Part 3 out of 12
"What ails the chief?" said a stockbroker to one of the head-clerks.
"No one knows; they are anxious about his health, it would seem.
Yesterday, Madame la Baronne got Desplein and Bianchon to meet."
One day, when Sir Isaac Newton was engaged in physicking one of his
dogs, named "Beauty" (who, as is well known, destroyed a vast amount
of work, and whom he reproved only in these words, "Ah! Beauty, you
little know the mischief you have done!"), some strangers called to
see him; but they at once retired, respecting the great man's
occupation. In every more or less lofty life, there is a little dog
"Beauty." When the Marechal de Richelieu came to pay his respects to
Louis XV. after taking Mahon, one of the greatest feats of arms of the
eighteenth century, the King said to him, "Have you heard the great
news? Poor Lansmatt is dead."--Lansmatt was a gatekeeper in the secret
of the King's intrigues.
The bankers of Paris never knew how much they owed to Contenson. That
spy was the cause of Nucingen's allowing an immense loan to be issued
in which his share was allotted to him, and which he gave over to
them. The stock-jobber could aim at a fortune any day with the
artillery of speculation, but the man was a slave to the hope of
The great banker drank some tea, and was nibbling at a slice of bread
and butter, as a man does whose teeth have for long been sharpened by
appetite, when he heard a carriage stop at the little garden gate. In
a few minutes his secretary brought in Contenson, whom he had run to
earth in a cafe not far from Sainte-Pelagie, where the man was
breakfasting on the strength of a bribe given to him by an imprisoned
debtor for certain allowances that must be paid for.
Contenson, you must know, was a whole poem--a Paris poem. Merely to
see him would have been enough to tell you that Beaumarchais' Figaro,
Moliere's Mascarille, Marivaux's Frontin, and Dancourt's Lafleur--
those great representatives of audacious swindling, of cunning driven
to bay, of stratagem rising again from the ends of its broken wires--
were all quite second-rate by comparison with this giant of cleverness
and meanness. When in Paris you find a real type, he is no longer a
man, he is a spectacle; no longer a factor in life, but a whole life,
Bake a plaster cast four times in a furnace, and you get a sort of
bastard imitation of Florentine bronze. Well, the thunderbolts of
numberless disasters, the pressure of terrible necessities, had
bronzed Contenson's head, as though sweating in an oven had three
times over stained his skin. Closely-set wrinkles that could no longer
be relaxed made eternal furrows, whiter in their cracks. The yellow
face was all wrinkles. The bald skull, resembling Voltaire's, was as
parched as a death's-head, and but for a few hairs at the back it
would have seemed doubtful whether it was that of a living man. Under
a rigid brow, a pair of Chinese eyes, like those of an image under a
glass shade in a tea-shop--artificial eyes, which sham life but never
vary--moved but expressed nothing. The nose, as flat as that of a
skull, sniffed at fate; and the mouth, as thin-lipped as a miser's,
was always open, but as expressionless as the grin of a letterbox.
Contenson, as apathetic as a savage, with sunburned hands, affected
that Diogenes-like indifference which can never bend to any formality
And what a commentary on his life was written on his dress for any one
who can decipher a dress! Above all, what trousers! made, by long
wear, as black and shiny as the camlet of which lawyers' gowns are
made! A waistcoat, bought in an old clothes shop in the Temple, with a
deep embroidered collar! A rusty black coat!--and everything well
brushed, clean after a fashion, and graced by a watch and an imitation
gold chain. Contenson allowed a triangle of shirt to show, with pleats
in which glittered a sham diamond pin; his black velvet stock set
stiff like a gorget, over which lay rolls of flesh as red as that of a
Caribbee. His silk hat was as glossy as satin, but the lining would
have yielded grease enough for two street lamps if some grocer had
bought it to boil down.
But to enumerate these accessories is nothing; if only I could give an
idea of the air of immense importance that Contenson contrived to
impart to them! There was something indescribably knowing in the
collar of his coat, and the fresh blacking on a pair of boots with
gaping soles, to which no language can do justice. However, to give
some notion of this medley of effect, it may be added that any man of
intelligence would have felt, only on seeing Contenson, that if
instead of being a spy he had been a thief, all these odds and ends,
instead of raising a smile, would have made one shudder with horror.
Judging only from his dress, the observer would have said to himself,
"That is a scoundrel; he gambles, he drinks, he is full of vices; but
he does not get drunk, he does not cheat, he is neither a thief nor a
murderer." And Contenson remained inscrutable till the word spy
This man had followed as many unrecognized trades as there are
recognized ones. The sly smile on his lips, the twinkle of his green
eyes, the queer twitch of his snub nose, showed that he was not
deficient in humor. He had a face of sheet-tin, and his soul must
probably be like his face. Every movement of his countenance was a
grimace wrung from him by politeness rather than by any expression of
an inmost impulse. He would have been alarming if he had not seemed so
Contenson, one of the most curious products of the scum that rises to
the top of the seething Paris caldron, where everything ferments,
prided himself on being, above all things, a philosopher. He would
say, without any bitter feeling:
"I have great talents, but of what use are they? I might as well have
been an idiot."
And he blamed himself instead of accusing mankind. Find, if you can,
many spies who have not had more venom about them than Contenson had.
"Circumstances are against me," he would say to his chiefs. "We might
be fine crystal; we are but grains of sand, that is all."
His indifference to dress had some sense. He cared no more about his
everyday clothes than an actor does; he excelled in disguising
himself, in "make-up"; he could have given Frederic Lemaitre a lesson,
for he could be a dandy when necessary. Formerly, in his younger days,
he must have mingled in the out-at-elbows society of people living on
a humble scale. He expressed excessive disgust for the criminal police
corps; for, under the Empire, he had belonged to Fouche's police, and
looked upon him as a great man. Since the suppression of this
Government department, he had devoted his energies to the tracking of
commercial defaulters; but his well-known talents and acumen made him
a valuable auxiliary, and the unrecognized chiefs of the political
police had kept his name on their lists. Contenson, like his fellows,
was only a super in the dramas of which the leading parts were played
by his chief when a political investigation was in the wind.
"Go 'vay," said Nucingen, dismissing his secretary with a wave of the
"Why should this man live in a mansion and I in a lodging?" wondered
Contenson to himself. "He has dodged his creditors three times; he has
robbed them; I never stole a farthing; I am a cleverer fellow than he
"Contenson, mein freund," said the Baron, "you haf vat you call pleed
me of one tousand-franc note."
"My girl owed God and the devil----"
"Vat, you haf a girl, a mistress!" cried Nucingen, looking at
Contenson with admiration not unmixed with envy.
"I am but sixty-six," replied Contenson, as a man whom vice has kept
young as a bad example.
"And vat do she do?"
"She helps me," said Contenson. "When a man is a thief, and an honest
woman loves him, either she becomes a thief or he becomes an honest
man. I have always been a spy."
"And you vant money--alvays?" asked Nucingen.
"Always," said Contenson, with a smile. "It is part of my business to
want money, as it is yours to make it; we shall easily come to an
understanding. You find me a little, and I will undertake to spend it.
You shall be the well, and I the bucket."
"Vould you like to haf one note for fife hundert franc?"
"What a question! But what a fool I am!--You do not offer it out of a
disinterested desire to repair the slights of Fortune?"
"Not at all. I gif it besides the one tousand-franc note vat you pleed
me off. Dat makes fifteen hundert franc vat I gif you."
"Very good, you give me the thousand francs I have had and you will
add five hundred francs."
"Yust so," said Nucingen, nodding.
"But that still leaves only five hundred francs," said Contenson
"Dat I gif," added the Baron.
"That I take. Very good; and what, Monsieur le Baron, do you want for
"I haf been told dat dere vas in Paris one man vat could find the
voman vat I lof, and dat you know his address. . . . A real master to
"Vell den, gif me dat address, and I gif you fife hundert franc."
"Where are they?" said Contenson.
"Here dey are," said the Baron, drawing a note out of his pocket.
"All right, hand them over," said Contenson, holding out his hand.
"Noting for noting! Le us see de man, and you get de money; you might
sell to me many address at dat price."
Contenson began to laugh.
"To be sure, you have a right to think that of me," said he, with an
air of blaming himself. "The more rascally our business is, the more
honesty is necessary. But look here, Monsieur le Baron, make it six
hundred, and I will give you a bit of advice."
"Gif it, and trust to my generosity."
"I will risk it," Contenson said, "but it is playing high. In such
matters, you see, we have to work underground. You say, 'Quick
march!'--You are rich; you think that money can do everything. Well,
money is something, no doubt. Still, money can only buy men, as the
two or three best heads in our force so often say. And there are many
things you would never think of which money cannot buy.--You cannot
buy good luck. So good police work is not done in this style. Will you
show yourself in a carriage with me? We should be seen. Chance is just
as often for us as against us."
"Really-truly?" said the Baron.
"Why, of course, sir. A horseshoe picked up in the street led the
chief of the police to the discovery of the infernal machine. Well, if
we were to go to-night in a hackney coach to Monsieur de Saint-
Germain, he would not like to see you walk in any more than you would
like to be seen going there."
"Dat is true," said the Baron.
"Ah, he is the greatest of the great! such another as the famous
Corentin, Fouche's right arm, who was, some say, his natural son, born
while he was still a priest; but that is nonsense. Fouche knew how to
be a priest as he knew how to be a Minister. Well, you will not get
this man to do anything for you, you see, for less than ten thousand-
franc notes--think of that.--But he will do the job, and do it well.
Neither seen nor heard, as they say. I ought to give Monsieur de
Saint-Germanin notice, and he will fix a time for your meeting in some
place where no one can see or hear, for it is a dangerous game to play
policeman for private interests. Still, what is to be said? He is a
good fellow, the king of good fellows, and a man who has undergone
much persecution, and for having saving his country too!--like me,
like all who helped to save it."
"Vell den, write and name de happy day," said the Baron, smiling at
his humble jest.
"And Monsieur le Baron will allow me to drink his health?" said
Contenson, with a manner at once cringing and threatening.
"Shean," cried the Baron to the gardener, "go and tell Chorge to sent
me one twenty francs, and pring dem to me----"
"Still, Monsieur le Baron, if you have no more information than you
have just given me, I doubt whether the great man can be of any use to
"I know off oders!" replied the Baron with a cunning look.
"I have the honor to bid you good-morning, Monsieur le Baron," said
Contenson, taking the twenty-franc piece. "I shall have the honor of
calling again to tell Georges where you are to go this evening, for we
never write anything in such cases when they are well managed."
