
which commonplace minds acquire through routine.
Menaced as he was on so many sides at once, and without the energy or
capacity to defend himself, Cesar nevertheless had the courage to look
his position in the face. To meet the payments on his house and on his
loans, and to pay his rents and his current expenses, he required,
between the end of December and the fifteenth of January, a sum of
sixty thousand francs, half of which must be obtained before the
thirtieth of December. All his resources put together gave him a scant
twenty thousand; he lacked ten thousand francs for the first payments.
To his mind the position did not seem desperate; for like an
adventurer who lives from day to day, he saw only the present moment.
He resolved to attempt, before the news of his embarrassments was made
public, what seemed to him a great stroke, and seek out the famous
Francois Keller, banker, orator, and philanthropist, celebrated for
his benevolence and for his desire to serve the interests of Parisian
commerce,--with the view, we may add, of being always returned to the
Chamber as a deputy of Paris.
The banker was Liberal, Birotteau was Royalist; but the perfumer
judged by his own heart, and believed that the difference in their
political opinions would only be one reason the more for obtaining the
credit he intended to ask. In case actual securities were required he
felt no doubt of Popinot's devotion, from whom he expected to obtain
some thirty thousand francs, which would enable him to await the
result of his law-suit by satisfying the demands of the most exacting
of the creditors. The demonstrative perfumer, who told his dear
Constance, with his head on her pillow, the smallest thoughts and
feelings of his whole life, looking for the lights of her
contradiction, and gathering courage as he did so, was now prevented
from speaking of his situation to his head-clerk, his uncle, or his
wife. His thoughts were therefore doubly heavy,--and yet the generous
martyr preferred to suffer, rather than fling the fiery brand into the
soul of his wife. He meant to tell her of the danger when it was over.
The awe with which she inspired him gave him courage. He went every
morning to hear Mass at Saint-Roch, and took God for his confidant.
"If I do not meet a soldier coming home from Saint-Roch, my request
will be granted. That will be God's answer," he said to himself, after
praying that God would help him.
And he was overjoyed when it happened that he did not meet a soldier.
Still, his heart was so heavy that he needed another heart on which to
lean and moan. Cesarine, to whom from the first he confided the fatal
truth, knew all his secrets. Many stolen glances passed between them,
glances of despair or smothered hope,--interpellations of the eye
darted with mutual eagerness, inquiries and replies full of sympathy,
rays passing from soul to soul. Birotteau compelled himself to seem
gay, even jovial, with his wife. If Constance asked a question--bah!
everything was going well; Popinot (about whom Cesar knew nothing) was
succeeding; the oil was looking up; the notes with Claparon would be
paid; there was nothing to fear. His mock joy was terrible to witness.
When his wife had fallen asleep in the sumptuous bed, Birotteau would
rise to a sitting position and think over his troubles. Cesarine would
sometimes creep in with her bare feet, in her chemise, and a shawl
over her white shoulders.
"Papa, I hear you,--you are crying," she would say, crying herself.
Birotteau sank into such a torpor, after writing the letter which
asked for an interview with the great Francois Keller, that his
daughter took him out for a walk through the streets of Paris. For the
first time he was roused to notice enormous scarlet placards on all
the walls, and his eyes encountered the words "Cephalic Oil."
While catastrophes thus threatened "The Queen of Roses" to westward,
the house of A. Popinot was rising, radiant in the eastern splendors
of success. By the advice of Gaudissart and Finot, Anselme launched
his oil heroically. Two thousand placards were pasted in three days on
the most conspicuous spots in all Paris. No one could avoid coming
face to face with Cephalic Oil, and reading a pithy sentence,
constructed by Finot, which announced the impossibility of forcing the
hair to grow and the dangers of dyeing it, and was judiciously
accompanied by a quotation from Vauquelin's report to the Academy of
Sciences,--in short, a regular certificate of life for dead hair,
offered to all those who used Cephalic Oil. Every hair-dresser in
Paris, and all the perfumers, ornamented their doorways with gilt
frames containing a fine impression of the prospectus on vellum, at
the top of which shone the engraving of Hero and Leander, reduced in
size, with the following assertion as an epigraph: "The peoples of
antiquity preserved their hair by the use of Cephalic Oil."
"He has devised frames, permanent frames, perpetual placards," said
Birotteau to himself, quite dumbfounded as he stood before the shop-
front of the Cloche d'Argent.
"Then you have not seen," said his daughter, "the frame which Monsieur
Anselme has brought with his own hands, sending Celestin three hundred
bottles of oil?"
"No," he said.
"Celestin has already sold fifty to passers-by, and sixty to regular
"Ah!" exclaimed Cesar.
The poor man, bewildered by the clash of bells which misery jangles in
the ears of its victims, lived and moved in a dazed condition. The
night before, Popinot had waited more than an hour to see him, and
went away after talking with Constance and Cesarine, who told him that
Cesar was absorbed in his great enterprise.
"Ah, true! the lands about the Madeleine."
Happily, Popinot--who for a month had never left the Rue des Cinq-
Diamants, sitting up all night, and working all Sunday at the
manufactory--had seen neither the Ragons, nor Pillerault, nor his
uncle the judge. He allowed himself but two hours' sleep, poor lad! he
had only two clerks, but at the rate things were now going, he would
soon need four. In business, opportunity is everything. He who does
not spring upon the back of success and clutch it by the mane, lets
fortune escape. Popinot felt that his suit would prosper if six months
hence he could say to his uncle and aunt, "I am secure; my fortune is
made," and carry to Birotteau thirty or forty thousand francs as his
share of the profits. He was ignorant of Roguin's flight, of the
disasters and embarrassments which were closing down on Cesar, and he
therefore could say nothing indiscreet to Madame Birotteau.
