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Title: Rise and Fall of Cesar Birotteau
Author: Balzac, Honoré de
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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By Honore De Balzac

Translated by Katharine Prescott Wormeley



During winter nights noise never ceases in the Rue Saint-Honore except
for a short interval. Kitchen-gardeners carrying their produce to market
continue the stir of carriages returning from theatres and balls. Near
the middle of this sustained pause in the grand symphony of Parisian
uproar, which occurs about one o’clock in the morning, the wife of
Monsieur Cesar Birotteau, a perfumer established near the Place Vendome,
was startled from her sleep by a frightful dream. She had seen her
double. She had appeared to herself clothed in rags, turning with a
shrivelled, withered hand the latch of her own shop-door, seeming to be
at the threshold, yet at the same time seated in her armchair behind the
counter. She was asking alms of herself, and heard herself speaking from
the doorway and also from her seat at the desk.

She tried to grasp her husband, but her hand fell on a cold place.
Her terror became so intense that she could not move her neck, which
stiffened as if petrified; the membranes of her throat became glued
together, her voice failed her. She remained sitting erect in the same
posture in the middle of the alcove, both panels of which were wide
open, her eyes staring and fixed, her hair quivering, her ears filled
with strange noises, her heart tightened yet palpitating, and her person
bathed in perspiration though chilled to the bone.

Fear is a half-diseased sentiment, which presses so violently upon the
human mechanism that the faculties are suddenly excited to the highest
degree of their power or driven to utter disorganization. Physiologists
have long wondered at this phenomenon, which overturns their systems
and upsets all theories; it is in fact a thunderbolt working within the
being, and, like all electric accidents, capricious and whimsical in its
course. This explanation will become a mere commonplace in the day
when scientific men are brought to recognize the immense part which
electricity plays in human thought.

Madame Birotteau now passed through several of the shocks, in some sort
out, or held under, by some mysterious mechanism. Thus during a
period of time, very short if judged by a watch, but immeasurable when
calculated by the rapidity of her impressions, the poor woman had the
supernatural power of emitting more ideas and bringing to the surface
more recollections than, under any ordinary use of her faculties, she
could put forth in the course of a whole day. The poignant tale of her
monologue may be abridged into a few absurd sentences, as contradictory
and bare of meaning as the monologue itself.

“There is no reason why Birotteau should leave my bed! He has eaten so
much veal that he may be ill. But if he were ill he would have waked
me. For nineteen years that we have slept together in this bed, in this
house, it has never happened that he left his place without telling
me,--poor sheep! He never slept away except to pass the night in the
guard-room. Did he come to bed to-night? Why, of course; goodness! how
stupid I am.”

She cast her eyes upon the bed and saw her husband’s night-cap, which
still retained the almost conical shape of his head.

“Can he be dead? Has he killed himself? Why?” she went on. “For the
last two years, since they made him deputy-mayor, he is
_all-I-don’t-know-how_. To put him into public life! On the word of an
honest woman, isn’t it pitiable? His business is doing well, for he gave
me a shawl. But perhaps it isn’t doing well? Bah! I should know of
it. Does one ever know what a man has got in his head; or a woman
either?--there is no harm in that. Didn’t we sell five thousand francs’
worth to-day? Besides, a deputy mayor couldn’t kill himself; he knows
the laws too well. Where is he then?”

She could neither turn her neck, nor stretch out her hand to pull
the bell, which would have put in motion a cook, three clerks, and a
shop-boy. A prey to the nightmare, which still lasted though her
mind was wide awake, she forgot her daughter peacefully asleep in an
adjoining room, the door of which opened at the foot of her bed. At last
she cried “Birotteau!” but got no answer. She thought she had called the
name aloud, though in fact she had only uttered it mentally.

“Has he a mistress? He is too stupid,” she added. “Besides, he loves me
too well for that. Didn’t he tell Madame Roguin that he had never been
unfaithful to me, even in thought? He is virtue upon earth, that man. If
any one ever deserved paradise he does. What does he accuse himself of
to his confessor, I wonder? He must tell him a lot of fiddle-faddle.
Royalist as he is, though he doesn’t know why, he can’t froth up his
religion. Poor dear cat! he creeps to Mass at eight o’clock as slyly as
if he were going to a bad house. He fears God for God’s sake; hell
is nothing to him. How could he have a mistress? He is so tied to my
petticoat that he bores me. He loves me better than his own eyes; he
would put them out for my sake. For nineteen years he has never said to
me one word louder than another. His daughter is never considered before
me. But Cesarine is here--Cesarine! Cesarine!--Birotteau has never had
a thought which he did not tell me. He was right enough when he declared
to me at the Petit-Matelot that I should never know him till I tried
him. And _not here_! It is extraordinary!”

She turned her head with difficulty and glanced furtively about the
room, then filled with those picturesque effects which are the despair
of language and seem to belong exclusively to the painters of genre.
What words can picture the alarming zig-zags produced by falling
shadows, the fantastic appearance of curtains bulged out by the wind,
the flicker of uncertain light thrown by a night-lamp upon the folds of
red calico, the rays shed from a curtain-holder whose lurid centre
was like the eye of a burglar, the apparition of a kneeling dress,--in
short, all the grotesque effects which terrify the imagination at a
moment when it has no power except to foresee misfortunes and exaggerate
them? Madame Birotteau suddenly saw a strong light in the room beyond
her chamber, and thought of fire; but perceiving a red foulard which
looked like a pool of blood, her mind turned exclusively to burglars,
especially when she thought she saw traces of a struggle in the way the
furniture stood about the room. Recollecting the sum of money which
was in the desk, a generous fear put an end to the chill ferment of her
nightmare. She sprang terrified, and in her night-gown, into the very
centre of the room to help her husband, whom she supposed to be in the
grasp of assassins.

“Birotteau! Birotteau!” she cried at last in a voice full of anguish.

She then saw the perfumer in the middle of the next room, a yard-stick
in his hand measuring the air, and so ill wrapped up in his green cotton
dressing-gown with chocolate-colored spots that the cold had reddened
his legs without his feeling it, preoccupied as he was. When Cesar
turned about to say to his wife, “Well, what do you want, Constance?”
 his air and manner, like those of a man absorbed in calculations, were
so prodigiously silly that Madame Birotteau began to laugh.

“Goodness! Cesar, if you are not an oddity like that!” she said. “Why
did you leave me alone without telling me? I have nearly died of terror;
I did not know what to imagine. What are you doing there, flying open
to all the winds? You’ll get as hoarse as a wolf. Do you hear me,

“Yes, wife, here I am,” answered the perfumer, coming into the bedroom.

“Come and warm yourself, and tell me what maggot you’ve got in your
head,” replied Madame Birotteau opening the ashes of the fire, which she
hastened to relight. “I am frozen. What a goose I was to get up in my
night-gown! But I really thought they were assassinating you.”

The shopkeeper put his candlestick on the chimney-piece, wrapped his
dressing-gown closer about him, and went mechanically to find a flannel
petticoat for his wife.

“Here, Mimi, cover yourself up,” he said. “Twenty-two by eighteen,” he
resumed, going on with his monologue; “we can get a superb salon.”

“Ah, ca! Birotteau, are you on the high road to insanity? Are you

“No, wife, I am calculating.”

“You had better wait till daylight for your nonsense,” she cried,
fastening the petticoat beneath her short night-gown and going to the
door of the room where her daughter was in bed.

“Cesarine is asleep,” she said, “she won’t hear us. Come, Birotteau,
speak up. What is it?”

“We can give a ball.”

“Give a ball! we? On the word of an honest woman, you are dreaming, my

“I am not dreaming, my beautiful white doe. Listen. People should
always do what their position in life demands. Government has brought
me forward into prominence. I belong to the government; it is my duty to
study its mind, and further its intentions by developing them. The Duc
de Richelieu has just put an end to the occupation of France by
the foreign armies. According to Monsieur de la Billardiere, the
functionaries who represent the city of Paris should make it their duty,
each in his own sphere of influence, to celebrate the liberation of our
territory. Let us show a true patriotism which shall put these liberals,
these damned intriguers, to the blush; hein? Do you think I don’t love
my country? I wish to show the liberals, my enemies, that to love the
king is to love France.”

“Do you think you have got any enemies, my poor Birotteau?”

“Why, yes, wife, we have enemies. Half our friends in the quarter are
our enemies. They all say, ‘Birotteau has had luck; Birotteau is a man
who came from nothing: yet here he is deputy-mayor; everything succeeds
with him.’ Well, they are going to be finely surprised. You are the
first to be told that I am made a chevalier of the Legion of honor. The
king signed the order yesterday.”

“Oh! then,” said Madame Birotteau, much moved, “of course we must give
the ball, my good friend. But what have you done to merit the cross?”

“Yesterday, when Monsieur de la Billardiere told me the news,” said
Birotteau, modestly, “I asked myself, as you do, what claims I had to
it; but I ended by seeing what they were, and in approving the action
of the government. In the first place, I am a royalist; I was wounded
at Saint-Roch in Vendemiaire: isn’t it something to have borne arms
in those days for the good cause? Then, according to the merchants, I
exercised my judicial functions in a way to give general satisfaction. I
am now deputy-mayor. The king grants four crosses to the municipality of
Paris; the prefect, selecting among the deputies suitable persons to be
thus decorated, has placed my name first on the list. The king moreover
knows me: thanks to old Ragon. I furnish him with the only powder he is
willing to use; we alone possess the receipt of the late queen,--poor,
dear, august victim! The mayor vehemently supported me. So there it is.
If the king gives me the cross without my asking for it, it seems to me
that I cannot refuse it without failing in my duty to him. Did I seek to
be deputy-mayor? So, wife, since we are sailing before the wind, as
your uncle Pillerault says when he is jovial, I have decided to put the
household on a footing in conformity with our high position. If I can
become anything, I’ll risk being whatever the good God wills that I
shall be,--sub-prefect, if such be my destiny. My wife, you are much
mistaken if you think a citizen has paid his debt to his country by
merely selling perfumery for twenty years to those who came to buy it.
If the State demands the help of our intelligence, we are as much bound
to give it as we are to pay the tax on personal property, on windows and
doors, _et caetera_. Do you want to stay forever behind your counter?
You have been there, thank God, a long time. This ball shall be our
fete,--yours and mine. Good-by to economy,--for your sake, be it
understood. I burn our sign, ‘The Queen of Roses’; I efface the name,
‘Cesar Birotteau, Perfumer, Successor to Ragon,’ and put simply,
‘Perfumery’ in big letters of gold. On the _entresol_ I place the
office, the counting-room, and a pretty little sanctum for you. I make
the shop out of the back-shop, the present dining-room, and kitchen. I
hire the first floor of the next house, and open a door into it through
the wall. I turn the staircase so as to pass from house to house on one
floor; and we shall thus get a grand appartement, furnished like a nest.
Yes, I shall refurnish your bedroom, and contrive a boudoir for you and
a pretty chamber for Cesarine. The shop-girl whom you will hire, our
head clerk, and your lady’s-maid (yes, Madame, you are to have one!)
will sleep on the second floor. On the third will be the kitchen and
rooms of the cook and the man-of-all-work. The fourth shall be a general
store-house for bottle, crystals, and porcelains. The workshop for our
people, in the attic! Passers-by shall no longer see them gumming on
the labels, making the bags, sorting the flasks, and corking the phials.
Very well for the Rue Saint-Denis, but for the Rue Saint-Honore--fy! bad
style! Our shop must be as comfortable as a drawing-room. Tell me, are
we the only perfumers who have reached public honors? Are there not
vinegar merchants and mustard men who command in the National Guard and
are very well received at the Palace? Let us imitate them; let us extend
our business, and at the same time press forward into higher society.”

“Goodness! Birotteau, do you know what I am thinking of as I listen to
you? You are like the man who looks for knots in a bulrush. Recollect
what I said when it was a question of making you deputy-mayor: ‘your
peace of mind before everything!’ You are as fit, I told you, ‘to be put
forward in public life as my arm is to turn a windmill. Honors will be
your ruin!’ You would not listen to me, and now the ruin has come. To
play a part in politics you must have money: have we any? What! would
you burn your sign, which cost six hundred francs, and renounce ‘The
Queen of Roses,’ your true glory? Leave ambition to others. He who puts
his hand in the fire gets burned,--isn’t that true? Politics burn in
these days. We have one hundred good thousand francs invested outside of
our business, our productions, our merchandise. If you want to increase
your fortune, do as they did in 1793. The Funds are at sixty-two:
buy into the Funds. You will get ten thousand francs’ income, and the
investment won’t hamper our property. Take advantage of the occasion to
marry our daughter; sell the business, and let us go and live in your
native place. Why! for fifteen years you have talked of nothing but
buying Les Tresorieres, that pretty little property near Chinon, where
there are woods and fields, and ponds and vineyards, and two dairies,
which bring in a thousand crowns a year, with a house which we both
like,--all of which we can have for sixty thousand francs; and, lo!
Monsieur now wants to become something under government! Recollect what
we are,--perfumers. If sixteen years before you invented the DOUBLE
PASTE OF SULTANS and the CARMINATIVE BALM some one had said, ‘You are
going to make enough money to buy Les Tresorieres,’ wouldn’t you have
been half sick with joy? Well, you can acquire that property which you
wanted so much that you hardly opened your mouth about anything else,
and now you talk of spending on nonsense money earned by the sweat of
our brow: I can say ours, for I’ve sat behind the desk through all that
time, like a poor dog in his kennel. Isn’t it much better to come and
visit our daughter after she is married to a notary of Paris, and live
eight months of the year at Chinon, than to begin here to make five sous
six blanks, and of six blanks nothing? Wait for a rise in the Funds, and
you can give eight thousand francs a year to your daughter and we can
keep two thousand for ourselves, and the proceeds of the business will
allow us to buy Les Tresorieres. There in your native place, my good
little cat, with our furniture, which is worth a great deal, we shall
live like princes; whereas here we want at least a million to make any
figure at all.”

“I expected you to say all this, wife,” said Cesar Birotteau. “I am not
quite such a fool (though you think me a great fool, you do) as not to
have thought of all that. Now, listen to me. Alexandre Crottat will fit
us like a glove for a son-in-law, and he will succeed Roguin; but do
you suppose he will be satisfied with a hundred thousand francs
_dot_?--supposing that we gave our whole property outside of the
business to establish our daughter, and I am willing; I would gladly
live on dry bread the rest of my days to see her happy as a queen, the
wife of a notary of Paris, as you say. Well, then, a hundred thousand
francs, or even eight thousand francs a year, is nothing at all towards
buying Roguin’s practice. Little Xandrot, as we call him, thinks,
like all the rest of the world, that we are richer than we are. If his
father, that big farmer who is as close as a snail, won’t sell a hundred
thousand francs worth of land Xandrot can’t be a notary, for Roguin’s
practice is worth four or five hundred thousand. If Crottat does not
pay half down, how could he negotiate the affair? Cesarine must have two
hundred thousand francs _dot_; and I mean that you and I shall retire
solid bourgeois of Paris, with fifteen thousand francs a year. Hein! If
I could make you see that as plain as day, wouldn’t it shut your mouth?”

“Oh, if you’ve got the mines of Peru--”

“Yes, I have, my lamb. Yes,” he said, taking his wife by the waist and
striking her with little taps, under an emotion of joy which lighted up
his features, “I did not wish to tell you of this matter till it was all
cooked; but to-morrow it will be done,--that is, perhaps it will. Here
it is then: Roguin has proposed a speculation to me, so safe that he has
gone into it with Ragon, with your uncle Pillerault, and two other of
his clients. We are to buy property near the Madeleine, which, according
to Roguin’s calculations, we shall get for a quarter of the value which
it will bring three years from now, at which time, the present leases
having expired, we shall manage it for ourselves. We have all six taken
certain shares. I furnish three hundred thousand francs,--that is,
three-eighths of the whole. If any one of us wants money, Roguin will
get it for him by hypothecating his share. To hold the gridiron and know
how the fish are fried, I have chosen to be nominally proprietor of one
half, which is, however, to be the common property of Pillerault and
the worthy Ragon and myself. Roguin will be, under the name of Monsieur
Charles Claparon, co-proprietor with me, and will give a reversionary
deed to his associates, as I shall to mine. The deeds of purchase are
made by promises of sale under private seal, until we are masters of
the whole property. Roguin will investigate as to which of the contracts
should be paid in money, for he is not sure that we can dispense with
registering and yet turn over the titles to those to whom we sell in
small parcels. But it takes too long to explain all this to you. The
ground once paid for, we have only to cross our arms and in three
years we shall be rich by a million. Cesarine will then be twenty, our
business will be sold, and we shall step, by the grace of God, modestly
to eminence.”

“Where will you get your three hundred thousand francs?” said Madame

“You don’t understand business, my beloved little cat. I shall take the
hundred thousand francs which are now with Roguin; I shall borrow forty
thousand on the buildings and gardens where we now have our manufactory
in the Faubourg du Temple; we have twenty thousand francs here in
hand,--in all, one hundred and sixty thousand. There remain one hundred
and forty thousand more, for which I shall sign notes to the order
of Monsieur Charles Claparon, banker. He will pay the value, less the
discount. So there are the three hundred thousand francs provided for.
He who owns rents owes nothing. When the notes fall due we can pay them
off with our profits. If we cannot pay them in cash, Roguin will give
the money at five per cent, hypothecated on my share of the property.
But such loans will be unnecessary. I have discovered an essence which
will make the hair grow--an Oil Comagene, from Syria! Livingston has
just set up for me a hydraulic press to manufacture the oil from nuts,
which yield it readily under strong pressure. In a year, according to
my calculations, I shall have made a hundred thousand francs at least.
I meditate an advertisement which shall begin, ‘Down with wigs!’--the
effect will be prodigious. You have never found out my wakefulness,
Madame! For three months the success of Macassar Oil has kept me from
sleeping. I am resolved to take the shine out of Macassar!”

“So these are the fine projects you’ve been rolling in your noddle for
two months without choosing to tell me? I have just seen myself begging
at my own door,--a warning from heaven! Before long we shall have
nothing left but our eyes to weep with. Never while I live shall you do
it; do you hear me, Cesar? Underneath all this there is some plot
which you don’t perceive; you are too upright and loyal to suspect the
trickery of others. Why should they come and offer you millions? You are
giving up your property, you are going beyond your means; and if your
oil doesn’t succeed, if you don’t make the money, if the value of the
land can’t be realized, how will you pay your notes? With the shells of
your nuts? To rise in society you are going to hide your name, take down
your sign, ‘The Queen of Roses,’ and yet you mean to salaam and bow
and scrape in advertisements and prospectuses, which will placard Cesar
Birotteau at every corner, and on all the boards, wherever they are

“Oh! you are not up to it all. I shall have a branch establishment,
under the name of Popinot, in some house near the Rue des Lombards,
where I shall put little Anselme. I shall pay my debt of gratitude to
Monsieur and Madame Ragon by setting up their nephew, who can make his
fortune. The poor Ragonines look to me half-starved of late.”

“Bah! all those people want your money.”

“But what people, my treasure? Is it your uncle Pillerault, who loves
us like the apple of his eye, and dines with us every Sunday? Is it good
old Ragon, our predecessor, who has forty upright years in business
to boast of, and with whom we play our game of boston? Is it Roguin, a
notary, a man fifty-seven years old, twenty-five of which he has been in
office? A notary of Paris! he would be the flower of the lot, if honest
folk were not all worth the same price. If necessary, my associates will
help me. Where is the plot, my white doe? Look here, I must tell you
your defect. On the word of an honest man it lies on my heart. You are
as suspicious as a cat. As soon as we had two sous worth in the shop you
thought the customers were all thieves. I had to go down on my knees to
you to let me make you rich. For a Parisian girl you have no ambition!
If it hadn’t been for your perpetual fears, no man could have been
happier than I. If I had listened to you I should never have invented
the Paste of Sultans nor the Carminative Balm. Our shop has given us
a living, but these two discoveries have made the hundred and sixty
thousand francs which we possess, net and clear! Without my genius, for
I certainly have talent as a perfumer, we should now be petty retail
shopkeepers, pulling the devil’s tail to make both ends meet. I
shouldn’t be a distinguished merchant, competing in the election of
judges for the department of commerce; I should be neither a judge nor
a deputy-mayor. Do you know what I should be? A shopkeeper like Pere
Ragon,--be it said without offence, for I respect shopkeeping; the best
of our kidney are in it. After selling perfumery like him for forty
years, we should be worth three thousand francs a year; and at the price
things are now, for they have doubled in value, we should, like them,
have barely enough to live on. (Day after day that poor household wrings
my heart more and more. I must know more about it, and I’ll get the
truth from Popinot to-morrow!) If I had followed your advice--you who
have such uneasy happiness and are always asking whether you will have
to-morrow what you have got to-day--I should have no credit, I should
have no cross of the Legion of honor. I should not be on the highroad to
becoming a political personage. Yes, you may shake your head, but if our
affair succeeds I may become deputy of Paris. Ah! I am not named Cesar
for nothing; I succeed. It is unimaginable! outside every one credits
me with capacity, but here the only person whom I want so much to please
that I sweat blood and water to make her happy, is precisely the one who
takes me for a fool.”

These phrases, divided by eloquent pauses and delivered like shot, after
the manner of those who recriminate, expressed so deep and constant an
attachment that Madame Birotteau was inwardly touched, though, like all
women, she made use of the love she inspired to gain her end.

“Well! Birotteau,” she said, “if you love me, let me be happy in my own
way. Neither you nor I have education; we don’t know how to talk, nor
to play ‘your obedient servant’ like men of the world; how then do you
expect that we could succeed in government places? I shall be happy at
Les Tresorieres, indeed I shall. I have always loved birds and animals,
and I can pass my life very well taking care of the hens and the farm.
Let us sell the business, marry Cesarine, and give up your visions. We
can come and pass the winters in Paris with our son-in-law; we shall be
happy; nothing in politics or commerce can then change our way of life.
Why do you want to crush others? Isn’t our present fortune enough for
us? When you are a millionaire can you eat two dinners; will you want
two wives? Look at my uncle Pillerault! He is wisely content with his
little property, and spends his life in good deeds. Does he want fine
furniture? Not he! I know very well you have been ordering furniture for
me; I saw Braschon here, and it was not to buy perfumery.”

“Well, my beauty, yes! Your furniture is ordered; our improvements begin
to-morrow, and are superintended by an architect recommended to me by
Monsieur de la Billardiere.”

“My God!” she cried, “have pity upon us!”

“But you are not reasonable, my love. Do you think that at thirty-seven
years of age, fresh and pretty as you are, you can go and bury yourself
at Chinon? I, thank God, am only thirty-nine. Chance opens to me a fine
career; I enter upon it. If I conduct myself prudently I can make an
honorable house among the bourgeoisie of Paris, as was done in former
times. I can found the house of Birotteau, like the house of Keller,
or Jules Desmartes, or Roguin, Cochin, Guillaume, Lebas, Nucingen,
Saillard, Popinot, Matifat, who make their mark, or have made it, in
their respective quarters. Come now! If this affair were not as sure as
bars of gold--”


“Yes, sure. For two months I have figured at it. Without seeming to do
so, I have been getting information on building from the department of
public works, from architects and contractors. Monsieur Grindot, the
young architect who is to alter our house, is in despair that he has no
money to put into the speculation.”

“He hopes for the work; he says that to screw something out of you.”

“Can he take in such men as Pillerault, as Charles Claparon, as Roguin?
The profit is as sure as that of the Paste of Sultans.”

“But, my dear friend, why should Roguin speculate? He gets his
commissions, and his fortune is made. I see him pass sometimes more full
of care than a minister of state, with an underhand look which I don’t
like; he hides some secret anxiety. His face has grown in five years to
look like that of an old rake. Who can be sure that he won’t kick over
the traces when he gets all your property into his own hands. Such
things happen. Do we know him well? He has only been a friend for
fifteen years, and I wouldn’t put my hand into the fire for him. Why! he
is not decent: he does not live with his wife. He must have mistresses
who ruin him; I don’t see any other cause for his anxiety. When I am
dressing I look through the blinds, and I often see him coming home in
the mornings: where from? Nobody knows. He seems to me like a man who
has an establishment in town, who spends on his pleasures, and Madame on
hers. Is that the life of a notary? If they make fifty thousand francs a
year and spend sixty thousand, in twenty years they will get to the end
of their property and be as naked as the little Saint John; and then, as
they can’t do without luxury, they will prey upon their friends without
compunction. Charity begins at home. He is intimate with that little
scamp du Tillet, our former clerk; and I see nothing good in that
friendship. If he doesn’t know how to judge du Tillet he must be blind;
and if he does know him, why does he pet him? You’ll tell me, because
his wife is fond of du Tillet. Well, I don’t look for any good in a man
who has no honor with respect to his wife. Besides, the present owners
of that land must be fools to sell for a hundred sous what is worth
a hundred francs. If you met a child who did not know the value of a
louis, wouldn’t you feel bound to tell him of it? Your affair looks to
me like a theft, be it said without offence.”

“Good God! how queer women are sometimes, and how they mix up ideas!
If Roguin were not in this business, you would say to me: ‘Look here,
Cesar, you are going into a thing without Roguin; therefore it is worth
nothing.’ But to-day he is in it, as security, and you tell me--”

“No, that is a Monsieur Claparon.”

“But a notary cannot put his own name into a speculation.”

“Then why is he doing a thing forbidden by law? How do you answer that,
you who are guided by law?”

“Let me go on. Roguin is in it, and you tell me the business is
worthless. Is that reasonable? You say, ‘He is acting against the law.’
But he would put himself openly in the business if it were necessary.
Can’t they say the same of me? Would Ragon and Pillerault come and say
to me: ‘Why do you have to do with this affair,--you who have made your
money as a merchant?’”

“Merchants are not in the same position as notaries,” said Madame

“Well, my conscience is clear,” said Cesar, continuing; “the people who
sell, sell because they must; we do not steal from them any more than
you steal from others when you buy their stocks at seventy-five. We buy
the ground to-day at to-day’s price. In two years it will be another
thing; just so with stocks. Know then, Constance-Barbe-Josephine
Pillerault, that you will never catch Cesar Birotteau doing anything
against the most rigid honor, nor against the laws, nor against his
conscience, nor against delicacy. A man established and known for
eighteen years, to be suspected in his own household of dishonesty!”

“Come, be calm, Cesar! A woman who has lived with you all that time
knows down to the bottom of your soul. You are the master, after all.
You earned your fortune, didn’t you? It is yours, and you can spend it.
If we are reduced to the last straits of poverty, neither your daughter
nor I will make you a single reproach. But, listen; when you invented
your Paste of Sultans and Carminative Balm, what did you risk? Five or
six thousand francs. To-day you put all your fortune on a game of cards.
And you are not the only one to play; you have associates who may be
much cleverer than you. Give your ball, remodel the house, spend ten
thousand francs if you like,--it is useless but not ruinous. As to your
speculations near the Madeleine, I formally object. You are perfumer: be
a perfumer, and not a speculator in land. We women have instincts which
do not deceive us. I have warned you; now follow your own lead. You have
been judge in the department of commerce, you know the laws. So far,
you have guided the ship well, Cesar; I shall follow you! But I shall
tremble till I see our fortune solidly secure and Cesarine well married.
God grant that my dream be not a prophecy!”

This submission thwarted Birotteau, who now employed an innocent ruse to
which he had had recourse on similar occasions.

“Listen, Constance. I have not given my word; though it is the same as
if I had.”

“Oh, Cesar, all is said; let us say no more. Honor before fortune. Come,
go to bed, dear friend, there is no more wood. Besides, we shall talk
better in bed, if it amuses you. Oh! that horrid dream! My God! to see
one’s self! it was fearful! Cesarine and I will have to make a pretty
number of _neuvaines_ for the success of your speculations.”

“Doubtless the help of God can do no harm,” said Birotteau, gravely.
“But the oil in nuts is also powerful, wife. I made this discovery just
as I made that of the Double Paste of Sultans,--by chance. The first
time by opening a book; this time by looking at an engraving of Hero
and Leander: you know, the woman who pours oil on the head of her lover;
pretty, isn’t it? The safest speculations are those which depend on
vanity, on self-love, on the desire of appearing well. Those sentiments
never die.”