"It is funny how sharp dese rascals are!" said the Baron to himself;
"it is de same mit de police as it is in buss'niss."
When he left the Baron, Contenson went quietly from the Rue Saint-
Lazare to the Rue Saint-Honore, as far as the Cafe David. He looked in
through the windows, and saw an old man who was known there by the
name of le Pere Canquoelle.
The Cafe David, at the corner of the Rue de la Monnaie and the Rue
Saint-Honore, enjoyed a certain celebrity during the first thirty
years of the century, though its fame was limited to the quarter known
as that of the Bourdonnais. Here certain old retired merchants, and
large shopkeepers still in trade, were wont to meet--the Camusots, the
Lebas, the Pilleraults, the Popinots, and a few house-owners like
little old Molineux. Now and again old Guillaume might be seen there,
coming from the Rue du Colombier. Politics were discussed in a quiet
way, but cautiously, for the opinions of the Cafe David were liberal.
The gossip of the neighborhood was repeated, men so urgently feel the
need of laughing at each other!
This cafe, like all cafes for that matter, had its eccentric character
in the person of the said Pere Canquoelle, who had been regular in his
attendance there since 1811, and who seemed to be so completely in
harmony with the good folks who assembled there, that they all talked
politics in his presence without reserve. Sometimes this old fellow,
whose guilelessness was the subject of much laughter to the customers,
would disappear for a month or two; but his absence never surprised
anybody, and was always attributed to his infirmities or his great
age, for he looked more than sixty in 1811.
"What has become of old Canquoelle?" one or another would ask of the
manageress at the desk.
"I quite expect that one fine day we shall read in the advertisement-
sheet that he is dead," she would reply.
Old Canquoelle bore a perpetual certificate of his native province in
his accent. He spoke of une estatue (a statue), le peuble (the
people), and said ture for turc. His name was that of a tiny estate
called les Canquoelles, a word meaning cockchafer in some districts,
situated in the department of Vaucluse, whence he had come. At last
every one had fallen into the habit of calling him Canquoelle, instead
of des Canquoelles, and the old man took no offence, for in his
opinion the nobility had perished in 1793; and besides, the land of
les Canquoelles did not belong to him; he was a younger son's younger
Nowadays old Canquoelle's costume would look strange, but between 1811
and 1820 it astonished no one. The old man wore shoes with cut-steel
buckles, silk stockings with stripes round the leg, alternately blue
and white, corded silk knee-breeches with oval buckles cut to match
those on his shoes. A white embroidered waistcoat, an old coat of
olive-brown with metal buttons, and a shirt with a flat-pleated frill
completed his costume. In the middle of the shirt-frill twinkled a
small gold locket, in which might be seen, under glass, a little
temple worked in hair, one of those pathetic trifles which give men
confidence, just as a scarecrow frightens sparrows. Most men, like
other animals, are frightened or reassured by trifles. Old
Canquoelle's breeches were kept in place by a buckle which, in the
fashion of the last century, tightened them across the stomach; from
the belt hung on each side a short steel chain, composed of several
finer chains, and ending in a bunch of seals. His white neckcloth was
fastened behind by a small gold buckle. Finally, on his snowy and
powdered hair, he still, in 1816, wore the municipal cocked hat which
Monsieur Try, the President of the Law Courts, also used to wear. But
Pere Canquoelle had recently substituted for this hat, so dear to old
men, the undignified top-hat, which no one dares to rebel against. The
good man thought he owed so much as this to the spirit of the age. A
small pigtail tied with a ribbon had traced a semicircle on the back
of his coat, the greasy mark being hidden by powder.
If you looked no further than the most conspicuous feature of his
face, a nose covered with excrescences red and swollen enough to
figure in a dish of truffles, you might have inferred that the worthy
man had an easy temper, foolish and easy-going, that of a perfect
gaby; and you would have been deceived, like all at the Cafe David,
where no one had ever remarked the studious brow, the sardonic mouth,
and the cold eyes of this old man, petted by his vices, and as calm as
Vitellius, whose imperial and portly stomach reappeared in him
palingenetically, so to speak.
In 1816 a young commercial traveler named Gaudissart, who frequented
the Cafe David, sat drinking from eleven o'clock till midnight with a
half-pay officer. He was so rash as to discuss a conspiracy against
the Bourbons, a rather serious plot then on the point of execution.
There was no one to be seen in the cafe but Pere Canquoelle, who
seemed to be asleep, two waiters who were dozing, and the accountant
at the desk. Within four-and-twenty hours Gaudissart was arrested, the
plot was discovered. Two men perished on the scaffold. Neither
Gaudissart nor any one else ever suspected that worthy old Canquoelle
of having peached. The waiters were dismissed; for a year they were
all on their guard and afraid of the police--as Pere Canquoelle was
too; indeed, he talked of retiring from the Cafe David, such horror
had he of the police.
Contenson went into the cafe, asked for a glass of brandy, and did not
look at Canquoelle, who sat reading the papers; but when he had gulped
down the brandy, he took out the Baron's gold piece, and called the
waiter by rapping three short raps on the table. The lady at the desk
and the waiter examined the coin with a minute care that was not
flattering to Contenson; but their suspicions were justified by the
astonishment produced on all the regular customers by Contenson's
"Was that gold got by theft or by murder?"
This was the idea that rose to some clear and shrewd minds as they
looked at Contenson over their spectacles, while affecting to read the
news. Contenson, who saw everything and never was surprised at
anything, scornfully wiped his lips with a bandana, in which there
were but three darns, took his change, slipped all the coppers into
his side pocket, of which the lining, once white, was now as black as
the cloth of the trousers, and did not leave one for the waiter.
"What a gallows-bird!" said Pere Canquoelle to his neighbor Monsieur
"Pshaw!" said Monsieur Camusot to all the company, for he alone had
expressed no astonishment, "it is Contenson, Louchard's right-hand
man, the police agent we employ in business. The rascals want to nab
some one who is hanging about perhaps."
It would seem necessary to explain here the terrible and profoundly
cunning man who was hidden under the guise of Pere Canquoelle, as
Vautrin was hidden under that of the Abbe Carlos.
Born at Canquoelles, the only possession of his family, which was
highly respectable, this Southerner's name was Peyrade. He belonged,
in fact, to the younger branch of the Peyrade family, an old but
impoverished house of Franche Comte, still owning the little estate of
la Peyrade. The seventh child of his father, he had come on foot to
Paris in 1772 at the age of seventeen, with two crowns of six francs
in his pocket, prompted by the vices of an ardent spirit and the
coarse desire to "get on," which brings so many men to Paris from the
south as soon as they understand that their father's property can
never supply them with means to gratify their passions. It is enough
to say of Peyrade's youth that in 1782 he was in the confidence of
chiefs of the police and the hero of the department, highly esteemed
by MM. Lenoir and d'Albert, the last Lieutenant-Generals of Police.
The Revolution had no police; it needed none. Espionage, though common
enough, was called public spirit.
The Directorate, a rather more regular government than that of the
Committee of Public Safety, was obliged to reorganize the Police, and
the first Consul completed the work by instituting a Prefect of Police
and a department of police supervision.
Peyrade, a man knowing the traditions, collected the force with the
assistance of a man named Corentin, a far cleverer man than Peyrade,
though younger; but he was a genius only in the subterranean ways of
police inquiries. In 1808 the great services Peyrade was able to
achieve were rewarded by an appointment to the eminent position of
Chief Commissioner of Police at Antwerp. In Napoleon's mind this sort
of Police Governorship was equivalent to a Minister's post, with the
duty of superintending Holland. At the end of the campaign of 1809,
Peyrade was removed from Antwerp by an order in Council from the
Emperor, carried in a chaise to Paris between two gendarmes, and
imprisoned in la Force. Two months later he was let out on bail
furnished by his friend Corentin, after having been subjected to three
examinations, each lasting six hours, in the office of the head of the
Did Peyrade owe his overthrow to the miraculous energy he displayed in
aiding Fouche in the defence of the French coast when threatened by
what was known at the time as the Walcheren expedition, when the Duke
of Otranto manifested such abilities as alarmed the Emperor? Fouche
thought it probable even then; and now, when everybody knows what went
on in the Cabinet Council called together by Cambaceres, it is
absolutely certain. The Ministers, thunderstruck by the news of
England's attempt, a retaliation on Napoleon for the Boulogne
expedition, and taken by surprise when the Master was entrenched in
the island of Lobau, where all Europe believed him to be lost, had not
an idea which way to turn. The general opinion was in favor of sending
post haste to the Emperor; Fouche alone was bold enough to sketch a
plan of campaign, which, in fact, he carried into execution.
"Do as you please," said Cambaceres; "but I, who prefer to keep my
head on my shoulders, shall send a report to the Emperor."
It is well known that the Emperor on his return found an absurd
pretext, at a full meeting of the Council of State, for discarding his
Minister and punishing him for having saved France without the
Sovereign's help. From that time forth, Napoleon had doubled the
hostility of Prince de Talleyrand and the Duke of Otranto, the only
two great politicians formed by the Revolution, who might perhaps have
been able to save Napoleon in 1813.
To get rid of Peyrade, he was simply accused of connivance in favoring
smuggling and sharing certain profits with the great merchants. Such
an indignity was hard on a man who had earned the Marshal's baton of
the Police Department by the great services he had done. This man, who
had grown old in active business, knew all the secrets of every
Government since 1775, when he had entered the service. The Emperor,
who believed himself powerful enough to create men for his own uses,
paid no heed to the representations subsequently laid before him in
favor of a man who was reckoned as one of the most trustworthy, most
capable, and most acute of the unknown genii whose task it is to watch
over the safety of a State. He thought he could put Contenson in
Peyrade's place; but Contenson was at that time employed by Corentin
for his own benefit.
Peyrade felt the blow all the more keenly because, being greedy and a
libertine, he had found himself, with regard to women, in the position
of a pastry-cook who loves sweetmeats. His habits of vice had become
to him a second nature; he could not live without a good dinner,
without gambling, in short, without the life of an unpretentious fine
gentleman, in which men of powerful faculties so generally indulge
when they have allowed excessive dissipation to become a necessity.