Popinot had promised Finot five hundred francs for every puff in a
first-class newspaper, and already there were ten of them; three
hundred francs for every second-rate paper, and there were ten of
those,--in all of them Cephalic Oil was mentioned three times a month!
Finot saw three thousand francs for himself out of these eight
thousand--his first stake on the vast green table of speculation! He
therefore sprang like a lion on his friends and acquaintances; he
haunted the editorial rooms; he wormed himself to the very bedsides of
editors in the morning, and prowled about the lobby of the theatres at
night. "Think of my oil, dear friend; I have no interest in it--bit of
good fellowship, you know!" "Gaudissart, jolly dog!" Such was the
first and the last phrase of all his allocutions. He begged for the
bottom lines of the final columns of the newspapers, and inserted
articles for which he asked no pay from the editors. Wily as a
supernumerary who wants to be an actor, wide-awake as an errand-boy
who earns sixty francs a month, he wrote wheedling letters, flattered
the self-love of editors-in-chief, and did them base services to get
his articles inserted. Money, dinners, platitudes, all served the
purpose of his eager activity. With tickets for the theatre, he bribed
the printers who about midnight are finishing up the columns of a
newspaper with little facts and ready-made items kept on hand. At that
hour Finot hovered around printing-presses, busy, apparently, with
proofs to be corrected. Keeping friends with everybody, he brought
Cephalic Oil to a triumphant success over Pate de Regnauld, and
Brazilian Mixture, and all the other inventions which had the genius
to comprehend journalistic influence and the suction power that
reiterated newspaper articles have upon the public mind. In these
early days of their innocence many journalists were like cattle; they
were unaware of their inborn power; their heads were full of
actresses,--Florine, Tullia, Mariette, etc. They laid down the law to
everybody, but they picked up nothing for themselves. As Finot's
schemes did not concern actresses who wanted applause, nor plays to be
puffed, nor vaudevilles to be accepted, nor articles which had to be
paid for,--on the contrary, he paid money on occasion, and gave timely
breakfasts,--there was soon not a newspaper in Paris which did not
mention Cephalic Oil, and call attention to its remarkable concurrence
with the principles of Vauquelin's analysis; ridiculing all those who
thought hair could be made to grow, and proclaiming the danger of
These articles rejoiced the soul of Gaudissart, who used them as
ammunition to destroy prejudices, bringing to bear upon the provinces
what his successors have since named, in honor of him, "the charge of
the tongue-battery." In those days Parisian newspapers ruled the
departments, which were still (unhappy regions!) without /local
organs/. The papers were therefore soberly studied, from the title to
the name of the printer,--a last line which may have hidden the
ironies of persecuted opinion. Gaudissart, thus backed up by the
press, met with startling success from the very first town which he
favored with his tongue. Every shopkeeper in the provinces wanted the
gilt frames, and the prospectuses with Hero and Leander at the top of
In Paris, Finot fired at Macassar Oil that delightful joke which made
people so merry at the Funambules, when Pierrot, taking an old hair-
broom, anointed it with Macassar Oil, and the broom incontinently
became a mop. This ironical scene excited universal laughter. Finot
gaily related in after days that without the thousand crowns he earned
through Cephalic Oil he should have died of misery and despair. To him
a thousand crowns was fortune. It was in this campaign that he guessed
--let him have the honor of being the first to do so--the illimitable
power of advertisement, of which he made so great and so judicious a
use. Three months later he became editor-in-chief of a little journal
which he finally bought, and which laid the foundation of his ultimate
success. Just as the tongue-battery of the illustrious Gaudissart,
that Murat of travellers, when brought to bear upon the provinces and
the frontiers, made the house of A. Popinot and Company a triumphant
mercantile success in the country regions, so likewise did Cephalic
Oil triumph in Parisian opinion, thanks to Finot's famishing assault
upon the newspapers, which gave it as much publicity as that obtained
by Brazilian Mixture and the Pate de Regnauld. From the start, public
opinion, thus carried by storm, begot three successes, three fortunes,
and proved the advance guard of that invasion of ambitious schemes
which since have poured their crowded battalions into the arena of
journalism, for which they have created--oh, mighty revolution!--the
paid advertisement. The name of A. Popinot and Company now flaunted on
all the walls and all the shop-fronts. Incapable of perceiving the
full bearing of such publicity, Birotteau merely said to his
"Little Popinot is following in my steps."
He did not understand the difference of the times, nor appreciate the
power of the novel methods of execution, whose rapidity and extent
took in, far more promptly than ever before, the whole commercial
universe. Birotteau had not set foot in his manufactory since the
ball; he knew nothing therefore of the energy and enterprise displayed
by Popinot. Anselme had engaged all Cesar's workmen, and often slept
himself on the premises. His fancy pictured Cesarine sitting on the
cases, and hovering over the shipments; her name seemed printed on the
bills; and as he worked with his coat off, and his shirt-sleeves
rolled up, courageously nailing up the cases himself, in default of
the necessary clerks, he said in his heart, "She shall be mine!"
The following day Cesar went to Francois Keller's house in Rue du
Houssaye, having spent the night turning over in his mind what he
ought to say, or ought not to say, to a leading man in banking
circles. Horrible palpitations of the heart assailed him as he
approached the house of the Liberal banker, who belonged to a party
accused, with good reason, of seeking the overthrow of the restored
Bourbons. The perfumer, like all the lesser tradesmen of Paris, was
ignorant of the habits and customs of the upper banking circles.
