Part 3 out of 6
" 'Later on,' resumed Foedora, 'you will learn, I hope, the stability
of the affection that I keep for my friends. You will always find that
I have devotion and kindness for them. I would give my life to serve
my friends; but you could only despise me, if I allowed them to make
love to me without return. That is enough. You are the only man to
whom I have spoken such words as these last.'
"At first I could not speak, or master the tempest that arose within
me; but I soon repressed my emotions in the depths of my soul, and
began to smile.
" 'If I own that I love you,' I said, 'you will banish me at once; if
I plead guilty to indifference, you will make me suffer for it. Women,
magistrates, and priests never quite lay the gown aside. Silence is
non-committal; be pleased then, madame, to approve my silence. You
must have feared, in some degree, to lose me, or I should not have
received this friendly admonition; and with that thought my pride
ought to be satisfied. Let us banish all personal considerations. You
are perhaps the only woman with whom I could discuss rationally a
resolution so contrary to the laws of nature. Considered with regard
to your species, you are a prodigy. Now let us investigate, in good
faith, the causes of this psychological anomaly. Does there exist in
you, as in many women, a certain pride in self, a love of your own
loveliness, a refinement of egoism which makes you shudder at the idea
of belonging to another; is it the thought of resigning your own will
and submitting to a superiority, though only of convention, which
displeases you? You would seem to me a thousand times fairer for it.
Can love formerly have brought you suffering? You probably set some
value on your dainty figure and graceful appearance, and may perhaps
wish to avoid the disfigurements of maternity. Is not this one of your
strongest reasons for refusing a too importunate love? Some natural
defect perhaps makes you insusceptible in spite of yourself? Do not be
angry; my study, my inquiry is absolutely dispassionate. Some are born
blind, and nature may easily have formed women who in like manner are
blind, deaf, and dumb to love. You are really an interesting subject
for medical investigation. You do not know your value. You feel
perhaps a very legitimate distaste for mankind; in that I quite concur
--to me they all seem ugly and detestable. And you are right,' I
added, feeling my heart swell within me; 'how can you do otherwise
than despise us? There is not a man living who is worthy of you.'
"I will not repeat all the biting words with which I ridiculed her. In
vain; my bitterest sarcasms and keenest irony never made her wince nor
elicited a sign of vexation. She heard me, with the customary smile
upon her lips and in her eyes, the smile that she wore as a part of
her clothing, and that never varied for friends, for mere
acquaintances, or for strangers.
" 'Isn't it very nice of me to allow you to dissect me like this?' she
said at last, as I came to a temporary standstill, and looked at her
in silence. 'You see,' she went on, laughing, 'that I have no foolish
over-sensitiveness about my friendship. Many a woman would shut her
door on you by way of punishing you for your impertinence.'
" 'You could banish me without needing to give me the reasons for your
harshness.' As I spoke I felt that I could kill her if she dismissed
" 'You are mad,' she said, smiling still.
" 'Did you never think,' I went on, 'of the effects of passionate
love? A desperate man has often murdered his mistress.'
" 'It is better to die than to live in misery,' she said coolly. 'Such
a man as that would run through his wife's money, desert her, and
leave her at last in utter wretchedness.'
"This calm calculation dumfounded me. The gulf between us was made
plain; we could never understand each other.
" 'Good-bye,' I said proudly.
" 'Good-bye, till to-morrow,' she answered, with a little friendly
"For a moment's space I hurled at her in a glance all the love I must
forego; she stood there with than banal smile of hers, the detestable
chill smile of a marble statue, with none of the warmth in it that it
seemed to express. Can you form any idea, my friend, of the pain that
overcame me on the way home through rain and snow, across a league of
icy-sheeted quays, without a hope left? Oh, to think that she not only
had not guessed my poverty, but believed me to be as wealthy as she
was, and likewise borne as softly over the rough ways of life! What
failure and deceit! It was no mere question of money now, but of the
fate of all that lay within me.
"I went at haphazard, going over the words of our strange conversation
with myself. I got so thoroughly lost in my reflections that I ended
by doubts as to the actual value of words and ideas. But I loved her
all the same; I loved this woman with the untouched heart that might
surrender at any moment--a woman who daily disappointed the
expectations of the previous evening, by appearing as a new mistress
on the morrow.
"As I passed under the gateway of the Institute, a fevered thrill ran
through me. I remembered that I was fasting, and that I had not a
penny. To complete the measure of my misfortune, my hat was spoiled by
the rain. How was I to appear in the drawing-room of a woman of
fashion with an unpresentable hat? I had always cursed the inane and
stupid custom that compels us to exhibit the lining of our hats, and
to keep them always in our hands, but with anxious care I had so far
kept mine in a precarious state of efficiency. It had been neither
strikingly new, nor utterly shabby, neither napless nor over-glossy,
and might have passed for the hat of a frugally given owner, but its
artificially prolonged existence had now reached the final stage, it
was crumpled, forlorn, and completely ruined, a downright rag, a
fitting emblem of its master. My painfully preserved elegance must
collapse for want of thirty sous.
"What unrecognized sacrifices I had made in the past three months for
Foedora! How often I had given the price of a week's sustenance to see
her for a moment! To leave my work and go without food was the least
of it! I must traverse the streets of Paris without getting splashed,
run to escape showers, and reach her rooms at last, as neat and spruce
as any of the coxcombs about her. For a poet and a distracted wooer
the difficulties of this task were endless. My happiness, the course
of my love, might be affected by a speck of mud upon my only white
waistcoat! Oh, to miss the sight of her because I was wet through and
bedraggled, and had not so much as five sous to give to a shoeblack
for removing the least little spot of mud from my boot! The petty
pangs of these nameless torments, which an irritable man finds so
great, only strengthened my passion.
"The unfortunate must make sacrifices which they may not mention to
women who lead refined and luxurious lives. Such women see things
through a prism that gilds all men and their surroundings. Egoism
leads them to take cheerful views, and fashion makes them cruel; they
do not wish to reflect, lest they lose their happiness, and the
absorbing nature of their pleasures absolves their indifference to the
misfortunes of others. A penny never means millions to them; millions,
on the contrary, seem a mere trifle. Perhaps love must plead his cause
by great sacrifices, but a veil must be lightly drawn across them,
they must go down into silence. So when wealthy men pour out their
devotion, their fortunes, and their lives, they gain somewhat by these
commonly entertained opinions, an additional lustre hangs about their
lovers' follies; their silence is eloquent; there is a grace about the
drawn veil; but my terrible distress bound me over to suffer fearfully
or ever I might speak of my love or of dying for her sake.
"Was it a sacrifice after all? Was I not richly rewarded by the joy I
took in sacrificing everything to her? There was no commonest event of
my daily life to which the countess had not given importance, had not
overfilled with happiness. I had been hitherto careless of my clothes,
now I respected my coat as if it had been a second self. I should not
have hesitated between bodily harm and a tear in that garment. You
must enter wholly into my circumstances to understand the stormy
thoughts, the gathering frenzy, that shook me as I went, and which,
perhaps, were increased by my walk. I gloated in an infernal fashion
which I cannot describe over the absolute completeness of my
wretchedness. I would have drawn from it an augury of my future, but
there is no limit to the possibilities of misfortune. The door of my
lodging-house stood ajar. A light streamed from the heart-shaped
opening cut in the shutters. Pauline and her mother were sitting up
for me and talking. I heard my name spoken, and listened.
" 'Raphael is much nicer-looking than the student in number seven,'
said Pauline; 'his fair hair is such a pretty color. Don't you think
there is something in his voice, too, I don't know what it is, that
gives you a sort of a thrill? And, then, though he may be a little
proud, he is very kind, and he has such fine manners; I am sure that
all the ladies must be quite wild about him.'
" 'You might be fond of him yourself, to hear you talk,' was Madame
" 'He is just as dear to me as a brother,' she laughed. 'I should be
finely ungrateful if I felt no friendship for him. Didn't he teach me
music and drawing and grammar, and everything I know in fact? You
don't much notice how I get on, dear mother; but I shall know enough,
in a while, to give lessons myself, and then we can keep a servant.'
"I stole away softly, made some noise outside, and went into their
room to take the lamp, that Pauline tried to light for me. The dear
child had just poured soothing balm into my wounds. Her outspoken
admiration had given me fresh courage. I so needed to believe in
myself and to come by a just estimate of my advantages. This revival
of hope in me perhaps colored my surroundings. Perhaps also I had
never before really looked at the picture that so often met my eyes,
of the two women in their room; it was a scene such as Flemish
painters have reproduced so faithfully for us, that I admired in its
delightful reality. The mother, with the kind smile upon her lips, sat
knitting stockings by the dying fire; Pauline was painting hand-
screens, her brushes and paints, strewn over the tiny table, made
bright spots of color for the eye to dwell on. When she had left her
seat and stood lighting my lamp, one must have been under the yoke of
a terrible passion indeed, not to admire her faintly flushed
transparent hands, the girlish charm of her attitude, the ideal grace
of her head, as the lamplight fell full on her pale face. Night and
silence added to the charms of this industrious vigil and peaceful
interior. The light-heartedness that sustained such continuous toil
could only spring from devout submission and the lofty feelings that
"There was an indescribable harmony between them and their
possessions. The splendor of Foedora's home did not satisfy; it called
out all my worst instincts; something in this lowly poverty and
unfeigned goodness revived me. It may have been that luxury abased me
in my own eyes, while here my self-respect was restored to me, as I
sought to extend the protection that a man is so eager to make felt,
over these two women, who in the bare simplicity of the existence in
their brown room seemed to live wholly in the feelings of their
hearts. As I came up to Pauline, she looked at me in an almost
motherly way; her hands shook a little as she held the lamp, so that
the light fell on me and cried:
" 'Dieu! how pale you are! and you are wet through! My mother will try
to wipe you dry. Monsieur Raphael,' she went on, after a little pause,
'you are so very fond of milk, and to-night we happen to have some
cream. Here, will you not take some?'
"She pounced like a kitten, on a china bowl full of milk. She did it
so quickly, and put it before me so prettily, that I hesitated.
" 'You are going to refuse me?' she said, and her tones changed.
"The pride in each felt for the other's pride. It was Pauline's
poverty that seemed to humiliate her, and to reproach me with my want
of consideration, and I melted at once and accepted the cream that
might have been meant for her morning's breakfast. The poor child
tried not to show her joy, but her eyes sparkled.
" 'I needed it badly,' I said as I sat down. (An anxious look passed
over her face.) 'Do you remember that passage, Pauline, where Bossuet
tells how God gave more abundant reward for a cup of cold water than
for a victory?'
" 'Yes,' she said, her heart beating like some wild bird's in a
" 'Well, as we shall part very soon, now,' I went on in an unsteady
voice, 'you must let me show my gratitude to you and to your mother
for all the care you have taken of me.'
" 'Oh, don't let us cast accounts,' she said laughing. But her
laughter covered an agitation that gave me pain. I went on without
appearing to hear her words:
" 'My piano is one of Erard's best instruments; and you must take it.
Pray accept it without hesitation; I really could not take it with me
on the journey I am about to make.'