“Alas! I know it well.”

“At a certain age men will turn their souls inside out to get hair, if
they haven’t any. For some time past hair-dressers have told me that
they sell not only Macassar, but all the drugs which are said to dye
hair or make it grow. Since the peace, men are more with women, and
women don’t like bald-heads; hey! hey! Mimi? The demand for that article
grows out of the political situation. A composition which will keep the
hair in good health will sell like bread; all the more if it has the
sanction, as it will have, of the Academy of Sciences. My good Monsieur
Vauquelin will perhaps help me once more. I shall go to him to-morrow
and submit my idea; offering him at the same time that engraving which
I have at last found in Germany, after two years’ search. He is
now engaged in analyzing hair: Chiffreville, his associate in the
manufacture of chemical products, told me so. If my discovery should
jump with his, my essence will be bought by both sexes. The idea is
a fortune; I repeat it. Mon Dieu! I can’t sleep. Hey! luckily little
Popinot has the finest head of hair in the world. A shop-girl with hair
long enough to touch the ground, and who could say--if the thing were
possible without offence to God or my neighbor--that the Oil Comagene
(for it shall be an oil, decidedly) has had something to do with
it,--all the gray-heads in Paris will fling themselves upon the
invention like poverty upon the world. Hey! hey! Mignonne! how about the
ball? I am not wicked, but I should like to meet that little scamp du
Tillet, who swells out with his fortune and avoids me at the Bourse. He
knows that I know a thing about him which was not fine. Perhaps I have
been too kind to him. Isn’t it odd, wife, that we are always punished
for our good deeds?--here below, I mean. I behaved like a father to him;
you don’t know all I did for him.”

“You give me goose-flesh merely speaking of it. If you knew what he
wished to make of you, you would never have kept the secret of his
stealing that three thousand francs,--for I guessed just how the thing
was done. If you had sent him to the correctional police, perhaps you
would have done a service to a good many people.”

“What did he wish to make of me?”

“Nothing. If you were inclined to listen to me to-night, I would give
you a piece of good advice, Birotteau; and that is, to let your du
Tillet alone.”

“Won’t it seem strange if I exclude him from my house,--a clerk for whom
I endorsed to the amount of twenty thousand francs when he first went
into business? Come, let us do good for good’s sake. Besides, perhaps du
Tillet has mended his ways.”

“Everything is to be turned topsy-turvy, then?”

“What do you mean with your topsy-turvy? Everything will be ruled like a
sheet of music-paper. Have you forgotten what I have just told you
about turning the staircase and hiring the first floor of the next
house?--which is all settled with the umbrella-maker, Cayron. He and I
are going to-morrow to see his proprietor, Monsieur Molineux. To-morrow
I have as much to do as a minister of state.”

“You turn my brain with your projects,” said Constance. “I am all mixed
up. Besides, Birotteau, I’m asleep.”

“Good-day,” replied the husband. “Just listen; I say good-day because it
is morning, Mimi. Ah! there she is off, the dear child. Yes! you shall
be rich, _richissime_, or I’ll renounce my name of Cesar!”

A few moments later Constance and Cesar were peacefully snoring.


A glance rapidly thrown over the past life of this household will
strengthen the ideas which ought to have been suggested by the friendly
altercation of the two personages in this scene. While picturing the
manners and customs of retail shopkeepers, this sketch will also show by
what singular chances Cesar Birotteau became deputy-mayor and perfumer,
retired officer of the National Guard, and chevalier of the Legion of
honor. In bringing to light the depths of his character and the causes
of his rise, we shall show that fortuitous commercial events which
strong brains dominate, may become irreparable catastrophes for weak
ones. Events are never absolute; their results depend on individuals.
Misfortune is a stepping-stone for genius, the baptismal font of
Christians, a treasure for the skilful man, an abyss for the feeble.

A vine-dresser in the neighborhood of Chinon, named Jean Birotteau,
married the waiting-maid of a lady whose vines he tilled. He had three
sons; his wife died in giving birth to the last, and the poor man
did not long survive her. The mistress had been fond of the maid, and
brought up with her own sons the eldest child, Francois, and placed him
in a seminary. Ordained priest, Francois Birotteau hid himself during
the Revolution, and led the wandering life of priests not sworn by the
Republic, hunted like wild beasts and guillotined at the first chance.
At the time when this history begins he was vicar of the cathedral of
Tours, and had only once left that city to visit his brother Cesar.
The bustle of Paris so bewildered the good priest that he was afraid to
leave his room. He called the cabriolets “half-coaches,” and wondered at
all he saw. After a week’s stay he went back to Tours resolving never to
revisit the capital.

The second son of the vine-dresser, Jean Birotteau, was drafted into
the militia, and won the rank of captain early in the wars of the
Revolution. At the battle of Trebia, Macdonald called for volunteers to
carry a battery. Captain Jean Birotteau advanced with his company, and
was killed. The destiny of the Birotteaus demanded, no doubt, that
they should be oppressed by men, or by circumstances, wheresoever they
planted themselves.

The last child is the hero of this story. When Cesar at fourteen years
of age could read, write, and cipher, he left his native place and came
to Paris on foot to seek his fortune, with one louis in his pocket. The
recommendation of an apothecary at Tours got him a place as shop-boy
with Monsieur and Madame Ragon, perfumers. Cesar owned at this period a
pair of hob-nailed shoes, a pair of breeches, blue stockings, a flowered
waistcoat, a peasant’s jacket, three coarse shirts of good linen, and
his travelling cudgel. If his hair was cut like that of a choir-boy, he
at least had the sturdy loins of a Tourangian; if he yielded sometimes
to the native idleness of his birthplace, it was counterbalanced by his
desire to make his fortune; if he lacked cleverness and education,
he possessed an instinctive rectitude and delicate feelings, which he
inherited from his mother,--a being who had, in Tourangian phrase, a
“heart of gold.” Cesar received from the Ragons his food, six francs a
month as wages, and a pallet to sleep upon in the garret near the cook.
The clerks who taught him to pack the goods, to do the errands, and
sweep up the shop and the pavement, made fun of him as they did so,
according to the manners and customs of shop-keeping, in which chaff is
a principal element of instruction. Monsieur and Madame Ragon spoke to
him like a dog. No one paid attention to his weariness, though many a
night his feet, blistered by the pavements of Paris, and his bruised
shoulders, made him suffer horribly. This harsh application of the maxim
“each for himself,”--the gospel of large cities,--made Cesar think the
life of Paris very hard. At night he cried as he thought of Touraine,
where the peasant works at his ease, where the mason lays a stone
between breakfast and dinner, and idleness is wisely mingled with labor;
but he always fell asleep without having time to think of running away,
for he had his errands to do in the morning, and obeyed his duty with
the instinct of a watch-dog. If occasionally he complained, the head
clerk would smile with a jovial air, and say,--

“Ah, my boy! all is not rose at ‘The Queen of Roses.’ Larks don’t fall
down roasted; you must run after them and catch them, and then you must
find some way to cook them.”

The cook, a big creature from Picardy, took the best bits for herself,
and only spoke to Cesar when she wanted to complain of Monsieur and
Madame Ragon, who left her nothing to steal. Towards the end of the
first month this girl, who was forced to keep house of a Sunday, opened
a conversation with Cesar. Ursula with the grease washed off seemed
charming to the poor shop-boy, who, unless hindered by chance, was
likely to strike on the first rock that lay hidden in his way. Like all
unprotected boys, he loved the first woman who threw him a kind look.
The cook took Cesar under her protection; and thence followed certain
secret relations, which the clerks laughed at pitilessly. Two years
later, the cook happily abandoned Cesar for a young recruit belonging to
her native place who was then hiding in Paris,--a lad twenty years old,
owning a few acres of land, who let Ursula marry him.

During those two years the cook had fed her little Cesar well, and had
explained to him certain mysteries of Parisian life, which she made him
look at from the bottom; and she impressed upon him, out of jealousy, a
profound horror of evil places, whose dangers seemed not unknown to
her. In 1792 the feet of the deserted Cesar were well-toughened to the
pavements, his shoulders to the bales, and his mind to what he called
the “humbugs” of Paris. So when Ursula abandoned him he was speedily
consoled, for she had realized none of his instinctive ideas in relation
to sentiment. Licentious and surly, wheedling and pilfering, selfish
and a tippler, she clashed with the simple nature of Birotteau without
offering him any compensating perspective. Sometimes the poor lad felt
with pain that he was bound by ties that are strong enough to hold
ingenuous hearts to a creature with whom he could not sympathize. By the
time that he became master of his own heart he had reached his growth,
and was sixteen years old. His mind, developed by Ursula and by the
banter of the clerks, made him study commerce with an eye in which
intelligence was veiled beneath simplicity: he observed the customers;
asked in leisure moments for explanations about the merchandise, whose
divers sorts and proper places he retained in his head. The day came
when he knew all the articles, and their prices and marks, better than
any new-comer; and from that time Monsieur and Madame Ragon made a
practice of employing him in the business.

When the terrible levy of the year II. made a clean sweep in the shop of
citizen Ragon, Cesar Birotteau, promoted to be second clerk, profited
by the occasion to obtain a salary of fifty francs a month, and took
his seat at the dinner-table of the Ragons with ineffable delight. The
second clerk of “The Queen of Roses,” possessing already six hundred
francs, now had a chamber where he could put away, in long-coveted
articles of furniture, the clothing he had little by little got
together. Dressed like other young men of an epoch when fashion required
the assumption of boorish manners, the gentle and modest peasant had
an air and manner which rendered him at least their equal; and he thus
passed the barriers which in other times ordinary life would have placed
between himself and the bourgeoisie. Towards the end of this year his
integrity won him a place in the counting-room. The dignified citoyenne
Ragon herself looked after his linen, and the two shopkeepers became
familiar with him.

In Vendemiaire, 1794, Cesar, who possessed a hundred louis d’or, changed
them for six thousand francs in assignats, with which he bought into the
Funds at thirty, paying for the investment on the very day before the
paper began its course of depreciation at the Bourse, and locking up
his securities with unspeakable satisfaction. From that day forward he
watched the movement of stocks and public affairs with secret anxieties
of his own, which made him quiver at each rumor of the reverses or
successes that marked this period of our history. Monsieur Ragon,
formerly perfumer to her majesty Queen Marie-Antoinette, confided to
Cesar Birotteau, during this critical period, his attachment to the
fallen tyrants. This disclosure was one of the cardinal events in
Cesar’s life. The nightly conversations when the shop was closed, the
street quiet, the accounts regulated, made a fanatic of the Tourangian,
who in becoming a royalist obeyed an inborn instinct. The recital of the
virtuous deeds of Louis XVI., the anecdotes with which husband and wife
exalted the memory of the queen, fired the imagination of the young man.
The horrible fate of those two crowned heads, decapitated a few steps
from the shop-door, roused his feeling heart and made him hate a system
of government which was capable of shedding blood without repugnance.
His commercial interests showed him the death of trade in the Maximum,
and in political convulsions, which are always destructive of business.
Moreover, like a true perfumer, he hated the revolution which made a
Titus of every man and abolished powder. The tranquillity resulting
from absolutism could alone, he thought, give life to money, and he grew
bigoted on behalf of royalty. When Monsieur Ragon saw that Cesar was
well-disposed on this point, he made him head-clerk and initiated him
into the secrets of “The Queen of Roses,” several of whose customers
were the most active and devoted emissaries of the Bourbons, and where
the correspondence between Paris and the West secretly went on. Carried
away by the fervor of youth, electrified by his intercourse with the
Georges, the Billardiere, Montauran, Bauvan, Longuy, Manda, Bernier, du
Guenic, and the Fontaines, Cesar flung himself into the conspiracy by
which the royalists and the terrorists combined on the 13th Vendemiaire
against the expiring Convention.

On that day Cesar had the honor of fighting against Napoleon on the
steps of Saint-Roch, and was wounded at the beginning of the affair.
Every one knows the result of that attempt. If the aide-de-camp of
Barras then issued from his obscurity, the obscurity of Birotteau saved
the clerk’s life. A few friends carried the belligerent perfumer to
“The Queen of Roses,” where he remained hidden in the garret, nursed by
Madame Ragon, and happily forgotten. Cesar Birotteau never had but that
one spurt of martial courage. During the month his convalescence lasted,
he made solid reflections on the absurdity of an alliance between
politics and perfumery. Although he remained royalist, he resolved to
be, purely and simply, a royalist perfumer, and never more to compromise
himself, body and soul, for his country.

On the 18th Brumaire, Monsieur and Madame Ragon, despairing of the royal
cause, determined to give up perfumery, and live like honest bourgeois
without meddling in politics. To recover the value of their business, it
was necessary to find a man who had more integrity than ambition,
more plain good sense than ability. Ragon proposed the affair to his
head-clerk. Birotteau, now master at twenty years of age of a thousand
francs a year from the public Funds, hesitated. His ambition was to
live near Chinon as soon as he could get together an income of fifteen
hundred francs, or whenever the First Consul should have consolidated
the public debt by consolidating himself in the Tuileries. Why should he
risk his honest and simple independence in commercial uncertainties? he
asked himself. He had never expected to win so large a fortune, and he
owed it to happy chances which only come in early youth; he intended
to marry in Touraine some woman rich enough to enable him to buy and
cultivate Les Tresorieres, a little property which, from the dawn of his
reason, he had coveted, which he dreamed of augmenting, where he could
make a thousand crowns a year, and where he would lead a life of happy
obscurity. He was about to refuse the offer, when love suddenly changed
all his resolutions by increasing tenfold the measure of his ambition.

After Ursula’s desertion, Cesar had remained virtuous, as much through
fear of the dangers of Paris as from application to his work. When
the passions are without food they change their wants; marriage then
becomes, to persons of the middle class, a fixed idea, for it is their
only way of winning and appropriating a woman. Cesar Birotteau had
reached that point. Everything at “The Queen of Roses” now rested on
the head-clerk; he had not a moment to give to pleasure. In such a life
wants become imperious, and a chance meeting with a beautiful young
woman, of whom a libertine clerk would scarcely have dreamed, produced
on Cesar an overpowering effect. On a fine June day, crossing by the
Pont-Marie to the Ile Saint-Louis, he saw a young girl standing at the
door of a shop at the angle of the Quai d’Anjou. Constance Pillerault
was the forewoman of a linen-draper’s establishment called Le Petit
Matelot,--the first of those shops which have since been established in
Paris with more or less of painted signs, floating banners, show-cases
filled with swinging shawls, cravats arranged like houses of cards, and
a thousand other commercial seductions, such as fixed prices, fillets
of suspended objects, placards, illusions and optical effects carried
to such a degree of perfection that a shop-front has now become a
commercial poem. The low price of all the articles called “Novelties”
 which were to be found at the Petit-Matelot gave the shop an unheard
of vogue, and that in a part of Paris which was the least favorable to
fashion and commerce. The young forewoman was at this time cited for her
beauty, as was the case in later days with the beautiful lemonade-girl
of the cafe of the Milles Colonnnes, and several other poor creatures
who flattened more noses, young and old, against the window-panes of
milliners, confectioners, and linen-drapers, than there are stones in
the streets of Paris.

The head-clerk of “The Queen of Roses,” living between Saint-Roch
and the Rue de la Sourdiere, knew nothing of the existence of the
Petit-Matelot; for the smaller trades of Paris are more or less
strangers to each other. Cesar was so vigorously smitten by the beauty
of Constance that he rushed furiously into the shop to buy six linen
shirts, disputing the price a long time, and requiring volumes of linen
to be unfolded and shown to him, precisely like an Englishwoman in the
humor for “shopping.” The young person deigned to take notice of Cesar,
perceiving, by certain symptoms known to women, that he came more for
the seller than the goods. He dictated his name and address to the young
lady, who grew very indifferent to the admiration of her customer once
the purchase was made. The poor clerk had had little to do to win the
good graces of Ursula; in such matters he was as silly as a sheep, and
love now made him sillier. He dared not utter a word, and was moreover
too dazzled to observe the indifference which succeeded the smiles of
the siren shopwoman.

For eight succeeding days Cesar mounted guard every evening before the
Petit-Matelot, watching for a look as a dog waits for a bone at
the kitchen door, indifferent to the derision of the clerks and the
shop-girls, humbly stepping aside for the buyers and passers-by, and
absorbed in the little revolving world of the shop. Some days later he
again entered the paradise of his angel, less to purchase handkerchiefs
than to communicate to her a luminous idea.

“If you should have need of perfumery, Mademoiselle, I could furnish you
in the same manner,” he said as he paid for the handkerchiefs.

Constance Pillerault was daily receiving brilliant proposals, in which
there was no question of marriage; and though her heart was as pure
as her forehead was white, it was only after six months of marches
and counter-marches, in the course of which Cesar revealed his
inextinguishable love, that she condescended to receive his attentions,
and even then without committing herself to an answer,--a prudence
suggested by the number of her swains, wholesale wine-merchants, rich
proprietors of cafes, and others who made soft eyes at her. The lover
was backed up in his suit by the guardian of Constance, Monsieur
Claude-Joseph Pillerault, at that time an ironmonger on the Quai de la
Ferraille, whom the young man had finally discovered by devoting himself
to the subterraneous spying which distinguishes a genuine love.

The rapidity of this narrative compels us to pass over in silence the
joys of Parisian love tasted with innocence, the prodigalities peculiar
to clerkdom, such as melons in their earliest prime, choice dinners
at Venua’s followed by the theatre, Sunday jaunts to the country in
hackney-coaches. Without being handsome, there was nothing in Cesar’s
person which made it difficult to love him. The life of Paris and
his sojourn in a dark shop had dulled the brightness of his peasant
complexion. His abundant black hair, his solid neck and shoulders
like those of a Norman horse, his sturdy limbs, his honest and
straightforward manner, all contributed to predispose others in his
favor. The uncle Pillerault, whose duty it was to watch over the
happiness of his brother’s daughter, made inquiries which resulted in
his sanctioning the wishes of the young Tourangian. In the year 1800,
and in the pretty month of May, Mademoiselle Pillerault consented to
marry Cesar Birotteau, who fainted with joy at the moment when, under a
linden at Sceaux, Constance-Barbe-Josephine Pillerault accepted him as
her husband.

“My little girl,” said Monsieur Pillerault, “you have won a good
husband. He has a warm heart and honorable feelings; he is true as gold,
and as good as an infant Jesus,--in fact, a king of men.”

Constance frankly abdicated the more brilliant destiny to which, like
all shop-girls, she may at times have aspired. She wished to be an
honest woman, a good mother of a family, and looked at life according to
the religious programme of the middle classes. Such a career suited her
own ideas far better than the dangerous vanities which seduce so many
youthful Parisian imaginations. Constance, with her narrow intelligence,
was a type of the petty bourgeoisie whose labors are not performed
without grumbling; who begin by refusing what they desire, and end
by getting angry when taken at their word; whose restless activity is
carried into the kitchen and into the counting-room, into the gravest
matters of business, and into the invisible darns of the household
linen; who love while scolding, who conceive no ideas but the simplest
(the small change of the mind); who argue about everything, fear
everything, calculate everything, and fret perpetually over the future.
Her cold but ingenuous beauty, her touching expression, her freshness
and purity, prevented Birotteau from thinking of her defects, which
moreover were more than compensated by a delicate sense of honor natural
to women, by an excessive love of order, by a fanaticism for work, and
by her genius as a saleswoman. Constance was eighteen years old, and
possessed eleven thousand francs of her own. Cesar, inspired by his love
with an excessive ambition, bought the business of “The Queen of Roses”
 and removed it to a handsome building near the Place Vendome. At the
early age of twenty-one, married to a woman he adored, the proprietor of
an establishment for which he had paid three quarters of the price down,
he had the right to view, and did view, the future in glowing colors;
all the more when he measured the path which led from his original point
of departure. Roguin, notary of Ragon, who had drawn up the marriage
contract, gave the new perfumer some sound advice, and prevented him
from paying the whole purchase money down with the fortune of his wife.

“Keep the means of undertaking some good enterprise, my lad,” he had
said to him.

Birotteau looked up to the notary with admiration, fell into the habit
of consulting him, and made him his friend. Like Ragon and Pillerault,
he had so much faith in the profession that he gave himself up to Roguin
without allowing himself a suspicion. Thanks to this advice, Cesar,
supplied with the eleven thousand francs of his wife for his start in
business, would have scorned to exchange his possessions for those of
the First Consul, brilliant as the prospects of Napoleon might seem. At
first the Birotteaus kept only a cook, and lived in the _entresol_ above
the shop,--a sort of den tolerably well decorated by an upholsterer,
where the bride and bridegroom began a honeymoon that was never to end.
Madame Cesar appeared to advantage behind the counter. Her celebrated
beauty had an enormous influence upon the sales, and the beautiful
Madame Birotteau became a topic among the fashionable young men of
the Empire. If Cesar was sometimes accused of royalism, the world did
justice to his honesty; if a few neighboring shopkeepers envied his
happiness, every one at least thought him worthy of it. The bullet which
struck him on the steps of Saint-Roch gave him the reputation of
being mixed up with political secrets, and also of being a courageous
man,--though he had no military courage in his heart, and not the
smallest political idea in his brain. Upon these grounds the worthy
people of the arrondissement made him captain of the National Guard; but
he was cashiered by Napoleon, who, according to Birotteau, owed him a
grudge for their encounter on the 13th Vendemiaire. Cesar thus obtained
at a cheap rate a varnish of persecution, which made him interesting in
the eyes of the opposition, and gave him a certain importance.

              *     *     *     *     *

Such was the history of this household, lastingly happy through its
feeling, and agitated only by commercial anxieties.

During the first year Cesar instructed his wife about the sales of
their merchandise and the details of perfumery,--a business which she
understood admirably. She really seemed to have been created and sent
into the world to fit on the gloves of customers. At the close of that
year the assets staggered our ambitious perfumer; all costs calculated,
he would be able in less than twenty years to make a modest capital of
one hundred thousand francs, which was the sum at which he estimated
their happiness. He then resolved to reach fortune more rapidly, and
determined to manufacture articles as well as retail them. Contrary to
the advice of his wife, he hired some sheds, with the ground about
them, in the Faubourg du Temple, and painted upon them in big letters,
“Manufactory of Cesar Birotteau.” He enticed a skilful workman from
Grasse, with whom he began, on equal shares, the manufacture of soaps,
essences, and eau-de-cologne. His connection with this man lasted only
six months, and ended by losses which fell upon him alone. Without
allowing himself to be discouraged, Birotteau determined to get better
results at any price, solely to avoid being scolded by his wife,--to
whom he acknowledged later that in those depressing days his head had
boiled like a saucepan, and that several times, if it had not been for
his religious sentiments, he should have flung himself into the Seine.

Harassed by some unprofitable enterprise, he was lounging one day along
the boulevard on his way to dinner,--for the Parisian lounger is as
often a man filled with despair as an idler,--when among a parcel of
books for six sous a-piece, laid out in a hamper on the pavement, his
eyes lighted on the following title, yellow with dust: “Abdeker, or the
Art of Preserving Beauty.” He picked up the so-called Arab book, a sort
of romance written by a physician of the preceding century, and happened
on a page which related to perfumes. Leaning against a tree on the
boulevard to turn over the leaves at his ease, he read a note by the
author which explained the nature of the skin and the cuticle, and
showed that a certain soap, or a certain paste, often produced effects
quite contrary to those expected of them, if the soap and the paste
toned up a skin which needed relaxing, or relaxed a skin which
required tones. Birotteau bought the book, in which he saw his fortune.
Nevertheless, having little confidence in his own lights, he consulted a
celebrated chemist, Vauquelin, from whom he naively inquired how to mix
a two-sided cosmetic which should produce effects appropriate to the
diversified nature of the human epidermis. Truly scientific men--men who
are really great in the sense that they never attain in their lifetime
the renown which their immense and unrecognized labors deserve--are
nearly always kind, and willing to serve the poor in spirit. Vauquelin
accordingly patronized the perfumer, and allowed him to call himself
the inventor of a paste to whiten the hands, the composition of which
he dictated to him. Birotteau named this cosmetic the “Double Paste
of Sultans.” To complete the work, he applied the same recipe to
the manufacture of a lotion for the complexion, which he called the
“Carminative Balm.” He imitated in his own line the system of the
Petit-Matelot, and was the first perfumer to display that redundancy
of placards, advertisements, and other methods of publication which are
called, perhaps unjustly, charlatanism.

The Paste of Sultans and the Carminative Balm were ushered into the
world of fashion and commerce by colored placards, at the head of which
were these words, “Approved by the Institute.” This formula, used for
the first time, had a magical effect. Not only all France, but the
continent flaunted with the posters, yellow, red, and blue, of the
monarch of the “The Queen of Roses,” who kept in stock, supplied, and
manufactured, at moderate prices, all that belonged to his trade. At
a period when nothing was talked of but the East, to name any sort of
cosmetic the “Paste of Sultans” thus divining the magic force of such
words in a land where every man hoped to be a sultan as much as every
woman longed to be a sultana, was an inspiration which could only have
come to a common man or a man of genius. The public always judges by
results. Birotteau passed for a superior man, commercially speaking; all
the more because he compiled a prospectus whose ridiculous phraseology
was an element of success. In France they only made fun of things which
occupy the public mind, and the public does not occupy itself with
things that do not succeed. Though Birotteau perpetrated this folly in
good faith and not as a trick, the world gave him credit for knowing how
to play the fool for a purpose. We have found, not without difficulty,
a copy of this prospectus at the establishment of Popinot and Co.,
druggists, Rue des Lombards. This curious document belongs to the class
which, in a higher sphere, historians call _pieces justificatives_. We
give it here:

                     THE DOUBLE PASTE OF SULTANS

                        AND CARMINATIVE BALM

                         Of Cesar Birotteau.

                        MARVELLOUS DISCOVERY!

                 Approved by the Institute of France.

  “For many years a paste for the hands and a lotion for the face
  offering superior results to those obtained from Eau-de-Cologne in
  the domain of the toilet, has been widely sought by both sexes in
  Europe. Devoting long vigils to the study of the skin and cuticle
  of the two sexes, each of whom, one as much as the other, attach
  the utmost importance to the softness, suppleness, brilliancy, and
  velvet texture of the complexion, the Sieur Birotteau, perfumer,
  favorably known in this metropolis and abroad, has discovered a
  Paste and a Lotion justly hailed as marvellous by the fashion and
  elegance of Paris. In point of fact, this Paste and this Lotion
  possess amazing properties which act upon the skin without
  prematurely wrinkling it,--the inevitable result of drugs
  thoughtlessly employed, and sold in these days by ignorance and
  cupidity. This discovery rests upon diversities of temperament,
  which divide themselves into two great classes, indicated by the
  color of the Paste and the Lotion, which will be found _pink_ for
  the skin and cuticle of persons of lymphatic habit, and _white_
  for those possessed of a sanguine temperament.

  “This Paste is named the ‘Paste of Sultans,’ because the discovery
  was originally made for the Seraglio by an Arabian physician. It
  has been approved by the Institute on the recommendation of our
  illustrious chemist, Vauquelin; together with the Lotion,
  fabricated on the same principles which govern the composition of
  the Paste.

  “This precious Paste, exhaling as it does the sweetest perfumes,
  removes all blotches, even those that are obstinately rebellious,
  whitens the most recalcitrant epidermis, and dissipates the
  perspirations of the hand, of which both sexes equally complain.

  “The Carminative Balm will disperse the little pimples which
  appear inopportunely at certain times, and interfere with a lady’s
  projects for a ball; it refreshes and revives the color by opening
  or shutting the pores of the skin according to the exigencies of
  the individual temperament. It is so well known already for its
  effect in arresting the ravages of time that many, out of
  gratitude, have called it the ‘Friend of Beauty.’

