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Rise and Fall of Cesar Birotteau by Honore de Balzac

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"You shall live with me," said Pillerault, "for the sake of economy;
you shall have my chamber, and share my bread. I have long been
lonely; you shall replace the poor child I lost. From my house it is
but a step to your office in the Rue de l'Oratoire."

"God of mercy!" exclaimed Birotteau; "in the worst of a storm a star
guides me."

Resignation is the last stage of man's misfortune. From this moment
Cesar's downfall was accomplished; he accepted it, and strength
returned to him.


After admitting his insolvency and filing his schedule, a merchant
should find some retired spot in France, or in foreign countries,
where he may live without taking part in life, like the child that he
is; for the law declares him a minor, and not competent for any legal
action as a citizen. This, however, is never done. Before reappearing
he obtains a safe-conduct, which neither judge nor creditor ever
refuses to give; for if the debtor were found without this /exeat/ he
would be put in prison, while with it he passes safely, as with a flag
of truce, through the enemy's camp,--not by way of curiosity, but for
the purpose of defeating the severe intention of the laws relating to
bankruptcy. The effect of all laws which touch private interests is to
develop, enormously, the knavery of men's minds. The object of a
bankrupt, like that of other persons whose interests are thwarted by
any law, is to make void the law in his particular case.

The status of civil death in which the bankrupt remains a chrysalis
lasts for about three months,--a period required by formalities which
precede a conference at which the creditors and their debtor sign a
treaty of peace, by which the bankrupt is allowed the ability to make
payments, and receives a bankrupt's certificate. This transaction is
called the /concordat/,--a word implying, perhaps, that peace reigns
after the storm and stress of interests violently in opposition.

As soon as the insolvent's schedule is filed, the Court of commerce
appoints a judge-commissioner, whose duty it is to look after the
interests of the still unknown body of creditors, and also to protect
the insolvent against the vexatious measures of angry creditors,--a
double office, which might be nobly magnified if the judges had time
to attend to it. The commissioner, however, delegates an agent to take
possession of the property, the securities, and the merchandise, and
to verify the schedule; when this is done, the court appoints a day
for a meeting of the creditors, notice of which is trumpeted forth in
the newspapers. The creditors, real or pretended, are expected to be
present and choose the provisional assignees, who are to supersede the
agent, step into the insolvent's shoes, became by a fiction of law the
insolvent himself, and are authorized to liquidate the business,
negotiate all transactions, sell the property,--in short, recast
everything in the interest of the creditors, provided the bankrupt
makes no opposition. The majority of Parisian failures stop short at
this point, and the reason is as follows:

The appointment of one or more permanent assignees is an act which
gives opportunity for the bitterest action on the part of creditors
who are thirsting for vengeance, who have been tricked, baffled,
cozened, trapped, duped, robbed, and cheated. Although, as a general
thing, all creditors are cheated, robbed, duped, trapped, cozened,
tricked, and baffled, yet there is not in all Paris a commercial
passion able to keep itself alive for ninety days. The paper of
commerce alone maintains its vitality, and rises, athirst for payment,
in three months. Before ninety days are over, the creditors, worn out
by coming and going, by the marches and countermarches which a failure
entails, are asleep at the side of their excellent little wives. This
may help a stranger to understand why it is that the provisional in
France is so often the definitive: out of every thousand provisional
assignees, not more than five ever become permanent. The subsidence of
passions stirred up by failures is thus accounted for.

But here it becomes necessary to explain to persons who have not had
the happiness to be in business the whole drama of bankruptcy, so as
to make them understand how it constitutes in Paris a monstrous legal
farce; and also how the bankruptcy of Cesar Birotteau was a signal
exception to the general rule.

This fine commercial drama is in three distinct acts,--the agent's
act, the assignee's act, the /concordat/, or certificate-of-bankruptcy
act. Like all theatrical performances, it is played with a double-
intent: it is put upon the stage for the public eye, but it also has a
hidden purpose; there is one performance for the pit, and another for
the side-scenes. Posted in the side-scenes are the bankrupt and his
solicitor, the attorney of the creditors, the assignees, the agent,
and the judge-commissioner himself. No one out of Paris knows, and no
one in Paris does not know, that a judge of the commercial courts is
the most extraordinary magistrate that society ever allowed itself to
create. This judge may live in dread of his own justice at any moment.
Paris has seen the president of her courts of commerce file his own
schedule. Instead of being an experienced retired merchant, to whom
the magistracy might properly be made the reward of a pure life, this
judge is a trader, bending under the weight of enormous enterprises,
and at the head of some large commercial house. The /sine qua non/
condition in the election of this functionary, whose business it is to
pass judgment on the avalanche of commercial suits incessantly rolling
through the courts, is that he shall have the greatest difficulty in
managing his own affairs. This commercial tribunal, far from being
made a useful means of transition whereby a merchant might rise,
without ridicule, into the ranks of the nobility, is in point of fact
made up of traders who are trading, and who are liable to suffer for
their judgments when they next meet with dissatisfied parties,--very
much as Birotteau was now punished by du Tillet.

The commissioner is of necessity a personage before whom much is said;
who listens, recollecting all the while his own interests, and leaves
the cause to the assignees and the attorneys,--except, possibly, in a
few strange and unusual cases where dishonesty is accompanied by
peculiar circumstances, when the judge usually observes that the
debtor, or the creditors, as it may happen, are clever people. This
personage, set up in the drama like the royal bust in a public
audience-chamber, may be found early in the morning at his wood-yard,
if he sells wood; in his shop, if, like Birotteau, he is a perfumer;
or, in the evenings, at his dessert after dinner,--always, it should
be added, in a terrible hurry; as a general thing he is silent. Let
us, however, do justice to the law: the legislation that governs his
functions, and which was pushed through in haste, has tied the hands
of this commissioner; and it sometimes happens that he sanctions fraud
which he cannot hinder,--as the reader will shortly see.

The agent to whom the judge delegates the first proceedings, instead
of serving the creditors, may become if he please a tool of the
debtor. Every one hopes to swell his own gains by getting on the right
side of the debtor, who is always supposed to keep back a hidden
treasure. The agent may make himself useful to both parties; on the
one hand by not laying the bankrupt's business in ashes, on the other
by snatching a few morsels for men of influence,--in short, he runs
with the hare and holds with the hounds. A clever agent has frequently
arrested judgment by buying up the debts and then releasing the
merchant, who then rebounds like an india-rubber ball. The agent
chooses the best-stocked crib, whether it leads him to cover the
largest creditors and shear the debtor, or to sacrifice the creditors
for the future prosperity of the restored merchant. The action of the
agent is decisive. This man, together with the bankrupt's solicitor,
plays the utility role in the drama, where it may be said neither the
one nor the other would accept a part if not sure of their fees.
Taking the average of a thousand failures, an agent would be found
nine hundred and fifty times on the side of the bankrupt. At the
period of our history, the solicitors frequently sought the judge with
the request that he would appoint an agent whom they proposed to him,
--a man, as they said, to whom the affairs of the bankrupt were well-
known, who would know how to reconcile the interests of the whole body
of creditors with those of a man honorably overtaken by misfortune.
For some years past the best judges have sought the advice of the
solicitors in this matter for the purpose of not taking it,
endeavoring to appoint some other agent /quasi/ virtuous.

During this act of the drama the creditors, real or pretended, come
forward to select the provisional assignees, who are often, as we have
said, the final ones. In this electoral assembly all creditors have
the right to vote, whether the sum owing to them is fifty sous, or
fifty thousand francs. This assembly, in which are found pretended
creditors introduced by the bankrupt,--the only electors who never
fail to come to the meeting,--proposes the whole body of creditors as
candidates from among whom the commissioner, a president without
power, is supposed to select the assignees. Thus it happens that the
judge almost always appoints as assignees those creditors whom it
suits the bankrupt to have,--another abuse which makes the catastrophe
of bankruptcy one of the most burlesque dramas to which justice ever
lent her name. The honorable bankrupt overtaken by misfortune is then
master of the situation, and proceeds to legalize the theft he
premeditated. As a rule, the petty trades of Paris are guiltless in
this respect. When a shopkeeper gets as far as making an assignment,
the worthy man has usually sold his wife's shawl, pawned his plate,
left no stone unturned, and succumbs at last with empty hands, ruined,
and without enough money to pay his attorney, who in consequence cares
little for him.

The law requires that the /concordat/, at which is granted the
bankrupt's certificate that remits to the merchant a portion of his
debt, and restores to him the right of managing his affairs, shall be
attended by a majority of the creditors, and also that they shall
represent a certain proportion of the debt. This important action
brings out much clever diplomacy, on the part of the bankrupt, his
assignees, and his solicitor, among the contending interests which
cross and jostle each other. A usual and very common manoeuvre is to
offer to that section of the creditors who make up in number and
amount the majority required by law certain premiums, which the debtor
consents to pay over and above the dividend publicly agreed upon. This
monstrous fraud is without remedy. The thirty commercial courts which
up to the present time have followed one after the other, have each
known of it, for all have practised it. Enlightened by experience,
they have lately tried to render void such fraudulent agreements; and
as the bankrupts have reason to complain of the extortion, the judges
had some hope of reforming to that extent the system of bankruptcy.
The attempt, however, will end in producing something still more
immoral; for the creditors will devise other rascally methods, which
the judges will condemn as judges, but by which they will profit as

Another much-used stratagem, and one to which we owe the term "serious
and legitimate creditor," is that of creating creditors,--just as du
Tillet created a banker and a banking-house,--and introducing a
certain quantity of Claparons under whose skin the bankrupt hides,
diminishing by just so much the dividends of the true creditors, and
laying up for the honest man a store for the future; always, however,
providing a sufficient majority of votes and debts to secure the
passage of his certificate. The "gay and illegitimate creditors" are
like false electors admitted into the electoral college. What chance
has the "serious and legitimate creditor" against the "gay and
illegitimate creditor?" Shall he get rid of him by attacking him? How
can he do it? To drive out the intruder the legitimate creditor must
sacrifice his time, his own business, and pay an attorney to help him;
while the said attorney, making little out of it, prefers to manage
the bankruptcy in another capacity, and therefore works for the
genuine credit without vigor.

