Part 4 out of 12
"I believe that you will take good care of his money," said Barker. "I
am sure of it! It is already on the green table of the Bourse."
"My fortune depends----"
"On your appearing to lose it," said Barker.
"Sir!" cried Cerizet.
"Look here, my dear Monsieur Cerizet," said Barker, coolly
interrupting him, "you will do me a service by facilitating this
payment. Be so good as to write me a letter in which you tell me that
you are sending me these bills receipted on d'Estourny's account, and
that the collecting officer is to regard the holder of the letter as
the possessor of the three bills."
"Will you give me your name?"
"No names," replied the English capitalist. "Put 'The bearer of this
letter and these bills.'--You will be handsomely repaid for obliging
"How?" said Cerizet.
"In one word--You mean to stay in France, do not you?"
"Well, Georges d'Estourny will never re-enter the country."
"There are five persons at least to my knowledge who would murder him,
and he knows it."
"Then no wonder he is asking me for money enough to start him trading
to the Indies?" cried Cerizet. "And unfortunately he has compelled me
to risk everything in State speculation. We already owe heavy
differences to the house of du Tillet. I live from hand to mouth."
"Withdraw your stakes."
"Oh! if only I had known this sooner!" exclaimed Cerizet. "I have
missed my chance!"
"One last word," said Barker. "Keep your own counsel, you are capable
of that; but you must be faithful too, which is perhaps less certain.
We shall meet again, and I will help you to make a fortune."
Having tossed this sordid soul a crumb of hope that would secure
silence for some time to come, Carlos, still disguised as Barker,
betook himself to a bailiff whom he could depend on, and instructed
him to get the bills brought home to Esther.
"They will be paid all right," said he to the officer. "It is an
affair of honor; only we want to do the thing regularly."
Barker got a solicitor to represent Esther in court, so that judgment
might be given in presence of both parties. The collecting officer,
who was begged to act with civility, took with him all the warrants
for procedure, and came in person to seize the furniture in the Rue
Taitbout, where he was received by Europe. Her personal liability once
proved, Esther was ostensibly liable, beyond dispute, for three
hundred and more thousand francs of debts.
In all this Carlos displayed no great powers of invention. The farce
of false debts is often played in Paris. There are many sub-Gobsecks
and sub-Gigonnets who, for a percentage, will lend themselves to this
subterfuge, and regard the infamous trick as a jest. In France
everything--even a crime--is done with a laugh. By this means
refractory parents are made to pay, or rich mistresses who might drive
a hard bargain, but who, face to face with flagrant necessity, or some
impending dishonor, pay up, if with a bad grace. Maxime de Trailles
had often used such means, borrowed from the comedies of the old
stage. Carlos Herrera, who wanted to save the honor of his gown, as
well as Lucien's, had worked the spell by a forgery not dangerous for
him, but now so frequently practised that Justice is beginning to
object. There is, it is said, a Bourse for falsified bills near the
Palais Royal, where you may get a forged signature for three francs.
Before entering on the question of the hundred thousand crowns that
were to keep the door of the bedroom, Carlos determined first to
extract a hundred thousand more from M. de Nucingen.
And this was the way: By his orders Asie got herself up for the
Baron's benefit as an old woman fully informed as to the unknown
Hitherto, novelists of manners have placed on the stage a great many
usurers; but the female money-lender has been overlooked, the Madame
la Ressource of the present day--a very singular figure,
euphemistically spoken of as a "ward-robe purchaser"; a part that the
ferocious Asie could play, for she had two old-clothes shops managed
by women she could trust--one in the Temple, and the other in the Rue
"You must get into the skin of Madame de Saint-Esteve," said he.
Herrera wished to see Asie dressed.
The go-between arrived in a dress of flowered damask, made of the
curtains of some dismantled boudoir, and one of those shawls of Indian
design--out of date, worn, and valueless, which end their career on
the backs of these women. She had a collar of magnificent lace, though
torn, and a terrible bonnet; but her shoes were of fine kid, in which
the flesh of her fat feet made a roll of black-lace stocking.
"And my waist buckle!" she exclaimed, displaying a piece of
suspicious-looking finery, prominent on her cook's stomach, "There's
style for you! and my front!--Oh, Ma'me Nourrisson has turned me out
"Be as sweet as honey at first," said Carlos; "be almost timid, as
suspicious as a cat; and, above all, make the Baron ashamed of having
employed the police, without betraying that you quake before the
constable. Finally, make your customer understand in more or less
plain terms that you defy all the police in the world to discover his
jewel. Take care to destroy your traces.
"When the Baron gives you a right to tap him on the stomach, and call
him a pot-bellied old rip, you may be as insolent as you please, and
make him trot like a footman."
Nucingen--threatened by Asie with never seeing her again if he
attempted the smallest espionage--met the woman on his way to the
Bourse, in secret, in a wretched entresol in the Rue Nueve-Saint-Marc.
How often, and with what rapture, have amorous millionaires trodden
these squalid paths! the pavements of Paris know. Madame de Saint-
Esteve, by tossing the Baron from hope to despair by turns, brought
him to the point when he insisted on being informed of all that
related to the unknown beauty at ANY COST. Meanwhile, the law was put
in force, and with such effect that the bailiffs, finding no
resistance from Esther, put in an execution on her effects without
losing a day.
Lucien, guided by his adviser, paid the recluse at Saint-Germain five
or six visits. The merciless author of all these machinations thought
this necessary to save Esther from pining to death, for her beauty was
now their capital. When the time came for them to quit the park-
keeper's lodge, he took Lucien and the poor girl to a place on the
road whence they could see Paris, where no one could overhear them.
They all three sat down in the rising sun, on the trunk of a felled
poplar, looking over one of the finest prospects in the world,
embracing the course of the Seine, with Montmartre, Paris, and Saint-
"My children," said Carlos, "your dream is over.--You, little one,
will never see Lucien again; or if you should, you must have known him
only for a few days, five years ago."
"Death has come upon me then," said she, without shedding a tear.
"Well, you have been ill these five years," said Herrera. "Imagine
yourself to be consumptive, and die without boring us with your
lamentations. But you will see, you can still live, and very
comfortably too.--Leave us, Lucien--go and gather sonnets!" said he,
pointing to a field a little way off.
Lucien cast a look of humble entreaty at Esther, one of the looks
peculiar to such men--weak and greedy, with tender hearts and cowardly
spirits. Esther answered with a bow of her head, which said: "I will
hear the executioner, that I may know how to lay my head under the
axe, and I shall have courage enough to die decently."
The gesture was so gracious, but so full of dreadful meaning, that the
poet wept; Esther flew to him, clasped him in her arms, drank away the
tears, and said, "Be quite easy!" one of those speeches that are
spoken with the manner, the look, the tones of delirium.
Carlos then explained to her quite clearly, without attenuation, often
with horrible plainness of speech, the critical position in which
Lucien found himself, his connection with the Hotel Grandlieu, his
splendid prospects if he should succeed; and finally, how necessary it
was that Esther should sacrifice herself to secure him this triumphant
"What must I do?" cried she, with the eagerness of a fanatic.
"Obey me blindly," said Carlos. "And what have you to complain of? It
rests with you to achieve a happy lot. You may be what Tullia is, what
your old friends Florine, Mariette, and la Val-Noble are--the mistress
of a rich man whom you need not love. When once our business is
settled, your lover is rich enough to make you happy."
"Happy!" said she, raising her eyes to heaven.
"You have lived in Paradise for four years," said he. "Can you not
live on such memories?"
"I will obey you," said she, wiping a tear from the corner of her eye.
"For the rest, do not worry yourself. You have said it; my love is a
"That is not enough," said Carlos; "you must preserve your looks. At a
little past two-and-twenty you are in the prime of your beauty, thanks
to your past happiness. And, above all, be the 'Torpille' again. Be
roguish, extravagant, cunning, merciless to the millionaire I put in
your power. Listen to me! That man is a robber on a grand scale; he
has been ruthless to many persons; he has grown fat on the fortunes of
the widow and the orphan; you will avenge them!
"Asie is coming to fetch you in a hackney coach, and you will be in
Paris this evening. If you allow any one to suspect your connection
with Lucien, you may as well blow his brains out at once. You will be
asked where you have been for so long. You must say that you have been
traveling with a desperately jealous Englishman.--You used to have wit
enough to humbug people. Find such wit again now."
Have you ever seen a gorgeous kite, the giant butterfly of childhood,
twinkling with gilding, and soaring to the sky? The children forget
the string that holds it, some passer-by cuts it, the gaudy toy turns
head over heels, as the boys say, and falls with terrific rapidity.
Such was Esther as she listened to Carlos.
WHAT LOVE COSTS AN OLD MAN
For a whole week Nucingen went almost every day to the shop in the Rue
Nueve-Saint-Marc to bargain for the woman he was in love with. Here,
sometimes under the name of Saint-Esteve, sometimes under that of her
tool, Madame Nourrisson, Asie sat enthroned among beautiful clothes in
that hideous condition when they have ceased to be dresses and are not
The setting was in harmony with the appearance assumed by the woman,
for these shops are among the most hideous characteristics of Paris.
You find there the garments tossed aside by the skinny hand of Death;
you hear, as it were, the gasping of consumption under a shawl, or you
detect the agonies of beggery under a gown spangled with gold. The
horrible struggle between luxury and starvation is written on filmy
laces; you may picture the countenance of a queen under a plumed
turban placed in an attitude that recalls and almost reproduces the
absent features. It is all hideous amid prettiness! Juvenal's lash, in
the hands of the appraiser, scatters the shabby muffs, the ragged furs
of courtesans at bay.
There is a dunghill of flowers, among which here and there we find a
bright rose plucked but yesterday and worn for a day; and on this an
old hag is always to be seen crouching--first cousin to Usury, the
skinflint bargainer, bald and toothless, and ever ready to sell the
contents, so well is she used to sell the covering--the gown without
the woman, or the woman without the gown!