"Perhaps the melancholy tones in which I spoke enlightened the two
women, for they seemed to understand, and eyed me with curiosity and
alarm. Here was the affection that I had looked for in the glacial
regions of the great world, true affection, unostentatious but tender,
and possibly lasting.
" 'Don't take it to heart so,' the mother said; 'stay on here. My
husband is on his way towards us even now,' she went on. 'I looked
into the Gospel of St. John this evening while Pauline hung our door-
key in a Bible from her fingers. The key turned; that means that
Gaudin is in health and doing well. Pauline began again for you and
for the young man in number seven--it turned for you, but not for him.
We are all going to be rich. Gaudin will come back a millionaire. I
dreamed once that I saw him in a ship full of serpents; luckily the
water was rough, and that means gold or precious stones from over-
"The silly, friendly words were like the crooning lullaby with which a
mother soothes her sick child; they in a manner calmed me. There was a
pleasant heartiness in the worthy woman's looks and tones, which, if
it could not remove trouble, at any rate soothed and quieted it, and
deadened the pain. Pauline, keener-sighted than her mother, studied me
uneasily; her quick eyes seemed to read my life and my future. I
thanked the mother and daughter by an inclination of the head, and
hurried away; I was afraid I should break down.
"I found myself alone under my roof, and laid myself down in my
misery. My unhappy imagination suggested numberless baseless projects,
and prescribed impossible resolutions. When a man is struggling in the
wreck of his fortunes, he is not quite without resources, but I was
engulfed. Ah, my dear fellow, we are too ready to blame the wretched.
Let us be less harsh on the results of the most powerful of all social
solvents. Where poverty is absolute there exist no such things as
shame or crime, or virtue or intelligence. I knew not what to do; I
was as defenceless as a maiden on her knees before a beast of prey. A
penniless man who has no ties to bind him is master of himself at any
rate, but a luckless wretch who is in love no longer belongs to
himself, and may not take his own life. Love makes us almost sacred in
our own eyes; it is the life of another that we revere within us; then
and so it begins for us the cruelest trouble of all--the misery with a
hope in it, a hope for which we must even bear our torments. I thought
I would go to Rastignac on the morrow to confide Foedora's strange
resolution to him, and with that I slept.
" 'Ah, ha!' cried Rastignac, as he saw me enter his lodging at nine
o'clock in the morning. 'I know what brings you here. Foedora has
dismissed you. Some kind souls, who were jealous of your ascendency
over the countess, gave out that you were going to be married. Heaven
only knows what follies your rivals have equipped you with, and what
slanders have been directed at you.'
" 'That explains everything!' I exclaimed. I remembered all my
presumptuous speeches, and gave the countess credit for no little
magnanimity. It pleased me to think that I was a miscreant who had not
been punished nearly enough, and I saw nothing in her indulgence but
the long-suffering charity of love.
" 'Not quite so fast,' urged the prudent Gascon; 'Foedora has all the
sagacity natural to a profoundly selfish woman; perhaps she may have
taken your measure while you still coveted only her money and her
splendor; in spite of all your care, she could have read you through
and through. She can dissemble far too well to let any dissimulation
pass undetected. I fear,' he went on, 'that I have brought you into a
bad way. In spite of her cleverness and her tact, she seems to me a
domineering sort of person, like every woman who can only feel
pleasure through her brain. Happiness for her lies entirely in a
comfortable life and in social pleasures; her sentiment is only
assumed; she will make you miserable; you will be her head footman.'
"He spoke to the deaf. I broke in upon him, disclosing, with an
affectation of light-heartedness, the state of my finances.
" 'Yesterday evening,' he rejoined, 'luck ran against me, and that
carried off all my available cash. But for that trivial mishap, I
would gladly have shared my purse with you. But let us go and
breakfast at the restaurant; perhaps there is good counsel in
"He dressed, and had his tilbury brought round. We went to the Cafe de
Paris like a couple of millionaires, armed with all the audacious
impertinence of the speculator whose capital is imaginary. That devil
of a Gascon quite disconcerted me by the coolness of his manners and
his absolute self-possession. While we were taking coffee after an
excellent and well-ordered repast, a young dandy entered, who did not
escape Rastignac. He had been nodding here and there among the crowd
to this or that young man, distinguished both by personal attractions
and elegant attire, and now he said to me:
" 'Here's your man,' as he beckoned to this gentleman with a wonderful
cravat, who seemed to be looking for a table that suited his ideas.
" 'That rogue has been decorated for bringing out books that he
doesn't understand a word of,' whispered Rastignac; 'he is a chemist,
a historian, a novelist, and a political writer; he has gone halves,
thirds, or quarters in the authorship of I don't know how many plays,
and he is as ignorant as Dom Miguel's mule. He is not a man so much as
a name, a label that the public is familiar with. So he would do well
to avoid shops inscribed with the motto, "Ici l'on peut ecrire soi-
meme." He is acute enough to deceive an entire congress of
diplomatists. In a couple of words, he is a moral half-caste, not
quite a fraud, nor entirely genuine. But, hush! he has succeeded
already; nobody asks anything further, and every one calls him an
" 'Well, my esteemed and excellent friend, and how may Your
Intelligence be?' So Rastignac addressed the stranger as he sat down
at a neighboring table.
" 'Neither well nor ill; I am overwhelmed with work. I have all the
necessary materials for some very curious historical memoirs in my
hands, and I cannot find any one to whom I can ascribe them. It
worries me, for I shall have to be quick about it. Memoirs are falling
out of fashion.'
" 'What are the memoirs--contemporaneous, ancient, or memoirs of the
court, or what?'
" 'They relate to the Necklace affair.'
" 'Now, isn't that a coincidence?' said Rastignac, turning to me and
laughing. He looked again to the literary speculation, and said,
" 'This is M. de Valentin, one of my friends, whom I must introduce to
you as one of our future literary celebrities. He had formerly an
aunt, a marquise, much in favor once at court, and for about two years
he has been writing a Royalist history of the Revolution.'
"Then, bending over this singular man of business, he went on:
" 'He is a man of talent, and a simpleton that will do your memoirs
for you, in his aunt's name, for a hundred crowns a volume.'
" 'It's a bargain,' said the other, adjusting his cravat. 'Waiter, my
" 'Yes, but you must give me twenty-five louis as commission, and you
will pay him in advance for each volume,' said Rastignac.
" 'No, no. He shall only have fifty crowns on account, and then I
shall be sure of having my manuscript punctually.'
"Rastignac repeated this business conversation to me in low tones; and
then, without giving me any voice in the matter, he replied:
" 'We agree to your proposal. When can we call upon you to arrange the
" 'Oh, well! Come and dine here to-morrow at seven o'clock.'
"We rose. Rastignac flung some money to the waiter, put the bill in
his pocket, and we went out. I was quite stupified by the flippancy
and ease with which he had sold my venerable aunt, la Marquise de
" 'I would sooner take ship for the Brazils, and give the Indians
lessons in algebra, though I don't know a word of it, than tarnish my
"Rastignac burst out laughing.
" 'How dense you are! Take the fifty crowns in the first instance, and
write the memoirs. When you have finished them, you will decline to
publish them in your aunt's name, imbecile! Madame de Montbauron, with
her hooped petticoat, her rank and beauty, rouge and slippers, and her
death upon the scaffold, is worth a great deal more than six hundred
francs. And then, if the trade will not give your aunt her due, some
old adventurer, or some shady countess or other, will be found to put
her name to the memoirs.'
" 'Oh,' I groaned; 'why did I quit the blameless life in my garret?
This world has aspects that are very vilely dishonorable.'
" 'Yes,' said Rastignac, 'that is all very poetical, but this is a
matter of business. What a child you are! Now, listen to me. As to
your work, the public will decide upon it; and as for my literary
middle-man, hasn't he devoted eight years of his life to obtaining a
footing in the book-trade, and paid heavily for his experience? You
divide the money and the labor of the book with him very unequally,
but isn't yours the better part? Twenty-five louis means as much to
you as a thousand francs does to him. Come, you can write historical
memoirs, a work of art such as never was, since Diderot once wrote six
sermons for a hundred crowns!'
" 'After all,' I said, in agitation, 'I cannot choose but do it. So,
my dear friend, my thanks are due to you. I shall be quite rich with
" 'Richer than you think,' he laughed. 'If I have my commission from
Finot in this matter, it goes to you, can't you see? Now let us go to
the Bois de Boulogne,' he said; 'we shall see your countess there, and
I will show you the pretty little widow that I am to marry--a charming
woman, an Alsacienne, rather plump. She reads Kant, Schiller, Jean
Paul, and a host of lachrymose books. She has a mania for continually
asking my opinion, and I have to look as if I entered into all this
German sensibility, and to know a pack of ballads--drugs, all of them,
that my doctor absolutely prohibits. As yet I have not been able to
wean her from her literary enthusiasms; she sheds torrents of tears as
she reads Goethe, and I have to weep a little myself to please her,
for she has an income of fifty thousand livres, my dear boy, and the
prettiest little hand and foot in the world. Oh, if she would only say
mon ange and brouiller instead of mon anche and prouiller, she would
"We saw the countess, radiant amid the splendors of her equipage. The
coquette bowed very graciously to us both, and the smile she gave me
seemed to me to be divine and full of love. I was very happy; I
fancied myself beloved; I had money, a wealth of love in my heart, and
my troubles were over. I was light-hearted, blithe, and content. I
found my friend's lady-love charming. Earth and air and heaven--all
nature--seemed to reflect Foedora's smile for me.
"As we returned through the Champs-Elysees, we paid a visit to
Rastignac's hatter and tailor. Thanks to the 'Necklace,' my
insignificant peace-footing was to end, and I made formidable
preparations for a campaign. Henceforward I need not shrink from a
contest with the spruce and fashionable young men who made Foedora's
circle. I went home, locked myself in, and stood by my dormer window,
outwardly calm enough, but in reality I bade a last good-bye to the
roofs without. I began to live in the future, rehearsed my life drama,
and discounted love and its happiness. Ah, how stormy life can grow to
be within the four walls of a garret! The soul within us is like a
fairy; she turns straw into diamonds for us; and for us, at a touch of
her wand, enchanted palaces arise, as flowers in the meadows spring up
towards the sun.
"Towards noon, next day, Pauline knocked gently at my door, and
brought me--who could guess it?--a note from Foedora. The countess
asked me to take her to the Luxembourg, and to go thence to see with
her the Museum and Jardin des Plantes.
" 'The man is waiting for an answer,' said Pauline, after quietly
waiting for a moment.