To dislodge the illegitimate creditor it is necessary to thread the
labyrinth of proceedings in bankruptcy, search among past events,
ransack accounts, obtain by injunction the books of the false
creditors, show the improbability of the fiction of their existence,
prove it to the judges, sue for justice, go and come, and stir up
sympathy; and, finally, to charge like Don Quixote upon each "gay and
illegitimate creditor," who if convicted of "gaiety" withdraws from
court, saying with a bow to the judges, "Excuse me, you are mistaken,
I am very 'serious.'" All this without prejudice to the rights of the
bankrupt, who may carry Don Quixote and his remonstrance to the upper
courts; during which time Don Quixote's own business is suffering, and
he is liable to become a bankrupt himself.

The upshot of all this is, that in point of fact the debtor appoints
his assignees, audits his own accounts, and draws up the certificate
of bankruptcy himself.

Given these premises, it is easy to imagine the devices of Frontin,
the trickeries of Sganarelle, the lies of Mascarille, and the empty
bags of Scapin which such a system develops. There has never been a
failure which did not generate enough matter to fill the fourteen
volumes of "Clarissa Harlowe," if an author could be found to describe
them. A single example will suffice. The illustrious Gobseck,--ruler
of Palma, Gigonnet, Werbrust, Keller, Nucingen, and the like,--being
concerned in a failure where he attempted to roughly handle the
insolvent, who had managed to get the better of him, obtained notes
from his debtor for an amount which together with the declared
dividend made up the sum total of his loss. These notes were to fall
due after the /concordat/. Gobseck then brought about a settlement in
the /concordat/ by which sixty-five per cent was remitted to the
bankrupt. Thus the creditors were swindled in the interests of
Gobseck. But the bankrupt had signed the illicit notes with the name
of his insolvent firm, and he was therefore able to bring them under
the reduction of sixty-five per cent. Gobseck, the great Gobseck,
received scarcely fifty per cent on his loss. From that day forth he
bowed to his debtor with ironical respect.

As all operations undertaken by an insolvent within ten days before
his failure can be impeached, prudent men are careful to enter upon
certain affairs with a certain number of creditors whose interest,
like that of the bankrupt, is to arrive at the /concordat/ as fast as
possible. Skilful creditors will approach dull creditors or very busy
ones, give an ugly look into the failure, and buy up their claims at
half what they are worth at the liquidation; in this way they get back
their money partly by the dividend on their own claims, partly from
the half, or third, or fourth, gained on these purchased claims.

A failure is the closer, more or less hermetically tight, of a house
where pillage has left a few remaining bags of silver. Lucky the man
who can get in at a window, slide down a chimney, creep in through a
cellar or through a hole, and seize a bag to swell his share! In the
general rout, the /sauve qui peut/ of Beresina is passed from mouth to
mouth; all is legal and illegal, false and true, honest and dishonest.
A man is admired if he "covers" himself. To "cover" himself means that
he seizes securities to the detriment of the other creditors. France
has lately rung with the discussion of an immense failure that took
place in a town where one of the upper courts holds its sittings, and
where the judges, having current accounts with the bankrupts, wore
such heavy india-rubber mantles that the mantle of justice was rubbed
into holes. It was absolutely necessary, in order to avert legitimate
suspicion, to send the case for judgment in another court. There was
neither judge nor agent nor supreme court in the region where the
failure took place that could be trusted.

This alarming commercial tangle is so well understood in Paris, that
unless a merchant is involved to a large amount he accepts a failure
as total shipwreck without insurance, passes it to his profit-and-loss
account, and does not commit the folly of wasting time upon it; he
contents himself with brewing his own malt. As to the petty trader,
worried about his monthly payments, busied in pushing the chariot of
his little fortunes, a long and costly legal process terrifies him. He
gives up trying to see his way, imitates the substantial merchant,
bows his head, and accepts his loss.

The wholesale merchants seldom fail, nowadays; they make friendly
liquidations; the creditors take what is given to them, and hand in
their receipts. In this way many things are avoided,--dishonor,
judicial delays, fees to lawyers, and the depreciation of merchandise.
All parties think that bankruptcy will give less in the end than
liquidation. There are now more liquidations than bankruptcies in

The assignee's act in the drama is intended to prove that every
assignee is incorruptible, and that no collusion has ever existed
between any of them and the bankrupt. The pit--which has all, more or
less, been assignee in its day--knows very well that every assignee is
a "covered" merchant. It listens, and believes as it likes. After
three months employed in auditing the debtor and creditor accounts,
the time comes for the /concordat/. The provisional assignees make a
little report at the meeting, of which the following is the usual

Messieurs,--There is owing to the whole of us, in bulk, about a
million. We have dismantled our man like a condemned frigate. The
nails, iron, wood, and copper will bring about three hundred
thousand francs. We shall thus get about thirty per cent of our
money. Happy in obtaining this amount, when our debtor might have
left us only one hundred thousand, we hereby declare him an
Aristides; we vote him a premium and crown of encouragement, and
propose to leave him to manage his assets, giving him ten or
twelve years in which to pay us the fifty per cent which he has
been so good as to offer us. Here is the certificate of
bankruptcy; have the goodness to walk up to the desk and sign it.

At this speech, all the fortune creditors congratulate each other and
shake hands. After the ratification of the certificate, the bankrupt
becomes once more a merchant, precisely such as he was before; he
receives back his securities, he continues his business, he is not
deprived of the power to fail again, on the promised dividend,--an
additional little failure which often occurs, like the birth of a
child nine months after the mother has married her daughter.

If the certificate of bankruptcy is not granted, the creditors then
select the permanent assignees, take extreme measures, and form an
association to get possession of the whole property and the business
of their debtor, seizing everything that he has or ever will have,--
his inheritance from his father, his mother, his aunt, /et caetera/.
This stern measure can only be carried through by an association of


There are therefore two sorts of failures,--the failure of the
merchant who means to repossess himself of his business, and the
failure of the merchant who has fallen into the water and is willing
to sink to the bottom. Pillerault knew the difference. It was, to his
thinking and to that of Ragon, as hard to come out pure from the first
as to come out safe from the second. After advising Cesar to abandon
everything to his creditors, he went to the most honorable solicitor
in such matters, that immediate steps might be taken to liquidate the
failure and put everything at once at the disposition of the
creditors. The law requires that while the drama is being acted, the
creditors shall provide for the support of the bankrupt and his
family. Pillerault notified the commissioner that he would himself
supply the wants of his niece and nephew.

Du Tillet had worked all things together to make the failure a
prolonged agony for his old master; and this is how he did it. Time is
so precious in Paris that it is customary, when two assignees are
appointed, for only one to attend to the affair: the duty of the other
is merely formal,--he approves and signs, like the second notary in
notarial deeds. By this means, the largest failures in Paris are so
vigorously handled that, in spite of the law's delays, they are
adjusted, settled, and secured with such rapidity that within a
hundred days the judge can echo the atrocious saying of the Minister,
--"Order reigns in Warsaw."

Du Tillet meant to compass Cesar's commercial death. The names of the
assignees selected through the influence of du Tillet were very
significant to Pillerault. Monsieur Bidault, called Gigonnet,--the
principal creditor,--was the one to take no active part; and Molineux,
the mischievous old man who lost nothing by the failure, was to manage
everything. Du Tillet flung the noble commercial carcass to the little
jackal, that he might torment it as he devoured it. After the meeting
at which the creditors appointed the assignees, little Molineux
returned home "honored," so he said, "by the suffrages of his fellow-
citizens"; happy in the prospect of hectoring Birotteau, just as a
child delights in having an insect to maltreat. The landlord, astride
of his hobby,--the law,--begged du Tillet to favor him with his ideas;
and he bought a copy of the commercial Code. Happily, Joseph Lebas,
cautioned by Pillerault, had already requested the president of the
Board of Commerce to select a sagacious and well-meaning commissioner.
Gobenheim-Keller, whom du Tillet hoped to have, found himself
displaced by Monsieur Camusot, a substitute-judge,--a rich silk-
merchant, Liberal in politics, and the owner of the house in which
Pillerault lived; a man counted honorable.


One of the cruellest scenes of Cesar's life was his forced conference
with little Molineux,--the being he had once regarded as a nonentity,
who now by a fiction of law had become Cesar Birotteau. He was
compelled to go to the Cour Batave, to mount the six flights, and
re-enter the miserable appartement of the old man, now his custodian,
his /quasi/ judge,--the representative of his creditors. Pillerault
accompanied him.

"What is the matter?" said the old man, as Cesar gave vent to an

"Ah, uncle! you do not know the sort of man this Molineux is!"

"I have seen him from time to time for fifteen years past at the cafe
David, where he plays dominoes. That is why I have come with you."

Monsieur Molineux showed the utmost politeness to Pillerault, and much
disdainful condescension to the bankrupt; he had thought over his
part, studied the shades of his demeanor, and prepared his ideas.

"What information is it that you need?" asked Pillerault. "There is no
dispute as to the claims."

"Oh," said little Molineux, "the claims are in order,--they have been
examined. The creditors are all serious and legitimate. But the law,
monsieur,--the law! The expenditures of the bankrupt have been
disproportional to his fortune. It appears that the ball--"

"At which you were present," interrupted Pillerault.

"--cost nearly sixty thousand francs, and at that time the assets of
the insolvent amounted to not more than one hundred and a few thousand
francs. There is cause to arraign the bankrupt on a charge of wilful

"Is that your intention?" said Pillerault, noticing the despondency
into which these words had cast Birotteau.

"Monsieur, I make a distinction; the Sieur Birotteau was a member of
the municipality--"

"You have not sent for us, I presume, to explain that we are to be
brought into a criminal police court?" said Pillerault. "The cafe
David would laugh finely at your conduct this evening."

The opinion of the cafe David seemed to frighten the old man, who
looked at Pillerault with a startled air. He had counted on meeting
Birotteau alone, intending to pose as the sovereign arbiter of his
fate,--a legal Jupiter. He meant to frighten him with the thunder-bolt
of an accusation, to brandish the axe of a criminal charge over his
head, enjoy his fears and his terrors, and then allow himself to be
touched and softened, and persuaded at last to restore his victim to a
life of perpetual gratitude. Instead of his insect, he had got hold of
an old commercial sphinx.

"Monsieur," he replied, "I see nothing to laugh at."

"Excuse me," said Pillerault. "You have negotiated largely with
Monsieur Claparon; you have neglected the interests of the main body
of the creditors, so as to make sure that certain claims shall have a
preference. Now I can as one of the creditors interfere. The
commissioner is to be taken into account."

"Monsieur," said Molineux, "I am incorruptible."

