Part 5 out of 7
"Profits! at the end of two months! How can you expect it? Friend
Gaudissart has only been on the road for twenty-five days; he took a
post-chaise without saying a word to me. Oh, he is devoted! We owe a
great deal to my uncle. The newspapers alone (here he whispered in
Birotteau's ear) will cost us twelve thousand francs."
"Newspapers!" exclaimed the deputy-mayor.
"Haven't you read them?"
"Then you know nothing," said Popinot. "Twenty thousand francs worth
of placards, gilt frames, copies of the prospectus. One hundred
thousand bottles bought. Ah, it is all paying through the nose at this
moment! We are manufacturing on a grand scale. If you had set foot in
the faubourg, where I often work all night, you would have seen a
little nut-cracker which isn't to be sneezed at, I can tell you. On my
own account, I have made, in the last five days, not less than ten
thousand francs, merely by commissions on the sale of druggists'
"What a capable head!" said Birotteau, laying his hand on little
Popinot's thick hair and rubbing it about as if he were a baby. "I
found it out."
Several persons here came in.
"On Sunday we dine at your aunt Ragon's," added Cesar, leaving Popinot
to go on with his business, for he perceived that the fresh meat he
had come to taste was not yet cut up.
"It is amazing! A clerk becomes a merchant in twenty-four hours,"
thought Birotteau, who understood the happiness and self-assurance of
Anselme as little as the dandy luxury of du Tillet. "Anselme put on a
little stiff air when I patted him on the head, just as if he were
Francois Keller himself."
Birotteau never once reflected that the clerks were looking on, and
that the master of the establishment had his dignity to preserve. In
this instance, as in the case of his speech to du Tillet, the worthy
soul committed a folly out of pure goodness of heart, and for lack of
knowing how to withhold an honest sentiment vulgarly expressed. By
this trifling act Cesar would have wounded irretrievably any other man
than little Popinot.
The Sunday dinner at the Ragon's was destined to be the last pleasure
of the nineteen happy years of the Birotteau household,--years of
happiness that were full to overflowing. Ragon lived in the Rue du
Petit-Bourbon-Saint-Sulpice, on the second floor of a dignified old
house, in an appartement decorated with large panels where painted
shepherdesses danced in panniers, before whom fed the sheep of our
nineteenth century, the sober and serious bourgeoisie,--whose comical
demeanor, with their respectful notions about the nobility, and their
devotion to the Sovereign and the Church, were all admirably
represented by Ragon himself. The furniture, the clocks, linen,
dinner-service, all seemed patriarchal; novel in form because of their
very age. The salon, hung with old damask and draped with curtains in
brocatelle, contained portraits of duchesses and other royalist
tributes; also a superb Popinot, sheriff of Sancerre, painted by
Latour,--the father of Madame Ragon, a worthy, excellent man, in a
picture out of which he smiled like a parvenu in all his glory. When
at home, Madame Ragon completed her natural self with a little King
Charles spaniel, which presented a surprisingly harmonious effect as
it lay on the hard little sofa, rococo in shape, that assuredly never
played the part assigned to the sofa of Crebillon.
Among their many virtues, the Ragons were noted for the possession of
old wines which had come to perfect mellowness, and for certain of
Madame Anfoux's liqueurs, which certain persons, obstinately (though
it was said hopelessly) bent on making love to Madame Ragon, had
brought her from the West Indies. Thus their little dinners were much
prized. Jeannette, the old cook, took care of the aged couple with
blind devotion: she would have stolen the fruit to make their
sweetmeats. Instead of taking her money to the savings-bank, she put
it judiciously into lotteries, hoping that some day she could bestow a
good round sum on her master and mistress. On the appointed Sundays
when they received their guests, she was, despite her years, active in
the kitchen to superintend the dishes, which she served at the table
with an agility that (to use a favorite expression of the worthy
Ragon) might have given points to Mademoiselle Contat when she played
Susanne in the "Mariage de Figaro."
The guests on this occasion were Popinot the judge, Pillerault,
Anselme, the three Birotteaus, three Matifats, and the Abbe Loraux.
Madame Matifat, whom we lately met crowned with a turban for the ball,
now wore a gown of blue velvet, with coarse cotton stockings, leather
shoes, gloves of chamois-skin with a border of green plush, and a
bonnet lined with pink, filled in with white puffs about the face.
These ten personages assembled at five o'clock. The old Ragons always
requested their guests to be punctual. When this worthy couple were
invited out, their hosts always put the dinner at the same hour,
remembering that stomachs which were sixty-five years old could not
adapt themselves to the novel hours recently adopted in the great
Cesarine was sure that Madame Ragon would place her beside Anselme;
for all women, be they fools or saints, know what is what in love. The
daughter of "The Queen of Roses" therefore dressed with the intention
of turning Popinot's head. Her mother--having renounced, not without
pain, the thought of marrying her to Crottat, who to her eyes played
the part of heir-apparent--assisted, with some bitter thoughts, at the
toilet. Maternal forethought lowered the modest gauzy neckerchief to
show a little of Cesarine's shoulders and the spring of her graceful
throat, which was remarkably elegant. The Grecian bodice, crossing
from left to right with five folds, opened slightly, showing delicious
curves; the gray merino dress with green furbelows defined the pretty
waist, which had never looked so slender nor so supple. She wore
earrings of gold fret-work, and her hair, gathered up /a la chinoise/,
let the eye take in the soft freshness of a skin traced with blue
veins, where the light shone chastely on the pure white tones.
Cesarine was so coquettishly lovely that Madame Matifat could not help
admitting it, without, however, perceiving that mother and daughter
had the one purpose of bewitching Anselme.
Neither Birotteau, his wife, Madame Matifat nor any of the others
disturbed the sweet converse which the young people, thrilling with
love, held in whispering voices within the embrasure of a window,
through whose chinks the north wind blew its chilly whistle. The
conversation of the elders became animated when Popinot the judge let
fall a word about Roguin's flight, remarking that he was the second
notary who had absconded,--a crime formerly unknown. Madame Ragon, at
the word Roguin, touched her brother's foot, Pillerault spoke loudly
to drown his voice, and both made him a sign to remember Madame
"I know all," said Constance in a low, pained voice.
"Well, then," said Madame Matifat to Birotteau, who humbly bowed his
head, "how much did he carry of? If we are to believe the gossips, you
"He had two hundred thousand francs of mine," said Cesar. "As to the
forty thousand he pretended to make me borrow from one of his clients,
whose property he had already squandered, I am now bringing a suit to
"The case will be decided this week," said Popinot. I thought you
would not be unwilling that I should explain your situation to
Monsieur le president; he has ordered that all Roguin's papers be
submitted to the custody of the court, so as to ascertain the exact
time when Roguin made away with the funds of his client, and thus
verify the facts alleged by Derville, who made the argument himself to
save you the expense."
"Shall we win?" asked Madame Birotteau.
"I don't know," answered Popinot. "Though I belong to the court in
which the suit is bought, I shall abstain from giving an opinion, even
if called upon."
"Can there be any doubt in such a simple case?" said Pillerault. "Such
deeds make mention that payment has been made, and notaries are
obliged to declare that they have seen the money passed from the
lender to the borrower. Roguin would be sent to the galleys if the law
could get hold of him.
"According to my ideas," said the judge, "the lender ought to have
sued Roguin for the costs and the caution-money; but it sometimes
happens at the Cour Royale that in matters even more plain than this
the judges stand six against six."
"Mademoiselle, what are they saying? Has Monsieur Roguin absconded?"
said Anselme, hearing at last what was going on about him. "Monsieur
said nothing of it to me,--to me who would shed my blood for him--"
Cesarine fully understood that the whole family were included in the
"for him"; for if the innocent girl could mistake the accent, she
could not misunderstand the glance, which wrapped her, as it were, in
a rosy flame.
"I know you would; I told him so. He hid everything from my mother,
and confided only in me."
"You spoke to him of me?" said Popinot; "you have read my heart? Have
you read all that is there?"
"I am very happy," said Popinot. "If you would lighten all my fears--
in a year I shall be so prosperous that your father cannot object when
I speak to him of our marriage. From henceforth I shall sleep only
five hours a night."
"Do not injure yourself," said Cesarine, with an inexpressible accent
and a look in which Popinot was suffered to read her thoughts.
"Wife," said Cesar, as they rose from table, "I think those young
people love each other."
"Well, so much the better," said Constance, in a grave voice; "my
daughter will be the wife of a man of sense and energy. Talent is the
best dower a man can offer."
She left the room hastily and went to Madame Ragon's bedchamber. Cesar
during the dinner had make various fatuous remarks, which caused the
judge and Pillerault to smile, and reminded the unhappy woman of how
unfitted her poor husband was to grapple with misfortune. Her heart
was full of tears; and she instinctively dreaded du Tillet, for every
mother knows the /Timeo Danaos et dona ferentes/, even if she does not
know Latin. Constance wept in the arms of Madame Ragon and her
daughter, though she would not tell them the cause of her distress.
"I m nervous," she said.
The rest of the evening was spent by the elders at the card-table, and
by the young people in those little games called innocent because they
cover the innocent by-play of bourgeois love. The Matifats joined in
"Cesar," said Constance as they drove home, "go and see Monsieur le
Baron de Nucingen on the 8th so as to be sure of having your payments
ready in advance of the 15th. If there should be any hitch, how could
you scrape the money together if you have only one day to do it in?"
"I will see to it, wife," said Cesar, pressing his wife's hand and his
daughter's, adding, "Ah, my dear white lambs, I have given you a sad
New Year's gift!"
The two women, unable to see him in the obscurity of the hackney
coach, felt his tears falling hot upon their hands.
"Be hopeful, dear friend," said Constance.
"All will go well, papa; Monsieur Anselme Popinot told me he would
shed his blood for you."
"For me?" said Cesar, trying to speak gaily; "and for the family as
well. Isn't it so?"
Cesarine pressed her father's hand, as if to let him know she was
betrothed to Anselme.
During the first three days of the year, two hundred visiting cards
were sent to Birotteau. This rush of fictitious friendship, these
empty testimonials of favor, are horrible to those who feel themselves
drawn down into the vortex of misfortune. Birotteau presented himself
three times at the hotel of the famous banker, the Baron de Nucingen,
but in vain. The opening of the year with all its festivities
sufficiently explained the absences of the financier. On the last
occasion Birotteau got as far as the office of the banker, where the
head-clerk, a German, told him that Monsieur de Nucingen had returned
at five in the morning from a ball at the Kellers', and would not be
visible until half-past nine o'clock. Birotteau had the luck to
interest this man in his affairs, and remained talking with him more
than half an hour. In the course of the afternoon this prime minister
of the house of Nucingen wrote Birotteau that the baron would receive
him the next day, 13th, at noon. Though every hour brought its drop of
absinthe, the day went by with frightful rapidity. Cesar took a
hackney coach, but stopped it several paces distant from the hotel,
whose courtyard was crowded with carriages. The poor man's heart sank
within him when he saw the splendors of that noted house.
