Part 1 out of 2
Etext prepared Dagny, email@example.com
and Bonnie Sala
THE FIRM OF NUCINGEN
HONORE DE BALZAC
TO MADAME ZULMA CARRAUD
To whom, madame, but to you should I inscribe this work; to you
whose lofty and candid intellect is a treasury to your friends;
to you that are to me not only a whole public, but the most
indulgent of sisters as well? Will you deign to accept a token of
the friendship of which I am proud? You, and some few souls as
noble, will grasp the whole of the thought underlying The Firm of
Nucingen, appended to Cesar Birotteau. Is there not a whole social
lesson in the contrast between the two stories?
You know how slight the partitions are between the private rooms of
fashionable restaurants in Paris; Very's largest room, for instance,
is cut in two by a removable screen. This Scene is NOT laid at Very's,
but in snug quarters, which for reasons of my own I forbear to
specify. We were two, so I will say, like Henri Monnier's Prudhomme,
"I should not like to compromise HER!"
We had remarked the want of solidity in the wall-structure, so we
talked with lowered voices as we sat together in the little private
room, lingering over the dainty dishes of a dinner exquisite in more
senses than one. We had come as far as the roast, however, and still
we had no neighbors; no sound came from the next room save the
crackling of the fire. But when the clock struck eight, we heard
voices and noisy footsteps; the waiters brought candles. Evidently
there was a party assembled in the next room, and at the first words I
knew at once with whom we had to do--four bold cormorants as ever
sprang from the foam on the crests of the ever-rising waves of this
present generation--four pleasant young fellows whose existence was
problematical, since they were not known to possess either stock or
landed estates, yet they lived, and lived well. These ingenious
condottieri of a modern industrialism, that has come to be the most
ruthless of all warfares, leave anxieties to their creditors, and keep
the pleasures for themselves. They are careful for nothing, save
dress. Still with the courage of the Jean Bart order, that will smoke
cigars on a barrel of powder (perhaps by way of keeping up their
character), with a quizzing humor that outdoes the minor newspapers,
sparing no one, not even themselves; clear-sighted, wary, keen after
business, grasping yet open handed, envious yet self-complacent,
profound politicians by fits and starts, analyzing everything,
guessing everything--not one of these in question as yet had contrived
to make his way in the world which they chose for their scene of
operations. Only one of the four, indeed, had succeeded in coming as
far as the foot of the ladder.
To have money is nothing; the self-made man only finds out all that he
lacks after six months of flatteries. Andoche Finot, the self-made man
in question, stiff, taciturn, cold, and dull-witted, possessed the
sort of spirit which will not shrink from groveling before any
creature that may be of use to him, and the cunning to be insolent
when he needs a man no longer. Like one of the grotesque figures in
the ballet in Gustave, he was a marquis behind, a boor in front. And
this high-priest of commerce had a following.
Emile Blondet, Journalist, with abundance of intellectual power,
reckless, brilliant, and indolent, could do anything that he chose,
yet he submitted to be exploited with his eyes open. Treacherous or
kind upon impulse, a man to love, but not to respect; quick-witted as
a soubrette, unable to refuse his pen to any one that asked, or his
heart to the first that would borrow it, Emile was the most
fascinating of those light-of-loves of whom a fantastic modern wit
declared that "he liked them better in satin slippers than in boots."
The third in the party, Couture by name, lived by speculation,
grafting one affair upon another to make the gains pay for the losses.
He was always between wind and water, keeping himself afloat by his
bold, sudden strokes and the nervous energy of his play. Hither and
thither he would swim over the vast sea of interests in Paris, in
quest of some little isle that should be so far a debatable land that
he might abide upon it. Clearly Couture was not in his proper place.
As for the fourth and most malicious personage, his name will be
enough--it was Bixiou! Not (alas!) the Bixiou of 1825, but the Bixiou
of 1836, a misanthropic buffoon, acknowledged supreme, by reason of
his energetic and caustic wit; a very fiend let loose now that he saw
how he had squandered his intellect in pure waste; a Bixiou vexed by
the thought that he had not come by his share of the wreckage in the
last Revolution; a Bixiou with a kick for every one, like Pierrot at
the Funambules. Bixiou had the whole history of his own times at his
finger-ends, more particularly its scandalous chronicle, embellished
by added waggeries of his own. He sprang like a clown upon everybody's
back, only to do his utmost to leave the executioner's brand upon
every pair of shoulders.
The first cravings of gluttony satisfied, our neighbors reached the
stage at which we also had arrived, to wit, the dessert; and, as we
made no sign, they believed that they were alone. Thanks to the
champagne, the talk grew confidential as they dallied with the dessert
amid the cigar smoke. Yet through it all you felt the influence of the
icy esprit that leaves the most spontaneous feeling frost-bound and
stiff, that checks the most generous inspirations, and gives a sharp
ring to the laughter. Their table-talk was full of bitter irony which
turns a jest into a sneer; it told of the exhaustion of souls given
over to themselves; of lives with no end in view but the satisfaction
of self--of egoism induced by these times of peace in which we live. I
can think of nothing like it save a pamphlet against mankind at large
which Diderot was afraid to publish, a book that bares man's breast
simply to expose the plague-sores upon it. We listened to just such a
pamphlet as Rameau's Nephew, spoken aloud in all good faith, in the
course of after-dinner talk in which nothing, not even the point which
the speaker wished to carry, was sacred from epigram; nothing taken
for granted, nothing built up except on ruins, nothing reverenced save
the sceptic's adopted article of belief--the omnipotence, omniscience,
and universal applicability of money.
After some target practice at the outer circle of their acquaintances,
they turned their ill-natured shafts at their intimate friends. With a
sign I explained my wish to stay and listen as soon as Bixiou took up
his parable, as will shortly be seen. And so we listened to one of
those terrific improvisations which won that artist such a name among
a certain set of seared and jaded spirits; and often interrupted and
resumed though it was, memory serves me as a reporter of it. The
opinions expressed and the form of expression lie alike outside the
conditions of literature. It was, more properly speaking, a medley of
sinister revelations that paint our age, to which indeed no other kind
of story should be told; and, besides, I throw all the responsibility
upon the principal speaker. The pantomime and the gestures that
accompanied Bixiou's changes of voice, as he acted the parts of the
various persons, must have been perfect, judging by the applause and
admiring comments that broke from his audience of three.
"Then did Rastignac refuse?" asked Blondet, apparently addressing
"But did you threaten him with the newspapers?" asked Bixiou.
"He began to laugh," returned Finot.
"Rastignac is the late lamented de Marsay's direct heir; he will make
his way politically as well as socially," commented Blondet.
"But how did he make his money?" asked Couture. "In 1819 both he and
the illustrious Bianchon lived in a shabby boarding-house in the Latin
Quarter; his people ate roast cockchafers and their own wine so as to
send him a hundred francs every month. His father's property was not
worth a thousand crowns; he had two sisters and a brother on his
hands, and now----"
"Now he has an income of forty thousand livres," continued Finot; "his
sisters had a handsome fortune apiece and married into noble families;
he leaves his mother a life interest in the property----"
"Even in 1827 I have known him without a penny," said Blondet.
"Oh! in 1827," said Bixiou.
"Well," resumed Finot, "yet to-day, as we see, he is in a fair way to
be a Minister, a peer of France--anything that he likes. He broke
decently with Delphine three years ago; he will not marry except on
good grounds; and he may marry a girl of noble family. The chap had
the sense to take up with a wealthy woman."
"My friends, give him the benefit of extenuating circumstances," urged
Blondet. "When he escaped the clutches of want, he dropped into the
claws of a very clever man."
"You know what Nucingen is," said Bixiou. "In the early days, Delphine
and Rastignac thought him 'good-natured'; he seemed to regard a wife
as a plaything, an ornament in his house. And that very fact showed me
that the man was square at the base as well as in height," added
Bixiou. "Nucingen makes no bones about admitting that his wife is his
fortune; she is an indispensable chattel, but a wife takes a second
place in the high-pressure life of a political leader and great
capitalist. He once said in my hearing that Bonaparte had blundered
like a bourgeois in his early relations with Josephine; and that after
he had had the spirit to use her as a stepping-stone, he had made
himself ridiculous by trying to make a companion of her."
"Any man of unusual powers is bound to take Oriental views of women,"
"The Baron blended the opinions of East and West in a charming
Parisian creed. He abhorred de Marsay; de Marsay was unmanageable, but
with Rastignac he was much pleased; he exploited him, though Rastignac
was not aware of it. All the burdens of married life were put on him.
Rastignac bore the brunt of Delphine's whims; he escorted her to the
Bois de Boulogne; he went with her to the play; and the little
politician and great man of to-day spent a good deal of his life at
that time in writing dainty notes. Eugene was scolded for little
nothings from the first; he was in good spirits when Delphine was
cheerful, and drooped when she felt low; he bore the weight of her
confidences and her ailments; he gave up his time, the hours of his
precious youth, to fill the empty void of that fair Parisian's
idleness. Delphine and he held high councils on the toilettes which
went best together; he stood the fire of bad temper and broadsides of
pouting fits, while she, by way of trimming the balance, was very nice
to the Baron. As for the Baron, he laughed in his sleeve; but whenever
he saw that Rastignac was bending under the strain of the burden, he
made 'as if he suspected something,' and reunited the lovers by a
"I can imagine that a wealthy wife would have put Rastignac in the way
of a living, and an honorable living, but where did he pick up his
fortune?" asked Couture. "A fortune so considerable as his at the
present day must come from somewhere; and nobody ever accused him of
inventing a good stroke of business."
"Somebody left it to him," said Finot.
"Who?" asked Blondet.
"Some fool that he came across," suggested Couture.
"He did not steal the whole of it, my little dears," said Bixiou.
"Let not your terrors rise to fever-heat,
Our age is lenient with those who cheat.
Now, I will tell you about the beginnings of his fortune. In the
first place, honor to talent! Our friend is not a 'chap,' as Finot
describes him, but a gentleman in the English sense, who knows the
cards and knows the game; whom, moreover, the gallery respects.
Rastignac has quite as much intelligence as is needed at a given
moment, as if a soldier should make his courage payable at ninety
days' sight, with three witnesses and guarantees. He may seem
captious, wrong-headed, inconsequent, vacillating, and without any
fixed opinions; but let something serious turn up, some combination to
scheme out, he will not scatter himself like Blondet here, who chooses
these occasions to look at things from his neighbor's point of view.
Rastignac concentrates himself, pulls himself together, looks for the
point to carry by storm, and goes full tilt for it. He charges like a
Murat, breaks squares, pounds away at shareholders, promoters, and the
whole shop, and returns, when the breach is made, to his lazy,
careless life. Once more he becomes the man of the South, the man of
pleasure, the trifling, idle Rastignac. He has earned the right of
lying in bed till noon because a crisis never finds him asleep."
"So far so good, but just get to his fortune," said Finot.
"Bixiou will lash that off at a stroke," replied Blondet. "Rastignac's
fortune was Delphine de Nucingen, a remarkable woman; she combines
boldness with foresight."
"Did she ever lend you money?" inquired Bixiou. Everybody burst out
"You are mistaken in her," said Couture, speaking to Blondet; "her
cleverness simply consists in making more or less piquant remarks, in
loving Rastignac with tedious fidelity, and obeying him blindly. She
is a regular Italian."
"Money apart," Andoche Finot put in sourly.
"Oh, come, come," said Bixiou coaxingly; "after what we have just been
saying, will you venture to blame poor Rastignac for living at the
expense of the firm of Nucingen, for being installed in furnished
rooms precisely as La Torpille was once installed by our friend des
Lupeaulx? You would sink to the vulgarity of the Rue Saint-Denis!