Hitherto, he had lived in style without ever being expected to
entertain; and living well, for no one ever looked for a return from
him, or from his friend Corentin. He was cynically witty, and he liked
his profession; he was a philosopher. And besides, a spy, whatever
grade he may hold in the machinery of the police, can no more return
to a profession regarded as honorable or liberal, than a prisoner from
the hulks can. Once branded, once matriculated, spies and convicts,
like deacons, have assumed an indelible character. There are beings on
whom social conditions impose an inevitable fate.
Peyrade, for his further woe, was very fond of a pretty little girl
whom he knew to be his own child by a celebrated actress to whom he
had done a signal service, and who, for three months, had been
grateful to him. Peyrade, who had sent for his child from Antwerp, now
found himself without employment in Paris and with no means beyond a
pension of twelve hundred francs a year allowed him by the Police
Department as Lenoir's old disciple. He took lodgings in the Rue des
Moineaux on the fourth floor, five little rooms, at a rent of two
hundred and fifty francs.
If any man should be aware of the uses and sweets of friendship, is it
not the moral leper known to the world as a spy, to the mob as a
mouchard, to the department as an "agent"? Peyrade and Corentin were
such friends as Orestes and Pylades. Peyrade had trained Corentin as
Vien trained David; but the pupil soon surpassed his master. They had
carried out more than one undertaking together. Peyrade, happy at
having discerned Corentin's superior abilities, had started him in his
career by preparing a success for him. He obliged his disciple to make
use of a mistress who had scorned him as a bait to catch a man (see
The Chouans). And Corentin at that time was hardly five-and-twenty.
Corentin, who had been retained as one of the generals of whom the
Minister of Police is the High Constable, still held under the Duc de
Rovigo the high position he had filled under the Duke of Otranto. Now
at that time the general police and the criminal police were managed
on similar principles. When any important business was on hand, an
account was opened, as it were, for the three, four, five, really
capable agents. The Minister, on being warned of some plot, by
whatever means, would say to one of his colonels of the police force:
"How much will you want to achieve this or that result?"
Corentin or Contenson would go into the matter and reply:
"Twenty, thirty, or forty thousand francs."
Then, as soon as the order was given to go ahead, all the means and
the men were left to the judgment of Corentin or the agent selected.
And the criminal police used to act in the same way to discover crimes
with the famous Vidocq.
Both branches of the police chose their men chiefly from among the
ranks of well-known agents, who have matriculated in the business, and
are, as it were, as soldiers of the secret army, so indispensable to a
government, in spite of the public orations of philanthropists or
narrow-minded moralists. But the absolute confidence placed in two men
of the temper of Peyrade and Corentin conveyed to them the right of
employing perfect strangers, under the risk, moreover, of being
responsible to the Minister in all serious cases. Peyrade's experience
and acumen were too valuable to Corentin, who, after the storm of 1820
had blown over, employed his old friend, constantly consulted him, and
contributed largely to his maintenance. Corentin managed to put about
a thousand francs a month into Peyrade's hands.
Peyrade, on his part, did Corentin good service. In 1816 Corentin, on
the strength of the discovery of the conspiracy in which the
Bonapartist Gaudissart was implicated, tried to get Peyrade reinstated
in his place in the police office; but some unknown influence was
working against Peyrade. This was the reason why.
In their anxiety to make themselves necessary, Peyrade, Corentin, and
Contenson, at the Duke of Otranto's instigation, had organized for the
benefit of Louis XVIII. a sort of opposition police in which very
capable agents were employed. Louis XVIII. died possessed of secrets
which will remain secrets from the best informed historians. The
struggle between the general police of the kingdom, and the King's
opposition police, led to many horrible disasters, of which a certain
number of executions sealed the secrets. This is neither the place nor
the occasion for entering into details on this subject, for these
"Scenes of Paris Life" are not "Scenes of Political Life." Enough has
been said to show what were the means of living of the man who at the
Cafe David was known as good old Canquoelle, and by what threads he
was tied to the terrible and mysterious powers of the police.
Between 1817 and 1822, Corentin, Contenson, Peyrade, and their
myrmidons, were often required to keep watch over the Minister of
Police himself. This perhaps explains why the Minister declined to
employ Peyrade and Contenson, on whom Corentin contrived to cast the
Minister's suspicions, in order to be able to make use of his friend
when his reinstatement was evidently out of the question. The Ministry
put their faith in Corentin; they enjoined him to keep an eye on
Peyrade, which amused Louis XVIII. Corentin and Peyrade were then
masters of the position. Contenson, long attached to Peyrade, was
still at his service. He had joined the force of the commercial police
(the Gardes du Commerce) by his friend's orders. And, in fact, as a
result of the sort of zeal that is inspired by a profession we love,
these two chiefs liked to place their best men in those posts where
information was most likely to flow in.
And, indeed, Contenson's vices and dissipated habits, which had
dragged him lower than his two friends, consumed so much money, that
he needed a great deal of business.
Contenson, without committing any indiscretion, had told Louchard
that he knew the only man who was capable of doing what the Baron
de Nucingen required. Peyrade was, in fact, the only police-agent
who could act on behalf of a private individual with impunity. At
the death of Louis XVIII., Peyrade had not only ceased to be of
consequence, but had lost the profits of his position as spy-in-
ordinary to His Majesty. Believing himself to be indispensable,
he had lived fast. Women, high feeding, and the club, the Cercle
des Etrangers, had prevented this man from saving, and, like all
men cut out for debauchery, he enjoyed an iron constitution. But
between 1826 and 1829, when he was nearly seventy-four years of
age, he had stuck half-way, to use his own expression. Year by
year he saw his comforts dwindling. He followed the police
department to its grave, and saw with regret that Charles X.'s
government was departing from its good old traditions. Every
session saw the estimates pared down which were necessary to keep
up the police, out of hatred for that method of government and a
firm determination to reform that institution.
"It is as if they thought they could cook in white gloves," said
Peyrade to Corentin.
In 1822 this couple foresaw 1830. They knew how bitterly Louis XVIII.
hated his successor, which accounts for his recklessness with regard
to the younger branch, and without which his reign would be an
As Peyrade grew older, his love for his natural daughter had
increased. For her sake he had adopted his citizen guise, for he
intended that his Lydie should marry respectably. So for the last
three years he had been especially anxious to find a corner, either at
the Prefecture of Police, or in the general Police Office--some
ostensible and recognized post. He had ended by inventing a place, of
which the necessity, as he told Corentin, would sooner or later be
felt. He was anxious to create an inquiry office at the Prefecture of
Police, to be intermediate between the Paris police in the strictest
sense, the criminal police, and the superior general police, so as to
enable the supreme board to profit by the various scattered forces. No
one but Peyrade, at his age, and after fifty-five years of
confidential work, could be the connecting link between the three
branches of the police, or the keeper of the records to whom political
and judicial authority alike could apply for the elucidation of
certain cases. By this means Peyrade hoped, with Corentin's
assistance, to find a husband and scrape together a portion for his
little Lydie. Corentin had already mentioned the matter to the
Director-General of the police forces of the realm, without naming
Peyrade; and the Director-General, a man from the south, thought it
necessary that the suggestion should come from the chief of the city
At the moment when Contenson struck three raps on the table with the
gold piece, a signal conveying, "I want to speak to you," the senior
was reflecting on this problem: "By whom, and under what pressure can
the Prefet of Police be made to move?"--And he looked like a noodle
studying his Courrier Francais.
"Poor Fouche!" thought he to himself, as he made his way along the Rue
Saint-Honore, "that great man is dead! our go-betweens with Louis
XVIII. are out of favor. And besides, as Corentin said only yesterday,
nobody believes in the activity or the intelligence of a man of
seventy. Oh, why did I get into a habit of dining at Very's, of
drinking choice wines, of singing La Mere Godichon, of gambling when I
am in funds? To get a place and keep it, as Corentin says, it is not
enough to be clever, you must have the gift of management. Poor dear
M. Lenoir was right when he wrote to me in the matter of the Queen's
necklace, 'You will never do any good,' when he heard that I did not
stay under that slut Oliva's bed."
If the venerable Pere Canquoelle--he was called so in the house--lived
on in the Rue des Moineaux, on a fourth floor, you may depend on it he
had found some peculiarity in the arrangement of the premises which
favored the practice of his terrible profession.
The house, standing at the corner of the Rue Saint-Roch, had no
neighbors on one side; and as the staircase up the middle divided it
into two, there were on each floor two perfectly isolated rooms. Those
two rooms looked out on the Rue Saint-Roch. There were garret rooms
above the fourth floor, one of them a kitchen, and the other a bedroom
for Pere Canquoelle's only servant, a Fleming named Katt, formerly
Lydie's wet-nurse. Old Canquoelle had taken one of the outside rooms
for his bedroom, and the other for his study. The study ended at the
party-wall, a very thick one. The window opening on the Rue des
Moineaux looked on a blank wall at the opposite corner. As this study
was divided from the stairs by the whole width of Peyrade's bedroom,
the friends feared no eye, no ear, as they talked business in this
study made on purpose for his detestable trade.
Peyrade, as a further precaution, had furnished Katt's room with a
thick straw bed, a felt carpet, and a very heavy rug, under the
pretext of making his child's nurse comfortable. He had also stopped
up the chimney, warming his room by a stove, with a pipe through the
wall to the Rue Saint-Roch. Finally, he laid several rugs on his floor
to prevent the slightest sound being heard by the neighbors beneath.
An expert himself in the tricks of spies, he sounded the outer wall,
the ceiling, and the floor once a week, examining them as if he were
in search of noxious insects. It was the security of this room from
all witnesses or listeners that had made Corentin select it as his
council-chamber when he did not hold a meeting in his own room.
Where Corentin lived was known to no one but the Chief of the Superior
Police and to Peyrade; he received there such personages as the
Ministry or the King selected to conduct very serious cases; but no
agent or subordinate ever went there, and he plotted everything
connected with their business at Peyrade's. In this unpretentious room
schemes were matured, and resolutions passed, which would have
furnished strange records and curious dramas if only walls could talk.
Between 1816 and 1826 the highest interests were discussed there.
There first germinated the events which grew to weigh on France. There
Peyrade and Corentin, with all the foresight, and more than all the
information of Bellart, the Attorney-General, had said even in 1819:
"If Louis XVIII. does not consent to strike such or such a blow, to
make away with such or such a prince, is it because he hates his
brother? He must wish to leave him heir to a revolution."
Peyrade's door was graced with a slate, on which very strange marks
might sometimes be seen, figures scrawled in chalk. This sort of
devil's algebra bore the clearest meaning to the initiated.
