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The Brotherhood of Consolation by Honore de Balzac

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Godefroid would never have known more about Baron Bourlac and his
family if it had not been for one of those chance encounters such as
often happens in Paris.

In the month of September he was walking down the great avenue of the
Champs Elysees, thinking, as he passed the end of the rue Marbeuf, of
Dr. Halpersohn.

"I might," thought he, "go and see him and ask if he ever cured
Bourlac's daughter. What a voice, what immense talents she had!--and
she wanted to consecrate herself to God!"

When he reached the Rond-point Godefroid crossed it quickly, on
account of the many carriages that were passing rapidly. As he reached
the other side in haste he knocked against a young man with a lady on
his arm.

"Take care!" said the young man; "are you blind?"

"Hey! is it you?" cried Godefroid, recognizing Auguste de Mergi.

Auguste was so well-dressed, and looked so dandified and handsome and
so proud of giving his arm to a pretty woman, that if it had not been
for the youth's voice and the memories that were just then in his own
mind he might not have recognized him.

"Oh! it is our dear Monsieur Godefroid!" said the lady.

Hearing those words in the celestial notes of Vanda's enchanting
voice, Godefroid stopped short on the spot where he stood.

"Cured!" he exclaimed.

"For the last ten days he has allowed me to walk out," she replied.

"Who? Halpersohn?"

"Yes," she said. "Why have you not been to see us? Perhaps it was well
you didn't;" she added; "my hair came off; this that you see is a wig;
but the doctor assures me it will grow again. Oh! how many things we
have to tell each other! Come and dine with us. Oh! your accordion!
oh! monsieur,"--she put her handkerchief to her eyes.

"I shall keep it all my life," she went on, "and my son will preserve
it as a relic after me. My father has searched all Paris for you. And
he is also in search of his unknown benefactors; he will grieve
himself to death if you do not help him to discover them. Poor father!
he is gnawed by a melancholy I cannot always get the better of."

As much attracted by that exquisite voice, now rescued from the
silence of the grave, as by a burning curiosity, Godefroid offered his
arm to the hand held out to him by the Baronne de Mergi, who signed to
her son to precede them, charging him with a commission which he
seemed to understand.

"I shall not take you far," she said; "we live in the Allee d'Antin,
in a pretty little house built in the English fashion. We occupy it
alone; each of us has a floor. Oh! we are so comfortable. My father
thinks that you had a great deal to do with our good fortune."


"Yes; did you know that on a recommendation made by the minister of
public instruction a chair of international law has been created for
papa at the Sorbonne? He begins his first course next November. The
great work on which he has been engaged for so long will be published
this month by the firm of Cavalier and Co., who agree to share the
profits with my father; they have already paid him on account thirty
thousand francs. My father bought our house with that money. The
minister of justice has awarded me a pension of twelve hundred francs
as the daughter of a former judge; my father has his retiring pension
of three thousand, and his professorship will give him five thousand
more. We are so economical that we are almost rich. My dear Auguste
will begin his law studies in two months; but he is already employed
in the office of the attorney-general, and is earning twelve hundred
francs a year. Ah! Monsieur Godefroid, promise me you will never speak
of that unhappy affair of my poor Auguste. As for me, I bless him
every day for his action, though his grandfather has not yet forgiven
him. Yes, his mother blesses him, Halpersohn adores him, but my father
is implacable!"

"What affair?" asked Godefroid.

"Ah! I recognize your generosity," cried Vanda. "What a heart you
have! Your mother must be proud of you."

She stopped as if a pain had struck her heart.

"I swear to you that I know nothing of the affair of which you speak,"
said Godefroid.

"It is possible that you really did not know it?" said Vanda. And she
related naively, in terms of admiration for her son, the story of the
loan that he had secured from the doctor.

"We may not speak of it before Baron Bourlac," said Godefroid, "tell
me now how your son got out of his trouble."

"Well," said Vanda, "I told you, I think, that he is now employed by
the attorney-general, who shows him the greatest kindness. Auguste was
only forty-eight hours in the Conciergerie, where he was put into the
governor's house. The good doctor, who did not receive a noble letter
the boy wrote him till late at night, withdrew his complaint; and,
through the influence of a former judge of the Royal Courts, whom my
father has never been able to meet, the attorney-general was induced
to annul the proceedings in the court. There is no trace left of the
affair except in my heart and my son's conscience, and alas! in his
grandfather's mind. From that day he has treated Auguste as almost a
stranger. Only yesterday Halpersohn begged him to forgive the boy; but
my father, who never before refused me anything--me, whom he loves so
well!--replied: 'You are the person robbed; you can, and you ought to
forgive; but I am responsible for the thief. When I was attorney-
general I never pardoned.' 'You'll kill your daughter,' said
Halpersohn. My father made no reply and turned away."