First of all, 'in the abstract,' as Royer-Collard says, the question
may abide the Kritik of Pure Reason; as for the impure reason----"
"There he goes!" said Finot, turning to Blondet.
"But there is reason in what he says," exclaimed Blondet. "The problem
is a very old one; it was the grand secret of the famous duel between
La Chataigneraie and Jarnac. It was cast up to Jarnac that he was on
good terms with his mother-in-law, who, loving him only too well,
equipped him sumptuously. When a thing is so true, it ought not to be
said. Out of devotion to Henry II., who permitted himself this
slander, La Chataigneraie took it upon himself, and there followed the
duel which enriched the French language with the expression coup de
"Oh! does it go so far back? Then it is noble?" said Finot.
"As a proprietor of newspapers and reviews of old standing, you are
not bound to know that," said Blondet.
"There are women," Bixiou gravely resumed, "and for that matter, men
too, who can cut their lives in two and give away but one-half.
(Remark how I word my phrase for you in humanitarian language.) For
these, all material interests lie without the range of sentiment. They
give their time, their life, their honor to a woman, and hold that
between themselves it is not the thing to meddle with bits of tissue
paper bearing the legend, 'Forgery is punishable with death.' And
equally they will take nothing from a woman. Yes, the whole thing is
debased if fusion of interests follows on fusion of souls. This is a
doctrine much preached, and very seldom practised."
"Oh, what rubbish!" cried Blondet. "The Marechal de Richelieu
understood something of gallantry, and he settled an allowance of a
thousand louis d'or on Mme. de la Popeliniere after that affair of the
hiding-place behind the hearth. Agnes Sorel, in all simplicity, took
her fortune to Charles VII., and the King accepted it. Jacques Coeur
kept the crown for France; he was allowed to do it, and woman-like,
France was ungrateful."
"Gentlemen," said Bixiou, "a love that does not imply an indissoluble
friendship, to my thinking, is momentary libertinage. What sort of
entire surrender is it that keeps something back? Between these two
diametrically opposed doctrines, the one as profoundly immoral as the
other, there is no possible compromise. It seems to me that any
shrinking from a complete union is surely due to a belief that the
union cannot last, and if so, farewell to illusion. The passion that
does not believe that it will last for ever is a hideous thing. (Here
is pure unadulterated Fenelon for you!) At the same time, those who
know the world, the observer, the man of the world, the wearers of
irreproachable gloves and ties, the men who do not blush to marry a
woman for her money, proclaim the necessity of a complete separation
of sentiment and interest. The other sort are lunatics that love and
imagine that they and the woman they love are the only two beings in
the world; for them millions are dirt; the glove or the camellia
flower that She wore is worth millions. If the squandered filthy lucre
is never to be found again in their possession, you find the remains
of floral relics hoarded in dainty cedar-wood boxes. They cannot
distinguish themselves one from the other; for them there is no 'I'
left. THOU--that is their Word made flesh. What can you do? Can you
stop the course of this 'hidden disease of the heart'? There are fools
that love without calculation and wise men that calculate while they
"To my thinking Bixiou is sublime," cried Blondet. "What does Finot
say to it?"
"Anywhere else," said Finot, drawing himself up in his cravat,
"anywhere else, I should say, with the 'gentlemen'; but here, I
"With the scoundrelly scapegraces with whom you have the honor to
associate?" said Bixiou.
"Upon my word, yes."
"And you?" asked Bixiou, turning to Couture.
"Stuff and nonsense!" cried Couture. "The woman that will not make a
stepping-stone of her body, that the man she singles out may reach his
goal, is a woman that has no heart except for her own purposes."
"And you, Blondet?"
"I do not preach, I practise."
"Very good," rejoined Bixiou in his most ironical tones. "Rastignac
was not of your way of thinking. To take without repaying is
detestable, and even rather bad form; but to take that you may render
a hundred-fold, like the Lord, is a chivalrous deed. This was
Rastignac's view. He felt profoundly humiliated by his community of
interests with Delphine de Nucingen; I can tell you that he regretted
it; I have seen him deploring his position with tears in his eyes.
Yes, he shed tears, he did indeed--after supper. Well, now to OUR way
"I say, you are laughing at us," said Finot.
"Not the least in the world. We were talking of Rastignac. From your
point of view his affliction would be a sign of his corruption; for by
that time he was not nearly so much in love with Delphine. What would
you have? he felt the prick in his heart, poor fellow. But he was a
man of noble descent and profound depravity, whereas we are virtuous
artists. So Rastignac meant to enrich Delphine; he was a poor man, she
a rich woman. Would you believe it?--he succeeded. Rastignac, who
might have fought at need, like Jarnac, went over to the opinion of
Henri II. on the strength of his great maxim, 'There is no such thing
as absolute right; there are only circumstances.' This brings us to
the history of his fortune."
"You might just as well make a start with your story instead of
drawing us on to traduce ourselves," said Blondet with urbane good
"Aha! my boy," returned Bixiou, administering a little tap to the back
of Blondet's head, "you are making up for lost time over the
"Oh! by the sacred name of shareholder, get on with your story!" cried
"I was within an ace of it," retorted Bixiou, "but you with your
profanity have brought me to the climax."
"Then, are there shareholders in the tale?" inquired Finot.
"Yes; rich as rich can be--like yours."
"It seems to me," Finot began stiffly, "that some consideration is
owing to a good fellow to whom you look for a bill for five hundred
francs upon occasion----"
"Waiter!" called Bixiou.
"What do you want with the waiter?" asked Blondet.
"I want five hundred francs to repay Finot, so that I can tear up my
I. O. U. and set my tongue free."
"Get on with your story," said Finot, making believe to laugh.
"I take you all to witness that I am not the property of this insolent
fellow, who fancies that my silence is worth no more than five hundred
francs. You will never be a minister if you cannot gauge people's
consciences. There, my good Finot," he added soothingly, "I will get
on with my story without personalities, and we shall be quits."
"Now," said Couture with a smile, "he will begin to prove for our
benefit that Nucingen made Rastignac's fortune."
"You are not so far out as you think," returned Bixiou. "You do not
know what Nucingen is, financially speaking."
"Do you know so much as a word as to his beginnings?" asked Blondet.
"I have only known him in his own house," said Bixiou, "but we may
have seen each other in the street in the old days."
"The prosperity of the firm of Nucingen is one of the most
extraordinary things seen in our days," began Blondet. "In 1804
Nucingen's name was scarcely known. At that time bankers would have
shuddered at the idea of three hundred thousand francs' worth of his
acceptances in the market. The great capitalist felt his inferiority.
How was he to get known? He suspended payment. Good! Every market rang
with a name hitherto only known in Strasbourg and the Quartier
Poissonniere. He issued deposit certificates to his creditors, and
resumed payment; forthwith people grew accustomed to his paper all
over France. Then an unheard-of-thing happened--his paper revived, was
in demand, and rose in value. Nucingen's paper was much inquired for.
The year 1815 arrives, my banker calls in his capital, buys up
Government stock before the battle of Waterloo, suspends payment again
in the thick of the crisis, and meets his engagements with shares in
the Wortschin mines, which he himself issued at twenty per cent more
than he gave for them! Yes, gentlemen!--He took a hundred and fifty
thousand bottles of champagne of Grandet to cover himself (forseeing
the failure of the virtuous parent of the present Comte d'Aubrion),
and as much Bordeaux wine of Duberghe at the same time. Those three
hundred thousand bottles which he took over (and took at thirty sous
apiece, my dear boy) he supplied at the price of six francs per bottle
to the Allies in the Palais Royal during the foreign occupation,
between 1817 and 1819. Nucingen's name and his paper acquired a
European celebrity. The illustrious Baron, so far from being engulfed
like others, rose the higher for calamities. Twice his arrangements
had paid holders of his paper uncommonly well; HE try to swindle them?
Impossible. He is supposed to be as honest a man as you will find.
When he suspends payment a third time, his paper will circulate in
Asia, Mexico, and Australia, among the aborigines. No one but Ouvrard
saw through this Alsacien banker, the son of some Jew or other
converted by ambition; Ouvrard said, 'When Nucingen lets gold go, you
may be sure that it is to catch diamonds.' "
"His crony, du Tillet, is just such another," said Finot. "And, mind
you, that of birth du Tillet has just precisely as much as is
necessary to exist; the chap had not a farthing in 1814, and you see
what he is now; and he has done something that none of us has managed
to do (I am not speaking of you, Couture), he has had friends instead
of enemies. In fact, he has kept his past life so quiet, that unless
you rake the sewers you are not likely to find out that he was an
assistant in a perfumer's shop in the Rue Saint Honore, no further
back than 1814."
"Tut, tut, tut!" said Bixiou, "do not think of comparing Nucingen with
a little dabbler like du Tillet, a jackal that gets on in life through
his sense of smell. He scents a carcass by instinct, and comes in time
to get the best bone. Besides, just look at the two men. The one has a
sharp-pointed face like a cat, he is thin and lanky; the other is
cubical, fat, heavy as a sack, imperturbable as a diplomatist.
Nucingen has a thick, heavy hand, and lynx eyes that never light up;
his depths are not in front, but behind; he is inscrutable, you never
see what he is making for. Whereas du Tillet's cunning, as Napoleon
said to somebody (I have forgotten the name), is like cotton spun too
fine, it breaks."
"I do not myself see that Nucingen has any advantage over du Tillet,"
said Blondet, "unless it is that he has the sense to see that a
capitalist ought not to rise higher than a baron's rank, while du
Tillet has a mind to be an Italian count."
"Blondet--one word, my boy," put in Couture. "In the first place,
Nucingen dared to say that honesty is simply a question of
appearances; and secondly, to know him well you must be in business
yourself. With him banking is but a single department, and a very
small one; he holds Government contracts for wines, wools, indigoes--
anything, in short, on which any profit can be made. He has an all-
round genius. The elephant of finance would contract to deliver votes
on a division, or the Greeks to the Turks. For him business means the
sum-total of varieties; as Cousin would say, the unity of specialties.
Looked at in this way, banking becomes a kind of statecraft in itself,
requiring a powerful head; and a man thoroughly tempered is drawn on
to set himself above the laws of a morality that cramps him."
"Right, my son," said Blondet; "but we, and we alone, can comprehend
that this means bringing war into the financial world. A banker is a
conquering general making sacrifices on a tremendous scale to gain
ends that no one perceives; his soldiers are private people's
interests. He has stratagems to plan out, partisans to bring into the
field, ambushes to set, towns to take. Most men of this stamp are so
close upon the borders of politics, that in the end they are drawn
into public life, and thereby lose their fortunes. The firm of Necker,
for instance, was ruined in this way; the famous Samuel Bernard was
all but ruined. Some great capitalist in every age makes a colossal
fortune, and leaves behind him neither fortune nor a family; there was
the firm of Paris Brothers, for instance, that helped to pull down
Law; there was Law himself (beside whom other promoters of companies
are but pigmies); there was Bouret and Beaujon--none of them left any
representative. Finance, like Time, devours its own children. If the
banker is to perpetuate himself, he must found a noble house, a
dynasty; like the Fuggers of Antwerp, that lent money to Charles V.
and were created Princes of Babenhausen, a family that exists at this
day--in the Almanach de Gotha. The instinct of self-preservation,
working it may be unconsciously, leads the banker to seek a title.
Jacques Coeur was the founder of the great noble house of Noirmoutier,
extinct in the reign of Louis XIII. What power that man had! He was
ruined for making a legitimate king; and he died, prince of an island
in the Archipelago, where he built a magnificent cathedral."