"I am aware of it," said Pillerault. "You have only taken your iron
out of the fire, as they say. You are keen; you are acting just as you
do with your tenants--"

"Oh, monsieur!" said the assignee, suddenly dropping into the
landlord,--just as the cat metamorphosed into a woman ran after a
mouse when she caught sight of it,--"my affair of the Rue Montorgeuil
is not yet settled. What they call an impediment has arisen. The
tenant is the chief tenant. This conspirator declares that as he has
paid a year in advance, and having only one more year to"--here
Pillerault gave Cesar a look which advised him to pay strict attention
--"and, the year being paid for, that he has the right to take away
his furniture. I shall sue him! I must hold on to my securities to the
last; he may owe something for repairs before the year is out."

"But," said Pillerault, "the law only allows you to take furniture as
security for the rent--"

"And its accessories!" cried Molineux, assailed in his trenches. "That
article in the Code has been interpreted by various judgments rendered
in the matter: however, there ought to be legislative rectification to
it. At this very moment I am elaborating a memorial to his Highness,
the Keeper of the Seals, relating to this flaw in our statutes. It is
desirable that the government should maintain the interests of
landlords. That is the chief question in statecraft. We are the tap-
root of taxation."

"You are well fitted to enlighten the government," said Pillerault;
"but in what way can we enlighten you--about our affairs?"

"I wish to know," said Molineux, with pompous authority, "if Monsieur
Birotteau has received moneys from Monsieur Popinot."

"No, monsieur," said Birotteau.

Then followed a discussion on Birotteau's interests in the house of
Popinot, from which it appeared that Popinot had the right to have all
his advances paid in full, and that he was not involved in the failure
to the amount of half the costs of his establishment, due to him by
Birotteau. Molineux, judiciously handled by Pillerault, insensibly got
back to gentler ways, which only showed how he cared for the opinion
of those who frequented the cafe David. He ended by offering
consolation to Birotteau, and by inviting him, as well as Pillerault,
to share his humble dinner. If the ex-perfumer had gone alone, he
would probably have irritated Molineux, and the matter would have
become envenomed. In this instance, as in others, old Pillerault was
his tutelary angel.

Commercial law imposes a horrible torture upon the bankrupt; he is
compelled to appear in person at the meeting of his creditors, when
they decide upon his future fate. For a man who can hold himself above
it all, or for a merchant who expects to recover himself, this
ceremony is little feared. But to a man like Cesar Birotteau it was
agony only to be compared to the last day of a criminal condemned to
death. Pillerault did all in his power to make that terrible day
endurable to his nephew.

The steps taken by Molineux, and agreed to by the bankrupt, were as
follows: The suit relating to the mortgage on the property in the
Faubourg du Temple having been won in the courts, the assignees
decided to sell that property, and Cesar made no opposition. Du
Tillet, hearing privately that the government intended to cut a canal
which should lead from Saint-Denis to the upper Seine through the
Faubourg du Temple, bought the property of Birotteau for seventy
thousand francs. All Cesar's rights in the lands about the Madeleine
were turned over to Monsieur Claparon, on condition that he on his
side would abandon all claim against Birotteau for half the costs of
drawing up and registering the contracts; also for all payments on the
price of the lands, by receiving himself, under the failure, the
dividend which was to be paid over to the sellers. The interests of
the perfumer in the house of Popinot and Company were sold to the said
Popinot for the sum of forty-eight thousand francs. The business of
"The Queen of Roses" was bought by Celestin Crevel at fifty-seven
thousand francs, with the lease, the fixtures, the merchandise,
furniture, and all rights in the Paste of Sultans and the Carminative
Balm, with twelve years' lease of the manufactories, whose various
appliances were also sold to him. The assets when liquidated came to
one hundred and ninety-five thousand francs, to which the assignees
added seventy thousand produced by Birotteau's claims in the
liquidation of the "unfortunate" Roguin. Thus the total amount made
over to Cesar's creditors was two hundred and fifty-five thousand
francs. The debts amounted to four hundred and forty thousand;
consequently, the creditors received more than fifty per cent on their

Bankruptcy is a species of chemical transmutation, from which a clever
merchant tries to emerge in fresh shape. Birotteau, distilled to the
last drop in this retort, gave a result which made du Tillet furious.
Du Tillet looked to see a dishonorable failure; he saw an honorable
one. Caring little for his own gains, though he was about to get
possession of the lands around the Madeleine without ever drawing his
purse-strings, he wanted to see his old master dishonored, lost, and
vilified. The creditors at the general meeting would undoubtedly show
the poor man that they respected him.

By degrees, as Birotteau's courage came back to him, Pillerault, like
a wise doctor, informed him, by gradual doses, of the transactions
resulting from his failure. These harsh tidings were like so many
blows. A merchant cannot learn without a shock the depreciation of
property which represents to him so much money, so much solicitude, so
much labor. The facts his uncle now told him petrified the poor man.

"Fifty-seven thousand francs for 'The Queen of Roses'! Why, the shop
alone cost ten thousand; the appartement cost forty thousand; the mere
outlay on the manufactories, the utensils, the frames, the boilers,
cost thirty thousand. Why! at fifty per cent abatement, if my
creditors allow me that, there would still be ten thousand francs
worth of property in the shop. Why! the Paste and the Balm are solid
property,--worth as much as a farm!"

Poor Cesar's jeremiads made no impression upon Pillerault. The old
merchant took them as a horse takes a down-pour; but he was alarmed by
the gloomy silence Birotteau maintained when it was a question of the
meeting. Those who comprehend the vanities and weaknesses which in all
social spheres beset mankind, will know what a martyrdom it was for
this poor man to enter as a bankrupt the commercial tribunal of
justice where he once sat as judge; to meet affronts where so often he
had been thanked for services rendered,--he, Birotteau, whose
inflexible opinions about bankruptcy were so well known; he who had
said, "A man may be honest till he fails, but he comes out of a
meeting of his creditors a swindler." Pillerault watched for the right
moment to familiarize Cesar's mind with the thought of appearing
before his creditors as the law demands. The thought killed him. His
mute grief and resignation made a deep impression on his uncle, who
often heard him at night, through the partition, crying out to
himself, "Never! never! I will die sooner."

Pillerault, a strong man,--strong through the simplicity of his life,
--was able to understand weakness. He resolved to spare Cesar the
anguish of appearing before his creditors,--a terrible scene which the
law renders inevitable, and to which, indeed, he might succumb. On
this point the law is precise, formal, and not to be evaded. The
merchant who refused to appear would, for that act alone, be brought
before the criminal police courts. But though the law compels the
bankrupt to appear, it has no power to oblige the creditor to do so. A
meeting of creditors is a ceremony of no real importance except in
special cases,--when, for instance, a swindler is to be dispossessed
and a coalition among the creditors agreed upon, when there is
difference of opinion between the privileged creditors and the
unsecured creditors, or when the /concordat/ is specially dishonest,
and the bankrupt is in need of a deceptive majority. But in the case
of a failure when all has been given up, the meeting is a mere
formality. Pillerault went to each creditor, one after the other, and
asked him to give his proxy to his attorney. Every creditor, except du
Tillet, sincerely pitied Cesar, after striking him down. Each knew
that his conduct was scrupulously honest, that his books were regular,
and his business as clear as the day. All were pleased to find no "gay
and illegitimate creditor" among them. Molineux, first the agent and
then the provisional assignee, had found in Cesar's house everything
the poor man owned, even the engraving of Hero and Leander which
Popinot had given him, his personal trinkets, his breast-pin, his gold
buckles, his two watches,--things which an honest man might have taken
without thinking himself less than honest. Constance had left her
modest jewel-case. This touching obedience to the law struck the
commercial mind keenly. Birotteau's enemies called it foolishness; but
men of sense held it up to its true light as a magnificent
supererogation of integrity. In two months the opinion of the Bourse
had changed; every one, even those who were most indifferent, admitted
this failure to be a rare commercial wonder, seldom seen in the
markets of Paris. Thus the creditors, knowing that they were secure of
nearly sixty per cent of their claims, were very ready to do what
Pillerault asked of them. The solicitors of the commercial courts are
few in number; it therefore happened that several creditors employed
the same man, giving him their proxies. Pillerault finally succeeded
in reducing the formidable assemblage to three solicitors, himself,
Ragon, the two assignees, and the commissioner.

Early in the morning of the solemn day, Pillerault said to his

"Cesar, you can go to your meeting to-day without fear; nobody will be

Monsieur Ragon wished to accompany his debtor. When the former master
of "The Queen of Roses" first made known the wish in his little dry
voice, his ex-successor turned pale; but the good old man opened his
arms, and Birotteau threw himself into them as a child into the arms
of its father, and the two perfumers mingled their tears. The bankrupt
gathered courage as he felt the indulgences shown to him, and he got
into the coach with his uncle and Ragon. Precisely at half past ten
o'clock the three reached the cloister Saint-Merri, where the Court of
Commerce was then held. At that hour there was no one in the Hall of
Bankruptcy. The day and the hour had been chosen by agreement with the
judge and the assignees. The three solicitors were already there on
behalf of their clients. There was nothing, therefore, to distress or
intimidate Cesar Birotteau; yet the poor man could not enter the
office of Monsieur Camusot--which chanced to be the one he had
formerly occupied--without deep emotion, and he shuddered as he passed
through the Hall of Bankruptcy.

"It is cold," said Monsieur Camusot to Birotteau. "I am sure these
gentlemen will not be sorry to stay here, instead of our going to
freeze in the Hall." He did not say the word "Bankruptcy." "Gentlemen,
be seated."

Each took his seat, and the judge gave his own armchair to Birotteau,
who was bewildered. The solicitors and the assignees signed the

"In consideration of the surrender of your entire property," said
Camusot to Birotteau, "your creditors unanimously agree to relinquish
the rest of their claims. Your certificate is couched in terms which
may well soften your pain; your solicitor will see that it is promptly
recorded; you are now free. All the judges of this court, dear
Monsieur Birotteau," said Camusot, taking him by the hand, "feel for
your position, and are not surprised at your courage; none have failed
to do justice to your integrity. In the midst of a great misfortune
you have been worthy of what you once were here. I have been in
business for twenty years, and this is only the second time that I
have seen a fallen merchant gaining, instead of losing, public

Birotteau took the hands of the judge and wrung them, with tears in
his eyes. Camusot asked him what he now meant to do. Birotteau replied
that he should work till he had paid his creditors in full to the last

"If to accomplish that noble task you should ever want a few thousand
francs, you will always find them with me," said Camusot. "I would
give them with a great deal of pleasure to witness a deed so rare in

Pillerault, Ragon, and Birotteau retired.