Here Asie was in her element, like the warder among convicts, like a
vulture red-beaked amid corpses; more terrible than the savage horrors
that made the passer-by shudder in astonishment sometimes, at seeing
one of their youngest and sweetest reminiscences hung up in a dirty
shop window, behind which a Saint-Esteve sits and grins.
From vexation to vexation, a thousand francs at a time, the banker had
gone so far as to offer sixty thousand francs to Madame de Saint-
Esteve, who still refused to help him, with a grimace that would have
outdone any monkey. After a disturbed night, after confessing to
himself that Esther completely upset his ideas, after realizing some
unexpected turns of fortune on the Bourse, he came to her one day,
intending to give the hundred thousand francs on which Asie insisted,
but he was determined to have plenty of information for the money.
"Well, have you made up your mind, old higgler?" said Asie, clapping
him on the shoulder.
The most dishonoring familiarity is the first tax these women levy on
the frantic passions or griefs that are confided to them; they never
rise to the level of their clients; they make them seem squat beside
them on their mudheap. Asie, it will be seen, obeyed her master
"Need must!" said Nucingen.
"And you have the best of the bargain," said Asie. "Women have been
sold much dearer than this one to you--relatively speaking. There are
women and women! De Marsay paid sixty thousand francs for Coralie, who
is dead now. The woman you want cost a hundred thousand francs when
new; but to you, you old goat, it is a matter of agreement."
"But vere is she?"
"Ah! you shall see. I am like you--a gift for a gift! Oh, my good man,
your adored one has been extravagant. These girls know no moderation.
Your princess is at this moment what we call a fly by night----"
"Come, come, don't play the simpleton.--Louchard is at her heels, and
I--I--have lent her fifty thousand francs----"
"Twenty-fife say!" cried the banker.
"Well, of course, twenty-five for fifty, that is only natural,"
replied Asie. "To do the woman justice, she is honesty itself. She had
nothing left but herself, and says she to me: 'My good Madame Saint-
Esteve, the bailiffs are after me; no one can help me but you. Give me
twenty thousand francs. I will pledge my heart to you.' Oh, she has a
sweet heart; no one but me knows where it lies. Any folly on my part,
and I should lose my twenty thousand francs.
"Formerly she lived in the Rue Taitbout. Before leaving--(her
furniture was seized for costs--those rascally bailiffs--You know
them, you who are one of the great men on the Bourse)--well, before
leaving, she is no fool, she let her rooms for two months to an
Englishwoman, a splendid creature who had a little thingummy--Rubempre
--for a lover, and he was so jealous that he only let her go out at
night. But as the furniture is to be seized, the Englishwoman has cut
her stick, all the more because she cost too much for a little
whipper-snapper like Lucien."
"You cry up de goots," said Nucingen.
"Naturally," said Asie. "I lend to the beauties; and it pays, for you
get two commissions for one job."
Asie was amusing herself by caricaturing the manners of a class of
women who are even greedier but more wheedling and mealy-mouthed than
the Malay woman, and who put a gloss of the best motives on the trade
they ply. Asie affected to have lost all her illusions, five lovers,
and some children, and to have submitted to be robbed by everybody in
spite of her experience. From time to time she exhibited some pawn-
tickets, to prove how much bad luck there was in her line of business.
She represented herself as pinched and in debt, and to crown all, she
was so undisguisedly hideous that the Baron at last believed her to be
all she said she was.
"Vell den, I shall pay the hundert tousant, and vere shall I see her?"
said he, with the air of a man who has made up his mind to any
"My fat friend, you shall come this evening--in your carriage, of
course--opposite the Gymnase. It is on the way," said Asie. "Stop at
the corner of the Rue Saint-Barbe. I will be on the lookout, and we
will go and find my mortgaged beauty, with the black hair.--Oh, she
has splendid hair, has my mortgage. If she pulls out her comb, Esther
is covered as if it were a pall. But though you are knowing in
arithmetic, you strike me as a muff in other matters; and I advise you
to hide the girl safely, for if she is found she will be clapped into
Sainte-Pelagie the very next day.--And they are looking for her."
"Shall it not be possible to get holt of de bills?" said the
"The bailiffs have got them--but it is impossible. The girl has had a
passion, and has spent some money left in her hands, which she is now
called upon to pay. By the poker!--a queer thing is a heart of two
"Ver' goot, ver' goot, I shall arrange all dat," said Nucingen,
assuming a cunning look. "It is qvite settled dat I shall protect
"Well, old noodle, it is your business to make her fall in love with
you, and you certainly have ample means to buy sham love as good as
the real article. I will place your princess in your keeping; she is
bound to stick to you, and after that I don't care.--But she is
accustomed to luxury and the greatest consideration. I tell you, my
boy, she is quite the lady.--If not, should I have given her twenty
"Ver' goot, it is a pargain. Till dis efening."
The Baron repeated the bridal toilet he had already once achieved; but
this time, being certain of success, he took a double dose of
At nine o'clock he found the dreadful woman at the appointed spot, and
took her into his carriage.
"Vere to?" said the Baron.
"Where?" echoed Asie. "Rue de la Perle in the Marais--an address for
the nonce; for your pearl is in the mud, but you will wash her clean."
Having reached the spot, the false Madame de Saint-Esteve said to
Nucingen with a hideous smile:
"We must go a short way on foot; I am not such a fool as to have given
you the right address."
"You tink of eferytink!" said the baron.
"It is my business," said she.
Asie led Nucingen to the Rue Barbette, where, in furnished lodgings
kept by an upholsterer, he was led up to the fourth floor.
On finding Esther in a squalid room, dressed as a work-woman, and
employed on some embroidery, the millionaire turned pale. At the end
of a quarter of an hour, while Asie affected to talk in whispers to
Esther, the young old man could hardly speak.
"Montemisselle," said he at length to the unhappy girl, "vill you be
so goot as to let me be your protector?"
"Why, I cannot help myself, monsieur," replied Esther, letting fall
two large tears.
"Do not veep. I shall make you de happiest of vomen. Only permit that
I shall lof you--you shall see."
"Well, well, child, the gentleman is reasonable," said Asie. "He knows
that he is more than sixty, and he will be very kind to you. You see,
my beauty, I have found you quite a father--I had to say so," Asie
whispered to the banker, who was not best pleased. "You cannot catch
swallows by firing a pistol at them.--Come here," she went on, leading
Nucingen into the adjoining room. "You remember our bargain, my
Nucingen took out his pocketbook and counted out the hundred thousand
francs, which Carlos, hidden in a cupboard, was impatiently waiting
for, and which the cook handed over to him.
"Here are the hundred thousand francs our man stakes on Asie. Now we
must make him lay on Europe," said Carlos to his confidante when they
were on the landing.
And he vanished after giving his instruction to the Malay who went
back into the room. She found Esther weeping bitterly. The poor girl,
like a criminal condemned to death, had woven a romance of hope, and
the fatal hour had tolled.
"My dear children," said Asie, "where do you mean to go?--For the
Baron de Nucingen----"
Esther looked at the great banker with a start of surprise that was
"Ja, mein kind, I am dat Baron von Nucingen."
"The Baron de Nucingen must not, cannot remain in such a room as
this," Asie went on. "Listen to me; your former maid Eugenie."
"Eugenie, from the Rue Taitbout?" cried the Baron.
"Just so; the woman placed in possession of the furniture," replied
Asie, "and who let the apartment to that handsome Englishwoman----"
"Hah! I onderstant!" said the Baron.
"Madame's former waiting-maid," Asie went on, respectfully alluding to
Esther, "will receive you very comfortably this evening; and the
commercial police will never think of looking for her in her old rooms
which she left three months ago----"
"Feerst rate, feerst rate!" cried the Baron. "An' besides, I know dese
commercial police, an' I know vat sorts shall make dem disappear."
"You will find Eugenie a sharp customer," said Asie. "I found her for
"Hah! I know her!" cried the millionaire, laughing. "She haf fleeced
me out of dirty tousant franc."
Esther shuddered with horror in a way that would have led a man of any
feeling to trust her with his fortune.
"Oh, dat vas mein own fault," the Baron said. "I vas seeking for you."
And he related the incident that had arisen out of the letting of
Esther's rooms to the Englishwoman.
"There, now, you see, madame, Eugenie never told you all that, the sly
thing!" said Asie.--"Still, madame is used to the hussy," she added to
the Baron. "Keep her on, all the same."
She drew Nucingen aside and said:
"If you give Eugenie five hundred francs a month, which will fill up
her stocking finely, you can know everything that madame does: make
her the lady's-maid. Eugenie will be all the more devoted to you since
she has already done you.--Nothing attaches a woman to a man more than
the fact that she has once fleeced him. But keep a tight rein on
Eugenie; she will do any earthly thing for money; she is a dreadful
"An' vat of you?"
"I," said Asie, "I make both ends meet."
Nucingen, the astute financier, had a bandage over his eyes; he
allowed himself to be led like a child. The sight of that spotless and
adorable Esther wiping her eyes and pricking in the stitches of her
embroidery as demurely as an innocent girl, revived in the amorous old
man the sensations he had experienced in the Forest of Vincennes; he
would have given her the key of his safe. He felt so young, his heart
was so overflowing with adoration; he only waited till Asie should be
gone to throw himself at the feet of this Raphael's Madonna.
This sudden blossoming of youth in the heart of a stockbroker, of an
old man, is one of the social phenomena which must be left to
physiology to account for. Crushed under the burden of business,
stifled under endless calculations and the incessant anxieties of
million-hunting, young emotions revive with their sublime illusions,
sprout and flower like a forgotten cause or a forgotten seed, whose
effects, whose gorgeous bloom, are the sport of chance, brought out by
a late and sudden gleam of sunshine.
The Baron, a clerk by the time he was twelve years old in the ancient
house of Aldrigger at Strasbourg, had never set foot in the world of
sentiment. So there he stood in front of his idol, hearing in his
brain a thousand modes of speech, while none came to his lips, till at
length he acted on the brutal promptings of desire that betrayed a man
"Vill you come to Rue Taitbout?" said he.