"Oh! you are giving us an historical lecture, we are wandering away
from the present, the crown has no right of conferring nobility, and
barons and counts are made with closed doors; more is the pity!" said
"You regret the times of the savonnette a vilain, when you could buy
an office that ennobled?" asked Bixiou. "You are right. Je reviens a
nos moutons.--Do you know Beaudenord? No? no? no? Ah, well! See how
all things pass away! Poor fellow, ten years ago he was the flower of
dandyism; and now, so thoroughly absorbed that you no more know him
than Finot just now knew the origin of the expression 'coup de
Jarnac'--I repeat that simply for the sake of illustration, and not to
tease you, Finot. Well, it is a fact, he belonged to the Faubourg
"Beaudenord is the first pigeon that I will bring on the scene. And,
in the first place, his name was Godefroid de Beaudenord; neither
Finot, nor Blondet, nor Couture, nor I am likely to undervalue such an
advantage as that! After a ball, when a score of pretty women stand
behooded waiting for their carriages, with their husbands and adorers
at their sides, Beaudenord could hear his people called without a pang
of mortification. In the second place, he rejoiced in the full
complement of limbs; he was whole and sound, had no mote in his eyes,
no false hair, no artificial calves; he was neither knock-kneed nor
bandy-legged, his dorsal column was straight, his waist slender, his
hands white and shapely. His hair was black; he was of a complexion
neither too pink, like a grocer's assistant, nor yet too brown, like a
Calabrese. Finally, and this is an essential point, Beaudenord was not
too handsome, like some of our friends that look rather too much of
professional beauties to be anything else; but no more of that; we
have said it, it is shocking! Well, he was a crack shot, and sat a
horse to admiration; he had fought a duel for a trifle, and had not
killed his man.
"If you wish to know in what pure, complete, and unadulterated
happiness consists in this Nineteenth Century in Paris--the happiness,
that is to say, of a young man of twenty-six--do you realize that you
must enter into the infinitely small details of existence?
Beaudenord's bootmaker had precisely hit off his style of foot; he was
well shod; his tailor loved to clothe him. Godefroid neither rolled
his r's, nor lapsed into Normanisms nor Gascon; he spoke pure and
correct French, and tied his cravat correctly (like Finot). He had
neither father nor mother--such luck had he!--and his guardian was the
Marquis d'Aiglemont, his cousin by marriage. He could go among city
people as he chose, and the Faubourg Saint-Germain could make no
objection; for, fortunately, a young bachelor is allowed to make his
own pleasure his sole rule of life, he is at liberty to betake himself
wherever amusement is to be found, and to shun the gloomy places where
cares flourish and multiply. Finally, he had been vaccinated (you know
what I mean, Blondet).
"And yet, in spite of all these virtues," continued Bixiou, "he might
very well have been a very unhappy young man. Eh! eh! that word
happiness, unhappily, seems to us to mean something absolute, a
delusion which sets so many wiseacres inquiring what happiness is. A
very clever woman said that 'Happiness was where you chose to put
"She formulated a dismal truth," said Blondet.
"And a moral," added Finot.
"Double distilled," said Blondet. "Happiness, like Good, like Evil, is
relative. Wherefore La Fontaine used to hope that in the course of
time the damned would feel as much at home in hell as a fish in
"La Fontaine's sayings are known in Philistia!" put in Bixiou.
"Happiness at six-and-twenty in Paris is not the happiness of six-and-
twenty at--say Blois," continued Blondet, taking no notice of the
interruption. "And those that proceed from this text to rail at the
instability of opinion are either knaves or fools for their pains.
Modern medicine, which passed (it is its fairest title to glory) from
a hypothetical to a positive science, through the influence of the
great analytical school of Paris, has proved beyond a doubt that a man
is periodically renewed throughout----"
"New haft, new blade, like Jeannot's knife, and yet you think that he
is still the same man," broke in Bixiou. "So there are several
lozenges in the harlequin's coat that we call happiness; and--well,
there was neither hole nor stain in this Godefroid's costume. A young
man of six-and-twenty, who would be happy in love, who would be loved,
that is to say, not for his blossoming youth, nor for his wit, nor for
his figure, but spontaneously, and not even merely in return for his
own love; a young man, I say, who has found love in the abstract, to
quote Royer-Collard, might yet very possibly find never a farthing in
the purse which She, loving and beloved, embroidered for him; he might
owe rent to his landlord; he might be unable to pay the bootmaker
before mentioned; his very tailor, like France herself, might at last
show signs of disaffection. In short, he might have love and yet be
poor. And poverty spoils a young man's happiness, unless he holds our
transcendental views of the fusion of interests. I know nothing more
wearing than happiness within combined with adversity without. It is
as if you had one leg freezing in the draught from the door, and the
other half-roasted by a brazier--as I have at this moment. I hope to
be understood. Comes there an echo from thy waistcoat-pocket, Blondet?
Between ourselves, let the heart alone, it spoils the intellect.
"Let us resume. Godefroid de Beaudenord was respected by his
tradespeople, for they were paid with tolerable regularity. The witty
woman before quoted--I cannot give her name, for she is still living,
thanks to her want of heart----"
"Who is this?"
"The Marquise d'Espard. She said that a young man ought to live on an
entresol; there should be no sign of domesticity about the place; no
cook, no kitchen, an old manservant to wait upon him, and no pretence
of permanence. In her opinion, any other sort of establishment is bad
form. Godefroid de Beaudenord, faithful to this programme, lodged on
an entresol on the Quai Malaquais; he had, however, been obliged to
have this much in common with married couples, he had put a bedstead
in his room, though for that matter it was so narrow that he seldom
slept in it. An Englishwoman might have visited his rooms and found
nothing 'improper' there. Finot, you have yet to learn the great law
of the 'Improper' that rules Britain. But, for the sake of the bond
between us--that bill for a thousand francs--I will just give you some
idea of it. I have been in England myself.--I will give him wit enough
for a couple of thousand," he added in an aside to Blondet.
"In England, Finot, you grow extremely intimate with a woman in the
course of an evening, at a ball or wherever it is; next day you meet
her in the street and look as though you knew her again--'improper.'--
At dinner you discover a delightful man beneath your left-hand
neighbor's dresscoat; a clever man; no high mightiness, no constraint,
nothing of an Englishman about him. In accordance with the tradition
of French breeding, so urbane, so gracious as they are, you address
your neighbor--'improper.'--At a ball you walk up to a pretty woman to
ask her to dance--'improper.' You wax enthusiastic, you argue, laugh,
and give yourself out, you fling yourself heart and soul into the
conversation, you give expression to your real feelings, you play when
you are at the card-table, chat while you chat, eat while you eat--
'improper! improper! improper!' Stendhal, one of the cleverest and
profoundest minds of the age, hit off the 'improper' excellently well
when he said that such-and-such a British peer did not dare to cross
his legs when he sat alone before his own hearth for fear of being
improper. An English gentlewoman, were she one of the rabid 'Saints'--
that most straitest sect of Protestants that would leave their whole
family to starve if the said family did anything 'improper'--may play
the deuce's own delight in her own bedroom, and need not be
'improper,' but she would look on herself as lost if she received a
visit from a man of her acquaintance in the aforesaid room. Thanks to
propriety, London and its inhabitants will be found petrified some of
"And to think that there are asses here in France that want to import
the solemn tomfoolery that the English keep up among themselves with
that admirable self-possession which you know!" added Blondet. "It is
enough to make any man shudder if he has seen the English at home, and
recollects the charming, gracious French manners. Sir Walter Scott was
afraid to paint women as they are for fear of being 'improper'; and at
the close of his life repented of the creation of the great character
of Effie in The Heart of Midlothian."
"Do you wish not to be 'improper' in England?" asked Bixiou,
"Go to the Tuileries and look at a figure there, something like a
fireman carved in marble ('Themistocles,' the statuary calls it), try
to walk like the Commandant's statue, and you will never be
'improper.' It was through strict observance of the great law of the
IMproper that Godefroid's happiness became complete. There is the
"Beaudenord had a tiger, not a 'groom,' as they write that know
nothing of society. The tiger, a diminutive Irish page called Paddy,
Toby, Joby (which you please), was three feet in height by twenty
inches in breadth, a weasel-faced infant, with nerves of steel
tempered in fire-water, and agile as a squirrel. He drove a landau
with a skill never yet at fault in London or Paris. He had a lizard's
eye, as sharp as my own, and he could mount a horse like the elder
Franconi. With the rosy cheeks and yellow hair of one of Rubens'
Madonnas he was double-faced as a prince, and as knowing as an old
attorney; in short, at the age of ten he was nothing more nor less
than a blossom of depravity, gambling and swearing, partial to jam and
punch, pert as a feuilleton, impudent and light-fingered as any Paris
street-arab. He had been a source of honor and profit to a well-known
English lord, for whom he had already won seven hundred thousand
francs on the race-course. The aforesaid nobleman set no small store
on Toby. His tiger was a curiosity, the very smallest tiger in town.
Perched aloft on the back of a thoroughbred, Joby looked like a hawk.
Yet--the great man dismissed him. Not for greediness, not for
dishonesty, nor murder, nor rudeness to my lady, nor for cutting holes
in my lady's own woman's pockets, nor because he had been 'got at' by
some of his master's rivals on the turf, nor for playing games of a
Sunday, nor for bad behavior of any sort or description. Toby might
have done all these things, he might even have spoken to milord before
milord spoke to him, and his noble master might, perhaps, have
pardoned that breach of the law domestic. Milord would have put up
with a good deal from Toby; he was very fond of him. Toby could drive
a tandem dog-cart, riding on the wheeler, postilion fashion; his legs
did not reach the shafts, he looked in fact very much like one of the
cherub heads circling about the Eternal Father in old Italian
pictures. But an English journalist wrote a delicious description of
the little angel, in the course of which he said that Paddy was quite
too pretty for a tiger; in fact, he offered to bet that Paddy was a
tame tigress. The description, on the heads of it, was calculated to
poison minds and end in something 'improper.' And the superlative of
'improper' is the way to the gallows. Milord's circumspection was
highly approved by my lady.
"But poor Toby, now that his precise position in insular zoology had
been called in question, found himself hopelessly out of place. At
that time Godefroid had blossomed out at the French Embassy in London,
where he learned the adventures of Toby, Joby, Paddy. Godefroid found
the infant weeping over a pot of jam (he had already lost the guineas
with which milord gilded his misfortune). Godefroid took possession of
him; and so it fell out that on his return among us he brought back
with him the sweetest thing in tigers from England. He was known by
his tiger--as Couture is known by his waistcoats--and found no
difficulty in entering the fraternity of the club yclept to-day the
Grammont. He had renounced the diplomatic career; he ceased
accordingly to alarm the susceptibilites of the ambitious; and as he
had no very dangerous amount of intellect, he was well looked upon
"Some of us would feel mortified if we saw only smiling faces wherever
we went; we enjoy the sour contortions of envy. Godefroid did not like
to be disliked. Every one has his taste. Now for the solid, practical
aspects of life!
"The distinguishing feature of his chambers, where I have licked my
lips over breakfast more than once, was a mysterious dressing-closet,
nicely decorated, and comfortably appointed, with a grate in it and a
bath-tub. It gave upon a narrow staircase, the folding doors were
noiseless, the locks well oiled, the hinges discreet, the window panes
of frosted glass, the curtain impervious to light. While the bedroom
was, as it ought to have been, in a fine disorder which would suit the
most exacting painter in water-colors; while everything therein was
redolent of the Bohemian life of a young man of fashion, the dressing-
closet was like a shrine--white, spotless, neat, and warm. There were
no draughts from door or window, the carpet had been made soft for
bare feet hastily put to the floor in a sudden panic of alarm--which
stamps him as your thoroughbred dandy that knows life; for here, in a
few moments, he may show himself either a noodle or a master in those
little details in which a man's character is revealed. The Marquise
previously quoted--no, it was the Marquise de Rochefide--came out of
that dressing-closet in a furious rage, and never went back again. She
discovered nothing 'improper' in it. Godefroid used to keep a little
cupboard full of----"
"Waistcoats?" suggested Finot.