Between the higher walks of finance and ordinary commerce, there is in
Paris a class of secondary houses, useful intermediaries for banking
interests, which find in them an additional security. Constance and
Birotteau, who had never gone beyond their means, whose purse had
never run dry, and who kept their moneys in their own possession, had
so far never needed the services of these intermediary houses; they
were therefore unknown in the higher regions of a bank. Perhaps it is
a mistake not to take out credits, even if we do not need them.
Opinions vary on this point. However that may be, Birotteau now deeply
regretted that his signature was unknown. Still, as deputy-mayor, and
therefore known in politics, he thought he had only to present his
name and be admitted: he was quite ignorant of the ceremonial, half
regal, which attended an audience with Francois Keller. He was shown
into a salon which adjoined the study of the celebrated banker,--
celebrated in various ways. Birotteau found himself among a numerous
company of deputies, writers, journalists, stock-brokers, merchants of
the upper grades, agents, engineers, and above all satellites, or
henchmen, who passed from group to group, and knocked in a peculiar
manner at the door of the study, which they were, as it seemed,
privileged to enter.
"What am I in the midst of all this?" thought Birotteau, quite
bewildered by the stir of this intellectual kiln, where the daily
bread of the opposition was kneaded and baked, and the scenes of the
grand tragi-comedy played by the Left were rehearsed. On one side he
heard them discussing the question of loans to complete the net-work
of canals proposed by the department on highways; and the discussion
involved millions! On the other, journalists, pandering to the
banker's self-love, were talking about the session of the day before,
and the impromptu speech of the great man. In the course of two long
hours Birotteau saw the banker three times, as he accompanied certain
persons of importance three steps from the door of his study. But
Francois Keller went to the door of the antechamber with the last, who
was General Foy.
"There is no hope for me!" thought Birotteau with a shrinking heart.
When the banker returned to his study, the troop of courtiers,
friends, and self-seekers pressed round him like dogs pursuing a
bitch. A few bold curs slipped, in spite of him, into the sanctum. The
conferences lasted five, ten, or fifteen minutes. Some went away chap-
fallen; others affected satisfaction, and took on airs of importance.
Time passed; Birotteau looked anxiously at the clock. No one paid the
least attention to the hidden grief which moaned silently in the
gilded armchair in the chimney corner, near the door of the cabinet
where dwelt the universal panacea--credit! Cesar remembered sadly that
for a brief moment he too had been a king among his own people, as
this man was a king daily; and he measured the depth of the abyss down
which he had fallen. Ah, bitter thought! how many tears were driven
back during those waiting hours! how many times did he not pray to God
that this man might be favorable to him! for he saw, through the
coarse varnish of popular good humor, a tone of insolence, a choleric
tyranny, a brutal desire to rule, which terrified his gentle spirit.
At last, when only ten or twelve persons were left in the room,
Birotteau resolved that the next time the outer door of the study
turned on its hinges he would rise and face the great orator, and say
to him, "I am Birotteau!" The grenadier who sprang first into the
redoubt at Moscow displayed no greater courage than Cesar now summoned
up to perform this act.
"After all, I am his mayor," he said to himself as he rose to proclaim
The countenance of Francois Keller at once became affable; he
evidently desired to be cordial. He glanced at Cesar's red ribbon, and
stepping back, opened the door of his study and motioned him to enter,
remaining himself for some time to speak with two men, who rushed in
from the staircase with the violence of a waterspout.
"Decazes wants to speak to you," said one of them.
"It is a question of defeating the Pavillon Marsan!" cried the other.
"The King's eyes are opened. He is coming round to us."
"We will go together to the Chamber," said the banker, striking the
attitude of the frog who imitates an ox.
"How can he find time to think of business?" thought Birotteau, much
The sun of successful superiority dazzled the perfumer, as light
blinds those insects who seek the falling day or the half-shadows of a
starlit night. On a table of immense size lay the budget, piles of the
Chamber records, open volumes of the "Moniteur," with passages
carefully marked, to throw at the head of a Minister his forgotten
words and force him to recant them, under the jeering plaudits of a
foolish crowd incapable of perceiving how circumstances alter cases.
On another table were heaped portfolios, minutes, projects,
specifications, and all the thousand memoranda brought to bear upon a
man into whose funds so many nascent industries sought to dip. The
royal luxury of this cabinet, filled with pictures, statues, and works
of art; the encumbered chimney-piece; the accumulation of many
interests, national and foreign, heaped together like bales,--all
struck Birotteau's mind, dwarfed his powers, heightened his terror,
and froze his blood. On Francois Keller's desk lay bundles of notes
and checks, letters of credit, and commercial circulars. Keller sat
down and began to sign rapidly such letters as needed no examination.
"Monsieur, to what do I owe the honor of this visit?"
At these words, uttered for him alone by a voice which influenced all
Europe, while the eager hand was running over the paper, the poor
perfumer felt something that was like a hot iron in his stomach. He
assumed the ingratiating manner which for ten years past the banker
had seen all men put on when they wanted to get the better of him for
their own purposes, and which gave him at once the advantage over
them. Francois Keller accordingly darted at Cesar a look which shot
through his head,--a Napoleonic look. This imitation of Napoleon's
glance was a silly satire, then popular with certain parvenus who had
never seen so much as the base coin of their emperor. This glance fell
upon Birotteau, a devotee of the Right, a partisan of the government,
--himself an element of monarchical election,--like the stamp of a
custom-house officer affixed to a bale of merchandise.