  “Eau-de-Cologne is, purely and simply, a trivial perfume without
  special efficacy of any kind; while the Double Paste of Sultans
  and the Carminative Balm are two operative compounds, of a motive
  power which acts without risk upon the internal energies and
  seconds them. Their perfumes (essentially balsamic, and of a
  stimulating character which admirably revives the heart and brain)
  awake ideas and vivify them; they are as wonderful for their
  simplicity as for their merits. In short, they offer one
  attraction the more to women, and to men a means of seduction
  which it is within their power to secure.

  “The daily use of the Balm will relieve the smart occasioned by
  the heat of the razor; it will protect the lips from chapping, and
  restore their color; it dispels in time all discolorations, and
  revives the natural tones of the skin. Such results demonstrate in
  man a perfect equilibrium of the juices of life, which tends to
  relieve all persons subject to headache from the sufferings of
  that horrible malady. Finally, the Carminative Balm, which can be
  employed by women in all stages of their toilet, will prevent
  cutaneous diseases by facilitating the transpiration of the
  tissues, and communicating to them a permanent texture like that
  of velvet.

  “Address, post-paid, Monsieur Cesar Birotteau, successor to Ragon,
  former perfumer to the Queen Marie Antoinette, at The Queen of
  Roses, Rue Saint-Honore, Paris, near the Place Vendome.

  “The price of a cake of Paste is three francs; that of the bottle
  six francs.

  “Monsieur Cesar Birotteau, to avoid counterfeits, informs the
  public that the Paste is wrapped in paper bearing his signature,
  and that the bottles have a stamp blown in the glass.”

The success was owing, without Cesar’s suspecting it, to Constance,
who advised him to send cases of the Carminative Balm and the Paste of
Sultans to all perfumers in France and in foreign cities, offering them
at the same time a discount of thirty per cent if they would buy the two
articles by the gross. The Paste and the Balm were, in reality, worth
more than other cosmetics of the sort; and they captivated ignorant
people by the distinctions they set up among the temperaments. The
five hundred perfumers of France, allured by the discount, each bought
annually from Birotteau more than three hundred gross of the Paste and
the Lotion,--a consumption which, if it gave only a limited profit on
each article, became enormous considered in bulk. Cesar was then able
to buy the huts and the land in the Faubourg du Temple; he built large
manufactories, and decorated his shop at “The Queen of Roses” with
much magnificence; his household began to taste the little joys of
competence, and his wife no longer trembled as before.

In 1810 Madame Cesar, foreseeing a rise in rents, pushed her husband
into becoming chief tenant of the house where they had hitherto occupied
only the shop and the _entresol_, and advised him to remove their own
appartement to the first floor. A fortunate event induced Constance to
shut her eyes to the follies which Birotteau committed for her sake in
fitting up the new appartement. The perfumer had just been elected judge
in the commercial courts: his integrity, his well-known sense of honor,
and the respect he enjoyed, earned for him this dignity, which ranked
him henceforth among the leading merchants of Paris. To improve his
knowledge, he rose daily at five o’clock, and read law-reports and books
treating of commercial litigation. His sense of justice, his rectitude,
his conscientious intentions,--qualities essential to the understanding
of questions submitted for consular decision,--soon made him highly
esteemed among the judges. His defects contributed not a little to his
reputation. Conscious of his inferiority, Cesar subordinated his own
views to those of his colleagues, who were flattered in being thus
deferred to. Some sought the silent approbation of a man held to be
sagacious, in his capacity of listener; others, charmed with his modesty
and gentleness, praised him publicly. Plaintiffs and defendants extolled
his kindness, his conciliatory spirit; and he was often chosen umpire in
contests where his own good sense would have suggested the swift justice
of a Turkish cadi. During his whole period in office he contrived to
use language which was a medley of commonplaces mixed with maxims
and computations served up in flowing phrases mildly put forth, which
sounded to the ears of superficial people like eloquence. Thus he
pleased that great majority, mediocre by nature, who are condemned
to perpetual labor and to views which are of the earth earthy. Cesar,
however, lost so much time in court that his wife obliged him finally to
resign the expensive dignity.

Towards 1813, the Birotteau household, thanks to its constant harmony,
and after steadily plodding on through life, saw the dawn of an era of
prosperity which nothing seemed likely to interrupt. Monsieur and Madame
Ragon, their predecessors, the uncle Pillerault, Roguin the notary, the
Messrs. Matifat, druggists in the Rue des Lombards and purveyors to
“The Queen of Roses,” Joseph Lebas, woollen draper and successor to
the Messrs. Guillaume at the Maison du Chat-qui-pelote (one of the
luminaries of the Rue Saint-Denis), Popinot the judge, brother of Madame
Ragon, Chiffreville of the firm of Protez & Chiffreville, Monsieur and
Madame Cochin, employed in the treasury department and sleeping partners
in the house of Matifat, the Abbe Loraux, confessor and director of the
pious members of this coterie, with a few other persons, made up
the circle of their friends. In spite of the royalist sentiments of
Birotteau, public opinion was in his favor; he was considered very rich,
though in fact he possessed only a hundred thousand francs over and
above his business. The regularity of his affairs, his punctuality, his
habit of making no debts, of never discounting his paper, and of taking,
on the contrary, safe securities from those whom he could thus oblige,
together with his general amiability, won him enormous credit. His
household cost him nearly twenty thousand francs a year, and the
education of Cesarine, an only daughter, idolized by Constance as well
as by himself, necessitated heavy expenses. Neither husband nor wife
considered money when it was a question of giving pleasure to their
child, from whom they had never been willing to separate. Imagine the
happiness of the poor parvenu peasant as he listened to his charming
Cesarine playing a sonata of Steibelt’s on the piano, and singing a
ballad; or when he found her writing the French language correctly,
or reading Racine, father and son, and explaining their beauties, or
sketching a landscape, or painting in sepia! What joy to live again in
a flower so pure, so lovely, which had never left the maternal stem;
an angel whose budding graces and whose earliest developments he had
passionately watched; an only daughter, incapable of despising her
father, or of ridiculing his defective education, so truly was she an
ingenuous young girl.

When he first came to Paris, Cesar had known how to read, write, and
cipher, but his education stopped there; his laborious life had kept him
from acquiring ideas and knowledge outside the business of perfumery.
Mixing wholly with people to whom science and letters were of no
importance, and whose information did not go beyond their specialty,
having no time to give to higher studies, the perfumer had become a
merely practical man. He adopted necessarily the language, blunders, and
opinions of the bourgeois of Paris, who admires Moliere, Voltaire, and
Rousseau on faith, and buys their books without ever reading them; who
maintains that people should say _ormoires_, because women put away
their gold and their dresses and moire in those articles of furniture,
and that it is only a corruption of the language to say _armoires_.
Potier, Talma, and Mademoiselle Mars were ten times millionaires, and
did not live like other human beings; the great tragedian ate raw meat,
and Mademoiselle Mars sometimes drank dissolved pearls, in imitation of
a celebrated Egyptian actress. The Emperor had leather pockets in his
waistcoat, so that he could take his snuff by the handful; he rode on
horseback at full gallop up the stairway of the orangery at Versailles.
Writers and artists died in the hospital, as a natural consequence of
their eccentricities; they were, moreover, all atheists, and people
should be very careful not to admit them into their households. Joseph
Lebas cited with horror the history of his step-sister Augustine’s
marriage with the painter Sommervieux. Astronomers lived on spiders.

These striking points of information on the French language, on dramatic
art, politics, literature, and science, will explain the bearings of
the bourgeois intellect. A poet passing through the Rue des Lombards
may dream of Araby as he inhales certain perfumes. He may admire the
_danseuses_ in a _chauderie_, as he breathes the odors of an Indian
root. Dazzled by the blaze of cochineal, he recalls the poems of the
Veda, the religion of Brahma and its castes; brushing against piles of
ivory in the rough, he mounts the backs of elephants; seated in a muslin
cage, he makes love like the King of Lahore. But the little retail
merchant is ignorant from whence have come, or where may grow, the
products in which he deals. Birotteau, perfumer, did not know an iota of
natural history, nor of chemistry. Though regarding Vauquelin as a great
man, he thought him an exception,--of about the same capacity as the
retired grocer who summed up a discussion on the method of importing
teas, by remarking with a knowing air, “There are but two ways: tea
comes either by caravan, or by Havre.” According to Birotteau aloes and
opium were only to be found in the Rue des Lombards. Rosewater, said to
be brought from Constantinople, was made in Paris like eau-de-cologne.
The names of these places were shams, invented to please Frenchmen who
could not endure the things of their own country. A French merchant
must call his discoveries English to make them fashionable, just as in
England the druggists attribute theirs to France.

Nevertheless, Cesar was incapable of being wholly stupid or a fool.
Honesty and goodness cast upon all the acts of his life a light which
made them creditable; for noble conduct makes even ignorance seem
worthy. Success gave him confidence. In Paris confidence is accepted as
power, of which it is the outward sign. As for Madame Birotteau, having
measured Cesar during the first three years of their married life,
she was a prey to continual terror. She represented in their union the
sagacious and fore-casting side,--doubt, opposition, and fear; while
Cesar, on the other hand, was the embodiment of audacity, energy,
and the inexpressible delights of fatalism. Yet in spite of these
appearances the husband often quaked, while the wife, in reality, was
possessed of patience and true courage.

Thus it happened that a man who was both mediocre and pusillanimous,
without education, without ideas, without knowledge, without force of
character, and who might be expected not to succeed in the slipperiest
city in the world, came by his principles of conduct, by his sense
of justice, by the goodness of a heart that was truly Christian, and
through his love for the only woman he had really won, to be considered
as a remarkable man, courageous, and full of resolution. The public saw
results only. Excepting Pillerault and Popinot the judge, all the people
of his own circle knew him superficially, and were unable to judge him.
Moreover, the twenty or thirty friends he had collected about him talked
the same nonsense, repeated the same commonplaces, and all thought
themselves superior in their own line. The women vied with each other
in dress and good dinners; each had said her all when she dropped a
contemptuous word about her husband. Madame Birotteau alone had the good
sense to treat hers with honor and respect in public; she knew him to
be a man who, in spite of his secret disabilities, had earned their
fortune, and whose good name she shared. It is true that she sometimes
asked herself what sort of world this could be, if all the men who were
thought superior were like her husband. Such conduct contributed not a
little to maintain the respectful esteem bestowed upon the perfumer in
a community where women are much inclined to complain of their husbands
and bring them into discredit.

              *     *     *     *     *

The first days of the year 1814, so fatal to imperial France, were
marked at the Birotteaus by two events, not especially remarkable in
other households, but of a nature to impress such simple souls as Cesar
and his wife, who casting their eyes along the past could find nothing
but tender memories. They had taken as head-clerk a young man twenty-two
years of age, named Ferdinand du Tillet. This lad--who had just left
a perfumery where he was refused a share in the business, and who was
reckoned a genius--had made great efforts to get employed at “The Queen
of Roses,” whose methods, facilities, and customs were well known to
him. Birotteau took him, and gave him a salary of a thousand francs,
intending to make him eventually his successor.

Ferdinand had so great an influence on the destinies of this family that
it is necessary to say a few words about him. In the first place he was
named simply Ferdinand, without surname. This anonymous condition seemed
to him an immense advantage at the time when Napoleon conscripted all
families to fill the ranks. He was, however, born somewhere, as the
result of some cruel and voluptuous caprice. The following are the
only facts preserved about his civil condition. In 1793 a poor girl of
Tillet, a village near Andelys, came by night and gave birth to a child
in the garden of the curate of the church at Tillet, and after rapping
on the window-shutters went away and drowned herself. The good priest
took the child, gave him the name of the saint inscribed on the calendar
for that day, and fed and brought him up as his own son. The curate died
in 1804, without leaving enough property to carry on the education he
had begun. Ferdinand, thrown upon Paris, led a filibustering life whose
chances might bring him to the scaffold, to fortune, the bar, the army,
commerce, or domestic life. Obliged to live like a Figaro, he was first
a commercial traveller, then a perfumer’s clerk in Paris, where he
turned up after traversing all France, having studied the world and made
up his mind to succeed at any price.

In 1813 Ferdinand thought it necessary to register his age, and obtain
a civil standing by applying to the courts at Andelys for a judgment,
which should enable his baptismal record to be transferred from the
registry of the parish to that of the mayor’s office; and he obtained
permission to rectify the document by inserting the name of du Tillet,
under which he was known, and which legally belonged to him through the
fact of his exposure and abandonment in that township. Without father,
mother, or other guardian than the _procureur imperial_, alone in the
world and owing no duty to any man, he found society a hard stepmother,
and he handled it, in his turn, without gloves,--as the Turks the Moors;
he knew no guide but his own interests, and any means to fortune he
considered good. This young Norman, gifted with dangerous abilities,
coupled his desires for success with the harsh defects which, justly
or unjustly, are attributed to the natives of his province. A wheedling
manner cloaked a quibbling mind, for he was in truth a hard judicial
wrangler. But if he boldly contested the rights of others, he certainly
yielded none of his own; he attacked his adversary at the right moment,
and wearied him out with his inflexible persistency. His merits were
those of the Scapins of ancient comedy; he had their fertility of
resource, their cleverness in skirting evil, their itching to lay hold
of all that was good to keep. In short, he applied to his own poverty a
saying which the Abbe Terray uttered in the name of the State,--he
kept a loophole to become in after years an honest man. Gifted with
passionate energy, with a boldness that was almost military in requiring
good as well as evil actions from those about him, and justifying such
demands on the theory of personal interest, he despised men too much,
believing them all corruptible, he was too unscrupulous in the choice of
means, thinking all equally good, he was too thoroughly convinced that
the success of money was the absolution of all moral mechanism, not to
attain his ends sooner or later.

Such a man, standing between the hulks and a vast fortune, was
necessarily vindictive, domineering, quick in decisions, yet as
dissimulating as a Cromwell planning to decapitate the head of
integrity. His real depth was hidden under a light and jesting
mind. Mere clerk as he was, his ambition knew no bounds. With one
comprehensive glance of hatred he had taken in the whole of society,
saying boldly to himself, “Thou shalt be mine!” He had vowed not to
marry till he was forty, and kept his word. Physically, Ferdinand was a
tall, slender young man, with a good figure and adaptive manners, which
enabled him to take, on occasion, the key-note of the various societies
in which he found himself. His ignoble face was rather pleasant at first
sight; but later, on closer acquaintance, expressions were caught such
as come to the surface of those who are ill at ease in their own minds,
and whose consciences groan at certain times. His complexion, which was
sanguine under the soft skin of a Norman, had a crude or acrid color.
The glance of his eye, whose iris was circled with a whitish rim as if
it were lined with silver, was evasive yet terrible when he fixed it
straight upon his victim. His voice had a hollow sound, like that of
a man worn out with much speaking. His thin lips were not wanting in
charm, but his pointed nose and slightly projecting forehead showed
defects of race; and his hair, of a tint like hair that has been dyed
black, indicated a mongrel descent, through which he derived his mental
qualities from some libertine lord, his low instincts from a seduced
peasant-girl, his knowledge from an incomplete education, and his vices
from his deserted and abandoned condition.

Birotteau discovered with much amazement that his clerk went out in
the evening very elegantly dressed, came home late, and was seen at the
balls of bankers and notaries. Such habits displeased Cesar, according
to whose ideas clerks should study the books of the firm and think only
of their business. The worthy man was shocked by trifles, and reproached
du Tillet gently for wearing linen that was too fine, for leaving cards
on which his name was inscribed, F. du Tillet,--a fashion, according
to commercial jurisprudence, which belonged only to the great world.
Ferdinand had entered the employ of this Orgon with the intentions of a
Tartuffe. He paid court to Madame Cesar, tried to seduce her, and
judged his master very much as the wife judged him herself, and all with
alarming rapidity. Though discreet, reserved, and accustomed to say only
what he meant to say, du Tillet unbosomed his opinions on men and life
in a way to shock a scrupulous woman who shared the religious feelings
of her husband, and who thought it a crime to do the least harm to a
neighbor. In spite of Madame Birotteau’s caution, du Tillet suspected
the contempt in which she held him. Constance, to whom Ferdinand had
written a few love-letters, soon noticed a change in his manners, which
grew presuming, as if intended to convey the idea of a mutual good
understanding. Without giving the secret reason to her husband, she
advised him to send Ferdinand away. Birotteau agreed with his wife, and
the dismissal was determined upon.

Two days before it was carried into effect, on a Saturday night when
Birotteau was making up his monthly accounts, three thousand francs were
found to be missing. His consternation was dreadful, less for the
loss than for the suspicions which fell upon three clerks, one cook, a
shop-boy, and several habitual workmen. On whom should he lay the blame?
Madame Birotteau never left her counter. The clerk who had charge of the
desk was a nephew of Monsieur Ragon named Popinot, a young man nineteen
years old, who lived with the Birotteaus and was integrity itself.
His figures, which disagreed with the money in the desk, revealed the
deficit, and showed that the abstraction had been made after the balance
had been added up. Husband and wife resolved to keep silence and watch
the house. On the following day, Sunday, they received their friends.
The families who made up their coterie met at each other’s houses for
little festivities, turn and turn about. While playing at _bouillote_,
Roguin the notary placed on the card-table some old louis d’or which
Madame Cesar had taken only a few days before from a bride, Madame

“Have you been robbing the poor-box?” asked the perfumer, laughing.

Roguin replied that he had won the money, at the house of a banker,
from du Tillet, who confirmed the answer without blushing. Cesar, on
the other hand, grew scarlet. When the evening was over, and just
as Ferdinand was going to bed, Birotteau took him into the shop on a
pretext of business.

“Du Tillet,” said the worthy man, “three thousand francs are missing
from the desk. I suspect no one; but the circumstance of the old louis
seems too much against you not to oblige me to speak of it. We will not
go to bed till we have found where the error lies,--for, after all,
it may be only an error. Perhaps you took something on account of your

Du Tillet said at once that he had taken the louis. The perfumer opened
his ledger and found that his clerk’s account had not been debited.

“I was in a hurry; but I ought to have made Popinot enter the sum,” said

“That is true,” said Birotteau, bewildered by the cool unconcern of the
Norman, who well knew the worthy people among whom he had come meaning
to make his fortune. The perfumer and his clerk passed the whole night
in examining accounts, a labor which the good man knew to be useless. In
coming and going about the desk Cesar slipped three bills of a thousand
francs each into the money-drawer, catching them against the top of it;
then he pretended to be much fatigued and to fall asleep and snore.
Du Tillet awoke him triumphantly, with an excessive show of joy at
discovering the error. The next day Birotteau scolded Popinot and his
little wife publicly, as if very angry with them for their negligence.
Fifteen days later Ferdinand du Tillet got a situation with a
stockbroker. He said perfumery did not suit him, and he wished to learn
banking. In leaving Birotteau, he spoke of Madame Cesar in a way to make
people suppose that his master had dismissed him out of jealousy. A few
months later, however, du Tillet went to see Birotteau and asked his
endorsement for twenty thousand francs, to enable him to make up the
securities he needed in an enterprise which was to put him on the
high-road to fortune. Observing the surprise which Cesar showed at this
impudence, du Tillet frowned, and asked if he had no confidence in
him. Matifat and two other merchants, who were present on business with
Birotteau, also observed the indignation of the perfumer, who repressed
his anger in their presence. Du Tillet, he thought, might have become
an honest man; his previous fault might have been committed for some
mistress in distress or from losses at cards; the public reprobation of
an honest man might drive one still young, and possibly repentant,
into a career of crime. So this angel took up his pen and endorsed du
Tillet’s notes, telling him that he was heartily willing thus to oblige
a lad who had been very useful to him. The blood rushed to his face as
he uttered the falsehood. Du Tillet could not meet his eye, and no doubt
vowed to him at that moment the undying hatred which the spirits of
darkness feel towards the angels of light.

From this time du Tillet held his balance-pole so well as he danced the
tight-rope of financial speculation, that he was rich and elegant in
appearance before he became so in reality. As soon as he got hold of
a cabriolet he was always in it; he kept himself in the high sphere
of those who mingle business with pleasure, and make the foyer of the
opera-house a branch of the Bourse,--in short, the Turcarets of the
period. Thanks to Madame Roguin, whom he had known at the Birotteau’s,
he was received at once among people of the highest standing in finance;
and, at the moment of which we write, he had reached a prosperity in
which there was nothing fictitious. He was on the best terms with
the house of Nucingen, to which Roguin had introduced him, and he had
promptly become connected with the brothers Keller and with several
other great banking-houses. No one knew from whence this youth had
derived the immense capital which he handled, but every one attributed
his success to his intelligence and his integrity.

              *     *     *     *     *

The Restoration made Cesar a personage, and the turmoil of political
crises naturally lessened his recollection of these domestic
misadventures. The constancy of his royalist opinions (to which he
had become exceedingly indifferent since his wound, though he remained
faithful to them out of decency) and the memory of his devotion in
Vendemiaire won him very high patronage, precisely because he had asked
for none. He was appointed major in the National Guard, although he
was utterly incapable of giving the word of command. In 1815 Napoleon,
always his enemy, dismissed him. During the Hundred Days Birotteau was
the bugbear of the liberals of his quarter; for it was not until 1815
that differences of political opinion grew up among merchants, who had
hitherto been unanimous in their desires for public tranquillity, of
which, as they knew, business affairs stood much in need.

At the second Restoration the royal government was obliged to remodel
the municipality of Paris. The prefect wished to nominate Birotteau as
mayor. Thanks to his wife, the perfumer would only accept the place of
deputy-mayor, which brought him less before the public. Such modesty
increased the respect generally felt for him, and won him the friendship
of the new mayor, Monsieur Flamet de la Billardiere. Birotteau, who
had seen him in the shop in the days when “The Queen of Roses” was the
headquarters of royalist conspiracy, mentioned him to the prefect of
the Seine when that official consulted Cesar on the choice to be made.
Monsieur and Madame Birotteau were therefore never forgotten in the
invitations of the mayor. Madame Birotteau frequently took up the
collections at Saint-Roch in the best of good company. La Billardiere
warmly supported Birotteau when the question of bestowing the crosses
given to the municipality came up, and dwelt upon his wound at
Saint-Roch, his attachment to the Bourbons, and the respect which he
enjoyed. The government, wishing on the one hand to cheapen Napoleon’s
order by lavishing the cross of the Legion of honor, and on the other
to win adherents and rally to the Bourbons the various trades and men
of arts and sciences, included Birotteau in the coming promotion.
This honor, which suited well with the show that Cesar made in
his arrondissement, put him in a position where the ideas of a man
accustomed to succeed naturally enlarged themselves. The news which the
mayor had just given him of his preferment was the determining reason
that decided him to plunge into the scheme which he now for the first
time revealed to his wife; he believed it would enable him to give up
perfumery all the more quickly, and rise into the regions of the higher
bourgeoisie of Paris.

Cesar was now forty years old. The work he had undertaken in his
manufactories had given him a few premature wrinkles, and had slightly
silvered the thick tufts of hair on which the pressure of his hat left a
shining circle. His forehead, where the hair grew in a way to mark five
distinct points, showed the simplicity of his life. The heavy eyebrows
were not alarming because the limpid glance of his frank blue eyes
harmonized with the open forehead of an honest man. His nose, broken at
the bridge and thick at the end, gave him the wondering look of a gaby
in the streets of Paris. His lips were very thick, and his large chin
fell in a straight line below them. His face, high-colored and square
in outline, revealed, by the lines of its wrinkles and by the general
character of its expression, the ingenuous craftiness of a peasant. The
strength of his body, the stoutness of his limbs, the squareness of his
shoulders, the width of his feet,--all denoted the villager transplanted
to Paris. His powerful hairy hands, with their large square nails, would
alone have attested his origin if other vestiges had not remained in
various parts of his person. His lips wore the cordial smile which
shopkeepers put on when a customer enters; but this commercial sunshine
was really the image of his inward content, and pictured the state
of his kindly soul. His distrust never went beyond the lines of his
business, his craftiness left him on the steps of the Bourse, or when he
closed the pages of his ledger. Suspicion was to him very much what
his printed bill-heads were,--a necessity of the sale itself. His
countenance presented a sort of comical assurance and conceit mingled
with good nature, which gave it originality and saved it from too close
a resemblance to the insipid face of a Parisian bourgeois. Without this
air of naive self-admiration and faith in his own person, he would have
won too much respect; he drew nearer to his fellows by thus contributing
his quota of absurdity. When speaking, he habitually crossed his hands
behind his back. When he thought he had said something striking or
gallant, he rose imperceptibly on the points of his toes twice, and
dropped back heavily on his heels, as if to emphasize what he said. In
the midst of an argument he might be seen turning round upon himself and
walking off a few steps, as if he had gone to find objections with which
he returned upon his adversary brusquely. He never interrupted, and was
sometimes a victim to this careful observance of civility; for others
would take the words out of his mouth, and the good man had to yield
his ground without opening his lips. His great experience in commercial
matters had given him a few fixed habits, which some people called
eccentricities. If a note were overdue he sent for the bailiff, and
thought only of recovering capital, interest, and costs; and the bailiff
was ordered to pursue the matter until the debtor went into bankruptcy.
Cesar then stopped all proceedings, never appeared at any meeting of
creditors, and held on to his securities. He adopted this system and his
implacable contempt for bankrupts from Monsieur Ragon, who in the course
of his commercial life had seen such loss of time in litigation that
he had come to look upon the meagre and uncertain dividends obtained by
such compromises as fully counterbalanced by a better employment of the
time spent in coming and going, in making proposals, or in listening to
excuses for dishonesty.

“If the bankrupt is an honest man, and recovers himself, he will pay
you,” Ragon would say. “If he is without means and simply unfortunate,
why torment him? If he is a scoundrel, you will never get anything. Your
known severity will make you seem uncompromising; it will be impossible
to negotiate with you; consequently you are the one who will get paid as
long as there is anything to pay with.”

Cesar came to all appointments at the expected hour; but if he were kept
waiting, he left ten minutes later with an inflexibility which nothing
ever changed. Thus his punctuality compelled all persons who had
dealings with him to be punctual themselves.

The dress adopted by the worthy man was in keeping with his manners and
his countenance. No power could have made him give up the white muslin
cravats, with ends embroidered by his wife or daughter, which hung down
beneath his chin. His waistcoat of white pique, squarely buttoned, came
down low over his stomach, which was rather protuberant, for he was
somewhat fat. He wore blue trousers, black silk stockings, and shoes
with ribbon ties, which were often unfastened. His surtout coat,
olive-green and always too large, and his broad-brimmed hat gave him the
air of a Quaker. When he dressed for the Sunday evening festivities he
put on silk breeches, shoes with gold buckles, and the inevitable square
waistcoat, whose front edges opened sufficiently to show a pleated
shirt-frill. His coat, of maroon cloth, had wide flaps and long skirts.
Up to the year 1819 he kept up the habit of wearing two watch-chains,
which hung down in parallel lines; but he only put on the second when he
dressed for the evening.

              *     *     *     *     *

Such was Cesar Birotteau; a worthy man, to whom the fates presiding at
the birth of men had denied the faculty of judging politics and life
in their entirety, and of rising above the social level of the middle
classes; who followed ignorantly the track of routine, whose opinions
were all imposed upon him from the outside and applied by him without
examination. Blind but good, not spiritual but deeply religious, he had
a pure heart. In that heart there shone one love, the light and strength
of his life; for his desire to rise in life, and the limited knowledge
he had gained of the world, both came from his affection for his wife
and for his daughter.

As for Madame Cesar, then thirty-seven years old, she bore so close a
resemblance to the Venus of Milo that all who knew her recognized the
likeness when the Duc de Riviere sent the beautiful statue to Paris.
In a few months sorrows were to dim with yellowing tints that dazzling
fairness, to hollow and blacken the bluish circle round the lovely
greenish-gray eyes so cruelly that she then wore the look of an old
Madonna; for amid the coming ruin she retained her gentle sincerity,
her pure though saddened glance; and no one ever thought her less than a
beautiful woman, whose bearing was virtuous and full of dignity. At the
ball now planned by Cesar she was to shine with a last lustre of beauty,
remarked upon at the time and long remembered.