"Come, now, just like you, great Turcaret that you are. (I shall never
form that fellow.) Why, no. Full of cakes, and fruit, and dainty
little flasks of Malaga and Lunel; an en cas de nuit in Louis
Quatorze's style; anything that can tickle the delicate and well-bred
appetite of sixteen quarterings. A knowing old man-servant, very
strong in matters veterinary, waited on the horses and groomed
Godefroid. He had been with the late M. de Beaudenord, Godefroid's
father, and bore Godefroid an inveterate affection, a kind of heart
complaint which has almost disappeared among domestic servants since
savings banks were established.
"All material well-being is based upon arithmetic. You to whom Paris
is known down to its very excrescences, will see that Beaudenord must
have acquired about seventeen thousand livres per annum; for he paid
some seventeen francs of taxes and spent a thousand crowns on his own
whims. Well, dear boys, when Godefroid came of age, the Marquis
d'Aiglemont submitted to him such an account of his trust as none of
us would be likely to give a nephew; Godefroid's name was inscribed as
the owner of eighteen thousand livres of rentes, a remnant of his
father's wealth spared by the harrow of the great reduction under the
Republic and the hailstorms of Imperial arrears. D'Aiglemont, that
upright guardian, also put his ward in possession of some thirty
thousand francs of savings invested with the firm of Nucingen; saying
with all the charm of a grand seigneur and the indulgence of a soldier
of the Empire, that he had contrived to put it aside for his ward's
young man's follies. 'If you will take my advice, Godefroid,' added
he, 'instead of squandering the money like a fool, as so many young
men do, let it go in follies that will be useful to you afterwards.
Take an attache's post at Turin, and then go to Naples, and from
Naples to London, and you will be amused and learn something for your
money. Afterwards, if you think of a career, the time and the money
will not have been thrown away.' The late lamented d'Aiglemont had
more sense than people credited him with, which is more than can be
said of some of us."
"A young fellow that starts with an assured income of eighteen
thousand livres at one-and-twenty is lost," said Couture.
"Unless he is miserly, or very much above the ordinary level," added
"Well, Godefroid sojourned in the four capitals of Italy," continued
Bixiou. "He lived in England and Germany, he spent some little time at
St. Petersburg, he ran over Holland but he parted company with the
aforesaid thirty thousand francs by living as if he had thirty
thousand a year. Everywhere he found the same supreme de volaille, the
same aspics, and French wines; he heard French spoken wherever he went
--in short, he never got away from Paris. He ought, of course, to have
tried to deprave his disposition, to fence himself in triple brass, to
get rid of his illusions, to learn to hear anything said without a
blush, and to master the inmost secrets of the Powers.--Pooh! with a
good deal of trouble he equipped himself with four languages--that is
to say, he laid in a stock of four words for one idea. Then he came
back, and certain tedious dowagers, styled 'conquests' abroad, were
left disconsolate. Godefroid came back, shy, scarcely formed, a good
fellow with a confiding disposition, incapable of saying ill of any
one who honored him with an admittance to his house, too staunch to be
a diplomatist, altogether he was what we call a thoroughly good
"To cut it short, a brat with eighteen thousand livres per annum to
drop over the first investment that turns up," said Couture.
"That confounded Couture has such a habit of anticipating dividends,
that he is anticipating the end of my tale. Where was I? Oh!
Beaudenord came back. When he took up his abode on the Quai Malaquais,
it came to pass that a thousand francs over and above his needs was
altogether insufficient to keep up his share of a box at the Italiens
and the Opera properly. When he lost twenty-five or thirty louis at
play at one swoop, naturally he paid; when he won, he spent the money;
so should we if we were fools enough to be drawn into a bet.
Beaudenord, feeling pinched with his eighteen thousand francs, saw the
necessity of creating what we to-day call a balance in hand. It was a
great notion of his 'not to get too deep.' He took counsel of his
sometime guardian. 'The funds are now at par, my dear boy,' quoth
d'Aiglemont; 'sell out. I have sold mine and my wife's. Nucingen has
all my capital, and is giving me six per cent; do likewise, you will
have one per cent the more upon your capital, and with that you will
be quite comfortable.'
"In three days' time our Godefroid was comfortable. His increase of
income exactly supplied his superfluities; his material happiness was
"Suppose that it were possible to read the minds of all the young men
in Paris at one glance (as, it appears, will be done at the Day of
Judgment with all the millions upon millions that have groveled in all
spheres, and worn all uniforms or the uniform of nature), and to ask
them whether happiness at six-and-twenty is or is not made up of the
following items--to wit, to own a saddle-horse and a tilbury, or a
cab, with a fresh, rosy-faced Toby Joby Paddy no bigger than your
fist, and to hire an unimpeachable brougham for twelve francs an
evening; to appear elegantly arrayed, agreeably to the laws that
regulate a man's clothes, at eight o'clock, at noon, four o'clock in
the afternoon, and in the evening; to be well received at every
embassy, and to cull the short-lived flowers of superficial,
cosmopolitan friendships; to be not insufferably handsome, to carry
your head, your coat, and your name well; to inhabit a charming little
entresol after the pattern of the rooms just described on the Quai
Malaquais; to be able to ask a party of friends to dine at the Rocher
de Cancale without a previous consultation with your trousers' pocket;
never to be pulled up in any rational project by the words, 'And the
money?' and finally, to be able to renew at pleasure the pink rosettes
that adorn the ears of three thoroughbreds and the lining of your hat?
"To such inquiry any ordinary young man (and we ourselves that are not
ordinary men) would reply that the happiness is incomplete; that it is
like the Madeleine without the altar; that a man must love and be
loved, or love without return, or be loved without loving, or love at
cross purposes. Now for happiness as a mental condition.
"In January 1823, after Godefroid de Beaudenord had set foot in the
various social circles which it pleased him to enter, and knew his way
about in them, and felt himself secure amid these joys, he saw the
necessity of a sunshade--the advantage of having a great lady to
complain of, instead of chewing the stems of roses bought for
fivepence apiece of Mme. Prevost, after the manner of the callow
youngsters that chirp and cackle in the lobbies of the Opera, like
chickens in a coop. In short, he resolved to centre his ideas, his
sentiments, his affections upon a woman, ONE WOMAN?--LA PHAMME!
Ah! . . . .
"At first he conceived the preposterous notion of an unhappy passion,
and gyrated for a while about his fair cousin, Mme. d'Aiglemont, not
perceiving that she had already danced the waltz in Faust with a
diplomatist. The year '25 went by, spent in tentatives, in futile
flirtations, and an unsuccessful quest. The loving object of which he
was in search did not appear. Passion is extremely rare; and in our
time as many barriers have been raised against passion in social life
as barricades in the streets. In truth, my brothers, the 'improper' is
gaining upon us, I tell you!
"As we may incur reproach for following on the heels of portrait
painters, auctioneers, and fashionable dressmakers, I will not inflict
any description upon you of HER in whom Godefroid recognized the
female of his species. Age, nineteen; height, four feet eleven inches;
fair hair, eyebrows idem, blue eyes, forehead neither high nor low,
curved nose, little mouth, short turned-up chin, oval face;
distinguishing signs--none. Such was the description on the passport
of the beloved object. You will not ask more than the police, or their
worships the mayors, of all the towns and communes of France, the
gendarmes and the rest of the powers that be? In other respects--I
give you my word for it--she was a rough sketch of a Venus dei
"The first time that Godefroid went to one of the balls for which Mme.
de Nucingen enjoyed a certain not undeserved reputation, he caught a
glimpse of his future lady-love in a quadrille, and was set marveling
by that height of four feet eleven inches. The fair hair rippled in a
shower of curls about the little girlish head, she looked as fresh as
a naiad peeping out through the crystal pane of her stream to take a
look at the spring flowers. (This is quite in the modern style,
strings of phrases as endless as the macaroni on the table a while
ago.) On that 'eyebrows idem' (no offence to the prefect of police)
Parny, that writer of light and playful verse, would have hung half-a-
dozen couplets, comparing them very agreeably to Cupid's bow, at the
same time bidding us to observe that the dart was beneath; the said
dart, however, was neither very potent nor very penetrating, for as
yet it was controlled by the namby-pamby sweetness of a Mlle. de la
Valliere as depicted on fire-screens, at the moment when she
solemnizes her betrothal in the sight of heaven, any solemnization
before the registrar being quite out to the question.
"You know the effect of fair hair and blue eyes in the soft,
voluptuous decorous dance? Such a girl does not knock audaciously at
your heart, like the dark-haired damsels that seem to say after the
fashion of Spanish beggars, 'Your money or your life; give me five
francs or take my contempt!' These insolent and somewhat dangerous
beauties may find favor in the sight of many men, but to my thinking
the blonde that has the good fortune to look extremely tender and
yielding, while foregoing none of her rights to scold, to tease, to
use unmeasured language, to be jealous without grounds, to do
anything, in short, that makes woman adorable,--the fair-haired girl,
I say, will always be more sure to marry than the ardent brunette.
Firewood is dear, you see.
"Isaure, white as an Alsacienne (she first saw the light at
Strasbourg, and spoke German with a slight and very agreeable French
accent), danced to admiration. Her feet, omitted on the passport,
though they really might have found a place there under the heading
Distinguishing Signs, were remarkable for their small size, and for
that particular something which old-fashioned dancing masters used to
call flic-flac, a something that put you in mind of Mlle. Mars'
agreeable delivery, for all the Muses are sisters, and the dancer and
poet alike have their feet upon the earth. Isaure's feet spoke lightly
and swiftly with a clearness and precision which augured well for
things of the heart. 'Elle a duc flic-flac,' was old Marcel's highest
word of praise, and old Marcel was the dancing master that deserved
the epithet of 'the Great.' People used to say 'the Great Marcel,' as
they said 'Frederick the Great,' and in Frederick's time."
"Did Marcel compose any ballets?" inquired Finot.
"Yes, something in the style of Les Quatre Elements and L'Europe
"What times they were, when great nobles dressed the dancers!" said
"Improper!" said Bixiou. "Isaure did not raise herself on the tips of
her toes, she stayed on the ground, she swayed in the dance without
jerks, and neither more nor less voluptuously than a young lady ought
to do. There was a profound philosophy in Marcel's remark that every
age and condition had its dance; a married woman should not dance like
a young girl, nor a little jackanapes like a capitalist, nor a soldier
like a page; he even went so far as to say that the infantry ought not
to dance like the cavalry, and from this point he proceeded to
classify the world at large. All these fine distinctions seem very far
"Ah!" said Blondet, "you have set your finger on a great calamity. If
Marcel had been properly understood, there would have been no French
"It had been Godefroid's privilege to run over Europe," resumed
Bixiou, "nor had he neglected his opportunities of making a thorough
comparative study of European dancing. Perhaps but for profound
diligence in the pursuit of what is usually held to be useless
knowledge, he would never have fallen in love with this young lady; as
it was, out of the three hundred guests that crowded the handsome
rooms in the Rue Saint-Lazare, he alone comprehended the unpublished
romance revealed by a garrulous quadrille. People certainly noticed
Isaure d'Aldrigger's dancing; but in this present century the cry is
'Skim lightly over the surface, do not lean your weight on it;' so one
said (he was a notary's clerk), 'There is a girl that dances
uncommonly well;' another (a lady in a turban), 'There is a young lady
that dances enchantingly;' and a third (a woman of thirty), 'That
little thing is not dancing badly.'--But to return to the great
Marcel, let us parody his best known saying with, 'How much there is
in an avant-deux.' "
"And let us get on a little faster," said Blondet; "you are
"Isaure," continued Bixiou, looking askance at Blondet, "wore a simple
white crepe dress with green ribbons; she had a camellia in her hair,
a camellia at her waist, another camellia at her skirt-hem, and a
"Come, now! here comes Sancho's three hundred goats."