"But who helped you in all this?"

"A gentleman, whom we think is employed to do the queen's benefits."

"What is he like?"

"Well, he is of medium height; rather stout, but active; with a
kindly, genial face. It was he who found my father ill of fever in the
house where you knew us and had him brought to that in which we now
live. And just fancy, as soon as my father recovered /I/ was installed
there too, in my very own room, just as if I had never left it.
Halpersohn, whom the gentleman captivated, I am sure I don't know how,
then told me all the sufferings my father had endured. Ah, when I
think of it! my father and my son often without bread to eat, and when
with me pretending to be rich! even the diamonds in the snuff box
sold! Oh, Monsieur Godefroid! those two beings are martyrs. And so,
what can I say to my father? Between him and my son I can take no
part; I can only make return to them in kind by suffering with them,
as they once suffered with me."

"And you say you think that gentleman came from the queen?"

"Oh! I am sure you know him, I see it in your face," cried Vanda, now
at the door of the house.

She seized Godefroid by the hand with the vigor of a nervous woman and
dragged him into a salon, the door of which stood open.

"Papa!" she cried, "here is Monsieur Godefroid! and I am certain he
knows our benefactors."

Baron Bourlac, whom Godefroid now saw dressed in a manner suitable for
a man of his rank and position, rose and came forward, holding out his
hand to Godefroid, saying as he did so:--

"I was sure of it."

Godefroid made a gesture denying that he shared in this noble
vengeance, but the former attorney-general gave him no chance to

"Ah! monsieur," he said, continuing, "Providence could not be more
powerful, love more ingenious, motherhood more clear-sighted than your
friends have been for us. I bless the chance that has brought you here
to-day; for Monsieur Joseph has disappeared forever; he has evaded all
the traps I set to discover his true name and residence. Here, read
his last letter. But perhaps you already know it."

Godefroid read as follows:--

Monsieur le Baron Bourlac,--The sums which we have spent for you,
under the orders of a charitable lady, amount to fifteen thousand
francs. Take note of this, so that you may return that sum either
yourself, or through your descendants, whenever the prosperity of
your family will admit of it,--for that money is the money of the
poor. When you or your family are able to make this restitution,
pay the sum you owe into the hands of Messrs. Mongenod and
Company, bankers.

May God forgive you.

Five crosses formed the mysterious signature of this letter, which
Godefroid returned to the baron.

"The five crosses are there," he said as if to himself.

"Ah! monsieur," said the old man; "you do know all; you were sent to
me by that mysterious lady--tell me her name!"

"Her name!" exclaimed Godefroid; "her name! Unhappy man! you must not
ask it; never seek to find it out. Ah! madame," he cried, taking
Madame de Mergi's hand; "tell your father, if he values his peace of
mind, to remain in his ignorance and make no effort to discover the

"No, tell it!" said Vanda.

"Well, then, she who saved your daughter," said Godefroid, looking at
the old man, "who returns her to you young and beautiful and fresh and
happy, who rescued her from her coffin, she who saved your grandson
from disgrace, and has given you an old age of peace and honor--" He
stopped short--"is a woman whom you sent innocent to prison for twenty
years; to whom, as a magistrate, you did the foulest wrong; whose
sanctity you insulted; whose beautiful daughter you tore from her arms
and condemned to the cruellest of all deaths, for she died on the

Godefroid, seeing that Vanda had fallen back half fainting on her
chair, rushed into the corridor and from there into the street,
running at full speed.

"If you want your pardon," said Baron Bourlac to his grandson, "follow
that man and find out where he lives."

Auguste was off like an arrow.

The next morning at eight o'clock, Baron Bourlac knocked at the old
yellow door in the rue Chanoinesse, and asked for Madame de la
Chanterie. The portress showed him the portico. Happily it was the
breakfast hour. Godefroid saw the baron, through one of the casements
on the stairs, crossing the court-yard; he had just time to get down
into the salon where the friends were all assembled and to cry out:--

"Baron Bourlac is here!"

Madame de la Chanterie, hearing the name, rose; supported by the Abbe
de Veze she went to her room.

"You shall not come in, tool of Satan!" cried Manon, recognizing their
former prosecutor and preventing his entrance through the door of the
salon. "Have you come to kill Madame?"

"Manon, let the gentleman come in," said Monsieur Alain.

Manon sat down on a chair as if both her legs had given way at once.

"Monsieur," said the baron in an agitated voice, recognizing Monsieur
Joseph and Godefroid, and bowing to Monsieur Nicolas, "mercy gives
rights to those it benefits."

"You owe us nothing, monsieur;" said the good old Alain; "you owe
everything to God."