"I hastily scrawled my acknowledgements, and Pauline took the note. I
changed my dress. When my toilette was ended, and I looked at myself
with some complaisance, an icy shiver ran through me as I thought:
" 'Will Foedora walk or drive? Will it rain or shine?--No matter,
though,' I said to myself; 'whichever it is, can one ever reckon with
feminine caprice? She will have no money about her, and will want to
give a dozen francs to some little Savoyard because his rags are
"I had not a brass farthing, and should have no money till the evening
came. How dearly a poet pays for the intellectual prowess that method
and toil have brought him, at such crises of our youth! Innumerable
painfully vivid thoughts pierced me like barbs. I looked out of my
window; the weather was very unsettled. If things fell out badly, I
might easily hire a cab for the day; but would not the fear lie on me
every moment that I might not meet Finot in the evening? I felt too
weak to endure such fears in the midst of my felicity. Though I felt
sure that I should find nothing, I began a grand search through my
room; I looked for imaginary coins in the recesses of my mattress; I
hunted about everywhere--I even shook out my old boots. A nervous
fever seized me; I looked with wild eyes at the furniture when I had
ransacked it all. Will you understand, I wonder, the excitement that
possessed me when, plunged deep in the listlessness of despair, I
opened my writing-table drawer, and found a fair and splendid ten-
franc piece that shone like a rising star, new and sparkling, and
slily hiding in a cranny between two boards? I did not try to account
for its previous reserve and the cruelty of which it had been guilty
in thus lying hidden; I kissed it for a friend faithful in adversity,
and hailed it with a cry that found an echo, and made me turn sharply,
to find Pauline with a face grown white.
" 'I thought,' she faltered, 'that you had hurt yourself! The man who
brought the letter----' (she broke off as if something smothered her
voice). 'But mother has paid him,' she added, and flitted away like a
wayward, capricious child. Poor little one! I wanted her to share in
my happiness. I seemed to have all the happiness in the world within
me just then; and I would fain have returned to the unhappy, all that
I felt as if I had stolen from them.
"The intuitive perception of adversity is sound for the most part; the
countess had sent away her carriage. One of those freaks that pretty
women can scarcely explain to themselves had determined her to go on
foot, by way of the boulevards, to the Jardin des Plantes.
" 'It will rain,' I told her, and it pleased her to contradict me.
"As it fell out, the weather was fine while we went through the
Luxembourg; when we came out, some drops fell from a great cloud,
whose progress I had watched uneasily, and we took a cab. At the
Museum I was about to dismiss the vehicle, and Foedora (what agonies!)
asked me not to do so. But it was like a dream in broad daylight for
me, to chat with her, to wander in the Jardin des Plantes, to stray
down the shady alleys, to feel her hand upon my arm; the secret
transports repressed in me were reduced, no doubt, to a fixed and
foolish smile upon my lips; there was something unreal about it all.
Yet in all her movements, however alluring, whether we stood or
whether we walked, there was nothing either tender or lover-like. When
I tried to share in a measure the action of movement prompted by her
life, I became aware of a check, or of something strange in her that I
cannot explain, or an inner activity concealed in her nature. There is
no suavity about the movements of women who have no soul in them. Our
wills were opposed, and we did not keep step together. Words are
wanting to describe this outward dissonance between two beings; we are
not accustomed to read a thought in a movement. We instinctively feel
this phenomenon of our nature, but it cannot be expressed.
"I did not dissect my sensations during those violent seizures of
passion," Raphael went on, after a moment of silence, as if he were
replying to an objection raised by himself. "I did not analyze my
pleasures nor count my heartbeats then, as a miser scrutinizes and
weighs his gold pieces. No; experience sheds its melancholy light over
the events of the past to-day, and memory brings these pictures back,
as the sea-waves in fair weather cast up fragment after fragment of
the debris of a wrecked vessel upon the strand.
" 'It is in your power to render me a rather important service,' said
the countess, looking at me in an embarrassed way. 'After confiding in
you my aversion to lovers, I feel myself more at liberty to entreat
your good offices in the name of friendship. Will there not be very
much more merit in obliging me to-day?' she asked, laughing.
"I looked at her in anguish. Her manner was coaxing, but in no wise
affectionate; she felt nothing for me; she seemed to be playing a
part, and I thought her a consummate actress. Then all at once my
hopes awoke once more, at a single look and word. Yet if reviving love
expressed itself in my eyes, she bore its light without any change in
the clearness of her own; they seemed, like a tiger's eyes, to have a
sheet of metal behind them. I used to hate her in such moments.
" 'The influence of the Duc de Navarreins would be very useful to me,
with an all-powerful person in Russia,' she went on, persuasion in
every modulation of her voice, 'whose intervention I need in order to
have justice done me in a matter that concerns both my fortune and my
position in the world, that is to say, the recognition of my marriage
by the Emperor. Is not the Duc de Navarreins a cousin of yours? A
letter from him would settle everything.'
" 'I am yours,' I answered; 'command me.'
" 'You are very nice,' she said, pressing my hand. 'Come and have
dinner with me, and I will tell you everything, as if you were my
"So this discreet, suspicious woman, who had never been heard to speak
a word about her affairs to any one, was going to consult me.
" 'Oh, how dear to me is this silence that you have imposed on me!' I
cried; 'but I would rather have had some sharper ordeal still.' And
she smiled upon the intoxication in my eyes; she did not reject my
admiration in any way; surely she loved me!
"Fortunately, my purse held just enough to satisfy her cab-man. The
day spent in her house, alone with her, was delicious; it was the
first time that I had seen her in this way. Hitherto we had always
been kept apart by the presence of others, and by her formal
politeness and reserved manners, even during her magnificent dinners;
but now it was as if I lived beneath her own roof--I had her all to
myself, so to speak. My wandering fancy broke down barriers, arranged
the events of life to my liking, and steeped me in happiness and love.
I seemed to myself her husband, I liked to watch her busied with
little details; it was a pleasure to me even to see her take off her
bonnet and shawl. She left me alone for a little, and came back,
charming, with her hair newly arranged; and this dainty change of
toilette had been made for me!
"During the dinner she lavished attention upon me, and put charm
without end into those numberless trifles to all seeming, that make up
half of our existence nevertheless. As we sat together before a
crackling fire, on silken cushions surrounded by the most desirable
creations of Oriental luxury; as I saw this woman whose famous beauty
made every heart beat, so close to me; an unapproachable woman who was
talking and bringing all her powers of coquetry to bear upon me; then
my blissful pleasure rose almost to the point of suffering. To my
vexation, I recollected the important business to be concluded; I
determined to go to keep the appointment made for me for this evening.
" 'So soon?' she said, seeing me take my hat.
"She loved me, then! or I thought so at least, from the bland tones in
which those two words were uttered. I would then have bartered a
couple of years of life for every hour she chose to grant to me, and
so prolong my ecstasy. My happiness was increased by the extent of the
money I sacrificed. It was midnight before she dismissed me. But on
the morrow, for all that, my heroism cost me a good many remorseful
pangs; I was afraid the affair of the Memoirs, now of such importance
for me, might have fallen through, and rushed off to Rastignac. We
found the nominal author of my future labors just getting up.
"Finot read over a brief agreement to me, in which nothing whatever
was said about my aunt, and when it had been signed he paid me down
fifty crowns, and the three of us breakfasted together. I had only
thirty francs left over, when I had paid for my new hat, for sixty
tickets at thirty sous each, and settled my debts; but for some days
to come the difficulties of living were removed. If I had but listened
to Rastignac, I might have had abundance by frankly adopting the
'English system.' He really wanted to establish my credit by setting
me to raise loans, on the theory that borrowing is the basis of
credit. To hear him talk, the future was the largest and most secure
kind of capital in the world. My future luck was hypothecated for the
benefit of my creditors, and he gave my custom to his tailor, an
artist, and a young man's tailor, who was to leave me in peace until I
"The monastic life of study that I had led for three years past ended
on this day. I frequented Foedora's house very diligently, and tried
to outshine the heroes or the swaggerers to be found in her circle.
When I believed that I had left poverty for ever behind me, I regained
my freedom of mind, humiliated my rivals, and was looked upon as a
very attractive, dazzling, and irresistible sort of man. But acute
folk used to say with regard to me, 'A fellow as clever as that will
keep all his enthusiasms in his brain,' and charitably extolled my
faculties at the expense of my feelings. 'Isn't he lucky, not to be in
love!' they exclaimed. 'If he were, could he be so light-hearted and
animated?' Yet in Foedora's presence I was as dull as love could make
me. When I was alone with her, I had not a word to say, or if I did
speak, I renounced love; and I affected gaiety but ill, like a
courtier who has a bitter mortification to hide. I tried in every way
to make myself indispensable in her life, and necessary to her vanity
and to her comfort; I was a plaything at her pleasure, a slave always
at her side. And when I had frittered away the day in this way, I went
back to my work at night, securing merely two or three hours' sleep in
the early morning.
"But I had not, like Rastignac, the 'English system' at my finger-
ends, and I very soon saw myself without a penny. I fell at once into
that precarious way of life which industriously hides cold and
miserable depths beneath an elusive surface of luxury; I was a coxcomb
without conquests, a penniless fop, a nameless gallant. The old
sufferings were renewed, but less sharply; no doubt I was growing used
to the painful crisis. Very often my sole diet consisted of the scanty
provision of cakes and tea that is offered in drawing-rooms, or one of
the countess' great dinners must sustain me for two whole days. I used
all my time, and exerted every effort and all my powers of
observation, to penetrate the impenetrable character of Foedora.
Alternate hope and despair had swayed my opinions; for me she was
sometimes the tenderest, sometimes the most unfeeling of women. But
these transitions from joy to sadness became unendurable; I sought to
end the horrible conflict within me by extinguishing love. By the
light of warning gleams my soul sometimes recognized the gulfs that
lay between us. The countess confirmed all my fears; I had never yet
detected any tear in her eyes; an affecting scene in a play left her
smiling and unmoved. All her instincts were selfish; she could not
divine another's joy or sorrow. She had made a fool of me, in fact!
"I had rejoiced over a sacrifice to make for her, and almost
humiliated myself in seeking out my kinsman, the Duc de Navarreins, a
selfish man who was ashamed of my poverty, and had injured me too
deeply not to hate me. He received me with the polite coldness that
makes every word and gesture seem an insult; he looked so ill at ease
that I pitied him. I blushed for this pettiness amid grandeur, and
penuriousness surrounded by luxury. He began to talk to me of his
heavy losses in the three per cents, and then I told him the object of
my visit. The change in his manners, hitherto glacial, which now
gradually, became affectionate, disgusted me.
"Well, he called upon the countess, and completely eclipsed me with
"On him Foedora exercised spells and witcheries unheard of; she drew
him into her power, and arranged her whole mysterious business with
him; I was left out, I heard not a word of it; she had made a tool of
me! She did not seem to be aware of my existence while my cousin was
present; she received me less cordially perhaps than when I was first
presented to her. One evening she chose to mortify me before the duke
by a look, a gesture, that it is useless to try to express in words. I
went away with tears in my eyes, planning terrible and outrageous
schemes of vengeance without end.
"I often used to go with her to the theatre. Love utterly absorbed me
as I sat beside her; as I looked at her I used to give myself up to
the pleasure of listening to the music, putting all my soul into the
double joy of love and of hearing every emotion of my heart translated
into musical cadences. It was my passion that filled the air and the
stage, that was triumphant everywhere but with my mistress. Then I
would take Foedora's hand. I used to scan her features and her eyes,
imploring of them some indication that one blended feeling possessed
us both, seeking for the sudden harmony awakened by the power of
music, which makes our souls vibrate in unison; but her hand was
passive, her eyes said nothing.