"Therein lies all literature, dear boy. Clarissa is a masterpiece,
there are fourteen volumes of her, and the most wooden-headed
playwright would give you the whole of Clarissa in a single act. So
long as I amuse you, what have you to complain of? That costume was
positively lovely. Don't you like camillias? Would you rather have
dahlias? No? Very good, chestnuts then, here's for you." (And probably
Bixiou flung a chestnut across the table, for we heard something drop
on a plate.)
"I was wrong, I acknowledge it. Go on," said Blondet.
"I resume. 'Pretty enough to marry, isn't she?' said Rastignac, coming
up to Godefroid de Beaudenord, and indicating the little one with the
spotless white camellias, every petal intact.
"Rastignac being an intimate friend, Godefroid answered in a low
voice, 'Well, so I was thinking. I was saying to myself that instead
of enjoying my happiness with fear and trembling at every moment;
instead of taking a world of trouble to whisper a word in an
inattentive ear, of looking over the house at the Italiens to see if
some one wears a red flower or a white in her hair, or watching along
the Corso for a gloved hand on a carriage door, as we used to do at
Milan; instead of snatching a mouthful of baba like a lackey finishing
off a bottle behind a door, or wearing out one's wits with giving and
receiving letters like a postman--letters that consist not of a mere
couple of tender lines, but expand to five folio volumes to-day and
contract to a couple of sheets to-morrow (a tiresome practice);
instead of dragging along over the ruts and dodging behind hedges--it
would be better to give way to the adorable passion that Jean-Jacques
Rousseau envied, to fall frankly in love with a girl like Isaure, with
a view to making her my wife, if upon exchange of sentiments our
hearts respond to each other; to be Werther, in short, with a happy
" 'Which is a common weakness,' returned Rastignac without laughing.
'Possibly in your place I might plunge into the unspeakable delights
of that ascetic course; it possesses the merits of novelty and
originality, and it is not very expensive. Your Monna Lisa is sweet,
but inane as music for the ballet; I give you warning.'
"Rastignac made this last remark in a way which set Beaudenord
thinking that his friend had his own motives for disenchanting him;
Beaudenord had not been a diplomatist for nothing; he fancied that
Rastignac wanted to cut him out. If a man mistakes his vocation, the
false start none the less influences him for the rest of his life.
Godefroid was so evidently smitten with Mlle. Isaure d'Aldrigger, that
Rastignac went off to a tall girl chatting in the card-room.--
'Malvina,' he said, lowering his voice, 'your sister has just netted a
fish worth eighteen thousand francs a year. He has a name, a manner,
and a certain position in the world; keep an eye on them; be careful
to gain Isaure's confidence; and if they philander, do not let her
send word to him unless you have seen it first----'
"Towards two o'clock in the morning, Isaure was standing beside a
diminutive Shepherdess of the Alps, a little woman of forty,
coquettish as a Zerlina. A footman announced that 'Mme. la Baronne's
carriage stops the way,' and Godefroid forthwith saw his beautiful
maiden out of a German song draw her fantastical mother into the
cloakroom, whither Malvina followed them; and (boy that he was) he
must needs go to discover into what pot of preserves the infant Joby
had fallen, and had the pleasure of watching Isaure and Malvina
coaxing that sparkling person, their mamma, into her pelisse, with all
the little tender precautions required for a night journey in Paris.
Of course, the girls on their side watched Beaudenord out of the
corners of their eyes, as well-taught kittens watch a mouse, without
seeming to see it at all. With a certain satisfaction Beaudenord noted
the bearing, manner, and appearance, of the tall well-gloved Alsacien
servant in livery who brought three pairs of fur-lined overshoes for
"Never were two sisters more unlike than Isaure and Malvina. Malvina
the elder was tall and dark-haired, Isaure was short and fair, and her
features were finely and delicately cut, while her sister's were
vigorous and striking. Isaure was one of those women who reign like
queens through their weakness, such a woman as a schoolboy would feel
it incumbent upon him to protect; Malvina was the Andalouse of
Musset's poem. As the sisters stood together, Isaure looked like a
miniature beside a portrait in oils.
" 'She is rich!' exclaimed Godefroid, going back to Rastignac in the
" 'That young lady.'
" 'Oh, Isaure d'Aldrigger? Why, yes. The mother is a widow; Nucingen
was once a clerk in her husband's bank at Strasbourg. Do you want to
see them again? Just turn off a compliment for Mme. de Restaud; she is
giving a ball the day after to-morrow; the Baroness d'Aldrigger and
her two daughters will be there. You will have an invitation.'
"For three days Godefroid beheld Isaure in the camera obscura of his
brain--HIS Isaure with her white camellias and the little ways she had
with her head--saw her as you see the bright thing on which you have
been gazing after your eyes are shut, a picture grown somewhat
smaller; a radiant, brightly-colored vision flashing out of a vortex
"Bixiou, you are dropping into phenomena, block us out our pictures,"
put in Couture.
"Here you are, gentlemen! Here is the picture you ordered!" (from the
tones of Bixiou's voice, he evidently was posing as a waiter.) "Finot,
attention, one has to pull at your mouth as a jarvie pulls at his
jade. In Madame Theodora Marguerite Wilhelmine Adolphus (of the firm
of Adolphus and Company, Manheim), relict of the late Baron
d'Aldrigger, you might expect to find a stout, comfortable German,
compact and prudent, with a fair complexion mellowed to the tint of
the foam on a pot of beer; and as to virtues, rich in all the
patriarchal good qualities that Germany possesses--in romances, that
is to say. Well there was not a gray hair in the frisky ringlets that
she wore on either side of her face; she was still as fresh and as
brightly colored on the cheek-bone as a Nuremberg doll; her eyes were
lively and bright; a closely-fitting bodice set off the slenderness of
her waist. Her brow and temples were furrowed by a few involuntary
wrinkles which, like Ninon, she would fain have banished from her head
to her heel, but they persisted in tracing their zigzags in the more
conspicuous place. The outlines of the nose had somewhat fallen away,
and the tip had reddened, and this was the more awkward because it
matched the color on the cheek-bones.
"An only daughter and an heiress, spoilt by her father and mother,
spoilt by her husband and the city of Strasbourg, spoilt still by two
daughters who worshiped their mother, the Baroness d'Aldrigger
indulged a taste for rose color, short petticoats, and a knot of
ribbon at the point of the tightly-fitting corselet bodice. Any
Parisian meeting the Baroness on the boulevard would smile and condemn
her outright; he does not admit any plea of extenuating circumstances,
like a modern jury on a case of fratricide. A scoffer is always
superficial, and in consequence cruel; the rascal never thinks of
throwing the proper share of ridicule on society that made the
individual what he is; for Nature only makes dull animals of us, we
owe the fool to artificial conditions."
"The thing that I admire about Bixiou is his completeness," said
Blondet; "whenever he is not gibing at others, he is laughing at
"I will be even with you for that, Blondet," returned Bixiou in a
significant tone. "If the little Baroness was giddy, careless,
selfish, and incapable in practical matters, she was not accountable
for her sins; the responsibility is divided between the firm of
Adolphus and Company of Manheim and Baron d'Aldrigger with his blind
love for his wife. The Baroness was a gentle as a lamb; she had a soft
heart that was very readily moved; unluckily, the emotion never lasted
long, but it was all the more frequently renewed.
"When the Baron died, for instance, the Shepherdess all but followed
him to the tomb, so violent and sincere was her grief, but--next
morning there was green peas at lunch, she was fond of green peas, the
delicious green peas calmed the crisis. Her daughters and her servants
loved her so blindly that the whole household rejoiced over a
circumstance that enabled them to hide the dolorous spectacle of the
funeral from the sorrowing Baroness. Isaure and Malvina would not
allow their idolized mother to see their tears.
"While the Requiem was chanted, they diverted her thoughts to the
choice of mourning dresses. While the coffin was placed in the huge,
black and white, wax-besprinkled catafalque that does duty for some
three thousand dead in the course of its career--so I was informed by
a philosophically-minded mute whom I once consulted on a point over a
couple of glasses of petit blanc--while an indifferent priest mumbling
the office for the dead, do you know what the friends of the departed
were saying as, all dressed in black from head to foot, they sat or
stood in the church? (Here is the picture you ordered.) Stay, do you
" 'How much do you suppose old d'Aldrigger will leave?' Desroches
asked of Taillefer.--You remember Taillefer that gave us the finest
orgy ever known not long before he died?"
"He was in treaty for practice in 1822," said Couture. "It was a bold
thing to do, for he was the son of a poor clerk who never made more
than eighteen hundred francs a year, and his mother sold stamped
paper. But he worked very hard from 1818 to 1822. He was Derville's
fourth clerk when he came; and in 1819 he was second!"
"Yes. Desroches, like the rest of us, once groveled in the poverty of
Job. He grew so tired of wearing coats too tight and sleeves too short
for him, that he swallowed down the law in desperation and had just
bought a bare license. He was a licensed attorney, without a penny, or
a client, or any friends beyond our set; and he was bound to pay
interest on the purchase-money and the cautionary deposit besides."
"He used to make me feel as if I had met a tiger escaped from the
Jardin des Plantes," said Couture. "He was lean and red-haired, his
eyes were the color of Spanish snuff, and his complexion was harsh. He
looked cold and phlegmatic. He was hard upon the widow, pitiless to
the orphan, and a terror to his clerks; they were not allowed to waste
a minute. Learned, crafty, double-faced, honey-tongued, never flying
into a passion, rancorous in his judicial way."
"But there is goodness in him," cried Finot; "he is devoted to his
friends. The first thing he did was to take Godeschal, Mariette's
brother, as his head-clerk."
"At Paris," said Blondet, "there are attorneys of two shades. There is
the honest man attorney; he abides within the province of the law,
pushes on his cases, neglects no one, never runs after business, gives
his clients his honest opinion, and makes them compromise on doubtful
points--he is a Derville, in short. Then there is the starveling
attorney, to whom anything seems good provided that he is sure of
expenses; he will set, not mountains fighting, for he sells them, but
planets; he will work to make the worse appear the better cause, and
take advantage of a technical error to win the day for a rogue. If one
of these fellows tries one of Maitre Gonin's tricks once too often,
the guild forces him to sell his connection. Desroches, our friend
Desroches, understood the full resources of a trade carried on in a
beggarly way enough by poor devils; he would buy up causes of men who
feared to lose the day; he plunged into chicanery with a fixed
determination to make money by it. He was right; he did his business
very honestly. He found influence among men in public life by getting
them out of awkward complications; there was our dear les Lupeaulx,
for instance, whose position was so deeply compromised. And Desroches
stood in need of influence; for when he began, he was anything but
well looked on at the court, and he who took so much trouble to
rectify the errors of his clients was often in trouble himself. See
now, Bixiou, to go back to the subject--How came Desroches to be in
" 'D'Aldrigger is leaving seven or eight hundred thousand francs,'
Taillefer answered, addressing Desroches.
" 'Oh, pooh, there is only one man who knows how much THEY are worth,'
put in Werbrust, a friend of the deceased.
" 'That fat rogue Nucingen; he will go as far as the cemetery;
d'Aldrigger was his master once, and out of gratitude he put the old
man's capital into his business.'