"And yet he has failed twice," he said to himself as he went up a
superb staircase banked with flowers, and crossed the sumptuous rooms
which helped to make Madame Delphine de Nucingen famous in the
Chaussee d'Antin. The baronne's ambition was to rival the great ladies
of the Faubourg Saint-Germain, to whose houses she was not as yet
admitted. The baron was breakfasting with his wife. In spite of the
crowd which was waiting for him in the counting-room, he had left word
that any friend of du Tillet was to be admitted. Birotteau trembled
with hope as he noticed the change which the baron's order had wrought
in the hitherto insolent manner of the footman.
"Pardon me, my tear," said the baron to his wife, in a strong German
accent, as he rose and nodded to Birotteau, "monsieur is a good
royalist, and der intimate frient of tu Tillet. Bezides, monsieur is
debudy-mayor of der zecond arrondissement, and gifs palls of Aziatigue
magnifissence; so vill you mak his acquentence mit blaysure."
"I should be delighted to take lessons from Madame Birotteau, for
"She calls him Ferdinand!" thought Cesar.
"--spoke of the ball with great admiration, which is all the more
valuable because he usually admires nothing. Ferdinand is a harsh
critic; in his eyes everything ought to be perfect. Shall you soon
give another ball?" she inquired affably.
"Madame, poor people, such as we are, seldom have many amusements of
that kind," said the perfumer, not knowing whether she meant to
ridicule him, or was merely paying an empty compliment.
"Monsieur Grindot suberintented der resdoration of your abbartement, I
zink?" said the baron.
"Ah, Grindot! that nice little architect who has just returned from
Rome," said Delphine de Nucingen. "I dote on him; he makes delicious
drawings in my album."
No culprit enduring the torments of hell in Venetian dungeons ever
suffered more from the torture of the boot than Birotteau did,
standing there in his ordinary clothes. He felt a sneer in every word.
"Vill you gif oder little palls?" said the banker, with a searching
look at the perfumer. "You see all der vorld ist inderesded."
"Will Monsieur Birotteau breakfast with us, without ceremony?" said
Delphine, motioning towards the table which was sumptuously served.
"Madame la baronne, I came on business, and I am--"
"Yes, matame, vill you bermit us to speak of business?"
Delphine made a little sign of assent, saying to her husband, "Are you
going to buy perfumery?" The baron shrugged his shoulders and turned
to Cesar, who trembled with anxiety.
"Tu Tillet takes der graadest inderest in you," he said.
"At last," thought the poor man, "we are coming to the point."
"His ledder gif you in my house a creydit vich is only limided by der
limids of my privade fortune."
The exhilarating balm infused into the water offered by the angel to
Hagar in the desert, must have been the same cordial which flowed
through Cesar's veins as he listened to these words. The wily banker
retained the horrible pronunciation of the German Jews,--possibly that
he might be able to deny promises actually given, but only half-
"You shall haf a running aggont. Ve vill broceed in dis vay--" said
this great and good and venerable financier, with Alsatian good-humor.
Birotteau doubted no longer; he was a merchant, and new very well that
those who have no intention of rendering a service never enter into
the details of executing it.
"I neet not tell you dat der Bank demands of all, graat and small
alaike, dree zignatures. So denn, you traw a cheque to die order of
our frient tu Tillet, and I vill sent it, same tay, to der Bank mit
mein zignature; so shall you haf, at four o'clock, der amount of die
cheque you trew in der morning; and at der costs of die Bank. I vill
not receif a commission, no! I vill haf only der blaysure to be
agreeaple to you. But I mak one condeetion," he added, laying his left
finger lightly on his nose with an inimitably sly gesture.
"Monsieur le baron, it is granted on the sport," said Birotteau, who
thought it concerned some tithe to be levied on his profits.
"A condeetion to vich I attache der graatest imbortance, because I
vish Matame de Nucingen should receif, as she say, zom lessons from
"Monsieur le baron! pray do not laugh at me, I entreat you."
"Monsieur Pirodot," said the financier, with a serious air, "it is
deen agreet; you vill invite us to your nex pall? My vife is shalous;
she vish to see your abbartement, of vich she hear so mooch."
"Monsieur le baron!--"
"Oh! if you reffuse me, no creydit! Yes, I know der Prayfic of die
Seine was at your las pall."
"Monsieur le baron!--"
"You had Pillartiere, shentelman of der betchamber; goot royalist like
you, who vas vounded at Zaint-Roqque--"
"On the 13th Vendemiaire, Monsieur le baron."
"Denn you hat Monsieur de Lazabed, Monsieur Fauquelin of der
"Monsieur le baron!--"
"Hey! der tefle! dont pe zo humple, Monsieur der debudy-mayor; I haf
heard dat der king say dat your ball--"
"The king?" exclaimed Birotteau, who was destined to hear no more,
for, at this moment, a young man entered the room familiarly, whose
step, recognized from afar by the beautiful Delphine de Nucingen,
brought the color to her cheek.
"Goot morning, my tear te Marsay; tak my blace. Dere is a crowd, zey
tell me, waiting in der gounting-room. I know vy. Der mines of
Wortschin bay a graat divitent! I haf receifed die aggonts. You vill
haf one hundert tousant francs, Matame de Nucingen, so you can buy
chewels and oder tings to make you bretty,--as if you could be
"Good God! the Ragons sold their shares!" exclaimed Birotteau.
"Who are those persons?" asked the elegant de Marsay, smiling.
"Egzactly," said Monsieur de Nucingen, turning back when he was almost
at the door. "I zink tat dose persons--te Marsay, dis is Monsieur
Pirodot, your berfumer, who gifs palls of a magnifissence druly
Aziatique, and whom der king has decoraded."
De Marsay lifted his eyeglass, and said, "Ah! true, I thought the face
was not unknown to me. So you are going to perfume your affairs with
potent cosmetics, oil them with--"
"Ah! dose Rakkons," interrupted the baron, making a grimace expressive
of disgust; "dey had an aggont mit us; I fafored dem, and dey could
haf made der fortune, but dey would not wait one zingle day longer."
"Monsieur le baron!" cried Birotteau.
The worthy man thought his own prospects extremely doubtful, and
without bowing to Madame de Nucingen, or to de Marsay, he hastily
followed the banker. The baron was already on the staircase, and
Birotteau caught him at the bottom just as he was about to enter the
counting-room. As Nucingen opened the door he saw the despairing
gesture of the poor creature behind him, who felt himself pushed into
a gulf, and said hastily,--
"Vell, it is all agreet. See tu Tillet, and arranche it mit him."
Birotteau, thinking that de Marsay might have some influence with
Nucingen, ran back with the rapidity of a swallow, and slipped into
the dining-room where he had left the baronne and the young man, and
where Delphine was waiting for a cup of /cafe a la creme/. He saw that
the coffee had been served, but the baronne and the dandy had
disappeared. The footman smiled at the astonishment of the worthy man,
who slowly re-descended the stairs. Cesar rushed to du Tillet's, and
was told that he had gone into the country with Madame Roguin. He took
a cabriolet, and paid the driver well to be taken rapidly to Nogent-
sur-Marne. At Nogent-sur-Marne the porter told him that monsieur and
madame had started for Paris. Birotteau returned home, shattered in
mind and body. When he related his wild-goose chase to his wife and
daughter he was amazed to find his Constance, usually perched like a
bird of ill omen on the smallest commercial mishap, now giving him the
tenderest consolation, and assuring him that everything would turn out
The next morning, Birotteau mounted guard as early as seven o'clock
before du Tillet's door. He begged the porter, slipping ten francs
into his hand, to put him in communication with du Tillet's valet, and
obtained from the latter a promise to show him in to his master the
moment that du Tillet was visible: he slid two pieces of gold into the
valet's hand. By such little sacrifices and great humiliations, common
to all courtiers and petitioners, he was able to attain his end. At
half-past eight, just as his former clerk was putting on a dressing-
gown, yawning, stretching, and shaking off the cobwebs of sleep,
Birotteau came face to face with the tiger, hungry for revenge, whom
he now looked upon as his only friend.
"Go on with your dressing," said Birotteau.
"What do you want, /my good Cesar/?" said du Tillet.
Cesar stated, with painful trepidation, the answer and requirements of
Monsieur de Nucingen to the inattentive ears of du Tillet, who was
looking for the bellows and scolding his valet for the clumsy manner
in which he had lighted the fire.
The valet listened. At first Cesar did not notice him; when he did so
he stopped short, confused, but resumed what he was saying as du
Tillet touched him with the spur exclaiming, "Go on! go on! I am
listening to you."
The poor man's shirt was wet; his perspiration turned to ice as du
Tillet looked fixedly at him, and he saw the silver-lined pupils of
those eyes, streaked with threads of gold, which pierced to his very
heart with a diabolical gleam.
"My dear master, the Bank has refused to take your notes which the
house of Claparon passed over to Gigonnet /not guaranteed/. Is that my
fault? How is it that you, an old commercial judge, should commit such
blunders? I am, first and foremost, a banker. I will give you my
money, but I cannot risk having my signature refused at the Bank. My
credit is my life; that is the case with all of us. Do you want
"Can you give me what I want?"
"That depends on how much you owe. How much do you want?"
"Thirty thousand francs."
"Are the chimney-bricks coming down on my head?" exclaimed du Tillet,
bursting into a laugh.
Cesar, misled by the luxury about him, fancied it was the laugh of a
man to whom the sum was a mere trifle; he breathed again. Du Tillet
rang the bell.
"Send the cashier to me."
"He has not come, monsieur," said the valet.
"These fellows take advantage of me! It is half-past eight o'clock,
and he ought to have done a million francs' worth of business by this
Five minutes later Monsieur Legras came in.
"How much have we in the desk?"
"Only twenty thousand francs. Monsieur gave orders to buy into the
Funds to the amount of thirty thousand francs cash, payable on the
"That's true; I am half-asleep still."
The cashier gave Birotteau a suspicious look as he left the room.
"If truth were banished from this earth, she would leave her last word
with a cashier," said du Tillet. "Haven't you some interest in this
little Popinot, who has set up for himself?" he added, after a
dreadful pause, in which the sweat rolled in drops from Cesar's brow.
"Yes," he answered, naively. "Do you think you could discount his
signature for a large amount?"
"Bring me his acceptances for fifty thousand francs, and I will get
them discounted for you at a reasonable rate by old Gobseck, who is
very easy to deal with when he has funds to invest; and he has some
Birotteau went home broken-hearted, not perceiving that the bankers
were tossing him from one to the other like a shuttle-cock; but
Constance had already guessed that credit was unattainable. If three
bankers refused it, it was very certain that they had inquired of each
other about so prominent a man as a deputy-mayor; and there was,
consequently, no hope from the Bank of France.