Every life has its climax,--a period when causes are at work, and are in
exact relation to results. This mid-day of life, when living forces
find their equilibrium and put forth their productive powers with full
effect, is common not only to organized beings but to cities, nations,
ideas, institutions, commerce, and commercial enterprises, all of which,
like noble races and dynasties, are born and rise and fall. From whence
comes the vigor with which this law of growth and decay applies itself
to all organized things in this lower world? Death itself, in times
of scourge, has periods when it advances, slackens, sinks back, and
slumbers. Our globe is perhaps only a rocket a little more continuing
than the rest. History, recording the causes of the rise and fall of all
things here below, could enlighten man as to the moment when he might
arrest the play of all his faculties; but neither the conquerors, nor
the actors, nor the women, nor the writers in the great drama will
listen to the salutary voice.

Cesar Birotteau, who might with reason think himself at the apogee of
his fortunes, used this crucial pause as the point of a new departure.
He did not know, moreover neither nations nor kings have attempted to
make known in characters ineffaceable, the cause of the vast overthrows
with which history teems, and of which so many royal and commercial
houses offer signal examples. Why are there no modern pyramids to recall
ceaselessly the one principle which dominates the common-weal of nations
and of individual life? _When the effect produced is no longer in direct
relation nor in equal proportion to the cause, disorganization has
begun._ And yet such monuments stand everywhere; it is tradition and the
stones of the earth which tell us of the past, which set a seal upon the
caprices of indomitable destiny, whose hand wipes out our dreams, and
shows us that all great events are summed up in one idea. Troy and
Napoleon are but poems. May this present history be the poem of
middle-class vicissitudes, to which no voice has given utterance because
they have seemed poor in dignity, enormous as they are in volume. It is
not one man with whom we are now to deal, but a whole people, or world,
of sorrows.


Cesar’s last thought as he fell asleep was a fear that his wife would
make peremptory objections in the morning, and he ordered himself to
get up very early and escape them. At the dawn of day he slipped out
noiselessly, leaving his wife in bed, dressed quickly, and went down
to the shop, just as the boy was taking down the numbered shutters.
Birotteau, finding himself alone, the clerks not having appeared, went
to the doorway to see how the boy, named Raguet, did his work,--for
Birotteau knew all about it from experience. In spite of the sharp air
the weather was beautiful.

“Popinot, get your hat, put on your shoes, and call Monsieur Celestin;
you and I will go and have a talk in the Tuileries,” he said, when he
saw Anselme come down.

Popinot, the admirable antipodes of du Tillet, apprenticed to Cesar by
one of those lucky chances which lead us to believe in a Sub-Providence,
plays so great a part in this history that it becomes absolutely
necessary to sketch his profile here. Madame Ragon was a Popinot. She
had two brothers. One, the youngest of the family, was at this time a
judge in the Lower courts of the Seine,--courts which take cognizance
of all civil contests involving sums above a certain amount. The eldest,
who was in the wholesale wool-trade, lost his property and died, leaving
to the care of Madame Ragon and his brother an only son, who had lost
his mother at his birth. To give him a trade, Madame Ragon placed
her nephew at “The Queen of Roses,” hoping he might some day succeed
Birotteau. Anselme Popinot was a little fellow and club-footed,--an
infirmity bestowed by fate on Lord Byron, Walter Scott, and Monsieur de
Talleyrand, that others so afflicted might suffer no discouragement. He
had the brilliant skin, with frequent blotches, which belongs to persons
with red hair; but his clear brow, his eyes the color of a grey-veined
agate, his pleasant mouth, his fair complexion, the charm of his modest
youth and the shyness which grew out of his deformity, all inspired
feelings of protection in those who knew him: we love the weak, and
Popinot was loved. Little Popinot--everybody called him so--belonged
to a family essentially religious, whose virtues were intelligent, and
whose lives were simple and full of noble actions. The lad himself,
brought up by his uncle the judge, presented a union of qualities which
are the beauty of youth; good and affectionate, a little shame-faced
though full of eagerness, gentle as a lamb but energetic in his work,
devoted and sober, he was endowed with the virtues of a Christian in the
early ages of the Church.

When he heard of a walk in the Tuileries,--certainly the most eccentric
proposal that his august master could have made to him at that hour of
the day,--Popinot felt sure that he must intend to speak to him about
setting up in business. He thought suddenly of Cesarine, the true queen
of roses, the living sign of the house, whom he had loved from the day
when he was taken into Birotteau’s employ, two months before the advent
of du Tillet. As he went upstairs he was forced to pause; his heart
swelled, his arteries throbbed violently. However, he soon came down
again, followed by Celestin, the head-clerk. Anselme and his master
turned without a word in the direction of the Tuileries.

Popinot was twenty-one years old. Birotteau himself had married at
that age. Anselme therefore could see no hindrance to his marriage
with Cesarine, though the wealth of the perfumer and the beauty of the
daughter were immense obstacles in the path of his ambitious desires:
but love gets onward by leaps of hope, and the more absurd they are
the greater faith it has in them; the farther off was the mistress of
Anselme’s heart, the more ardent became his desires. Happy the youth
who in those levelling days when all hats looked alike, had contrived
to create a sense of distance between the daughter of a perfumer and
himself, the scion of an old Parisian family! In spite of all his doubts
and fears he was happy; did he not dine every day beside Cesarine? So,
while attending to the business of the house, he threw a zeal and energy
into his work which deprived it of all hardship; doing it for the sake
of Cesarine, nothing tired him. Love, in a youth of twenty, feeds on

“He is a true merchant; he will succeed,” Cesar would say to Madame
Ragon, as he praised Anselme’s activity in preparing the work at the
factory, or boasted of his readiness in learning the niceties of the
trade, or recalled his arduous labors when shipments had to be made, and
when, with his sleeves rolled up and his arms bare, the lame lad packed
and nailed up, himself alone, more cases than all the other clerks put

The well-known and avowed intentions of Alexandre Crottat, head-clerk
to Roguin, and the wealth of his father, a rich farmer of Brie, were
certainly obstacles in the lad’s way; but even these were not the
hardest to conquer. Popinot buried in the depths of his heart a sad
secret, which widened the distance between Cesarine and himself. The
property of the Ragons, on which he might have counted, was involved,
and the orphan lad had the satisfaction of enabling them to live by
making over to them his meagre salary. Yet with all these drawbacks
he believed in success! He had sometimes caught a glance of dignified
approval from Cesarine; in the depths of her blue eyes he had dared
to read a secret thought full of caressing hopes. He now walked beside
Cesar, heaving with these ideas, trembling, silent, agitated, as any
young lad might well have been by such an occurrence in the burgeoning
time of youth.

“Popinot,” said the worthy man, “is your aunt well?”

“Yes, monsieur.”

“She has seemed rather anxious lately. Does anything trouble her?
Listen, my boy; you must not be too reticent with me. I am half one of
the family. I have known your uncle Ragon thirty-five years. I went to
him in hob-nailed shoes, just as I came from my village. That place is
called Les Tresorieres, but I can tell you that all my worldly goods
were one louis, given me by my godmother the late Marquise d’Uxelles,
a relation of Monsieur le Duc and Madame la Duchesse de Lenoncourt, who
are now customers of ours. I pray every Sunday for her and for all her
family; I send yearly to her niece in Touraine, Madame de Mortsauf,
all her perfumery. I get a good deal of custom through them; there’s
Monsieur de Vandenesse who spends twelve hundred francs a year with
us. If I were not grateful out of good feeling, I ought to be so out of
policy; but as for you Anselme, I wish you well for you own sake, and
without any other thought.”

“Ah, monsieur! if you will allow me to say so, you have got a head of

“No, no, my boy, that’s not it. I don’t say that my head-piece isn’t as
good as another’s; but the thing is, I’ve been honest,--_tenaciously_!
I’ve kept to good conduct; I never loved any woman except my wife.
Love is a famous _vehicle_,--happy word used by Monsieur Villele in the
tribune yesterday.”

“Love!” exclaimed Popinot. “Oh, monsieur! can it be--”

“Bless me! there’s Pere Roguin, on foot at this hour, at the top of
the Place Louis XV. I wonder what he is doing there!” thought Cesar,
forgetting all about Anselme and the oil of nuts.

The suspicions of his wife came back to his mind; and instead of turning
in to the Tuileries Gardens, Birotteau walked on to meet the notary.
Anselme followed his master at a distance, without being able to define
the reason why he suddenly felt an interest in a matter so apparently
unimportant, and full of joy at the encouragement he derived from
Cesar’s mention of the hob-nailed shoes, the one louis, and love.

In times gone by, Roguin--a large stout man, with a pimpled face, a very
bald forehead, and black hair--had not been wanting in a certain
force of character and countenance. He had once been young and daring;
beginning as a mere clerk, he had risen to be a notary; but at this
period his face showed, to the eyes of an observer, certain haggard
lines, and an expression of weariness in the pursuit of pleasure. When
a man plunges into the mire of excesses it is seldom that his face shows
no trace of it. In the present instance the lines of the wrinkles and
the heat of the complexion were markedly ignoble. Instead of the pure
glow which suffuses the tissues of a virtuous man and stamps them, as
it were, with the flower of health, the impurities of his blood could
be seen to master the soundness of his body. His nose was ignominiously
shortened like those of men in whom scrofulous humors, attacking that
organ, produce a secret infirmity which a virtuous queen of France
innocently believed to be a misfortune common to the whole human race,
for she had never approached any man but the king sufficiently near to
become aware of her blunder. Roguin hoped to conceal this misfortune by
the excessive use of snuff, but he only increased the trouble which was
the principal cause of his disasters.

Is it not a too-prolonged social flattery to paint men forever under
false colors, and never to reveal the actual causes which underlie their
vicissitudes, caused as they so often are by maladies? Physical evil,
considered under the aspect of its moral ravages, examined as to
its influence upon the mechanism of life, has been perhaps too much
neglected by the historians of the social kingdom. Madame Cesar had
guessed the secret of Roguin’s household.

From the night of her marriage, the charming and only daughter of
the banker Chevrel conceived for the unhappy notary an insurmountable
antipathy, and wished to apply at once for a divorce. But Roguin, happy
in obtaining a rich wife with five hundred thousand francs of her own,
to say nothing of expectations, entreated her not to institute an
action for divorce, promising to leave her free, and to accept all the
consequences of such an agreement. Madame Roguin thus became sovereign
mistress of the situation, and treated her husband as a courtesan treats
an elderly lover. Roguin soon found his wife too expensive, and like
other Parisian husbands he set up a private establishment of his own,
keeping the cost, in the first instance, within the limits of moderate
expenditure. In the beginning he encountered, at no great expense,
grisettes who were glad of his protection; but for the past three
years he had fallen a prey to one of those unconquerable passions which
sometimes invade the whole being of a man between fifty and sixty years
of age. It was roused by a magnificent creature known as _la belle
Hollandaise_ in the annals of prostitution, for into that gulf she was
to fall back and become a noted personage through her death. She was
originally brought from Bruges by a client of Roguin, who soon after
left Paris in consequence of political events, presenting her to the
notary in 1815. Roguin bought a house for her in the Champs-Elysees,
furnished it handsomely, and in trying to satisfy her costly caprices
had gradually eaten up his whole fortune.

The gloomy look on the notary’s face, which he hastened to lay aside
when he saw Birotteau, grew out of certain mysterious circumstances
which were at the bottom of the secret fortune so rapidly acquired by du
Tillet. The scheme originally planned by that adventurer had changed
on the first Sunday when he saw, at Birotteau’s house, the relations
existing between Monsieur and Madame Roguin. He had come there not so
much to seduce Madame Cesar as to obtain the offer of her daughter’s
hand by way of compensation for frustrated hopes, and he found little
difficulty in renouncing his purpose when he discovered that Cesar, whom
he supposed to be rich, was in point of fact comparatively poor. He set
a watch on the notary, wormed himself into his confidence, was presented
to la belle Hollandaise, made a study of their relation to each other,
and soon found that she threatened to renounce her lover if he limited
her luxuries. La belle Hollandaise was one of those mad-cap women who
care nothing as to where the money comes from, or how it is obtained,
and who are capable of giving a ball with the gold obtained by a
parricide. She never thought of the morrow; for her the future was after
dinner, and the end of the month eternity, even if she had bills to pay.
Du Tillet, delighted to have found such a lever, exacted from la belle
Hollandaise a promise that she would love Roguin for thirty thousand
francs a year instead of fifty thousand,--a service which infatuated old
men seldom forget.

One evening, after a supper where the wine flowed freely, Roguin
unbosomed himself to du Tillet on the subject of his financial
difficulties. His own estate was tied up and legally settled on his
wife, and he had been led by his fatal passion to take from the funds
entrusted to him by his clients a sum which was already more than half
their amount. When the whole were gone, the unfortunate man intended to
blow out his brains, hoping to mitigate the disgrace of his conduct by
making a demand upon public pity. A fortune, rapid and secure, darted
before du Tillet’s eyes like a flash of lightning in a saturnalian
night. He promptly reassured Roguin, and made him fire his pistols into
the air.

“With such risks as yours,” he said, “a man of your calibre should not
behave like a fool and walk on tiptoe, but speculate--boldly.”

He advised Roguin to take a large sum from the remaining trust-moneys
and give it to him, du Tillet, with permission to stake it bravely on
some large operation, either at the Bourse, or in one of the thousand
enterprises of private speculation then about to be launched. Should he
win, they were to form a banking-house, where they could turn to good
account a portion of the deposits, while the profits could be used by
Roguin for his pleasures. If luck went against them, Roguin was to get
away and live in foreign countries, and trust to _his friend_ du Tillet,
who would be faithful to him to the last sou. It was a rope thrown to a
drowning man, and Roguin did not perceive that the perfumer’s clerk had
flung it round his neck.

Master of Roguin’s secret, du Tillet made use of it to establish his
power over wife, mistress, and husband. Madame Roguin, when told of a
disaster she was far from suspecting, accepted du Tillet’s attentions,
who about this time left his situation with Birotteau, confident of
future success. He found no difficulty in persuading the mistress to
risk a certain sum of money as a provision against the necessity of
resorting to prostitution if misfortunes overtook her. The wife, on the
other hand, regulated her accounts, and gathered together quite a little
capital, which she gave to the man whom her husband confided in; for
by this time the notary had given a hundred thousand francs of the
remaining trust-money to his accomplice. Du Tillet’s relations to Madame
Roguin then became such that her interest in him was transformed
into affection and finally into a violent passion. Through his three
sleeping-partners Ferdinand naturally derived a profit; but not content
with that profit, he had the audacity, when gambling at the Bourse in
their name, to make an agreement with a pretended adversary, a man of
straw, from whom he received back for himself certain sums which he
had charged as losses to his clients. As soon as he had gained fifty
thousand francs he was sure of fortune. He had the eye of an eagle to
discern the phases through which France was then passing. He played low
during the campaign of the allied armies, and high on the restoration of
the Bourbons. Two months after the return of Louis XVIII., Madame Roguin
was worth two hundred thousand francs, du Tillet three hundred thousand,
and the notary had been able to get his accounts once more into order.

La belle Hollandaise wasted her share of the profits; for she was
secretly a prey to an infamous scoundrel named Maxime de Trailles, a
former page of the Emperor. Du Tillet discovered the real name of
this woman in drawing out a deed. She was Sarah Gobseck. Struck by the
coincidence of the name with that of a well-known usurer, he went to the
old money-lender (that providence of young men of family) to find out
how far he would back the credit of his relation. The Brutus of usurers
was implacable towards his great-niece, but du Tillet himself pleased
him by posing as Sarah’s banker, and having funds to invest. The Norman
nature and the rapacious nature suited each other. Gobseck happened to
want a clever young man to examine into an affair in a foreign country.
It chanced that an auditor of the Council of State, overtaken by the
return of the Bourbons and anxious to stand well at court, had gone to
Germany and bought up all the debts contracted by the princes during the
emigration. He now offered the profits of the affair, which to him was
merely political, to any one who would reimburse him. Gobseck would pay
no money down, unless in proportion to the redemption of the debts, and
insisted on a careful examination of the affair. Usurers never trust any
one; they demand vouchers. With them the bird in the hand is everything;
icy when they have no need of a man, they are wheedling and inclined to
be gracious when they can make him useful.

Du Tillet knew the enormous underground part played in the world by
such men as Werbrust and Gigonnet, commercial money-lenders in the
Rues Saint-Denis and Saint-Martin; by Palma, banker in the Faubourg
Poissonniere,--all of whom were closely connected with Gobseck. He
accordingly offered a cash security, and obtained an interest in the
affair, on condition that these gentlemen would use in their commercial
loans certain moneys he should place in their hands. By this means he
strengthened himself with a solid support on all sides.

Du Tillet accompanied Monsieur Clement Chardin des Lupeaulx to Germany
during the Hundred Days, and came back at the second Restoration, having
done more to increase his means of making a fortune than augmented
the fortune itself. He was now in the secret councils of the sharpest
speculators in Paris; he had secured the friendship of the man with whom
he had examined into the affair of the debts, and that clever juggler
had laid bare to him the secrets of legal and political science. Du
Tillet possessed one of those minds which understand at half a word, and
he completed his education during his travels in Germany. On his return
he found Madame Roguin faithful to him. As to the notary, he longed
for Ferdinand with as much impatience as his wife did, for la belle
Hollandaise had once more ruined him. Du Tillet questioned the woman,
but could find no outlay equal to the sum dissipated. It was then
that he discovered the secret which Sarah had carefully concealed from
him,--her mad passion for Maxime de Trailles, whose earliest steps in a
career of vice showed him for what he was, one of those good-for-nothing
members of the body politic who seem the necessary evil of all good
government, and whose love of gambling renders them insatiable. On
making this discovery, du Tillet at once saw the reason of Gobseck’s
insensibility to the claims of his niece.

Under these circumstances du Tillet the banker (for Ferdinand was now
a banker) advised Roguin to lay up something against a rainy day, by
persuading his clients to invest in some enterprise which might enable
him to put by for himself large sums of money, in case he were forced to
go into bankruptcy through the affairs of the bank. After many ups and
downs, which were profitable to none but Madame Roguin and du Tillet,
Roguin heard the fatal hour of his insolvency and final ruin strike. His
misery was then worked upon by his faithful friend. Ferdinand invented
the speculation in lands about the Madeleine. The hundred thousand
francs belonging to Cesar Birotteau, which were in the hands of the
notary, were made over to du Tillet; for the latter, whose object was
to ruin the perfumer, had made Roguin understand that he would run less
risk if he got his nearest friends into the net. “A friend,” he said,
“is more considerate, even if angry.”

Few people realize to-day how little value the lands about the Madeleine
had at the period of which we write; but at that time they were likely
to be sold even below their then value, because of the difficulty of
finding purchasers willing to wait for the profits of the enterprise.
Now, du Tillet’s aim was to seize the profits speedily without the
losses of a protracted speculation. In other words, his plan was to
strangle the speculation and get hold of it as a dead thing, which he
might galvanize back to life when it suited him. In such a scheme the
Gobsecks, Palmas, and Werbrusts would have been ready to lend a hand,
but du Tillet was not yet sufficiently intimate with them to ask their
aid; besides, he wanted to hide his own hand in conducting the affair,
that he might get the profits of his theft without the shame of it.
He felt the necessity of having under his thumb one of those living
lay-figures called in commercial language a “man of straw.” His former
tool at the Bourse struck him as a suitable person for the post; he
accordingly trenched upon Divine right, and created a man. Out of a
former commercial traveller, who was without means or capacity of any
kind, except that of talking indefinitely on all subjects and saying
nothing, who was without a farthing or a chance to make one,--able,
nevertheless, to understand a part and act it without compromising the
play or the actors in it, and possessed of a rare sort of honor, that
of keeping a secret and letting himself be dishonored to screen his
employers,--out of such a being du Tillet now made a banker, who set on
foot and directed vast enterprises; the head, namely, of the house of

The fate of Charles Claparon would be, if du Tillet’s scheme ended
in bankruptcy, a swift deliverance to the tender mercies of Jews and
Pharisees; and he well knew it. But to a poor devil who was despondently
roaming the boulevard with a future of forty sous in his pocket when his
old comrade du Tillet chanced to meet him, the little gains that he
was to get out of the affair seemed an Eldorado. His friendship,
his devotion, to du Tillet, increased by unreflecting gratitude and
stimulated by the wants of a libertine and vagabond life, led him to say
_amen_ to everything. Having sold his honor, he saw it risked with so
much caution that he ended by attaching himself to his old comrade as a
dog to his master. Claparon was an ugly poodle, but as ready to jump as
Curtius. In the present affair he was to represent half the purchasers
of the land, while Cesar Birotteau represented the other half. The notes
which Claparon was to receive from Birotteau were to be discounted by
one of the usurers whose name du Tillet was authorized to use, and this
would send Cesar headlong into bankruptcy so soon as Roguin had drawn
from him his last funds. The assignees of the failure would, as du
Tillet felt certain, follow his cue; and he, already possessed of the
property paid over by the perfumer and his associates, could sell the
lands at auction and buy them in at half their value with the funds of
Roguin and the assets of the failure. The notary went into this scheme
believing that he should enrich himself by the spoliation of Birotteau
and his copartners; but the man in whose power he had placed himself
intended to take, and eventually did take, the lion’s share. Roguin,
unable to sue du Tillet in any of the courts, was glad of the bone flung
to him, month by month, in the recesses of Switzerland, where he
found nymphs at a reduction. Circumstances, actual facts, and not the
imagination of a tragic author inventing a catastrophe, gave birth to
this horrible scheme. Hatred without a thirst for vengeance is like a
seed falling on stony ground; but vengeance vowed to a Cesar by a du
Tillet is a natural movement of the soul. If it were not, then we
must deny the warfare between the angels of light and the spirits of

Du Tillet could not very easily assassinate the man who knew him to
be guilty of a petty theft, but he could fling him into the mire and
annihilate him so completely that his word and testimony would count
for nothing. For a long time revenge had germinated in his heart without
budding; for the men who hate most are usually those who have little
time in Paris to make plans; life is too fast, too full, too much at
the mercy of unexpected events. But such perpetual changes, though they
hinder premeditation, nevertheless offer opportunity to thoughts lurking
in the depths of a purpose which is strong enough to lie in wait for
their tidal chances. When Roguin first confided his troubles to du
Tillet, the latter had vaguely foreseen the possibility of destroying
Cesar, and he was not mistaken. Forced at last to give up his mistress,
the notary drank the dregs of his philter from a broken chalice. He went
every day to the Champs Elysees returning home early in the morning. The
suspicions of Madame Cesar were justified.

              *     *     *     *     *

From the moment when a man consents to play the part which du Tillet had
allotted to Roguin, he develops the talents of a comedian; he has the
eye of a lynx and the penetration of a seer; he magnetizes his dupe. The
notary had seen Birotteau some time before Birotteau had caught sight of
him; when the perfumer did see him, Roguin held out his hand before they

“I have just been to make the will of a great personage who has only
eight days to live,” he said, with an easy manner. “They have treated me
like a country doctor,--fetched me in a carriage, and let me walk home
on foot.”

These words chased away the slight shade of suspicion which clouded the
face of the perfumer, and which Roguin had been quick to perceive. The
notary was careful not to be the first to mention the land speculation;
his part was to deal the last blow.

“After wills come marriage contracts,” said Birotteau. “Such is life.
Apropos, when do we marry the Madeleine? Hey! hey! papa Roguin,” he
added, tapping the notary on the stomach.

Among men the most chaste of bourgeois have the ambition to appear

“Well, if it is not to-day,” said the notary, with a diplomatic air,
“then never. We are afraid that the affair may get wind. I am much urged
by two of my wealthiest clients, who want a share in this speculation.
There it is, to take or leave. This morning I shall draw the deeds. You
have till one o’clock to make up your mind. Adieu; I am just on my way
to read over the rough draft which Xandrot has been making out during
the night.”

“Well, my mind is made up. I pass my word,” said Birotteau, running
after the notary and seizing his hand. “Take the hundred thousand francs
which were laid by for my daughter’s portion.”

“Very good,” said Roguin, leaving him.

For a moment, as Birotteau turned to rejoin little Popinot, he felt a
fierce heat in his entrails, the muscles of his stomach contracted, his
ears buzzed.

“What is the matter, monsieur?” asked the clerk, when he saw his
master’s pale face.

“Ah, my lad! I have just with one word decided on a great undertaking;
no man is master of himself at such a moment. You are a party to it. In
fact, I brought you here that we might talk of it at our ease; no one
can overhear us. Your aunt is in trouble; how did she lose her money?
Tell me.”

“Monsieur, my uncle and aunt put all their property into the hands of
Monsieur de Nucingen, and they were forced to accept as security certain
shares in the mines at Wortschin, which as yet pay no dividends; and it
is hard at their age to live on hope.”

“How do they live, then?”

“They do me the great pleasure of accepting my salary.”

“Right, right, Anselme!” said the perfumer, as a tear rolled down his
cheek. “You are worthy of the regard I feel for you. You are about to
receive a great recompense for your fidelity to my interests.”

As he said these words the worthy man swelled in his own eyes as much
as he did in those of Popinot, and he uttered them with a plebeian
and naive emphasis which was the genuine expression of his counterfeit

“Ah, monsieur! have you guessed my love for--”

“For whom?” asked his master.

“For Mademoiselle Cesarine.”

“Ah, boy, you are bold indeed!” exclaimed Birotteau. “Keep your secret.
I promise to forget it. You leave my house to-morrow. I am not angry
with you; in your place--the devil! the devil!--I should have done the
same. She is so lovely!”

“Oh, monsieur!” said the clerk, who felt his shirt getting wet with

“My boy, this matter is not one to be settled in a day. Cesarine is her
own mistress, and her mother has fixed ideas. Control yourself, wipe
your eyes, hold your heart in hand, and don’t let us talk any more about
it. I should not blush to have you for my son-in-law. The nephew of
Monsieur Popinot, a judge of the civil courts, nephew of the Ragons, you
have the right to make your way as well as anybody; but there are _buts_
and _ifs_ and _hows_ and _whys_. What a devil of a dog you have let
loose upon me, in the midst of a business conversation! Here, sit down
on that chair, and let the lover give place to the clerk. Popinot, are
you a loyal man?” he said, looking fixedly at the youth. “Do you feel
within you the nerve to struggle with something stronger than yourself,
and fight hand to hand?”

“Yes, monsieur.”

“To maintain a long and dangerous battle?”

“What for?”

“To destroy Macassar Oil!” said Birotteau, rising on his toes like
a hero in Plutarch. “Let us not mistake; the enemy is strong, well
entrenched, formidable! Macassar Oil has been vigorously launched. The
conception was strong. The square bottles were original; I have thought
of making ours triangular. Yet on the whole I prefer, after ripe
reflection, smaller bottles of thin glass, encased in wicker; they would
have a mysterious look, and customers like things which puzzle them.”

“They would be expensive,” said Popinot. “We must get things out as
cheap as we can, so as to make a good reduction at wholesale.”

“Good, my lad! That’s the right principle. But now, think of it.
Macassar Oil will defend itself; it is specious; the name is seductive.
It is offered as a foreign importation; and we have the ill-luck to
belong to our own country. Come, Popinot, have you the courage to kill
Macassar? Then begin the fight in foreign lands. It seems that Macassar
is really in the Indies. Now, isn’t it much better to supply a French
product to the Indians than to send them back what they are supposed
to send to us? Make the venture. Begin the fight in India, in foreign
countries, in the departments. Macassar Oil has been thoroughly
advertised; we must not underrate its power, it has been pushed
everywhere, the public knows it.”

“I’ll kill it!” cried Popinot, with fire in his eyes.

“What with?” said Birotteau. “That’s the way with ardent young people.
Listen till I’ve done.”

Anselme fell into position like a soldier presenting arms to a marshal
of France.

“Popinot, I have invented an oil to stimulate the growth of hair, to
titillate the scalp, to revive the color of male and female tresses.
This cosmetic will not be less successful than my Paste or my Lotion.
But I don’t intend to work it myself. I think of retiring from business.
It is you, my boy, who are to launch my Oil Comagene,--from the latin
word _coma_, which signifies ‘hair,’ as Monsieur Alibert, the King’s
physician, says. The word is found in the tragedy of Berenice, where
Racine introduces a king of Comagene, lover of the queen so celebrated
for the beauty of her hair; the king--no doubt as a delicate
flattery--gave the name to his country. What wit and intellect there is
in genius! it condescends to the minutest details.”