"Wherever you please, monsieur," said Esther, rising.
"Verever I please!" he echoed in rapture. "You are ein anchel from de
sky, and I lofe you more as if I was a little man, vile I hafe gray
"You had better say white, for they are too fine a black to be only
gray," said Asie.
"Get out, foul dealer in human flesh! You hafe got your moneys; do not
slobber no more on dis flower of lofe!" cried the banker, indemnifying
himself by this violent abuse for all the insolence he had submitted
"You old rip! I will pay you out for that speech!" said Asie,
threatening the banker with a gesture worthy of the Halle, at which
the Baron merely shrugged his shoulders. "Between the lip of the pot
and that of the guzzler there is often a viper, and you will find me
there!" she went on, furious at Nucingen's contempt.
Millionaires, whose money is guarded by the Bank of France, whose
mansions are guarded by a squad of footmen, whose person in the
streets is safe behind the rampart of a coach with swift English
horses, fear no ill; so the Baron looked calmly at Asie, as a man who
had just given her a hundred thousand francs.
This dignity had its effect. Asie beat a retreat, growling down the
stairs in highly revolutionary language; she spoke of the guillotine!
"What have you said to her?" asked the Madonna a la broderie, "for she
is a good soul."
"She hafe solt you, she hafe robbed you----"
"When we are beggared," said she, in a tone to rend the heart of a
diplomate, "who has ever any money or consideration for us?"
"Poor leetle ting!" said Nucingen. "Do not stop here ein moment
The Baron offered her his arm; he led her away just as she was, and
put her into his carriage with more respect perhaps than he would have
shown to the handsome Duchesse de Maufrigneuse.
"You shall hafe a fine carriage, de prettiest carriage in Paris," said
Nucingen, as they drove along. "Everyting dat luxury shall sopply
shall be for you. Not any qveen shall be more rich dan vat you shall
be. You shall be respected like ein Cherman Braut. I shall hafe you to
be free.--Do not veep! Listen to me--I lofe you really, truly, mit de
purest lofe. Efery tear of yours breaks my heart."
"Can one truly love a woman one has bought?" said the poor girl in the
"Choseph vas solt by his broders for dat he was so comely. Dat is so
in de Biple. An' in de Eastern lants men buy deir wifes."
On arriving at the Rue Taitbout, Esther could not return to the scene
of her happiness without some pain. She remained sitting on a couch,
motionless, drying away her tears one by one, and never hearing a word
of the crazy speeches poured out by the banker. He fell at her feet,
and she let him kneel without saying a word to him, allowing him to
take her hands as he would, and never thinking of the sex of the
creature who was rubbing her feet to warm them; for Nucingen found
that they were cold.
This scene of scalding tears shed on the Baron's head, and of ice-cold
feet that he tried to warm, lasted from midnight till two in the
"Eugenie," cried the Baron at last to Europe, "persvade your mis'ess
that she shall go to bet."
"No!" cried Esther, starting to her feet like a scared horse. "Never
in this house!"
"Look her, monsieur, I know madame; she is as gentle and kind as a
lamb," said Europe to the Baron. "Only you must not rub her the wrong
way, you must get at her sideways--she had been so miserable here.--
You see how worn the furniture is.--Let her go her own way.
"Furnish some pretty little house for her, very nicely. Perhaps when
she sees everything new about her she will feel a stranger there, and
think you better looking than you are, and be angelically sweet.--Oh!
madame has not her match, and you may boast of having done a very good
stroke of business: a good heart, genteel manners, a fine instep--and
a skin, a complexion! Ah!----
"And witty enough to make a condemned wretch laugh. And madame can
feel an attachment.--And then how she can dress!--Well, if it is
costly, still, as they say, you get your money's worth.--Here all the
gowns were seized, everything she has is three months old.--But madame
is so kind, you see, that I love her, and she is my mistress!--But in
all justice--such a woman as she is, in the midst of furniture that
has been seized!--And for whom? For a young scamp who has ruined her.
Poor little thing, she is not at all herself."
"Esther, Esther; go to bet, my anchel! If it is me vat frighten you, I
shall stay here on dis sofa----" cried the Baron, fired by the purest
devotion, as he saw that Esther was still weeping.
"Well, then," said Esther, taking the "lynx's" hand, and kissing it
with an impulse of gratitude which brought something very like a tear
to his eye, "I shall be grateful to you----"
And she fled into her room and locked the door.
"Dere is someting fery strange in all dat," thought Nucingen, excited
by his pillules. "Vat shall dey say at home?"
He got up and looked out of the window. "My carriage still is dere. It
shall soon be daylight." He walked up and down the room.
"Vat Montame de Nucingen should laugh at me ven she should know how I
hafe spent dis night!"
He applied his ear to the bedroom door, thinking himself rather too
much of a simpleton.
"Mein Gott! and she is still veeping!" said he to himself, as he
stretched himself on the sofa.
About ten minutes after sunrise, the Baron de Nucingen, who was
sleeping the uneasy slumbers that are snatched by compulsion in an
awkward position on a couch, was aroused with a start by Europe from
one of those dreams that visit us in such moments, and of which the
swift complications are a phenomenon inexplicable by medical
"Oh, God help us, madame!" she shrieked. "Madame!--the soldiers--
gendarmes--bailiffs! They have come to take us."
At the moment when Esther opened her door and appeared, hurriedly,
wrapped in her dressing-gown, her bare feet in slippers, her hair in
disorder, lovely enough to bring the angel Raphael to perdition, the
drawing-room door vomited into the room a gutter of human mire that
came on, on ten feet, towards the beautiful girl, who stood like an
angel in some Flemish church picture. One man came foremost.
Contenson, the horrible Contenson, laid his hand on Esther's dewy
"You are Mademoiselle van----" he began. Europe, by a back-handed slap
on Contenson's cheek, sent him sprawling to measure his length on the
carpet, and with all the more effect because at the same time she
caught his leg with the sharp kick known to those who practise the art
as a coup de savate.
"Hands off!" cried she. "No one shall touch my mistress."
"She has broken my leg!" yelled Contenson, picking himself up; "I will
From the group of bumbailiffs, looking like what they were, all
standing with their horrible hats on their yet more horrible heads,
with mahogany-colored faces and bleared eyes, damaged noses, and
hideous mouths, Louchard now stepped forth, more decently dressed than
his men, but keeping his hat on, his expression at once smooth-faced
"Mademoiselle, I arrest you!" said he to Esther. "As for you, my
girl," he added to Europe, "any resistance will be punished, and
The noise of muskets, let down with a thud of their stocks on the
floor of the dining-room, showing that the invaders had soldiers to
bake them, gave emphasis to this speech.
"And what am I arrested for?" said Esther.
"What about our little debts?" said Louchard.
"To be sure," cried Esther; "give me leave to dress."
"But, unfortunately, mademoiselle, I am obliged to make sure that you
have no way of getting out of your room," said Louchard.
All this passed so quickly that the Baron had not yet had time to
"Well, and am I still a foul dealer in human flesh, Baron de
Nucingen?" cried the hideous Asie, forcing her way past the sheriff's
officers to the couch, where she pretended to have just discovered the
"Contemptible wretch!" exclaimed Nucingen, drawing himself up in
He placed himself between Esther and Louchard, who took off his hat as
Contenson cried out, "Monsieur le Baron de Nucingen."
At a signal from Louchard the bailiffs vanished from the room,
respectfully taking their hats off. Contenson alone was left.
"Do you propose to pay, Monsieur le Baron?" asked he, hat in hand.
"I shall pay," said the banker; "but I must know vat dis is all
"Three hundred and twelve thousand francs and some centimes, costs
paid; but the charges for the arrest not included."
"Three hundred thousand francs," cried the Baron; "dat is a fery
'xpensive vaking for a man vat has passed the night on a sofa," he
added in Europe's ear.
"Is that man really the Baron de Nucingen?" asked Europe to Louchard,
giving weight to the doubt by a gesture which Mademoiselle Dupont, the
low comedy servant of the Francais, might have envied.
"Yes, mademoiselle," said Louchard.
"Yes," replied Contenson.
"I shall be answerable," said the Baron, piqued in his honor by
Europe's doubt. "You shall 'llow me to say ein vort to her."
Esther and her elderly lover retired to the bedroom, Louchard finding
it necessary to apply his ear to the keyhole.
"I lofe you more as my life, Esther; but vy gife to your creditors
moneys vich shall be so much better in your pocket? Go into prison. I
shall undertake to buy up dose hundert tousant crowns for ein hundert
tousant francs, an' so you shall hafe two hundert tousant francs for
"That scheme is perfectly useless," cried Louchard through the door.
"The creditor is not in love with mademoiselle--not he! You
understand? And he means to have more than all, now he knows that you
are in love with her."
"You dam' sneak!" cried Nucingen, opening the door, and dragging
Louchard into the bedroom; "you know not dat vat you talk about. I
shall gife you, you'self, tventy per cent if you make the job."
"Impossible, M. le Baron."
"What, monsieur, you could have the heart to let my mistress go to
prison?" said Europe, intervening. "But take my wages, my savings;
take them, madame; I have forty thousand francs----"
"Ah, my good girl, I did not really know you!" cried Esther, clasping
Europe in her arms.
Europe proceeded to melt into tears.
"I shall pay," said the Baron piteously, as he drew out a pocket-book,
from which he took one of the little printed forms which the Bank of
France issues to bankers, on which they have only to write a sum in
figures and in words to make them available as cheques to bearer.
"It is not worth the trouble, Monsieur le Baron," said Louchard; "I
have instructions not to accept payment in anything but coin of the
realm--gold or silver. As it is you, I will take banknotes."
"Der Teufel!" cried the Baron. "Well, show me your papers."
Contenson handed him three packets covered with blue paper, which the
Baron took, looking at the man, and adding in an undertone:
"It should hafe been a better day's vork for you ven you had gife me
"Why, how should I know you were here, Monsieur le Baron?" replied the
spy, heedless whether Louchard heard him. "You lost my services by
withdrawing your confidence. You are done," added this philosopher,
shrugging his shoulders.