"Try to renew your notes," she said; "go and see Monsieur Claparon,
your copartner, and all the others to whom you gave notes for the
15th, and ask them to renew. It will be time enough to go to the
money-lenders with Popinot's paper if that fails."
"To-morrow is the 13th," said Birotteau, completely crushed.
In the language of his own prospectus, he enjoyed a sanguine
temperament, which was subject to an enormous waste through emotions
and the pressure of thought, and imperatively demanded sleep to repair
it. Cesarine took her father into the salon and played to him
"Rousseau's Dream,"--a pretty piece of music by Herold; while
Constance sat sewing beside him. The poor man laid his head on a
cushion, and every time he looked up at his wife he saw a soft smile
upon her lips; and thus he fell asleep.
"Poor man!" said Constance; "what misery is in store for him! God
grant he may have strength to bear it!"
"Oh! what troubles you, mamma?" said Cesarine, seeing that her mother
"Dear daughter, I see a failure coming. If your father is forced to
make an assignment, we must ask no one's pity. My child, be prepared
to become a simple shop-girl. If I see you accepting your life
courageously, I shall have strength to begin my life over again. I
know your father,--he will not keep back one farthing; I shall resign
my dower; all that we possess will be sold. My child, you must take
your jewels and your clothes to-morrow to your uncle Pillerault; for
you are not bound to any sacrifice."
Cesarine was seized with a terror beyond control as she listened to
these words, spoken with religious simplicity. The thought came into
her mind to go and see Anselme; but her native delicacy checked it.
On the morrow, at nine o'clock, Birotteau, following his wife's
advice, went to find Claparon in the Rue de Provence, in the grasp of
anxieties quite other than those through which he had lately passed.
To ask for a credit is an ordinary business matter; it happens every
day that those who undertake an enterprise are obliged to borrow
capital; but to ask for the renewal of notes is in commercial
jurisprudence what the correctional police is to the court of assizes,
--a first step towards bankruptcy, just as a misdemeanor leads to
crime. The secret of your embarrassment is in other hands than your
own. A merchant delivers himself over, bound hand and foot, to another
merchant; and mercy is a virtue not practised at the Bourse.
Cesar, who once walked the streets of Paris with his head high and his
eye beaming with confidence, now, unstrung by perplexity, shrank from
meeting Claparon; he began to realize that a banker's heart is mere
viscera. Claparon had seemed to him so brutal in his coarse jollity,
and he had felt the man's vulgarity so keenly, that he shuddered at
the necessity of accosting him.
"But he is nearer to the people; perhaps he will therefore have more
heart!" Such was the first reproachful word which the anguish of his
position forced from Cesar's lips.
Birotteau drew upon the dregs of his courage, and went up the stairway
of a mean little /entresol/, at whose windows he had caught a glimpse
of green curtains yellowed by the sun. He read the word "Offices,"
stamped in black letters on an oval copper-plate; he rapped, nobody
answered, and he went in. The place, worse than humble, conveyed an
idea of penury, or avarice, or neglect. No employe was to be seen
behind the brass lattice which topped an unpainted white wooden
enclosure, breast-high, within which were tables and desks in stained
black wood. These deserted places were littered with inkstands, in
which the ink was mouldy and the pens as rumpled as a ragammufin's
head, and twisted like sunfish; with boxes and papers and printed
matter,--all worthless, no doubt. The floor was as dirty, defaced, and
damp as that of a boarding-house. The second room, announced by the
word "Counting-Room" on its door, harmonized with the grim /facetiae/
of its neighbor. In one corner was a large space screened off by an
oak balustrade, trellised with copper wire and furnished with a
sliding cat-hole, within which was an enormous iron chest. This space,
apparently given over to the rioting of rats, also contained an odd-
looking desk, with a shabby arm-chair, which was ragged, green, and
torn in the seat,--from which the horse-hair protruded, like the wig
of its master, in half a hundred libertine curls. The chief adornment
of this room, which had evidently been the salon of the appartement
before it was converted into a banking-office, was a round table
covered with a green cloth, round which stood a few old chairs of
black leather with tarnished gilt nails. The fireplace, somewhat
elegant, showed none of the sooty marks of a fire; the hearth was
clean; the mirror, covered with fly-specks, had a paltry air, in
keeping with a mahogany clock bought at the sale of some old notary,
which annoyed the eye, already depressed by two candelabras without
candles and the sticky dust that covered them. The wall-paper, mouse-
gray with a pink border, revealed, by certain fuliginous stains, the
unwholesome presence of smokers. Nothing ever more faithfully
represented that prosaic precinct called by the newspapers an
"editorial sanctum." Birotteau, fearing that he might be indiscreet,
knocked sharply three times on the door opposite to that by which he
"Come in!" cried Claparon, the reverberation of whose voice revealed
the distance it had to traverse and the emptiness of the room,--in
which Cesar heard the crackling of a good fire, though the owner was
apparently not there.
The room was, in truth, Claparon's private office. Between the
ostentatious reception-room of Francois Keller and the untidy abode of
the counterfeit banker, there was all the difference that exists
between Versailles and the wigwam of a Huron chief. Birotteau had
witnessed the splendors of finance; he was now to see its fooleries.
Lying in bed, in a sort of oblong recess or den opening from the
farther end of the office, and where the habits of a slovenly life had
spoiled, dirtied, greased, torn, defaced, obliterated, and ruined
furniture which had been elegant in its day, Claparon, at the entrance
of Birotteau, wrapped his filthy dressing-gown around him, laid down
his pipe, and drew together the curtains of the bed with a haste which
made even the innocent perfumer suspect his morals.
"Sit down, monsieur," said the make-believe banker.
Claparon, without his wig, his head wrapped up in a bandanna
handkerchief twisted awry, seemed all the more hideous to Birotteau
because, when the dressing-gown gaped open, he saw an undershirt of
knitted wool, once white, but now yellowed by wear indefinitely
"Will you breakfast with me?" said Claparon, recollecting the
perfumer's ball, and thinking to make him a return and also to put him
off the scent by this invitation.
Cesar now perceived a round table, hastily cleared of its litter,
which bore testimony to the presence of jovial company by a pate,
oysters, white wine, and vulgar kidneys, /sautes au vin de champagne/,
sodden in their own sauce. The light of a charcoal brazier gleamed on
an /omelette aux truffes/.
Two covers and two napkins, soiled by the supper of the previous
night, might have enlightened the purest innocence. Claparon, thinking
himself very clever, pressed his invitation in spite of Cesar's
"I was to have had a guest, but that guest has disappointed me," said
the crafty traveller, in a voice likely to reach a person buried under
"Monsieur," said Birotteau, "I came solely on business, and I shall
not detain you long."
"I'm used up," said Claparon, pointing to the desk and the tables
piled with documents; "they don't leave me a poor miserable moment to
myself! I don't receive people except on Saturdays. But as for you, my
dear friend, I'll see you at any time. I haven't a moment to love or
to loaf; I have lost even the inspiration of business; to catch its
vim one must have the sloth of ease. Nobody ever sees me now on the
boulevard doing nothing. Bah! I'm sick of business; I don't want to
talk about business; I've got money enough, but I never can get enough
happiness. My gracious! I want to travel,--to see Italy! Oh, that dear
Italy! beautiful in spite of all her reverses! adorable land, where I
shall no doubt encounter some angel, complying yet majestic! I have
always loved Italian women. Did you ever have an Italian woman
yourself? No? Then come with me to Italy. We will see Venice, the
abode of doges,--unfortunately fallen into those intelligent Austrian
hands that know nothing of art! Bah! let us get rid of business,
canals, loans, and peaceful governments. I'm a good fellow when I've
got my pockets lined. Thunder! let's travel."
"One word, monsieur, and I will release you," said Birotteau. "You
made over my notes to Monsieur Bidault."
"You mean Gigonnet, that good little Gigonnet, easy-going--"
"Yes," said Cesar; "but I wish,--and here I count upon your honor and
"--to renew those notes."
"Impossible!" snapped the banker. "I'm not alone in the matter. We
have met in council,--regular Chamber; but we all agreed like bacon in
a frying-pan. The devil! we deliberated. Those lands about the
Madeleine don't amount to anything; we are operating elsewhere. Hey!
my dear sir, if we were not involved in the Champs Elysees and at the
Bourse which they are going to finish, and in the quartier Saint-
Lazare and at Tivoli, we shouldn't be, as that fat Nucingen says, in
/peaseness/ at all. What's the Madeleine to us?--a midge of a thing.
Pr-r-r! We don't play low, my good fellow," he said, tapping Birotteau
on the stomach and catching him round the waist. "Come, let's have our
breakfast, and talk," added Claparon, wishing to soften his refusal.
"Very good," said Birotteau. "So much the worse for the other guest,"
he thought, meaning to make Claparon drunk, and to find out who were
his real associates in an affair which began to look suspicious to
"All right! Victoire!" called the banker.
This call brought a regular Leonarde, tricked out like a fish-woman.
"Tell the clerks that I can't see any one,--not even Nucingen, Keller,
Gigonnet, and all the rest of them."
"No one has come but Monsieur Lempereur."
"He can receive the great people," said Claparon; "the small fry are
not to get beyond the first room. They are to say I'm cogitating a
great enterprise--in champagne."
To make an old commercial traveller drunk is an impossibility. Cesar
mistook the elation of the man's vulgarity when he attempted to sound
"That infamous Roguin is still connected with you," he began; "don't
you think you ought to write and tell him to assist an old friend whom
he has compromised,--a man with whom he dined every Sunday, and whom
he has known for twenty years?"
"Roguin? A fool! his share is ours now. Don't be worried, old fellow,
all will go well. Pay up to the 15th, and after that we will see--I
say, we will see. Another glass of wine? The capital doesn't concern
me one atom; pay or don't pay, I sha'n't make faces at you. I'm only
in the business for a commission on the sales, and for a share when
the lands are converted into money; and it's for that I manage the
owners. Don't you understand? You have got solid men behind you, so
I'm not afraid, my good sir. Nowadays, business is all parcelled out
in portions. A single enterprise requires a combination of capacities.
Go in with us; don't potter with pomatum and perfumes,--rubbish!
rubbish! Shave the public; speculate!"
"Speculation!" said Cesar, "is that commerce?"
"It is abstract commerce," said Claparon,--"commerce which won't be
developed for ten years to come, according to Nucingen, the Napoleon
of finance; commerce by which a man can grasp the totality of
fractions, and skim the profits before there are any. Gigantic idea!
one way of pouring hope into pint cups,--in short, a new necromancy!
So far, we have only got ten or a dozen hard heads initiated into the
cabalistic secrets of these magnificent combinations."
Cesar opened his eyes and ears, endeavoring to understand this
"Listen," said Claparon, after a pause. "Such master-strokes need men.
There's the man of genius who hasn't a sou--like all men of genius.