"When the fire that burned in me glowed too fiercely from the face I
turned upon her, she met it with that studied smile of hers, the
conventional expression that sits on the lips of every portrait in
every exhibition. She was not listening to the music. The divine pages
of Rossini, Cimarosa, or Zingarelli called up no emotion, gave no
voice to any poetry in her life; her soul was a desert.
"Foedora presented herself as a drama before a drama. Her lorgnette
traveled restlessly over the boxes; she was restless too beneath the
apparent calm; fashion tyrannized over her; her box, her bonnet, her
carriage, her own personality absorbed her entirely. My merciless
knowledge thoroughly tore away all my illusions. If good breeding
consists in self-forgetfulness and consideration for others, in
constantly showing gentleness in voice and bearing, in pleasing
others, and in making them content in themselves, all traces of her
plebeian origin were not yet obliterated in Foedora, in spite of her
cleverness. Her self-forgetfulness was a sham, her manners were not
innate but painfully acquired, her politeness was rather subservient.
And yet for those she singled out, her honeyed words expressed natural
kindness, her pretentious exaggeration was exalted enthusiasm. I alone
had scrutinized her grimacings, and stripped away the thin rind that
sufficed to conceal her real nature from the world; her trickery no
longer deceived me; I had sounded the depths of that feline nature. I
blushed for her when some donkey or other flattered and complimented
her. And yet I loved her through it all! I hoped that her snows would
melt with the warmth of a poet's love. If I could only have made her
feel all the greatness that lies in devotion, then I should have seen
her perfected, she would have been an angel. I loved her as a man, a
lover, and an artist; if it had been necessary not to love her so that
I might win her, some cool-headed coxcomb, some self-possessed
calculator would perhaps have had an advantage over me. She was so
vain and sophisticated, that the language of vanity would appeal to
her; she would have allowed herself to be taken in the toils of an
intrigue; a hard, cold nature would have gained a complete ascendency
over her. Keen grief had pierced me to my very soul, as she
unconsciously revealed her absolute love of self. I seemed to see her
as she one day would be, alone in the world, with no one to whom she
could stretch her hand, with no friendly eyes for her own to meet and
rest upon. I was bold enough to set this before her one evening; I
painted in vivid colors her lonely, sad, deserted old age. Her comment
on this prospect of so terrible a revenge of thwarted nature was
" 'I shall always have money,' she said; 'and with money we can always
inspire such sentiments as are necessary for our comfort in those
"I went away confounded by the arguments of luxury, by the reasoning
of this woman of the world in which she lived; and blamed myself for
my infatuated idolatry. I myself had not loved Pauline because she was
poor; and had not the wealthy Foedora a right to repulse Raphael?
Conscience is our unerring judge until we finally stifle it. A
specious voice said within me, 'Foedora is neither attracted to nor
repulses any one; she has her liberty, but once upon a time she sold
herself to the Russian count, her husband or her lover, for gold. But
temptation is certain to enter into her life. Wait till that moment
comes!' She lived remote from humanity, in a sphere apart, in a hell
or a heaven of her own; she was neither frail nor virtuous. This
feminine enigma in embroideries and cashmeres had brought into play
every emotion of the human heart in me--pride, ambition, love,
"There was a craze just then for praising a play at a little Boulevard
theatre, prompted perhaps by a wish to appear original that besets us
all, or due to some freak of fashion. The countess showed some signs
of a wish to see the floured face of the actor who had so delighted
several people of taste, and I obtained the honor of taking her to a
first presentation of some wretched farce or other. A box scarcely
cost five francs, but I had not a brass farthing. I was but half-way
through the volume of Memoirs; I dared not beg for assistance of
Finot, and Rastignac, my providence, was away. These constant
perplexities were the bane of my life.
"We had once come out of the theatre when it was raining heavily,
Foedora had called a cab for me before I could escape from her show of
concern; she would not admit any of my excuses--my liking for wet
weather, and my wish to go to the gaming-table. She did not read my
poverty in my embarrassed attitude, or in my forced jests. My eyes
would redden, but she did not understand a look. A young man's life is
at the mercy of the strangest whims! At every revolution of the wheels
during the journey, thoughts that burned stirred in my heart. I tried
to pull up a plank from the bottom of the vehicle, hoping to slip
through the hole into the street; but finding insuperable obstacles, I
burst into a fit of laughter, and then sat stupefied in calm
dejection, like a man in a pillory. When I reached my lodging, Pauline
broke in through my first stammering words with:
" 'If you haven't any money----?'
"Ah, the music of Rossini was as nothing compared with those words.
But to return to the performance at the Funambules.
"I thought of pawning the circlet of gold round my mother's portrait
in order to escort the countess. Although the pawnbroker loomed in my
thoughts as one of the doors of a convict's prison, I would rather
myself have carried my bed thither than have begged for alms. There is
something so painful in the expression of a man who asks money of you!
There are loans that mulct us of our self-respect, just as some
rebuffs from a friend's lips sweep away our last illusion.
"Pauline was working; her mother had gone to bed. I flung a stealthy
glance over the bed; the curtains were drawn back a little; Madame
Gaudin was in a deep sleep, I thought, when I saw her quiet, sallow
profile outlined against the pillow.
" 'You are in trouble?' Pauline said, dipping her brush into the
" 'It is in your power to do me a great service, my dear child,' I
"The gladness in her eyes frightened me.
" 'Is it possible that she loves me?' I thought. 'Pauline,' I began. I
went and sat near to her, so as to study her. My tones had been so
searching that she read my thought; her eyes fell, and I scrutinized
her face. It was so pure and frank that I fancied I could see as
clearly into her heart as into my own.
" 'Do you love me?' I asked.
" 'A little,--passionately--not a bit!' she cried.
"Then she did not love me. Her jesting tones, and a little gleeful
movement that escaped her, expressed nothing beyond a girlish, blithe
goodwill. I told her about my distress and the predicament in which I
found myself, and asked her to help me.
" 'You do not wish to go to the pawnbroker's yourself, M. Raphael,'
she answered, 'and yet you would send me!'
"I blushed in confusion at the child's reasoning. She took my hand in
hers as if she wanted to compensate for this home-truth by her light
touch upon it.
" 'Oh, I would willingly go,' she said, 'but it is not necessary. I
found two five-franc pieces at the back of the piano, that had slipped
without your knowledge between the frame and the keyboard, and I laid
them on your table.'
" 'You will soon be coming into some money, M. Raphael,' said the kind
mother, showing her face between the curtains, 'and I can easily lend
you a few crowns meanwhile.'
" 'Oh, Pauline!' I cried, as I pressed her hand, 'how I wish that I
" 'Bah! why should you?' she said petulantly. Her hand shook in mine
with the throbbing of her pulse; she snatched it away, and looked at
both of mine.
" 'You will marry a rich wife,' she said, 'but she will give you a
great deal of trouble. Ah, Dieu! she will be your death,--I am sure of
"In her exclamation there was something like belief in her mother's
" 'You are very credulous, Pauline!'
" 'The woman whom you will love is going to kill you--there is no
doubt of it,' she said, looking at me with alarm.
"She took up her brush again and dipped it in the color; her great
agitation was evident; she looked at me no longer. I was ready to give
credence just then to superstitious fancies; no man is utterly
wretched so long as he is superstitious; a belief of that kind is
often in reality a hope.
"I found that those two magnificent five-franc pieces were lying, in
fact, upon my table when I reached my room. During the first confused
thoughts of early slumber, I tried to audit my accounts so as to
explain this unhoped-for windfall; but I lost myself in useless
calculations, and slept. Just as I was leaving my room to engage a box
the next morning, Pauline came to see me.
" 'Perhaps your ten francs is not enough,' said the amiable, kind-
hearted girl; 'my mother told me to offer you this money. Take it,
please, take it!'
"She laid three crowns upon the table, and tried to escape, but I
would not let her go. Admiration dried the tears that sprang to my
" 'You are an angel, Pauline,' I said. 'It is not the loan that
touches me so much as the delicacy with which it is offered. I used to
wish for a rich wife, a fashionable woman of rank; and now, alas! I
would rather possess millions, and find some girl, as poor as you are,
with a generous nature like your own; and I would renounce a fatal
passion which will kill me. Perhaps what you told me will come true.'
" 'That is enough,' she said, and fled away; the fresh trills of her
birdlike voice rang up the staircase.
" 'She is very happy in not yet knowing love,' I said to myself,
thinking of the torments I had endured for many months past.
"Pauline's fifteen francs were invaluable to me. Foedora, thinking of
the stifling odor of the crowded place where we were to spend several
hours, was sorry that she had not brought a bouquet; I went in search
of flowers for her, as I had laid already my life and my fate at her
feet. With a pleasure in which compunction mingled, I gave her a
bouquet. I learned from its price the extravagance of superficial
gallantry in the world. But very soon she complained of the heavy
scent of a Mexican jessamine. The interior of the theatre, the bare
bench on which she was to sit, filled her with intolerable disgust;
she upbraided me for bringing her there. Although she sat beside me,
she wished to go, and she went. I had spent sleepless nights, and
squandered two months of my life for her, and I could not please her.
Never had that tormenting spirit been more unfeeling or more
"I sat beside her in the cramped back seat of the vehicle; all the way
I could feel her breath on me and the contact of her perfumed glove; I
saw distinctly all her exceeding beauty; I inhaled a vague scent of
orris-root; so wholly a woman she was, with no touch of womanhood.
Just then a sudden gleam of light lit up the depths of this mysterious
life for me. I thought all at once of a book just published by a poet,
a genuine conception of the artist, in the shape of the statue of
"I seemed to see that monstrous creation, at one time an officer,
breaking in a spirited horse; at another, a girl, who gives herself up
to her toilette and breaks her lovers' hearts; or again, a false lover
driving a timid and gentle maid to despair. Unable to analyze Foedora
by any other process, I told her this fanciful story; but no hint of
her resemblance to this poetry of the impossible crossed her--it
simply diverted her; she was like a child over a story from the
" 'Foedora must be shielded by some talisman,' I thought to myself as
I went back, 'or she could not resist the love of a man of my age, the
infectious fever of that splendid malady of the soul. Is Foedora, like
Lady Delacour, a prey to a cancer? Her life is certainly an unnatural
"I shuddered at the thought. Then I decided on a plan, at once the
wildest and the most rational that lover ever dreamed of. I would
study this woman from a physical point of view, as I had already
studied her intellectually, and to this end I made up my mind to spend
a night in her room without her knowledge. This project preyed upon me
as a thirst for revenge gnaws at the heart of a Corsican monk. This is
how I carried it out. On the days when Foedora received, her rooms
were far too crowded for the hall-porter to keep the balance even
between goers and comers; I could remain in the house, I felt sure,
without causing a scandal in it, and I waited the countess' coming
soiree with impatience. As I dressed I put a little English penknife
into my waistcoat pocket, instead of a poniard. That literary
implement, if found upon me, could awaken no suspicion, but I knew not
whither my romantic resolution might lead, and I wished to be
"As soon as the rooms began to fill, I entered the bedroom and
examined the arrangements. The inner and outer shutters were closed;
this was a good beginning; and as the waiting-maid might come to draw
back the curtains that hung over the windows, I pulled them together.
I was running great risks in venturing to manoeuvre beforehand in this
way, but I had accepted the situation, and had deliberately reckoned
with its dangers.