"Qvite true," said the baron. "Ah, my chilt," he exclaimed, seeing the
bills of exchange, and turning to Esther, "you are de fictim of a
torough scoundrel, ein highway tief!"
"Alas, yes," said poor Esther; "but he loved me truly."
"Ven I should hafe known--I should hafe made you to protest----"
"You are off your head, Monsieur le Baron," said Louchard; "there is a
"Yes, dere is a tird endorsement--Cerizet! A man of de opposition."
"Will you write an order on your cashier, Monsieur le Baron?" said
Louchard. "I will send Contenson to him and dismiss my men. It is
getting late, and everybody will know that----"
"Go den, Contenson," said Nucingen. "My cashier lives at de corner of
Rue des Mathurins and Rue de l'Arcate. Here is ein vort for dat he
shall go to du Tillet or to de Kellers, in case ve shall not hafe a
hundert tousant franc--for our cash shall be at de Bank.--Get dress',
my anchel," he said to Esther. "You are at liberty.--An' old vomans,"
he went on, looking at Asie, "are more dangerous as young vomans."
"I will go and give the creditor a good laugh," said Asie, "and he
will give me something for a treat to-day.--We bear no malice,
Monsieur le Baron," added Saint-Esteve with a horrible courtesy.
Louchard took the bills out of the Baron's hands, and remained alone
with him in the drawing-room, whither, half an hour later, the cashier
came, followed by Contenson. Esther then reappeared in a bewitching,
though improvised, costume. When the money had been counted by
Louchard, the Baron wished to examine the bills; but Esther snatched
them with a cat-like grab, and carried them away to her desk.
"What will you give the rabble?" said Contenson to Nucingen.
"You hafe not shown much consideration," said the Baron.
"And what about my leg?" cried Contenson.
"Louchard, you shall gife ein hundert francs to Contenson out of the
change of the tousand-franc note."
"De lady is a beauty," said the cashier to the Baron, as they left the
Rue Taitbout, "but she is costing you ver' dear, Monsieur le Baron."
"Keep my segret," said the Baron, who had said the same to Contenson
Louchard went away with Contenson; but on the boulevard Asie, who was
looking out for him, stopped Louchard.
"The bailiff and the creditor are there in a cab," said she. "They are
thirsty, and there is money going."
While Louchard counted out the cash, Contenson studied the customers.
He recognized Carlos by his eyes, and traced the form of his forehead
under the wig. The wig he shrewdly regarded as suspicious; he took the
number of the cab while seeming quite indifferent to what was going
on; Asie and Europe puzzled him beyond measure. He thought that the
Baron was the victim of excessively clever sharpers, all the more so
because Louchard, when securing his services, had been singularly
close. And besides, the twist of Europe's foot had not struck his shin
"A trick like that is learned at Saint-Lazare," he had reflected as he
Carlos dismissed the bailiff, paying him liberally, and as he did so,
said to the driver of the cab, "To the Perron, Palais Royal."
"The rascal!" thought Contenson as he heard the order. "There is
something up!" Carlos drove to the Palais Royal at a pace which
precluded all fear of pursuit. He made his way in his own fashion
through the arcades, took another cab on the Place du Chateau d'Eau,
and bid the man go "to the Passage de l'Opera, the end of the Rue
A quarter of a hour later he was in the Rue Taitbout. On seeing him,
"Here are the fatal papers."
Carlos took the bills, examined them, and then burned them in the
"We have done the trick," he said, showing her three hundred and ten
thousand francs in a roll, which he took out of the pocket of his
coat. "This, and the hundred thousand francs squeezed out by Asie, set
us free to act."
"Oh God, oh God!" cried poor Esther.
"But, you idiot," said the ferocious swindler, "you have only to be
ostensibly Nucingen's mistress, and you can always see Lucien; he is
Nucingen's friend; I do not forbid your being madly in love with him."
Esther saw a glimmer of light in her darkened life; she breathed once
"Europe, my girl," said Carlos, leading the creature into a corner of
the boudoir where no one could overhear a word, "Europe, I am pleased
Europe held up her head, and looked at this man with an expression
which so completely changed her faded features, that Asie, witnessing
the interview, as she watched her from the door, wondered whether the
interest by which Carlos held Europe might not perhaps be even
stronger than that by which she herself was bound to him.
"That is not all, my child. Four hundred thousand francs are a mere
nothing to me. Paccard will give you an account for some plate,
amounting to thirty thousand francs, on which money has been paid on
account; but our goldsmith, Biddin, has paid money for us. Our
furniture, seized by him, will no doubt be advertised to-morrow. Go
and see Biddin; he lives in the Rue d l'Arbre Sec; he will give you
Mont-de-Piete tickets for ten thousand francs. You understand, Esther
ordered the plate; she had not paid for it, and she put it up the
spout. She will be in danger of a little summons for swindling. So we
must pay the goldsmith the thirty thousand francs, and pay up ten
thousand francs to the Mont-de-Piete to get the plate back. Forty-
three thousand francs in all, including the costs. The silver is very
much alloyed; the Baron will give her a new service, and we shall bone
a few thousand francs out of that. You owe--what? two years' account
with the dressmaker?"
"Put it at six thousand francs," replied Europe.
"Well, if Madame Auguste wants to be paid and keep our custom, tell
her to make out a bill for thirty thousand francs over four years.
Make a similar arrangement with the milliner. The jeweler, Samuel
Frisch the Jew, in the Rue Saint-Avoie, will lend you some pawn-
tickets; we must owe him twenty-five thousand francs, and we must want
six thousand for jewels pledged at the Mont-de-Piete. We will return
the trinkets to the jeweler, half the stones will be imitation, but
the Baron will not examine them. In short, you will make him fork out
another hundred and fifty thousand francs to add to our nest-eggs
within a week."
"Madame might give me a little help," said Europe. "Tell her so, for
she sits there mumchance, and obliges me to find more inventions than
three authors for one piece."
"If Esther turns prudish, just let me know," said Carlos. "Nucingen
must give her a carriage and horses; she will have to choose and buy
everything herself. Go to the horse-dealer and the coachmaker who are
employed by the job-master where Paccard finds work. We shall get
handsome horses, very dear, which will go lame within a month, and we
shall have to change them."
"We might get six thousand francs out of a perfumer's bill," said
"Oh!" said he, shaking his head, "we must go gently. Nucingen has only
got his arm into the press; we must have his head. Besides all this, I
must get five hundred thousand francs."
"You can get them," replied Europe. "Madame will soften towards the
fat fool for about six hundred thousand, and insist on four hundred
thousand more to love him truly!"
"Listen to me, my child," said Carlos. "The day when I get the last
hundred thousand francs, there shall be twenty thousand for you."
"What good will they do me?" said Europe, letting her arms drop like a
woman to whom life seems impossible.
"You could go back to Valenciennes, buy a good business, and set up as
an honest woman if you chose; there are many tastes in human nature.
Paccard thinks of settling sometimes; he has no encumbrances on his
hands, and not much on his conscience; you might suit each other,"
"Go back to Valenciennes! What are you thinking of, monsieur?" cried
Europe in alarm.
Europe, who was born at Valenciennes, the child of very poor parents,
had been sent at seven years of age to a spinning factory, where the
demands of modern industry had impaired her physical strength, just as
vice had untimely depraved her. Corrupted at the age of twelve, and a
mother at thirteen, she found herself bound to the most degraded of
human creatures. On the occasion of a murder case, she had been as a
witness before the Court. Haunted at sixteen by a remnant of
rectitude, and the terror inspired by the law, her evidence led to the
prisoner being sentenced to twenty years of hard labor.
The convict, one of those men who have been in the hands of justice
more than once, and whose temper is apt at terrible revenge, had said
to the girl in open court:
"In ten years, as sure as you live, Prudence" (Europe's name was
Prudence Servien), "I will return to be the death of you, if I am
scragged for it."
The President of the Court tried to reassure the girl by promising her
the protection and the care of the law; but the poor child was so
terror-stricken that she fell ill, and was in hospital nearly a year.
Justice is an abstract being, represented by a collection of
individuals who are incessantly changing, whose good intentions and
memories are, like themselves, liable to many vicissitudes. Courts and
tribunals can do nothing to hinder crimes; their business is to deal
with them when done. From this point of view, a preventive police
would be a boon to a country; but the mere word Police is in these
days a bugbear to legislators, who no longer can distinguish between
the three words--Government, Administration, and Law-making. The
legislator tends to centralize everything in the State, as if the
State could act.
The convict would be sure always to remember his victim, and to avenge
himself when Justice had ceased to think of either of them.
Prudence, who instinctively appreciated the danger--in a general
sense, so to speak--left Valenciennes and came to Paris at the age of
seventeen to hide there. She tried four trades, of which the most
successful was that of a "super" at a minor theatre. She was picked up
by Paccard, and to him she told her woes. Paccard, Jacques Collin's
disciple and right-hand man, spoke of this girl to his master, and
when the master needed a slave he said to Prudence:
"If you will serve me as the devil must be served, I will rid you of
Durut was the convict; the Damocles' sword hung over Prudence
But for these details, many critics would have thought Europe's
attachment somewhat grotesque. And no one could have understood the
startling announcement that Carlos had ready.
"Yes, my girl, you can go back to Valenciennes. Here, read this."
And he held out to her yesterday's paper, pointing to this paragraph:
"TOULON--Yesterday, Jean Francois Durut was executed here. Early
in the morning the garrison," etc.
Prudence dropped the paper; her legs gave way under the weight of her
body; she lived again; for, to use her own words, she never liked the
taste of her food since the day when Durut had threatened her.
"You see, I have kept my word. It has taken four years to bring Durut
to the scaffold by leading him into a snare.--Well, finish my job
here, and you will find yourself at the head of a little country
business in your native town, with twenty thousand francs of your own
as Paccard's wife, and I will allow him to be virtuous as a form of
Europe picked up the paper and read with greedy eyes all the details,
of which for twenty years the papers have never been tired, as to the
death of convicted criminals: the impressive scene, the chaplain--who
has always converted the victim--the hardened criminal preaching to
his fellow convicts, the battery of guns, the convicts on their knees;
and then the twaddle and reflections which never lead to any change in
the management of the prisons where eighteen hundred crimes are
"We must place Asie on the staff once more," said Carlos.