Those fellows spend their thoughts and spend their money just as it
comes. Imagine a pig rooting round a truffle-patch; he is followed by
a jolly fellow, a moneyed man, who listens for the grunt as piggy
finds the succulent. Now, when the man of genius has found a good
thing, the moneyed man taps him on the shoulder and says, 'What have
you got there? You are rushing into the fiery furnace, my good fellow,
and you haven't the loins to run out again. There's a thousand francs;
just let me take it in hand and manage the affair.' Very good! The
banker then convokes the traders: 'My friends, let us go to work:
write a prospectus! Down with humbug!' On that they get out the
hunting-horns and shout and clamor,--'One hundred thousand francs for
five sous! or five sous for a hundred thousand francs! gold mines!
coal mines!' In short, all the clap-trap of commerce. We buy up men of
arts and sciences; the show begins, the public enters; it gets its
money's worth, and we get the profits. The pig is penned up with his
potatoes, and the rest of us wallow in banknotes. There it all is, my
good sir. Come, go into the business with us. What would you like to
be,--pig, buzzard, clown, or millionaire? Reflect upon it; I have now
laid before you the whole theory of the modern loan-system. Come and
see me often; you'll always find me a jovial, jolly fellow. French
joviality--gaiety and gravity, all in one--never injures business;
quite the contrary. Men who quaff the sparkling cup are born to
understand each other. Come, another glass of champagne! it is good, I
tell you! It was sent to me from Epernay itself, by a man for whom I
once sold quantities at a good price--I used to be in wines. He shows
his gratitude, and remembers me in my prosperity; very rare, that."
Birotteau, overcome by the frivolity and heedlessness of a man to whom
the world attributed extreme depth and capacity, dared not question
him any further. In the midst of his own haziness of mind produced by
the champagne, he did, however, recollect a name spoken by du Tillet;
and he asked Claparon who Gobseck the banker was, and where he lived.
"Have you got as far as that?" said Claparon. "Gobseck is a banker,
just as the headsman is a doctor. The first word is 'fifty per cent';
he belongs to the race of Harpagon; he'll take canary birds at all
seasons, fur tippets in summer, nankeens in winter. What securities
are you going to offer him? If you want him to take your paper without
security you will have to deposit your wife, your daughter, your
umbrella, everything down to your hat-box, your socks (don't you go in
for ribbed socks?), your shovel and tongs, and the very wood you've
got in the cellar! Gobseck! Gobseck! in the name of virtuous folly,
who told you to go to that commercial guillotine?"
"Monsieur du Tillet."
"Ah! the scoundrel, I recognize him! We used to be friends. If we have
quarrelled so that we don't speak to each other, you may depend upon
it my aversion to him is well-founded; he let me read down to the
bottom of his infamous soul, and he made me uncomfortable at that
beautiful ball you gave us. I can't stand his impudent airs--all
because he has got a notary's wife! I could have countesses if I
wanted them; I sha'n't respect him any the more for that. Ah! my
respect is a princess who'll never give birth to such as he. But, I
say, you are a funny fellow, old man, to flash us a ball like that,
and two months after try to renew your paper! You seem to have some go
in you. Let's do business together. You have got a reputation which
would be very useful to me. Oh! du Tillet was born to understand
Gobseck. Du Tillet will come to a bad end at the Bourse. If he is, as
they say, the tool of old Gobseck, he won't be allowed to go far.
Gobseck sits in a corner of his web like an old spider who has
travelled round the world. Sooner or later, ztit! the usurer will toss
him off as I do this glass of wine. So much the better! Du Tillet has
played me a trick--oh! a damnable trick."
At the end of an hour and a half spend in just such senseless chatter,
Birotteau attempted to get away, seeing that the late commercial
traveller was about to relate the adventure of a republican deputy of
Marseilles, in love with a certain actress then playing the part of la
belle Arsene, who, on one occasion, was hissed by a royalist crowd in
"He stood up in his box," said Claparon, "and shouted: 'Arrest whoever
hissed her! Eugh! If it's a woman, I'll kiss her; if it's a man, we'll
see about it; if it's neither the one nor the other, may God's
lightning blast it!' Guess how it ended."
"Adieu, monsieur," said Birotteau.
"You will have to come and see me," said Claparon; "that first scrap
of paper you gave Cayron has come back to us protested; I endorsed it,
so I've paid it. I shall send after you; business before everything."
Birotteau felt stabbed to the heart by this cold and grinning kindness
as much as by the harshness of Keller or the coarse German banter of
Nucingen. The familiarity of the man, and his grotesque gabble excited
by champagne, seemed to tarnish the soul of the honest bourgeois as
though he came from a house of financial ill-fame. He went down the
stairway and found himself in the streets without knowing where he was
going. As he walked along the boulevards and reached the Rue Saint-
Denis, he recollected Molineux, and turned into the Cour Batave. He
went up the dirty, tortuous staircase which he once trod so proudly.
He recalled to mind the mean and niggardly acrimony of Molineux, and
he shrank from imploring his favor. The landlord was sitting in the
chimney-corner, as on the occasion of Cesar's first visit, but his
breakfast was now in process of digestion. Birotteau proffered his
"Renew a note for twelve hundred francs?" said Molineux, with mocking
incredulity. "Have you got to that, monsieur? If you have not twelve
hundred francs to pay me on the 15th, do you intend to send back my
receipt for the rent unpaid? I shall be sorry; but I have not the
smallest civility in money-matters,--my rents are my living. Without
them how could I pay what I owe myself? No merchant will deny the
soundness of that principle. Money is no respecter of persons; money
has no ears, it has no heart. The winter is hard, the price of wood
has gone up. If you don't pay me on the 15th, a little summons will be
served upon you at twelve o'clock on the 16th. Bah! the worthy Mitral,
your bailiff, is mine as well; he will send you the writ in an
envelope, with all the consideration due to your high position."
"Monsieur, I have never received a summons in my life," said
"There is a beginning to everything," said Molineux.
Dismayed by the curt malevolence of the old man, Cesar was cowed; he
heard the knell of failure ringing in his ears, and every jangle woke
a memory of the stern sayings his pitiless justice had uttered against
bankrupts. His former opinions now seared, as with fire, the soft
substance of his brain.
"By the by," said Molineux, "you neglected to put upon your notes,
'for value received in rental,' which would secure me preference."
"My position will prevent me from doing anything to the detriment of
my creditors," said Cesar, stunned by the sudden sight of the
precipice yawning before him.
"Very good, monsieur, very good; I thought I knew everything relating
to rentals and tenants, but I have learned through you never to take
notes in payment. Ah! I shall sue you, for your answer shows plainly
enough that you are not going to meet your liabilities. Hard cash is a
matter which concerns every landlord in Paris."
Birotteau went out, weary of life. It is in the nature of such soft
and tender souls to be disheartened by a first rebuff, just as a first
success encourages them. Cesar no longer had any hope except in the
devotion of little Popinot, to whom his thoughts naturally turned as
he crossed the Marche des Innocents.
"Poor boy! who could have believed it when I launched him, only six
weeks ago, in the Tuileries?"
It was just four o'clock, the hour at which the judges left their
court-rooms. Popinot the elder chanced to go and see his nephew. This
judge, whose mind was singularly acute on all moral questions, was
also gifted with a second-sight which enabled him to discover secret
intentions, to perceive the meaning of insignificant human actions,
the germs of crime, the roots of wrongdoing; and he now watched
Birotteau, though Birotteau was not aware of it. The perfumer, who was
annoyed at finding the judge with his nephew, seemed to him harassed,
preoccupied, pensive. Little Popinot, always busy, with his pen behind
his ear, lay down as usual flat on his stomach before the father of
his Cesarine. The empty phrases which Cesar addressed to his partner
seemed to the judge to mask some important request. Instead of going
away, the crafty old man stayed in spite of his nephew's evident
desire, for he guessed that the perfumer would soon try to get rid of
him by going away himself. Accordingly, when Birotteau went out the
judge followed, and saw Birotteau hanging about that part of the Rue
des Cinq-Diamants which leads into the Rue Aubry-le-Boucher. This
trifling circumstance roused the suspicions of old Popinot as to
Cesar's intentions; he turned into the Rue des Lombards, and when he
saw the perfumer re-enter Anselme's door, he came hastily back again.
"My dear Popinot," said Cesar to his partner, "I have come to ask a
service of you."
"What can I do?" cried Popinot with generous ardor.
"Ah! you save my life," exclaimed the poor man, comforted by this
warmth of heart which flamed upon the sea of ice he had traversed for
"You must give me a note for fifty thousand francs on my share of the
profits; we will arrange later about the payment."
Popinot looked fixedly at Cesar. Cesar dropped his eyes. At this
moment the judge re-entered.
"My son--ah! excuse me, Monsieur Birotteau--Anselme, I forget to tell
you--" and with an imperious gesture he led his nephew into the street
and forced him, in his shirt-sleeves and bareheaded, to listen as they
walked towards the Rue des Lombards. "My nephew, your old master may
find himself so involved that he will be forced to make an assignment.
Before taking that step, honorable men who have forty years of
integrity to boast of, virtuous men seeking to save their good name,
will play the part of reckless gamblers; they become capable of
anything; they will sell their wives, traffic with their daughters,
compromise their best friends, pawn what does not belong to them; they
will frequent gambling-tables, become dissemblers, hypocrites, liars;
they will even shed tears. I have witnessed strange things. You
yourself have seen Roguin's respectability,--a man to whom they would
have given the sacraments without confession. I do not apply these
remarks in their full force to Monsieur Birotteau,--I believe him to
be an honest man; but if he asks you to do anything, no matter what,
against the rules of business, such as endorsing notes out of good-
nature, or launching into a system of 'circulations,' which, to my
mind, is the first step to swindling,--for it is uttering counterfeit
paper-money,--if he asks you to do anything of the kind, promise me
that you will sign nothing without consulting me. Remember that if you
love his daughter you must not--in the very interests of your love you
must not--destroy your future. If Monsieur Birotteau is to fall, what
will it avail if you fall too? You will deprive yourselves, one as
much as the other, of all the chances of your new business, which may
prove his only refuge."
"Thank you, my uncle; a word to the wise is enough," said Popinot, to
whom Cesar's heart-rending exclamation was now explained.
The merchant in oils, refined and otherwise, returned to his gloomy
shop with an anxious brow. Birotteau saw the change.
"Will you do me the honor to come up into my bedroom? We shall be
better there. The clerks, though very busy, might overhear us."
Birotteau followed Popinot, a prey to the anxiety a condemned man goes
through from the moment of his appeal for mercy until its rejection.
"My dear benefactor," said Anselme, "you cannot doubt my devotion; it
is absolute. Permit me only to ask you one thing. Will this sum clear
you entirely, or is it only a means of delaying some catastrophe? If
it is that, what good will it do to drag me down also? You want notes
at ninety days. Well, it is absolutely impossible that I could meet
them in that time."