"About midnight I hid myself in the embrasure of the window. I tried
to scramble on to a ledge of the wainscoting, hanging on by the
fastening of the shutters with my back against the wall, in such a
position that my feet could not be visible. When I had carefully
considered my points of support, and the space between me and the
curtains, I had become sufficiently acquainted with all the
difficulties of my position to stay in it without fear of detection if
undisturbed by cramp, coughs, or sneezings. To avoid useless fatigue,
I remained standing until the critical moment, when I must hang
suspended like a spider in its web. The white-watered silk and muslin
of the curtains spread before me in great pleats like organ-pipes.
With my penknife I cut loopholes in them, through which I could see.
"I heard vague murmurs from the salons, the laughter and the louder
tones of the speakers. The smothered commotion and vague uproar
lessened by slow degrees. One man and another came for his hat from
the countess' chest of drawers, close to where I stood. I shivered, if
the curtains were disturbed, at the thought of the mischances
consequent on the confused and hasty investigations made by the men in
a hurry to depart, who were rummaging everywhere. When I experienced
no misfortunes of this kind, I augured well of my enterprise. An old
wooer of Foedora's came for the last hat; he thought himself quite
alone, looked at the bed, and heaved a great sigh, accompanied by some
inaudible exclamation, into which he threw sufficient energy. In the
boudoir close by, the countess, finding only some five or six intimate
acquaintances about her, proposed tea. The scandals for which existing
society has reserved the little faculty of belief that it retains,
mingled with epigrams and trenchant witticisms, and the clatter of
cups and spoons. Rastignac drew roars of laughter by merciless
sarcasms at the expense of my rivals.
" 'M. de Rastignac is a man with whom it is better not to quarrel,'
said the countess, laughing.
" 'I am quite of that opinion,' was his candid reply. 'I have always
been right about my aversions--and my friendships as well,' he added.
'Perhaps my enemies are quite as useful to me as my friends. I have
made a particular study of modern phraseology, and of the natural
craft that is used in all attack or defence. Official eloquence is one
of our perfect social products.
" 'One of your friends is not clever, so you speak of his integrity
and his candor. Another's work is heavy; you introduce it as a piece
of conscientious labor; and if the book is ill written, you extol the
ideas it contains. Such an one is treacherous and fickle, slips
through your fingers every moment; bah! he is attractive, bewitching,
he is delightful! Suppose they are enemies, you fling every one, dead
or alive, in their teeth. You reverse your phraseology for their
benefit, and you are as keen in detecting their faults as you were
before adroit in bringing out the virtues of your friends. This way of
using the mental lorgnette is the secret of conversation nowadays, and
the whole art of the complete courtier. If you neglect it, you might
as well go out as an unarmed knight-banneret to fight against men in
armor. And I make use of it, and even abuse it at times. So we are
respected--I and my friends; and, moreover, my sword is quite as sharp
as my tongue.'
"One of Foedora's most fervid worshipers, whose presumption was
notorious, and who even made it contribute to his success, took up the
glove thrown down so scornfully by Rastignac. He began an unmeasured
eulogy of me, my performances, and my character. Rastignac had
overlooked this method of detraction. His sarcastic encomiums misled
the countess, who sacrificed without mercy; she betrayed my secrets,
and derided my pretensions and my hopes, to divert her friends.
" 'There is a future before him,' said Rastignac. 'Some day he may be
in a position to take a cruel revenge; his talents are at least equal
to his courage; and I should consider those who attack him very rash,
for he has a good memory----'
" 'And writes Memoirs,' put in the countess, who seemed to object to
the deep silence that prevailed.
" 'Memoirs of a sham countess, madame,' replied Rastignac. 'Another
sort of courage is needed to write that sort of thing.'
" 'I give him credit for plenty of courage,' she answered; 'he is
faithful to me.'
"I was greatly tempted to show myself suddenly among the railers, like
the shade of Banquo in Macbeth. I should have lost a mistress, but I
had a friend! But love inspired me all at once, with one of those
treacherous and fallacious subtleties that it can use to soothe all
"If Foedora loved me, I thought, she would be sure to disguise her
feelings by some mocking jest. How often the heart protests against a
lie on the lips!
"Well, very soon my audacious rival, left alone with the countess,
rose to go.
" 'What! already?' asked she in a coaxing voice that set my heart
beating. 'Will you not give me a few more minutes? Have you nothing
more to say to me? will you never sacrifice any of your pleasures for
"He went away.
" 'Ah!' she yawned; 'how very tiresome they all are!'
"She pulled a cord energetically till the sound of a bell rang through
the place; then, humming a few notes of Pria che spunti, the countess
entered her room. No one had ever heard her sing; her muteness had
called forth the wildest explanations. She had promised her first
lover, so it was said, who had been held captive by her talent, and
whose jealousy over her stretched beyond his grave, that she would
never allow others to experience a happiness that he wished to be his
and his alone.
"I exerted every power of my soul to catch the sounds. Higher and
higher rose the notes; Foedora's life seemed to dilate within her; her
throat poured forth all its richest tones; something well-nigh divine
entered into the melody. There was a bright purity and clearness of
tone in the countess' voice, a thrilling harmony which reached the
heart and stirred its pulses. Musicians are seldom unemotional; a
woman who could sing like that must know how to love indeed. Her
beautiful voice made one more puzzle in a woman mysterious enough
before. I beheld her then, as plainly as I see you at this moment. She
seemed to listen to herself, to experience a secret rapture of her
own; she felt, as it were, an ecstasy like that of love.
"She stood before the hearth during the execution of the principal
theme of the rondo; and when she ceased her face changed. She looked
tired; her features seemed to alter. She had laid the mask aside; her
part as an actress was over. Yet the faded look that came over her
beautiful face, a result either of this performance or of the
evening's fatigues, had its charms, too.
" 'This is her real self,' I thought.
"She set her foot on a bronze bar of the fender as if to warm it, took
off her gloves, and drew over her head the gold chain from which her
bejeweled scent-bottle hung. It gave me a quite indescribable pleasure
to watch the feline grace of every movement; the supple grace a cat
displays as it adjusts its toilette in the sun. She looked at herself
in the mirror and said aloud ill-humoredly--'I did not look well this
evening, my complexion is going with alarming rapidity; perhaps I
ought to keep earlier hours, and give up this life of dissipation.
Does Justine mean to trifle with me?' She rang again; her maid hurried
in. Where she had been I cannot tell; she came in by a secret
staircase. I was anxious to make a study of her. I had lodged
accusations, in my romantic imaginings, against this invisible
waiting-woman, a tall, well-made brunette.
" 'Did madame ring?'
" 'Yes, twice,' answered Foedora; 'are you really growing deaf
" 'I was preparing madame's milk of almonds.'
"Justine knelt down before her, unlaced her sandals and drew them off,
while her mistress lay carelessly back on her cushioned armchair
beside the fire, yawned, and scratched her head. Every movement was
perfectly natural; there was nothing whatever to indicate the secret
sufferings or emotions with which I had credited her.
" 'George must be in love!' she remarked. 'I shall dismiss him. He has
drawn the curtains again to-night. What does he mean by it?'
"All the blood in my veins rushed to my heart at this observation, but
no more was said about curtains.
" 'Life is very empty,' the countess went on. 'Ah! be careful not to
scratch me as you did yesterday. Just look here, I still have the
marks of your nails about me,' and she held out a silken knee. She
thrust her bare feet into velvet slippers bound with swan's-down, and
unfastened her dress, while Justine prepared to comb her hair.
" 'You ought to marry, madame, and have children.'
" 'Children!' she cried; 'it wants no more than that to finish me at
once; and a husband! What man is there to whom I could----? Was my
hair well arranged to-night?'
" 'Not particularly.'
" 'You are a fool!'
" 'That way of crimping your hair too much is the least becoming way
possible for you. Large, smooth curls suit you a great deal better.'
" 'Yes, really, madame; that wavy style only looks nice in fair hair.'
" 'Marriage? never, never! Marriage is a commercial arrangement, for
which I was never made.'
"What a disheartening scene for a lover! Here was a lonely woman,
without friends or kin, without the religion of love, without faith in
any affection. Yet however slightly she might feel the need to pour
out her heart, a craving that every human being feels, it could only
be satisfied by gossiping with her maid, by trivial and indifferent
talk. . . . I grieved for her.
"Justine unlaced her. I watched her carefully when she was at last
unveiled. Her maidenly form, in its rose-tinged whiteness, was visible
through her shift in the taper light, as dazzling as some silver
statue behind its gauze covering. No, there was no defect that need
shrink from the stolen glances of love. Alas, a fair form will
overcome the stoutest resolutions!
"The maid lighted the taper in the alabaster sconce that hung before
the bed, while her mistress sat thoughtful and silent before the fire.
Justine went for a warming-pan, turned down the bed, and helped to lay
her mistress in it; then, after some further time spent in
punctiliously rendering various services that showed how seriously
Foedora respected herself, her maid left her. The countess turned to
and fro several times, and sighed; she was ill at ease; faint, just
perceptible sounds, like sighs of impatience, escaped from her lips.
She reached out a hand to the table, and took a flask from it, from
which she shook four or five drops of some brown liquid into some milk
before taking it; again there followed some painful sighs, and the
exclamation, 'MON DIEU!'
"The cry, and the tone in which it was uttered, wrung my heart. By
degrees she lay motionless. This frightened me; but very soon I heard
a sleeper's heavy, regular breathing. I drew the rustling silk
curtains apart, left my post, went to the foot of the bed, and gazed
at her with feelings that I cannot define. She was so enchanting as
she lay like a child, with her arm above her head; but the sweetness
of the fair, quiet visage, surrounded by the lace, only irritated me.
I had not been prepared for the torture to which I was compelled to
" 'Mon Dieu!' that scrap of a thought which I understood not, but must
even take as my sole light, had suddenly modified my opinion of
Foedora. Trite or profoundly significant, frivolous or of deep import,
the words might be construed as expressive of either pleasure or pain,
of physical or of mental suffering. Was it a prayer or a malediction,
a forecast or a memory, a fear or a regret? A whole life lay in that
utterance, a life of wealth or of penury; perhaps it contained a
"The mystery that lurked beneath this fair semblance of womanhood grew
afresh; there were so many ways of explaining Foedora, that she became
inexplicable. A sort of language seemed to flow from between her lips.
I put thoughts and feelings into the accidents of her breathing,
whether weak or regular, gentle, or labored. I shared her dreams; I
would fain have divined her secrets by reading them through her
slumber. I hesitated among contradictory opinions and decisions
without number. I could not deny my heart to the woman I saw before
me, with the calm, pure beauty in her face. I resolved to make one
more effort. If I told her the story of my life, my love, my
sacrifices, might I not awaken pity in her or draw a tear from her who
"As I set all my hopes on this last experiment, the sounds in the
streets showed that day was at hand. For a moment's space I pictured
Foedora waking to find herself in my arms. I could have stolen softly
to her side and slipped them about her in a close embrace. Resolved to
resist the cruel tyranny of this thought, I hurried into the salon,
heedless of any sounds I might make; but, luckily, I came upon a
secret door leading to a little staircase. As I expected, the key was
in the lock; I slammed the door, went boldly out into the court, and
gained the street in three bounds, without looking round to see
whether I was observed.