Asie came forward, not understanding Europe's pantomime.
"In bringing her back here as cook, you must begin by giving the Baron
such a dinner as he never ate in his life," he went on. "Tell him that
Asie has lost all her money at play, and has taken service once more.
We shall not need an outdoor servant. Paccard shall be coachman.
Coachmen do not leave their box, where they are safe out of the way;
and he will run less risk from spies. Madame must turn him out in a
powdered wig and a braided felt cocked hat; that will alter his
appearance. Besides, I will make him us."
"Are we going to have men-servants in the house?" asked Asie with a
"All honest folks," said Carlos.
"All soft-heads," retorted the mulatto.
"If the Baron takes a house, Paccard has a friend who will suit as the
lodge porter," said Carlos. "Then we shall only need a footman and a
kitchen-maid, and you can surely keep an eye on two strangers----"
As Carlos was leaving, Paccard made his appearance.
"Wait a little while, there are people in the street," said the man.
This simple statement was alarming. Carlos went up to Europe's room,
and stayed there till Paccard came to fetch him, having called a
hackney cab that came into the courtyard. Carlos pulled down the
blinds, and was driven off at a pace that defied pursuit.
Having reached the Faubourg Saint-Antoine, he got out at a short
distance from a hackney coach stand, to which he went on foot, and
thence returned to the Quai Malaquais, escaping all inquiry.
"Here, child," said he to Lucien, showing him four hundred banknotes
for a thousand francs, "here is something on account for the purchase
of the estates of Rubempre. We will risk a hundred thousand. Omnibuses
have just been started; the Parisians will take to the novelty; in
three months we shall have trebled our capital. I know the concern;
they will pay splendid dividends taken out of the capital, to put a
head on the shares--an old idea of Nucingen's revived. If we acquire
the Rubempre land, we shall not have to pay on the nail.
"You must go and see des Lupeaulx, and beg him to give you a personal
recommendation to a lawyer named Desroches, a cunning dog, whom you
must call on at his office. Get him to go to Rubempre and see how the
land lies; promise him a premium of twenty thousand francs if he
manages to secure you thirty thousand francs a year by investing eight
hundred thousand francs in land round the ruins of the old house."
"How you go on--on! on!"
"I am always going on. This is no time for joking.--You must then
invest a hundred thousand crowns in Treasury bonds, so as to lose no
interest; you may safely leave it to Desroches, he is as honest as he
is knowing.--That being done, get off to Angouleme, and persuade your
sister and your brother-in-law to pledge themselves to a little fib in
the way of business. Your relations are to have given you six hundred
thousand francs to promote your marriage with Clotilde de Grandlieu;
there is no disgrace in that."
"We are saved!" cried Lucien, dazzled.
"You are, yes!" replied Carlos. "But even you are not safe till you
walk out of Saint-Thomas d'Aquin with Clotilde as your wife."
"And what have you to fear?" said Lucien, apparently much concerned
for his counselor.
"Some inquisitive souls are on my track--I must assume the manners of
a genuine priest; it is most annoying. The Devil will cease to protect
me if he sees me with a breviary under my arm."
At this moment the Baron de Nucingen, who was leaning on his cashier's
arm, reached the door of his mansion.
"I am ver' much afrait," said he, as he went in, "dat I hafe done a
bat day's vork. Vell, we must make it up some oder vays."
"De misfortune is dat you shall hafe been caught, mein Herr Baron,"
said the worthy German, whose whole care was for appearances.
"Ja, my miss'ess en titre should be in a position vody of me," said
this Louis XIV. of the counting-house.
Feeling sure that sooner or later Esther would be his, the Baron was
now himself again, a masterly financier. He resumed the management of
his affairs, and with such effect that his cashier, finding him in his
office room at six o'clock next morning, verifying his securities,
rubbed his hands with satisfaction.
"Ah, ha! mein Herr Baron, you shall hafe saved money last night!" said
he, with a half-cunning, half-loutish German grin.
Though men who are as rich as the Baron de Nucingen have more
opportunities than others for losing money, they also have more
chances of making it, even when they indulge their follies. Though the
financial policy of the house of Nucingen has been explained
elsewhere, it may be as well to point out that such immense fortunes
are not made, are not built up, are not increased, and are not
retained in the midst of the commercial, political, and industrial
revolutions of the present day but at the cost of immense losses, or,
if you choose to view it so, of heavy taxes on private fortunes. Very
little newly-created wealth is thrown into the common treasury of the
world. Every fresh accumulation represents some new inequality in the
general distribution of wealth. What the State exacts it makes some
return for; but what a house like that of Nucingen takes, it keeps.
Such covert robbery escapes the law for the reason which would have
made a Jacques Collin of Frederick the Great, if, instead of dealing
with provinces by means of battles, he had dealt in smuggled goods or
transferable securities. The high politics of money-making consist in
forcing the States of Europe to issue loans at twenty or at ten per
cent, in making that twenty or ten per cent by the use of public
funds, in squeezing industry on a vast scale by buying up raw
material, in throwing a rope to the first founder of a business just
to keep him above water till his drowned-out enterprise is safely
landed--in short, in all the great battles for money-getting.
The banker, no doubt, like the conqueror, runs risks; but there are so
few men in a position to wage this warfare, that the sheep have no
business to meddle. Such grand struggles are between the shepherds.
Thus, as the defaulters are guilty of having wanted to win too much,
very little sympathy is felt as a rule for the misfortunes brought
about by the coalition of the Nucingens. If a speculator blows his
brains out, if a stockbroker bolts, if a lawyer makes off with the
fortune of a hundred families--which is far worse than killing a man--
if a banker is insolvent, all these catastrophes are forgotten in
Paris in few months, and buried under the oceanic surges of the great
The colossal fortunes of Jacques Coeur, of the Medici, of the Angos of
Dieppe, of the Auffredis of la Rochelle, of the Fuggers, of the
Tiepolos, of the Corners, were honestly made long ago by the
advantages they had over the ignorance of the people as to the sources
of precious products; but nowadays geographical information has
reached the masses, and competition has so effectually limited the
profits, that every rapidly made fortune is the result of chance, or
of a discovery, or of some legalized robbery. The lower grades of
mercantile enterprise have retorted on the perfidious dealings of
higher commerce, especially during the last ten years, by base
adulteration of the raw material. Wherever chemistry is practised,
wine is no longer procurable; the vine industry is consequently
waning. Manufactured salt is sold to avoid the excise. The tribunals
are appalled by this universal dishonesty. In short, French trade is
regarded with suspicion by the whole world, and England too is fast
With us the mischief has its origin in the political situation. The
Charter proclaimed the reign of Money, and success has become the
supreme consideration of an atheistic age. And, indeed, the corruption
of the higher ranks is infinitely more hideous, in spite of the
dazzling display and specious arguments of wealth, than that ignoble
and more personal corruption of the inferior classes, of which certain
details lend a comic element--terrible, if you will--to this drama.
The Government, always alarmed by a new idea, has banished these
materials of modern comedy from the stage. The citizen class, less
liberal than Louis XIV., dreads the advent of its Mariage de Figaro,
forbids the appearance of a political Tartuffe, and certainly would
not allow Turcaret to be represented, for Turcaret is king.
Consequently, comedy has to be narrated, and a book is now the weapon
--less swift, but no more sure--that writers wield.
In the course of this morning, amid the coming and going of callers,
orders to be given, and brief interviews, making Nucingen's private
office a sort of financial lobby, one of his stockbrokers announced to
him the disappearance of a member of the Company, one of the richest
and cleverest too--Jacques Falleix, brother of Martin Falleix, and the
successor of Jules Desmarets. Jacques Falleix was stockbroker in
ordinary to the house of Nucingen. In concert with du Tillet and the
Kellers, the Baron had plotted the ruin of this man in cold blood, as
if it had been the killing of a Passover lamb.
"He could not hafe helt on," replied the Baron quietly.
Jacques Falleix had done them immense service in stock-jobbing. During
a crisis a few months since he had saved the situation by acting
boldly. But to look for gratitude from a money-dealer is as vain as to
try to touch the heart of the wolves of the Ukraine in winter.
"Poor fellow!" said the stockbroker. "He so little anticipated such a
catastrophe, that he had furnished a little house for his mistress in
the Rue Saint-Georges; he has spent one hundred and fifty thousand
francs in decorations and furniture. He was so devoted to Madame du
Val-Noble! The poor woman must give it all up. And nothing is paid
"Goot, goot!" thought Nucingen, "dis is de very chance to make up for
vat I hafe lost dis night!--He hafe paid for noting?" he asked his
"Why," said the stockbroker, "where would you find a tradesman so ill
informed as to refuse credit to Jacques Falleix? There is a splendid
cellar of wine, it would seem. By the way, the house is for sale; he
meant to buy it. The lease is in his name.--What a piece of folly!
Plate, furniture, wine, carriage-horses, everything will be valued in
a lump, and what will the creditors get out of it?"
"Come again to-morrow," said Nucingen. "I shall hafe seen all dat; and
if it is not a declared bankruptcy, if tings can be arranged and
compromised, I shall tell you to offer some reasonaple price for dat
furniture, if I shall buy de lease----"
"That can be managed," said his friend. "If you go there this morning,
you will find one of Falleix's partners there with the tradespeople,
who want to establish a first claim; but la Val-Noble has their
accounts made out to Falleix."
The Baron sent off one of his clerks forthwith to his lawyer. Jacques
Falleix had spoken to him about this house, which was worth sixty
thousand francs at most, and he wished to be put in possession of it
at once, so as to avail himself of the privileges of the householder.
The cashier, honest man, came to inquire whether his master had lost
anything by Falleix's bankruptcy.