Birotteau rose, pale and solemn, and looked at Popinot.
Popinot, horror-struck, cried out, "I will do them for you, if you
"UNGRATEFUL!" said his master, who spent his whole remaining strength
in hurling the word at Anselme's brow, as if it were a living mark of
Birotteau walked to the door, and went out. Popinot, rousing himself
from the sensation which the terrible word produced upon him, rushed
down the staircase and into the street, but Birotteau was out of
sight. Cesarine's lover heard that dreadful charge ringing in his
ears, and saw the distorted face of the poor distracted Cesar
constantly before him; Popinot was to live henceforth, like Hamlet,
with a spectre beside him.
Birotteau wandered about the streets of the neighborhood like a
drunken man. At last he found himself upon the quay, and followed it
till he reached Sevres, where he passed the night at an inn, maddened
with grief, while his terrified wife dared not send in search of him.
She knew that in such circumstances an alarm, imprudently given, might
be fatal to his credit, and the wise Constance sacrificed her own
anxiety to her husband's commercial reputation: she waited silently
through the night, mingling her prayers and terrors. Was Cesar dead?
Had he left Paris on the scent of some last hope? The next morning she
behaved as though she knew the reasons for his absence; but at five
o'clock in the afternoon when Cesar had not returned, she sent for her
uncle and begged him to go at once to the Morgue. During the whole of
that day the courageous creature sat behind her counter, her daughter
embroidering beside her. When Pillerault returned, Cesar was with him;
on his way back the old man had met him in the Palais-Royal,
hesitating before the entrance to a gambling-house.
This was the 14th. At dinner Cesar could not eat. His stomach,
violently contracted, rejected food. The evening hours were terrible.
The shaken man went through, for the hundredth time, one of those
frightful alternations of hope and despair which, by forcing the soul
to run up the scale of joyous emotion and then precipitating it to the
last depths of agony, exhaust the vital strength of feeble beings.
Derville, Birotteau's advocate, rushed into the handsome salon where
Madame Cesar was using all her persuasion to retain her husband, who
wished to sleep on the fifth floor,--"that I may not see," he said,
"these monuments of my folly."
"The suit is won!" cried Derville.
At these words Cesar's drawn face relaxed; but his joy alarmed
Derville and Pillerault. The women left the room to go and weep by
themselves in Cesarine's chamber.
"Now I can get a loan!" cried Birotteau.
"It would be imprudent," said Derville; "they have appealed; the court
might reverse the judgment; but in a month it would be safe."
Cesar fell into a sort of slumber, from which no one tried to rouse
him,--a species of catalepsy, in which the body lived and suffered
while the functions of the mind were in abeyance. This respite,
bestowed by chance, was looked upon by Constance, Cesarine,
Pillerault, and Derville as a blessing from God. And they judged
rightly: Cesar was thus enabled to bear the harrowing emotions of that
night. He was sitting in a corner of the sofa near the fire; his wife
was in the other corner watching him attentively, with a soft smile
upon her lips,--the smile which proves that women are nearer than men
to angelic nature, in that they know how to mingle an infinite
tenderness with an all-embracing compassion; a secret belonging only
to angels seen in dreams providentially strewn at long intervals
through the history of human life. Cesarine, sitting on a little stool
at her mother's feet, touched her father's hand lightly with her hair
from time to time, as she gave him a caress into which she strove to
put the thoughts which, in such crises, the voice seems to render
Seated in his arm-chair, like the Chancelier de l'Hopital on the
peristyle of the Chamber of Deputies, Pillerault--a philosopher
prepared for all events, and showing upon his countenance the wisdom
of an Egyptian sphinx--was talking to Derville and his niece in a
suppressed voice. Constance thought it best to consult the lawyer,
whose discretion was beyond a doubt. With the balance-sheet written in
her head, she explained the whole situation in low tones. After an
hour's conference, held in presence of the stupefied Cesar, Derville
shook his head and looked at Pillerault.
"Madame," he said, with the horrible coolness of his profession, "you
must give in your schedule and make an assignment. Even supposing that
by some contrivance you could meet the payments for to-morrow, you
would have to pay down at least three hundred thousand francs before
you could borrow on those lands. Your liabilities are five hundred
thousand. To meet them you have assets that are very promising, very
productive, but not convertible at present; you must fail within a
given time. My opinion is that it is better to jump out of the window
than to roll downstairs."
"That is my advice, too, dear child," said Pillerault.
Derville left, and Madame Cesar and Pillerault went with him to the
"Poor father!" said Cesarine, who rose softly to lay a kiss on Cesar's
head. "Then Anselme could do nothing?" she added, as her mother and
"UNGRATEFUL!" cried Cesar, struck by the name of Anselme in the only
living part of his memory,--as the note of a piano lifts the hammer
which strikes its corresponding string.
From the moment when that word "Ungrateful" was flung at him like an
anathema, little Popinot had not had an hour's sleep nor an instant's
peace of mind. The unhappy lad cursed his uncle, and finally went to
see him. To get the better of that experienced judicial wisdom he
poured forth the eloquence of love, hoping it might seduce a being
from whose mind human speech slips like water from a duck's back,--a
"From a commercial point of view," he said, "custom does allow the
managing-partner to advance a certain sum to the sleeping-partner on
the profits of the business, and we are certain to make profits. After
close examination of my affairs I do feel strong enough to pay forty
thousand francs in three months. The known integrity of Monsieur Cesar
is a guarantee that he will use that forty thousand to pay off his
debts. Thus the creditors, if there should come a failure, can lay no
blame on us. Besides, uncle, I would rather lose forty thousand francs
than lose Cesarine. At this very moment while I am speaking, she has
doubtless been told of my refusal, and will cease to esteem me. I
vowed my blood to my benefactor! I am like a young sailor who ought to
sink with his captain, or a soldier who should die with his general."
"Good heart and bad merchant, you will never lose my esteem," said the
judge, pressing the hand of his nephew. "I have thought a great deal
of this," he added. "I know you love Cesarine devotedly, and I think
you can satisfy the claims of love and the claims of commerce."
"Ah! my uncle, if you have found a way my honor is saved!"
"Advance Birotteau fifty thousand on his share in your oil, which has
now become a species of property, reserving to yourself the right of
buying it back. I will draw up the deed."
Anselme embraced his uncle and rushed home, made notes to the amount
of fifty thousand francs, and ran from the Rue des Cinq-Diamants to
the Place Vendome, so that just as Cesarine, her mother, and
Pillerault were gazing at Cesar, amazed at the sepulchural tone in
which he had uttered the word "Ungrateful!" the door of the salon
opened and Popinot appeared.
"My dear and beloved master!" he cried, wiping the perspiration from
his forehead, "here is what you asked of me!" He held out the notes.
"Yes, I have carefully examined my situation; you need have no fear, I
shall be able to pay them. Save--save your honor!"
"I was sure of him!" cried Cesarine, seizing Popinot's hand, and
pressing it with convulsive force.
Madame Cesar embraced him; Birotteau rose up like the righteous at the
sound of the last trumpet, and issued, as it were, from the tomb. Then
he stretched out a frenzied hand to seize the fifty stamped papers.
"Stop!" said the terrible uncle, Pillerault, snatching the papers from
Popinot, "one moment!"
The four individuals present,--Cesar, his wife, Cesarine, and Popinot,
--bewildered by the action of the old man and by the tone of his
voice, saw him tear the papers and fling them in the fire, without
attempting to interfere.
Four voices and but one heart; a startling unanimity! Uncle Pillerault
passed his arm round Popinot's neck, held him to his breast, and
"You are worthy of the love of those who have hearts," he said. "If
you loved a daughter of mine, had she a million and you had nothing
but that [pointing to the black ashes of the notes], you should marry
her in a fortnight, if she loved you. Your master," he said, pointing
to Cesar, "is beside himself. My nephew," resumed Pillerault, gravely,
addressing the poor man,--"my nephew, away with illusions! We must do
business with francs, not feelings. All this is noble, but useless. I
spent two hours at the Bourse this afternoon. You have not one
farthing's credit; every one is talking of your disaster, of your
attempts to renew, of your appeals to various bankers, of their
refusals, of your follies,--going up six flights of stairs to beg a
gossiping landlord, who chatters like a magpie, to renew a note of
twelve hundred francs!--your ball, given to conceal your
embarrassments. They have gone so far as to say you had no property in
Roguin's hands; according to your enemies, Roguin is only a blind. A
friend of mine, whom I sent about to learn what is going on, confirms
what I tell you. Every one foresees that Popinot will issue notes, and
believes that you set him up in business expressly as a last resource.
In short, every calumny or slander which a man brings upon himself
when he tries to mount a rung of the social ladder, is going the
rounds among business men to-day. You might hawk about those notes of
Popinot in vain; you would meet humiliating refusals; no one would
take them; no one could be sure how many such notes you are issuing;
every one expects you to sacrifice the poor lad to your own safety.
You would destroy to no purpose the credit of the house of Popinot. Do
you know how much the boldest money-lender would give you for those
fifty thousand francs? Twenty thousand at the most; twenty thousand,
do you hear me? There are crises in business when we must stand up
three days before the world without eating, as if we had indigestion,
and on the fourth day we may be admitted to the larder of credit. You
cannot live through those three days; and the whole matter lies there.
My poor nephew, take courage! file your schedule, make an assignment.
Here is Popinot, here am I; we will go to work as soon as the clerks
have gone to bed, and spare you the agony of it."
"My uncle!" said Cesar, clasping his hands.
"Cesar, would you choose a shameful failure, in which there are no
assets? Your share in the house of Popinot is all that saves your
Cesar, awakened by this last and fatal stream of light, saw at length
the frightful truth in its full extent; he fell back upon the sofa,
from thence to his knees, and his mind seemed to wander; he became
like a little child. His wife thought he was dying. She knelt down to
raise him, but joined her voice to his when she saw him clasp his
hands and lift his eyes, and recite, with resigned contrition, in the
hearing of his uncle, his daughter, and Popinot, the sublime catholic
"Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be Thy name; Thy kingdom come;
Thy will be done on earth, as it is in heaven; GIVE US THIS DAY OUR
DAILY BREAD; and forgive us our offences, as we forgive those who have
offended against us. So be it!"
Tears came into the eyes of the stoic Pillerault; Cesarine, overcome
and weeping, leaned her head upon Popinot's shoulder, as he stood pale
and rigid as a statue.
"Let us go below," said the old merchant, taking the arm of the young
It was half-past eleven when they left Cesar to the care of his wife
and daughter. Just at that moment Celestin, the head-clerk, to whom
the management of the house had been left during this secret tumult,
came up to the appartement and entered the salon. Hearing his step,
Cesarine ran to meet him, that he might not see the prostration of his
"Among the letters this evening there was one from Tours, which was
misdirected and therefore delayed. I thought it might be from
monsieur's brother, so I did not open it."