"Monsieur, I will not waste your time; I will be brief. I come on
commercial business only,--to ask if I can obtain a credit. I was
formerly a judge of the commercial courts, and known to the Bank of
France. You will easily understand that if I had plenty of ready money
I need only apply there, where you are yourself a director. I had the
honor of sitting on the Bench of commerce with Monsieur le baron
Thibon, chairman of the committee on discounts; and he, most
assuredly, would not refuse me. But up to this time I have never made
use of my credit or my signature; my signature is virgin,--and you
know what difficulties that puts in the way of negotiation."
Keller moved his head, and Birotteau took the movement for one of
"Monsieur, these are the facts," he resumed. "I am engaged in an
affair of landed property, outside of my business--"
Francois Keller, who continued to sign and read his documents, without
seeming to listen to Birotteau, here turned round and made him a
little sign of attention, which encouraged the poor man. He thought
the matter was taking a favorable turn, and breathed again.
"Go on; I hear you," said Keller good-naturedly.
"I have purchased, at half its value, certain land about the
"Yes; I heard Nucingen speak of that immense affair,--undertaken, I
believe, by Claparon and Company."
"Well," continued Cesar, "a credit of a hundred thousand francs,
secured on my share of the purchase, will suffice to carry me along
until I can reap certain profits from a discovery of mine in
perfumery. Should it be necessary, I will cover your risk by notes on
a new establishment,--the firm of A. Popinot--"
Keller seemed to care very little about the firm of Popinot; and
Birotteau, perceiving that he had made a false move, stopped short;
then, alarmed by the silence, he resumed, "As for the interest, we--"
"Yes, yes," said the banker, "the matter can be arranged; don't doubt
my desire to be of service to you. Busy as I am,--for I have the
finances of Europe on my shoulders, and the Chamber takes all my
time,--you will not be surprised to hear that I leave the vast bulk of
our affairs to the examination of others. Go and see my brother
Adolphe, downstairs; explain to him the nature of your securities; if
he approves of the operation, come back here with him to-morrow or the
day after, at five in the morning,--the hour at which I examine into
certain business matters. We shall be proud and happy to obtain your
confidence. You are one of those consistent royalists with whom, of
course, we are political enemies, but whose good-will is always
"Monsieur," said Cesar, elated by this specimen of tribune eloquence,
"I trust I am as worthy of the honor you do me as I was of the signal
and royal favor which I earned by my services on the Bench of
commerce, and by fighting--"
"Yes, yes," interrupted the banker, "your reputation is a passport,
Monsieur Birotteau. You will, of course, propose nothing that is not
feasible, and you can depend on our co-operation."
A lady, Madame Keller, one of the two daughters of the Comte de
Gondreville, here opened a door which Birotteau had not observed.
"I hope to see you before you go the Chamber," she said.
"It is two o'clock," exclaimed the banker; "the battle has begun.
Excuse me, monsieur, it is a question of upsetting the ministry. See
He conducted the perfumer to the door of the salon, and said to one of
the servants, "Show monsieur the way to Monsieur Adolphe."
As Cesar traversed a labyrinth of staircases, under the guidance of a
man in livery, towards an office far less sumptuous but more useful
than that of the head of the house, feeling himself astride the gentle
steed of hope, he stroked his chin, and augured well from the
flatteries of the great man. He regretted that an enemy of the
Bourbons should be so gracious, so able, so fine an orator.
Full of these illusions he entered a cold bare room, furnished with
two desks on rollers, some shabby armchairs, a threadbare carpet, and
curtains that were much neglected. This cabinet was to that of the
elder brother like a kitchen to a dining-room, or a work-room to a
shop. Here were turned inside out all matters touching the bank and
commerce; here all enterprises were sifted, and the first tithes
levied, on behalf of the bank, upon the profits of industries judged
worthy of being upheld. Here were devised those bold strokes by which
short-lived monopolies were called into being and rapidly sucked dry.
Here defects of legislation were chronicled; and bargains driven,
without shame, for what the Bourse terms "pickings to be gobbled up,"
commissions exacted for the smallest services, such as lending their
name to an enterprise, and allowing it credit. Here were hatched the
specious, legal plots by which silent partnerships were taken in
doubtful enterprises, that the bank might lie in wait for the moment
of success, and then crush them and seize the property by demanding a
return of the capital at a critical moment,--an infamous trick, which
involves and ruins many small shareholders.
The two brothers had each selected his appropriate part. Upstairs,
Francois, the brilliant man of the world and of politics, assumed a
regal air, bestowed courtesies and promises, and made himself
agreeable to all. His manners were easy and complying; he looked at
business from a lofty standpoint; he intoxicated new recruits and
fledgling speculators with the wine of his favor and his fervid
speech, as he made plain to them their own ideas. Downstairs, Adolphe
unsaid his brother's words, excused him on the ground of political
preoccupation, and cleverly slipped the rake along the cloth. He
played the part of the responsible partner, the careful business man.
Two words, two speeches, two interviews, were required before an
understanding could be reached with this perfidious house. Often the
gracious "yes" of the sumptuous upper floor became a dry "no" in
Adolphe's region. This obstructive manoeuvre gave time for reflection,
and often served to fool unskilful applicants. As Cesar entered, the
banker's brother was conversing with the famous Palma, intimate
adviser of the house of Keller, who retired on the appearance of the
perfumer. When Birotteau had explained his errand, Adolphe--much the
cleverest of the two brothers, a thorough lynx, with a keen eye, thin
lips, and a dry skin--cast at Birotteau, lowering his head to look
over his spectacles as he did so, a look which we must call the
banker-look,--a cross between that of a vulture and that of an
attorney; eager yet indifferent, clear yet vague, glittering though
"Have the goodness to send me the deeds relating to the affair of the
Madeleine," he said; "our security in making you this credit lies
there: we must examine them before we consent to make it, or discuss
the terms. If the affair is sound, we shall be willing, so as not to
embarrass you, to take a share of the profits in place of receiving a
"Well," thought Birotteau, as he walked away, "I see what it means.