"Well! that wasn't the ocean to drink," said Pillerault, as they left
the court-room.

"I recognize your hand in it," said the poor man, much affected.

"Now, here you are, free, and we are only a few steps from the Rue des
Cinq-Diamants; come and see my nephew," said Ragon.

A cruel pang shot through Cesar's heart when he saw Constance sitting
in a little office in the damp, dark /entresol/ above the shop, whose
single window was one third darkened by a sign which intercepted the
daylight and bore the name,--A. POPINOT.

"Behold a lieutenant of Alexander," said Cesar, with the gaiety of
grief, pointing to the sign.

This forced gaiety, through which an inextinguishable sense of the
superiority which Birotteau attributed to himself was naively
revealed, made Ragon shudder in spite of his seventy years. Cesar saw
his wife passing down letters and papers for Popinot to sign; he could
neither restrain his tears nor keep his face from turning pale.

"Good-morning, my friend," she said to him, smiling.

"I do not ask if you are comfortable here," said Cesar, looking at

"As if I were living with my own son," she answered, with a tender
manner that struck her husband.

Birotteau took Popinot and kissed him, saying,--

"I have lost the right, forever, of calling him my son."

"Let us hope!" said Popinot. "/Your/ oil succeeds--thanks to my
advertisements in the newspapers, and to Gaudissart, who has travelled
over the whole of France; he has inundated the country with placards
and prospectuses; he is now at Strasburg getting the prospectuses
printed in the German language, and he is about to descend, like an
invasion, upon Germany itself. We have received orders for three
thousand gross."

"Three thousand gross!" exclaimed Cesar.

"And I have bought a piece of land in the Faubourg Saint-Marceau,--not
dear,--where I am building a manufactory."

"Wife," whispered Cesar to Constance, "with a little help we might
have pulled through."


After that fatal day Cesar, his wife, and daughter understood each
other. The poor clerk resolved to attain an end which, if not
impossible, was at least gigantic in its enterprise,--namely, the
payment of his debts to their last penny. These three beings,--father,
mother, daughter,--bound together by the tie of a passionate
integrity, became misers, denying themselves everything; a farthing
was sacred in their eyes. Out of sheer calculation Cesarine threw
herself into her business with the devotion of a young girl. She sat
up at night, taxing her ingenuity to find ways of increasing the
prosperity of the establishment, and displaying an innate commercial
talent. The masters of the house were obliged to check her ardor for
work; they rewarded her by presents, but she refused all articles of
dress and the jewels which they offered her. Money! money! was her
cry. Every month she carried her salary and her little earnings to her
uncle Pillerault. Cesar did the same; so did Madame Birotteau. All
three, feeling themselves incapable, dared not take upon themselves
the responsibility of managing their money, and they made over to
Pillerault the whole business of investing their savings. Returning
thus to business, the latter made the most of these funds by
negotiations at the Bourse. It was known afterwards that he had been
helped in this work by Jules Desmarets and Joseph Lebas, both of whom
were eager to point out opportunities which Pillerault might take
without risk.

Cesar, though he lived with his uncle, never ventured to question him
as to what was done with the money acquired by his labor and that of
his wife and daughter. He walked the streets with a bowed head, hiding
from every eye his stricken, dull, distraught face. He felt, with
self-reproach, that the cloth he wore was too good for him.

"At least," he said to Pillerault, with a look that was angelic, "I do
not eat the bread of my creditors. Your bread is sweet to me, though
it is your pity that gives it; thanks to your sacred charity, I do not
steal a farthing of my salary!"

The merchants, his old associates, who met the clerk could see no
vestige of the perfumer. Even careless minds gained an idea of the
immensity of human disaster from the aspect of this man, on whose face
sorrow had cast its black pall, who revealed the havoc caused by that
which had never before appeared in him,--by thought! /N'est pas
detruit qui veut/. Light-minded people, devoid of conscience, to whom
all things are indifferent, can never present such a spectacle of
disaster. Religion alone sets a special seal upon fallen human beings;
they believe in a future, in a divine Providence; from within them
gleams a light that marks them, a look of saintly resignation mingled
with hope, which lends them a certain tender emotion; they realize all
that they have lost, like the exiled angel weeping at the gates of
heaven. Bankrupts are forbidden to enter the Bourse. Cesar, driven
from the regions of integrity, was like an angel sighing for pardon.
For fourteen months he lived on, full of religious thoughts with which
his fall inspired him, and denying himself every pleasure. Though sure
of the Ragons' friendship, nothing could induce him to dine with them,
nor with the Lebas, nor the Matifats, nor the Protez and
Chiffrevilles, not even with Monsieur Vauquelin; all of whom were
eager to do honor to his rare virtue. Cesar preferred to be alone in
his room rather than meet the eye of a creditor. The warmest greetings
of his friends reminded him the more bitterly of his position.
Constance and Cesarine went nowhere. On Sundays and fete days, the
only days when they were at liberty, the two women went to fetch Cesar
at the hour for Mass, and they stayed with him at Pillerault's after
their religious duties were accomplished. Pillerault often invited the
Abbe Loraux, whose words sustained Cesar in this life of trial. And in
this way their lives were spent. The old ironmonger had too tough a
fibre of integrity not to approve of Cesar's sensitive honor. His
mind, however, turned on increasing the number of persons among whom
the poor bankrupt might show himself with an open brow, and an eye
that could meet the eyes of his fellows.


In the month of May, 1821, this family, ever grappling with adversity,
received a first reward for its efforts at a little fete which
Pillerault, the arbiter of its destinies, prepared for it. The last
Sunday of that month was the anniversary of the day on which Constance
had consented to marry Cesar. Pillerault, in concert with the Ragons,
hired a little country-house at Sceaux, and the worthy old ironmonger
silently prepared a joyous house-warming.

"Cesar," said Pillerault, on the Saturday evening, "to-morrow we are
all going into the country, and you must come."

Cesar, who wrote a superb hand, spent his evenings in copying for
Derville and other lawyers. On Sundays, justified by ecclesiastical
permission, he worked like a Negro.

"No," he said, "Monsieur Derville is waiting for a guardianship

"Your wife and daughter ought to have some reward. You will meet none
but our particular friends,--the Abbe Loraux, the Ragons, Popinot, and
his uncle. Besides, I wish it."

Cesar and his wife, carried along by the whirlwind of business, had
never revisited Sceaux, though from time to time each longed to see
once more the tree under which the head-clerk of "The Queen of Roses"
had fainted with joy. During the trip, which Cesar made in a hackney-
coach with his wife and daughter, and Popinot who escorted them,
Constance cast many meaning glances at her husband without bringing to
his lips a single smile. She whispered a few words in his ear; for all
answer he shook his head. The soft signs of her tenderness, ever-
present yet at the moment forced, instead of brightening Cesar's face
made it more sombre, and brought the long-repressed tears into his
eyes. Poor man! he had gone over this road twenty years before, young,
prosperous, full of hope, the lover of a girl as beautiful as their
own Cesarine; he was dreaming then of happiness. To-day, in the coach
before him, sat his noble child pale and worn by vigils, and his brave
wife, whose only beauty now was that of cities through whose streets
have flowed the lava waves of a volcano. Love alone remained to him!
Cesar's sadness smothered the joy that welled up in the hearts of
Cesarine and Anselme, who embodied to his eyes the charming scene of
other days.

"Be happy, my children! you have earned the right," said the poor
father in heart-rending tones. "You may love without one bitter

As he said these words he took his wife's hands and kissed them with a
sacred and admiring effect which touched Constance more than the
brightest gaiety. When they reached the house where Pillerault, the
Ragons, the Abbe Loraux, and Popinot the judge were waiting for them,
these five choice people assumed an air and manner and speech which
put Cesar at his ease; for all were deeply moved to see him still on
the morrow of his great disaster.

"Go and take a walk in the Aulnay woods," said Pillerault, putting
Cesar's hand into that of Constance; "go with Anselme and Cesarine!
but come back by four o'clock."

"Poor souls, we should be a restraint upon them," said Madame Ragon,
touched by the deep grief of her debtor. "He will be very happy

"It is repentance without sin," said the Abbe Loraux.

"He could rise to greatness only through adversity," said the judge.

To forget is the great secret of strong, creative natures,--to forget,
in the way of Nature herself, who knows no past, who begins afresh, at
every hour, the mysteries of her untiring travail.

Feeble existences, like that of Birotteau, live sunk in sorrows,
instead of transmuting them into doctrines of experience: they let
them saturate their being, and are worn-out, finally, by falling more
and more under the weight of past misfortunes.

When the two couples reached the path which leads to the woods of
Aulnay, placed like a crown upon the prettiest hillside in the
neighborhood of Paris, and from which the Vallee-aux-Loups is seen in
all its coquetry, the beauty of the day, the charm of the landscape,
the first spring verdure, the delicious memory of the happiest day of
all his youth, loosened the tight chords in Cesar's soul; he pressed
the arm of his wife against his beating heart; his eye was no longer
glassy, for the light of pleasure once more brightened in it.

"At last," said Constance to her husband, "I see you again, my poor
Cesar. I think we have all behaved well enough to allow ourselves a
little pleasure now and then."

"Ought I?" said the poor man. "Ah! Constance, thy affection is all
that remains to me. Yes, I have lost even my old self-confidence; I
have no strength left; my only desire is that I may live to die
discharged of debt on earth. Thou, dear wife, thou who art my wisdom
and my prudence, thou whose eyes saw clear, thou who art
irreproachable, thou canst have pleasure. I alone--of us three--am
guilty. Eighteen months ago, in the midst of that fatal ball, I saw my
Constance, the only woman I have ever loved, more beautiful than the
young girl I followed along this path twenty years ago--like our
children yonder! In eighteen months I have blasted that beauty,--my
pride, my legitimate and sanctioned pride. I love thee better since I
know thee well. Oh, /dear/!" he said, giving to the word a tone which
reached to the inmost heart of his wife, "I would rather have thee
scold me, than see thee so tender to my pain."

"I did not think," she said, "that after twenty years of married life
the love of a wife for her husband could deepen."