"Father!" cried Cesarine; "a letter from my uncle at Tours!"
"Ah, I am saved!" cried Cesar. "My brother! oh, my brother!" He kissed
the letter, as he broke the seal, and read it aloud to his wife and
daughter in a trembling voice:--
Answer of Francois to Cesar Birotteau.
My beloved Brother,--Your letter gave me the deepest pain. As soon
as I had read it, I went at once and offered to God the holy
sacrifice of the Mass, imploring Him by the blood which His Son,
our divine Redeemer, shed for us, to look with mercy upon your
afflictions. At the moment when I offered the prayer /Pro meo
fratre Caesare/, my eyes were filled with tears as I thought of
you,--from whom, unfortunately, I am separated in these days when
you must sorely need the support of fraternal friendship. I have
thought that the worthy and venerable Monsieur Pillerault would
doubtless replace me. My dear Cesar, never forget, in the midst of
your troubles, that this life is a scene of trial, and is passing
away; that one day we shall be rewarded for having suffered for
the holy name of God, for His holy Church, for having followed the
teachings of His Gospel and practised virtue. If it were
otherwise, this world would have no meaning. I repeat to you these
maxims, though I know how good and pious you are, because it may
happen that those who, like you, are flung into the storms of life
upon the perilous waves of human interests might be tempted to
utter blasphemies in the midst of their adversity,--carried away
as they are by anguish. Curse neither the men who injure you nor
the God who mingles, at His will, your joy with bitterness. Look
not on life, but lift your eyes to heaven; there is comfort for
the weak, there are riches for the poor, there are terrors for
"But, Birotteau," said his wife, "skip all that, and see what he sends
"We will read it over and over hereafter," said Cesar, wiping his eyes
and turning over the page,--letting fall, as he did so, a Treasury
note. "I was sure of him, poor brother!" said Birotteau, picking up
the note and continuing to read, in a voice broken by tears.
I went to Madame de Listomere, and without telling her the reason
of my request I asked her to lend me all she could dispose of, so
as to swell the amount of my savings. Her generosity has enabled
me to make up a thousand francs; which I send herewith, in a note
of the Receiver-General of Tours on the Treasury.
"A fine sum!" said Constance, looking at Cesarine.
By retrenching a few superfluities in my life, I can return the
four hundred francs Madame de Listomere has lent me in three
years; so do not make yourself uneasy about them, my dear Cesar. I
send you all I have in the world; hoping that this sum may help
you to a happy conclusion of your financial difficulties, which
doubtless are only momentary. I well know your delicacy, and I
wish to forestall your objections. Do not dream of paying me any
interest for this money, nor of paying it back at all in the day
of prosperity which ere long will dawn for you if God deigns to
hear the prayers I offer to Him daily. After I received your last
letter, two years ago, I thought you so rich that I felt at
liberty to spend my savings upon the poor; but now, all that I
have is yours. When you have overcome this little commercial
difficulty, keep the sum I now send for my niece Cesarine; so that
when she marries she may buy some trifle to remind her of her old
uncle, who daily lifts his hands to heaven to implore the blessing
of God upon her and all who are dear to her. And also, my dear
Cesar, recollect I am a poor priest who dwells, by the grace of
God, like the larks in the meadow, in quiet places, trying to obey
the commandment of our divine Saviour, and who consequently needs
but little money. Therefore, do not have the least scruple in the
trying circumstances in which you find yourself; and think of me
as one who loves you tenderly.
Our excellent Abbe Chapeloud, to whom I have not revealed your
situation, desires me to convey his friendly regards to every
member of your family, and his wishes for the continuance of your
prosperity. Adieu, dear and well-beloved brother; I pray that at
this painful juncture God will be pleased to preserve your health,
and also that of your wife and daughter. I wish you, one and all,
patience and courage under your afflictions.
Priest, Vicar of the Cathedral and Parochial Church
of Saint-Gatien de Tours.
"A thousand francs!" cried Madame Birotteau.
"Put them away," said Cesar gravely; "they are all he had. Besides,
they belong to our daughter, and will enable us to live; so that we
need ask nothing of our creditors."
"They will think you are abstracting large sums."
"Then I will show them the letter."
"They will say that it is a fraud."
"My God! my God!" cried Birotteau. "I once thought thus of poor,
unhappy people who were doubtless as I am now."
Terribly anxious about Cesar's state, mother and daughter sat plying
their needles by his side, in profound silence. At two in the morning
Popinot gently opened the door of the salon and made a sign to Madame
Cesar to come down. On seeing his niece Pillerault took off his
"My child, there is hope," he said; "all is not lost. But your husband
could not bear the uncertainty of the negotiations which Anselme and I
are about to undertake. Don't leave your shop to-morrow, and take the
addresses of all the bills; we have till four o'clock in the afternoon
of the 15th. Here is my plan: Neither Ragon nor I am to be considered.
Suppose that your hundred thousand francs deposited with Roguin had
been remitted to the purchasers, you would not have them then any more
than you have them now. The hundred and forty thousand francs for
which notes were given to Claparon, and which must be paid in any
state of the case, are what you have to meet. Therefore it is not
Roguin's bankruptcy which as ruined you. I find, to meet your
obligations, forty thousand francs which you can, sooner or later,
borrow on your property in the Faubourg du Temple, and sixty thousand
for your share in the house of Popinot. Thus you can make a struggle,
for later you may borrow on the lands about the Madeleine. If your
chief creditor agrees to help you, I shall not consider my interests;
I shall sell out my Funds and live on dry bread; Popinot will get
along between life and death, and as for you, you will be at the mercy
of the smallest commercial mischance; but Cephalic Oil will
undoubtedly make great returns. Popinot and I have consulted together;
we will stand by you in this struggle. Ah! I shall eat my dry bread
gaily if I see daylight breaking on the horizon. But everything
depends on Gigonnet, who holds the notes, and the associates of
Claparon. Popinot and I are going to see Gigonnet between seven and
eight o'clock in the morning, and then we shall know what their
Constance, wholly overcome, threw herself into her uncle's arms,
voiceless except through tears and sobs.
Neither Popinot nor Pillerault knew or could know that Bidault, called
Gigonnet, and Claparon were du Tillet under two shapes; and that du
Tillet was resolved to read in the "Journal des Petites Affiches" this
"Judgment of the Court of Commerce, which declares the Sieur Cesar
Birotteau, merchant-perfumer, living in Paris, Rue Saint-Honore,
no. 397, insolvent, and appoints the preliminary examination on
the 17th of January, 1819. Commissioner, Monsieur Gobenheim-
Keller. Agent, Monsieur Molineux."
Anselme and Pillerault examined Cesar's affairs until daylight. At
eight o'clock in the morning the two brave friends,--one an old
soldier, the other a young recruit, who had never known, except by
hearsay, the terrible anguish of those who commonly went up the
staircase of Bidault called Gigonnet,--wended their way, without a
word to each other, towards the Rue Grenetat. Both were suffering;
from time to time Pillerault passed his hand across his brow.
The Rue Grenetat is a street where all the houses, crowded with trades
of every kind, have a repulsive aspect. The buildings are horrible.
The vile uncleanliness of manufactories is their leading feature. Old
Gigonnet lived on the third floor of a house whose window-sashes, with
small and very dirty panes, swung by the middle, on pivots. The
staircase opened directly upon the street. The porter's lodge was on
the /entresol/, in a space which was lighted only from the staircase.
All the lodgers, with the exception of Gigonnet, worked at trades.
Workmen were continually coming and going. The stairs were caked with
a layer of mud, hard or soft according to the state of the atmosphere,
and were covered with filth. Each landing of this noisome stairway
bore the names of the occupants in gilt letters on a metal plate,
painted red and varnished, to which were attached specimens of their
craft. As a rule, the doors stood open and gave to view queer
combinations of the domestic household and the manufacturing
operations. Strange cries and grunts issued therefrom, with songs and
whistles and hisses that recalled the hour of four o'clock in the
Jardin des Plantes. On the first floor, in an evil-smelling lair, the
handsomest braces to be found in the /article-Paris/ were made. On the
second floor, the elegant boxes which adorn the shop-windows of the
boulevards and the Palais-Royal at the beginning of the new year were
manufactured, in the midst of the vilest filth. Gigonnet eventually
died, worth eighteen hundred thousand francs, on a third floor of this
house, from which no consideration could move him; though his niece,
Madame Saillard, offered to give him an appartement in a hotel in the
"Courage!" said Pillerault, as he pulled the deer's hoof hanging from
the bell-rope of Gigonnet's clean gray door.
Gigonnet opened the door himself. Cesar's two supporters, entering the
precincts of bankruptcy, crossed the first room, which was clean and
chilly and without curtains to its windows. All three sat down in the
inner room where the money-lender lived, before a hearth full of
ashes, in the midst of which the wood was successfully defending
itself against the fire. Popinot's courage froze at sight of the
usurer's green boxes and the monastic austerity of the room, whose
atmosphere was like that of a cellar. He looked with a wondering eye
at the miserable blueish paper sprinkled with tricolor flowers, which
had been on the walls for twenty-five years; and then his anxious
glance fell upon the chimney-piece, ornamented with a clock shaped
like a lyre, and two oval vases in Sevres blue richly mounted in
copper-gilt. This relic, picked up by Gigonnet after the pillage of
Versailles, where the populace broke nearly everything, came from the
queen's boudoir; but these rare vases were flanked by two candelabra
of abject shape made of wrought-iron, and the barbarous contrast
recalled the circumstances under which the vases had been acquired.
"I know that you have not come on your own account," said Gigonnet,
"but on behalf of the great Birotteau. Well, what is it, my friends?"
"We can tell you nothing that you do not already know; so I will be
brief," said Pillerault. "You have notes to the order of Claparon?"
"Will you exchange the first fifty thousand of those notes against the
notes of Monsieur Popinot, here present,--less the discount, of
Gigonnet took off the terrible green cap which seemed to have been
born on him, pointed to his skull, denuded of hair and of the color of
fresh butter, made his usual Voltairean grimace, and said: "You wish
to pay me in hair-oil; have I any use for it?"
"If you choose to jest, there is nothing to be done but to beat a
retreat," said Pillerault.
"You speak like the wise man that you are," answered Gigonnet, with a
"Well, suppose I endorse Monsieur Popinot's notes?" said Pillerault,
playing his last card.
"You are gold by the ingot, Monsieur Pillerault; but I don't want bars
of gold, I want my money."
Pillerault and Popinot bowed and went away. Going down the stairs,
Popinot's knees shook under him.
"Is that a man?" he said to Pillerault.
"They say so," replied the other. "My boy, always bear in mind this
short interview. Anselme, you have just seen the banking-business
unmasked, without its cloak of courtesy. Unexpected events are the
screw of the press, we are the grapes, the bankers are the casks. That
land speculation is no doubt a good one; Gigonnet, or some one behind
him, means to strangle Cesar and step into his skin. It is all over;
there's no remedy. But such is the Bank: be warned; never have
recourse to it!"