Lydie's rooms, opposite to Peyrade's shabby lodging, consisted of an
ante-room, a little drawing-room, a bedroom, and a small dressing-
room. The door, like that of Peyrade's room, was constructed of a
plate of sheet-iron three lines thick, sandwiched between two strong
oak planks, fitted with locks and elaborate hinges, making it as
impossible to force it as if it were a prison door. Thus, though the
house had a public passage through it, with a shop below and no
doorkeeper, Lydie lived there without a fear. The dining-room, the
little drawing-room, and her bedroom--every window-balcony a hanging
garden--were luxurious in their Dutch cleanliness.
The Flemish nurse had never left Lydie, whom she called her daughter.
The two went to church with a regularity that gave the royalist
grocer, who lived below, in the corner shop, an excellent opinion of
the worthy Canquoelle. The grocer's family, kitchen, and counter-
jumpers occupied the first floor and the entresol; the landlord
inhabited the second floor; and the third had been let for twenty
years past to a lapidary. Each resident had a key of the street door.
The grocer's wife was all the more willing to receive letters and
parcels addressed to these three quiet households, because the
grocer's shop had a letter-box.
Without these details, strangers, or even those who know Paris well,
could not have understood the privacy and quietude, the isolation and
safety which made this house exceptional in Paris. After midnight,
Pere Canquoelle could hatch plots, receive spies or ministers, wives
or hussies, without any one on earth knowing anything about it.
Peyrade, of whom the Flemish woman would say to the grocer's cook, "He
would not hurt a fly!" was regarded as the best of men. He grudged his
daughter nothing. Lydie, who had been taught music by Schmucke, was
herself a musician capable of composing; she could wash in a sepia
drawing, and paint in gouache and water-color. Every Sunday Peyrade
dined at home with her. On that day this worthy was wholly paternal.
Lydie, religious but not a bigot, took the Sacrament at Easter, and
confessed every month. Still, she allowed herself from time to time to
be treated to the play. She walked in the Tuileries when it was fine.
These were all her pleasures, for she led a sedentary life. Lydie, who
worshiped her father, knew absolutely nothing of his sinister gifts
and dark employments. Not a wish had ever disturbed this pure child's
pure life. Slight and handsome like her mother, gifted with an
exquisite voice, and a delicate face framed in fine fair hair, she
looked like one of those angels, mystical rather than real, which some
of the early painters grouped in the background of the Holy Family.
The glance of her blue eyes seemed to bring a beam from the sky on
those she favored with a look. Her dress, quite simple, with no
exaggeration of fashion, had a delightful middle-class modesty.
Picture to yourself an old Satan as the father of an angel, and
purified in her divine presence, and you will have an idea of Peyrade
and his daughter. If anybody had soiled this jewel, her father would
have invented, to swallow him alive, one of those dreadful plots in
which, under the Restoration, the unhappy wretches were trapped who
were designate to die on the scaffold. A thousand crowns were ample
maintenance for Lydie and Katt, whom she called nurse.
As Peyrade turned into the Rue des Moineaux, he saw Contenson; he
outstripped him, went upstairs before him, heard the man's steps on
the stairs, and admitted him before the woman had put her nose out of
the kitchen door. A bell rung by the opening of a glass door, on the
third story where the lapidary lived warned the residents on that and
the fourth floors when a visitor was coming to them. It need hardly be
said that, after midnight, Peyrade muffled this bell.
"What is up in such a hurry, Philosopher?"
Philosopher was the nickname bestowed on Contenson by Peyrade, and
well merited by the Epictetus among police agents. The name of
Contenson, alas! hid one of the most ancient names of feudal Normandy.
"Well, there is something like ten thousand francs to be netted."
"What is it? Political?"
"No, a piece of idiocy. Baron de Nucingen, you know, the old certified
swindler, is neighing after a woman he saw in the Bois de Vincennes,
and she has got to be found, or he will die of love.--They had a
consultation of doctors yesterday, by what his man tells me.--I have
already eased him of a thousand francs under pretence of seeking the
And Contenson related Nucingen's meeting with Esther, adding that the
Baron had now some further information.
"All right," said Peyrade, "we will find his Dulcinea; tell the Baron
to come to-night in a carriage to the Champs-Elysees--the corner of
the Avenue de Gabriel and the Allee de Marigny."
Peyrade saw Contenson out, and knocked at his daughter's rooms, as he
always knocked to be let in. He was full of glee; chance had just
offered the means, at last, of getting the place he longed for.
He flung himself into a deep armchair, after kissing Lydie on the
forehead, and said:
"Play me something."
Lydie played him a composition for the piano by Beethoven.
"That is very well played, my pet," said he, taking Lydie on his
knees. "Do you know that we are one-and-twenty years old? We must get
married soon, for our old daddy is more than seventy----"
"I am quite happy here," said she.
"You love no one but your ugly old father?" asked Peyrade.
"Why, whom should I love?"
"I am dining at home, my darling; go and tell Katt. I am thinking of
settling, of getting an appointment, and finding a husband worthy of
you; some good young man, very clever, whom you may some day be proud
"I have never seen but one yet that I should have liked for a
"You have seen one then?"
"Yes, in the Tuileries," replied Lydie. "He walked past me; he was
giving his arm to the Comtesse de Serizy."
"And his name is?"
"Lucien de Rubempre.--I was sitting with Katt under a lime-tree,
thinking of nothing. There were two ladies sitting by me, and one said
to the other, 'There are Madame de Serizy and that handsome Lucien de
Rubempre.'--I looked at the couple that the two ladies were watching.
'Oh, my dear!' said the other, 'some women are very lucky! That woman
is allowed to do everything she pleases just because she was a de
Ronquerolles, and her husband is in power.'--'But, my dear,' said the
other lady, 'Lucien costs her very dear.'--What did she mean, papa?"
"Just nonsense, such as people of fashion will talk," replied Peyrade,
with an air of perfect candor. "Perhaps they were alluding to
"Well, in short, you asked me a question, so I answer you. If you want
me to marry, find me a husband just like that young man."
"Silly child!" replied her father. "The fact that a man is handsome is
not always a sign of goodness. Young men gifted with an attractive
appearance meet with no obstacles at the beginning of life, so they
make no use of any talent; they are corrupted by the advances made to
them by society, and they have to pay interest later for their
attractiveness!--What I should like for you is what the middle
classes, the rich, and the fools leave unholpen and unprotected----"
"An unrecognized man of talent. But, there, child; I have it in my
power to hunt through every garret in Paris, and carry out your
programme by offering for your affection a man as handsome as the
young scamp you speak of; but a man of promise, with a future before
him destined to glory and fortune.--By the way, I was forgetting. I
must have a whole flock of nephews, and among them there must be one
worthy of you!--I will write, or get some one to write to Provence."
A strange coincidence! At this moment a young man, half-dead of hunger
and fatigue, who had come on foot from the department of Vaucluse--a
nephew of Pere Canquoelle's in search of his uncle, was entering Paris
through the Barriere de l'Italie. In the day-dreams of the family,
ignorant of this uncle's fate, Peyrade had supplied the text for many
hopes; he was supposed to have returned from India with millions!
Stimulated by these fireside romances, this grand-nephew, named
Theodore, had started on a voyage round the world in quest of this
After enjoying for some hours the joys of paternity, Peyrade, his hair
washed and dyed--for his powder was a disguise--dressed in a stout,
coarse, blue frock-coat buttoned up to the chin, and a black cloak,
shod in strong, thick-soled boots, furnished himself with a private
card and walked slowly along the Avenue Gabriel, where Contenson,
dressed as an old costermonger woman, met him in front of the gardens
of the Elysee-Bourbon.
"Monsieur de Saint-Germain," said Contenson, giving his old chief the
name he was officially known by, "you have put me in the way of making
five hundred pieces (francs); but what I came here for was to tell you
that that damned Baron, before he gave me the shiners, had been to ask
questions at the house (the Prefecture of Police)."
"I shall want you, no doubt," replied Peyrade. "Look up numbers 7, 10,
and 21; we can employ those men without any one finding it out, either
at the Police Ministry or at the Prefecture."
Contenson went back to a post near the carriage in which Monsieur de
Nucingen was waiting for Peyrade.
"I am Monsieur de Saint-Germain," said Peyrade to the Baron, raising
himself to look over the carriage door.
"Ver' goot; get in mit me," replied the Baron, ordering the coachman
to go on slowly to the Arc de l'Etoile.
"You have been to the Prefecture of Police, Monsieur le Baron? That
was not fair. Might I ask what you said to M. le Prefet, and what he
said in reply?" asked Peyrade.
"Before I should gif fife hundert francs to a filain like Contenson, I
vant to know if he had earned dem. I simply said to the Prefet of
Police dat I vant to employ ein agent named Peyrate to go abroat in a
delicate matter, an' should I trust him--unlimited!--The Prefet telt
me you vas a very clefer man an' ver' honest man. An' dat vas
"And now that you have learned my true name, Monsieur le Baron, will
you tell me what it is you want?"
When the Baron had given a long and copious explanation, in his
hideous Polish-Jew dialect, of his meeting with Esther and the cry of
the man behind the carriage, and his vain efforts, he ended by
relating what had occurred at his house the night before, Lucien's
involuntary smile, and the opinion expressed by Bianchon and some
other young dandies that there must be some acquaintance between him
and the unknown fair.
"Listen to me, Monsieur le Baron; you must, in the first instance,
place ten thousand francs in my hands, on account for expenses; for,
to you, this is a matter of life or death; and as your life is a
business-manufactory, nothing must be left undone to find this woman
for you. Oh, you are caught!----"
"Ja, I am caught!"
"If more money is wanted, Baron, I will let you know; put your trust
in me," said Peyrade. "I am not a spy, as you perhaps imagine. In 1807
I was Commissioner-General of Police at Antwerp; and now that Louis
XVIII. is dead, I may tell you in confidence that for seven years I
was the chief of his counter-police. So there is no beating me down.
You must understand, Monsieur le Baron, that it is impossible to make
any estimate of the cost of each man's conscience before going into
the details of such an affair. Be quite easy; I shall succeed. Do not
fancy that you can satisfy me with a sum of money; I want something
for my reward----"
"So long as dat is not a kingtom!" said the Baron.
"It is less than nothing to you."
"Den I am your man."
"You know the Kellers?"
"Oh! ver' well."
"Francois Keller is the Comte de Gondreville's son-in-law, and the
Comte de Gondreville and his son-in-law dined with you yesterday."