Little Popinot kept his countenance as he listened to this absurd
flourish, evidently said for his benefit as an educated young man.

“Anselme, I have cast my eyes upon you as the one to found a commercial
house in the high-class druggist line, Rue des Lombards. I will be
your secret partner, and supply the funds to start with. After the
Oil Comagene, we will try an essence of vanilla and the spirit of
peppermint. We’ll tackle the drug-trade by revolutionizing it, by
selling its products concentrated instead of selling them raw. Ambitious
young man, are you satisfied?”

Anselme could not answer, his heart was full; but his eyes, filled
with tears, answered for him. The offer seemed prompted by indulgent
fatherhood, saying to him: “Deserve Cesarine by becoming rich and

“Monsieur,” he answered at last, “I will succeed!”

“That’s what I said at your age,” cried the perfumer; “that was my
motto. If you don’t win my daughter, at least you will win your fortune.
Eh, boy! what is it?”

“Let me hope that in acquiring the one I may obtain the other.”

“I can’t prevent you from hoping, my friend,” said Birotteau, touched by
Anselme’s tone.

“Well, then, monsieur, can I begin to-day to look for a shop, so as to
start at once?”

“Yes, my son. To-morrow we will shut ourselves up in the workshop, you
and I. Before you go to the Rue des Lombards, call at Livingston’s
and see if my hydraulic press will be ready to use to-morrow morning.
To-night we will go, about dinner-time, to the good and illustrious
Monsieur Vauquelin and consult him. He has lately been employed in
studying the composition of hair; he has discovered the nature of the
coloring matter and whence it comes; also the structure of the hair
itself. The secret is just there, Popinot, and you shall know it; all
we have to do is to work it out cleverly. Before you go to Livingston’s,
just stop at Pieri Berard’s. My lad, the disinterested kindness of
Monsieur Vauquelin is one of the sorrows of my life. I cannot make him
accept any return. Happily, I found out from Chiffreville that he wished
for the Dresden Madonna, engraved by a man named Muller. After two years
correspondence with Germany, Berard has at last found one on Chinese
paper before lettering. It cost fifteen hundred francs, my boy. To-day,
my benefactor will see it in his antechamber when he bows us out; it is
to be all framed, and I want you to see about it. We--that is, my wife
and I--shall thus recall ourselves to his mind; as for gratitude, we
have prayed to God for him daily for sixteen years. I can never forget
him; but you see, Popinot, men buried in the depths of science do forget
everything,--wives, friends, and those they have benefited. As for us
plain people, our lack of mind keeps our hearts warm at any rate. That’s
the consolation for not being a great man. Look at those gentlemen of
the Institute,--all brain; you will never meet one of them in a church.
Monsieur Vauquelin is tied to his study or his laboratory; but I like
to believe he thinks of God in analyzing the works of His hands.--Now,
then, it is understood; I give you the money and put you in possession
of my secret; we will go shares, and there’s no need for any papers
between us. Hurrah for success! we’ll act in concert. Off with you, my
boy! As for me, I’ve got my part to attend to. One minute, Popinot. I
give a great ball three weeks hence; get yourself a dress-coat, and look
like a merchant already launched.”

This last kindness touched Popinot so deeply that he caught Cesar’s
big hand and kissed it; the worthy soul had flattered the lover by this
confidence, and people in love are capable of anything.

“Poor boy!” thought Birotteau, as he watched him hurrying across the
Tuileries. “Suppose Cesarine should love him? But he is lame, and his
hair is the color of a warming-pan. Young girls are queer; still, I
don’t think that Cesarine--And then her mother wants to see her the
wife of a notary. Alexandre Crottat can make her rich; wealth makes
everything bearable, and there is no happiness that won’t give way
under poverty. However, I am resolved to leave my daughter mistress of
herself, even if it seems a folly.”


Birotteau’s neighbor was a small dealer in umbrellas, parasols, and
canes, named Cayron,--a man from Languedoc, doing a poor business, whom
Cesar had several times befriended. Cayron wished nothing better than to
confine himself to the ground-floor and let the rich perfumer take the
floor above it, thus diminishing his rent.

“Well, neighbor,” said Birotteau familiarly, as he entered the man’s
shop, “my wife consents to the enlargement of our premises. If you like,
we will go and see Monsieur Molineux at eleven o’clock.”

“My dear Monsieur Birotteau,” said the umbrella-man, “I have not asked
you any compensation for this cession; but you are aware that a good
merchant ought to make money out of everything.”

“What the devil!” cried Birotteau. “I’m not made of money. I don’t
know that my architect can do the thing at all. He told me that before
concluding my arrangements I must know whether the floors were on the
same level. Then, supposing Monsieur Molineux does allow me to cut
a door in the wall, is it a party-wall? Moreover, I have to turn my
staircase, and make a new landing, so as to get a passage-way on the
same floor. All that costs money, and I don’t want to ruin myself.”

“Oh, monsieur,” said the southerner. “Before you are ruined, the sun
will have married the earth and they’ll have had children.”

Birotteau stroked his chin, rose on the points of his toes, and fell
back upon his heels.

“Besides,” resumed Cayron, “all I ask you to do is to cash these
securities for me--”

And he held out sixteen notes amounting in all to five thousand francs.

“Ah!” said the perfumer turning them over. “Small fry, two months, three

“Take them as low as six per cent,” said the umbrella-man humbly.

“Am I a usurer?” asked the perfumer reproachfully.

“What can I do, monsieur? I went to your old clerk, du Tillet, and he
would not take them at any price. No doubt he wanted to find out how
much I’d be willing to lose on them.”

“I don’t know those signatures,” said the perfumer.

“We have such queer names in canes and umbrellas; they belong to the

“Well, I won’t say that I will take all; but I’ll manage the short

“For the want of a thousand francs--sure to be repaid in four
months--don’t throw me into the hands of the blood-suckers who get the
best of our profits; do take all, monsieur! I do so little in the way of
discount that I have no credit; that is what kills us little retailers.”

“Well, I’ll cash your notes; Celestin will make out the account. Be
ready at eleven, will you? There’s my architect, Monsieur Grindot,” said
the perfumer, catching sight of the young man, with whom he had made an
appointment at Monsieur de la Billardiere’s the night before.

“Contrary to the custom of men of talent you are punctual, monsieur,”
 said Cesar, displaying his finest commercial graces. “If punctuality,
in the words of our king,--a man of wit as well as a statesman,--is the
politeness of princes, it is also the wealth of merchants. Time, time
is gold, especially to you artists. I permit myself to say to you that
architecture is the union of all the arts. We will not enter through the
shop,” he added, opening the private door of his house.

Four years earlier Monsieur Grindot had carried off the _grand prix_ in
architecture, and had lately returned from Rome where he had spent three
years at the cost of the State. In Italy the young man had dreamed
of art; in Paris he thought of fortune. Government alone can pay the
needful millions to raise an architect to glory; it is therefore natural
that every ambitious youth of that calling, returning from Rome
and thinking himself a Fontaine or a Percier, should bow before the
administration. The liberal student became a royalist, and sought to win
the favor of influential persons. When a _grand prix_ man behaves thus,
his comrades call him a trimmer. The young architect in question had two
ways open to him,--either to serve the perfumer well, or put him under
contribution. Birotteau the deputy-mayor, Birotteau the future possessor
of half the lands about the Madeleine, where he would sooner or later
build up a fine neighborhood, was a man to keep on good terms with.
Grindot accordingly resolved to sacrifice his immediate gains to his
future interests. He listened patiently to the plans, the repetitions,
and the ideas of this worthy specimen of the bourgeois class, the
constant butt of the witty shafts and ridicule of artists, and the
object of their everlasting contempt, nodding his head as if to show the
perfumer that he caught his ideas. When Cesar had thoroughly explained
everything, the young man proceeded to sum up for him his own plan.

“You have now three front windows on the first floor, besides the window
on the staircase which lights the landing; to these four windows you
mean to add two on the same level in the next house, by turning the
staircase, so as to open a way from one house to the other on the street

“You have understood me perfectly,” said the perfumer, surprised.

“To carry out your plan, you must light the new staircase from above,
and manage to get a porter’s lodge beneath it.”

“Beneath it?”

“Yes, the space over which it rests--”

“I understand, monsieur.”

“As for your own appartement, give me carte-blanche to arrange and
decorate it. I wish to make it worthy--”

“Worthy! You have said the word, monsieur.”

“How much time do you give me to complete the work?”

“Twenty days.”

“What sum do you mean to put in the workmen’s pockets?” asked Grindot.

“How much do you think it will cost?”

“An architect can estimate on a new building almost to a farthing,”
 answered the young man; “but as I don’t know how to deal with a
bourgeois--ah! excuse me, monsieur, the word slipped out--I must warn
you that it is impossible to calculate the costs of tearing down and
rebuilding. It will take at least eight days before I can give even
an approximate idea of them. Trust yourself to me: you shall have a
charming staircase, lighted from above, with a pretty vestibule opening
from the street, and in the space under the stairway--”

“Must that be used?”

“Don’t be worried--I will find room for a little porter’s lodge. Your
house shall be studied and remodelled _con amore_. Yes, monsieur, I look
to art and not to fortune. Above all things I do not want fame before I
have earned it. To my mind, the best means of winning credit is not to
play into the hands of contractors, but to get at good effects cheaply.”

“With such ideas, young man,” said Birotteau in a patronizing tone, “you
will succeed.”

“Therefore,” resumed Grindot, “employ the masons, painters, locksmiths,
carpenters, and upholsterers yourself. I will simply look over their
accounts. Pay me only two thousand francs commission. It will be money
well laid out. Give me the premises to-morrow at twelve o’clock, and
have your workmen on the spot.”

“How much it will cost, at a rough guess?” said Birotteau.

“From ten to twelve thousand francs,” said Grindot. “That does not count
the furniture; of course you will renew that. Give me the address of
your cabinet-maker; I shall have to arrange with him about the choice of
colors, so as to have everything in keeping.”

“Monsieur Braschon, Rue Saint-Antoine, takes my orders,” said Birotteau,
assuming a ducal air.

The architect wrote down the address in one of those pretty note-books
which invariably come from women.

“Well,” said Birotteau, “I trust to you, monsieur; only you must wait
till the lease of the adjoining house is made over to me, and I will get
permission to cut through the wall.”

“Send me a note this evening,” said the architect; “it will take me all
night to draw the plans--we would rather work for a bourgeois than for
the King of Prussia, that is to say for ourselves. I will now take the
dimensions, the pitch, the size of the widows, the pictures--”

“It must be finished on the appointed day,” said Birotteau. “If not, no

“It shall be done,” said the architect. “The workmen must do without
sleep; we will use drying oil in the paint. But don’t let yourself be
taken in by the contractors; always ask their price in advance, and have
a written agreement.”

“Paris is the only place in the world where you can wave a magic wand
like that,” said Birotteau, with an Asiatic gesture worthy of the
Arabian Nights. “You will do me the honor to come to my ball, monsieur?
Men of talent are not all disdainful of commerce; and you will meet a
scientific man of the first order, Monsieur Vauquelin of the Institute;
also Monsieur de la Billardiere, Monsieur le comte de Fontaine,
Monsieur Lebas, judge and president of the Court of commerce, various
magistrates, Monsieur le comte de Grandville of the royal suite,
Monsieur Camusot of the Court of commerce, and Monsieur Cardot, his
father-in-law, and, perhaps, Monsieur le duc de Lenoncourt, first
gentleman of the bed-chamber to the king. I assemble my friends as
much--to celebrate the emancipation of our territory--as to commemorate
my--promotion to the order of the Legion of honor,”--here Grindot made
a curious gesture. “Possibly I showed myself worthy of that--signal--and
royal--favor, by my services on the bench, and by fighting for the
Bourbons upon the steps of Saint-Roch on the 13th Vendemiaire, where I
was wounded by Napoleon. These claims--”

Constance, in a morning gown, here came out of her daughter’s bedroom,
where she had been dressing; her first glance cut short Cesar’s
eloquence just as he was about to formulate in flowing phrase, though
modestly, the tale of his merits.

“_Tiens, Mimi_, this is Monsieur _de_ Grindot, a young man distinguished
in his own sphere of life, and the possessor of a great talent. Monsieur
is the architect recommended to us by Monsieur de la Billardiere to
superintend our _little_ alteration.”

The perfumer slipped behind his wife and made a sign to the architect
to take notice of the word _little_, putting his finger on his lips.
Grindot took the cue.

“Will it be very expensive?” said Constance to the architect.

“Oh, no, madame; six thousand francs at a rough guess.”

“A rough guess!” exclaimed Madame Birotteau. “Monsieur, I entreat you,
begin nothing without an estimate and the specifications signed. I know
the ways of contractors: six thousand francs means twenty thousand.
We are not in a position to commit such extravagance. I beg you,
monsieur,--though of course my husband is master in his own house,--give
him time to reflect.”

“Madame, monsieur the deputy-mayor has ordered me to deliver the
premises, all finished, in twenty days. If we delay, you will be likely
to incur the expense without obtaining the looked-for result.”

“There are expenses and expenses,” said the handsome mistress of “The
Queen of Roses.”

“Ah! madame, do you think an architect who seeks to put up public
buildings finds it glorious to decorate a mere appartement? I have come
down to such details merely to oblige Monsieur de la Billardiere; and if
you fear--”

Here he made a movement to retreat.

“Well, well, monsieur,” said Constance re-entering her daughter’s room,
where she threw her head on Cesarine’s shoulder.

“Ah, my daughter!” she cried, “your father will ruin himself! He has
engaged an architect with mustachios, who talks about public buildings!
He is going to pitch the house out of windows and build us a Louvre.
Cesar is never idle about his follies; he only spoke to me about it in
the night, and he begins it in the morning!”

“Never mind, mamma; let papa do as he likes. The good God has always
taken care of him,” said Cesarine, kissing her mother and sitting down
to the piano, to let the architect know that the perfumer’s daughter was
not ignorant of the fine arts.

When Grindot came in to measure the bedroom he was surprised and taken
aback at the beauty of Cesarine. Just out of her dressing-room and
wearing a pretty morning-gown, fresh and rosy as a young girl is fresh
and rosy at eighteen, blond and slender, with blue eyes, Cesarine seemed
to the young artist a picture of the elasticity, so rare in Paris, that
fills and rounds the delicate cheek, and tints with the color adored of
painters, the tracery of blue veins throbbing beneath the whiteness
of her clear skin. Though she lived in the lymphatic atmosphere of a
Parisian shop, where the air stagnates and the sun seldom shines, her
habits gave her the same advantages which the open-air life of Rome
gives to the Transteverine peasant-woman. Her hair,--which was abundant,
and grew, like that of her father, in points upon her forehead,--was
caught up in a twist which showed the lines of a well-set neck, and then
rippled downward in curls that were scrupulously cared for, after the
fashion of young shop-women, whose desire to attract attention inspires
the truly English minutiae of their toilet. The beauty of this young
girl was not the beauty of an English lady, nor of a French duchess,
but the round and glowing beauty of a Flemish Rubens. Cesarine had the
turned-up nose of her father, but it was piquant through the delicacy of
its modelling,--like those noses, essentially French, which have been
so well reproduced by Largilliere. Her skin, of a firm full texture,
bespoke the vitality of a virgin; she had the fine brow of her mother,
but it was clear with the serenity of a young girl who knows no care.
Her liquid blue eyes, bathed in rich fluid, expressed the tender grace
of a glowing happiness. If that happiness took from her head the poetry
which painters insist on giving to their pictures my making them a shade
too pensive, the vague physical languor of a young girl who has never
left her mother’s side made up for it, and gave her a species of
ideality. Notwithstanding the graceful lines of her figure, she was
strongly built. Her feet betrayed the peasant origin of her father and
her own defects of race, as did the redness of her hands, the sign of
the thoroughly bourgeois life. Sooner or later she would grow stout. She
had caught the sentiment of dress from the elegant young women who came
to the shop, and had learned from them certain movements of the head,
certain ways of speaking and of moving; and she could play the well-bred
woman in a way that turned the heads of all the young men, especially
the clerks, in whose eyes she appeared truly distinguished. Popinot
swore that he would have no other wife than Cesarine. The liquid
brightness of that eye, which a look, or a tone of reproach, might cause
to overflow in tears, was all that kept him to a sense of masculine
superiority. The charming girl inspired love without leaving time to ask
whether she had mind enough to make it durable. But of what value is the
thing they call in Paris _mind_ to a class whose principal element of
happiness is virtue and good sense?

In her moral qualities Cesarine was like her mother, somewhat bettered
by the superfluities of education; she loved music, drew the Madonna
della Sedia in chalk, and read the works of Mmes. Cottin and Riccoboni,
of Bernadin de Saint-Pierre, Fenelon, and Racine. She was never seen
behind the counter with her mother except for a few moments before
sitting down to dinner, or on some special occasion when she replaced
her. Her father and mother, like all persons who have risen from small
beginnings, and who cultivate the ingratitude of their children by
putting them above themselves, delighted in deifying Cesarine, who
happily had the virtues of her class, and took no advantage of their

Madame Birotteau followed the architect with an anxious and appealing
eye, watching with terror, and pointing out to her daughter, the
fantastic movements of the four-foot rule, that wand of architects and
builders, with which Grindot was measuring. She saw in those mysterious
weavings a conjuring spirit that augured evil; she wished the walls were
less high, the rooms less large, and dared not question the young man on
the effects of his sorcery.

“Do not be afraid, madame, I shall carry nothing off,” said the artist,

Cesarine could not help smiling.

“Monsieur,” said Constance, in a supplicating voice, not even noticing
the tit-for-tat of the young man, “consider economy, and later we may be
able to serve you--”

              *     *     *     *     *

Before starting to see Monsieur Molineux, the owner of the adjoining
house, Cesar wished to get from Roguin the private deed about the
transference of the lease which Alexandre Crottat had been ordered to
draw up. As he left the notary’s house, he saw du Tillet at the window
of Roguin’s study. Although the _liaison_ of his former clerk with the
lawyer’s wife made it not unlikely that he should see du Tillet there
at this hour when the negotiations about the Madeleine were going on,
Birotteau, in spite of his extreme confidence, felt uneasy. The excited
manner of du Tillet seemed the sign of a discussion. “Can he be in it?”
 thought Cesar, with a flash of commercial prudence. The suspicion passed
like lightning through his mind. He looked again and saw Madame Roguin,
and the presence of du Tillet was no longer suspicious. “Still, suppose
Constance were right?” he said to himself. “What a fool I am to listen
to women’s notions! I’ll speak of it to my uncle Pillerault this
morning; it is only a step from the Cour Batave, where Monsieur Molineux
lives, to the Rue des Bourdonnais.”

A cautious observer, or a merchant who had met with swindlers in
his business career, would have been saved by this sight; but the
antecedents of Birotteau, the incapacity of his mind, which had little
power to follow up the chain of inductions by which a superior
man reaches a conclusion, all conspired to blind him. He found the
umbrella-man in full dress, and they were about to start, when Virginie,
the cook, caught him by the arm:--

“Monsieur, madame does not wish you to go out--”

“Pshaw!” said Birotteau, “more women’s notions!”

“--without your coffee, which is ready.”

“That’s true. My neighbor,” he said to Cayron, “I have so many things
in my head that I can’t think of my stomach. Do me the kindness to go
forward; we will meet at Monsieur Molineux’ door, unless you are willing
to go up and explain matters to him, which would save time.”

Monsieur Molineux was a grotesque little man, living on his rents,--a
species of being that exists nowhere but in Paris, like a certain lichen
which grows only in Iceland. This comparison is all the more apt because
he belonged to a mixed nature, to an animal-vegetable kingdom which
some modern Mercier might build up of cryptograms that push up upon, and
flower, and die in or under the plastered walls of the strange unhealthy
houses where they prefer to cluster. The first aspect of this human
plant--umbelliferous, judging by the fluted blue cap which crowned it,
with a stalk encased in greenish trousers, and bulbous roots swathed
in list shoes--offered to the eye a flat and faded countenance, which
certainly betrayed nothing poisonous. In this queer product might be
recognized the typical stockholder, who believes every report which the
daily press baptizes with ink, and is content, for all response, to say,
“Read what the papers say,”--the bourgeois, essentially the friend of
order, always revolting in his moral being against power, though
always obeying it; a creature feeble in the mass but fierce in isolated
circumstances, hard as a constable when his own rights are in question,
yet giving fresh chickweed to his bird and fish-bones to his cat,
interrupting the signing of a lease to whistle to a canary, suspicious
as a jailer, but apt to put his money into a bad business and then
endeavor to get it back by niggardly avarice. The evil savor of this
hybrid flower was only revealed by use; its nauseous bitterness needed
the stewing of some business in which his interests were mingled with
those of other men, to bring it fully out. Like all Parisians, Molineux
had the lust of dominating; he craved the share of sovereignty which is
exercised more or less by every one, even a porter, over a greater or
lesser number of victims,--over wife, children, tenants, clerks, horses,
dogs, monkeys, to whom they send, on the rebound, the mortifications
they have endured in the higher spheres to which they aspired.

This annoying old man had neither wife, child, nephew, or niece. He
bullied his servant-of-all-work too much to make her a victim; for she
escaped all contact with her master by doing her work and keeping out of
his way. His appetite for tyranny was thus balked; and to satisfy it
in some way he patiently studied the laws relating to rentals and
party-walls; he fathomed the jurisprudence which regulates the dwellings
of Paris in an infinite number of petty questions as to tenants,
abutters, liabilities, taxes, repairs, sweepings, decorations for the
Fete-Dieu, waste-pipes, lighting, projections over the public way, and
the neighborhood of unhealthy buildings. His means, his strength, in
fact his whole mind was spent in keeping his proprietary rights on a
complete war-footing. He had made it an amusement, and the amusement
had become a monomania. He was fond of protecting citizens against
the encroachment of illegal proceedings; but finding such subjects of
complaint rare, he had finally turned upon his own tenants. A tenant
became his enemy, his inferior, his subject, his vassal; he laid claim
to his subservience, and looked upon any man as a brute who passed
him on the stairway without speaking. He wrote out his bills for rent
himself, and sent them on the morning of the day they fell due. The
debtor who was behindhand in his payment received a legal notice to quit
at an appointed time. Then followed seizures, law-suits, costs, and
the whole judicial array set in motion with the rapidity of what the
head’s-man calls the “mechanism.” Molineux granted neither grace nor
time; his heart was a callus in the direction of a lease.

“I will lend you the money if you want it,” he would say to a man he
thought solvent, “but pay my rent; all delays carry with them a loss of
interest for which the law does not indemnify us.”

After long study of the caprices and capers of tenants who persisted,
after the fashion of dynasties, in upsetting the arrangements of their
predecessors, he had drawn up a charter of his own and followed it
religiously. In accordance therewith, the old fellow made no repairs:
no chimney ever smoked, the stairs were clean, the ceilings white, the
cornices irreproachable, the floors firm on their joists, the paint
satisfactory; the locks were never more than three years old, not a pane
of glass was missing, there were no cracks, and he saw no broken tiles
until a tenant vacated the premises. When he met the tenants on their
first arrival he was accompanied by a locksmith and a painter and
glazier,--very convenient folks, as he remarked. The lessee was at
liberty to make improvements; but if the unhappy man did so, little
Molineux thought night and day of how he could dislodge him and relet
the improved appartement on better terms. He watched and waited and spun
the web of his mischievous legal proceedings. He knew all the tricks
of Parisian legislation in the matter of leases. Factious and fond of
scribbling, he wrote polite and specious letters to his tenants; but at
the bottom of all his civil sentences could be seen, as in his faded
and cozening face, the soul of a Shylock. He always demanded six months’
rent in advance, to be deducted from the last quarter of the lease under
an array of prickly conditions which he invented. If new tenants offered
themselves, he got information about them from the police; for he would
not have people of certain callings,--he was afraid, for instance, of
hammers. When the lease was to be signed, he kept the deed and spelled
it over for a week, fearing what he called the _et caetera_ of lawyers.

Outside of his notions as a proprietor, Jean-Baptiste Molineux seemed
good and obliging. He played at boston without complaining of the
players; he laughed at the things which make a bourgeois laugh; talked
of what others of his kind talked about,--the arbitrary powers of
bakers who nefariously sell false weights, of the police, of the heroic
seventeen deputies of the Left. He read the “Good Sense” of the Cure
Meslier, and went to Mass; not that he had any choice between deism and
Christianity, but he took the wafer when offered to him, and argued that
he was therefore safe from the interfering claims of the clergy. The
indefatigable litigant wrote letters on this subject to the newspapers,
which the newspapers did not insert and never answered. He was in other
respects one of those estimable bourgeois who solemnly put Christmas
logs on their fire, draw kings at play, invent April-fools, stroll on
the boulevards when the weather is fine, go to see the skating, and are
always to be found on the terrace of the Place Louis XV. at two o’clock
on the days of the fireworks, with a roll in their pockets so that they
may get and keep a front place.

The Cour Batave, where the little old man lived, is the product of one
of those fantastic speculations of which no man can explain the meaning
after they are once completed. This cloistral structure, with arcades
and interior galleries built of free-stone, with a fountain at one
end,--a parched fountain, which opens its lion’s mouth less to give
water than to ask it from the passers-by,--was doubtless invented to
endow the Saint-Denis quarter with a species of Palais-Royal. The place,
unhealthy and buried on all four sides by the high walls of its houses,
has no life or movement except in the daytime; it is a central spot
where dark passages meet, and connect the quarter of the markets with
the Saint-Martin quarter by means of the famous Rue Quincampoix,--damp
ways in which hurried foot-passengers contract rheumatism. But at night
no spot in Paris is more deserted; it might be called the catacombs
of commerce. In it there are various industrial _cloaca_, very
few Dutchmen, but a great many grocers. The apartments in this
merchant-place have, naturally, no other outlook than that of the common
court on which all the windows give, so that rents are at a minimum.

Monsieur Molineux lived in one of the angles, on the sixth floor for
sanitary reasons, the air not being pure at a less height than seventy
feet above the ground. At this altitude the worthy proprietor enjoyed
an enchanting view of the windmills of Montmartre as he walked among
the gutters on the roof, where he cultivated flowers, in spite of police
regulations against the hanging gardens of our modern Babylon. His
appartement was made up of four rooms, without counting the precious
_anglaises_ on the floor above him of which he had the key; they
belonged to him, he had made them, and he felt he was legally entitled
to them. On entering his appartement, a repulsive barrenness plainly
showed the avarice of the owner: in the antechamber were six straw
chairs and a porcelain stove; on the walls, which were covered with
a bottle-green paper, were four engravings bought at auction. In the
dining-room were two sideboards, two cages full of birds, a table
covered with oil-cloth, a barometer, a window-door which opened on the
hanging gardens, and chairs of dark mahogany covered with horse-hair.
The salon had little curtains of some old green-silk stuff, and
furniture of painted white-wood covered with green worsted velvet. As
to the chamber of the old celibate it was furnished with Louis XV.
articles, so dirty and disfigured through long usage that a woman
dressed in white would have been afraid of soiling herself by contact
with them. The chimney-piece was adorned by a clock with two columns,
between which was a dial-case that served as a pedestal to Pallas
brandishing her lance: a myth. The floor was covered with plates full
of scraps intended for the cats, on which there was much danger of
stepping. Above a chest of drawers in rosewood hung a portrait done in
pastel,--Molineux in his youth. There were also books, tables covered
with shabby green bandboxes, on a bracket a number of his deceased
canaries stuffed; and, finally, a chilly bed that might formerly have
belonged to a Carmelite.

              *     *     *     *     *

Cesar Birotteau was delighted with the extreme politeness of Molineux,
whom he found wrapped in a gray woollen dressing-gown, watching his
milk in a little metal heater on the edge of his fireplace, while his
coffee-grounds were boiling in a little brown earthenware jug from
which, every now and then, he poured a few drops into his coffee-pot.
The umbrella-man, anxious not to disturb his landlord, had gone to the
door to admit Birotteau. Molineux held the mayors and deputies of the
city of Paris in much esteem; he called them “my municipal officers.”
 At sight of the magistrate he rose, and remained standing, cap in hand,
until the great Birotteau was seated.