After this horrible morning, during which Madame Birotteau for the
first time sent away those who came for their money, taking their
addresses, the courageous woman, happy in the thought that she was
thus sparing her husband from distress, saw Popinot and Pillerault,
for whom she waited with ever-growing anxiety, return at eleven
o'clock, and read her sentence in their faces. The assignment was
"He will die of grief," said the poor woman.
"I could almost wish he might," said Pillerault, solemnly; "but he is
so religious that, as things are now, his director, the Abbe Loraux,
alone can save him."
Pillerault, Popinot, and Constance waited while a clerk was sent to
bring the Abbe Loraux, before they carried up to Cesar the schedule
which Celestin had prepared, and asked him to affix his signature. The
clerks were in despair, for they loved their master. At four o'clock
the good priest came; Constance explained the misfortune that had
fallen upon them, and the abbe went upstairs as a soldier mounts the
"I know why you have come!" cried Birotteau.
"My son," said the priest, "your feelings of resignation to the Divine
will have long been known to me; it now remains to apply them. Keep
your eyes upon the cross; never cease to behold it, and think upon the
humiliations heaped upon the Saviour of men. Meditate upon the agonies
of his passion, and you will be able to bear the mortification which
God has laid upon you--"
"My brother, the abbe, has already prepared me," said Cesar, showing
the letter, which he had re-read and now held out to his confessor.
"You have a good brother," said Monsieur Loraux, "a virtuous and
gentle wife, a tender daughter, two good friends,--your uncle and our
dear Anselme,--two indulgent creditors, the Ragons: all these kind
hearts will pour balm upon your wounds daily, and will help you to
bear your cross. Promise me to have the firmness of a martyr, and to
face the blow without faltering."
The abbe coughed, to give notice to Pillerault who was waiting in the
"My resignation is unbounded," said Cesar, calmly. "Dishonor has come;
I must now think only of reparation."
The firm voice of the poor man and his whole manner surprised Cesarine
and the priest. Yet nothing could be more natural. All men can better
bear a known and definite misfortune than the cruel uncertainties of a
fate which, from one moment to another, brings excessive hope or
"I have dreamed a dream for twenty-two years; to-day I awake with my
cudgel in my hand," said Cesar, his mind turning back to the
Tourangian peasant days.
Pillerault pressed his nephew in his arms as he heard the words.
Birotteau saw that his wife, Anselme, and Celestin were present. The
papers which the head-clerk held in his hand were significant. Cesar
calmly contemplated the little group where every eye was sad but
"Stay!" he said, unfastening his cross, which he held out to the Abbe
Loraux; "give it back to me on the day when I can wear it without
shame. Celestin," he added, "write my resignation as deputy-mayor,--
Monsieur l'abbe will dictate the letter to you; date it the 14th, and
send it at once to Monsieur de la Billardiere by Raguet."
Celestin and the abbe went down stairs. For a quarter of an hour
silence reigned unbroken in Cesar's study. Such strength of mind
surprised the family. Celestin and the abbe came back, and Cesar
signed his resignation. When his uncle Pillerault presented the
schedule and the papers of his assignment, the poor man could not
repress a horrible nervous shudder.
"My God, have pity upon me!" he said, signing the dreadful paper, and
holding it out to Celestin.
"Monsieur," said Anselme Popinot, over whose dejected brow a luminous
light flashed suddenly, "madame, do me the honor to grant me the hand
of Mademoiselle Cesarine."
At these words tears came into the eyes of all present except Cesar;
he rose, took Anselme by the hand and said, in a hollow voice, "My
son, you shall never marry the daughter of a bankrupt."
Anselme looked fixedly at Birotteau and said: "Monsieur, will you
pledge yourself, here, in presence of your whole family, to consent to
our marriage, if mademoiselle will accept me as her husband, on the
day when you have retrieved your failure?"
There was an instant's silence, during which all present were affected
by the emotions painted on the worn face of the poor man.
"Yes," he said, at last.
Anselme made a gesture of unspeakable joy, as he took the hand which
Cesarine held out to him, and kissed it.
"You consent, then?" he said to her.
"Yes," she answered.
"Now that I am one of the family, I have the right to concern myself
in its affairs," he said, with a strange, excited expression of face.
He left the room precipitately, that he might not show a joy which
contrasted too cruelly with the sorrow of his master. Anselme was not
actually happy at the failure, but love is such an egoist! Even
Cesarine felt within her heart an emotion that counteracted her bitter
"Now that we have got so far," whispered Pillerault to Constance,
"shall we strike the last blow?"
Madame Birotteau let a sign of grief rather than of acquiescence
"My nephew," said Pillerault, addressing Cesar, "what do you intend to
"To carry on my business."
"That would not be my judgment," said Pillerault. "Take my advice,
wind up everything, make over your whole assets to your creditors, and
keep out of business. I have often imagined how it would be if I were
in a situation such as yours--Ah, one has to foresee everything in
business! a merchant who does not think of failure is like a general
who counts on never being defeated; he is only half a merchant. I, in
your position, would never have continued in business. What! be forced
to blush before the men I had injured, to bear their suspicious looks
and tacit reproaches? I can conceive of the guillotine--a moment, and
all is over. But to have the head replaced, and daily cut off anew,--
that is agony I could not have borne. Many men take up their business
as if nothing had happened: so much the better for them; they are
stronger than Claude-Joseph Pillerault. If you pay in cash, and you
are obliged to do so, they say that you have kept back part of your
assets; if you are without a penny, it is useless to attempt to
recover yourself. No, give up your property, sell your business, and
find something else to do."
"What could I find?" said Cesar.
"Well," said Pillerault, "look for a situation. You have influential
friends,--the Duc and the Duchesse de Lenoncourt, Madame de Mortsauf,
Monsieur de Vandenesse. Write to them, go and see them; they might get
you a situation in the royal household which would give you a thousand
crowns or so; your wife could earn as much more, and perhaps your
daughter also. The situation is not hopeless. You three might earn
nearly ten thousand francs a year. In ten years you can pay off a
hundred thousand francs, for you shall not use a penny of what you
earn; your two women will have fifteen hundred francs a year from me
for their expenses, and, as for you,--we will see about that."
Constance and Cesar laid these wise words to heart. Pillerault left
them to go to the Bourse, which in those days was held in a
provisional wooden building of a circular shape, and was entered from
the Rue Faydeau. The failure, already known, of a man lately noted and
envied, excited general comment in the upper commercial circles, which
at that period were all "constitutionnel." The gentry of the
Opposition claimed a monopoly of patriotism. Royalists might love the
king, but to love your country was the exclusive privilege of the
Left; the people belonged to it. The downfall of the protege of the
palace, of a ministeralist, an incorrigible royalist who on the 13th
Vendemiaire had insulted the cause of liberty by fighting against the
glorious French Revolution,--such a downfall excited the applause and
tittle-tattle of the Bourse. Pillerault wished to learn and study the
state of public opinion. He found in one of the most animated groups
du Tillet, Gobenheim-Keller, Nucingen, old Guillaume, and his son-in-
law Joseph Lebas, Claparon, Gigonnet, Mongenod, Camusot, Gobseck,
Adolphe Keller, Palma, Chiffreville, Matifat, Grindot, and Lourdois.
"What caution one needs to have!" said Gobenheim to du Tillet. "It was
a mere chance that one of my brothers-in-law did not give Birotteau a
"I am in for ten thousand francs," said du Tillet; "he asked me for
them two weeks ago, and I let him have them on his own note without
security. But he formerly did me some service, and I am willing to
lose the money."
"Your nephew has done like all the rest," said Lourdois to Pillerault,
--"given balls and parties! That a scoundrel should try to throw dust
in people's eyes, I can understand; but it is amazing that a man who
passed for as honest as the day should play those worn-out, knavish
tricks which we are always finding out and condemning."
"Don't trust people unless they live in hovels like Claparon," said
"Hey! mein freint," said the fat Nucingen to du Tillet, "you haf joust
missed blaying me a bretty drick in zenting Pirodot to me. I don't
know," he added, addressing Gobenheim the manufacturer, "vy he tid not
ask me for fifdy tousand francs. I should haf gif dem to him."
"Oh, no, Monsieur le baron," said Joseph Lebas, "you knew very well
that the Bank had refused his paper; you made them reject it in the
committee on discounts. The affair of this unfortunate man, for whom I
still feel the highest esteem, presents certain peculiar
Pillerault pressed the hand of Joseph Lebas.
"Yes," said Mongenod, "it seems impossible to believe what has
happened, unless we believe that concealed behind Gigonnet there are
certain bankers who want to strangle the speculation in the lands
about the Madeleine."
"What has happened is what happens always to those who go out of their
proper business," said Claparon, hastily interrupting Mongenod. "If he
had set up his own Cephalic Oil instead of running up the price of all
the land in Paris by pouncing upon it, he might have lost his hundred
thousand francs with Roguin, but he wouldn't have failed. He will go
on now under the name of Popinot."
"Keep a watch on Popinot," said Gigonnet.
Roguin, in the parlance of such worthy merchants, was now the
"unfortunate Roguin." Cesar had become "that wretched Birotteau." The
one seemed to them excused by his great passion; the other they
considered all the more guilty for his harmless pretensions.
Gigonnet, after leaving the Bourse, went round by the Rue Perrin-
Gasselin on his way home, in search of Madame Madou, the vendor of
"Well, old woman," he said, with his coarse good-humor, "how goes the
"So-so," said Madame Madou, respectfully, offering her only armchair
to the usurer, with a show of attention she had never bestowed on her
Mother Madou, who would have floored a recalcitrant or too-familiar
wagoner and gone fearlessly to the assault of the Tuileries on the
10th of October, who jeered her best customers and was capable of
speaking up to the king in the name of her associate market-women,--
Angelique Madou received Gigonnet with abject respect. Without
strength in his presence, she shuddered under his rasping glance. The
lower classes will long tremble at sight of the executioner, and
Gigonnet was the executioner of petty commerce. In the markets no
power on earth is so respected as that of the man who controls the
flow of money; all other human institutions are as nothing beside him.
Justice herself takes the form of a commissioner, a familiar personage
in the eyes of the market; but usury seated behind its green boxes,--
usury, entreated with fear tugging at the heart-strings, dries up all
jesting, parches the throat, lowers the proudest look, and makes the
commonest market women respectful.
"Do you want anything of me?" she said.
"A trifle, a mere nothing. Hold yourself ready to make good those
notes of Birotteau; the man has failed, and claims must be put in at
once. I will send you the account to-morrow morning."
Madame Madou's eyes contracted like those of a cat for a second, and
then shot out flames.