Like the hunted beaver, I am to give up a part of my skin. After all,
it is better to be shorn than killed."
He went home smiling gaily, and his gaiety was genuine.
"I am saved," he said to Cesarine. "I am to have a credit with the
It was not until the 29th of December that Birotteau was allowed to
re-enter Adolphe's cabinet. The first time he called, Adolphe had gone
into the country to look at a piece of property which the great orator
thought of buying. The second time, the two Kellers were deeply
engaged for the whole day, preparing a tender for a loan proposed in
the Chamber, and they begged Monsieur Birotteau to return on the
following Friday. These delays were killing to the poor man. But
Friday came at last. Birotteau found himself in the cabinet, placed in
one corner of the fireplace, facing the light from a window, with
Adolphe Keller opposite to him.
"They are all right, monsieur," said the banker, pointing to the
deeds. "But what payments have you made on the price of the land?"
"One hundred and forty thousand francs."
"Are they paid?"
"They are not yet due."
"But supposing you have paid more than the present value of the
property, where will be our security? It will rest solely on the
respect you inspire, and the consideration in which you are held.
Business is not conducted on sentiment. If you had paid two hundred
thousand francs, supposing that there were another one hundred
thousand paid down in advance for possession of the land, we should
then have had the security of a hundred thousand francs, to warrant us
in giving you a credit of one hundred thousand. The result might be to
make us owners of your share by our paying for it, instead of your
doing so; consequently we must be satisfied that the affair is a sound
one. To wait five years to double our capital won't do for us; it is
better to employ it in other ways. There are so many chances! You are
trying to circulate paper to pay your notes when they fall due,--a
dangerous game. It is wiser to step back for a better leap. The affair
does not suit us."
This sentence struck Birotteau as if the executioner had stamped his
shoulder with the marking-iron; he lost his head.
"Come," said Adolphe, "my brother feels a great interest in you; he
spoke of you to me. Let us examine into your affairs," he added,
glancing at Cesar with the look of a courtesan eager to pay her rent.
Birotteau became Molineux,--a being at whom he had once laughed so
loftily. Enticed along by the banker,--who enjoyed disentangling the
bobbins of the poor man's thought, and who knew as well how to cross-
question a merchant as Popinot the judge knew how to make a criminal
betray himself,--Cesar recounted all his enterprises; he put forward
his Double Paste of Sultans and Carminative Balm, the Roguin affair,
and his lawsuit about the mortgage on which he had received no money.
As he watched the smiling, attentive face of Keller and the motions of
his head, Birotteau said to himself, "He is listening; I interest him;
I shall get my credit!" Adolphe Keller was laughing at Cesar, just as
Cesar had laughed at Molineux. Carried away by the lust of speech
peculiar to those who are made drunk by misfortune, Cesar revealed his
inner man; he gave his measure when he ended by offering the security
of Cephalic Oil and the firm of Popinot,--his last stake. The worthy
man, led on by false hopes, allowed Adolphe Keller to sound and fathom
him, and he stood revealed to the banker's eyes as a royalist jackass
on the point of failure. Delighted to foresee the bankruptcy of a
deputy-mayor of the arrondissement, an official just decorated, and a
man in power, Keller now curtly told Birotteau that he could neither
give him a credit nor say anything in his favor to his brother
Francois. If Francois gave way to idiotic generosity, and helped
people of another way of thinking from his own, men who were his
political enemies, he, Adolphe, would oppose with might and main any
attempt to make a dupe of him, and would prevent him from holding out
a hand to the adversary of Napoleon, wounded at Saint-Roch. Birotteau,
exasperated, tried to say something about the cupidity of the great
banking-houses, their harshness, their false philanthropy; but he was
seized with so violent a pain that he could scarcely stammer a few
words about the Bank of France, from which the Kellers were allowed to
"Yes," said Adolphe Keller; "but the Bank would never discount paper
which a private bank refused."
"The Bank of France," said Birotteau, "has always seemed to me to miss
its vocation when it congratulates itself, as it does in presenting
its reports, on never losing more than one or two hundred thousand
francs through Parisian commerce: it should be the guardian and
protector of Parisian commerce."
Adolphe smiled, and got up with the air and gesture of being bored.
"If the Bank were mixed up as silent partners with people who are
involved in the most knavish and hazardous market in the world, it
would soon have to hand in its schedule. It has, even now, immense
difficulty in protecting itself against forgeries and false
circulations of all kinds. Where would it be if it had to take account
of the business of every one who wanted to get something out of it?"
"Where shall I find ten thousand francs for to-morrow, the THIRTIETH?"
cried Birotteau, as he crossed the courtyard.
According to Parisian custom, notes were paid on the thirtieth, if the
thirty-first was a holiday.
As Cesar reached the outer gate, his eyes bathed in tears, he scarcely
saw a fine English horse, covered with sweat, which drew the
handsomest cabriolet that rolled in those days along the pavements of
Paris, and which was now pulled up suddenly beside him. He would
gladly have been run over and crushed by it; if he died by accident,
the confusion of his affairs would be laid to that circumstance. He
did not recognize du Tillet, who in elegant morning dress jumped
lightly down, throwing the reins to his groom and a blanket over the
back of his smoking thoroughbred.
"What chance brings you here?" said the former clerk to his old
Du Tillet knew very well what it was, for the Kellers had made
inquiries of Claparon, who by referring them to du Tillet had
demolished the past reputation of the poor man. Though quickly
checked, the tears on Cesar's face spoke volumes.