"On de contrar' mein goot Volfgang, I stant to vin ein hundert tousant
"How vas dat?"
"Vell, I shall hafe de little house vat dat poor Teufel Falleix should
furnish for his mis'ess this year. I shall hafe all dat for fifty
tousant franc to de creditors; and my notary, Maitre Cardot, shall
hafe my orders to buy de house, for de lan'lord vant de money--I knew
dat, but I hat lost mein head. Ver' soon my difine Esther shall life
in a little palace. . . . I hafe been dere mit Falleix--it is close to
here.--It shall fit me like a glofe."
Falleix's failure required the Baron's presence at the Bourse; but he
could not bear to leave his house in the Rue Saint-Lazare without
going to the Rue Taitbout; he was already miserable at having been
away from Esther for so many hours. He would have liked to keep her at
his elbow. The profits he hoped to make out of his stockbrokers'
plunder made the former loss of four hundred thousand francs quite
easy to endure.
Delighted to announce to his "anchel" that she was to move from the
Rue Taitbout to the Rue Saint-Georges, where she was to have "ein
little palace" where her memories would no longer rise up in
antagonism to their happiness, the pavement felt elastic under his
feet; he walked like a young man in a young man's dream. As he turned
the corner of the Rue des Trois Freres, in the middle of his dream,
and of the road, the Baron beheld Europe coming towards him, looking
very much upset.
"Vere shall you go?" he asked.
"Well, monsieur, I was on my way to you. You were quite right
yesterday. I see now that poor madame had better have gone to prison
for a few days. But how should women understand money matters? When
madame's creditors heard that she had come home, they all came down
upon us like birds of prey.--Last evening, at seven o'clock, monsieur,
men came and stuck terrible posters up to announce a sale of furniture
on Saturday--but that is nothing.--Madame, who is all heart, once upon
a time to oblige that wretch of a man you know----"
"Well, the man she was in love with, d'Estourny--well, he was
charming! He was only a gambler----"
"He gambled with beveled cards!"
"Well--and what do you do at the Bourse?" said Europe. "But let me go
on. One day, to hinder Georges, as he said, from blowing out his
brains, she pawned all her plate and her jewels, which had never been
paid for. Now on hearing that she had given something to one of her
creditors, they came in a body and made a scene. They threaten her
with the police-court--your angel at that bar! Is it not enough to
make a wig stand on end? She is bathed in tears; she talks of throwing
herself into the river-- and she will do it."
"If I shall go to see her, dat is goot-bye to de Bourse; an' it is
impossible but I shall go, for I shall make some money for her--you
shall compose her. I shall pay her debts; I shall go to see her at
four o'clock. But tell me, Eugenie, dat she shall lofe me a
"A little?--A great deal!--I tell you what, monsieur, nothing but
generosity can win a woman's heart. You would, no doubt, have saved a
hundred thousand francs or so by letting her go to prison. Well, you
would never have won her heart. As she said to me--'Eugenie, he has
been noble, grand--he has a great soul.' "
"She hafe said dat, Eugenie?" cried the Baron.
"Yes, monsieur, to me, myself."
"Here--take dis ten louis."
"Thank you.--But she is crying at this moment; she has been crying
ever since yesterday as much as a weeping Magdalen could have cried in
six months. The woman you love is in despair, and for debts that are
not even hers! Oh! men--they devour women as women devour old fogies--
"Dey all is de same!--She hafe pledge' herself.--Vy, no one shall ever
pledge herself.--Tell her dat she shall sign noting more.--I shall
pay; but if she shall sign something more--I----"
"What will you do?" said Europe with an air.
"Mein Gott! I hafe no power over her.--I shall take de management of
her little affairs----Dere, dere, go to comfort her, and you shall say
that in ein mont she shall live in a little palace."
"You have invested heavily, Monsieur le Baron, and for large interest,
in a woman's heart. I tell you--you look to me younger. I am but a
waiting-maid, but I have often seen such a change. It is happiness--
happiness gives a certain glow. . . . If you have spent a little
money, do not let that worry you; you will see what a good return it
will bring. And I said to madame, I told her she would be the lowest
of the low, a perfect hussy, if she did not love you, for you have
picked her out of hell.--When once she has nothing on her mind, you
will see. Between you and me, I may tell you, that night when she
cried so much--What is to be said, we value the esteem of the man who
maintains us--and she did not dare tell you everything. She wanted to
"To fly!" cried the Baron, in dismay at the notion. "But the Bourse,
the Bourse!--Go 'vay, I shall not come in.--But tell her that I shall
see her at her window--dat shall gife me courage!"
Esther smiled at Monsieur de Nucingen as he passed the house, and he
went ponderously on his way, saying:
"She is ein anchel!"
This was how Europe had succeeded in achieving the impossible. At
about half-past two Esther had finished dressing, as she was wont to
dress when she expected Lucien; she was looking charming. Seeing this,
Prudence, looking out of the window, said, "There is monsieur!"
The poor creature flew to the window, thinking she would see Lucien;
she saw Nucingen.
"Oh! how cruelly you hurt me!" she said.
"There is no other way of getting you to seem to be gracious to a poor
old man, who, after all, is going to pay your debts," said Europe.
"For they are all to be paid."
"What debts?" said the girl, who only cared to preserve her love,
which dreadful hands were scattering to the winds.
"Those which Monsieur Carlos made in your name."
"Why, here are nearly four hundred and fifty thousand francs," cried
"And you owe a hundred and fifty thousand more. But the Baron took it
all very well.--He is going to remove you from hence, and place you in
a little palace.--On my honor, you are not so badly off. In your
place, as you have got on the right side of this man, as soon as
Carlos is satisfied, I should make him give me a house and a settled
income. You are certainly the handsomest woman I ever saw, madame, and
the most attractive, but we so soon grow ugly! I was fresh and good-
looking, and look at me! I am twenty-three, about the same age as
madame, and I look ten years older. An illness is enough.--Well, but
when you have a house in Paris and investments, you need never be
afraid of ending in the streets."
Esther had ceased to listen to Europe-Eugenie-Prudence Servien. The
will of a man gifted with the genius of corruption had thrown Esther
back into the mud with as much force as he had used to drag her out of
Those who know love in its infinitude know that those who do not
accept its virtues do not experience its pleasures. Since the scene in
the den in the Rue de Langlade, Esther had utterly forgotten her
former existence. She had since lived very virtuously, cloistered by
her passion. Hence, to avoid any obstacle, the skilful fiend had been
clever enough to lay such a train that the poor girl, prompted by her
devotion, had merely to utter her consent to swindling actions already
done, or on the point of accomplishment. This subtlety, revealing the
mastery of the tempter, also characterized the methods by which he had
subjugated Lucien. He created a terrible situation, dug a mine, filled
it with powder, and at the critical moment said to his accomplice,
"You have only to nod, and the whole will explode!"
Esther of old, knowing only the morality peculiar to courtesans,
thought all these attentions so natural, that she measured her rivals
only by what they could get men to spend on them. Ruined fortunes are
the conduct-stripes of these creatures. Carlos, in counting on
Esther's memory, had not calculated wrongly.
These tricks of warfare, these stratagems employed a thousand times,
not only by these women, but by spendthrifts too, did not disturb
Esther's mind. She felt nothing but her personal degradation; she
loved Lucien, she was to be the Baron de Nucingen's mistress "by
appointment"; this was all she thought of. The supposed Spaniard might
absorb the earnest-money, Lucien might build up his fortune with the
stones of her tomb, a single night of pleasure might cost the old
banker so many thousand-franc notes more or less, Europe might extract
a few hundred thousand francs by more or less ingenious trickery,--
none of these things troubled the enamored girl; this alone was the
canker that ate into her heart. For five years she had looked upon
herself as being as white as an angel. She loved, she was happy, she
had never committed the smallest infidelity. This beautiful pure love
was now to be defiled.
There was, in her mind, no conscious contrasting of her happy isolated
past and her foul future life. It was neither interest nor sentiment
that moved her, only an indefinable and all powerful feeling that she
had been white and was now black, pure and was now impure, noble and
was now ignoble. Desiring to be the ermine, moral taint seemed to her
unendurable. And when the Baron's passion had threatened her, she had
really thought of throwing herself out of the window. In short, she
loved Lucien wholly, and as women very rarely love a man. Women who
say they love, who often think they love best, dance, waltz, and flirt
with other men, dress for the world, and look for a harvest of
concupiscent glances; but Esther, without any sacrifice, had achieved
miracles of true love. She had loved Lucien for six years as actresses
love and courtesans--women who, having rolled in mire and impurity,
thirst for something noble, for the self-devotion of true love, and
who practice exclusiveness--the only word for an idea so little known
in real life.
Vanished nations, Greece, Rome, and the East, have at all times kept
women shut up; the woman who loves should shut herself up. So it may
easily be imagined that on quitting the palace of her fancy, where
this poem had been enacted, to go to this old man's "little palace,"
Esther felt heartsick. Urged by an iron hand, she had found herself
waist-deep in disgrace before she had time to reflect; but for the
past two days she had been reflecting, and felt a mortal chill about
At the words, "End in the street," she started to her feet and said:
"In the street!--No, in the Seine rather."
"In the Seine? And what about Monsieur Lucien?" said Europe.
This single word brought Esther to her seat again; she remained in her
armchair, her eyes fixed on a rosette in the carpet, the fire in her
brain drying up her tears.
At four o'clock Nucingen found his angel lost in that sea of
meditations and resolutions whereon a woman's spirit floats, and
whence she emerges with utterances that are incomprehensible to those
who have not sailed it in her convoy.
"Clear your brow, meine Schone," said the Baron, sitting down by her.
"You shall hafe no more debts--I shall arrange mit Eugenie, an' in ein
mont you shall go 'vay from dese rooms and go to dat little palace.--
Vas a pretty hant.--Gife it me dat I shall kiss it." Esther gave him
her hand as a dog gives a paw. "Ach, ja! You shall gife de hant, but
not de heart, and it is dat heart I lofe!"