"Who der teufel tolt you dat?" cried the Baron. "Dat vill be Georche;
he is always a gossip." Peyrade smiled, and the banker at once formed
strange suspicions of his man-servant.
"The Comte de Gondreville is quite in a position to obtain me a place
I covet at the Prefecture of Police; within forty-eight hours the
prefet will have notice that such a place is to be created," said
Peyrade in continuation. "Ask for it for me; get the Comte de
Gondreville to interest himself in the matter with some degree of
warmth--and you will thus repay me for the service I am about to do
you. I ask your word only; for, if you fail me, sooner or later you
will curse the day you were born--you have Peyrade's word for that."
"I gif you mein vort of honor to do vat is possible."
"If I do no more for you than is possible, it will not be enough."
"Vell, vell, I vill act qvite frankly."
"Frankly--that is all I ask," said Peyrade, "and frankness is the only
thing at all new that you and I can offer to each other."
"Frankly," echoed the Baron. "Vere shall I put you down."
"At the corner of the Pont Louis XVI."
"To the Pont de la Chambre," said the Baron to the footman at the
"Then I am to get dat unknown person," said the Baron to himself as he
"What a queer business!" thought Peyrade, going back on foot to the
Palais-Royal, where he intended trying to multiply his ten thousand
francs by three, to make a little fortune for Lydie. "Here I am
required to look into the private concerns of a very young man who has
bewitched my little girl by a glance. He is, I suppose, one of those
men who have an eye for a woman," said he to himself, using an
expression of a language of his own, in which his observations, or
Corentin's, were summed up in words that were anything rather than
classical, but, for that very reason, energetic and picturesque.
The Baron de Nucingen, when he went in, was an altered man; he
astonished his household and his wife by showing them a face full of
life and color, so cheerful did he feel.
"Our shareholders had better look out for themselves," said du Tillet
They were all at tea, in Delphine de Nucingen's boudoir, having come
in from the opera.
"Ja," said the Baron, smiling; "I feel ver' much dat I shall do some
"Then you have seen the fair being?" asked Madame de Nucingen.
"No," said he; "I have only hoped to see her."
"Do men ever love their wives so?" cried Madame de Nucingen, feeling,
or affecting to feel, a little jealous.
"When you have got her, you must ask us to sup with her," said du
Tillet to the Baron, "for I am very curious to study the creature who
has made you so young as you are."
"She is a cheff-d'oeufre of creation!" replied the old banker.
"He will be swindled like a boy," said Rastignac in Delphine's ear.
"Pooh! he makes quite enough money to----"
"To give a little back, I suppose," said du Tillet, interrupting the
Nucingen was walking up and down the room as if his legs had the
"Now is your time to make him pay your fresh debts," said Rastignac in
the Baroness' ear.
At this very moment Carlos was leaving the Rue Taitbout full of hope;
he had been there to give some last advice to Europe, who was to play
the principal part in the farce devised to take in the Baron de
Nucingen. He was accompanied as far as the Boulevard by Lucien, who
was not at all easy at finding this demon so perfectly disguised that
even he had only recognized him by his voice.
"Where the devil did you find a handsomer woman than Esther?" he asked
his evil genius.
"My boy, there is no such thing to be found in Paris. Such a
complexion is not made in France."
"I assure you, I am still quite amazed. Venus Callipyge has not such a
figure. A man would lose his soul for her. But where did she spring
"She was the handsomest girl in London. Drunk with gin, she killed her
lover in a fit of jealousy. The lover was a wretch of whom the London
police are well quit, and this woman was packed off to Paris for a
time to let the matter blow over. The hussy was well brought up--the
daughter of a clergyman. She speaks French as if it were her mother
tongue. She does not know, and never will know, why she is here. She
was told that if you took a fancy to her she might fleece you of
millions, but that you were as jealous as a tiger, and she was told
how Esther lived."
"But supposing Nucingen should prefer her to Esther?"
"Ah, it is out at last!" cried Carlos. "You dread now lest what
dismayed you yesterday should not take place after all! Be quite easy.
That fair and fair-haired girl has blue eyes; she is the antipodes of
the beautiful Jewess, and only such eyes as Esther's could ever stir a
man so rotten as Nucingen. What the devil! you could not hide an ugly
woman. When this puppet has played her part, I will send her off in
safe custody to Rome or to Madrid, where she will be the rage."
"If we have her only for a short time," said Lucien, "I will go back
"Go, my boy, amuse yourself. You will be a day older to-morrow. For my
part, I must wait for some one whom I have instructed to learn what is
going on at the Baron de Nucingen's."
"His valet's mistress; for, after all, we must keep ourselves informed
at every moment of what is going on in the enemy's camp."
At midnight, Paccard, Esther's tall chasseur, met Carlos on the Pont
des Arts, the most favorable spot in all Paris for saying a few words
which no one must overhear. All the time they talked the servant kept
an eye on one side, while his master looked out on the other.
"The Baron went to the Prefecture of Police this morning between four
and five," said the man, "and he boasted this evening that he should
find the woman he saw in the Bois de Vincennes--he had been promised
"We are watched!" said Carlos. "By whom?"
"They have already employed Louchard the bailiff."
"That would be child's play," replied Carlos. "We need fear nothing
but the guardians of public safety, the criminal police; and so long
as that is not set in motion, we can go on!"
"That is not all."
"Our chums of the hulks.--I saw Lapouraille yesterday---- He has
choked off a married couple, and has bagged ten thousand five-franc
"He will be nabbed," said Jacques Collin. "That is the Rue Boucher
"What is the order of the day?" said Paccard, with the respectful
demeanor a marshal must have assumed when taking his orders from Louis
"You must get out every evening at ten o'clock," replied Herrera.
"Make your way pretty briskly to the Bois de Vincennes, the Bois de
Meudon, and de Ville-d'Avray. If any one should follow you, let them
do it; be free of speech, chatty, open to a bribe. Talk about
Rubempre's jealousy and his mad passion for madame, saying that he
would not on any account have it known that he had a mistress of that
"Enough.--Must I have any weapons?"
"Never!" exclaimed Carlos vehemently. "A weapon? Of what use would
that be? To get us into a scrape. Do not under any circumstances use
your hunting-knife. When you know that you can break the strongest
man's legs by the trick I showed you--when you can hold your own
against three armed warders, feeling quite sure that you can account
for two of them before they have got out flint and steel, what is
there to be afraid of? Have not you your cane?"
"To be sure," said the man.
Paccard, nicknamed The Old Guard, Old Wide-Awake, or The Right Man--a
man with legs of iron, arms of steel, Italian whiskers, hair like an
artist's, a beard like a sapper's, and a face as colorless and
immovable as Contenson's, kept his spirit to himself, and rejoiced in
a sort of drum-major appearance which disarmed suspicion. A fugitive
from Poissy or Melun has no such serious self-consciousness and belief
in his own merit. As Giafar to the Haroun el Rasheed of the hulks, he
served him with the friendly admiration which Peyrade felt for
This huge fellow, with a small body in proportion to his legs, flat-
chested, and lean of limb, stalked solemnly about on his two long
pins. Whenever his right leg moved, his right eye took in everything
around him with the placid swiftness peculiar to thieves and spies.
The left eye followed the right eye's example. Wiry, nimble, ready for
anything at any time, but for a weakness of Dutch courage Paccard
would have been perfect, Jacques Collin used to say, so completely was
he endowed with the talents indispensable to a man at war with
society; but the master had succeeded in persuading his slave to drink
only in the evening. On going home at night, Paccard tippled the
liquid gold poured into small glasses out of a pot-bellied stone jar
"We will make them open their eyes," said Paccard, putting on his
grand hat and feathers after bowing to Carlos, whom he called his
These were the events which had led three men, so clever, each in his
way, as Jacques Collin, Peyrade, and Corentin, to a hand-to-hand fight
on the same ground, each exerting his talents in a struggle for his
own passions or interests. It was one of those obscure but terrible
conflicts on which are expended in marches and countermarches, in
strategy, skill, hatred, and vexation, the powers that might make a
fine fortune. Men and means were kept absolutely secret by Peyarde,
seconded in this business by his friend Corentin--a business they
thought but a trifle. And so, as to them, history is silent, as it is
on the true causes of many revolutions.
But this was the result.
Five days after Monsieur de Nucingen's interview with Peyrade in the
Champs Elysees, a man of about fifty called in the morning, stepping
out of a handsome cab, and flinging the reins to his servant. He had
the dead-white complexion which a life in the "world" gives to
diplomates, was dressed in blue cloth, and had a general air of
fashion--almost that of a Minister of State.
He inquired of the servant who sat on a bench on the steps whether the
Baron de Nucingen were at home; and the man respectfully threw open
the splendid plate-glass doors.
"Your name, sir?" said the footman.
"Tell the Baron that I have come from the Avenue Gabriel," said
Corentin. "If anybody is with him, be sure not to say so too loud, or
you will find yourself out of place!"
A minute later the man came back and led Corentin by the back passages
to the Baron's private room.
Corentin and the banker exchanged impenetrable glances, and both bowed
"Monsieur le Baron," said Corentin, "I come in the name of
"Ver' gott!" said the Baron, fastening the bolts of both doors.
"Monsieur de Rubempre's mistress lives in the Rue Taitbout, in the
apartment formerly occupied by Mademoiselle de Bellefeuille, M. de
Granville's ex-mistress--the Attorney-General----"
"Vat, so near to me?" exclaimed the Baron. "Dat is ver' strange."
"I can quite understand your being crazy about that splendid creature;
it was a pleasure to me to look at her," replied Corentin. "Lucien is
so jealous of the girl that he never allows her to be seen; and she
loves him devotedly; for in four years, since she succeeded la
Bellefeuille in those rooms, inheriting her furniture and her
profession, neither the neighbors, nor the porter, nor the other
tenants in the house have ever set eyes on her. My lady never stirs
out but at night. When she sets out, the blinds of the carriage are
pulled down, and she is closely veiled.
"Lucien has other reasons besides jealousy for concealing this woman.
He is to be married to Clotilde de Grandlieu, and he is at this moment
Madame de Serizy's favorite fancy. He naturally wishes to keep a hold
on his fashionable mistress and on his promised bride. So, you are
master of the position, for Lucien will sacrifice his pleasure to his
interests and his vanity. You are rich; this is probably your last
chance of happiness; be liberal. You can gain your end through her
waiting-maid. Give the slut ten thousand francs; she will hide you in
her mistress' bedroom. It must be quite worth that to you."