"You are saints, and you have the calmness of saints;" said the former
magistrate; "you will therefore listen to me. I know that the vast
benefits I have received during the last eighteen months have come
from the hand of a person whom I grievously injured in doing my duty.
It was fifteen years before I was convinced of her innocence; and that
case is the only one, gentlemen, for which I feel any remorse as to
the exercise of my functions. Listen to me! I have but a short time to
live, but I shall lose even that poor remnant of a life, still so
important to my children whom Madame de la Chanterie has saved, unless
she will also grant me her pardon. Yes, I will stay there on my knees
on the pavement of Notre-Dame until she says to me that word. I, who
cannot weep, whom the tortures of my child have dried like stubble, I
shall find tears within me to move her--"

The door of Madame de la Chanterie's room opened; the Abbe de Veze
glided in like a shadow and said to Monsieur Joseph:--

"That voice is torturing Madame."

"Ah! she is there!" exclaimed the baron.

He fell on his knees and burst into tears, crying out in a heart-
rending voice: "In the name of Jesus dying on the cross, forgive,
forgive me, for my daughter has suffered a thousand deaths!"

The old man fell forward on the floor so prone that the agitated
spectators thought him dead. At that instant Madame de la Chanterie
appeared like a spectre at the door of her room, against the frame of
which she supported herself.

"In the name of Louis XVI. and Marie-Antoinette whom I see on their
scaffold, in the name of Madame Elisabeth, in the name of my daughter
and of yours, and for Jesus' sake, I forgive you."

Hearing those words the old man raised his head. "It is the vengeance
of angels!" he said.

Monsieur Joseph and Monsieur Nicolas raised him and led him to the
courtyard; Godefroid went to fetch a carriage, and when they put the
old man into it Monsieur Nicolas said to him gravely:--

"Do not return here, monsieur; the power of God is infinite, but human
nature has its limits."

On that day Godefroid was admitted to the order of the Brotherhood of


The following personages appear in other stories of the Human Comedy.
The Brotherhood of Consolation is also known by the title The Seamy
Side of History and is referred to by that title in other Addendums.

A Distinguished Provincial at Paris
A Man of Business
The Middle Classes

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

Bonaparte, Napoleon
The Vendetta
The Gondreville Mystery
Colonel Chabert
Domestic Peace
A Woman of Thirty

The Gondreville Mystery
The Commission in Lunacy
Jealousies of a Country Town

Bourlac, Bernard-Jean-Baptiste-Macloud, Baron de
The Peasantry

Casteran, De
The Chouans
Jealousies of a Country Town
The Peasantry

A Distinguished Provincial at Paris

Champignelles, De
The Deserted Woman

Chesnel (or Choisnel)
Jealousies of a Country Town

Cibot, Jean (alias Pille-Miche)
The Chouans

Cinq-Cygne, Laurence, Comtesse (afterwards Marquise de)
The Gondreville Mystery
The Secrets of a Princess
The Member for Arcis

The Atheist's Mass
Cousin Pons
Lost Illusions
The Thirteen
The Government Clerks
A Bachelor's Establishment
Modeste Mignon
Scenes from a Courtesan's Life

Haudry (doctor)
Cesar Birotteau
The Thirteen
A Bachelor's Establishment
Cousin Pons

La Chanterie, Baronne Henri le Chantre de
Cousin Betty

The Imaginary Mistress

Leroi, Pierre
The Chouans
Jealousies of a Country Town

Louis XVIII., Louis-Stanislas-Xavier
The Chouans
The Gondreville Mystery
Scenes from a Courtesan's Life
The Ball at Sceaux
The Lily of the Valley
Colonel Chabert
The Government Clerks

Marest, Frederic
A Start in Life
The Member for Arcis

Metivier (nephew)
The Middle Classes

Cesar Birotteau

Mongenod, Frederic
The Commission in Lunacy

Montauran, Marquis de (younger brother of Alphonse de)
The Chouans
Cousin Betty

Nathan, Raoul
Lost Illusions
A Distinguished Provincial at Paris
Scenes from a Courtesan's Life
The Secrets of a Princess
A Daughter of Eve
Letters of Two Brides
The Muse of the Department
A Prince of Bohemia
A Man of Business
The Unconscious Humorists

Popinot, Jean-Jules
Cesar Birotteau
The Commission in Lunacy
The Middle Classes

Tours-Minieres, Bernard-Polydor Bryond, Baron des
Scenes from a Courtesan's Life

Troisville, Guibelin, Vicomte de
The Chouans
Jealousies of a Country Town
The Peasantry

Vernisset, Victor de
Cousin Betty

Vissard, Charles-Amedee-Louis-Joseph Rifoel, Chevalier du
The Chouans

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