"A dramatist was to read a comedy at the countess' house in two days'
time; I went thither, intending to outstay the others, so as to make a
rather singular request to her; I meant to ask her to keep the
following evening for me alone, and to deny herself to other comers;
but when I found myself alone with her, my courage failed. Every tick
of the clock alarmed me. It wanted only a quarter of an hour of
" 'If I do not speak,' I thought to myself, 'I must smash my head
against the corner of the mantelpiece.'
"I gave myself three minutes' grace; the three minutes went by, and I
did not smash my head upon the marble; my heart grew heavy, like a
sponge with water.
" 'You are exceedingly amusing,' said she.
" 'Ah, madame, if you could but understand me!' I answered.
" 'What is the matter with you?' she asked. 'You are turning pale.'
" 'I am hesitating to ask a favor of you.'
"Her gesture revived my courage. I asked her to make the appointment
" 'Willingly,' she answered' 'but why will you not speak to me now?'
" 'To be candid with you, I ought to explain the full scope of your
promise: I want to spend this evening by your side, as if we were
brother and sister. Have no fear; I am aware of your antipathies; you
must have divined me sufficiently to feel sure that I should wish you
to do nothing that could be displeasing to you; presumption, moreover,
would not thus approach you. You have been a friend to me, you have
shown me kindness and great indulgence; know, therefore, that
to-morrow I must bid you farewell.--Do not take back your word,' I
exclaimed, seeing her about to speak, and I went away.
"At eight o'clock one evening towards the end of May, Foedora and I
were alone together in her gothic boudoir. I feared no longer; I was
secure of happiness. My mistress should be mine, or I would seek a
refuge in death. I had condemned my faint-hearted love, and a man who
acknowledges his weakness is strong indeed.
"The countess, in her blue cashmere gown, was reclining on a sofa,
with her feet on a cushion. She wore an Oriental turban such as
painters assign to early Hebrews; its strangeness added an
indescribable coquettish grace to her attractions. A transitory charm
seemed to have laid its spell on her face; it might have furnished the
argument that at every instant we become new and unparalleled beings,
without any resemblance to the US of the future or of the past. I had
never yet seen her so radiant.
" 'Do you know that you have piqued my curiosity?' she said, laughing.
" 'I will not disappoint it,' I said quietly, as I seated myself near
to her and took the hand that she surrendered to me. 'You have a very
" 'You have never heard me sing!' she exclaimed, starting
involuntarily with surprise.
" 'I will prove that it is quite otherwise, whenever it is necessary.
Is your delightful singing still to remain a mystery? Have no fear, I
do not wish to penetrate it.'
"We spent about an hour in familiar talk. While I adopted the attitude
and manner of a man to whom Foedora must refuse nothing, I showed her
all a lover's deference. Acting in this way, I received a favor--I was
allowed to kiss her hand. She daintily drew off the glove, and my
whole soul was dissolved and poured forth in that kiss. I was steeped
in the bliss of an illusion in which I tried to believe.
"Foedora lent herself most unexpectedly to my caress and my
flatteries. Do not accuse me of faint-heartedness; if I had gone a
step beyond these fraternal compliments, the claws would have been out
of the sheath and into me. We remained perfectly silent for nearly ten
minutes. I was admiring her, investing her with the charms she had
not. She was mine just then, and mine only,--this enchanting being was
mine, as was permissible, in my imagination; my longing wrapped her
round and held her close; in my soul I wedded her. The countess was
subdued and fascinated by my magnetic influence. Ever since I have
regretted that this subjugation was not absolute; but just then I
yearned for her soul, her heart alone, and for nothing else. I longed
for an ideal and perfect happiness, a fair illusion that cannot last
for very long. At last I spoke, feeling that the last hours of my
frenzy were at hand.
" 'Hear me, madame. I love you, and you know it; I have said so a
hundred times; you must have understood me. I would not take upon me
the airs of a coxcomb, nor would I flatter you, nor urge myself upon
you like a fool; I would not owe your love to such arts as these! so I
have been misunderstood. What sufferings have I not endured for your
sake! For these, however, you were not to blame; but in a few minutes
you shall decide for yourself. There are two kinds of poverty, madame.
One kind openly walks the street in rags, an unconscious imitator of
Diogenes, on a scanty diet, reducing life to its simplest terms; he is
happier, maybe, than the rich; he has fewer cares at any rate, and
accepts such portions of the world as stronger spirits refuse. Then
there is poverty in splendor, a Spanish pauper, concealing the life of
a beggar by his title, his bravery, and his pride; poverty that wears
a white waistcoat and yellow kid gloves, a beggar with a carriage,
whose whole career will be wrecked for lack of a halfpenny. Poverty of
the first kind belongs to the populace; the second kind is that of
blacklegs, of kings, and of men of talent. I am neither a man of the
people, nor a king, nor a swindler; possibly I have no talent either,
I am an exception. With the name I bear I must die sooner than beg.
Set your mind at rest, madame,' I said; 'to-day I have abundance, I
possess sufficient of the clay for my needs'; for the hard look passed
over her face which we wear whenever a well-dressed beggar takes us by
surprise. 'Do you remember the day when you wished to go to the
Gymnase without me, never believing that I should be there?' I went
" 'I had laid out my last five-franc piece that I might see you there.
--Do you recollect our walk in the Jardin des Plantes? The hire of
your cab took everything I had.'
"I told her about my sacrifices, and described the life I led; heated
not with wine, as I am to-day, but by the generous enthusiasm of my
heart, my passion overflowed in burning words; I have forgotten how
the feelings within me blazed forth; neither memory nor skill of mine
could possibly reproduce it. It was no colorless chronicle of blighted
affections; my love was strengthened by fair hopes; and such words
came to me, by love's inspiration, that each had power to set forth a
whole life--like echoes of the cries of a soul in torment. In such
tones the last prayers ascend from dying men on the battlefield. I
stopped, for she was weeping. GRAND DIEU! I had reaped an actor's
reward, the success of a counterfeit passion displayed at the cost of
five francs paid at the theatre door. I had drawn tears from her.
" 'If I had known----' she said.
" 'Do not finish the sentence,' I broke in. 'Even now I love you well
enough to murder you----'
"She reached for the bell-pull. I burst into a roar of laughter.
" 'Do not call any one,' I said. 'I shall leave you to finish your
life in peace. It would be a blundering kind of hatred that would
murder you! You need not fear violence of any kind; I have spent a
whole night at the foot of your bed without----'
" 'Monsieur----' she said, blushing; but after that first impulse of
modesty that even the most hardened women must surely own, she flung a
scornful glance at me, and said:
" 'You must have been very cold.'
" 'Do you think that I set such value on your beauty, madame,' I
answered, guessing the thoughts that moved her. 'Your beautiful face
is for me a promise of a soul yet more beautiful. Madame, those to
whom a woman is merely a woman can always purchase odalisques fit for
the seraglio, and achieve their happiness at a small cost. But I
aspired to something higher; I wanted the life of close communion of
heart and heart with you that have no heart. I know that now. If you
were to belong to another, I could kill him. And yet, no; for you
would love him, and his death might hurt you perhaps. What agony this
is!' I cried.
" 'If it is any comfort to you,' she retorted cheerfully, 'I can
assure you that I shall never belong to any one----'
" 'So you offer an affront to God Himself,' I interrupted; 'and you
will be punished for it. Some day you will lie upon your sofa
suffering unheard-of ills, unable to endure the light or the slightest
sound, condemned to live as it were in the tomb. Then, when you seek
the causes of those lingering and avenging torments, you will remember
the woes that you distributed so lavishly upon your way. You have sown
curses, and hatred will be your reward. We are the real judges, the
executioners of a justice that reigns here below, which overrules the
justice of man and the laws of God.'
" 'No doubt it is very culpable in me not to love you,' she said,
laughing. 'Am I to blame? No. I do not love you; you are a man, that
is sufficient. I am happy by myself; why should I give up my way of
living, a selfish way, if you will, for the caprices of a master?
Marriage is a sacrament by virtue of which each imparts nothing but
vexations to the other. Children, moreover, worry me. Did I not
faithfully warn you about my nature? Why are you not satisfied to have
my friendship? I wish I could make you amends for all the troubles I
have caused you, through not guessing the value of your poor five-
franc pieces. I appreciate the extent of your sacrifices; but your
devotion and delicate tact can be repaid by love alone, and I care so
little for you, that this scene has a disagreeable effect upon me.'
" 'I am fully aware of my absurdity,' I said, unable to restrain my
tears. 'Pardon me,' I went on, 'it was a delight to hear those cruel
words you have just uttered, so well I love you. O, if I could testify
my love with every drop of blood in me!'
" 'Men always repeat these classic formulas to us, more or less
effectively,' she answered, still smiling. 'But it appears very
difficult to die at our feet, for I see corpses of that kind about
everywhere. It is twelve o'clock. Allow me to go to bed.'
" 'And in two hours' time you will cry to yourself, AH, MON DIEU!'
" 'Like the day before yesterday! Yes,' she said, 'I was thinking of
my stockbroker; I had forgotten to tell him to convert my five per
cent stock into threes, and the three per cents had fallen during the
"I looked at her, and my eyes glittered with anger. Sometimes a crime
may be a whole romance; I understood that just then. She was so
accustomed, no doubt, to the most impassioned declarations of this
kind, that my words and my tears were forgotten already.
" 'Would you marry a peer of France?' I demanded abruptly.
" 'If he were a duke, I might.'
"I seized my hat and made her a bow.
" 'Permit me to accompany you to the door,' she said, cutting irony in
her tones, in the poise of her head, and in her gesture.
" 'I shall never see you again.'
" 'I hope not,' and she insolently inclined her head.
" 'You wish to be a duchess?' I cried, excited by a sort of madness
that her insolence roused in me. 'You are wild for honors and titles?
Well, only let me love you; bid my pen write and my voice speak for
you alone; be the inmost soul of my life, my guiding star! Then, only
accept me for your husband as a minister, a peer of France, a duke. I
will make of myself whatever you would have me be!'
" 'You made good use of the time you spent with the advocate,' she
said smiling. 'There is a fervency about your pleadings.'
" 'The present is yours,' I cried, 'but the future is mine! I only
lose a woman; you are losing a name and a family. Time is big with my
revenge; time will spoil your beauty, and yours will be a solitary
death; and glory waits for me!'
" 'Thanks for your peroration!' she said, repressing a yawn; the wish
that she might never see me again was expressed in her whole bearing.
"That remark silenced me. I flung at her a glance full of hatred, and
"Foedora must be forgotten; I must cure myself of my infatuation, and
betake myself once more to my lonely studies, or die. So I set myself
tremendous tasks; I determined to complete my labors. For fifteen days
I never left my garret, spending whole nights in pallid thought. I
worked with difficulty, and by fits and starts, despite my courage and
the stimulation of despair. The music had fled. I could not exorcise
the brilliant mocking image of Foedora. Something morbid brooded over
every thought, a vague longing as dreadful as remorse. I imitated the
anchorites of the Thebaid. If I did not pray as they did, I lived a
life in the desert like theirs, hewing out my ideas as they were wont
to hew their rocks. I could at need have girdled my waist with spikes,
that physical suffering might quell mental anguish.