No figure of speech could describe the short, precise tone of finality
in which Corentin spoke; the Baron could not fail to observe it, and
his face expressed his astonishment--an expression he had long
expunged from his impenetrable features.
"I have also to ask you for five thousand francs for my friend
Peyrade, who has dropped five of your thousand-franc notes--a tiresome
accident," Corentin went on, in a lordly tone of command. "Peyrade
knows his Paris too well to spend money in advertising, and he trusts
entirely to you. But this is not the most important point," added
Corentin, checking himself in such a way as to make the request for
money seem quite a trifle. "If you do not want to end your days
miserably, get the place for Peyrade that he asked you to procure for
him--and it is a thing you can easily do. The Chief of the General
Police must have had notice of the matter yesterday. All that is
needed is to get Gondreville to speak to the Prefet of Police.--Very
well, just say to Malin, Comte de Gondreville, that it is to oblige
one of the men who relieved him of MM. de Simeuse, and he will work
"Here den, mensieur," said the Baron, taking out five thousand-franc
notes and handing them to Corentin.
"The waiting-maid is great friends with a tall chasseur named Paccard,
living in the Rue de Provence, over a carriage-builder's; he goes out
as heyduque to persons who give themselves princely airs. You can get
at Madame van Bogseck's woman through Paccard, a brawny Piemontese,
who has a liking for vermouth."
This information, gracefully thrown in as a postscript, was evidently
the return for the five thousand francs. The Baron was trying to guess
Corentin's place in life, for he quite understood that the man was
rather a master of spies than a spy himself; but Corentin remained to
him as mysterious as an inscription is to an archaeologist when three-
quarters of the letters are missing.
"Vat is dat maid called?" he asked.
"Eugenie," replied Corentin, who bowed and withdrew.
The Baron, in a transport of joy, left his business for the day, shut
up his office, and went up to his rooms in the happy frame of mind of
a young man of twenty looking forward to his first meeting with his
The Baron took all the thousand-franc notes out of his private cash-
box--a sum sufficient to make the whole village happy, fifty-five
thousand francs--and stuffed them into the pocket of his coat. But a
millionaire's lavishness can only be compared with his eagerness for
gain. As soon as a whim or a passion is to be gratified, money is
dross to a Croesus; in fact, he finds it harder to have whims than
gold. A keen pleasure is the rarest thing in these satiated lives,
full of the excitement that comes of great strokes of speculation, in
which these dried-up hearts have burned themselves out.
For instance, one of the richest capitalists in Paris one day met an
extremely pretty little working-girl. Her mother was with her, but the
girl had taken the arm of a young fellow in very doubtful finery, with
a very smart swagger. The millionaire fell in love with the girl at
first sight; he followed her home, he went in; he heard all her story,
a record of alternations of dancing at Mabille and days of starvation,
of play-going and hard work; he took an interest in it, and left five
thousand-franc notes under a five-franc piece--an act of generosity
abused. Next day a famous upholsterer, Braschon, came to take the
damsel's orders, furnished rooms that she had chosen, and laid out
twenty thousand francs. She gave herself up to the wildest hopes,
dressed her mother to match, and flattered herself she would find a
place for her ex-lover in an insurance office. She waited--a day, two
days--then a week, two weeks. She thought herself bound to be
faithful; she got into debt. The capitalist, called away to Holland,
had forgotten the girl; he never went once to the Paradise where he
had placed her, and from which she fell as low as it is possible to
fall even in Paris.
Nucingen did not gamble, Nucingen did not patronize the Arts, Nucingen
had no hobby; thus he flung himself into his passion for Esther with a
headlong blindness, on which Carlos Herrera had confidently counted.
After his breakfast, the Baron sent for Georges, his body-servant, and
desired him to go to the Rue Taitbout and ask Mademoiselle Eugenie,
Madame van Bogseck's maid, to come to his office on a matter of
"You shall look out for her," he added, "an' make her valk up to my
room, and tell her I shall make her fortune."
Georges had the greatest difficulty in persuading Europe-Eugenie to
"Madame never lets me go out," said she; "I might lose my place," and
so forth; and Georges sang her praises loudly to the Baron, who gave
him ten louis.
"If madame goes out without her this evening," said Georges to his
master, whose eyes glowed like carbuncles, "she will be here by ten
"Goot. You shall come to dress me at nine o'clock--and do my hair. I
shall look so goot as possible. I belief I shall really see dat
mistress--or money is not money any more."
The Baron spent an hour, from noon till one, in dyeing his hair and
whiskers. At nine in the evening, having taken a bath before dinner,
he made a toilet worthy of a bridegroom and scented himself--a perfect
Adonis. Madame de Nucingen, informed of this metamorphosis, gave
herself the treat of inspecting her husband.
"Good heavens!" cried she, "what a ridiculous figure! Do, at least,
put on a black satin stock instead of that white neckcloth which makes
your whiskers look so black; besides, it is so 'Empire,' quite the old
fogy. You look like some super-annuated parliamentary counsel. And
take off these diamond buttons; they are worth a hundred thousand
francs apiece--that slut will ask you for them, and you will not be
able to refuse her; and if a baggage is to have them, I may as well
wear them as earrings."
The unhappy banker, struck by the wisdom of his wife's reflections,
"Ridikilous, ridikilous! I hafe never telt you dat you shall be
ridikilous when you dressed yourself so smart to see your little
Mensieur de Rastignac!"
"I should hope that you never saw me make myself ridiculous. Am I the
woman to make such blunders in the first syllable of my dress? Come,
turn about. Button your coat up to the neck, all but the two top
buttons, as the Duc de Maufrigneuse does. In short, try to look
"Monsieur," said Georges, "here is Mademoiselle Eugenie."
"Adie, motame," said the banker, and he escorted his wife as far as
her own rooms, to make sure that she should not overhear their
On his return, he took Europe by the hand and led her into his room
with a sort of ironical respect.
"Vell, my chilt, you are a happy creature, for you are de maid of dat
most beautiful voman in de vorlt. And your fortune shall be made if
you vill talk to her for me and in mine interests."
"I would not do such a thing for ten thousand francs!" exclaimed
Europe. "I would have you to know, Monsieur le Baron, that I am an
"Oh yes. I expect to pay dear for your honesty. In business dat is vat
ve call curiosity."
"And that is not everything," Europe went on. "If you should not take
madame's fancy--and that is on the cards--she would be angry, and I am
done for!--and my place is worth a thousand francs a year."
"De capital to make ein tousant franc is twenty tousand franc; and if
I shall gif you dat, you shall not lose noting."
"Well, to be sure, if that is the tone you take about it, my worthy
old fellow," said Europe, "that is quite another story.--Where is the
"Here," replied the Baron, holding up the banknotes, one at a time.
He noted the flash struck by each in turn from Europe's eyes,
betraying the greed he had counted on.
"That pays for my place, but how about my principles, my conscience?"
said Europe, cocking her crafty little nose and giving the Baron a
"Your conscience shall not be pait for so much as your place; but I
shall say fife tousand franc more," said he adding five thousand-franc
"No, no. Twenty thousand for my conscience, and five thousand for my
place if I lose it----"
"Yust vat you please," said he, adding the five notes. "But to earn
dem you shall hite me in your lady's room by night ven she shall be
"If you swear never to tell who let you in, I agree. But I warn you of
one thing.--Madame is as strong as a Turk, she is madly in love with
Monsieur de Rubempre, and if you paid a million francs in banknotes
she would never be unfaithful to him. It is very silly, but that is
her way when she is in love; she is worse than an honest woman, I tell
you! When she goes out for a drive in the woods at night, monsieur
very seldom stays at home. She is gone out this evening, so I can hide
you in my room. If madame comes in alone, I will fetch you; you can
wait in the drawing-room. I will not lock the door into her room, and
then--well, the rest is your concern--so be ready."
"I shall pay you the twenty-fife tousand francs in dat drawing-room.--
You gife--I gife!"
"Indeed!" said Europe, "you are so confiding as all that? On my word!"
"Oh, you will hafe your chance to fleece me yet. We shall be friends."
"Well, then, be in the Rue Taitbout at midnight; but bring thirty
thousand francs about you. A waiting-woman's honesty, like a hackney
cab, is much dearer after midnight."
"It shall be more prudent if I gif you a cheque on my bank----"
"No, no" said Europe. "Notes, or the bargain is off."
So at one in the morning the Baron de Nucingen, hidden in the garret
where Europe slept, was suffering all the anxieties of a man who hopes
to triumph. His blood seemed to him to be tingling in his toe-nails,
and his head ready to burst like an overheated steam engine.
"I had more dan one hundert tousand crowns' vort of enjoyment--in my
mind," he said to du Tillet when telling him the story.
He listened to every little noise in the street, and at two in the
morning he heard his mistress' carriage far away on the boulevard. His
heart beat vehemently under his silk waistcoat as the gate turned on
its hinges. He was about to behold the heavenly, the glowing face of
his Esther!--the clatter of the carriage-step and the slam of the door
struck upon his heart. He was more agitated in expectation of this
supreme moment than he would have been if his fortune had been at
"Ah, ha!" cried he, "dis is vat I call to lif--it is too much to lif;
I shall be incapable of everything."
"Madame is alone; come down," said Europe, looking in. "Above all,
make no noise, great elephant."
"Great Elephant!" he repeated, laughing, and walking as if he trod on
Europe led the way, carrying a candle.
"Here--count dem!" said the Baron when he reached the drawing-room,
holding out the notes to Europe.
Europe took the thirty notes very gravely and left the room, locking
the banker in.
Nucingen went straight to the bedroom, where he found the handsome
"Is that you, Lucien?" said she.
"Nein, my peauty," said Nucingen, but he said no more.
He stood speechless on seeing a woman the very antipodes to Esther;
fair hair where he had seen black, slenderness where he had admired a
powerful frame! A soft English evening where he had looked for the
bright sun of Arabia.
"Heyday! were have you come from?--who are you?--what do you want?"
cried the Englishwoman, pulling the bell, which made no sound.
"The bells dey are in cotton-vool, but hafe not any fear--I shall go
'vay," said he. "Dat is dirty tousant franc I hafe tron in de vater.
Are you dat mistress of Mensieur Lucien de Rubempre?"
"Rather, my son," said the lady, who spoke French well, "But vat vas
you?" she went on, mimicking Nucingen's accent.
"Ein man vat is ver' much took in," replied he lamentably.