“No, monsieur; yes, monsieur; ah, monsieur, if I had known I should have
had the honor of receiving in the bosom of my humble _penates_ a member
of the municipality of Paris, believe me I should have made it my duty
to call upon you, although I am your landlord--or, on the point of
becoming so.”

Birotteau made him a sign to put on his cap.

“No, I shall not; not until you are seated, and have replaced yours,
if you feel the cold. My room is chilly, the smallness of my means not
permitting--God grant your wishes!” he added, as Birotteau sneezed while
he felt in his pockets for the deeds. In presenting them to Molineux
Cesar remarked, to avoid all unnecessary delay, that Monsieur Roguin had
drawn them up.

“I do not dispute the legal talents of Monsieur Roguin, an old name
well-known in the notariat of Paris; but I have my own little customs, I
do my own business (an excusable hobby), and my notary is--”

“But this matter is very simple,” said the perfumer, who was used to the
quick business methods of merchants.

“Simple!” cried Molineux. “Nothing is simple in such matters. Ah! you
are not a landlord, monsieur, and you may think yourself happy. If
you knew to what lengths of ingratitude tenants can go, and to what
precautions we are driven! Why, monsieur, I once had a tenant--”

And for a quarter an hour he recounted how a Monsieur Gendrin, designer,
had deceived the vigilance of his porter, Rue Saint-Honore. Monsieur
Gendrin had committed infamies worthy of Marat,--obscene drawings at
which the police winked. This Gendrin, a profoundly immoral artist,
had brought in women of bad lives, and made the staircase
intolerable,--conduct worthy of a man who made caricatures of the
government. And why such conduct? Because his rent had been asked for on
the 15th! Gendrin and Molineux were about to have a lawsuit, for, though
he did not pay, Gendrin insisted on holding the empty appartement.
Molineux received anonymous letters, no doubt from Gendrin, which
threatened him with assassination some night in the passages about the
Cour Batave.

“It has got to such a pass, monsieur,” he said, winding up the tale,
“that monsieur the prefect of police, to whom I confided my trouble (I
profited by the occasion to drop him a few words on the modifications
which should be introduced into the laws to meet the case), has
authorized me to carry pistols for my personal safety.”

The little old man got up and fetched the pistols.

“There they are!” he cried.

“But, monsieur, you have nothing to fear from me,” said Birotteau,
looking at Cayron, and giving him a glance and a smile intended to
express pity for such a man.

Molineux detected it; he was mortified at such a look from an officer
of the municipality, whose duty it was to protect all persons under
his administration. In any one else he might have pardoned it, but in
Birotteau the deputy-mayor, never!

“Monsieur,” he said in a dry tone, “an esteemed commercial judge, a
deputy-mayor, and an honorable merchant would not descend to such petty
meannesses,--for they are meannesses. But in your case there is an
opening through the wall which must be agreed to by your landlord,
Monsieur le comte de Grandville; there are stipulations to be made and
agreed upon about replacing the wall at the end of your lease. Besides
which, rents have hitherto been low, but they are rising; the Place
Vendome is looking up, the Rue Castiglione is to be built upon. I am
binding myself--binding myself down!”

“Let us come to a settlement,” said Birotteau, amazed. “How much do you
want? I know business well enough to be certain that all your reasons
can be silenced by the superior consideration of money. Well, how much
is it?”

“That’s only fair, monsieur the deputy. How much longer does your own
lease run?”

“Seven years,” answered Birotteau.

“Think what my first floor will be worth in seven years!” said Molineux.
“Why, what would two furnished rooms let for in that quarter?--more than
two hundred francs a month perhaps! I am binding myself--binding myself
by a lease. The rent ought to be fifteen hundred francs. At that price
I will consent to the transfer of the two rooms by Monsieur Cayron, here
present,” he said, with a sly wink at the umbrella-man; “and I will give
you a lease of them for seven consecutive years. The costs of piercing
the wall are to belong to you; and you must procure the consent of
Monsieur le comte de Grandville and the cession of all his rights in the
matter. You are responsible for all damage done in making this opening.
You will not be expected to replace the wall yourself, that will be
my business; but you will at once pay me five hundred francs as an
indemnity towards it. We never know who may live or die, and I can’t run
after anybody to get the wall rebuilt.”

“Those conditions seem to me pretty fair,” said Birotteau.

“Next,” said Molineux. “You must pay me seven hundred and fifty francs,
_hic et hinc_, to be deducted from the last six months of your lease;
this will be acknowledged in the lease itself. Oh, I will accept small
bills for the value of the rent at any date you please! I am prompt and
square in business. We will agree that you are to close up the door
on my staircase (where you are to have no right of entry), at your own
cost, in masonry. Don’t fear,--I shall ask you no indemnity for that
at the end of your lease; I consider it included in the five hundred
francs. Monsieur, you will find me just.”

“We merchants are not so sharp,” said the perfumer. “It would not be
possible to do business if we made so many stipulations.”

“Oh, in business, that is very different, especially in perfumery, where
everything fits like a glove,” said the old fellow with a sour smile;
“but when you come to letting houses in Paris, nothing is unimportant.
Why, I have a tenant in the Rue Montorgeuil who--”

“Monsieur,” said Birotteau, “I am sorry to detain you from your
breakfast: here are the deeds, correct them. I agree to all that you
propose, we will sign them to-morrow; but to-day let us come to an
agreement by word of mouth, for my architect wants to take possession of
the premises in the morning.”

“Monsieur,” resumed Molineux with a glance at the umbrella-merchant,
“part of a quarter has expired; Monsieur Cayron would not wish to pay
it; we will add it to the rest, so that your lease may run from January
to January. It will be more in order.”

“Very good,” said Birotteau.

“And the five per cent for the porter--”

“But,” said Birotteau, “if you deprive me of the right of entrance, that
is not fair.”

“Oh, you are a tenant,” said little Molineux, peremptorily, up in arms
for the principle. “You must pay the tax on doors and windows and your
share in all the other charges. If everything is clearly understood
there will be no difficulty. You must be doing well, monsieur; your
affairs are prospering?”

“Yes,” said Birotteau. “But my motive is, I may say, something
different. I assemble my friends as much to celebrate the emancipation
of our territory as to commemorate my promotion to the order of the
Legion of honor--”

“Ah! ah!” said Molineux, “a recompense well-deserved!”

“Yes,” said Birotteau, “possibly I showed myself worthy of that signal
and royal favor by my services on the Bench of commerce, and by fighting
for the Bourbons upon the steps of Saint-Roch on the 13th Vendemiaire.
These claims--”

“Are equal to those of our brave soldiers of the old army. The ribbon is
red, for it is dyed with their blood.”

At these words, taken from the “Constitutionnel,” Birotteau could
not keep from inviting little Molineux to the ball, who thanked him
profusely and felt like forgiving the disdainful look. The old man
conducted his new tenant as far as the landing, and overwhelmed him with
politeness. When Birotteau reached the middle of the Cour Batave he gave
Cayron a merry look.

“I did not think there could exist such--weak beings!” he said, with
difficulty keeping back the word _fools_.

“Ah, monsieur,” said Cayron, “it is not everybody that has your

Birotteau might easily believe himself a superior being in the presence
of Monsieur Molineux; the answer of the umbrella-man made him smile
agreeably, and he bowed to him with a truly royal air as they parted.

“I am close by the Markets,” thought Cesar; “I’ll attend to the matter
of the nuts.”

              *     *     *     *     *

After an hour’s search, Birotteau, who was sent by the market-women to
the Rue de Lombards where nuts for sugarplums were to be found, heard
from his friend Matifat that the fruit in bulk was only to be had of a
certain Madame Angelique Madou, living in the Rue Perrin-Gasselin, the
sole establishment which kept the true filbert of Provence, and the
veritable white hazel-nut of the Alps.

The Rue Perrin-Gasselin is one of the narrow thoroughfares in a square
labyrinth enclosed by the quay, the Rue Saint-Denis, the Rue de la
Ferronnerie, and the Rue de la Monnaie; it is, as it were, one of the
entrails of the city. There swarm an infinite number of heterogeneous
and mixed articles of merchandise, evil-smelling and jaunty, herrings
and muslin, silks and honey, butter and gauze, and above all a number of
petty trades, of which Paris knows as little as a man knows of what
is going on in his pancreas, and which, at the present moment, had a
blood-sucker named Bidault, otherwise called Gigonnet, a money-lender,
who lived in the Rue Grenetat. In this quarter old stables were filled
with oil-casks, and the carriage-houses were packed with bales of
cotton. Here were stored in bulk the articles that were sold at retail
in the markets.

Madame Madou, formerly a fish-woman, but thrown, some ten years since,
into the dried-fruit trade by a liaison with the former proprietor of
her present business (an affair which had long fed the gossip of the
markets), had originally a vigorous and enticing beauty, now lost
however in a vast embonpoint. She lived on the lower floor of a yellow
house, which was falling to ruins, and was held together at each story
by iron cross-bars. The deceased proprietor had succeeded in getting rid
of all competitors, and had made his business a monopoly. In spite of a
few slight defects of education, his heiress was able to carry it along,
and take care of her stores, which were in coachhouses, stables, and
old workshops, where she fought the vermin with eminent success. Not
troubled with desk or ledgers, for she could neither read nor write, she
answered a letter with a blow of her fist, considering it an insult. In
the main she was a good woman, with a high-colored face, and a foulard
tied over her cap, who mastered with bugle voice the wagoners when they
brought the merchandise; such squabbles usually ending in a bottle
of the “right sort.” She had no disputes with the agriculturists who
consigned her the fruit, for they corresponded in ready money,--the only
possible method of communication, to receive which Mere Madou paid them
a visit in the fine season of the year.

Birotteau found this shrewish trader among sacks of filberts, nuts, and

“Good-morning, my dear lady,” said Birotteau with a jaunty air.

“_Your_ dear!” she said. “Hey! my son, what’s there agreeable between
us? Did we ever mount guard over kings and queens together?”

“I am a perfumer, and what is more I am deputy-mayor of the second
arrondissement; thus, as magistrate and as customer, I request you to
take another tone with me.”

“I marry when I please,” said the virago. “I don’t trouble the mayor, or
bother his deputies. As for my customers, they adore me, and I talk to
‘em as I choose. If they don’t like it, they can snake off elsewhere.”

“This is the result of monopoly,” thought Birotteau.

“Popole!--that’s my godson,--he must have got into mischief. Have you
come about him, my worthy magistrate?” she said, softening her voice.

“No; I had the honor to tell you that I came as a customer.”

“Well, well! and what’s your name, my lad? Haven’t seen you about
before, have I?”

“If you take that tone, you ought to sell your nuts cheap,” said
Birotteau, who proceeded to give his name and all his distinctions.

“Ha! you’re the Birotteau that’s got the handsome wife. And how many of
the sweet little nuts may you want, my love?”

“Six thousand weight.”

“That’s all I have,” said the seller, in a voice like a hoarse flute.
“My dear monsieur, you are not one of the sluggards who waste their time
on girls and perfumes. God bless you, you’ve got something to do! Excuse
me a bit. You’ll be a jolly customer, dear to the heart of the woman I
love best in the world.”

“Who is that?”

“Hey! the dear Madame Madou.”

“What’s the price of your nuts?”

“For you, old fellow, twenty-five francs a hundred, if you take them

“Twenty-five francs!” cried Birotteau. “Fifteen hundred francs! I shall
want perhaps a hundred thousand a year.”

“But just look how fine they are; fresh as a daisy,” she said, plunging
her red arm into a sack of filberts. “Plump, no empty ones, my dear
man. Just think! grocers sell their beggarly trash at twenty-four sous
a pound, and in every four pounds they put a pound of _hollows_. Must I
lose my profits to oblige you? You’re nice enough, but you don’t please
me all that! If you want so many, we might make a bargain at twenty
francs. I don’t want to send away a deputy-mayor,--bad luck to the
brides, you know! Now, just handle those nuts; heavy, aren’t they? Less
than fifty to the pound; no worms there, I can tell you.”

“Well, then, send six thousand weight, for two thousand francs at ninety
days’ sight, to my manufactory, Rue du Faubourg-du-Temple, to-morrow
morning early.”

“You’re in as great a hurry as a bride! Well, adieu, monsieur the mayor;
don’t bear me a grudge. But if it is all the same to you,” she added,
following Birotteau through the yard, “I would like your note at forty
days, because I have let you have them too cheap, and I don’t want to
lose the discount. Pere Gigonnet may have a tender heart, but he sucks
the soul out of us as a spider sucks a fly.”

“Well, then, fifty days. But they are to be weighed by the hundred
pounds, so that there may be no hollow ones. Without that, no bargain.”

“Ah, the dog! he knows what he’s about,” said Madame Madou; “can’t make
a fool of him! It is those rascals in the Rue des Lombards who have
put him up to that! Those big wolves are all in a pack to eat up the
innocent lambs.”

This lamb was five feet high and three feet round, and she looked like a
mile-post, dressed in striped calico, without a belt.

The perfumer, lost in thought, was ruminating as he went along the Rue
Saint-Honore about his duel with Macassar Oil. He was meditating on
the labels and the shape of the bottles, discussing the quality of the
corks, the color of the placards. And yet people say there is no poetry
in commerce! Newton did not make more calculations for his famous
binomial than Birotteau made for his Comagene Essence,--for by this time
the Oil had subsided into an Essence, and he went from one description
to the other without observing any difference. His head spun with his
computations, and he took the lively activity of its emptiness for the
substantial work of real talent. He was so preoccupied that he passed
the turn leading to his uncle’s house in the Rue des Bourdonnais, and
had to return upon his steps.


Claude-Joseph Pillerault, formerly an iron-monger at the sign of the
Cloche d’Or, had one of those faces whose beauty shines from the inner
to the outer; about him all things harmonized,--dress and manners, mind
and heart, thought and speech, words and acts. He was the sole relation
of Madame Birotteau, and had centred all his affections upon her and
upon Cesarine, having lost, in the course of his commercial career, his
wife and son, and also an adopted child, the son of his house-keeper.
These heavy losses had driven the good man into a kind of Christian
stoicism,--a noble doctrine, which gave life to his existence, and
colored his latter days with the warm, and at the same time chilling,
tones which gild the sunsets of winter. His head, thin and hollowed and
swarthy, with ochre and bistre tints harmoniously blended, offered
a striking likeness to that which artists bestow on Time, though it
vulgarized it; for the habits of commercial life lowered the stern
and monumental character which painters, sculptors, and clock-makers
exaggerate. Of medium height, Pillerault was more thick-set than stout;
Nature had built him for hard work and long life; his broad shoulders
showed a strong frame; he was dry by temperament, and his skin had,
as it were, no emotions, though it was not insensible. Little
demonstrative, as was shown by his composed face and quiet attitude, the
old man had an inward calm not expressed in phrases nor by emphasis.
His eye, the pupil of which was green, mingled with black lines, was
remarkable for its unalterable clearness. His forehead, wrinkled in
straight lines and yellowed by time, was small and narrow, hard, and
crowned with silver-gray hair cut so short that it looked like felt. His
delicate mouth showed prudence, but not avarice. The vivacity of his
eye showed the purity of his life. Integrity, a sense of duty, and true
modesty made, as it were, a halo round his head, bringing his face into
the relief of a sound and healthful existence.

For sixty years he had led the hard and sober life of a determined
worker. His history was like Cesar’s, except in happiness. A clerk till
thirty years of age, his property was all in his business at the time
when Cesar put his savings into the Funds; he had suffered, like others,
under the Maximum, and the pickaxes and other implements of his
trade had been requisitioned. His reserved and judicious nature, his
forethought and mathematical reflection, were seen in his methods of
work. The greater part of his business was conducted by word of mouth,
and he seldom encountered difficulties. Like all thoughtful people he
was a great observer; he let people talk, and then studied them. He
often refused advantageous bargains on which his neighbors pounced;
later, when they regretted them, they declared that Pillerault had
“a nose for swindlers.” He preferred small and certain gains to bold
strokes which put large sums of money in jeopardy. He dealt in cast-iron
chimney backs, gridirons, coarse fire-dogs, kettles and boilers in
cast or wrought iron, hoes, and all the agricultural implements of the
peasantry. This line, which was sufficiently unremunerative, required an
immense mechanical toil. The gains were not in proportion to the labor;
the profits on such heavy articles, difficult to move and expensive
to store, were small. He himself had nailed up many a case, packed and
unpacked many a bale, unloaded many a wagon. No fortune was ever more
nobly won, more legitimate or more honorable, than his. He had never
overcharged or sought to force a bargain. In his latter business days
he might be seen smoking his pipe before the door of his shop looking
at the passers-by, and watching his clerks as they worked. In 1814, the
period at which he retired from business, his fortune consisted, in the
first place, of seventy thousand francs, which he placed in the public
Funds, and from which he derived an income of five thousand and some odd
hundred francs a year; next of forty thousand francs, the value of his
business, which he had sold to one of his clerks; this sum was to be
paid in full at the end of five years, without interest. Engaged for
thirty years in a business which amounted to a hundred thousand francs
a year, he had made about seven per cent profit on the amount, and his
living had absorbed one half of that profit. Such was his record. His
neighbors, little envious of such mediocrity, praised his excellence
without understanding it.

At the corner of the Rue de la Monnaie and the Rue Saint-Honore is
the cafe David, where a few old merchants, like Pillerault, take their
coffee in the evenings. There, the adoption of the son of his cook had
been the subject of a few jests, such as might be addressed to a man
much respected, for the iron-monger inspired respectful esteem, though
he never sought it; his inward self-respect sufficed him. So when
he lost the young man, two hundred friends followed the body to the
cemetery. In those days he was heroic. His sorrow, restrained like that
of all men who are strong without assumption, increased the sympathy
felt in his neighborhood for the “worthy man,”--a term applied to
Pillerault in a tone which broadened its meaning and ennobled it. The
sobriety of Claude Pillerault, long become a habit, did not yield before
the pleasures of an idle life when, on quitting his business, he sought
the rest which drags down so many of the Parisian bourgeoisie. He kept
up his former ways of life, and enlivened his old age by convictions
and interests, which belonged, we must admit, to the extreme Left.
Pillerault belonged to that working-men’s party which the Revolution
had fused with the bourgeoisie. The only blot upon his character was the
importance he attached to the triumph of that party; he held to all the
rights, to the liberty, and to the fruits of the Revolution; he believed
that his peace of mind and his political stability were endangered by
the Jesuits, whose secret power was proclaimed aloud by the Liberals,
and menaced by the principles with which the “Constitutionnel” endowed
Monsieur. He was quite consistent in his life and ideas; there was
nothing narrow about his politics; he never insulted his adversaries, he
dreaded courtiers and believed in republican virtues; he thought Manuel
a pure man, General Foy a great one, Casimir Perier without ambition,
Lafayette a political prophet, and Courier a worthy fellow. He had
indeed some noble chimeras. The fine old man lived a family life; he
went about among the Ragons, his niece Birotteau, the judge Popinot,
Joseph Lebas, and his friend Matifat. Fifteen hundred francs a year
sufficed for all his personal wants. As to the rest of his income he
spent it on good deeds, and in presents to his great-niece; he gave a
dinner four times a year to his friends, at Roland’s, Rue du Hasard,
and took them afterwards to the theatre. He played the part of those old
bachelors on whom married women draw at sight for their amusements,--a
country jaunt, the opera, the Montagnes-Beaujon, _et caetera_.
Pillerault was made happy by the pleasure he gave; his joys were in the
hearts of others. Though he had sold his business, he did not wish to
leave the neighborhood to which all his habits tied him; and he took
a small appartement of three rooms in the Rue des Bourdonnais on the
fourth floor of an old house.

Just as the moral nature of Molineux could be seen in his strange
interior, the pure and simple life of Pillerault was revealed by
the arrangements of his modest home, consisting of an antechamber, a
sitting-room, and a bed-room. Judged by dimensions, it was the cell of a
Trappist. The antechamber, with a red-tiled floor, had only one window,
screened by a cambric curtain with a red border; mahogany chairs,
covered with reddish sheep’s leather put on with gilt nails, walls hung
with an olive-green paper, and otherwise decorated with the American
Declaration of Independence, a portrait of Bonaparte as First Consul,
and a representation of the battle of Austerlitz. The salon, decorated
undoubtedly by an upholsterer, had a set of furniture with arched
tops covered in yellow, a carpet, chimney ornaments of bronze without
gilding, a painted chimney-board, a console bearing a vase of flowers
under a glass case, a round table covered with a cloth, on which stood
a liqueur-stand. The newness of this room proclaimed a sacrifice made by
the old man to the conventions of the world; for he seldom received
any one at home. In his bedroom, as plain as that of a monk or an old
soldier (the two men best able to estimate life), a crucifix with a
basin of holy-water first caught the eye. This profession of faith in a
stoical old republican was strangely moving to the heart of a spectator.

An old woman came to do his household work; but his respect for
women was so great that he would not let her black his boots, and he
subscribed to a boot-black for that service. His dress was simple, and
invariably the same. He wore a coat and trousers of dark-blue cloth, a
waistcoat of some printed cotton fabric, a white cravat, high shoes, and
on gala days he put on a coat with brass buttons. His habits of rising,
breakfasting, going out, dining, his evening resorts, and his returning
hours were all stamped with the strictest punctuality; for regular
habits are the secret of long life and sound health. Politics never came
to the surface in his intercourse with Cesar, the Ragons, or the Abbe
Loraux; for the good people of that circle knew each other too well to
care to enter the region of proselytism. Like his nephew and like the
Ragons, he put implicit confidence in Roguin. To his mind the notary
was a being worthy of veneration,--the living image of probity. In the
affair of the lands about the Madeleine, Pillerault had undertaken a
private examination, which was the real cause of the boldness with which
Cesar had combated his wife’s presentiments.

The perfumer went up the seventy-eight stairs which led to the little
brown door of his uncle’s appartement, thinking as he went that the old
man must be very hale to mount them daily without complaining. He found
a frock-coat and pair of trousers hanging on the hat-stand outside
the door. Madame Vaillant brushed and cleaned them while this genuine
philosopher, wrapped in a gray woollen garment, breakfasted in
his chimney-corner and read the parliamentary debates in the
“Constitutionnel” or the “Journal du Commerce.”

“Uncle,” said Cesar, “the matter is settled; they are drawing up their
deeds; but you have any fears or regrets, there is still time to give it

“Why should I give it up? The thing is good; though it may be a long
time before we realize anything, like all safe investments. My
fifty thousand francs are in the bank. I received yesterday the last
instalment, five thousand francs, from my business. As for the Ragons,
they have put their whole fortune into the affair.”

“How do they contrive to life?”

“Never mind how; they do live.”

“Uncle, I understand!” said Birotteau, deeply moved, pressing the hand
of the austere old man.

“How is the affair arranged?” asked Pillerault, brusquely.

“I am in for three eighths, you and the Ragons for one eighth. I shall
credit you for that on my books until the question of registration is

“Good! My boy, you must be getting rich to put three hundred thousand
francs into it. It seems to me you are risking a good deal outside of
your business. Won’t the business suffer? However, that is your affair.
If you get a set-back, why the Funds are at eighty, and I could sell two
thousand francs worth of my consolidated stock. But take care, my lad;
for if you have to come upon me, it will be your daughter’s fortune that
you will take.”

“Ah! my uncle, how simply you say things! You touch my heart.”

“General Foy was touching mine in quite another fashion just now. Well,
go on; settle the business; lands can’t fly away. We are getting them at
half price. Suppose we do have to wait six years, there will always be
some returns; there are wood-yards which will bring in a rent. We can’t
really lose anything. There is but one chance against us. Roguin might
run off with the money.”

“My wife told me so this very night. She fears--”

“That Roguin will carry off our funds?” said Pillerault, laughing.
“Pray, why?”

“She says there is too much in his nose; and like men who can’t have
women, he is furious to--”

With a smile of incredulity, Pillerault tore a strip from a little book,
wrote down an amount, and signed the paper.

“There,” said he, “there’s a cheque on the Bank of France for a hundred
thousand francs for the Ragons and for me. Those poor folks have just
sold to your scoundrel of a du Tillet their fifteen shares in the mines
at Wortschin to make up the amount. Worthy people in trouble,--it
wrings my heart; and such good, noble souls, the very flower of the old
bourgeoisie! Their brother, Popinot, the judge, knows nothing about
it; they hid it from him so that he may not feel obliged to give up
his other works of charity. People who have worked, like me, for forty

“God grant that the Oil of Comagene may triumph!” cried Birotteau. “I
shall be doubly happy. Adieu; come and dine on Sunday with the Ragons,
Roguin, and Monsieur Claparon. We shall sign the papers the day after
to-morrow, for to-morrow is Friday, you know, and I shouldn’t like--”

“You don’t surely give in to such superstitions?”

“Uncle, I shall never believe that the day on which the Son of God was
put to death by man can be a fortunate day. Why, we ourselves stop all
business on the twenty-first of January.”

“On Sunday, then,” said Pillerault brusquely.

“If it were not for his political opinions,” thought Birotteau as he
went down stairs, “I don’t believe he would have his equal here below.
What are politics to him? He would be just as well off if he never
thought of them. His obstinacy in that direction only shows that there
can’t be a perfect man.”

“Three o’clock already!” cried Cesar, as he got back to “The Queen of

“Monsieur, do you mean to take these securities?” asked Celestin,
showing him the notes of the umbrella-maker.

“Yes; at six per cent, without commission. Wife, get my dressing things
all ready; I am going to see Monsieur Vauquelin,--you know why. A white
cravat, of course.”

Birotteau gave a few orders to the clerks. Not seeing Popinot, he
concluded that his future partner had gone to dress; and he went
gaily up to his room, where the Dresden Madonna, magnificently framed
according to his orders, awaited him.

“Hey! that’s pretty,” he said to his daughter.

“Papa, you must say beautiful, or people will laugh at you.”

“Upon my word! a daughter who scolds her father! Well, well! To my
taste I like Hero and Leander quite as much. The Virgin is a religious
subject, suitable for a chapel; but Hero and Leander, ah! I shall buy
it, for that flask of oil gave me an idea--”

“Papa, I don’t know what you are talking about.”

“Virginie! a hackney-coach!” cried Cesar, in stentorian tones, as soon
as he had trimmed his beard and seen little Popinot appear, who was
dragging his foot timidly because Cesarine was there.

The lover had never yet perceived that his infirmity no longer existed
in the eyes of his mistress. Delicious sign of love!--which they on whom
chance has inflicted a bodily imperfection can alone obtain.

“Monsieur,” he said, “the press will be ready to work to-morrow.”

“Why, what’s the matter, Popinot?” asked Cesar, as he saw Anselme blush.

“Monsieur, it is the joy of having found a shop, a back-shop, kitchen,
chambers above them, and store-rooms,--all for twelve hundred francs a
year, in the Rue des Cinq-Diamants.”

“We must take a lease of eighteen years,” said Birotteau. “But let us
start for Monsieur Vauquelin’s. We can talk as we go.”

Cesar and Popinot got into the hackney-coach before the eyes of the
astonished clerks, who did not know what to make of these gorgeous
toilets and the abnormal coach, ignorant as they were of the great
project revolving in the mind of the master of “The Queen of Roses.”

“We are going to hear the truth about nuts,” said Cesar, half to

“Nuts?” said Popinot.