"It is possible that you have asked assistance from these Bedouins?"
said du Tillet, "these cut-throats of commerce, full of infamous
tricks; who run up indigo when they have monopolized the trade, and
pull down rice to force the holders to sell at low prices, and so
enable them to manage the market? Atrocious pirates, who have neither
faith, nor law, nor soul, nor honor! You don't know what they are
capable of doing. They will give you a credit if they think you have
got a good thing, and close it the moment you get into the thick of
the enterprise; and then you will be forced to make it all over to
them, at any villanous price they choose to give. Havre, Bordeaux,
Marseilles, could tell you tales about them! They make use of politics
to cover up their filthy ways. If I were you I should get what I could
out of them in any way, and without scruple. Let us walk on,
Birotteau. Joseph, lead the horse about, he is too hot: the devil! he
is a capital of a thousand crowns."
So saying, he turned toward the boulevard.
"Come, my dear master,--for you were once my master,--tell me, are you
in want of money? Have they asked you for securities, the scoundrels?
I, who know you, I offer you money on your simple note. I have made an
honorable fortune with infinite pains. I began it in Germany; I may as
well tell you that I bought up the debts of the king, at sixty per
cent of their amount: your endorsement was very useful to me at that
time, and I am not ungrateful,--not I. If you want ten thousand
francs, they are yours."
"Du Tillet!" cried Cesar, "can it be true? you are not joking with me?
Yes, I am rather pinched, but only for a moment."
"I know,--that affair of Roguin," replied du Tillet. "Hey! I am in for
ten thousand francs which the old rogue borrowed of me just before he
went off; but Madame Roguin will pay them back from her dower. I have
advised the poor woman not to be so foolish as to spend her own
fortune in paying debts contracted for a prostitute. Of course, it
would be well if she paid everything, but she cannot favor some
creditors to the detriment of others. You are not a Roguin; I know
you," said du Tillet,--"you would blow your brains out rather than
make me lose a sou. Here we are at Rue de la Chaussee-d'Antin; come
home with me."
They entered a bedroom, with which Madame Birotteau's compared like
that of a chorus-singer's on a fourth floor with the appartement of a
prima-donna. The ceiling was of violet-colored satin, heightened in
its effect by folds of white satin; a rug of ermine lay at the
bedside, and contrasted with the purple tones of a Turkish carpet. The
furniture and all the accessories were novel in shape, costly, and
choice in character. Birotteau paused before an exquisite clock,
decorated with Cupid and Psyche, just designed for a famous banker,
from whom du Tillet had obtained the sole copy ever made of it. The
former master and his former clerk at last reached an elegant
coquettish cabinet, more redolent of love than finance. Madame Roguin
had doubtless contributed, in return for the care bestowed upon her
fortune, the paper-knife in chiselled gold, the paper-weights of
carved malachite, and all the costly knick-knacks of unrestrained
luxury. The carpet, one of the rich products of Belgium, was as
pleasant to the eye as to the foot which felt the soft thickness of
its texture. Du Tillet made the poor, amazed, bewildered perfumer sit
down at a corner of the fireplace.
"Will you breakfast with me?"
He rang the bell. Enter a footman better dressed than Birotteau.
"Tell Monsieur Legras to come here, and then find Joseph at the door
of the Messrs. Keller; tell him to return to the stable. Leave word
with Adolphe Keller that instead of going to see him, I shall expect
him at the Bourse; and order breakfast served immediately."
These commands amazed Cesar.
"He whistles to that formidable Adolphe Keller like a dog!--he, du
A little tiger, about a thumb high, set out a table, which Birotteau
had not observed, so slim was it, and brought in a /pate de foie
gras/, a bottle of claret, and a number of dainty dishes which only
appeared in Birotteau's household once in three months, on great
festive occasions. Du Tillet enjoyed the effect. His hatred towards
the only man who had it in his power to despise him burned so hotly
that Birotteau seemed, even to his own mind, like a sheep defending
itself against a tiger. For an instant, a generous idea entered du
Tillet's heart: he asked himself if his vengeance were not
sufficiently accomplished. He hesitated between this awakened mercy
and his dormant hate.
"I can annihilate him commercially," he thought; "I have the power of
life or death over him,--over his wife who insulted me, and his
daughter whose hand once seemed to me a fortune. I have got his money;
suppose I content myself with letting the poor fool swim at the end of
a line I'll hold for him?"
Honest minds are devoid of tact; their excellence is uncalculating,
even unreflecting, because they are wholly without evasions or mental
reservations of their own. Birotteau now brought about his downfall;
he incensed the tiger, pierced him to the heart without knowing it,
made him implacable by a thoughtless word, a eulogy, a virtuous
recognition,--by the kind-heartedness, as it were, of his own
integrity. When the cashier entered, du Tillet motioned him to take
notice of Cesar.
"Monsieur Legras, bring me ten thousand francs, and a note of hand for
that amount, drawn to my order, at ninety days' sight, by monsieur,
who is Monsieur Cesar Birotteau, you know."
Du Tillet cut the pate, poured out a glass of claret, and urged Cesar
to eat. The poor man felt he was saved, and gave way to convulsive
laughter; he played with his watch-chain, and only put a mouthful into
his mouth, when du Tillet said to him, "You are not eating!" Birotteau
thus betrayed the depths of the abyss into which du Tillet's hand had
plunged him, from which that hand now withdrew him, and into which it
had the power to plunge him again. When the cashier returned, and
Cesar signed the note, and felt the ten bank-notes in his pocket, he
was no longer master of himself. A moment sooner, and the Bank, his
neighborhood, every one, was to know that he could not meet his
payments, and he must have told his ruin to his wife; now, all was
safe! The joy of this deliverance equalled in its intensity the
tortures of his peril. The eyes of the poor man moistened, in spite of
"What is the matter with you, my dear master?" asked du Tillet. "Would
you not do for me to-morrow what I do for you to-day? Is it not as
simple as saying, How do you do?"