"One evening Pauline found her way into my room.
" 'You are killing yourself,' she said imploringly; 'you should go out
and see your friends----'
" 'Pauline, you were a true prophet; Foedora is killing me, I want to
die. My life is intolerable.'
" 'Is there only one woman in the world?' she asked, smiling. 'Why
make yourself so miserable in so short a life?'
"I looked at Pauline in bewilderment. She left me before I noticed her
departure; the sound of her words had reached me, but not their sense.
Very soon I had to take my Memoirs in manuscript to my literary-
contractor. I was so absorbed by my passion, that I could not remember
how I had managed to live without money; I only knew that the four
hundred and fifty francs due to me would pay my debts. So I went to
receive my salary, and met Rastignac, who thought me changed and
" 'What hospital have you been discharged from?' he asked.
" 'That woman is killing me,' I answered; 'I can neither despise her
nor forget her.'
" 'You had much better kill her, then perhaps you would think no more
of her,' he said, laughing.
" 'I have often thought of it,' I replied; 'but though sometimes the
thought of a crime revives my spirits, of violence and murder, either
or both, I am really incapable of carrying out the design. The
countess is an admirable monster who would crave for pardon, and not
every man is an Othello.'
" 'She is like every woman who is beyond our reach,' Rastignac
" 'I am mad,' I cried; 'I can feel the madness raging at times in my
brain. My ideas are like shadows; they flit before me, and I cannot
grasp them. Death would be preferable to this life, and I have
carefully considered the best way of putting an end to the struggle. I
am not thinking of the living Foedora in the Faubourg Saint Honore,
but of my Foedora here,' and I tapped my forehead. 'What to you say to
" 'Pshaw! horrid agonies,' said Rastignac.
" 'Or charcoal fumes?'
" 'A low dodge.'
" 'Or the Seine?'
" 'The drag-nets, and the Morgue too, are filthy.'
" 'A pistol-shot?'
" 'And if you miscalculate, you disfigure yourself for life. Listen to
me,' he went on, 'like all young men, I have pondered over suicide.
Which of us hasn't killed himself two or three times before he is
thirty? I find there is no better course than to use existence as a
means of pleasure. Go in for thorough dissipation, and your passion or
you will perish in it. Intemperance, my dear fellow, commands all
forms of death. Does she not wield the thunderbolt of apoplexy?
Apoplexy is a pistol-shot that does not miscalculate. Orgies are
lavish in all physical pleasures; is not that the small change for
opium? And the riot that makes us drink to excess bears a challenge to
mortal combat with wine. That butt of Malmsey of the Duke of
Clarence's must have had a pleasanter flavor than Seine mud. When we
sink gloriously under the table, is not that a periodical death by
drowning on a small scale? If we are picked up by the police and
stretched out on those chilly benches of theirs at the police-station,
do we not enjoy all the pleasures of the Morgue? For though we are not
blue and green, muddy and swollen corpses, on the other hand we have
the consciousness of the climax.
" 'Ah,' he went on, 'this protracted suicide has nothing in common
with the bankrupt grocer's demise. Tradespeople have brought the river
into disrepute; they fling themselves in to soften their creditors'
hearts. In your place I should endeavor to die gracefully; and if you
wish to invent a novel way of doing it, by struggling with life after
this manner, I will be your second. I am disappointed and sick of
everything. The Alsacienne, whom it was proposed that I should marry,
had six toes on her left foot; I cannot possibly live with a woman who
has six toes! It would get about to a certainty, and then I should be
ridiculous. Her income was only eighteen thousand francs; her fortune
diminished in quantity as her toes increased. The devil take it; if we
begin an outrageous sort of life, we may come on some bit of luck,
"Rastignac's eloquence carried me away. The attractions of the plan
shone too temptingly, hopes were kindled, the poetical aspects of the
matter appealed to a poet.
" 'How about money?' I said.
" 'Haven't you four hundred and fifty francs?'
" 'Yes, but debts to my landlady and the tailor----'
" 'You would pay your tailor? You will never be anything whatever, not
so much as a minister.'
" 'But what can one do with twenty louis?'
" 'Go to the gaming-table.'
" 'You are going to launch out into what I call systematic
dissipation,' said he, noticing my scruples, 'and yet you are afraid
of a green table-cloth.'
" 'Listen to me,' I answered. 'I promised my father never to set foot
in a gaming-house. Not only is that a sacred promise, but I still feel
an unconquerable disgust whenever I pass a gambling-hell; take the
money and go without me. While our fortune is at stake, I will set my
own affairs straight, and then I will go to your lodgings and wait for
"That was the way I went to perdition. A young man has only to come
across a woman who will not love him, or a woman who loves him too
well, and his whole life becomes a chaos. Prosperity swallows up our
energy just as adversity obscures our virtues. Back once more in my
Hotel de Saint-Quentin, I gazed about me a long while in the garret
where I had led my scholar's temperate life, a life which would
perhaps have been a long and honorable one, and that I ought not to
have quitted for the fevered existence which had urged me to the brink
of a precipice. Pauline surprised me in this dejected attitude.
" 'Why, what is the matter with you?' she asked.
"I rose and quietly counted out the money owing to her mother, and
added to it sufficient to pay for six months' rent in advance. She
watched me in some alarm.
" 'I am going to leave you, dear Pauline.'
" 'I knew it!' she exclaimed.
" 'Listen, my child. I have not given up the idea of coming back. Keep
my room for me for six months. If I do not return by the fifteenth of
November, you will come into possession of my things. This sealed
packet of manuscript is the fair copy of my great work on "The
Will," ' I went on, pointing to a package. 'Will you deposit it in the
King's Library? And you may do as you wish with everything that is
"Her look weighed heavily on my heart; Pauline was an embodiment of
conscience there before me.
" 'I shall have no more lessons,' she said, pointing to the piano.
"I did not answer that.
" 'Will you write to me?'
" 'Good-bye, Pauline.'
"I gently drew her towards me, and set a kiss on that innocent fair
brow of hers, like snow that has not yet touched the earth--a father's
or a brother's kiss. She fled. I would not see Madame Gaudin, hung my
key in its wonted place, and departed. I was almost at the end of the
Rue de Cluny when I heard a woman's light footstep behind me.
" 'I have embroidered this purse for you,' Pauline said; 'will you
refuse even that?'
"By the light of the street lamp I thought I saw tears in Pauline's
eyes, and I groaned. Moved perhaps by a common impulse, we parted in
haste like people who fear the contagion of the plague.
"As I waited with dignified calmness for Rastignac's return, his room
seemed a grotesque interpretation of the sort of life I was about to
enter upon. The clock on the chimney-piece was surmounted by a Venus
resting on her tortoise; a half-smoked cigar lay in her arms. Costly
furniture of various kinds--love tokens, very likely--was scattered
about. Old shoes lay on a luxurious sofa. The comfortable armchair
into which I had thrown myself bore as many scars as a veteran; the
arms were gnashed, the back was overlaid with a thick, stale deposit
of pomade and hair-oil from the heads of all his visitors. Splendor
and squalor were oddly mingled, on the walls, the bed, and everywhere.
You might have thought of a Neapolitan palace and the groups of
lazzaroni about it. It was the room of a gambler or a mauvais sujet,
where the luxury exists for one individual, who leads the life of the
senses and does not trouble himself over inconsistencies.
"There was a certain imaginative element about the picture it
presented. Life was suddenly revealed there in its rags and spangles
as the incomplete thing it really is, of course, but so vividly and
picturesquely; it was like a den where a brigand has heaped up all the
plunder in which he delights. Some pages were missing from a copy of
Byron's poems: they had gone to light a fire of a few sticks for this
young person, who played for stakes of a thousand francs, and had not
a faggot; he kept a tilbury, and had not a whole shirt to his back.
Any day a countess or an actress or a run of luck at ecarte might set
him up with an outfit worthy of a king. A candle had been stuck into
the green bronze sheath of a vestaholder; a woman's portrait lay
yonder, torn out of its carved gold setting. How was it possible that
a young man, whose nature craved excitement, could renounce a life so
attractive by reason of its contradictions; a life that afforded all
the delights of war in the midst of peace? I was growing drowsy when
Rastignac kicked the door open and shouted:
" 'Victory! Now we can take our time about dying.'
"He held out his hat filled with gold to me, and put it down on the
table; then we pranced round it like a pair of cannibals about to eat
a victim; we stamped, and danced, and yelled, and sang; we gave each
other blows fit to kill an elephant, at sight of all the pleasures of
the world contained in that hat.
" 'Twenty-seven thousand francs,' said Rastignac, adding a few bank-
notes to the pile of gold. 'That would be enough for other folk to
live upon; will it be sufficient for us to die on? Yes! we will
breathe our last in a bath of gold--hurrah!' and we capered afresh.
"We divided the windfall. We began with double-napoleons, and came
down to the smaller coins, one by one. 'This for you, this for me,' we
kept saying, distilling our joy drop by drop.
" 'We won't go to sleep,' cried Rastignac. 'Joseph! some punch!'
"He threw gold to his faithful attendant.
" 'There is your share,' he said; 'go and bury yourself if you can.'
"Next day I went to Lesage and chose my furniture, took the rooms that
you know in the Rue Taitbout, and left the decoration to one of the
best upholsterers. I bought horses. I plunged into a vortex of
pleasures, at once hollow and real. I went in for play, gaining and
losing enormous sums, but only at friends' houses and in ballrooms;
never in gaming-houses, for which I still retained the holy horror of
my early days. Without meaning it, I made some friends, either through
quarrels or owing to the easy confidence established among those who
are going to the bad together; nothing, possibly, makes us cling to
one another so tightly as our evil propensities.
"I made several ventures in literature, which were flatteringly
received. Great men who followed the profession of letters, having
nothing to fear from me, belauded me, not so much on account of my
merits as to cast a slur on those of their rivals.
"I became a 'free-liver,' to make use of the picturesque expression
appropriated by the language of excess. I made it a point of honor not
to be long about dying, and that my zeal and prowess should eclipse
those displayed by all others in the jolliest company. I was always
spruce and carefully dressed. I had some reputation for cleverness.
There was no sign about me of the fearful way of living which makes a
man into a mere disgusting apparatus, a funnel, a pampered beast.
"Very soon Debauch rose before me in all the majesty of its horror,
and I grasped all that it meant. Those prudent, steady-going
characters who are laying down wine in bottles for their heirs, can
barely conceive, it is true, of so wide a theory of life, nor
appreciate its normal condition; but when will you instill poetry into
the provincial intellect? Opium and tea, with all their delights, are
merely drugs to folk of that calibre.
"Is not the imperfect sybarite to be met with even in Paris itself,
that intellectual metropolis? Unfit to endure the fatigues of
pleasure, this sort of person, after a drinking bout, is very much
like those worthy bourgeois who fall foul of music after hearing a new
opera by Rossini. Does he not renounce these courses in the same frame
of mind that leads an abstemious man to forswear Ruffec pates, because
the first one, forsooth, gave him the indigestion?