“There you have my secret,” said the perfumer. “I’ve let loose the word
_nuts_,--all is there. The oil of nuts is the only oil that has any real
effect upon hair. No perfumer has ever dreamed of it. I saw an engraving
of Hero and Leander, and I said to myself, If the ancients used all that
oil on their heads they had some reason for it; for the ancients are the
ancients, in spite of all the moderns may say; I stand by Boileau about
the ancients. I took my departure from that point and got the oil of
nuts, thanks to your relation, little Bianchon the medical student; he
told me that at school his comrades used nut oil to promote the growth
of their whiskers and mustachios. All we need is the approval of
Monsieur Vauquelin; enlightened by his science, we shall mislead the
public. I was in the markets just now, talking to a seller of nuts, so
as to get hold of the raw material, and now I am about to meet one of
the greatest scientific men in France, to get at the quintessence of
that commodity. Proverbs are no fools; extremes meet. Now see, my boy,
commerce is the intermediary between the productions of the vegetable
kingdom and science. Angelique Madou gathers, Monsieur Vauquelin
extracts, we sell an essence. Nuts are worth five sous a pound, Monsieur
Vauquelin will increase their value one hundredfold, and we shall,
perhaps, do a service to humanity; for if vanity is the cause of the
greatest torments of mankind, a good cosmetic becomes a benefaction.”

The religious admiration with which Popinot listened to the father
of Cesarine stimulated Birotteau’s eloquence, who allowed himself
to expatiate in phrases which certainly were extremely wild for a

“Be respectful, Anselme,” he said, as they reached the street where
Monsieur Vauquelin lived, “we are about to enter the sanctuary of
science. Put the Virgin in full sight, but not ostentatiously, in the
dining-room, on a chair. Pray heaven, I may not get mixed up in what I
have to say!” cried Cesar, naively. “Popinot, this man has a chemical
effect upon me; his voice heats my stomach, and even gives me a slight
colic. He is my benefactor, and in a few moments he will be yours.”

These words struck Popinot with a cold chill, and he began to step as
if he were walking on eggs, looking nervously at the wall. Monsieur
Vauquelin was in his study when Birotteau was announced. The academician
knew that the perfumer and deputy-mayor was high in favor, and he
admitted him.

“You do not forget me in the midst of your distinctions,” he said,
“there is only a hand’s-breadth, however, between a chemist and a

“Ah, monsieur! between your genius and the plainness of a man like me
there is infinity. I owe to you what you call my distinctions: I shall
never forget it in this world, nor in the next.”

“Oh! in the next they say we shall be all alike, kings and cobblers.”

“Provided kings and cobblers lead a holy life here below,” said

“Is that your son?” asked Vauquelin, looking at little Popinot, who was
amazed at not seeing anything extraordinary in the sanctum, where he
expected to find monstrosities, gigantic engines, flying-machines, and
material substances all alive.

“No, monsieur, but a young man whom I love, and who comes to ask a
kindness equal to your genius,--and that is infinite,” said Cesar with
shrewd courtesy. “We have come to consult you, a second time, on an
important matter, about which I am ignorant as a perfumer can be.”

“Let me hear what it is.”

“I know that hair has lately occupied all your vigils, and that you have
given yourself up to analyzing it; while you have thought of glory, I
have thought of commerce.”

“Dear Monsieur Birotteau, what is it you want of me,--the analysis of
hair?” He took up a little paper. “I am about to read before the Academy
of Sciences a monograph on that subject. Hair is composed of a rather
large quantity of mucus, a small quantity of white oil, a great deal of
greenish oil, iron, a few atoms of oxide of manganese, some phosphate of
lime, a tiny quantity of carbonate of lime, a little silica, and a good
deal of sulphur. The differing proportions of these component parts
cause the differences in the color of the hair. Red hair, for instance,
has more greenish oil than any other.”

Cesar and Popinot opened their eyes to a laughable extent.

“Nine things!” cried Birotteau. “What! are there metals and oils in
hair? Unless I heard it from you, a man I venerate, I could not believe
it. How amazing! God is great, Monsieur Vauquelin.”

“Hair is produced by a follicular organ,” resumed the great chemist,--“a
species of pocket, or sack, open at both extremities. By one end it is
fastened to the nerves and the blood vessels; from the other springs the
hair itself. According to some of our scientific brotherhood, among them
Monsieur Blainville, the hair is really a dead matter expelled from that
pouch, or crypt, which is filled with a species of pulp.”

“Then hair is what you might call threads of sweat!” cried Popinot, to
whom Cesar promptly administered a little kick on his heels.

Vauquelin smiled at Popinot’s idea.

“He knows something, doesn’t he?” said Cesar, looking at Popinot. “But,
monsieur, if the hair is still-born, it is impossible to give it life,
and I am lost! my prospectus will be ridiculous. You don’t know how
queer the public is; you can’t go and tell it--”

“That it has got manure upon its head,” said Popinot, wishing to make
Vauquelin laugh again.

“Cephalic catacombs,” said Vauquelin, continuing the joke.

“My nuts are bought!” cried Birotteau, alive to the commercial loss. “If
this is so why do they sell--”

“Don’t be frightened,” said Vauquelin, smiling, “I see it is a question
of some secret about making the hair grow or keeping it from turning
gray. Listen! this is my opinion on the subject, as the result of my

Here Popinot pricked up his ears like a frightened hare.

“The discoloration of this substance, be it living or dead, is, in my
judgment, produced by a check to the secretion of the coloring matter;
which explains why in certain cold climates the fur of animals loses all
color and turns white in winter.”

“Hein! Popinot.”

“It is evident,” resumed Vauquelin, “that alterations in the color of
the hair come from changes in the circumjacent atmosphere--”

“Circumjacent, Popinot! recollect, hold fast to that,” cried Cesar.

“Yes,” said Vauquelin, “from hot and cold changes, or from internal
phenomena which produce the same effect. Probably headaches and other
cephalagic affections absorb, dissipate, or displace the generating
fluids. However, the interior of the head concerns physicians. As for
the exterior, bring on your cosmetics.”

“Monsieur,” said Birotteau, “you restore me to life! I have thought of
selling an oil of nuts, believing that the ancients made use of that oil
for their hair; and the ancients are the ancients, as you know: I agree
with Boileau. Why did the gladiators oil themselves--”

“Olive oil is quite as good as nut oil,” said Vauquelin, who was not
listening to Birotteau. “All oil is good to preserve the bulb from
receiving injury to the substances working within it, or, as we should
say in chemistry, in liquefaction. Perhaps you are right; Dupuytren
told me the oil of nuts had a stimulating property. I will look into
the differences between the various oils, beech-nut, colza, olive, and
hazel, etc.”

“Then I am not mistaken,” cried Birotteau, triumphantly. “I have
coincided with a great man. Macassar is overthrown! Macassar, monsieur,
is a cosmetic given--that is, sold, and sold dear--to make the hair

“My dear Monsieur Birotteau,” said Vauquelin, “there are not two ounces
of Macassar oil in all Europe. Macassar oil has not the slightest action
upon the hair; but the Malays buy it up for its weight in gold, thinking
that it preserves the hair: they don’t know that whale-oil is just as
good. No power, chemical, or divine--”

“Divine! oh, don’t say that, Monsieur Vauquelin.”

“But, my dear monsieur, the first law of God is to be consistent with
Himself; without unity, no power--”

“Ah! in that light--”

“No power, as I say, can make the hair grow on bald heads; just as
you can never dye, without serious danger, red or white hair. But in
advertising the benefits of oil you commit no mistake, you tell no
falsehood, and I think that those who use it will probably preserve
their hair.”

“Do you think that the royal Academy of Sciences would approve of--”

“Oh! there is no discovery in all that,” said Vauquelin. “Besides,
charlatans have so abused the name of the Academy that it would not help
you much. My conscience will not allow me to think the oil of nuts a

“What would be the best way to extract it; by pressure, or decoction?”
 asked Birotteau.

“Pressure between two hot slabs will cause the oil to flow more
abundantly; but if obtained by pressure between cold slabs it will be
of better quality. It should be applied to the skin itself,” added
Vauquelin, kindly, “and not to the hair; otherwise the effect might be

“Recollect all that, Popinot,” said Birotteau, with an enthusiasm that
sent a glow into his face. “You see before you, monsieur, a young man
who will count this day among the finest in his life. He knew you, he
venerated you, without ever having seen you. We often talk of you in our
home: a name that is in the heart is often on the lips. We pray for
you every day, my wife and daughter and I, as we ought to pray for our

“Too much for so little,” said Vauquelin, rather bored by the voluble
gratitude of the perfumer.

“Ta, ta, ta!” exclaimed Birotteau, “you can’t prevent our loving you,
you who will take nothing from us. You are like the sun; you give light,
and those whom you illuminate can give you nothing in return.”

The man of science smiled and rose; the perfumer and Popinot rose also.

“Anselme, look well at this room. You permit it, monsieur? Your time is
precious, I know, but he will never have another opportunity.”

“Well, have you got all you wanted?” said Vauquelin to Birotteau. “After
all, we are both commercial men.”

“Pretty nearly, monsieur,” said Birotteau, retreating towards the
dining-room, Vauquelin following. “But to launch our Comagene Essence we
need a good foundation--”

“‘Comagene’ and ‘Essence’ are two words that clash. Call your cosmetic
‘Oil of Birotteau’; or, if you don’t want to give your name to the
world, find some other. Why, there’s the Dresden Madonna! Ah, Monsieur
Birotteau, do you mean that we shall quarrel?”

“Monsieur Vauquelin,” said the perfumer, taking the chemist’s hand.
“This treasure has no value except the time that I have spent in finding
it. We had to ransack all Germany to find it on China paper before
lettering. I knew that you wished for it and that your occupations
did not leave you time to search for it; I have been your commercial
traveller, that is all. Accept therefore, not a paltry engraving, but
efforts, anxieties, despatches to and fro, which are the evidence of my
complete devotion. Would that you had wished for something growing on
the sides of precipices, that I might have sought it and said to you,
‘Here it is!’ Do not refuse my gift. We have so much reason to be
forgotten; allow me therefore to place myself, my wife, my daughter, and
the son-in-law I expect to have, beneath your eyes. You must say when
you look at the Virgin, ‘There are some people in the world who are
thinking of me.’”

“I accept,” said Vauquelin.

Popinot and Birotteau wiped their eyes, so affected were they by the
kindly tone in which the academician uttered the words.

“Will you crown your goodness?” said the perfumer.

“What’s that?” exclaimed Vauquelin.

“I assemble my friends”--he rose from his heels, taking, nevertheless,
a modest air--“as much to celebrate the emancipation of our territory as
to commemorate my promotion to the order of the Legion of honor--”

“Ah!” exclaimed Vauquelin, surprised.

“Possibly I showed myself worthy of that signal and royal favor, by my
services on the Bench of commerce, and by fighting for the Bourbons upon
the steps of Saint-Roch, on the 13th Vendemiaire, where I was wounded
by Napoleon. My wife gives a ball, three weeks from Sunday; pray come to
it, monsieur. Do us the honor to dine with us on that day. Your presence
would double the happiness with which I receive my cross. I will write
you beforehand.”

“Well, yes,” said Vauquelin.

“My heart swells with joy!” cried the perfumer, when he got into the
street. “He comes to my house! I am afraid I’ve forgotten what he said
about hair: do you remember it, Popinot!”

“Yes, monsieur; and twenty years hence I shall remember it still.”

“What a great man! what a glance, what penetration!” said Birotteau.
“Ah! he made no bones about it; he guessed our thoughts at the first
word; he has given us the means of annihilating Macassar oil. Yes!
nothing can make the hair grow; Macassar, you lie! Popinot, our fortune
is made. We’ll go to the manufactory to-morrow morning at seven o’clock;
the nuts will be there, and we will press out some oil. It is all very
well for him to say that any oil is good; if the public knew that, we
should be lost. If we didn’t put some scent and the name of nuts into
the oil, how could we sell it for three or four francs the four ounces?”

“You are about to be decorated, monsieur?” said Popinot, “what glory

“Commerce; that is true, my boy.”

Cesar’s triumphant air, as if certain of fortune, was observed by the
clerks, who made signs at each other; for the trip in the hackney-coach,
and the full dress of the cashier and his master had thrown them all
into the wildest regions of romance. The mutual satisfaction of Cesar
and Anselme, betrayed by looks diplomatically exchanged, the glance full
of hope which Popinot cast now and then at Cesarine, proclaimed some
great event and gave color to the conjectures of the clerks. In their
busy and half cloistral life the smallest events have the interest which
a prisoner feels in those of his prison. The bearing of Madame Cesar,
who replied to the Olympian looks of her lord with an air of distrust,
seemed to point to some new enterprise; for in ordinary times Madame
Cesar, delighted with the smallest routine success, would have shared
his contentment. It happened, accidentally, that the receipts for the
day amounted to more than six thousand francs; for several outstanding
bills chanced to be paid.

The dining-room and the kitchen, lighted from a little court, and
separated from the dining-room by a passage, from which the staircase,
taken out of a corner of the backshop, opened up, was on the _entresol_
where in former days Cesar and Constance had their appartement; in fact,
the dining-room, where the honey-moon had been passed, still wore the
look of a little salon. During dinner Raguet, the trusty boy of all
work, took charge of the shop; but the clerks came down when the dessert
was put on table, leaving Cesar, his wife and daughter to finish their
dinner alone by the chimney corner. This habit was derived from the
Ragons, who kept up the old-fashioned usages and customs of former
commercial days, which placed an enormous distance between the masters
and the apprentices. Cesarine or Constance then prepared for Birotteau
his cup of coffee, which he took sitting on a sofa by the corner of the
fire. At this hour he told his wife all the little events of the day,
and related what he had seen in the streets, what was going on in
the Faubourg du Temple, and the difficulties he had met with in the
manufactory, _et caetera_.

“Wife,” he said, when the clerks had gone down, “this is certainly
one of the most important days in our life! The nuts are bought, the
hydraulic press is ready to go to work, the land affair is settled.
Here, lock up that cheque on the Bank of France,” he added, handing
her Pillerault’s paper. “The improvements in the house are ordered, the
dignity of our appartement is about to be increased. Bless me! I saw,
down in the Cour Batave, a very singular man,”--and he told the tale of
Monsieur Molineux.

“I see,” said his wife, interrupting him in the middle of a tirade,
“that you have gone in debt two hundred thousand francs.”

“That is true, wife,” said Cesar, with mock humility, “Good God, how
shall we pay them? It counts for nothing that the lands about the
Madeleine will some day become the finest quarter of Paris.”

“Some day, Cesar!”

“Alas!” he said, going on with his joke, “my three eighths will only
be worth a million in six years. How shall I ever pay that two hundred
thousand francs?” said Cesar, with a gesture of alarm. “Well, we shall
be reduced to pay them with that,” he added, pulling from his pocket a
nut, which he had taken from Madame Madou and carefully preserved.

He showed the nut between his fingers to Constance and Cesarine. His
wife was silent, but Cesarine, much puzzled, said to her father, as she
gave him his coffee, “What do you mean, papa,--are you joking?”

The perfumer, as well as the clerks, had detected during dinner the
glances which Popinot had cast at Cesarine, and he resolved to clear up
his suspicions.

“Well, my little daughter,” he said, “this nut will revolutionize our
home. From this day forth there will be one person the less under my

Cesarine looked at her father with an eye which seemed to say, “What is
that to me?”

“Popinot is going away.”

Though Cesar was a poor observer, and had, moreover, prepared his phrase
as much to herald the creation of the house of A. Popinot and Company,
as to set a trap for his daughter, yet his paternal tenderness made him
guess the confused feelings which rose in Cesarine’s heart, blossomed
in roses on her cheek, suffused her forehead and even her eyes as she
lowered them. Cesar thought that words must have passed between Cesarine
and Popinot. He was mistaken; the two children comprehended each other,
like all timid lovers, without a word.

Some moralists hold that love is an involuntary passion, the most
disinterested, the least calculating, of all the passions, except
maternal love. This opinion carries with it a vulgar error. Though the
majority of men may be ignorant of the causes of love, it is none
the less true that all sympathy, moral or physical, is based upon
calculations made either by the mind, or by sentiment or brutality. Love
is an essentially selfish passion. Self means deep calculation. To every
mind which looks only at results, it will seem at first sight singular
and unlikely that a beautiful girl like Cesarine should love a poor lame
fellow with red hair. Yet this phenomenon is completely in harmony with
the arithmetic of middle-class sentiments. To explain it, would be
to give the reason of marriages which are constantly looked upon with
surprise,--marriages between tall and beautiful women and puny men, or
between ugly little creatures and handsome men. Every man who is
cursed with some bodily infirmity, no matter what it is,--club-feet, a
halting-gait, a humped-back, excessive ugliness, claret stains upon the
cheek, Roguin’s species of deformity, and other monstrosities the result
of causes beyond the control of the sufferer,--has but two courses open
to him: either he must make himself feared, or he must practise the
virtues of exquisite loving-kindness; he is not permitted to float in
the middle currents of average conduct which are habitual to other men.
If he takes the first course he probably has talent, genius, or strength
of will; a man inspires terror only by the power of evil, respect by
genius, fear through force of mind. If he chooses the second course, he
makes himself adored; he submits to feminine tyranny, and knows better
how to love than men of irreproachable bodily condition.

Anselme, brought up by virtuous people, by the Ragons, models of the
honorable bourgeoisie, and by his uncle the judge, had been led, through
his ingenuous nature and his deep religious sentiments, to redeem the
slight deformity of his person by the perfection of his character.
Constance and Cesar, struck by these tendencies, so attractive in youth,
had repeatedly sung his praises before Cesarine. Petty as they might be
in many ways, husband and wife were noble by nature, and understood the
deep things of the heart. Their praises found an echo in the mind of the
young girl, who, despite her innocence, had read in Anselme’s pure eyes
the violent feeling, which is always flattering whatever be the lover’s
age, or rank, or personal appearance. Little Popinot had far more
reason to adore a woman than a handsome man could ever have. If she were
beautiful, he would love her madly to her dying day; his fondness would
inspire him with ambition; he would sacrifice his own life that his
wife’s might be happy; he would make her mistress of their home, and
be himself the first to accept her sway. Thus thought Cesarine,
involuntarily perhaps, yet not altogether crudely; she gave a bird’s-eye
glance at the harvest of love in her own home, and reasoned by
induction; the happiness of her mother was before her eyes,--she wished
for no better fate; her instinct told her that Anselme was another
Cesar, improved by his education, as she had been improved by hers. She
dreamed of Popinot as mayor of an arrondissement, and liked to picture
herself taking up the collections in their parish church as her mother
did at Saint-Roch. She had reached the point of no longer perceiving the
difference between the left leg and the right leg of her lover, and
was even capable of saying, in all sincerity, “Does he limp?” She loved
those liquid eyes, and liked to watch the effect her own glance had
upon them, as they lighted up for a moment with a chaste flame, and then
fell, sadly.

Roguin’s head-clerk, Alexandre Crottat, who was gifted with the
precocious experience which comes from knowledge acquired in a lawyer’s
office, had an air and manner that was half cynical, half silly, which
revolted Cesarine, already disgusted by the trite and commonplace
character of his conversation. The silence of Popinot, on the other
hand, revealed his gentle nature; she loved the smile, partly mournful,
with which he listened to trivial vulgarities. The silly nonsense which
made him smile filled her with repulsion; they were grave or gay
in sympathy. This hidden vantage-ground did not hinder Anselme from
plunging into his work, and his indefatigable ardor in it pleased
Cesarine, for she guessed that when his comrades in the shop said,
“Mademoiselle Cesarine will marry Roguin’s head-clerk,” the poor lame
Anselme, with his red hair, did not despair of winning her himself. A
high hope is the proof of a great love.

“Where is he going?” asked Cesarine of her father, trying to appear

“He is to set up for himself in the Rue des Cinq-Diamants; and, my
faith! by the grace of God!” cried Cesar, whose exclamations were not
understood by his wife, nor by his daughter.

When Birotteau encountered a moral difficulty he did as the insects do
when there is an obstacle in their way,--he turned either to the right
or to the left. He therefore changed the conversation, resolving to talk
over Cesarine with his wife.

“I told all your fears and fancies about Roguin to your uncle, and he
laughed,” he said to Constance.

“You should never tell what we say to each other!” cried Constance.
“That poor Roguin may be the best man in the world; he is fifty-eight
years old, and perhaps he thinks no longer of--”

She stopped short, seeing that Cesarine was listening attentively, and
made a sign to Cesar.

“Then I have done right to agree to the affair,” said Birotteau.

“You are the master,” she answered.

Cesar took his wife by the hands and kissed her brow; that answer always
conveyed her tacit assent to her husband’s projects.

“Now, then,” cried the perfumer, to his clerks, when he went back to
them, “the shop will be closed at ten o’clock. Gentlemen, lend a hand!
a great feat! We must move, during the night, all the furniture from the
first floor to the second floor. We shall have, as they say, to put the
little pots in the big pots, for my architect must have his elbows
free to-morrow morning--Popinot has gone out without my permission,” he
cried, looking round and not seeing his cashier. “Ah, true, he does not
sleep here any more, I forget that. He is gone,” thought Cesar, “either
to write down Monsieur Vauquelin’s ideas, or else to hire the shop.”

“We all know the cause of this household change,” said Celestin,
speaking in behalf of the two other clerks and Raguet, grouped behind
him. “Is it allowable to congratulate monsieur upon an honor which
reflects its light upon the whole establishment? Popinot has told us
that monsieur--”

“Hey, hey! my children, it is all true. I have been decorated. I am
about to assemble my friends, not only to celebrate the emancipation
of our territory, but to commemorate my promotion to the order of the
Legion of honor. I may, possibly, have shown myself worthy of that
signal and royal favor by my services on the Bench of commerce, and by
fighting for the royal cause; which I defended--at your age--upon the
steps of Saint-Roch on the 13th Vendemiaire, and I give you my word that
Napoleon, called emperor, wounded me himself! wounded me in the thigh;
and Madame Ragon nursed me. Take courage! recompense comes to every man.
Behold, my sons! misfortunes are never wasted.”

“They will never fight in the streets again,” said Celestin.

“Let us hope so,” said Cesar, who thereupon went off into an harangue to
the clerks, which he wound up by inviting them to the ball.

The vision of a ball inspired the three clerks, Raguet, and Virginie the
cook with an ardor that gave them the strength of acrobats. They came
and went up and down the stairs, carrying everything and breaking
nothing. By two o’clock in the morning the removal was effected. Cesar
and his wife slept on the second floor. Popinot’s bedroom became that
of Celestin and the second clerk. On the third floor the furniture was
stored provisionally.

In the grasp of that magnetic ardor, produced by an influx of the
nervous fluid, which lights a brazier in the midriff of ambitious men
and lovers intent on high emprise, Popinot, so gentle and tranquil
usually, pawed the earth like a thoroughbred before the race, when he
came down into the shop after dinner.

“What’s the matter with you?” asked Celestin.

“Oh, what a day! my dear fellow, what a day! I am set up in business,
and Monsieur Cesar is decorated.”

“You are very lucky if the master helps you,” said Celestin.

Popinot did not answer; he disappeared, driven by a furious wind,--the
wind of success.

“Lucky!” said one of the clerks, who was sorting gloves by the dozen, to
another who was comparing prices on the tickets. “Lucky! the master has
found out that Popinot is making eyes at Mademoiselle Cesarine, and,
as the old fellow is pretty clever, he gets rid of Anselme; it would
be difficult to refuse him point-blank, on account of his relations.
Celestin thinks the trick is luck or generosity!”


Anselme Popinot went down the Rue Saint-Honore and rushed along the
Rue des Deux-Ecus to seize upon a young man whom his commercial
_second-sight_ pointed out to him as the principal instrument of his
future fortune. Popinot the judge had once done a great service to
the cleverest of all commercial travellers, to him whose triumphant
loquacity and activity were to win him, in coming years, the title
of The Illustrious. Devoted especially to the hat-trade and the
_article-Paris_, this prince of travellers was called, at the time of
which we write, purely and simply, Gaudissart. At the age of twenty-two
he was already famous by the power of his commercial magnetism. In those
days he was slim, with a joyous eye, expressive face, unwearied memory,
and a glance that guessed the wants of every one; and he deserved to
be, what in fact he became, the king of commercial travellers,
the _Frenchman par excellence_. A few days earlier Popinot had met
Gaudissart, who mentioned that he was on the point of departure; the
hope of finding him still in Paris sent the lover flying into the Rue
des Deux-Ecus, where he learned that the traveller had engaged his
place at the Messageries-Royales. To bid adieu to his beloved capital,
Gaudissart had gone to see a new piece at the Vaudeville; Popinot
resolved to wait for him. Was it not drawing a cheque on fortune to
entrust the launching of the oil of nuts to this incomparable steersman
of mercantile inventions, already petted and courted by the richest
firms? Popinot had reason to feel sure of Gaudissart. The commercial
traveller, so knowing in the art of entangling that most wary of human
beings, the little provincial trader, had himself become entangled in
the first conspiracy attempted against the Bourbons after the
Hundred Days. Gaudissart, to whom the open firmament of heaven was
indispensable, found himself shut up in prison, under the weight of an
accusation for a capital offence. Popinot the judge, who presided at
the trial, released him on the ground that it was nothing worse than his
imprudent folly which had mixed him up in the affair. A judge anxious
to please the powers in office, or a rabid royalist, would have sent the
luckless traveller to the scaffold. Gaudissart, who believed he owed
his life to the judge, cherished the grief of being unable to make his
savior any other return than that of sterile gratitude. As he could
not thank a judge for doing justice, he went to the Ragons and declared
himself liege-vassal forever to the house of Popinot.

While waiting about for Gaudissart, Anselme naturally went to look at
the shop in the Rue des Cinq-Diamants, and got the address of the owner,
for the purpose of negotiating a lease. As he sauntered through the
dusky labyrinth of the great market, thinking how to achieve a rapid
success, he suddenly came, in the Rue Aubry-le-Boucher, upon a rare
chance, and one of good omen, with which he resolved to regale Cesar on
the morrow. Soon after, while standing about the door of the Hotel du
Commerce, at the end of the Rue des Deux-Ecus, about midnight, he heard,
in the far distance of the Rue de Grenelle, a vaudeville chorus sung
by Gaudissart, with a cane accompaniment significantly rapped upon the

“Monsieur,” said Anselme, suddenly appearing from the doorway, “two

“Eleven, if you like,” said the commercial traveller, brandishing his
loaded cane over the aggressor.

“I am Popinot,” said poor Anselme.

“Enough!” cried Gaudissart, recognizing him. “What do you need?
Money?--absent, on leave, but we can get it. My arm for a duel?--all is
yours, from my head to my heels,” and he sang,--

  “Behold! behold!
  A Frenchman true!”

“Come and talk with me for ten minutes; not in your room,--we might be
overheard,--but on the Quai de l’Horloge; there’s no one there at this
hour,” said Popinot. “It is about something important.”

“Exciting, hey? Proceed.”

In ten minutes Gaudissart, put in possession of Popinot’s secret, saw
its importance.

  “Come forth! perfumers, hair-dressers, petty retailers!”

sang Gaudissart, mimicking Lafon in the role of the Cid. “I shall grab
every shopkeeper in France and Navarre.--Oh, an idea! I was about to
start; I remain; I shall take commissions from the Parisian perfumers.”


“To strangle your rivals, simpleton! If I take their orders I can make
their perfidious cosmetics drink oil, simply by talking and working
for yours only. A first-rate traveller’s trick! Ha! ha! we are the
diplomatists of commerce. Famous! As for your prospectus, I’ll take
charge of that. I’ve got a friend--early childhood--Andoche Finot, son
of the hat-maker in the Rue du Coq, the old buffer who launched me into
travelling on hats. Andoche, who has a great deal of wit,--he got it all
out of the heads tiled by his father,--he is in literature; he does the
minor theatres in the ‘Courrier des Spectacles.’ His father, an old
dog chock-full of reasons for not liking wit, won’t believe in it;
impossible to make him see that mind can be sold, sells itself in fact:
he won’t believe in anything but the three-sixes. Old Finot manages
young Finot by famine. Andoche, a capable man, no fool,--I don’t consort
with fools, except commercially,--Andoche makes epigrams for the ‘Fidele
Berger,’ which pays; while the other papers, for which he works like
a galley-slave, keep him down on his marrow-bones in the dust. Are not
they jealous, those fellows? Just the same in the _article-Paris_! Finot
wrote a superb comedy in one act for Mademoiselle Mars, most glorious
of the glorious!--ah, there’s a woman I love!--Well, in order to get it
played he had to take it to the Gaite. Andoche understands prospectuses,
he worms himself into the mercantile mind; and he’s not proud, he’ll
concoct it for us gratis. Damn it! with a bowl of punch and a few cakes
we’ll get it out of him; for, Popinot, no nonsense! I am to travel on
your commission without pay: your competitors shall pay; I’ll diddle
it out of them. Let us understand each other clearly. As for me, this
triumph is an affair of honor. My reward is to be best man at your
wedding! I shall go to Italy, Germany, England! I shall carry with me
placards in all languages, paste them everywhere, in villages, on doors
of churches, all the best spots I can find in provincial towns! The oil
shall sparkle, scintillate, glisten on every head. Ha! your marriage
shall not be a sham; we’ll make it a pageant, colors flying! You shall
have your Cesarine, or my name shall not be ILLUSTRIOUS,--that is what
Pere Finot calls me for having got off his gray hats. In selling your
oil I keep to my own sphere, the human head; hats and oil are well-known
preservatives of the public hair.”