These words drove from Cesar's mind, for one brief moment, all his
sorrows; his heart was so true that they were to him a fortune. He
walked forward almost joyously to /their/ tree, which by chance had
not been felled. Husband and wife sat down beneath it, watching
Anselme and Cesarine, who were sauntering across the grassy slope
without perceiving them, thinking probably that they were still

"Mademoiselle," Anselme was saying, "do not think me so base and
grasping as to profit by your father's share which I have acquired in
the Cephalic Oil. I am keeping his share for him; I nurse it with
careful love. I invest the profits; if there is any loss I put it to
my own account. We can only belong to one another on the day when your
father is restored to his position, free of debt. I work for that day
with all the strength that love has given me."

"Will it come soon?" she said.

"Soon," said Popinot. The word was uttered in a tone so full of
meaning, that the chaste and pure young girl inclined her head to her
dear Anselme, who laid an eager and respectful kiss upon her brow,--so
noble was her gesture and action.

"Papa, all is well," she said to Cesar with a little air of
confidence. "Be good and sweet; talk to us, put away that sad look."

When this family, so tenderly bound together, re-entered the house,
even Cesar, little observing as he was, saw a change in the manner of
the Ragons which seemed to denote some remarkable event. The greeting
of Madame Ragon was particularly impressive; her look and accent
seemed to say to Cesar, "We are paid."

At the dessert, the notary of Sceaux appeared. Pillerault made him sit
down, and then looked at Cesar, who began to suspect a surprise,
though he was far indeed from imagining the extent of it.

"My nephew, the savings of your wife, your daughter, and yourself, for
the last eighteen months, amounted to twenty thousand francs. I have
received thirty thousand by the dividend on my claim. We have
therefore fifty thousand francs to divide among your creditors.
Monsieur Ragon has received thirty thousand francs for his dividend,
and you have now paid him the balance of his claim in full, interest
included, for which monsieur here, the notary of Sceaux, has brought
you a receipt. The rest of the money is with Crottat, ready for
Lourdois, Madame Madou, the mason, carpenter, and the other most
pressing creditors. Next year, we may do as well. With time and
patience we can go far."

Birotteau's joy is not to be described; he threw himself into his
uncle's arms, weeping.

"May he not wear his cross?" said Ragon to the Abbe Loraux.

The confessor fastened the red ribbon to Cesar's buttonhole. The poor
clerk looked at himself again and again during the evening in the
mirrors of the salon, manifesting a joy at which people thinking
themselves superior might have laughed, but which these good bourgeois
thought quite natural.

The next day Birotteau went to find Madame Madou.

"Ah, there you are, good soul!" she cried. "I didn't recognize you,
you have turned so gray. Yet you don't really drudge, you people;
you've got good places. As for me, I work like a turnspit that
deserves baptism."

"But, madame--"

"Never mind, I don't mean it as a reproach," she said. "You have got
my receipt."

"I came to tell you that I shall pay you to-morrow, at Monsieur
Crottat's, the rest of your claim in full, with interest."

"Is that true?"

"Be there at eleven o'clock."

"Hey! there's honor for you! good measure and running over!" she cried
with naive admiration. "Look here, my good monsieur, I am doing a fine
trade with your little red-head. He's a nice young fellow; he lets me
earn a fair penny without haggling over it, so that I may get an
equivalent for that loss. Well, I'll get you a receipt in full,
anyhow; you keep the money, my poor old man! La Madou may get in a
fury, and she does scold; but she has got something here--" she cried,
thumping the most voluminous mounds of flesh ever yet seen in the

"No," said Birotteau, "the law is plain. I wish to pay you in full."

"Then I won't deny you the pleasure," she said; "and to-morrow I'll
trumpet your conduct through the markets. Ha! it's rare, rare!"

The worthy man had much the same scene, with variations, at Lourdois
the house painter's, father-in-law of Crottat. It was raining; Cesar
left his umbrella at the corner of the door. The prosperous painter,
seeing the water trickling into the room where he was breakfasting
with his wife, was not tender.

"Come, what do you want, my poor Pere Birotteau?" he said, in the hard
tone which some people take to importunate beggars.

"Monsieur, has not your son-in-law told you--"

"What?" cried Lourdois, expecting some appeal.

"To be at his office this morning at half past eleven, and give me a
receipt for the payment of your claims in full, with interest?"

"Ah, that's another thing! Sit down, Monsieur Birotteau, and eat a
mouthful with us."

"Do us the pleasure to share our breakfast," said Madame Lourdois.

"You are doing well, then?" asked the fat Lourdois.

"No, monsieur, I have lived from hand to mouth, that I might scrape up
this money; but I hope, in time, to repair the wrongs I have done to
my neighbor."

"Ah!" said the painter, swallowing a mouthful of /pate de foie gras/,
"you are truly a man of honor."

"What is Madame Birotteau doing?" asked Madame Lourdois.

"She is keeping the books of Monsieur Anselme Popinot."

"Poor people!" said Madame Lourdois, in a low voice to her husband.

"If you ever need me, my dear Monsieur Birotteau, come and see me,"
said Lourdois. "I might help--"

"I do need you--at eleven o'clock to-day, monsieur," said Birotteau,


This first result gave courage to the poor bankrupt, but not peace of
mind. On the contrary, the thought of regaining his honor agitated his
life inordinately; he completely lost the natural color of his cheeks,
his eyes grew sunken and dim, and his face hollow. When old
acquaintances met him, in the morning at eight o'clock or in the
evening at four, as he went to and from the Rue de l'Oratoire, wearing
the surtout coat he wore at the time of his fall, and which he
husbanded as a poor sub-lieutenant husbands his uniform,--his hair
entirely white, his face pale, his manner timid,--some few would stop
him in spite of himself; for his eye was alert to avoid those he knew
as he crept along beside the walls, like a thief.

"Your conduct is known, my friend," said one; "everybody regrets the
sternness with which you treat yourself, also your wife and daughter."

"Take a little more time," said others; "the wounds of money do not

"No, but the wounds of the soul do," the poor worn Cesar answered one
day to his friend Matifat.


At the beginning of the year 1822, the Canal Saint-Martin was begun.
Land in the Faubourg du Temple increased enormously in value. The
canal would cut through the property which du Tillet had bought of
Cesar Birotteau. The company who obtained the right of building it
agreed to pay the banker an exorbitant sum, provided they could take
possession within a given time. The lease Cesar had granted to
Popinot, which went with the sale to du Tillet, now hindered the
transfer to the canal company. The banker came to the Rue des Cinq-
Diamants to see the druggist. If du Tillet was indifferent to Popinot,
it is very certain that the lover of Cesarine felt an instinctive
hatred for du Tillet. He knew nothing of the theft and the infamous
scheme of the prosperous banker, but an inward voice cried to him,
"The man is an unpunished rascal." Popinot would never have transacted
the smallest business with him; du Tillet's very presence was odious
to his feelings. Under the present circumstances it was doubly so, for
the banker was now enriched through the forced spoliation of his
former master; the lands about the Madeleine, as well as those in the
Faubourg du Temple, were beginning to rise in price, and to foreshadow
the enormous value they were to reach in 1827. So that after du Tillet
had explained the object of his visit, Popinot looked at him with
concentrated wrath.

"I shall not refuse to give up my lease; but I demand sixty thousand
francs for it, and I shall not take one farthing less."

"Sixty thousand francs!" exclaimed du Tillet, making a movement to
leave the shop.

"I have fifteen years' lease still to run; it will, moreover, cost me
three thousand francs a year to get other buildings. Therefore, sixty
thousand francs, or say no more about it," said Popinot, going to the
back of the shop, where du Tillet followed him.

The discussion grew warm, Birotteau's name was mentioned; Madame Cesar
heard it and came down, and saw du Tillet for the first time since the
famous ball. The banker was unable to restrain a gesture of surprise
at the change which had come over the beautiful woman; he lowered his
eyes, shocked at the result of his own work.

"Monsieur," said Popinot to Madame Cesar, "is going to make three
hundred thousand francs out of /your/ land, and he refuses /us/ sixty
thousand francs' indemnity for /our/ lease."

"That is three thousand francs a year," said du Tillet.

"Three--thousand--francs!" said Madame Cesar, slowly, in a clear,
penetrating voice.

Du Tillet turned pale. Popinot looked at Madame Birotteau. There was a
moment of profound silence, which made the scene still more
inexplicable to Anselme.

"Sign your relinquishment of the lease, which I have made Crottat draw
up," said du Tillet, drawing a stamped paper from a side-pocket. "I
will give you a cheque on the Bank of France for sixty thousand

Popinot looked at Madame Cesar without concealing his astonishment; he
thought he was dreaming. While du Tillet was writing his cheque at a
high desk, Madame Cesar disappeared and went upstairs. The druggist
and the banker exchanged papers. Du Tillet bowed coldly to Popinot,
and went away.

"At last, in a few months," thought Popinot, as he watched du Tillet
going towards the Rue des Lombards, where his cabriolet was waiting,
"thanks to this extraordinary affair, I shall have my Cesarine. My
poor little wife shall not wear herself out any longer. A look from
Madame Cesar was enough! What secret is there between her and that
brigand? The whole thing is extraordinary."

Popinot sent the cheque at once to the Bank, and went up to speak to
Madame Birotteau; she was not in the counting-room, and had doubtless
gone to her chamber. Anselme and Constance lived like mother-in-law
and son-in-law when people in that relation suit each other; he
therefore rushed up to Madame Cesar's appartement with the natural
eagerness of a lover on the threshold of his happiness. The young man
was prodigiously surprised to find her, as he sprang like a cat into
the room, reading a letter from du Tillet, whose handwriting he
recognized at a glance. A lighted candle, and the black and quivering
phantoms of burned letters lying on the floor made him shudder, for
his quick eyes caught the following words in the letter which
Constance held in her hand:--

"I adore you! You know it well, angel of my life, and--"

"What power have you over du Tillet that could force him to agree to
such terms?" he said with a convulsive laugh that came from repressed

"Do not let us speak of that," she said, showing great distress.

"No," said Popinot, bewildered; "let us rather talk of the end of all
your troubles." Anselme turned on his heel towards the window, and
drummed with his fingers on the panes as he gazed into the court.
"Well," he said to himself, "even if she did love du Tillet, is that
any reason why I should not behave like an honorable man?"

"What is the matter, my child?" said the poor woman.

"The total of the net profits of Cephalic Oil mount up to two hundred
and forty-two thousand francs; half of that is one hundred and twenty-
one thousand," said Popinot, brusquely. "If I withdraw from that
amount the forty-eight thousand francs which I paid to Monsieur
Birotteau, there remains seventy-three thousand, which, joined to
these sixty thousand paid for the relinquishment of the lease, gives
/you/ one hundred and thirty-three thousand francs."