"Ah, the villain! Ah, the scoundrel! He came and told me himself he
was a deputy-mayor,--a trumped-up story! Reprobate! is that what he
calls business? There is no honor among mayors; the government
deceives us. Stop! I'll go and make him pay me; I will--"
"Hey! at such times everybody looks out for himself, my dear!" said
Gigonnet, lifting his leg with the quaint little action of a cat
fearing to cross a wet place,--a habit to which he owed his nickname.
"There are some very big wigs in the matter who mean to get themselves
out of the scrape."
"Yes, and I'll pull my nuts out of the fire, too! Marie-Jeanne, bring
my clogs and my rabbit-skin cloak; and quick, too, or I'll warm you up
with a box on the ear."
"There'll be warm work down there!" thought Gigonnet, rubbing his
hands as he walked away. "Du Tillet will be satisfied; it will make a
fine scandal all through the quarter. I don't know what that poor
devil of a perfumer has done to him; for my part I pity the fellow as
I do a dog with a broken leg. He isn't a man, he has got no force."
Madame Madou bore down, like an insurrectionary wave from the Faubourg
Saint-Antoine, upon the shop-door of the hapless Birotteau, which she
opened with excessive violence, for her walk had increased her fury.
"Heap of vermin! I want my money; I will have my money! You shall give
me my money, or I carry off your scent-bags, and that satin trumpery,
and the fans, and everything you've got here, for my two thousand
francs. Who ever heard of mayors robbing the people? If you don't pay
me I'll send you to the galleys; I'll go to the police,--justice shall
be done! I won't leave this place till I've got my money."
She made a gesture as if to break the glass before the shelves on
which the valuables were placed.
"Mother Madou takes a drop too much," whispered Celestin to his
The virago overheard him,--for in paroxysms of passion the organs are
either paralyzed or trebly acute,--and she forthwith applied to
Celestin's ear the most vigorous blow that ever resounded in a
"Learn to respect women, my angel," she said, "and don't smirch the
names of the people you rob."
"Madame," said Madame Birotteau, entering from the back-shop, where
she happened to be with her husband,--whom Pillerault was persuading
to go with him, while Cesar, to obey the law, was humbly expressing
his willingness to go to prison,--"madame, for heaven's sake do not
raise a mob, and bring a crowd upon us!"
"Hey! let them come," said the woman; "I'll tell them a tale that will
make you laugh the wrong side of your mouth. Yes, my nuts and my
francs, picked up by the sweat of my brow, helped you to give balls.
There you are, dressed like the queen of France in woollen which you
sheared off the backs of poor sheep such as me! Good God! it would
burn my shoulders, that it would, to wear stolen goods! I've got
nothing but rabbit-skin to cover my carcass, but it is mine! Brigands,
thieves, my money or--"
She darted at a pretty inlaid box containing toilet articles.
"Put that down, madame!" said Cesar, coming forward, "nothing here is
mine; everything belongs to my creditors. I own nothing but my own
person; if you wish to seize that and put me in prison, I give you my
word of honor"--the tears fell from his eyes--"that I will wait here
till you have me arrested."
The tone and gesture were so completely in keeping with his words that
Madame Madou's anger subsided.
"My property has been carried off by a notary; I am innocent of the
disasters I cause," continued Cesar, "but you shall be paid in course
of time if I have to die in the effort, and work like a galley-slave
as a porter in the markets."
"Come, you are a good man," said the market-woman. "Excuse my words,
madame; but I may as well go and drown myself, for Gigonnet will hound
me down. I can't get any money for ten months to redeem those damned
notes of yours which I gave him."
"Come and see me to-morrow morning," said Pillerault, showing himself.
"I will get you the money from one of my friends, at five per cent."
"Hey! if it isn't the worthy Pere Pillerault! Why, to be sure, he's
your uncle," she said to Constance. "Well, you are all honest people,
and I sha'n't lose my money, shall I? To-morrow morning, then, old
fellow!" she said to the retired iron-monger.
Cesar was determined to live on amid the wreck of his fortunes at "The
Queen of Roses," insisting that he would see his creditors and explain
his affairs to them himself. Despite Madame Birotteau's earnest
entreaties, Pillerault seemed to approve of Cesar's decision and took
him back to his own room. The wily old man then went to Monsieur
Haudry, explained the case, and obtained from him a prescription for a
sleeping draught, which he took to be made up, and then returned to
spend the evening with the family. Aided by Cesarine he induced her
father to drink with them. The narcotic soon put Cesar to sleep, and
when he woke up, fourteen hours later, he was in Pillerault's bedroom,
Rue des Bourdonnais, fairly imprisoned by the old man, who was
sleeping himself on a cot-bed in the salon.
When Constance heard the coach containing Pillerault and Cesar roll
away from the door, her courage deserted her. Our powers are often
stimulated by the necessity of upholding some being feebler than
ourselves. The poor woman wept to find herself alone in her home as
she would have wept for Cesar dead.
"Mamma," said Cesarine, sitting on her mother's knee, and caressing
her with the pretty kittenish grace which women only display to
perfection amongst themselves, "you said that if I took up my life
bravely, you would have strength to bear adversity. Don't cry, dear
mother; I am ready and willing to go into some shop, and I shall never
think again of what we once were. I shall be like you in your young
days; and you shall never hear a complaint, nor even a regret, from
me. I have a hope. Did you not hear what Monsieur Anselme said?"
"That dear boy! he shall not be my son-in-law--"
"--he shall be my own son."
"Sorry has one good," said Cesarine, kissing her mother; "it teaches
us to know our true friends."
The daughter at last eased the pain of the poor woman by changing
places and playing the mother to her. The next morning Constance went
to the house of the Duc de Lenoncourt, one of the gentlemen of the
king's bedchamber, and left a letter asking for an interview at a
later hour of the day. In the interval she went to Monsieur de la
Billardiere, and explained to him the situation in which Roguin's
flight had placed Cesar, begging him to go with her to the duke and
speak for her, as she feared she might explain matters ill herself.
She wanted a place for Birotteau. Birotteau, she said, would be the
most upright of cashiers,--if there could be degrees of integrity
among honest men.
"The King has just appointed the Comte de Fontaine master of his
household; there is no time to be lost in making the application,"
said the mayor.
At two o'clock Monsieur de la Billardiere and Madame Cesar went up the
grand staircase of the Hotel de Lenoncourt, Rue Saint-Dominique, and
were ushered into the presence of the nobleman whom the king preferred
to all others,--if it can be said that Louis XVIII. ever had a
preference. The gracious welcome of this great lord, who belonged to
the small number of true gentlemen whom the preceding century
bequeathed to ours, encouraged Madame Cesar. She was dignified, yet
simple, in her sorrow. Grief ennobles even the plainest people; for it
has a grandeur of its own; to reflect its lustre, a nature must needs
be true. Constance was a woman essentially true.
The question was, how to speak to the king at once. In the midst of
the conference Monsieur de Vandenesse was announced; and the duke
exclaimed, "Here is our support!"
Madame Birotteau was not unknown to this young man, who had been to
her shop two or three times in search of those trifles which are
sometimes of more importance than greater things. The duke explained
Monsieur de la Billardiere's wishes. As soon as he learned the
misfortune which had overtaken the godson of the Marquise d'Uxelles,
Vandenesse went at once, accompanied by Monsieur de la Billardiere, to
the Comte de Fontaine, begging Madame Birotteau to wait their return.
Monsieur le Comte de Fontaine was, like Monsieur de la Billardiere,
one of those fine provincial gentlemen, the heroes, almost unknown,
who made "la Vendee." Birotteau was not a stranger to him, for he had
seen him in the old days at "The Queen of Roses." Men who had shed
their blood for the royal cause enjoyed at this time certain
privileges, which the king kept secret, so as not to give umbrage to
Monsieur de Fontaine, always a favorite with Louis XVIII., was thought
to be wholly in his confidence. Not only did the count positively
promise a place, but he returned with the two gentlemen to the Duc de
Lenoncourt, and asked him to procure for him an audience that very
evening; and also to obtain for Billardiere an audience with MONSIEUR,
who was greatly attached to the old Vendeen diplomatist.
The same evening, the Comte de Fontaine came from the Tuileries to
"The Queen of Roses," and announced to Madame Birotteau that as soon
as the proceedings in bankruptcy were over, her husband would be
officially appointed to a situation in the Sinking-fund Office, with a
salary of two thousand five hundred francs,--all the functions in the
household of the king being overcrowded with noble supernumeraries to
whom promises had already been made.
This success was but one part of the task before Madame Birotteau. The
poor woman now went to the "Maison du Chat-qui-pelote," in the Rue
Saint-Denis, to find Joseph Lebas. As she walked along she met Madame
Roguin in a brilliant equipage, apparently making purchases. Their
eyes met; and the shame which the rich woman could not hide as she
looked at the ruined woman, gave Constance fresh courage.
"Never will I roll in a carriage bought with the money of others," she
said to herself.
Joseph Lebas received her kindly, and she begged him to obtain a place
for Cesarine in some respectable commercial establishment. Lebas made
no promises; but eight days later Cesarine had board, lodging, and a
salary of three thousand francs from one of the largest linen-drapers
in Paris, who was about to open a branch establishment in the quartier
des Italiens. Cesarine was put in charge of the desk, and the
superintendence of the new shop was entrusted to her; she filled, in
fact, a position above that of forewoman, and supplied the place of
both master and mistress.
Madame Cesar went from the "Chat-qui-pelote" to the Rue des Cinq-
Diamants, and asked Popinot to let her take charge of his accounts and
do his writing, and also manage his household. Popinot felt that his
was the only house where Cesar's wife could meet with the respect that
was due to her, and find employment without humiliation. The noble lad
gave her three thousand francs a year, her board, and his own room;
going himself into an attic occupied by one of his clerks. Thus it
happened that the beautiful woman, after one month's enjoyment of her
sumptuous home, came to live in the wretched chamber looking into a
damp, dark court, where Gaudissart, Anselme, and Finot had inaugurated
When Molineux, appointed agent by the Court of Commerce, came to take
possession of Cesar Birotteau's assets, Madame Birotteau, aided by
Celestin, went over the inventory with him. Then the mother and
daughter, plainly dressed, left the house on foot and went to their
uncle Pillerault's, without once turning their heads to look at the
home where they had passed the greater part of their lives. They
walked in silence to the Rue des Bourdonnais, where they were to dine
with Cesar for the first time since their separation. It was a sad
dinner. Each had had time for reflection,--time to weigh the duties
before them, and sound the depths of their courage. All three were
like sailors ready to face foul weather, but not deceived as to their
danger. Birotteau gathered courage as he was told of the interest
people in high places had taken in finding employment for him, but he
wept when he heard what his daughter was to become. Then he held out
his hand to his wife, as he saw the courage with which she had
returned to labor. Old Pillerault's eyes were wet, for the last time
in his life, as he looked at these three beings folded together in one
embrace; from the centre of which Birotteau, feeblest of the three and
the most stricken, raised his hands, saying:--
"Let us have hope!"