"Du Tillet," said the worthy man, with gravity and emphasis, and
rising to take the hand of his former clerk, "I give you back my
"What! had I lost it?" cried du Tillet, so violently stabbed in the
very bosom of his prosperity that the color came into his face.
"Lost?--well, not precisely," said Birotteau, thunder-struck at his
own stupidity: "they told me certain things about your /liaison/ with
Madame Roguin. The devil! taking the wife of another man--"
"You are beating round the bush, old fellow," thought du Tillet, and
as the words crossed his mind he came back to his original project,
and vowed to bring that virtue low, to trample it under foot, to
render despicable in the marts of Paris the honorable and virtuous
merchant who had caught him, red-handed, in a theft. All hatreds,
public or private, from woman to woman, from man to man, have no other
cause then some such detection. People do not hate each other for
injured interests, for wounds, not even for a blow; all such wrongs
can be redressed. But to have been seized, /flagrante delicto/, in a
base act! The duel which follows between the criminal and the witness
of his crime ends only with the death of the one or of the other.
"Oh! Madame Roguin!" said du Tillet, jestingly, "don't you call that a
feather in a young man's cap? I understand you, my dear master;
somebody has told you that she lent me money. Well, on the contrary it
is I who have protected her fortune, which was strangely involved in
her husband's affairs. The origin of my fortune is pure, as I have
just told you. I had nothing, you know. Young men are sometimes in
positions of frightful necessity. They may lose their self-control in
the depths of poverty, and if they make, as the Republic made, forced
loans--well, they pay them back; and in so doing they are more honest
than France herself."
"That is true," cried Birotteau. "My son, God--is it not Voltaire who
"'He rendered repentance the virtue of mortals'?"
"Provided," answered du Tillet, stabbed afresh by this quotation,--
"provided they do not carry off the property of their neighbors,
basely, meanly; as, for example, you would do if you failed within
three months, and my ten thousand francs went to perdition."
"I fail!" cried Birotteau, who had taken three glasses of wine, and
was half-drunk with joy. "Everybody knows what I think about failure!
Failure is death to a merchant; I should die of it!"
"I drink your health," said du Tillet.
"Your health and prosperity," returned Cesar. "Why don't you buy your
perfumery from me?"
"The fact is," said du Tillet, "I am afraid of Madame Cesar; she
always made an impression on me. If you had not been my master, on my
"You are not the first to think her beautiful; others have desired
her; but she loves me! Well, now, du Tillet, my friend," resumed
Birotteau, "don't do things by halves."
"What is it?"
Birotteau explained the affair of the lands to his former clerk, who
pretended to open his eyes wide, and complimented the perfumer on his
perspicacity and penetration, and praised the enterprise.
"Well, I am very glad to have your approbation; you are thought one of
the wise-heads of the banking business, du Tillet. Dear fellow, you
might get me a credit at the Bank of France, so that I can wait for
the profits of Cephalic Oil at my ease."
"I can give you a letter to the firm of Nucingen," answered du Tillet,
perceiving that he could make his victim dance all the figures in the
reel of bankruptcy.
Ferdinand sat down to his desk and wrote the following letter:--
/To Monsieur le baron de Nucingen/:
My dear Baron,--The bearer of this letter is Monsieur Cesar
Birotteau, deputy-mayor of the second arrondissement, and one of
the best known manufacturers of Parisian perfumery; he wishes to
have business relations with your house. You can confidently do
all that he asks of you; and in obliging him you will oblige
F. Du Tillet.
Du Tillet did not dot the /i/ in his signature. To those with whom he
did business this intentional error was a sign previously agreed upon.
The strongest recommendations, the warmest appeals contained in the
letter were to mean nothing. All such letters, in which exclamation
marks were suppliants and du Tillet placed himself, as it were, upon
his knees, were to be considered as extorted by necessity; he could
not refuse to write them, but they were to be regarded as not written.
Seeing the /i/ without a dot, the correspondent was to amuse the
petitioner with empty promises. Even men of the world, and sometimes
the most distinguished, are thus gulled like children by business men,
bankers, and lawyers, who all have a double signature,--one dead, the
other living. The cleverest among them are fooled in this way. To
understand the trick, we must experience the two-fold effects of a
warm letter and a cold one.
"You have saved me, du Tillet!" said Cesar, reading the letter.
"Thank heaven!" said du Tillet, "ask for what money you want. When
Nucingen reads my letter he will give you all you need. Unhappily, my
own funds are tied up for a few days; if not, I certainly would not
send you to the great banking princes. The Kellers are mere pygmies
compared to Baron de Nucingen. Law reappears on earth in Nucingen.
With this letter of mine you can face the 15th of January, and after
that, we will see about it. Nucingen and I are the best friends in the
world; he would not disoblige me for a million."