Madame Cesar listened with fluctuations of joy which made her tremble
so violently that Popinot could hear the beating of her heart.

"Well, I have always considered Monsieur Birotteau as my partner," he
went on; "we can use this sum to pay his creditors in full. Add the
twenty-eight thousand you have saved and placed in our uncle
Pillerault's hands, and we have one hundred and sixty-one thousand
francs. Our uncle will not refuse his receipt for his own claim of
twenty-five thousand. No human power can deprive me of the right of
lending to my father-in-law, by anticipating our profits of next year,
the necessary sum to make up the total amount due to his creditor, and

"Restored!" cried Madame Cesar, falling on her knees beside a chair.
She joined her hands and said a prayer; as she did so, the letter slid
from her fingers. "Dear Anselme," she said, crossing herself, "dear
son!" She took his head in her hands, kissed him on the forehead,
pressed him to her heart, and seemed for a moment beside herself.
"Cesarine is thine! My daughter will be happy at last. She can leave
that shop where she is killing herself--"

"For love?" said Popinot.

"Yes," answered the mother, smiling.

"Listen to a little secret," said Popinot, glancing at the fatal
letter from a corner of his eye. "I helped Celestin to buy your
business; but I did it on one condition,--your appartement was to be
kept exactly as you left it. I had an idea in my head, though I never
thought that chance would favor it so much. Celestin is bound to sub-
let to you your old appartement, where he has never set foot, and
where all the furniture will be yours. I have kept the second story,
where I shall live with Cesarine, who shall never leave you. After our
marriage I shall come and pass the days from eight in the morning till
six in the evening here. I will buy out Monsieur Cesar's share in this
business for a hundred thousand francs, and that will give you an
income to live on. Shall you not be happy?"

"Tell me no more, Anselme, or I shall go out of my mind."

The angelic attitude of Madame Cesar, the purity of her eyes, the
innocence of her candid brow, contradicted so gloriously the thoughts
which surged in the lover's brain that he resolved to make an end of
their monstrosities forever. Sin was incompatible with the life and
sentiments of such a woman.

"My dear, adored mother," said Anselme, "in spite of myself, a
horrible suspicion has entered my soul. If you wish to see me happy,
you will put an end to it at once."

Popinot stretched out his hand and picked up the letter.

"Without intending it," he resumed, alarmed at the terror painted on
Constance's face, "I read the first words of this letter of du Tillet.
The words coincide in a singular manner with the power you have just
shown in forcing that man to accept my absurd exactions; any man would
explain it as the devil explains it to me, in spite of myself. Your
look--three words suffice--"

"Stop!" said Madame Cesar, taking the letter and burning it. "My son,
I am severely punished for a trifling error. You shall know all,
Anselme. I shall not allow a suspicion inspired by her mother to
injure my daughter; and besides, I can speak without blushing. What I
now tell you, I could tell my husband. Du Tillet wished to seduce me;
I informed my husband of it, and du Tillet was to have been dismissed.
On the very day my husband was about to send him away, he robbed us of
three thousand francs."

"I was sure of it!" said Popinot, expressing his hatred by the tones
of his voice.

"Anselme, your future, your happiness, demand this confidence; but you
must let it die in your heart, just as it is dead in mine and in
Cesar's. Do you not remember how my husband scolded us for an error in
the accounts? Monsieur Birotteau, to avoid a police-court which might
have destroyed the man for life, no doubt placed in the desk three
thousand francs,--the price of that cashmere shawl which I did not
receive till three years later. All this explains the scene. Alas! my
dear child, I must admit my foolishness; du Tillet wrote me three
love-letters, which pictured him so well that I kept them," she said,
lowering her eyes and sighing, "as a curiosity. I have not re-read
them more than once; still, it was imprudent to keep them. When I saw
du Tillet just now I was reminded of them, and I came upstairs to burn
them; I was looking over the last as you came in. That's the whole
story, my friend."

Anselme knelt for a moment beside her and kissed her hand with an
unspeakable emotion, which brought tears into the eyes of both; Madame
Cesar raised him, stretched out her arms and pressed him to her heart.


This day was destined to be a day of joy to Cesar. The private
secretary of the king, Monsieur de Vandenesse, called at the Sinking-
Fund Office to find him. They walked out together into the little

"Monsieur Birotteau," said the Vicomte de Vandenesse, "your efforts to
pay your creditors in full have accidentally become known to the king.
His Majesty, touched by such rare conduct, and hearing that through
humility you no longer wear the cross of the Legion of honor, has sent
me to command you to put it on again. Moreover, wishing to help you in
meeting your obligations, he has charged me to give you this sum from
his privy purse, regretting that he is unable to make it larger. Let
this be a profound secret. His Majesty thinks it derogatory to the
royal dignity to have his good deeds divulged," said the private
secretary, putting six thousand francs into the hand of the poor
clerk, who listened to this speech with unutterable emotion. The words
that came to his lips were disconnected and stammering. Vandenesse
waved his hand to him, smiling, and went away.

The principle which actuated poor Cesar is so rare in Paris that his
conduct by degrees attracted admiration. Joseph Lebas, Popinot the
judge, Camusot, the Abbe Loraux, Ragon, the head of the important
house where Cesarine was employed, Lourdois, Monsieur de la
Billardiere, and others, talked of it. Public opinion, undergoing a
change, now lauded him to the skies.

"He is indeed a man of honor!" The phrase even sounded in Cesar's ears
as he passed along the streets, and caused him the emotion an author
feels when he hears the muttered words: "That is he!" This noble
recovery of credit enraged du Tillet. Cesar's first thought on
receiving the bank-notes sent by the king was to use them in paying
the debt still due to his former clerk. The worthy man went to the Rue
de la Chaussee d'Antin just as the banker was returning from the
Bourse; they met upon the stairway.

"Well, my poor Birotteau!" said du Tillet, with a stealthy glance.

"Poor!" exclaimed the debtor proudly, "I am very rich. I shall lay my
head this night upon my pillow with the happiness of knowing that I
have paid you in full."

This speech, ringing with integrity, sent a sharp pang through du
Tillet. In spite of the esteem he publicly enjoyed, he did not esteem
himself; an inextinguishable voice cried aloud within his soul, "The
man is sublime!"

"Pay me?" he said; "why, what business are you doing?"

Feeling sure that du Tillet would not repeat what he told him,
Birotteau answered: "I shall never go back to business, monsieur. No
human power could have foreseen what has happened to me there. Who
knows that I might not be the victim of another Roguin? But my conduct
has been placed under the eyes of the king; his heart has deigned to
sympathize with my efforts; he has encouraged them by sending me a sum
of money large enough to--"

"Do you want a receipt?" said du Tillet, interrupting him; "are you
going to pay--"

"In full, with interest. I must ask you to come with me now to
Monsieur Crottat, only two steps from here."

"Before a notary?"

"Monsieur; I am not forbidden to aim at my complete reinstatement; to
obtain it, all deeds and receipts must be legal and undeniable."

"Come, then," said du Tillet, going out with Birotteau; "it is only a
step. But where did you take all that money from?"

"I have not taken it," said Cesar; "I have earned it by the sweat of
my brow."

"You owe an enormous sum to Claparon."

"Alas! yes; that is my largest debt. I think sometimes I shall die
before I pay it."

"You never can pay it," said du Tillet harshly.

"He is right," thought Birotteau.

As he went home the poor man passed, inadvertently, along the Rue
Saint-Honore; for he was in the habit of making a circuit to avoid
seeing his shop and the windows of his former home. For the first time
since his fall he saw the house where eighteen years of happiness had
been effaced by the anguish of three months.

"I hoped to end my days there," he thought; and he hastened his steps,
for he caught sight of the new sign,--


Successor to Cesar Birotteau

"Am I dazzled, am I going blind? Was that Cesarine?" he cried,
recollecting a blond head he had seen at the window.

He had actually seen his daughter, his wife, and Popinot. The lovers
knew that Birotteau never passed before the windows of his old home,
and they had come to the house to make arrangements for a fete which
they intended to give him. This amazing apparition so astonished
Birotteau that he stood stock-still, unable to move.

"There is Monsieur Birotteau looking at his old house," said Monsieur
Molineux to the owner of a shop opposite to "The Queen of Roses."

"Poor man!" said the perfumer's former neighbor; "he gave a fine ball
--two hundred carriages in the street."

"I was there; and he failed in three months," said Molineux. "I was
the assignee."

Birotteau fled, trembling in every limb, and hastened back to

Pillerault, who had just been informed of what had happened in the Rue
des Cinq-Diamants, feared that his nephew was scarcely fit to bear the
shock of joy which the sudden knowledge of his restoration would cause
him; for Pillerault was a daily witness of the moral struggles of the
poor man, whose mind stood always face to face with his inflexible
doctrines against bankruptcy, and whose vital forces were used and
spent at every hour. Honor was to Cesar a corpse, for which an Easter
morning might yet dawn. This hope kept his sorrow incessantly active.
Pillerault took upon himself the duty of preparing his nephew to
receive the good news; and when Birotteau came in he was thinking over
the best means of accomplishing his purpose. Cesar's joy as he related
the proof of interest which the king had bestowed upon him seemed of
good augury, and the astonishment he expressed at seeing Cesarine at
"The Queen of Roses" afforded, Pillerault thought, an excellent

"Well, Cesar," said the old man, "do you know what is at the bottom of
it?--the hurry Popinot is in to marry Cesarine. He cannot wait any
longer; and you ought not, for the sake of your exaggerated ideas of
honor, to make him pass his youth eating dry bread with the fumes of a
good dinner under his nose. Popinot wishes to lend you the amount
necessary to pay your creditors in full."

"Then he would buy his wife," said Birotteau.

"Is it not honorable to reinstate his father-in-law?"

"There would be ground for contention; besides--"

"Besides," exclaimed Pillerault, pretending anger, "you may have the
right to immolate yourself if you choose, but you have no right to
immolate your daughter."

A vehement discussion ensued, which Pillerault designedly excited.

"Hey! if Popinot lent you nothing," cried Pillerault, "if he had
called you his partner, if he had considered the price which he paid
to the creditors for your share in the Oil as an advance upon the
profits, so as not to strip you of everything--"

"I should have seemed to rob my creditors in collusion with him."

Pillerault feigned to be defeated by this argument. He knew the human
heart well enough to be certain that during the night Cesar would go
over the question in his own mind, and the mental discussion would
accustom him to the idea of his complete vindication.