" 'The widow will soon feel a great difference.'
" 'What do you mean?'
" 'Well, d'Aldrigger was so fond of his wife. Now, don't laugh, people
are looking at us.'
" 'Look here comes du Tillet; he is very late. The epistle is just
" 'He will marry the eldest girl in all probability.'
" 'Is it possible?' asked Desroches; 'why, he is tied more than ever
to Mme. Roguin.'
" 'TIED--he?--You do not know him.'
" 'Do you know how Nucingen and du Tillet stand?' asked Desroches.
" 'Like this,' said Taillefer; 'Nucingen is just the man to swallow
down his old master's capital, and then to disgorge it.'
" 'Ugh! ugh!' coughed Werbrust, 'these churches are confoundedly damp;
ugh! ugh! What do you mean by "disgorge it"?'
" 'Well, Nucingen knows that du Tillet has a lot of money; he wants to
marry him to Malvina; but du Tillet is shy of Nucingen. To a looker-
on, the game is good fun.'
" 'What!' exclaimed Werbrust, 'is she old enough to marry? How quickly
we grow old!'
" 'Malvina d'Aldrigger is quite twenty years old, my dear fellow. Old
d'Aldrigger was married in 1800. He gave some rather fine
entertainments in Strasbourg at the time of his wedding, and
afterwards when Malvina was born. That was in 1801 at the peace of
Amiens, and here are we in the year 1823, Daddy Werbrust! In those
days everything was Ossianized; he called his daughter Malvina. Six
years afterwards there was a rage for chivalry, Partant pour la Syrie
--a pack of nonsense--and he christened his second daughter Isaure.
She is seventeen. So there are two daughters to marry.'
" 'The women will not have a penny left in ten years' time,' said
Werbrust, speaking to Desroches in a confidential tone.
" 'There is d'Aldrigger's man-servant, the old fellow bellowing away
at the back of the church; he has been with them since the two young
ladies were children, and he is capable of anything to keep enough
together for them to live upon,' said Taillefer.
"Dies iroe! (from the minor cannons). Dies illa! (from the
" 'Good-day, Werbrust (from Taillefer), the Dies iroe puts me too much
in mind of my poor boy.'
" 'I shall go too; it is too damp in here,' said Werbrust.
" 'A few halfpence, kind gentlemen!' (from the beggars at the door).
" 'For the expenses of the church!' (from the beadle, with a rattling
clatter of the money-box).
" 'AMEN' (from the choristers).
" 'What did he die of?' (from a friend).
" 'He broke a blood-vessel in the heel' (from an inquisitive wag).
" 'Who is dead?' (from a passer-by).
" 'The President de Montesquieu!' (from a relative).
"The sacristan to the poor, 'Get away, all of you; the money for you
has been given to us; don't ask for any more.' "
"Done to the life!" cried Couture. And indeed it seemed to us that we
heard all that went on in the church. Bixiou imitated everything, even
the shuffling sound of the feet of the men that carried the coffin
over the stone floor.
"There are poets and romancers and writers that say many fine things
abut Parisian manners," continued Bixiou, "but that is what really
happens at a funeral. Ninety-nine out of a hundred that come to pay
their respects to some poor devil departed, get together and talk
business or pleasure in the middle of the church. To see some poor
little touch of real sorrow, you need an impossible combination of
circumstances. And, after all, is there such a thing as grief without
a thought of self in it?"
"Ugh!" said Blondet. "Nothing is less respected than death; is it that
there is nothing less respectable?"
"It is so common!" resumed Bixiou. "When the service was over Nucingen
and du Tillet went to the graveside. The old man-servant walked;
Nucingen and du Tillet were put at the head of the procession of
mourning coaches.--'Goot, mein goot friend,' said Nucingen as they
turned into the boulevard. 'It ees a goot time to marry Malfina; you
vill be der brodector off that boor family vat ess in tears; you vill
haf ein family, a home off your own; you vill haf a house ready
vurnished, und Malfina is truly ein dreashure.' "
"I seem to hear that old Robert Macaire of a Nucingen himself," said
" 'A charming girl,' said Ferdinand du Tillet in a cool,
unenthusiastic tone," Bixiou continued.
"Just du Tillet himself summed up in a word!" cried Couture.
" 'Those that do not know her may think her plain,' pursued du Tillet,
'but she has character, I admit.'
" 'Und ein herz, dot is the pest of die pizness, mein der poy; she
vould make you an indelligent und defoted vife. In our beastly
pizness, nopody cares to know who lifs or dies; it is a crate plessing
gif a mann kann put drust in his vife's heart. Mein Telvine prouht me
more as a million, as you know, but I should gladly gif her for
Malfina dot haf not so pig a DOT.'
" 'But how much has she?'
" 'I do not know precisely; boot she haf somdings.'
" 'Yes, she has a mother with a great liking for rose-color.' said du
Tillet; and with that epigram he cut Nucingen's diplomatic efforts
"After dinner the Baron de Nucingen informed Wilhelmine Adolphus that
she had barely four hundred thousand francs deposited with him. The
daughter of Adolphus of Manheim, thus reduced to an income of twenty-
four thousand livres, lost herself in arithmetical exercises that
muddled her wits.
" 'I have ALWAYS had six thousand francs for our dress allowance,' she
said to Malvina. 'Why, how did your father find money? We shall have
nothing now with twenty-four thousand francs; it is destitution! Oh!
if my father could see me so come down in the world, it would kill him
if he were not dead already! Poor Wilhelmine!' and she began to cry.
"Malvina, puzzled to know how to comfort her mother, represented to
her that she was still young and pretty, that rose-color still became
her, that she could continue to go to the Opera and the Bouffons,
where Mme. de Nucingen had a box. And so with visions of gaieties,
dances, music, pretty dresses, and social success, the Baroness was
lulled to sleep and pleasant dreams in the blue, silk-curtained bed in
the charming room next to the chamber in which Jean Baptiste, Baron
d'Aldrigger, had breathed his last but two nights ago.
"Here in a few words is the Baron's history. During his lifetime that
worthy Alsacien accumulated about three millions of francs. In 1800,
at the age of thirty-six, in the apogee of a fortune made during the
Revolution, he made a marriage partly of ambition, partly of
inclination, with the heiress of the family of Adolphus of Manheim.
Wilhelmine, being the idol of her whole family, naturally inherited
their wealth after some ten years. Next, d'Aldrigger's fortune being
doubled, he was transformed into a Baron by His Majesty, Emperor and
King, and forthwith became a fanatical admirer of the great man to
whom he owed his title. Wherefore, between 1814 and 1815 he ruined
himself by a too serious belief in the sun of Austerlitz. Honest
Alsacien as he was, he did not suspend payment, nor did he give his
creditors shares in doubtful concerns by way of settlement. He paid
everything over the counter, and retired from business, thoroughly
deserving Nucingen's comment on his behavior--'Honest but stoobid.'
"All claims satisfied, there remained to him five hundred thousand
francs and certain receipts for sums advanced to that Imperial
Government, which had ceased to exist. 'See vat komms of too much
pelief in Nappolion,' said he, when he had realized all his capital.
"When you have been one of the leading men in a place, how are you to
remain in it when your estate has dwindled? D'Aldrigger, like all
ruined provincials, removed to Paris, there intrepidly wore the
tricolor braces embroidered with Imperial eagles, and lived entirely
in Bonapartist circles. His capital he handed over to Nucingen, who
gave him eight per cent upon it, and took over the loans to the
Imperial Government at a mere sixty per cent of reduction; wherefore
d'Aldrigger squeezed Nucingen's hand and said, 'I knew dot in you I
should find de heart of ein Elzacien.'
"(Nucingen was paid in full through our friend des Lupeaulx.) Well
fleeced as d'Aldrigger had been, he still possessed an income of
forty-four thousand francs; but his mortification was further
complicated by the spleen which lies in wait for the business man so
soon as he retires from business. He set himself, noble heart, to
sacrifice himself to his wife, now that her fortune was lost, that
fortune of which she had allowed herself to be despoiled so easily,
after the manner of a girl entirely ignorant of money matters. Mme.
d'Aldrigger accordingly missed not a single pleasure to which she had
been accustomed; any void caused by the loss of Strasbourg
acquaintances were speedily filled, and more than filled, with Paris
"Even then as now the Nucingens lived at the higher end of financial
society, and the Baron de Nucingen made it a point of honor to treat
the honest banker well. His disinterested virtue looked well in the
"Every winter dipped into d'Aldrigger's principal, but he did not
venture to remonstrate with his pearl of a Wilhelmine. His was the
most ingenious unintelligent tenderness in the world. A good man, but
a stupid one! 'What will become of them when I am gone?' he said, as
he lay dying; and when he was left alone for a moment with Wirth, his
old man-servant, he struggled for breath to bid him take care of his
mistress and her two daughters, as if the one reasonable being in the
house was this Alsacien Caleb Balderstone.
"Three years afterwards, in 1826, Isaure was twenty years old, and
Malvina still unmarried. Malvina had gone into society, and in course
of time discovered for herself how superficial their friendships were,
how accurately every one was weighed and appraised. Like most girls
that have been 'well brought up,' as we say, Malvina had no idea of
the mechanism of life, of the importance of money, of the difficulty
of obtaining it, of the prices of things. And so, for six years, every
lesson that she had learned had been a painful one for her.
"D'Aldrigger's four hundred thousand francs were carried to the credit
of the Baroness' account with the firm of Nucingen (she was her
husband's creditor for twelve hundred thousand francs under her
marriage settlement), and when in any difficulty the Shepherdess of
the Alps dipped into her capital as though it were inexhaustible.
"When our pigeon first advanced towards his dove, Nucingen, knowing
the Baroness' character, must have spoken plainly to Malvina on the
financial position. At that time three hundred thousand francs were
left; the income of twenty-four thousand francs was reduced to
eighteen thousand. Wirth had kept up this state of things for three
years! After that confidential interview, Malvina put down the
carriage, sold the horses, and dismissed the coachman, without her
mother's knowledge. The furniture, now ten years old, could not be
renewed, but it all faded together, and for those that like harmony
the effect was not half bad. The Baroness herself, that so well-
preserved flower, began to look like the last solitary frost-touched
rose on a November bush. I myself watched the slow decline of luxury
by half-tones and semi-tones! Frightful, upon my honor! It was my last
trouble of the kind; afterwards I said to myself, 'It is silly to care
so much about other people.' But while I was in civil service, I was
fool enough to take a personal interest in the houses where I dined; I
used to stand up for them; I would say no ill of them myself; I--oh! I
was a child.
"Well, when the ci-devant pearl's daughter put the state of the case
before her, 'Oh my poor children,' cried she, 'who will make my
dresses now? I cannot afford new bonnets; I cannot see visitors here
nor go out.'--Now by what token do you know that a man is in love?"
said Bixiou, interrupting himself. "The question is, whether
Beaudenord was genuinely in love with the fair-haired girl."
"He neglects his interests," said Couture.
"He changes his shirt three times a day," opined Blondet; "a man of
more than ordinary ability, can he, and ought he, to fall in love?"
"My friends," resumed Bixiou, with a sentimental air, "there is a kind
of man who, when he feels that he is in peril of falling in love, will
snap his fingers or fling away his cigar (as the case may be) with a
'Pooh! there are other women in the world.' Beware of that man for a
dangerous reptile. Still, the Government may employ that citizen
somewhere in the Foreign Office. Blondet, I call your attention to the
fact that this Godefroid had thrown up diplomacy."
"Well, he was absorbed," said Blondet. "Love gives the fool his one
chance of growing great."
"Blondet, Blondet, how is it that we are so poor?" cried Bixiou.