The words were spoken with such sincerity of accent, that poor Esther
looked at the old man with a compassion in her eyes that almost
maddened him. Lovers, like martyrs, feel a brotherhood in their
sufferings! Nothing in the world gives such a sense of kindred as
community of sorrow.
"Poor man!" said she, "he really loves."
As he heard the words, misunderstanding their meaning, the Baron
turned pale, the blood tingled in his veins, he breathed the airs of
heaven. At his age a millionaire, for such a sensation, will pay as
much gold as a woman can ask.
"I lofe you like vat I lofe my daughter," said he. "An' I feel dere"--
and he laid her hand over his heart--"dat I shall not bear to see you
anyting but happy."
"If you would only be a father to me, I would love you very much; I
would never leave you; and you would see that I am not a bad woman,
not grasping or greedy, as I must seem to you now----"
"You hafe done some little follies," said the Baron, "like all dose
pretty vomen--dat is all. Say no more about dat. It is our pusiness to
make money for you. Be happy! I shall be your fater for some days yet,
for I know I must make you accustom' to my old carcase."
"Really!" she exclaimed, springing on to Nucingen's knees, and
clinging to him with her arm round his neck.
"Really!" repeated he, trying to force a smile.
She kissed his forehead; she believed in an impossible combination--
she might remain untouched and see Lucien.
She was so coaxing to the banker that she was La Torpille once more.
She fairly bewitched the old man, who promised to be a father to her
for forty days. Those forty days were to be employed in acquiring and
arranging the house in the Rue Saint-Georges.
When he was in the street again, as he went home, the Baron said to
himself, "I am an old flat."
But though in Esther's presence he was a mere child, away from her he
resumed his lynx's skin; just as the gambler (in le Joueur) becomes
affectionate to Angelique when he has not a liard.
"A half a million francs I hafe paid, and I hafe not yet seen vat her
leg is like.--Dat is too silly! but, happily, nobody shall hafe known
it!" said he to himself three weeks after.
And he made great resolutions to come to the point with the woman who
had cost him so dear; then, in Esther's presence once more, he spent
all the time he could spare her in making up for the roughness of his
"After all," said he, at the end of a month, "I cannot be de fater
Towards the end of the month of December 1829, just before installing
Esther in the house in the Rue Saint-Georges, the Baron begged du
Tillet to take Florine there, that she might see whether everything
was suitable to Nucingen's fortune, and if the description of "a
little palace" were duly realized by the artists commissioned to make
the cage worthy of the bird.
Every device known to luxury before the Revolution of 1830 made this
residence a masterpiece of taste. Grindot the architect considered it
his greatest achievement as a decorator. The staircase, which had been
reconstructed of marble, the judicious use of stucco ornament,
textiles, and gilding, the smallest details as much as the general
effect, outdid everything of the kind left in Paris from the time of
"This is my dream!--This and virtue!" said Florine with a smile. "And
for whom are you spending all this money?"
"For a voman vat is going up there," replied the Baron.
"A way of playing Jupiter?" replied the actress. "And when is she on
"On the day of the house-warming," cried du Tillet.
"Not before dat," said the Baron.
"My word, how we must lace and brush and fig ourselves out," Florine
went on. "What a dance the women will lead their dressmakers and
hairdressers for that evening's fun!--And when is it to be?"
"Dat is not for me to say."
"What a woman she must be!" cried Florine. "How much I should like to
"An' so should I," answered the Baron artlessly.
"What! is everything new together--the house, the furniture, and the
"Even the banker," said du Tillet, "for my old friend seems to me
quite young again."
"Well, he must go back to his twentieth year," said Florine; "at any
rate, for once."
In the early days of 1830 everybody in Paris was talking of Nucingen's
passion and the outrageous splendor of his house. The poor Baron,
pointed at, laughed at, and fuming with rage, as may easily be
imagined, took it into his head that on the occasion of giving the
house-warming he would at the same time get rid of his paternal
disguise, and get the price of so much generosity. Always circumvented
by "La Torpille," he determined to treat of their union by
correspondence, so as to win from her an autograph promise. Bankers
have no faith in anything less than a promissory note.
So one morning early in the year he rose early, locked himself into
his room, and composed the following letter in very good French; for
though he spoke the language very badly, he could write it very
"DEAR ESTHER, the flower of my thoughts and the only joy of my
life, when I told you that I loved you as I love my daughter, I
deceived you, I deceived myself. I only wished to express the
holiness of my sentiments, which are unlike those felt by other
men, in the first place, because I am an old man, and also because
I have never loved till now. I love you so much, that if you cost
me my fortune I should not love you the less.
"Be just! Most men would not, like me, have seen the angel in you;
I have never even glanced at your past. I love you both as I love
my daughter, Augusta, and as I might love my wife, if my wife
could have loved me. Since the only excuse for an old man's love
is that he should be happy, ask yourself if I am not playing a too
ridiculous part. I have taken you to be the consolation and joy of
my declining days. You know that till I die you will be as happy
as a woman can be; and you know, too, that after my death you will
be rich enough to be the envy of many women. In every stroke of
business I have effected since I have had the happiness of your
acquaintance, your share is set apart, and you have a standing
account with Nucingen's bank. In a few days you will move into a
house, which sooner or later, will be your own if you like it.
Now, plainly, will you still receive me then as a father, or will
you make me happy?
"Forgive me for writing so frankly, but when I am with you I lose
all courage; I feel too keenly that you are indeed my mistress. I
have no wish to hurt you; I only want to tell you how much I
suffer, and how hard it is to wait at my age, when every day takes
with it some hopes and some pleasures. Besides, the delicacy of my
conduct is a guarantee of the sincerity of my intentions. Have I
ever behaved as your creditor? You are like a citadel, and I am
not a young man. In answer to my appeals, you say your life is at
stake, and when I hear you, you make me believe it; but here I
sink into dark melancholy and doubts dishonorable to us both. You
seemed to me as sweet and innocent as you are lovely; but you
insist on destroying my convictions. Ask yourself!--You tell me
you bear a passion in your heart, an indomitable passion, but you
refuse to tell me the name of the man you love.--Is this natural?
"You have turned a fairly strong man into an incredibly weak one.
You see what I have come to; I am induced to ask you at the end of
five months what future hope there is for my passion. Again, I
must know what part I am to play at the opening of your house.
Money is nothing to me when it is spent for you; I will not be so
absurd as to make a merit to you of this contempt; but though my
love knows no limits, my fortune is limited, and I care for it
only for your sake. Well, if by giving you everything I possess I
might, as a poor man, win your affection, I would rather be poor
and loved than rich and scorned by you.
"You have altered me so completely, my dear Esther, that no one
knows me; I paid ten thousand francs for a picture by Joseph
Bridau because you told me that he was clever and unappreciated. I
give every beggar I meet five francs in your name. Well, and what
does the poor man ask, who regards himself as your debtor when you
do him the honor of accepting anything he can give you? He asks
only for a hope--and what a hope, good God! Is it not rather the
certainty of never having anything from you but what my passion
may seize? The fire in my heart will abet your cruel deceptions.
You find me ready to submit to every condition you can impose on
my happiness, on my few pleasures; but promise me at least that on
the day when you take possession of your house you will accept the
heart and service of him who, for the rest of his days, must sign
himself your slave,
"FREDERIC DE NUCINGEN."
"Faugh! how he bores me--this money bag!" cried Esther, a courtesan
once more. She took a small sheet of notepaper and wrote all over it,
as close as it could go, Scribe's famous phrase, which has become a
proverb, "Prenez mon ours."
A quarter of an hour later, Esther, overcome by remorse, wrote the
"MONSIEUR LE BARON,--
"Pay no heed to the note you have just received from me; I had
relapsed into the folly of my youth. Forgive, monsieur, a poor
girl who ought to be your slave. I never more keenly felt the
degradation of my position than on the day when I was handed over
to you. You have paid; I owe myself to you. There is nothing more
sacred than a debt of dishonor. I have no right to compound it by
throwing myself into the Seine.
"A debt can always be discharged in that dreadful coin which is
good only to the debtor; you will find me yours to command. I will
pay off in one night all the sums for which that fatal hour has
been mortgaged; and I am sure that such an hour with me is worth
millions--all the more because it will be the only one, the last.
I shall then have paid the debt, and may get away from life. A
good woman has a chance of restoration after a fall; but we, the
like of us, fall too low.
"My determination is so fixed that I beg you will keep this letter
in evidence of the cause of death of her who remains, for one day,
Having sent this letter, Esther felt a pang of regret. Ten minutes
after she wrote a third note, as follows:--
"Forgive me, dear Baron--it is I once more. I did not mean either
to make game of you or to wound you; I only want you to reflect on
this simple argument: If we were to continue in the position
towards each other of father and daughter, your pleasure would be
small, but it would be enduring. If you insist on the terms of the
bargain, you will live to mourn for me.
"I will trouble you no more: the day when you shall choose
pleasure rather than happiness will have no morrow for me.--Your
On receiving the first letter, the Baron fell into a cold fury such as
a millionaire may die of; he looked at himself in the glass and rang
"An hot bat for mein feet," said he to his new valet.
While he was sitting with his feet in the bath, the second letter
came; he read it, and fainted away. He was carried to bed.
When the banker recovered consciousness, Madame de Nucingen was
sitting at the foot of the bed.
"The hussy is right!" said she. "Why do you try to buy love? Is it to
be bought in the market!--Let me see your letter to her."
The Baron gave her sundry rough drafts he had made; Madame de Nucingen
read them, and smiled. Then came Esther's third letter.
"She is a wonderful girl!" cried the Baroness, when she had read it.
"Vat shall I do, montame?" asked the Baron of his wife.
"Wait? But nature is pitiless!" he cried.
"Look here, my dear, you have been admirably kind to me," said
Delphine; "I will give you some good advice."
"You are a ver' goot voman," said he. "Ven you hafe any debts I shall
"Your state on receiving these letters touches a woman far more than
the spending of millions, or than all the letters you could write,
however fine they may be. Try to let her know it, indirectly; perhaps
she will be yours! And--have no scruples, she will not die of that,"
added she, looking keenly at her husband.