"Debauch is as surely an art as poetry, and is not for craven spirits.
To penetrate its mysteries and appreciate its charms, conscientious
application is required; and as with every path of knowledge, the way
is thorny and forbidding at the outset. The great pleasures of
humanity are hedged about with formidable obstacles; not its single
enjoyments, but enjoyment as a system, a system which establishes
seldom experienced sensations and makes them habitual, which
concentrates and multiplies them for us, creating a dramatic life
within our life, and imperatively demanding a prompt and enormous
expenditure of vitality. War, Power, Art, like Debauch, are all forms
of demoralization, equally remote from the faculties of humanity,
equally profound, and all are alike difficult of access. But when man
has once stormed the heights of these grand mysteries, does he not
walk in another world? Are not generals, ministers, and artists
carried, more or less, towards destruction by the need of violent
distractions in an existence so remote from ordinary life as theirs?
"War, after all, is the Excess of bloodshed, as the Excess of self-
interest produces Politics. Excesses of every sort are brothers. These
social enormities possess the attraction of the abyss; they draw
towards themselves as St. Helena beckoned Napoleon; we are fascinated,
our heads swim, we wish to sound their depths though we cannot account
for the wish. Perhaps the thought of Infinity dwells in these
precipices, perhaps they contain some colossal flattery for the soul
of man; for is he not, then, wholly absorbed in himself?
"The wearied artist needs a complete contrast to his paradise of
imaginings and of studious hours; he either craves, like God, the
seventh day of rest, or with Satan, the pleasures of hell; so that his
senses may have free play in opposition to the employment of his
faculties. Byron could never have taken for his relaxation to the
independent gentleman's delights of boston and gossip, for he was a
poet, and so must needs pit Greece against Mahmoud.
"In war, is not man an angel of extirpation, a sort of executioner on
a gigantic scale? Must not the spell be strong indeed that makes us
undergo such horrid sufferings so hostile to our weak frames,
sufferings that encircle every strong passion with a hedge of thorns?
The tobacco smoker is seized with convulsions, and goes through a kind
of agony consequent upon his excesses; but has he not borne a part in
delightful festivals in realms unknown? Has Europe ever ceased from
wars? She has never given herself time to wipe the stains from her
feet that are steeped in blood to the ankle. Mankind at large is
carried away by fits of intoxication, as nature has its accessions of
"For men in private life, for a vegetating Mirabeau dreaming of storms
in a time of calm, Excess comprises all things; it perpetually
embraces the whole sum of life; it is something better still--it is a
duel with an antagonist of unknown power, a monster, terrible at first
sight, that must be seized by the horns, a labor that cannot be
"Suppose that nature has endowed you with a feeble stomach or one of
limited capacity; you acquire a mastery over it and improve it; you
learn to carry your liquor; you grow accustomed to being drunk; you
pass whole nights without sleep; at last you acquire the constitution
of a colonel of cuirassiers; and in this way you create yourself
afresh, as if to fly in the face of Providence.
"A man transformed after this sort is like a neophyte who has at last
become a veteran, has accustomed his mind to shot and shell and his
legs to lengthy marches. When the monster's hold on him is still
uncertain, and it is not yet known which will have the better of it,
they roll over and over, alternately victor and vanquished, in a world
where everything is wonderful, where every ache of the soul is laid to
sleep, where only the shadows of ideas are revived.
"This furious struggle has already become a necessity for us. The
prodigal has struck a bargain for all the enjoyments with which life
teems abundantly, at the price of his own death, like the mythical
persons in legends who sold themselves to the devil for the power of
doing evil. For them, instead of flowing quietly on in its monotonous
course in the depths of some counting-house or study, life is poured
out in a boiling torrent.
"Excess is, in short, for the body what the mystic's ecstasy is for
the soul. Intoxication steeps you in fantastic imaginings every whit
as strange as those of ecstatics. You know hours as full of rapture as
a young girl's dreams; you travel without fatigue; you chat pleasantly
with your friends; words come to you with a whole life in each, and
fresh pleasures without regrets; poems are set forth for you in a few
brief phrases. The coarse animal satisfaction, in which science has
tried to find a soul, is followed by the enchanted drowsiness that men
sigh for under the burden of consciousness. Is it not because they all
feel the need of absolute repose? Because Excess is a sort of toll
that genius pays to pain?
"Look at all great men; nature made them pleasure-loving or base,
every one. Some mocking or jealous power corrupted them in either soul
or body, so as to make all their powers futile, and their efforts of
"All men and all things appear before you in the guise you choose, in
those hours when wine has sway. You are lord of all creation; you
transform it at your pleasure. And throughout this unceasing delirium,
Play may pour, at your will, its molten lead into your veins.
"Some day you will fall into the monster's power. Then you will have,
as I had, a frenzied awakening, with impotence sitting by your pillow.
Are you an old soldier? Phthisis attacks you. A diplomatist? An
aneurism hangs death in your heart by a thread. It will perhaps be
consumption that will cry out to me, 'Let us be going!' as to Raphael
of Urbino, in old time, killed by an excess of love.
"In this way I have existed. I was launched into the world too early
or too late. My energy would have been dangerous there, no doubt, if I
had not have squandered it in such ways as these. Was not the world
rid of an Alexander, by the cup of Hercules, at the close of a
"There are some, the sport of Destiny, who must either have heaven or
hell, the hospice of St. Bernard or riotous excess. Only just now I
lacked the heart to moralize about those two," and he pointed to
Euphrasia and Aquilina. "They are types of my own personal history,
images of my life! I could scarcely reproach them; they stood before
me like judges.
"In the midst of this drama that I was enacting, and while my
distracting disorder was at its height, two crises supervened; each
brought me keen and abundant pangs. The first came a few days after I
had flung myself, like Sardanapalus, on my pyre. I met Foedora under
the peristyle of the Bouffons. We both were waiting for our carriages.
" 'Ah! so you are living yet?'
"That was the meaning of her smile, and probably of the spiteful words
she murmured in the ear of her cicisbeo, telling him my history no
doubt, rating mine as a common love affair. She was deceived, yet she
was applauding her perspicacity. Oh, that I should be dying for her,
must still adore her, always see her through my potations, see her
still when I was overcome with wine, or in the arms of courtesans; and
know that I was a target for her scornful jests! Oh, that I should be
unable to tear the love of her out of my breast and to fling it at her
"Well, I quickly exhausted my funds, but owing to those three years of
discipline, I enjoyed the most robust health, and on the day that I
found myself without a penny I felt remarkably well. In order to carry
on the process of dying, I signed bills at short dates, and the day
came when they must be met. Painful excitements! but how they quicken
the pulses of youth! I was not prematurely aged; I was young yet, and
full of vigor and life.
"At my first debt all my virtues came to life; slowly and despairingly
they seemed to pace towards me; but I could compound with them--they
were like aged aunts that begin with a scolding and end by bestowing
tears and money upon you.
"Imagination was less yielding; I saw my name bandied about through
every city in Europe. 'One's name is oneself' says Eusebe Salverte.
After these excursions I returned to the room I had never quitted,
like a doppelganger in a German tale, and came to myself with a start.
"I used to see with indifference a banker's messenger going on his
errands through the streets of Paris, like a commercial Nemesis,
wearing his master's livery--a gray coat and a silver badge; but now I
hated the species in advance. One of them came one morning to ask me
to meet some eleven bills that I had scrawled my name upon. My
signature was worth three thousand francs! Taking me altogether, I
myself was not worth that amount. Sheriff's deputies rose up before
me, turning their callous faces upon my despair, as the hangman
regards the criminal to whom he says, 'It has just struck half-past
three.' I was in the power of their clerks; they could scribble my
name, drag it through the mire, and jeer at it. I was a defaulter. Has
a debtor any right to himself? Could not other men call me to account
for my way of living? Why had I eaten puddings a la chipolata? Why had
I iced my wine? Why had I slept, or walked, or thought, or amused
myself when I had not paid them?
"At any moment, in the middle of a poem, during some train of thought,
or while I was gaily breakfasting in the pleasant company of my
friends, I might look to see a gentleman enter in a coat of chestnut-
brown, with a shabby hat in his hand. This gentleman's appearance
would signify my debt, the bill I had drawn; the spectre would compel
me to leave the table to speak to him, blight my spirits, despoil me
of my cheerfulness, of my mistress, of all I possessed, down to my
"Remorse itself is more easily endured. Remorse does not drive us into
the street nor into the prison of Sainte-Pelagie; it does not force us
into the detestable sink of vice. Remorse only brings us to the
scaffold, where the executioner invests us with a certain dignity; as
we pay the extreme penalty, everybody believes in our innocence; but
people will not credit a penniless prodigal with a single virtue.
"My debts had other incarnations. There is the kind that goes about on
two feet, in a green cloth coat, and blue spectacles, carrying
umbrellas of various hues; you come face to face with him at the
corner of some street, in the midst of your mirth. These have the
detestable prerogative of saying, 'M. de Valentin owes me something,
and does not pay. I have a hold on him. He had better not show me any
offensive airs!' You must bow to your creditors, and moreover bow
politely. 'When are you going to pay me?' say they. And you must lie,
and beg money of another man, and cringe to a fool seated on his
strong-box, and receive sour looks in return from these horse-leeches;
a blow would be less hateful; you must put up with their crass
ignorance and calculating morality. A debt is a feat of the
imaginative that they cannot appreciate. A borrower is often carried
away and over-mastered by generous impulses; nothing great, nothing
magnanimous can move or dominate those who live for money, and
recognize nothing but money. I myself held money in abhorrence.
"Or a bill may undergo a final transformation into some meritorious
old man with a family dependent upon him. My creditor might be a
living picture for Greuze, a paralytic with his children round him, a
soldier's widow, holding out beseeching hands to me. Terrible
creditors are these with whom we are forced to sympathize, and when
their claims are satisfied we owe them a further debt of assistance.
"The night before the bills fell due, I lay down with the false calm
of those who sleep before their approaching execution, or with a duel
in prospect, rocked as they are by delusive hopes. But when I woke,
when I was cool and collected, when I found myself imprisoned in a
banker's portfolio, and floundering in statements covered with red ink
--then my debts sprang up everywhere, like grasshoppers, before my
eyes. There were my debts, my clock, my armchairs; my debts were
inlaid in the very furniture which I liked best to use. These gentle
inanimate slaves were to fall prey to the harpies of the Chatelet,
were to be carried off by the broker's men, and brutally thrown on the
market. Ah, my property was a part of myself!
"The sound of the door-bell rang through my heart; while it seemed to
strike at me, where kings should be struck at--in the head. Mine was a
martyrdom, without heaven for its reward. For a magnanimous nature,
debt is a hell, and a hell, moreover, with sheriff's officers and
brokers in it. An undischarged debt is something mean and sordid; it
is a beginning of knavery; it is something worse, it is a lie; it
prepares the way for crime, and brings together the planks for the
scaffold. My bills were protested. Three days afterwards I met them,
and this is how it happened.
"A speculator came, offering to buy the island in the Loire belonging
to me, where my mother lay buried. I closed with him. When I went to
his solicitor to sign the deeds, I felt a cavern-like chill in the
dark office that made me shudder; it was the same cold dampness that