"It is a guarantee in itself," thought Birotteau, as he went away full
of gratitude to his old clerk. "Well, a benefit is never lost!" he
continued, philosophizing very wide of the mark. Nevertheless, one
thought embittered his joy. For several days he had prevented his wife
from looking into the ledgers; he had put the business on Celestin's
shoulders and assisted in it himself; he wished, apparently, that his
wife and daughter should be at liberty to take full enjoyment out of
the beautiful appartement he had given them. But the first flush of
happiness over, Madame Birotteau would have died rather than renounce
her right of personally inspecting the affairs of the house,--of
holding, as she phrased it, the handle of the frying-pan. Birotteau
was at his wits' end; he had used all his cunning in trying to hide
from his wife the symptoms of his embarrassment. Constance strongly
disapproved of sending round the bills; she had scolded the clerks and
accused Celestin of wishing to ruin the establishment, thinking that
it was all his doing. Celestin, by Birotteau's order, had allowed
himself to be scolded. In the eyes of the clerks Madame Cesar governed
her husband; for though it is possible to deceive the public, the
inmates of a household are never deceived as to who exercises the real
authority. Birotteau knew that he must now reveal his real situation
to his wife, for the account with du Tillet needed an explanation.
When he got back to the shop, he saw, not without a shudder, that
Constance was sitting in her old place behind the counter, examining
the expense account, and no doubt counting up the money in the desk.
"How will you meet your payments to-morrow?" she whispered as he sat
down beside her.
"With money," he answered, pulling out the bank-bills, and signing to
Celestin to take them.
"Where did you get that money?"
"I'll tell you all about it this evening. Celestin, write down, 'Last
of March, note for ten thousand francs, to du Tillet's order.'"
"Du Tillet!" repeated Constance, struck with consternation.
"I am going to see Popinot," said Cesar; "it is very wrong in me not
to have gone before. Have we sold his oil?"
"The three hundred bottles he sent us are all gone."
"Birotteau, don't go out; I want to speak to you," said Constance,
taking him by the arm, and leading him into her bedroom with an
impetuosity which would have caused a laugh under other circumstances.
"Du Tillet," she said, when she had made sure no one but Cesarine was
with them,--"du Tillet, who robbed us of three thousand francs! So you
are doing business with du Tillet,--a monster, who wished to seduce
me," she whispered in his ear.
"Folly of youth," said Birotteau, assuming for the nonce the tone of a
"Listen to me, Birotteau! You are all upset; you don't go to the
manufactory any more; there is something the matter, I feel it! You
must tell me; I must know what it is."
"Well," said Birotteau, "we came very near being ruined,--we were
ruined this very morning; but it is all safe now."
And he told the horrible story of his two weeks' misery.
"So that was the cause of your illness!" exclaimed Constance.
"Yes, mamma," cried Cesarine, "and papa has been so courageous! All
that I desire in life is to be loved as he loves you. He has thought
only of your grief."
"My dream is fulfilled!" said the poor woman, dropping upon the sofa
at the corner of the fireplace, pale, livid, terrified. "I foresaw it
all. I warned you on that fatal night, in our old room which you
pulled to pieces, that we should have nothing left but our eyes to
weep with. My poor Cesarine, I--"
"Now, there you go!" cried Cesar; "you will take away from me the
courage I need."
"Forgive me, dear friend," said Constance, taking his hand, and
pressing it with a tenderness which went to the heart of the poor man.
"I do wrong. Misfortune has come; I will be silent, resigned, strong
to bear it. No, you shall never hear a complaint from me." She threw
herself into his arms, weeping, and whispering, "Courage, dear friend,
courage! I will have courage for both, if necessary."
"My oil, wife,--my oil will save us!"
"May God help us!" said Constance.
"Anselme will help my father," said Cesarine.
"I'll go and see him," cried Cesar, deeply moved by the passionate
accents of his wife, who after nineteen years of married life was not
yet fully known to him. "Constance, fear nothing! Here, read du
Tillet's letter to Monsieur de Nucingen; we are sure to obtain a
credit. Besides," he said, allowing himself a necessary lie, "there is
our uncle Pillerault; that is enough to give us courage."
"If that were all!" said Constance, smiling.
Birotteau, relieved of a heavy weight, walked away like a man suddenly
set at liberty, though he felt within him that indefinable sinking
which succeeds great moral struggles in which more of the nervous
fluid, more of the will is emitted than should be spent at one time,
and by which, if we may say so, the capital of the existence is drawn
upon. Birotteau had aged already.
The house of A. Popinot, Rue des Cinq-Diamants, had undergone a great
change in two months. The shop was repainted. The shelves,
re-varnished and gilded and crowded with bottles, rejoiced the eye of
those who had eyes to see the symptoms of prosperity. The floors were
littered with packages and wrapping-paper. The storerooms held small
casks of various oils, obtained for Popinot on commission by the
devoted Gaudissart. The ledgers, the accounts, and the desks were
moved into the rooms above the shop and the back-shop. An old cook did
all the household work for the master and his three clerks. Popinot,
penned up in a corner of the shop closed in with glass, might be seen
in a serge apron and long sleeves of green linen, with a pen behind
his ear, in the midst of a mass of papers, where in fact Birotteau now
found him, as he was overhauling his letters full of proposals and
checks and orders. At the words "Hey, my boy!" uttered by his old
master, Popinot raised his head, locked up his cubby-hole, and came
forward with a joyous air and the end of his nose a little red. There
was no fire in the shop, and the door was always open.
"I feared you were never coming," he said respectfully.
The clerks crowded round to look at the distinguished perfumer, the
decorated deputy-mayor, the partner of their own master. Birotteau, so
pitifully small at the Kellers, felt a craving to imitate those
magnates; he stroked his chin, rose on his heels with native self-
complacency, and talked his usual platitudes.
"Hey, my lad! we get up early, don't we?" he remarked.
"No, for we don't always go to bed," said Popinot. "We must clutch
"What did I tell you? My oil will make your fortune!"
"Yes, monsieur. But the means employed to sell it count for something.
I have set your diamond well."
"How do we stand?" said Cesar. "How far have you got? What are the