"And why is Finot so rich?" returned Blondet. "I will tell you how it
is; there, my son, we understand each other. Come, there is Finot
filling up my glass as if I had carried in his firewood. At the end of
dinner one ought to sip one's wine slowly,--Well?"
"Thou has said. The absorbed Godefroid became fully acquainted with
the family--the tall Malvina, the frivolous Baroness, and the little
lady of the dance. He became a servant after the most conscientious
and restricted fashion. He was not scared away by the cadaverous
remains of opulence; not he! by degrees he became accustomed to the
threadbare condition of things. It never struck the young man that the
green silk damask and white ornaments in the drawing-room needed
refurnishing. The curtains, the tea-table, the knick-knacks on the
chimney-piece, the rococo chandelier, the Eastern carpet with the pile
worn down to the thread, the pianoforte, the little flowered china
cups, the fringed serviettes so full of holes that they looked like
open work in the Spanish fashion, the green sitting-room with the
Baroness' blue bedroom beyond it,--it was all sacred, all dear to him.
It is only your stupid woman with the brilliant beauty that throws
heart, brain, and soul into the shade, who can inspire forgetfulness
like this; a clever woman never abuses her advantages; she must be
small-natured and silly to gain such a hold upon a man. Beaudenord
actually loved the solemn old Wirth--he has told me so himself!
"That old rogue regarded his future master with the awe which a good
Catholic feels for the Eucharist. Honest Wirth was a kind of Gaspard,
a beer-drinking German sheathing his cunning in good-nature, much as a
cardinal in the Middle Ages kept his dagger up his sleeve. Wirth saw a
husband for Isaure, and accordingly proceeded to surround Godefroid
with the mazy circumlocutions of his Alsacien's geniality, that most
adhesive of all known varieties of bird-lime.
"Mme. d'Aldrigger was radically 'improper.' She thought love the most
natural thing imaginable. When Isaure and Malvina went out together to
the Champs Elysees or the Tuileries, where they were sure to meet the
young men of their set, she would simply say, 'A pleasant time to you,
dear girls.' Their friends among men, the only persons who might have
slandered the sisters, championed them; for the extraordinary liberty
permitted in the d'Aldriggers' salon made it unique in Paris. Vast
wealth could scarcely have procured such evenings, the talk was good
on any subject; dress was not insisted upon; you felt so much at home
there that you could ask for supper. The sisters corresponded as they
pleased, and quietly read their letters by their mother's side; it
never occurred to the Baroness to interfere in any way; the adorable
woman gave the girls the full benefits of her selfishness, and in a
certain sense selfish persons are the easiest to live with; they hate
trouble, and therefore do not trouble other people; they never beset
the lives of their fellow-creatures with thorny advice and captious
fault-finding; nor do they torment you with the waspish solicitude of
excessive affection that must know all things and rule all things----"
"This comes home," said Blondet, "but my dear fellow, this is not
telling a story, this is blague----"
"Blondet, if you were not tipsy, I should really feel hurt! He is the
one serious literary character among us; for his benefit, I honor you
by treating you like men of taste, I am distilling my tale for you,
and now he criticises me! There is no greater proof of intellectual
sterility, my friends, than the piling up of facts. Le Misanthrope,
that supreme comedy, shows us that art consists in the power of
building a palace on a needle's point. The gist of my idea is in the
fairy wand which can turn the Desert into an Interlaken in ten seconds
(precisely the time required to empty this glass). Would you rather
that I fired off at you like a cannon-ball, or a commander-in-chief's
report? We chat and laugh; and this journalist, a bibliophobe when
sober, expects me, forsooth, when he is drunk, to teach my tongue to
move at the dull jogtrot of a printed book." (Here he affected to
weep.) "Woe unto the French imagination when men fain would blunt the
needle points of her pleasant humor! Dies iroe! Let us weep for
Candide. Long live the Kritik of Pure Reason, La Symbolique, and the
systems in five closely packed volumes, printed by Germans, who little
suspect that the gist of the matter has been known in Paris since
1750, and crystallized in a few trenchant words--the diamonds of our
national thought. Blondet is driving a hearse to his own suicide;
Blondet, forsooth! who manufactures newspaper accounts of the last
words of all the great men that die without saying anything!"
"Come, get on," put in Finot.
"It was my intention to explain to you in what the happiness of a man
consists when he is not a shareholder (out of compliment to Couture).
Well, now, do you not see at what a price Godefroid secured the
greatest happiness of a young man's dreams? He was trying to
understand Isaure, by way of making sure that she should understand
him. Things which comprehend one another must needs be similar.
Infinity and Nothingness, for instance, are like; everything that lies
between the two is like neither. Nothingness is stupidity; genius,
Infinity. The lovers wrote each other the stupidest letters
imaginable, putting down various expressions then in fashion upon bits
of scented paper: 'Angel! Aeolian harp! with thee I shall be complete!
There is a heart in my man's breast! Weak woman, poor me!' all the
latest heart-frippery. It was Godefroid's wont to stay in a drawing-
room for a bare ten minutes; he talked without any pretension to the
women in it, and at these times they thought him very clever. In
short, judge of his absorption; Joby, his horses and carriages, became
secondary interests in his life. He was never happy except in the
depths of a snug settee opposite the Baroness, by the dark-green
porphyry chimney-piece, watching Isaure, taking tea, and chatting with
the little circle of friends that dropped in every evening between
eleven and twelve in the Rue Joubert. You could play bouillotte there
safely. (I always won.) Isaure sat with one little foot thrust out in
its black satin shoe; Godefroid would gaze and gaze, and stay till
every one else was gone, and say, 'Give me your shoe!' and Isaure
would put her little foot on a chair and take it off and give it to
him, with a glance, one of those glances that--in short, you
"At length Godefroid discovered a great mystery in Malvina. Whenever
du Tillet knocked at the door, the live red that colored Malvina's
face said 'Ferdinand!' When the poor girl's eyes fell on that two-
footed tiger, they lighted up like a brazier fanned by a current of
air. When Ferdinand drew her away to the window or a side table, she
betrayed her secret infinite joy. It is a rare and wonderful thing to
see a woman so much in love that she loses her cunning to be strange,
and you can read her heart; as rare (dear me!) in Paris as the Singing
Flower in the Indies. But in spite of a friendship dating from the
d'Aldriggers' first appearance at the Nucingens', Ferdinand did not
marry Malvina. Our ferocious friend was not apparently jealous of
Desroches, who paid assiduous court to the young lady; Desroches
wanted to pay off the rest of the purchase-money due for his
connection; Malvina could not well have less than fifty thousand
crowns, he thought, and so the lawyer was fain to play the lover.
Malvina, deeply humiliated as she was by du Tillet's carelessness,
loved him too well to shut the door upon him. With her, an
enthusiastic, highly-wrought, sensitive girl, love sometimes got the
better of pride, and pride again overcame wounded love. Our friend
Ferdinand, cool and self-possessed, accepted her tenderness, and
breathed the atmosphere with the quiet enjoyment of a tiger licking
the blood that dyes his throat. He would come to make sure of it with
new proofs; he never allowed two days to pass without a visit to the
"At that time the rascal possessed something like eighteen hundred
thousand francs; money must have weighted very little with him in the
question of marriage; and he had not merely been proof against
Malvina, he had resisted the Barons de Nucingen and de Rastignac;
though both of them had set him galloping at the rate of seventy-five
leagues a day, with outriders, regardless of expense, through mazes of
their cunning devices--and with never a clue of thread.
"Godefroid could not refrain from saying a word to his future sister-
in-law as to her ridiculous position between a banker and an attorney.
" 'You mean to read me a lecture on the subject of Ferdinand,' she
said frankly, 'to know the secret between us. Dear Godefroid, never
mention this again. Ferdinand's birth, antecedents, and fortune count
for nothing in this, so you may think it is something extraordinary.'
A few days afterwards, however, Malvina took Godefroid apart to say,
'I do not think that Desroches is sincere' (such is the instinct of
love); 'he would like to marry me, and he is paying court to some
tradesman's daughter as well. I should very much like to know whether
I am a second shift, and whether marriage is a matter of money with
him.' The fact was that Desroches, deep as he was, could not make out
du Tillet, and was afraid that he might marry Malvina. So the fellow
had secured his retreat. His position was intolerable, he was scarcely
paying his expenses and interest on the debt. Women understand nothing
of these things; for them, love is always a millionaire."
"But since neither du Tillet nor Desroches married her; just explain
Ferdinand's motive," said Finot.
"Motive?" repeated Bixiou; "why, this. General Rule: A girl that has
once given away her slipper, even if she refused it for ten years, is
never married by the man who----"
"Bosh!" interrupted Blondet, "one reason for loving is the fact that
one has loved. His motive? Here it is. General Rule: Do not marry as a
sergeant when some day you may be Duke of Dantzig and Marshal of
France. Now, see what a match du Tillet has made since then. He
married one of the Comte de Granville's daughters, into one of the
oldest families in the French magistracy."
"Desroches' mother had a friend, a druggist's wife," continued Bixiou.
"Said druggist had retired with a fat fortune. These druggist folk
have absurdly crude notions; by way of giving his daughter a good
education, he had sent her to a boarding-school! Well, Matifat meant
the girl to marry well, on the strength of two hundred thousand
francs, good hard coin with no scent of drugs about it."
"Florine's Matifat?" asked Blondet.
"Well, yes. Lousteau's Matifat; ours, in fact. The Matifats, even then
lost to us, had gone to live in the Rue du Cherche-Midi, as far as may
be from the Rue des Lombards, where their money was made. For my own
part, I had cultivated those Matifats. While I served my time in the
galleys of the law, when I was cooped up for eight hours out of the
twenty-four with nincompoops of the first water, I saw queer
characters enough to convince myself that all is not dead-level even
in obscure places, and that in the flattest inanity you may chance
upon an angle. Yes, dear boy, such and such a philistine is to such
another as Raphael is to Natoire.
"Mme. Desroches, the widowed mother, had long ago planned this
marriage for her son, in spite of a tremendous obstacle which took the
shape of one Cochin, Matifat's partner's son, a young clerk in the
adult department. M. and Mme. Matifat were of the opinion that an
attorney's position 'gave some guarantee for a wife's happiness,' to
use their own expression; and as for Desroches, he was prepared to
fall in with his mother's views in case he could do no better for
himself. Wherefore, he kept up his acquaintance with the druggists in
the Rue du Cherche-Midi.
"To put another kind of happiness before you, you should have a
description of these shopkeepers, male and female. They rejoiced in
the possession of a handsome ground floor and a strip of garden; for
amusement, they watched a little squirt of water, no bigger than a
cornstalk, perpetually rising and falling upon a small round freestone
slab in the middle of a basin some six feet across; they would rise
early of a morning to see if the plants in the garden had grown in the
night; they had nothing to do, they were restless, they dressed for
the sake of dressing, bored themselves at the theatre, and were for
ever going to and fro between Paris and Luzarches, where they had a
country house. I have dined there.
"Once they tried to quiz me, Blondet. I told them a long-winded story
that lasted from nine o'clock till midnight, one tale inside another.
I had just brought my twenty-ninth personage upon the scene (the
newspapers have plagiarized with their 'continued in our next'), when
old Matifat, who as host still held out, snored like the rest, after
blinking for five minutes. Next day they all complimented me upon the
ending of my tale!
"These tradespeople's society consisted of M. and Mme. Cochin, Mme.
Desroches, and a young Popinot, still in the drug business, who used
to bring them news of the Rue des Lombards. (You know him, Finot.)