But Madame de Nucingen knew nothing whatever of the nature of such
"Vat a clefer voman is Montame de Nucingen!" said the Baron to himself
when his wife had left him.
Still, the more the Baron admired the subtlety of his wife's counsel,
the less he could see how he might act upon it; and he not only felt
that he was stupid, but he told himself so.
The stupidity of wealthy men, though it is almost proverbial, is only
comparative. The faculties of the mind, like the dexterity of the
limbs, need exercise. The dancer's strength is in his feet; the
blacksmith's in his arms; the market porter is trained to carry loads;
the singer works his larynx; and the pianist hardens his wrist. A
banker is practised in business matters; he studies and plans them,
and pulls the wires of various interests, just as a playwright trains
his intelligence in combining situations, studying his actors, giving
life to his dramatic figures.
We should no more look for powers of conversation in the Baron de
Nucingen than for the imagery of a poet in the brain of a
mathematician. How many poets occur in an age, who are either good
prose writers, or as witty in the intercourse of daily life as Madame
Cornuel? Buffon was dull company; Newton was never in love; Lord Byron
loved nobody but himself; Rousseau was gloomy and half crazy; La
Fontaine absent-minded. Human energy, equally distributed, produces
dolts, mediocrity in all; unequally bestowed it gives rise to those
incongruities to whom the name of Genius is given, and which, if we
only could see them, would look like deformities. The same law governs
the body; perfect beauty is generally allied with coldness or
silliness. Though Pascal was both a great mathematician and a great
writer, though Beaumarchais was a good man of business, and Zamet a
profound courtier, these rare exceptions prove the general principle
of the specialization of brain faculties.
Within the sphere of speculative calculations the banker put forth as
much intelligence and skill, finesse and mental power, as a practised
diplomatist expends on national affairs. If he were equally remarkable
outside his office, the banker would be a great man. Nucingen made one
with the Prince de Ligne, with Mazarin or with Diderot, is a human
formula that is almost inconceivable, but which has nevertheless been
known as Pericles, Aristotle, Voltaire, and Napoleon. The splendor of
the Imperial crown must not blind us to the merits of the individual;
the Emperor was charming, well informed, and witty.
Monsieur de Nucingen, a banker and nothing more, having no
inventiveness outside his business, like most bankers, had no faith in
anything but sound security. In matters of art he had the good sense
to go, cash in hand, to experts in every branch, and had recourse to
the best architect, the best surgeon, the greatest connoisseur in
pictures or statues, the cleverest lawyer, when he wished to build a
house, to attend to his health, to purchase a work of art or an
estate. But as there are no recognized experts in intrigue, no
connoisseurs in love affairs, a banker finds himself in difficulties
when he is in love, and much puzzled as to the management of a woman.
So Nucingen could think of no better method than that he had hitherto
pursued--to give a sum of money to some Frontin, male or female, to
act and think for him.
Madame de Saint-Esteve alone could carry out the plan imagined by the
Baroness. Nucingen bitterly regretted having quarreled with the odious
old clothes-seller. However, feeling confident of the attractions of
his cash-box and the soothing documents signed Garat, he rang for his
man and told him in inquire for the repulsive widow in the Rue Saint-
Marc, and desire her to come to see him.
In Paris extremes are made to meet by passion. Vice is constantly
binding the rich to the poor, the great to the mean. The Empress
consults Mademoiselle Lenormand; the fine gentleman in every age can
always find a Ramponneau.
The man returned within two hours.
"Monsieur le Baron," said he, "Madame de Saint-Esteve is ruined."
"Ah! so much de better!" cried the Baron in glee. "I shall hafe her
"The good woman is given to gambling, it would seem," the valet went
on. "And, moreover, she is under the thumb of a third-rate actor in a
suburban theatre, whom, for decency's sake, she calls her godson. She
is a first-rate cook, it would seem, and wants a place."
"Dose teufel of geniuses of de common people hafe alvays ten vays of
making money, and ein dozen vays of spending it," said the Baron to
himself, quite unconscious that Panurge had thought the same thing.
He sent his servant off in quest of Madame de Saint-Esteve, who did
not come till the next day. Being questioned by Asie, the servant
revealed to this female spy the terrible effects of the notes written
to Monsieur le Baron by his mistress.
"Monsieur must be desperately in love with the woman," said he in
conclusion, "for he was very near dying. For my part, I advised him
never to go back to her, for he will be wheedled over at once. A woman
who has already cost Monsieur le Baron five hundred thousand francs,
they say, without counting what he has spent on the house in the Rue
Saint-Georges! But the woman cares for money, and for money only.--As
madame came out of monsieur's room, she said with a laugh: 'If this
goes on, that slut will make a widow of me!' "
"The devil!" cried Asie; "it will never do to kill the goose that lays
the golden eggs."
"Monsieur le Baron has no hope now but in you," said the valet.
"Ay! The fact is, I do know how to make a woman go."
"Well, walk in," said the man, bowing to such occult powers.
"Well," said the false Saint-Esteve, going into the sufferer's room
with an abject air, "Monsieur le Baron has met with some difficulties?
What can you expect! Everybody is open to attack on his weak side.
Dear me, I have had my troubles too. Within two months the wheel of
Fortune has turned upside down for me. Here I am looking out for a
place!--We have neither of us been very wise. If Monsieur le Baron
would take me as cook to Madame Esther, I would be the most devoted of
slaves. I should be useful to you, monsieur, to keep an eye on Eugenie
"Dere is no hope of dat," said the Baron. "I cannot succeet in being
de master, I am let such a tance as----"
"As a top," Asie put in. "Well, you have made others dance, daddy, and
the little slut has got you, and is making a fool of you.--Heaven is
"Just?" said the Baron. "I hafe not sent for you to preach to me----"
"Pooh, my boy! A little moralizing breaks no bones. It is the salt of
life to the like of us, as vice is to your bigots.--Come, have you
been generous? You have paid her debts?"
"Ja," said the Baron lamentably.
"That is well; and you have taken her things out of pawn, and that is
better. But you must see that it is not enough. All this gives her no
occupation, and these creatures love to cut a dash----"
"I shall hafe a surprise for her, Rue Saint-Georches--she knows dat,"
said the Baron. "But I shall not be made a fool of."
"Very well then, let her go."
"I am only afrait dat she shall let me go!" cried the Baron.
"And we want our money's worth, my boy," replied Asie. "Listen to me.
We have fleeced the public of some millions, my little friend? Twenty-
five millions I am told you possess."
The Baron could not suppress a smile.
"Well, you must let one go."
"I shall let one go, but as soon as I shall let one go, I shall hafe
to give still another."
"Yes, I understand, replied Asie. "You will not say B for fear of
having to go on to Z. Still, Esther is a good girl----"
"A ver' honest girl," cried the banker. "An' she is ready to submit;
but only as in payment of a debt."
"In short, she does not want to be your mistress; she feels an
aversion.--Well, and I understand it; the child has always done just
what she pleased. When a girl has never known any but charming young
men, she cannot take to an old one. You are not handsome; you are as
big as Louis XVIII., and rather dull company, as all men are who try
to cajole fortune instead of devoting themselves to women.--Well, if
you don't think six hundred thousand francs too much," said Asie, "I
pledge myself to make her whatever you can wish."
"Six huntert tousant franc!" cried the Baron, with a start. "Esther is
to cost me a million to begin with!"
"Happiness is surely worth sixteen hundred thousand francs, you old
sinner. You must know, men in these days have certainly spent more
than one or two millions on a mistress. I even know women who have
cost men their lives, for whom heads have rolled into the basket.--You
know the doctor who poisoned his friend? He wanted the money to
gratify a woman."
"Ja, I know all dat. But if I am in lofe, I am not ein idiot, at least
vile I am here; but if I shall see her, I shall gife her my pocket-
"Well, listen Monsieur le Baron," said Asie, assuming the attitude of
a Semiramis. "You have been squeezed dry enough already. Now, as sure
as my name is Saint-Esteve--in the way of business, of course--I will
stand by you."
"Goot, I shall repay you."
"I believe you, my boy, for I have shown you that I know how to be
revenged. Besides, I tell you this, daddy, I know how to snuff out
your Madame Esther as you would snuff a candle. And I know my lady!
When the little huzzy has once made you happy, she will be even more
necessary to you than she is at this moment. You paid me well; you
have allowed yourself to be fooled, but, after all, you have forked
out.--I have fulfilled my part of the agreement, haven't I? Well, look
here, I will make a bargain with you."
"Let me hear."
"You shall get me the place as cook to Madame, engage me for ten
years, and pay the last five in advance--what is that? Just a little
earnest-money. When once I am about madame, I can bring her to these
terms. Of course, you must first order her a lovely dress from Madame
Auguste, who knows her style and taste; and order the new carriage to
be at the door at four o'clock. After the Bourse closes, go to her
rooms and take her for a little drive in the Bois de Boulogne. Well,
by that act the woman proclaims herself your mistress; she has
advertised herself to the eyes and knowledge of all Paris: A hundred
thousand francs.--You must dine with her--I know how to cook such a
dinner!--You must take her to the play, to the Varietes, to a stage-
box, and then all Paris will say, 'There is that old rascal Nucingen
with his mistress.' It is very flattering to know that such things are
said.--Well, all this, for I am not grasping, is included for the
first hundred thousand francs.--In a week, by such conduct, you will
have made some way----"
"But I shall hafe paid ein hundert tousant franc."
"In the course of the second week," Asie went on, as though she had
not heard this lamentable ejaculation, "madame, tempted by these
preliminaries, will have made up her mind to leave her little
apartment and move to the house you are giving her. Your Esther will
have seen the world again, have found her old friends; she will wish
to shine and do the honors of her palace--it is in the nature of
things: Another hundred thousand francs!--By Heaven! you are at home
there, Esther compromised--she must be yours. The rest is a mere
trifle, in which you must play the principal part, old elephant. (How