"Is a man took in ven he finds a pretty voman?" asked she, with a
"Permit me to sent you to-morrow some chewels as a soufenir of de
Baron von Nucingen."
"Don't know him!" said she, laughing like a crazy creature. "But the
chewels will be welcome, my fat burglar friend."
"You shall know him. Goot night, motame. You are a tidbit for ein
king; but I am only a poor banker more dan sixty year olt, and you
hafe made me feel vat power the voman I lofe hafe ofer me since your
difine beauty hafe not make me forget her."
"Vell, dat is ver' pretty vat you say," replied the Englishwoman.
"It is not so pretty vat she is dat I say it to."
"You spoke of thirty thousand francs--to whom did you give them?"
"To dat hussy, your maid----"
The Englishwoman called Europe, who was not far off.
"Oh!" shrieked Europe, "a man in madame's room, and he is not monsieur
"Did he give you thirty thousand francs to let him in?"
"No, madame, for we are not worth it, the pair of us."
And Europe set to screaming "Thief" so determinedly, that the banker
made for the door in a fright, and Europe, tripping him up, rolled him
down the stairs.
"Old wretch!" cried she, "you would tell tales to my mistress! Thief!
thief! stop thief!"
The enamored Baron, in despair, succeeded in getting unhurt to his
carriage, which he had left on the boulevard; but he was now at his
wits' end as to whom to apply to.
"And pray, madame, did you think to get my earnings out of me?" said
Europe, coming back like a fury to the lady's room.
"I know nothing of French customs," said the Englishwoman.
"But one word from me to-morrow to monsieur, and you, madame, would
find yourself in the streets," retorted Europe insolently.
"Dat dam' maid!" said the Baron to Georges, who naturally asked his
master if all had gone well, "hafe do me out of dirty tousant franc--
but it vas my own fault, my own great fault----"
"And so monsieur's dress was all wasted. The deuce is in it, I should
advise you, Monsieur le Baron, not to have taken your tonic for
"Georches, I shall be dying of despair. I hafe cold--I hafe ice on
mein heart--no more of Esther, my good friend."
Georges was always the Baron's friend when matters were serious.
Two days after this scene, which Europe related far more amusingly
than it can be written, because she told it with much mimicry, Carlos
and Lucien were breakfasting tete-a-tete.
"My dear boy, neither the police nor anybody else must be allowed to
poke a nose into our concerns," said Herrera in a low voice, as he
lighted his cigar from Lucien's. "It would not agree with us. I have
hit on a plan, daring but effectual, to keep our Baron and his agents
quiet. You must go to see Madame de Serizy, and make yourself very
agreeable to her. Tell her, in the course of conversation, that to
oblige Rastignac, who has long been sick of Madame de Nucingen, you
have consented to play fence for him to conceal a mistress. Monsieur
de Nucingen, desperately in love with this woman Rastignac keeps
hidden--that will make her laugh--has taken it into his head to set
the police to keep an eye on you--on you, who are innocent of all his
tricks, and whose interest with the Grandlieus may be seriously
compromised. Then you must beg the Countess to secure her husband's
support, for he is a Minister of State, to carry you to the Prefecture
"When you have got there, face to face with the Prefet, make your
complaint, but as a man of political consequence, who will sooner or
later be one of the motor powers of the huge machine of government.
You will speak of the police as a statesman should, admiring
everything, the Prefet included. The very best machines make oil-
stains or splutter. Do not be angry till the right moment. You have no
sort of grudge against Monsieur le Prefet, but persuade him to keep a
sharp lookout on his people, and pity him for having to blow them up.
The quieter and more gentlemanly you are, the more terrible will the
Prefet be to his men. Then we shall be left in peace, and we may send
for Esther back, for she must be belling like the does in the forest."
The Prefet at that time was a retired magistrate. Retired magistrates
make far too young Prefets. Partisans of the right, riding the high
horse on points of law, they are not light-handed in arbitary action
such as critical circumstances often require; cases in which the
Prefet should be as prompt as a fireman called to a conflagration. So,
face to face with the Vice-President of the Council of State, the
Prefet confessed to more faults than the police really has, deplored
its abuses, and presently was able to recollect the visit paid to him
by the Baron de Nucingen and his inquiries as to Peyrade. The Prefet,
while promising to check the rash zeal of his agents, thanked Lucien
for having come straight to him, promised secrecy, and affected to
understand the intrigue.
A few fine speeches about personal liberty and the sacredness of home
life were bandied between the Prefet and the Minister; Monsieur de
Serizy observing in conclusion that though the high interests of the
kingdom sometimes necessitated illegal action in secret, crime began
when these State measures were applied to private cases.
Next day, just as Peyrade was going to his beloved Cafe David, where
he enjoyed watching the bourgeois eat, as an artist watches flowers
open, a gendarme in private clothes spoke to him in the street.
"I was going to fetch you," said he in his ear. "I have orders to take
you to the Prefecture."
Peyrade called a hackney cab, and got in without saying a single word,
followed by the gendarme.
The Prefet treated Peyrade as though he were the lowest warder on the
hulks, walking to and fro in a side path of the garden of the
Prefecture, which at that time was on the Quai des Orfevres.
"It is not without good reason, monsieur, that since 1830 you have
been kept out of office. Do not you know to what risk you expose us,
not to mention yourself?"
The lecture ended in a thunderstroke. The Prefet sternly informed poor
Peyrade that not only would his yearly allowance be cut off, but that
he himself would be narrowly watched. The old man took the shock with
an air of perfect calm. Nothing can be more rigidly expressionless
than a man struck by lightning. Peyrade had lost all his stake in the
game. He had counted on getting an appointment, and he found himself
bereft of everything but the alms bestowed by his friend Corentin.
"I have been the Prefet of Police myself; I think you perfectly
right," said the old man quietly to the functionary who stood before
him in his judicial majesty, and who answered with a significant
"But allow me, without any attempt to justify myself, to point out
that you do not know me at all," Peyrade went on, with a keen glance
at the Prefet. "Your language is either too severe to a man who has
been the head of the police in Holland, or not severe enough for a
mere spy. But, Monsieur le Prefet," Peyrade added after a pause, while
the other kept silence, "bear in mind what I now have the honor to
telling you: I have no intention of interfering with your police nor
of attempting to justify myself, but you will presently discover that
there is some one in this business who is being deceived; at this
moment it is your humble servant; by and by you will say, 'It was
And he bowed to the chief, who sat passive to conceal his amazement.
Peyrade returned home, his legs and arms feeling broken, and full of
cold fury with the Baron. Nobody but that burly banker could have
betrayed a secret contained in the minds of Contenson, Peyrade, and
Corentin. The old man accused the banker of wishing to avoid paying
now that he had gained his end. A single interview had been enough to
enable him to read the astuteness of this most astute of bankers.
"He tries to compound with every one, even with us; but I will be
revenged," thought the old fellow. "I have never asked a favor of
Corentin; I will ask him now to help me to be revenged on that
imbecile money-box. Curse the Baron!--Well, you will know the stuff I
am made of one fine morning when you find your daughter disgraced!--
But does he love his daughter, I wonder?"
By the evening of the day when this catastrophe had upset the old
man's hopes he had aged by ten years. As he talked to his friend
Corentin, he mingled his lamentations with tears wrung from him by the
thought of the melancholy prospects he must bequeath to his daughter,
his idol, his treasure, his peace-offering to God.
"We will follow the matter up," said Corentin. "First of all, we must
be sure that it was the Baron who peached. Were we wise in enlisting
Gondreville's support? That old rascal owes us too much not to be
anxious to swamp us; indeed, I am keeping an eye on his son-in-law
Keller, a simpleton in politics, and quite capable of meddling in some
conspiracy to overthrow the elder Branch to the advantage of the
younger.--I shall know to-morrow what is going on at Nucingen's,
whether he has seen his beloved, and to whom we owe this sharp pull
up.--Do not be out of heart. In the first place, the Prefet will not
hold his appointment much longer; the times are big with revolution,
and revolutions make good fishing for us."
A peculiar whistle was just then heard in the street.
"That is Contenson," said Peyrade, who put a light in the window, "and
he has something to say that concerns me."
A minute later the faithful Contenson appeared in the presence of the
two gnomes of the police, whom he revered as though they were two
"What is up?" asked Corentin.
"A new thing! I was coming out of 113, where I lost everything, when
whom do I spy under the gallery? Georges! The man has been dismissed
by the Baron, who suspects him of treachery."
"That is the effect of a smile I gave him," said Peyrade.
"Bah! when I think of all the mischief I have known caused by smiles!"
"To say nothing of that caused by a whip-lash," said Peyrade,
referring to the Simeuse case. (In Une Tenebreuse affaire.) "But come,
Contenson, what is going on?"
"This is what is going on," said Contenson. "I made Georges blab by
getting him to treat me to an endless series of liqueurs of every
color--I left him tipsy; I must be as full as a still myself!--Our
Baron has been to the Rue Taitbout, crammed with Pastilles du Serail.
There he found the fair one you know of; but--a good joke! The English
beauty is not his fair unknown!--And he has spent thirty thousand
francs to bribe the lady's-maid, a piece of folly!
"That creature thinks itself a great man because it does mean things
with great capital. Reverse the proposition, and you have the problem
of which a man of genius is the solution.--The Baron came home in a
pitiable condition. Next day Georges, to get his finger in the pie,
said to his master:
" 'Why, Monsieur le Baron, do you employ such blackguards? If you
would only trust to me, I would find the unknown lady, for your
description of her is enough. I shall turn Paris upside down.'--'Go
ahead,' says the Baron; 'I shall reward you handsomely!'-- Georges
told me the whole story with the most absurd details. But--man is born
to be rained upon!
"Next day the Baron received an anonymous letter something to this
effect: 'Monsieur de Nucingen is dying of love for an unknown lady; he
has already spent a great deal utterly in vain; if he will repair at
midnight to the end of the Neuilly Bridge, and get into the carriage
behind which the chasseur he saw at Vincennes will be standing,
allowing himself to be blindfolded, he will see the woman he loves. As
his wealth may lead him to suspect the intentions of persons who
proceed in such a fashion, he may bring, as an escort, his faithful
Georges. And there will be nobody in the carriage.'--Off the Baron
goes, taking Georges with him, but telling him nothing. They both
submit to have their eyes bound up and their heads wrapped in veils;
the Baron recognizes the man-servant.