Mme. Matifat loved the arts; she bought lithographs, chromo-
lithographs, and colored prints,--all the cheapest things she could
lay her hands on. The Sieur Matifat amused himself by looking into new
business speculations, investing a little capital now and again for
the sake of the excitement. Florine had cured him of his taste for the
Regency style of thing. One saying of his will give you some idea of
the depths in my Matifat. 'Art THOU going to bed, my nieces?' he used
to say when he wished them good-night, because (as he explained) he
was afraid of hurting their feelings with the more formal 'you.'
"The daughter was a girl with no manner at all. She looked rather like
a superior sort of housemaid. She could get through a sonata, she
wrote a pretty English hand, knew French grammar and orthography--a
complete commercial education, in short. She was impatient enough to
be married and leave the paternal roof, finding it as dull at home as
a lieutenant finds the nightwatch at sea; at the same time, it should
be said that her watch lasted through the whole twenty-four hours.
Desroches or Cochin junior, a notary or a lifeguardsman, or a sham
English lord,--any husband would have suited her. As she so obviously
knew nothing of life, I took pity upon her, I determined to reveal the
great secret of it. But, pooh! the Matifats shut their doors on me.
The bourgeois and I shall never understand each other."
"She married General Gouraud," said Finot.
"In forty-eight hours, Godefroid de Beaudenord, late of the diplomatic
corps, saw through the Matifats and their nefarious designs," resumed
Bixiou. "Rastignac happened to be chatting with the frivolous Baroness
when Godefroid came in to give his report to Malvina. A word here and
there reached his ear; he guessed the matter on foot, more
particularly from Malvina's look of satisfaction that it was as she
had suspected. Then Rastignac actually stopped on till two o'clock in
the morning. And yet there are those that call him selfish! Beaudenord
took his departure when the Baroness went to bed.
"As soon as Rastignac was left alone with Malvina, he spoke in a
fatherly, good-humored fashion. 'Dear child, please to bear in mind
that a poor fellow, heavy with sleep, has been drinking tea to keep
himself awake till two o'clock in the morning, all for a chance of
saying a solemn word of advice to you--MARRY! Do not be too
particular; do not brood over your feelings; never mind the sordid
schemes of men that have one foot here and another in the Matifats'
house; do not stop to think at all: Marry!--When a girl marries, it
means that the man whom she marries undertakes to maintain her in a
more or less good position in life, and at any rate her comfort is
assured. I know the world. Girls, mammas, and grandmammas are all of
them hypocrites when they fly off into sentiment over a question of
marriage. Nobody really thinks of anything but a good position. If a
mother marries her daughter well, she says that she has made an
excellent bargain.' Here Rastignac unfolded his theory of marriage,
which to his way of thinking is a business arrangement, with a view to
making life tolerable; and ended up with, 'I do not ask to know your
secret, Malvina; I know it already. Men talk things over among
themselves, just as you women talk after you leave the dinner-table.
This is all I have to say: Marry. If you do not, remember that I
begged you to marry, here, in this room, this evening!'
"There was a certain ring in Rastignac's voice which compelled, not
attention, but reflection. There was something startling in his
insistence; something that went, as Rastignac meant that it should, to
the quick of Malvina's intelligence. She thought over the counsel
again next day, and vainly asked herself why it had been given."
Couture broke in. "In all these tops that you have set spinning, I see
nothing at all like the beginnings of Rastignac's fortune," said he.
"You apparently take us for Matifats multiplied by half-a-dozen
bottles of champagne."
"We are just coming to it," returned Bixiou. "You have followed the
course of all the rivulets which make up that forty thousand livres a
year which so many people envy. By this time Rastignac held the
threads of all these lives in his hand."
"Desroches, the Matifats, Beaudenord, the d'Aldriggers, d'Aiglemont?"
"Yes, and a hundred others," assented Bixiou.
"Oh, come now, how?" cried Finot. "I know a few things, but I cannot
see a glimpse of an answer to this riddle."
"Blondet has roughly given you the account of Nucingen's first two
suspensions of payment; now for the third, with full details.--After
the peace of 1815, Nucingen grasped an idea which some of us only
fully understood later, to wit, that capital is a power only when you
are very much richer than other people. In his own mind, he was
jealous of the Rothschilds. He had five millions of francs, he wanted
ten. He knew a way to make thirty millions with ten, while with five
he could only make fifteen. So he made up his mind to operate a third
suspension of payment. About that time, the great man hit on the idea
of indemnifying his creditors with paper of purely fictitious value
and keeping their coin. On the market, a great idea of this sort is
not expressed in precisely this cut-and-dried way. Such an arrangement
consists in giving a lot of grown-up children a small pie in exchange
for a gold piece; and, like children of a smaller growth, they prefer
the pie to the gold piece, not suspecting that they might have a
couple of hundred pies for it."
"What is this all about, Bixiou?" cried Couture. "Nothing more bona
fide. Not a week passes but pies are offered to the public for a
louis. But who compels the public to take them? Are they not perfectly
free to make inquiries?"
"You would rather have it made compulsory to take up shares, would
you?" asked Blondet.
"No," said Finot. "Where would the talent come in?"
"Very good for Finot."
"Who put him up to it?" asked Couture.
"The fact was," continued Bixiou, "that Nucingen had twice had the
luck to present the public (quite unintentionally) with a pie that
turned out to be worth more than the money he received for it. That
unlucky good luck gave him qualms of conscience. A course of such luck
is fatal to a man in the long run. This time he meant to make no
mistake of this sort; he waited ten years for an opportunity of
issuing negotiable securities which should seem on the face of it to
be worth something, while as a matter of fact----"
"But if you look at banking in that light," broke in Couture, "no sort
of business would be possible. More than one bona fide banker, backed
up by a bona fide government, has induced the hardest-headed men on
'Change to take up stock which is bound to fall within a given time.
You have seen better than that. Have you not seen stock created with
the concurrence of a government to pay the interest upon older stock,
so as to keep things going and tide over the difficulty? These
operations were more or less like Nucingen's settlements."
"The thing may look queer on a small scale," said Blondet, "but on a
large we call it finance. There are high-handed proceedings criminal
between man and man that amount to nothing when spread out over any
number of men, much as a drop of prussic acid becomes harmless in a
pail of water. You take a man's life, you are guillotined. But if, for
any political conviction whatsoever, you take five hundred lives,
political crimes are respected. You take five thousand francs out of
my desk; to the hulks you go. But with a sop cleverly pushed into the
jaws of a thousand speculators, you can cram the stock of any bankrupt
republic or monarchy down their throats; even if the loan has been
floated, as Couture says, to pay the interest on that very same
national debt. Nobody can complain. These are the real principles of
the present Golden Age."
"When the stage machinery is so huge," continued Bixiou, "a good many
puppets are required. In the first place, Nucingen had purposely and
with his eyes open invested his five millions in an American
investment, foreseeing that the profits would not come in until it was
too late. The firm of Nucingen deliberately emptied its coffers. Any
liquidation ought to be brought about naturally. In deposits belonging
to private individuals and other investments, the firm possessed about
six millions of capital altogether. Among those private individuals
was the Baroness d'Aldrigger with her three hundred thousand francs,
Beaudenord with four hundred thousand, d'Aiglemont with a million,
Matifat with three hundred thousand, Charles Grandet (who married
Mlle. d'Aubrion) with half a million, and so forth, and so forth.
"Now, if Nucingen had himself brought out a joint-stock company, with
the shares of which he proposed to indemnify his creditors after more
or less ingenious manoeuvring, he might perhaps have been suspected.
He set about it more cunningly than that. He made some one else put up
the machinery that was to play the part of the Mississippi scheme in
Law's system. Nucingen can make the longest-headed men work out
schemes for him without confiding a word to them; it is his peculiar
talent. Nucingen just let fall a hint to du Tillet of the pyramidal,
triumphant notion of bringing out a joint-stock enterprise with
capital sufficient to pay very high dividends for a time. Tried for
the first time, in days when noodles with capital were plentiful, the
plan was pretty sure to end in a run upon the shares, and consequently
in a profit for the banker that issued them. You must remember that
this happened in 1826.
"Du Tillet, struck through he was by an idea both pregnant and
ingenious, naturally bethought himself that if the enterprise failed,
the blame must fall upon somebody. For which reason, it occurred to
him to put forward a figurehead director in charge of his commercial
machinery. At this day you know the secret of the firm of Claparon and
Company, founded by du Tillet, one of the finest inventions----"
"Yes," said Blondet, "the responsible editor in business matters, the
instigator, and scapegoat; but we know better than that nowadays. We
put, 'Apply at the offices of the Company, such and such a number,
such and such a street,' where the public find a staff of clerks in
green caps, about as pleasing to behold as broker's men."
"Nucingen," pursued Bixiou, "had supported the firm of Charles
Claparon and Company with all his credit. There were markets in which
you might safely put a million francs' worth of Claparon's paper. So
du Tillet proposed to bring his firm of Claparon to the fore. So said,
so done. In 1825 the shareholder was still an unsophisticated being.
There was no such thing as cash lying at call. Managing directors did
not pledge themselves not to put their own shares upon the market;
they kept no deposit with the Bank of France; they guaranteed nothing.
They did not even condescend to explain to shareholders the exact
limits of their liabilities when they informed them that the directors
in their goodness, refrained from asking any more than a thousand, or
five hundred, or even two hundred and fifty francs. It was not given
out that the experiment in aere publico was not meant to last for more
than seven, five, or even three years, so that shareholders would not
have long to wait for the catastrophe. It was in the childhood of the
art. Promoters did not even publish the gigantic prospectuses with
which they stimulate the imagination, and at the same time make
demands for money of all and sundry."
"That only comes when nobody wishes to part with money," said Couture.
"In short, there was no competition in investments," continued Bixiou.
"Paper-mache manufacturers, cotton printers, zinc-rollers, theatres,
and newspapers as yet did not hurl themselves like hunting dogs upon
their quarry--the expiring shareholder. 'Nice things in shares,' as
Couture says, put thus artlessly before the public, and backed up by
the opinions of experts ('the princes of science'), were negotiated
shamefacedly in the silence and shadow of the Bourse. Lynx-eyed
speculators used to execute (financially speaking) the air Calumny out
of The Barber of Seville. They went about piano, piano, making known
the merits of the concern through the medium of stock-exchange gossip.
They could only exploit the victim in his own house, on the Bourse, or
in company; so they reached him by means of the skilfully created
rumor which grew till it reached a tutti of a quotation in four
"And as we can say anything among ourselves," said Couture, "I will go
back to the last subject."
"Vous etes orfevre, Monsieur Josse!" cried Finot.
"Finot will always be classic, constitutional, and pedantic,"
"Yes," rejoined Couture, on whose account Cerizet had just been
condemned on a criminal charge. "I maintain that the new way is
infinitely less fraudulent, less ruinous, more straightforward than
the old. Publicity means time for reflection and inquiry. If here and
there a shareholder is taken in, he has himself to blame, nobody sells
him a pig in a poke. The manufacturing industry----"
"Ah!" exclaimed Bixiou, "here comes industry----"
"---- is a gainer by it," continued Couture, taking no notice of the
interruption. "Every government that meddles with commerce and cannot
leave it free, sets about an expensive piece of folly; State
interference ends in a MAXIMUM or a monopoly. To my thinking, few
things can be more in conformity with the principles of free trade
than joint-stock companies. State interference means that you try to
regulate the relations of principal and interest, which is absurd. In
business, generally speaking, the profits are in proportion to the
risks. What does it matter to the State how money is set circulating,
provided that it is always in circulation? What does it matter who is
rich or who is poor, provided that there is a constant quantity of
rich people to be taxed? Joint-stock companies, limited liability
companies, every sort of enterprise that pays a dividend, has been
carried on for twenty years in England, commercially the first country