"But how came my wife and daughter to be in our old appartement?"
asked Birotteau, while they were dining.

"Anselme wants to hire it, and live there with Cesarine. Your wife is
on his side. They have had the banns published without saying anything
about it, so as to force you to consent. Popinot says there will be
much less merit in marrying Cesarine after you are reinstated. You
take six thousand francs from the king, and you won't accept anything
from your relations! I can well afford to give you a receipt in full
for all that is owing to me; do you mean to refuse it?"

"No," said Cesar; "but that won't keep me from saving up everything to
pay you."

"Irrational folly!" cried Pillerault. "In matters of honor I ought to
be believed. What nonsense were you saying just now? How have you
robbed your creditors when you have paid them all in full?"

Cesar looked earnestly at Pillerault, and Pillerault was touched to
see, for the first time in three years, a genuine smile on the face of
his poor nephew.

"It is true," he said, "they would be paid; but it would be selling my

"And I wish to be bought!" cried Cesarine, entering with Popinot.

The lovers had heard Birotteau's last words as they came on tiptoe
through the antechamber of their uncle's little appartement, Madame
Birotteau following. All three had driven round to the creditors who
were still unpaid, requesting them to meet at Alexandre Crottat's that
evening to receive their money. The all-powerful logic of the enamored
Popinot triumphed in the end over Cesar's scruples, though he
persisted for some time in calling himself a debtor, and in declaring
that he was circumventing the law by a substitution. But the
refinements of his conscience gave way when Popinot cried out: "Do you
want to kill your daughter?"

"Kill my daughter!" said Cesar, thunderstruck.

"Well, then," said Popinot, "I have the right to convey to you the sum
which I conscientiously believe to be your share in my profits. Do you
refuse it?"

"No," said Cesar.

"Very good; then let us go at once to Crottat and settle the matter,
so that there may be no backing out of it. We will arrange about our
marriage contract at the same time."


A petition for reinstatement with corroborative documents was at once
deposited by Derville at the office of the /procureur-general/ of the
Cour Royale.

During the month required for the legal formalities and for the
publication of the banns of marriage between Cesarine and Anselme,
Birotteau was a prey to feverish agitation. He was restless. He feared
he should not live till the great day when the decree for his
vindication would be rendered. His heart throbbed, he said, without
cause. He complained of dull pains in that organ, worn out as it was
by emotions of sorrow, and now wearied with the rush of excessive joy.
Decrees of rehabilitation are so rare in the bankrupt court of Paris
that seldom more than one is granted in ten years.

To those persons who take society in its serious aspects, the
paraphernalia of justice has a grand and solemn character difficult
perhaps to define. Institutions depend altogether on the feelings with
which men view them and the degree of grandeur which men's thoughts
attach to them. When there is no longer, we will not say religion, but
belief among the people, whenever early education has loosened all
conservative bonds by accustoming youth to the practice of pitiless
analysis, a nation will be found in process of dissolution; for it
will then be held together only by the base solder of material
interests, and by the formulas of a creed created by intelligent

Bred in religious ideas, Birotteau held justice to be what it ought to
be in the eyes of men,--a representation of society itself, an august
utterance of the will of all, apart from the particular form by which
it is expressed. The older, feebler, grayer the magistrate, the more
solemn seemed the exercise of his function,--a function which demands
profound study of men and things, which subdues the heart and hardens
it against the influence of eager interests. It is a rare thing
nowadays to find men who mount the stairway of the old Palais de
Justice in the grasp of keen emotions. Cesar Birotteau was one of
those men.

Few persons have noticed the majestic solemnity of that stairway,
admirably placed as it is to produce a solemn effect. It rises, beyond
the outer peristyle which adorns the courtyard of the Palais, from the
centre of a gallery leading, at one end, to the vast hall of the Pas
Perdus, and at the other to the Sainte-Chapelle,--two architectural
monuments which make all buildings in their neighborhood seem paltry.
The church of Saint-Louis is among the most imposing edifices in
Paris, and the approach to it through this long gallery is at once
sombre and romantic. The great hall of the Pas Perdus, on the
contrary, presents at the other end of the gallery a broad space of
light; it is impossible to forget that the history of France is linked
to those walls. The stairway should therefore be imposing in
character; and, in point of act, it is neither dwarfed nor crushed by
the architectural splendors on either side of it. Possibly the mind is
sobered by a glimpse, caught through the rich gratings, of the Place
du Palais-de-Justice, where so many sentences have been executed. The
staircase opens above into an enormous space, or antechamber, leading
to the hall where the Court holds its public sittings.

Imagine the emotions with which the bankrupt, susceptible by nature to
the awe of such accessories, went up that stairway to the hall of
judgment, surrounded by his nearest friends,--Lebas, president of the
Court of Commerce, Camusot his former judge, Ragon, and Monsieur
l'Abbe Loraux his confessor. The pious priest made the splendors of
human justice stand forth in strong relief by reflections which gave
them still greater solemnity in Cesar's eyes. Pillerault, the
practical philosopher, fearing the danger of unexpected events on the
worn mind of his nephew, had schemed to prepare him by degrees for the
joys of this festal day. Just as Cesar finished dressing, a number of
his faithful friends arrived, all eager for the honor of accompanying
him to the bar of the Court. The presence of this retinue roused the
honest man to an elation which gave him strength to meet the imposing
spectacle in the halls of justice. Birotteau found more friends
awaiting him in the solemn audience chamber, where about a dozen
members of the council were in session.

After the cases were called over, Birotteau's attorney made his demand
for reinstatement in the usual terms. On a sign from the presiding
judge, the /procureur-general/ rose. In the name of his office this
public prosecutor, the representative of public vindictiveness, asked
that honor might be restored to the merchant who had never really lost
it,--a solitary instance of such an appeal; for a condemned man can
only be pardoned. Men of honor alone can imagine the emotions of Cesar
Birotteau as he heard Monsieur de Grandville pronounce a speech, of
which the following is an abridgement:--

"Gentlemen," said that celebrated official, "on the 16th of
January, 1820, Birotteau was declared a bankrupt by the commercial
tribunal of the Seine. His failure was not caused by imprudence,
nor by rash speculations, nor by any act that stained his honor.
We desire to say publicly that this failure was the result of a
disaster which has again and again occurred, to the detriment of
justice and the great injury of the city of Paris. It has been
reserved for our generation, in which the bitter leaven of
republican principles and manners will long be felt, to behold the
notariat of Paris abandoning the glorious traditions of preceding
centuries, and producing in a few years as many failures as two
centuries of the old monarchy had produced. The thirst for gold
rapidly acquired has beset even these officers of trust, these
guardians of the public wealth, these mediators between the law
and the people!"

On this text followed an allocution, in which the Comte de Grandville,
obedient to the necessities of his role, contrived to incriminate the
Liberals, the Bonapartists, and all other enemies of the throne.
Subsequent events have proved that he had reason for his apprehension.

"The flight of a notary of Paris who carried off the funds which
Birotteau had deposited in his hands, caused the fall of your
petitioner," he resumed. "The Court rendered in that matter a
decree which showed to what extent the confidence of Roguin's
clients had been betrayed. A /concordat/ was held. For the honor
of your petitioner, we call attention to the fact that his
proceedings were remarkable for a purity not found in any of the
scandalous failures which daily degrade the commerce of Paris. The
creditors of Birotteau received the whole property, down to the
smallest articles that the unfortunate man possessed. They
received, gentlemen, his clothes, his jewels, things of purely
personal use,--and not only his, but those of his wife, who
abandoned all her rights to swell the total of his assets. Under
these circumstances Birotteau showed himself worthy of the respect
which his municipal functions had already acquired for him; for he
was at the time a deputy-mayor of the second arrondissement and
had just received the decoration of the Legion of honor, granted
as much for his devotion to the royal cause in Vendemiaire, on the
steps of the Saint-Roch, which were stained with his blood, as for
his conciliating spirit, his estimable qualities as a magistrate,
and the modesty with which he declined the honors of the
mayoralty, pointing out one more worthy of them, the Baron de la
Billardiere, one of those noble Vendeens whom he had learned to
value in the dark days."

"That phrase is better than mine," whispered Cesar to Pillerault.

"At that time the creditors, who received sixty per cent of their
claims through the aforesaid relinquishment on the part of this
loyal merchant, his wife, and his daughter of all that they
possessed, recorded their respect for their debtor in the
certificate of bankruptcy granted at the /concordat/ which then
took place, giving him at the same time a release from the
remainder of their claims. This testimonial is couched in terms
which are worthy of the attention of the Court."

Here the /procureur-general/ read the passage from the certificate of

"After receiving such expressions of good-will, gentlemen, most
merchants would have considered themselves released from
obligation and free to return boldly into the vortex of business.
Far from so doing, Birotteau, without allowing himself to be cast
down, resolved within his conscience to toil for the glorious day
which has at length dawned for him here. Nothing disheartened him.
Our beloved sovereign granted to the man who shed his blood on the
steps of Saint-Roch an office where he might earn his bread. The
salary of that office the bankrupt laid by for his creditors,
taking nothing for his own wants; for family devotion has
supported him."

Birotteau pressed his uncle's hand, weeping.

"His wife and his daughter poured their earnings into the common
fund, for they too espoused the noble hope of Birotteau. Each came
down from the position she had held and took an inferior one.
These sacrifices, gentlemen, should be held in honor, for they are
harder than all others to bear. I will now show you what sort of
task it was that Birotteau imposed upon himself."

Here the /procureur-general/ read a summing-up of the schedule, giving
the amounts which had remained unpaid and the names of the creditors.

"Each of these sums, with the interest thereon, has been paid,
gentlemen; and the payment is not shown by receipts under private
seal, which might be questioned: they are payments made before a
notary, properly authenticated; and according to the inflexible
requirements of this Court they have been examined and verified by
the proper authority. We now ask you to restore Birotteau, not to
honor, but to all the rights of which he was deprived. In doing
this you are doing justice. Such exhibitions of character are so
rare in this Court that we cannot refrain from testifying to the
petitioner how heartily we applaud his conduct, which an august
approval has already privately encouraged."

The prosecuting officer closed by reading his charge in the customary
formal terms.

The Court deliberated without retiring, and the president rose to
pronounce judgement.

"The Court," he said, in closing, "desires me to express to
Birotteau the satisfaction with which it renders such a judgment.
Clerk, call the next case."