"Two hours later, the carriage, going at the pace of Louis XVIII.--God
rest his soul! He knew what was meant by the police, he did!--pulled
up in the middle of a wood. The Baron had the handkerchief off, and
saw, in a carriage standing still, his adored fair--when, whiff! she
vanished. And the carriage, at the same lively pace, brought him back
to the Neuilly Bridge, where he found his own.
"Some one had slipped into Georges' hand a note to this effect: 'How
many banknotes will the Baron part with to be put into communication
with his unknown fair? Georges handed this to his master; and the
Baron, never doubting that Georges was in collusion with me or with
you, Monsieur Peyrade, to drive a hard bargain, turned him out of the
house. What a fool that banker is! He ought not to have sent away
Georges before he had known the unknown!"
"Then Georges saw the woman?" said Corentin.
"Yes," replied Contenson.
"Well," cried Peyrade, "and what is she like?"
"Oh," said Contenson, "he said but one word--'A sun of loveliness.' "
"We are being tricked by some rascals who beat us at the game," said
Peyrade. "Those villains mean to sell their woman very dear to the
"Ja, mein Herr," said Contenson. "And so, when I heard you got slapped
in the face at the Prefecture, I made Georges blab."
"I should like very much to know who it is that has stolen a march on
me," said Peyrade. "We would measure our spurs!"
"We must play eavesdropper," said Contenson.
"He is right," said Peyrade. "We must get into chinks to listen, and
"We will study that side of the subject," cried Corentin. "For the
present, I am out of work. You, Peyrade, be a very good boy. We must
always obey Monsieur le Prefet!"
"Monsieur de Nucingen wants bleeding," said Contenson; "he has too
many banknotes in his veins."
"But it was Lydie's marriage-portion I looked for there!" said
Peyrade, in a whisper to Corentin.
"Now, come along, Contenson, let us be off, and leave our daddy to
"Monsieur," said Contenson to Corentin on the doorstep, "what a queer
piece of brokerage our good friend was planning! Heh!--What, marry a
daughter with the price of----Ah, ha! It would make a pretty little
play, and very moral too, entitled 'A Girl's Dower.' "
"You are highly organized animals, indeed," replied Corentin. "What
ears you have! Certainly Social Nature arms all her species with the
qualities needed for the duties she expects of them! Society is second
"That is a highly philosophical view to take," cried Contenson. "A
professor would work it up into a system."
"Let us find out all we can," replied Corentin with a smile, as he
made his way down the street with the spy, "as to what goes on at
Monsieur de Nucingen's with regard to this girl--the main facts; never
mind the details----"
"Just watch to see if his chimneys are smoking!" said Contenson.
"Such a man as the Baron de Nucingen cannot be happy incognito,"
replied Corentin. "And besides, we for whom men are but cards, ought
never to be tricked by them."
"By gad! it would be the condemned jail-bird amusing himself by
cutting the executioner's throat."
"You always have something droll to say," replied Corentin, with a dim
smile, that faintly wrinkled his set white face.
This business was exceedingly important in itself, apart from its
consequences. If it were not the Baron who had betrayed Peyrade, who
could have had any interest in seeing the Prefet of Police? From
Corentin's point of view it seemed suspicious. Were there any traitors
among his men? And as he went to bed, he wondered what Peyrade, too,
"Who can have gone to complain to the Prefet? Whom does the woman
And thus, without knowing each other, Jacques Collin, Peyrade, and
Corentin were converging to a common point; while the unhappy Esther,
Nucingen, and Lucien were inevitably entangled in the struggle which
had already begun, and of which the point of pride, peculiar to police
agents, was making a war to the death.
Thanks to Europe's cleverness, the more pressing half of the sixty
thousand francs of debt owed by Esther and Lucien was paid off. The
creditors did not even lose confidence. Lucien and his evil genius
could breathe for a moment. Like some pool, they could start again
along the edge of the precipice where the strong man was guiding the
weak man to the gibbet or to fortune.
"We are staking now," said Carlos to his puppet, "to win or lose all.
But, happily, the cards are beveled, and the punters young."
For some time Lucien, by his terrible Mentor's orders, had been very
attentive to Madame de Serizy. It was, in fact, indispensable that
Lucien should not be suspected of having kept a woman for his
mistress. And in the pleasure of being loved, and the excitement of
fashionable life, he found a spurious power of forgetting. He obeyed
Mademoiselle Clotilde de Grandlieu by never seeing her excepting in
the Bois or the Champs-Elysees.
On the day after Esther was shut up in the park-keeper's house, the
being who was to her so enigmatic and terrible, who weighed upon her
soul, came to desire her to sign three pieces of stamped paper, made
terrible by these fateful words: on the first, accepted payable for
sixty thousand francs; on the second, accepted payable for a hundred
and twenty thousand francs; on the third, accepted payable for a
hundred and twenty thousand francs--three hundred thousand francs in
all. By writing Bon pour, you simply promise to pay. The word ACCEPTED
constitutes a bill of exchange, and makes you liable to imprisonment.
The word entails, on the person who is so imprudent as to sign, the
risk of five years' imprisonment--a punishment which the police
magistrate hardly ever inflicts, and which is reserved at the assizes
for confirmed rogues. The law of imprisonment for debt is a relic of
the days of barbarism, which combines with its stupidity the rare
merit of being useless, inasmuch as it never catches swindlers.
"The point," said the Spaniard to Esther, "is to get Lucien out of his
difficulties. We have debts to the tune of sixty thousand francs, and
with these three hundred thousand francs we may perhaps pull through."
Having antedated the bills by six months, Carlos had had them drawn on
Esther by a man whom the county court had "misunderstood," and whose
adventures, in spite of the excitement they had caused, were soon
forgotten, hidden, lost, in the uproar of the great symphony of July
This young fellow, a most audacious adventurer, the son of a lawyer's
clerk of Boulogne, near Paris, was named Georges Marie Destourny. His
father, obliged by adverse circumstances to sell his connection, died
in 1824, leaving his son without the means of living, after giving him
a brilliant education, the folly of the lower middle class. At twenty-
three the clever young law-student had denied his paternity by
printing on his cards
This card gave him an odor of aristocracy; and now, as a man of
fashion, he was so impudent as to set up a tilbury and a groom and
haunt the clubs. One line will account for this: he gambled on the
Bourse with the money intrusted to him by the kept women of his
acquaintance. Finally he fell into the hands of the police, and was
charged with playing at cards with too much luck.
He had accomplices, youths whom he had corrupted, his compulsory
satellites, accessory to his fashion and his credit. Compelled to fly,
he forgot to pay his differences on the Bourse. All Paris--the Paris
of the Stock Exchange and Clubs--was still shaken by this double
stroke of swindling.
In the days of his splendor Georges d'Estourny, a handsome youth, and
above all, a jolly fellow, as generous as a brigand chief, had for a
few months "protected" La Torpille. The false Abbe based his
calculations on Esther's former intimacy with this famous scoundrel,
an incident peculiar to women of her class.
Georges d'Estourny, whose ambition grew bolder with success, had taken
under his patronage a man who had come from the depths of the country
to carry on a business in Paris, and whom the Liberal party were
anxious to indemnify for certain sentences endured with much courage
in the struggle of the press with Charles X.'s government, the
persecution being relaxed, however, during the Martignac
administration. The Sieur Cerizet had then been pardoned, and he was
henceforth known as the Brave Cerizet.
Cerizet then, being patronized for form's sake by the bigwigs of the
Left, founded a house which combined the business of a general agency
with that of a bank and a commission agency. It was one of those
concerns which, in business, remind one of the servants who advertise
in the papers as being able and willing to do everything. Cerizet was
very glad to ally himself with Georges d'Estourny, who gave him hints.
Esther, in virtue of the anecdote about Nonon, might be regarded as
the faithful guardian of part of Georges d'Estourny's fortune. An
endorsement in the name of Georges d'Estourny made Carlos Herrera
master of the money he had created. This forgery was perfectly safe so
long as Mademoiselle Esther, or some one for her, could, or was bound
After making inquiries as to the house of Cerizet, Carlos perceived
that he had to do with one of those humble men who are bent on making
a fortune, but--lawfully. Cerizet, with whom d'Estourny had really
deposited his moneys, had in hand a considerable sum with which he was
speculating for a rise on the Bourse, a state of affairs which allowed
him to style himself a banker. Such things are done in Paris; a man
may be despised,--but money, never.
Carlos went off to Cerizet intending to work him after his manner;
for, as it happened, he was master of all this worthy's secrets--a
meet partner for d'Estourny.
Cerizet the Brave lived in an entresol in the Rue du Gros-Chenet, and
Carlos, who had himself mysteriously announced as coming from Georges
d'Estourny, found the self-styled banker quite pale at the name. The
Abbe saw in this humble private room a little man with thin, light
hair; and recognized him at once, from Lucien's description, as the
Judas who had ruined David Sechard.
"Can we talk here without risk of being overheard?" said the Spaniard,
now metamorphosed into a red-haired Englishman with blue spectacles,
as clean and prim as a Puritan going to meeting.
"Why, monsieur?" said Cerizet. "Who are you?"
"Mr. William Barker, a creditor of M. d'Estourny's; and I can prove to
you the necessity for keeping your doors closed if you wish it. We
know, monsieur, all about your connections with the Petit-Clauds, the
Cointets, and the Sechards of Angouleme----"
On hearing these words, Cerizet rushed to the door and shut it, flew
to another leading into a bedroom and bolted it; then he said to the
"Speak lower, monsieur," and he studied the sham Englishman as he
asked him, "What do you want with me?"
"Dear me," said William Barker, "every one for himself in this world.
You had the money of that rascal d'Estourny.--Be quite easy, I have
not come to ask for it; but that scoundrel, who deserves hanging,
between you and me, gave me these bills, saying that there might be
some chance of recovering the money; and as I do not choose to
prosecute in my own name, he told me you would not refuse to back
Cerizet looked at the bills.
"But he is no longer at Frankfort," said he.
"I know it," replied Barker, "but he may still have been there at the
date of those bills----"
"I will not take the responsibility," said Cerizet.
"I do not ask such a sacrifice of you," replied Barker; "you may be
instructed to receive them. Endorse them, and I will undertake to
recover the money."
"I am surprised that d'Estourny should show so little confidence in
me," said Cerizet.
"In his position," replied Barker, "you can hardly blame him for
having put his eggs in different baskets."
"Can you believe----" the little broker began, as he handed back to
the Englishman the bills of exchange formally accepted.