Birotteau, clothed with the caftan of honor which the speech of the
illustrious /procureur-general/ had cast about him, stood dumb with
joy as he listened to the solemn words of the president, which
betrayed the quiverings of a heart beneath the impassibility of human
justice. He was unable to stir from his place before the bar, and
seemed for a moment nailed there, gazing at the judges with a
wondering air, as though they were angels opening to him the gates of
social life. His uncle took him by the arm and led him from the hall.
Cesar had not as yet obeyed the command of Louis XVIII., but he now
mechanically fastened the ribbon of the Legion of honor to his button-
hole. In a moment he was surrounded by his friends and borne in
triumph down the great stairway to his coach.

"Where are you taking me, my friends?" he said to Joseph Lebas,
Pillerault, and Ragon.

"To your own home."

"No; it is only three o'clock. I wish to go to the Bourse, and use my

"To the Bourse!" said Pillerault to the coachman, making an expressive
sign to Joseph Lebas, for he saw symptoms in Cesar which led him to
fear he might lose his mind.

The late perfumer re-entered the Bourse leaning on the arms of the two
honored merchants, his uncle and Joseph Lebas. The news of his
rehabilitation had preceded him. The first person who saw them enter,
followed by Ragon, was du Tillet.

"Ah! my dear master," he cried, "I am delighted that you have pulled
through. I have perhaps contributed to this happy ending of your
troubles by letting that little Popinot drag a feather from my wing. I
am as glad of your happiness as if it were my own."

"You could not be otherwise," said Pillerault. "Such a thing can never
happen to you."

"What do you mean by that?" said du Tillet.

"Oh! all in good part," said Lebas, smiling at the malicious meaning
of Pillerault, who, without knowing the real truth, considered the man
a scoundrel.

Matifat caught sight of Cesar, and immediately the most noted
merchants surrounded him and gave him an /ovation boursiere/. He was
overwhelmed with flattering compliments and grasped by the hand, which
roused some jealousy and caused some remorse; for out of every hundred
persons walking about that hall fifty at least had "liquidated" their
affairs. Gigonnet and Gobseck, who were talking together in a corner,
looked at the man of commercial honor very much as a naturalist must
have looked at the first electric-eel that was ever brought to him,--a
fish armed with the power of a Leyden jar, which is the greatest
curiosity of the animal kingdom. After inhaling the incense of his
triumph, Cesar got into the coach to go to his own home, where the
marriage contract of his dear Cesarine and the devoted Popinot was
ready for signature. His nervous laugh disturbed the minds of the
three old friends.

It is a fault of youth to think the whole world vigorous with its own
vigor,--a fault derived from its virtues. Youth sees neither men nor
things through spectacles; it colors all with the reflex glory of its
ardent fires, and casts the superabundance of its own life upon the
aged. Like Cesar and like Constance, Popinot held in his memory a
glowing recollection of the famous ball. Constance and Cesar through
their years of trial had often, though they never spoke of it to each
other, heard the strains of Collinet's orchestra, often beheld that
festive company, and tasted the joys so swiftly and so cruelly
chastised,--as Adam and Eve must have tasted in after times the
forbidden fruit which gave both death and life to all posterity; for
it appears that the generation of angels is a mystery of the skies.

Popinot, however, could dream of the fete without remorse, nay, with
ecstasy. Had not Cesarine in all her glory then promised herself to
him--to him, poor? During that evening had he not won the assurance
that he was loved for himself alone? So when he bought the appartement
restored by Grindot, from Celestin, when he stipulated that all should
be kept intact, when he religiously preserved the smallest things that
once belonged to Cesar and to Constance, he was dreaming of another
ball,--his ball, his wedding-ball! He made loving preparation for it,
imitating his old master in necessary expenses, but eschewing all
follies,--follies that were now past and done with. So the dinner was
to be served by Chevet; the guests were to be mostly the same: the
Abbe Loraux replaced the chancellor of the Legion of honor; the
president of the Court of Commerce, Monsieur Lebas, had promised to be
there; Popinot invited Monsieur Camusot in acknowledgment of the
kindness he had bestowed upon Birotteau; Monsieur de Vandenesse and
Monsieur de Fontaine took the place of Roguin and his wife. Cesarine
and Popinot distributed their invitations with much discretion. Both
dreaded the publicity of a wedding, and they escaped the jar such
scenes must cause to pure and tender hearts by giving the ball on the
evening of the day appointed for signing the marriage-contract.

Constance found in her room the gown of cherry velvet in which she had
shone for a single night with fleeting splendor. Cesarine cherished a
dream of appearing before Popinot in the identical ball-dress about
which, time and time again, he had talked to her. The appartement was
made ready to present to Cesar's eyes the same enchanting scene he had
once enjoyed for a single evening. Neither Constance, nor Cesarine,
nor Popinot perceived the danger to Cesar in this sudden and
overwhelming surprise, and they awaited his arrival at four o'clock
with a delight that was almost childish.

Following close upon the unspeakable emotion his re-entrance at the
Bourse had caused him, the hero of commercial honor was now to meet
the sudden shock of felicity that awaited him in his old home. He
entered the house, and saw at the foot of the staircase (still new as
he had left it) his wife in her velvet robe, Cesarine, the Comte de
Fontaine, the Vicomte de Vandenesse, the Baron de la Billardiere, the
illustrious Vauquelin. A light film dimmed his eyes, and his uncle
Pillerault, who held his arm, felt him shudder inwardly.

"It is too much," said the philosopher to the happy lover; "he can
never carry all the wine you are pouring out to him."

Joy was so vivid in their hearts that each attributed Cesar's emotion
and his stumbling step to the natural intoxication of his feelings,--
natural, but sometimes mortal. When he found himself once more in his
own home, when he saw his salon, his guests, the women in their ball-
dresses, suddenly the heroic measure in the finale of the great
symphony rang forth in his head and heart. Beethoven's ideal music
echoed, vibrated, in many tones, sounding its clarions through the
membranes of the weary brain, of which it was indeed the grand finale.

Oppressed with this inward harmony, Cesar took the arm of his wife and
whispered, in a voice suffocated by a rush of blood that was still
repressed: "I am not well."

Constance, alarmed, led him to her bedroom; he reached it with
difficulty, and fell into a chair, saying: "Monsieur Haudry, Monsieur

The Abbe Loraux came, followed by the guests and the women in their
ball-dresses, who stopped short, a frightened group. In presence of
that shining company Cesar pressed the hand of his confessor and laid
his head upon the bosom of his kneeling wife. A vessel had broken in
his heart, and the rush of blood strangled his last sigh.

"Behold the death of the righteous!" said the Abbe Loraux solemnly,
pointing to Cesar with the divine gesture which Rembrandt gave to
Christ in his picture of the Raising of Lazarus.

Jesus commanded the earth to give up its prey; the priest called
heaven to behold a martyr of commercial honor worthy to receive the
everlasting palm.


The following personages appear in other stories of the Human Comedy.

Bianchon, Horace
Father Goriot
The Atheist's Mass
The Commission in Lunacy
Lost Illusions
A Distinguished Provincial at Paris
A Bachelor's Establishment
The Secrets of a Princess
The Government Clerks
A Study of Woman
Scenes from a Courtesan's Life
The Seamy Side of History
The Magic Skin
A Second Home
A Prince of Bohemia
Letters of Two Brides
The Muse of the Department
The Imaginary Mistress
The Middle Classes
Cousin Betty
The Country Parson
In addition, M. Bianchon narrated the following:
Another Study of Woman
La Grande Breteche

Bidault (known as Gigonnet)
The Government Clerks
The Vendetta
The Firm of Nucingen
A Daughter of Eve

Birotteau, Cesar
A Bachelor's Establishment
At the Sign of the Cat and Racket

Birotteau, Abbe Francois
The Lily of the Valley
The Vicar of Tours

Scenes from a Courtesan's Life

A Distinguished Provincial at Paris
A Bachelor's Establishment
Cousin Pons
The Muse of the Department
At the Sign of the Cat and Racket

Camusot de Marville, Madame
The Vendetta
Jealousies of a Country Town
Scenes from a Courtesan's Life
Cousin Pons

Cardot, Jean-Jerome-Severin
A Start in Life
Lost Illusions
A Distinguished Provincial at Paris
A Bachelor's Establishment
At the Sign of the Cat and Racket

A Prince of Bohemia
The Middle Classes

Chiffreville, Monsieur and Madame
The Quest of the Absolute

Claparon, Charles
A Bachelor's Establishment
Melmoth Reconciled
The Firm of Nucingen
A Man of Business
The Middle Classes

Cochin, Emile-Louis-Lucien-Emmanuel
The Government Clerks
The Firm of Nucingen
The Middle Classes

Cochin, Adolphe
The Firm of Nucingen

Crevel, Celestin
Cousin Betty
Cousin Pons

Crottat, Monsieur and Madame
Scenes from a Courtesan's Life

Crottat, Alexandre
Colonel Chabert
A Start in Life
A Woman of Thirty
Cousin Pons

Derville, Madame

Desmartes, Jules
The Thirteen

Desmartes, Madame Jules
The Thirteen

Finot, Andoche
A Bachelor's Establishment
A Distinguished Provincial at Paris
Scenes from a Courtesan's Life
The Government Clerks
A Start in Life
Gaudissart the Great
The Firm of Nucingen

Fontaine, Comte de
The Chouans
Modeste Mignon
The Ball at Sceaux
The Government Clerks

Gaudissart, Felix
Scenes from a Courtesan's Life
Cousin Pons
Gaudissart the Great

Gobseck, Jean-Esther Van
Father Goriot
The Government Clerks
The Unconscious Humoriists

Gobseck, Sarah Van
The Maranas
Scenes from a Courtesan's Life
The Member for Arcis

Granville, Vicomte de (later Comte)
The Gondreville Mystery
A Second Home
Farewell (Adieu)
Scenes from a Courtesan's Life
A Daughter of Eve
Cousin Pons

Lost Illusions
A Distinguished Provincial at Paris
A Start in Life
Scenes from a Courtesan's Life
The Middle Classes
Cousin Betty

At the Sign of the Cat and Racket

Haudry (doctor)
The Thirteen
A Bachelor's Establishment
The Seamy Side of History
Cousin Pons

Keller, Francois
Domestic Peace
Eugenie Grandet
The Government Clerks
The Member for Arcis

Keller, Adolphe
The Middle Classes

La Billardiere, Athanase-Jean-Francois-Michel, Baron Flamet de
The Chouans
The Government Clerks

Lebas, Joseph
At the Sign of the Cat and Racket
Cousin Betty

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