Popinot returned to his aunt’s house, where he was to sleep, in such a
fever, caused by his visions of success, that the streets seemed to
him to be running oil. He slept little, dreamed that his hair was madly
growing, and saw two angels who unfolded, as they do in melodramas, a
scroll on which was written “Oil Cesarine.” He woke, recollected the
dream, and vowed to give the oil of nuts that sacred name, accepting the
sleeping fancy as a celestial mandate.

              *     *     *     *     *

Cesar and Popinot were at their work-shop in the Faubourg du Temple
the next morning long before the arrival of the nuts. While waiting for
Madame Madou’s porters, Popinot triumphantly recounted his treaty of
alliance with Gaudissart.

“Have we indeed the illustrious Gaudissart? Then are we millionaires!”
 cried the perfumer, extending his hand to his cashier with an air which
Louis XIV. must have worn when he received the Marechal de Villars on
his return from Denain.

“We have something besides,” said the happy clerk, producing from his
pocket a bottle of a squat shape, like a pumpkin, and ribbed on the
sides. “I have found ten thousand bottles like that, all made ready to
hand, at four sous, and six months’ credit.”

“Anselme,” said Birotteau, contemplating the wondrous shape of the
flask, “yesterday [here his tone of voice became solemn] in the
Tuileries,--yes, no later than yesterday,--you said to me, ‘I will
succeed.’ To-day I--I say to you, ‘You will succeed.’ Four sous! six
months! an unparalleled shape! Macassar trembles to its foundations!
Was I not right to seize upon the only nuts in Paris? Where did you find
these bottles?”

“I was waiting to speak to Gaudissart, and sauntering--”

“Just like me, when I found the Arab book,” cried Birotteau.

“Coming down the Rue Aubry-le-Boucher, I saw in a wholesale glass place,
where they make blown glass and cases,--an immense place,--I caught
sight of this flask; it blinded my eyes like a sudden light; a voice
cried to me, ‘Here’s your chance!’”

“Born merchant! he shall have my daughter!” muttered Cesar.

“I went in; I saw thousands of these bottles packed in cases.”

“You asked about them?”

“Do you think me such a ninny?” cried Anselme, in a grieved tone.

“Born merchant!” repeated Birotteau.

“I asked for glass cases for the little wax Jesus; and while I was
bargaining about them I found fault with the shape of the bottles. From
one thing to another, I trapped the man into admitting that Faille and
Bouchot, who lately failed, were starting a new cosmetic and wanted a
peculiar style of bottle; he was doubtful about them and asked for
half the money down. Faille and Bouchot, expecting to succeed, paid the
money; they failed while the bottles were making. The assignees, when
called upon to pay the bill, arranged to leave him the bottles and the
money in hand, as an indemnity for the manufacture of articles thought
to be ridiculous in shape, and quite unsalable. They cost originally
eight sous; he was glad to get rid of them for four; for, as he said,
God knows how long he might have on his hands a shape for which there
was no sale! ‘Are you willing,’ I said to him, ‘to furnish ten thousand
at four sous? If so, I may perhaps relieve you of them. I am a clerk at
Monsieur Birotteau’s.’ I caught him, I led him, I mastered him, I worked
him up, and he is all ours.”

“Four sous!” said Birotteau. “Do you know that we could use oil at three
francs, and make a profit of thirty sous, and give twenty sous discount
to retailers?”

“Oil Cesarine!” cried Popinot.

“Oil Cesarine?--Ah, lover! would you flatter both father and daughter?
Well, well, so be it; Oil Cesarine! The Cesars owned the whole world.
They must have had fine hair.”

“Cesar was bald,” said Popinot.

“Because he never used our oil. Three francs for the Oil Cesarine,
while Macassar Oil costs double! Gaudissart to the fore! We shall make
a hundred thousand francs this year, for we’ll pour on every head that
respects itself a dozen bottles a year,--eighteen francs; say eighteen
thousand heads,--one hundred and eighty thousand francs. We are

The nuts delivered, Raguet, the workmen, Popinot, and Cesar shelled a
sufficient quantity, and before four o’clock they had produced several
pounds of oil. Popinot carried the product to show to Vauquelin, who
made him a present of a recipe for mixing the essence of nuts with other
and less costly oleaginous substances, and scenting it. Popinot went to
work at once to take out a patent for the invention and all improvements
thereon. The devoted Gaudissart lent him the money to pay the fees, for
Popinot was ambitious to pay his share in the undertaking.

Prosperity brings with it an intoxication which inferior men are unable
to resist. Cesar’s exaltation of spirit had a result not difficult to
foresee. Grindot came, and presented a colored sketch of a charming
interior view of the proposed appartement. Birotteau, seduced, agreed
to everything; and soon the house, and the heart of Constance, began to
quiver under the blows of pick and hammer. The house-painter, Monsieur
Lourdois, a very rich contractor, who had promised that nothing should
be wanting, talked of gilding the salon. On hearing that word Constance

“Monsieur Lourdois,” she said, “you have an income of thirty thousand
francs, you occupy your own house, and you can do what you like to it;
but the rest of us--”

“Madame, commerce ought to shine and not permit itself to be kept in
the shade by the aristocracy. Besides, Monsieur Birotteau is in the
government; he is before the eyes of the world--”

“Yes, but he still keeps a shop,” said Constance, in the hearing of the
clerks and the five persons who were listening to her. “Neither he, nor
I, nor his friends, nor his enemies will forget that.”

Birotteau rose upon the points of his toes and fell back upon his heels
several times, his hands crossed behind him.

“My wife is right,” he said; “we should be modest in prosperity.
Moreover, as long as a man is in business he should be careful of
his expenses, limited in his luxury; the law itself imposes the
obligation,--he must not allow himself ‘excessive expenditures.’ If the
enlargement of my home and its decoration were to go beyond due limits,
it would be wrong in me to permit it; you yourself would blame me,
Lourdois. The neighborhood has its eye upon me; successful men incur
jealousy, envy. Ah! you will soon know that, young man,” he said to
Grindot; “if we are calumniated, at least let us give no handle to the

“Neither calumny nor evil-speaking can touch you,” said Lourdois; “your
position is unassailable. But your business habits are so strong that
you must argue over every enterprise; you are a deep one--”

“True, I have some experience in business. You know, of course, why I
make this enlargement? If I insist on punctuality in the completion of
the work, it is--”


“Well, my wife and I are about to assemble our friends, as much to
celebrate the emancipation of our territory as to commemorate my
promotion to the order of the Legion of honor--”

“What do you say?” said Lourdois, “have they given you the cross?”

“Yes; I may possibly have shown myself worthy of that signal royal
favor by my services on the Bench of commerce, and by fighting for the
Bourbons upon the steps of Saint-Roch, on the 13th Vendemiaire, where
I was wounded by Napoleon. Come to the ball, and bring your wife and

“Charmed with the honor you deign to pay me,” said Lourdois (a liberal).
“But you are a deep one, Papa Birotteau; you want to make sure that I
shall not break my word,--that’s the reason you invite me. Well, I’ll
employ my best workmen; we’ll build the fires of hell and dry the paint.
I must find some desiccating process; it would never do to dance in a
fog from the wet plaster. We will varnish it to hide the smell.”

Three days later the commercial circles of the quarter were in a
flutter at the announcement of Birotteau’s ball. Everybody could see for
themselves the props and scaffoldings necessitated by the change of the
staircase, the square wooden funnels down which the rubbish was thrown
into the carts stationed in the street. The sight of men working by
torchlight--for there were day workmen and night workmen--arrested
all the idlers and busybodies in the street; gossip, based on these
preparations, proclaimed a sumptuous forthcoming event.

On Sunday, the day Cesar had appointed to conclude the affair of
the lands about the Madeleine, Monsieur and Madame Ragon, and uncle
Pillerault arrived about four o’clock, just after vespers. In view of
the demolition that was going on, so Cesar said, he could only invite
Charles Claparon, Crottat, and Roguin. The notary brought with him the
“Journal des Debats” in which Monsieur de la Billardiere had inserted
the following article:--

  “We learn that the deliverance of our territory will be feted with
  enthusiasm throughout France. In Paris the members of the
  municipal body feel that the time has come to restore the capital
  to that accustomed splendor which under a becoming sense of
  propriety was laid aside during the foreign occupation. The mayors
  and deputy-mayors each propose to give a ball; this national
  movement will no doubt be followed, and the winter promises to be
  a brilliant one. Among the fetes now preparing, the one most
  talked of is the ball of Monsieur Birotteau, lately named
  chevalier of the Legion of honor and well-known for his devotion
  to the royal cause. Monsieur Birotteau, wounded in the affair of
  Saint-Roch, judges in the department of commerce, and therefore
  has doubly merited this honor.”

“How well they write nowadays,” cried Cesar. “They are talking about us
in the papers,” he said to Pillerault.

“Well, what of it?” answered his uncle, who had a special antipathy to
the “Journal des Debats.”

“That article may help to sell the Paste of Sultans and the Carminative
Balm,” whispered Madame Cesar to Madame Ragon, not sharing the
intoxication of her husband.

Madame Ragon, a tall woman, dry and wrinkled, with a pinched nose and
thin lips, bore a spurious resemblance to a marquise of the old court.
The circles round her eyes had spread to a wide circumference, like
those of elderly women who have known sorrow. The severe and dignified,
although affable, expression of her countenance inspired respect. She
had, withal, a certain oddity about her, which excited notice, but
never ridicule; and this was exhibited in her dress and habits. She wore
mittens, and carried in all weathers a cane sunshade, like that used
by Queen Marie-Antoinette at Trianon; her gown (the favorite color
was pale-brown, the shade of dead leaves) fell from her hips in those
inimitable folds the secret of which the dowagers of the olden time have
carried away with them. She retained the black mantilla trimmed with
black lace woven in large square meshes; her caps, old-fashioned in
shape, had the quaint charm which we see in silhouettes relieved against
a white background. She took snuff with exquisite nicety and with
the gestures which young people of the present day who have had the
happiness of seeing their grandmothers and great-aunts replacing their
gold snuff-boxes solemnly on the tables beside them, and shaking off the
grains which strayed upon their kerchiefs, will doubtless remember.

The Sieur Ragon was a little man, not over five feet high, with a face
like a nut-cracker, in which could be seen only two eyes, two sharp
cheek-bones, a nose and a chin. Having no teeth he swallowed half
his words, though his style of conversation was effluent, gallant,
pretentious, and smiling, with the smile he formerly wore when he
received beautiful great ladies at the door of his shop. Powder, well
raked off, defined upon his cranium a nebulous half-circle, flanked by
two pigeon-wings, divided by a little queue tied with a ribbon. He wore
a bottle-blue coat, a white waistcoat, small-clothes and silk stockings,
shoes with gold buckles, and black silk gloves. The most marked feature
of his behavior was his habit of going through the street holding his
hat in his hand. He looked like a messenger of the Chamber of Peers, or
an usher of the king’s bedchamber, or any of those persons placed near
to some form of power from which they get a reflected light, though of
little account themselves.

“Well, Birotteau,” he said, with a magisterial air, “do you repent, my
boy, for having listened to us in the old times? Did we ever doubt the
gratitude of our beloved sovereigns?”

“You have been very happy, dear child,” said Madame Ragon to Madame

“Yes, indeed,” answered Constance, always under the spell of the cane
parasol, the butterfly cap, the tight sleeves, and the great kerchief _a
la Julie_ which Madame Ragon wore.

“Cesarine is charming. Come here, my love,” said Madame Ragon, in her
shrill voice and patronizing manner.

“Shall we do the business before dinner?” asked uncle Pillerault.

“We are waiting for Monsieur Claparon,” said Roguin, “I left him
dressing himself.”

“Monsieur Roguin,” said Cesar, “I hope you told him that we should dine
in a wretched little room on the _entresol_--”

“He thought it superb sixteen years ago,” murmured Constance.

“--among workmen and rubbish.”

“Bah! you will find him a good fellow, with no pretension,” said Roguin.

“I have put Raguet on guard in the shop. We can’t go through our own
door; everything is pulled down.”

“Why did you not bring your nephew?” said Pillerault to Madame Ragon.

“Shall we not see him?” asked Cesarine.

“No, my love,” said Madame Ragon; “Anselme, dear boy, is working himself
to death. That bad-smelling Rue des Cinq-Diamants, without sun and
without air, frightens me. The gutter is always blue or green or black.
I am afraid he will die of it. But when a young man has something in his
head--” and she looked at Cesarine with a gesture which explained that
the word head meant heart.

“Has he got his lease?” asked Cesar.

“Yesterday, before a notary,” replied Ragon. “He took the place for
eighteen years, but they exacted six months’ rent in advance.”

“Well, Monsieur Ragon, are you satisfied with me?” said the perfumer. “I
have given him the secret of a great discovery--”

“We know you by heart, Cesar,” said little Ragon, taking Cesar’s hands
and pressing them with religious friendship.

Roguin was not without anxiety as to Claparon’s entrance on the scene;
for his tone and manners were quite likely to alarm these virtuous and
worthy people; he therefore thought it advisable to prepare their minds.

“You are going to see,” he said to Pillerault and the two ladies, “a
thorough original, who hides his methods under a fearfully bad style
of manners; from a very inferior position he has raised himself up by
intelligence. He will acquire better manners through his intercourse
with bankers. You may see him on the boulevard, or on a cafe tippling,
disorderly, betting at billiards, and think him a mere idler; but he is
not; he is thinking and studying all the time to keep industry alive by
new projects.”

“I understand that,” said Birotteau; “I got my great ideas when
sauntering on the boulevard; didn’t I, Mimi?”

“Claparon,” resumed Roguin, “makes up by night-work the time lost in
looking about him in the daytime, and watching the current of affairs.
All men of great talent lead curious lives, inexplicable lives; well, in
spite of his desultory ways he attains his object, as I can testify. In
this instance he has managed to make the owners of these lands give way:
they were unwilling, doubtful, timid; he fooled them all, tired them
out, went to see them every day,--and here we are, virtually masters of
the property.”

At this moment a curious _broum! broum!_ peculiar to tipplers of brandy
and other liquors, announced the arrival of the most fantastic personage
of our story, and the arbiter in flesh and blood of the future destinies
of Cesar Birotteau. The perfumer rushed headlong to the little dark
staircase, as much to tell Raguet to close the shop as to pour out his
excuses to Claparon for receiving him in the dining-room.

“What of that? It’s the very place to juggle a--I mean to settle a piece
of business.”

In spite of Roguin’s clever precautions, Monsieur and Madame Ragon,
people of old-fashioned middle-class breeding, the observer Pillerault,
Cesarine, and her mother were disagreeably impressed at first sight by
this sham banker of high finance.

About twenty-eight years of age at the time of which we write, the late
commercial traveller possessed not a hair on his head, and wore a
wig curled in ringlets. This head-gear needed, by rights, a virgin
freshness, a lacteal purity of complexion, and all the softer
corresponding graces: as it was, however, it threw into ignoble relief a
pimpled face, brownish-red in color, inflamed like that of the conductor
of a diligence, and seamed with premature wrinkles, which betrayed in
the puckers of their deep-cut lines a licentious life, whose misdeeds
were still further evidenced by the badness of the man’s teeth, and the
black speckles which appeared here and there on his corrugated skin.
Claparon had the air of a provincial comedian who knows all the roles,
and plays the clown with a wink; his cheeks, where the rouge never
stuck, were jaded by excesses, his lips clammy, though his tongue
was forever wagging, especially when he was drunk; his glances were
immodest, and his gestures compromising. Such a face, flushed with the
jovial features of punch, was enough to turn grave business matters
into a farce; so that the embryo banker had been forced to put himself
through a long course of mimicry before he managed to acquire even the
semblance of a manner that accorded with his fictitious importance.

Du Tillet assisted in dressing him for this occasion, like the manager
of a theatre who is uneasy about the debut of his principal actor; he
feared lest the vulgar habits of this devil-may-care life should crop up
to the surface of the newly-fledged banker. “Talk as little as you can,”
 he said to him. “No banker ever gabbles; he acts, thinks, reflects,
listens, weighs. To seem like a banker you must say nothing, or, at any
rate, mere nothings. Check that ribald eye of yours, and look serious,
even if you have to look stupid. If you talk politics, go for the
government, but keep to generalities. For instance: ‘The budget is
heavy’; ‘No compromise is possible between the parties’; ‘The Liberals
are dangerous’; ‘The Bourbons must avoid a conflict’; ‘Liberalism is
the cloak of a coalition’; ‘The Bourbons are inaugurating an era of
prosperity: let us sustain them, even if we do not like them’; ‘France
has had enough of politics,’ etc. Don’t gorge yourself at every
table where you dine; recollect you are to maintain the dignity of a
millionaire. Don’t shovel in your snuff like an old Invalide; toy with
your snuff-box, glance often at your feet, and sometimes at the ceiling,
before you answer; try to look sagacious, if you can. Above all, get rid
of your vile habit of touching everything; in society a banker ought to
seem tired of seeing and touching things. Hang it! you are supposed to
be passing wakeful nights; finance makes you brusque, so many elements
must be brought together to launch an enterprise,--so much study!
Remember to take gloomy views of business; it is heavy, dull, risky,
unsettled. Now, don’t go beyond that, and mind you specify nothing.
Don’t sing those songs of Beranger at table; and don’t get fuddled. If
you are drunk, your future is lost. Roguin will keep an eye on you. You
are going now among moral people, virtuous people; and you are not to
scare them with any of your pot-house principles.”

This lecture produced upon the mind of Charles Claparon very much
the effect that his new clothes produced upon his body. The jovial
scapegrace, easy-going with all the world, and long used to a
comfortable shabbiness, in which his body was no more shackled than his
mind was shackled by language, was now encased in the new clothes his
tailor had just sent home, rigid as a picket-stake, anxious about his
motions as well as about his speech; drawing back his hand when it was
imprudently thrust out to grasp a bottle, just as he stopped his tongue
in the middle of a sentence. All this presented a laughable discrepancy
to the keen observation of Pillerault. Claparon’s red face, and his wig
with its profligate ringlets, gave the lie to his apparel and pretended
bearing, just as his thoughts clashed and jangled with his speech.
But these worthy people ended by crediting such discordances to the
preoccupation of his busy mind.

“He is so full of business,” said Roguin.

“Business has given him little education,” whispered Madame Ragon to

Monsieur Roguin overheard her, and put a finger on his lips:--

“He is rich, clever, and extremely honorable,” he said, stooping to
Madame Ragon’s ear.

“Something may be forgiven in consideration of such qualities,” said
Pillerault to Ragon.

“Let us read the deeds before dinner,” said Roguin; “we are all alone.”

Madame Ragon, Cesarine, and Constance left the contracting parties
to listen to the deeds read over to them by Alexandre Crottat. Cesar
signed, in favor of one of Roguin’s clients, a mortgage bond for forty
thousand francs, on his grounds and manufactories in the Faubourg du
Temple; he turned over to Roguin Pillerault’s cheque on the Bank of
France, and gave, without receipt, bills for twenty thousand francs from
his current funds, and notes for one hundred and forty thousand francs
payable to the order of Claparon.

“I have no receipt to give you,” said Claparon; “you deal, for your half
of the property, with Monsieur Roguin, as I do for ours. The sellers
will get their pay from him in cash; all that I engage to do is to see
that you get the equivalent of the hundred and forty thousand francs
paid to my order.”

“That is equitable,” said Pillerault.

“Well, gentlemen, let us call in the ladies; it is cold without them,”
 said Claparon, glancing at Roguin, as if to ask whether that jest were
too broad.

“Ladies! Ah! mademoiselle is doubtless yours,” said Claparon, holding
himself very straight and looking at Birotteau; “hey! you are not a
bungler. None of the roses you distil can be compared with her; and
perhaps it is because you have distilled roses that--”

“Faith!” said Roguin, interrupting him, “I am very hungry.”

“Let us go to dinner,” said Birotteau.

“We shall dine before a notary,” said Claparon, catching himself up.

“You do a great deal of business?” said Pillerault, seating himself
intentionally next to Claparon.

“Quantities; by the gross,” answered the banker. “But it is all heavy,
dull; there are risks, canals. Oh, canals! you have no idea how canals
occupy us; it is easy to explain. Government needs canals. Canals are
a want especially felt in the departments; they concern commerce,
you know. ‘Rivers,’ said Pascal, ‘are walking markets.’ We must
have markets. Markets depend on embankments, tremendous earth-works;
earth-works employ the laboring-classes; hence loans, which find
their way back, in the end, to the pockets of the poor. Voltaire said,
‘Canaux, canards, canaille!’ But the government has its own engineers;
you can’t get a finger in the matter unless you get on the right side of
them; for the Chamber,--oh, monsieur, the Chamber does us all the harm
in the world! It won’t take in the political question hidden under the
financial question. There’s bad faith on one side or the other. Would
you believe it? there’s Keller in the Chamber: now Francois Keller is an
orator, he attacks the government about the budget, about canals. Well,
when he gets home to the bank, and we go to him with proposals, canals,
and so forth, the sly dog is all the other way: everything is right;
we must arrange it with the government which he has just been been
impudently attacking. The interests of the orator and the interests of
the banker clash; we are between two fires! Now, you understand how it
is that business is risky; we have got to please everybody,--clerks,
chambers, antechambers, ministers--”

“Ministers?” said Pillerault, determined to get to the bottom of this

“Yes, monsieur, ministers.”

“Well, then the newspapers are right?” said Pillerault.

“There’s my uncle talking politics,” said Birotteau. “Monsieur Claparon
has won his heart.”

“Devilish rogues, the newspapers,” said Claparon. “Monsieur, the
newspapers do all the mischief. They are useful sometimes, but they
keep me awake many a night. I wish they didn’t. I have put my eyes out
reading and ciphering.”

“To go back to the ministers,” said Pillerault, hoping for revelations.

“Ministers are a mere necessity of government. Ah! what am I eating?
ambrosia?” said Claparon, breaking off. “This is a sauce you’ll never
find except at a tradesman’s table, for the pot-houses--”

Here the flowers in Madame Ragon’s cap skipped like young rams. Claparon
perceived the word was low, and tried to catch himself up.

“In bank circles,” he said, “we call the best cafes.--Very, and the
Freres Provencaux,--pot-houses in jest. Well, neither those infamous
pot-houses nor our most scientific cooks can make us a sauce like this;
mellifluous! Some give you clear water soured with lemon, and the rest
drugs, chemicals.”

Pillerault tried throughout the dinner to fathom this extraordinary
being; finding only a void, he began to think him dangerous.

“All’s well,” whispered Roguin to Claparon.

“I shall get out of these clothes to-night, at any rate,” answered
Claparon, who was choking.

“Monsieur,” said Cesar, addressing him, “we are compelled to dine in
this little room because we are preparing, eighteen days hence, to
assemble our friends, as much to celebrate the emancipation of our

“Right, monsieur; I myself am for the government. I belong, in opinion,
to the _statu quo_ of the great man who guides the destinies of the
house of Austria, jolly dog! Hold fast that you may acquire; and, above
all, acquire that you may hold. Those are my opinions, which I have the
honor to share with Prince Metternich.”

“--as to commemorate my promotion to the order of the Legion of honor,”
 continued Cesar.

“Yes, I know. Who told me of that,--the Kellers, or Nucingen?”

Roguin, surprised at such tact, made an admiring gesture.

“No, no; it was in the Chamber.”

“In the Chamber? was it Monsieur de la Billardiere?” said Birotteau.


“He is charming,” whispered Cesar to his uncle.

“He pours out phrases, phrases, phrases,” said Pillerault, “enough to
drown you.”

“Possibly I showed myself worthy of this signal, royal favor,--” resumed

“By your labors in perfumery; the Bourbons know how to reward all merit.
Ah! let us support those generous princes, to whom we are about to owe
unheard-of prosperity. Believe me, the Restoration feels that it must
run a tilt against the Empire; the Bourbons have conquests to make, the
conquests of peace. You will see their conquests!”

“Monsieur will perhaps do us the honor to be present at our ball?” said
Madame Cesar.

“To pass an evening with you, Madame, I would sacrifice the making of

“He certainly does chatter,” said Cesar to his uncle.

              *     *     *     *     *

While the declining glory of perfumery was about to send forth its
setting rays, a star was rising with feeble light upon the commercial
horizon. Anselme Popinot was laying the corner-stone of his fortune
in the Rue des Cinq-Diamants. This narrow little street, where loaded
wagons can scarcely pass each other, runs from the Rue des Lombards at
one end, to the Rue Aubry-le-Boucher at the other, entering the latter
opposite to the Rue Quincampoix, that famous thoroughfare of old
Paris where French history has so often been enacted. In spite of this
disadvantage, the congregation of druggists in that neighborhood made
Popinot’s choice of the little street a good one. The house, which
stands second from the Rue des Lombards, was so dark that except at
certain seasons it was necessary to use lights in open day. The embryo
merchant had taken possession, the preceding evening, of the dingy
and disgusting premises. His predecessor, who sold molasses and coarse
sugars, had left the stains of his dirty business upon the walls, in the
court, in the store-rooms. Imagine a large and spacious shop, with great
iron-bound doors, painted a dragon-green, strengthened with long iron
bars held on by nails whose heads looked like mushrooms, and covered
with an iron trellis-work, which swelled out at the bottom after the
fashion of the bakers’-shops in former days; the floor paved with large
white stones, most of them broken, the walls yellow, and as bare as
those of a guard-room. Next to the shop came the back-shop, and two
other rooms lighted from the street, in which Popinot proposed to put
his office, his books, and his own workroom. Above these rooms were
three narrow little chambers pushed up against the party-wall, with an
outlook into the court; here he intended to dwell. The three rooms were
dilapidated, and had no view but that of the court, which was dark,
irregular, and surrounded by high walls, to which perpetual dampness,
even in dry weather, gave the look of being daubed with fresh plaster.
Between the stones of this court was a filthy and stinking black
substance, left by the sugars and the molasses that once occupied it.
Only one of the bedrooms had a chimney, all the walls were without
paper, and the floors were tiled with brick.

Since early morning Gaudissart and Popinot, helped by a journeyman whose
services the commercial traveller had invoked, were busily employed in
stretching a fifteen-sous paper on the walls of these horrible rooms,
the workman pasting the lengths. A collegian’s mattress on a bedstead of
red wood, a shabby night-stand, an old-fashioned bureau, one table, two
armchairs, and six common chairs, the gift of Popinot’s uncle the judge,
made up the furniture. Gaudissart had decked the chimney-piece with
a frame in which was a mirror much defaced, and bought at a bargain.
Towards eight o’clock in the evening the two friends, seated before the
fireplace where a fagot of wood was blazing, were about to attack the
remains of their breakfast.

“Down with the cold mutton!” cried Gaudissart, suddenly, “it is not
worthy of such a housewarming.”

“But,” said Popinot, showing his solitary coin of twenty francs, which
he was keeping to pay for the prospectus, “I--”

“I--” cried Gaudissart, sticking a forty-franc piece in his own eye.

A knock resounded throughout the court, naturally empty and echoing of
a Sunday, when the workpeople were away from it and the laboratories

“Here comes the faithful slave of the Rue de la Poterie!” cried the
illustrious Gaudissart.

Sure enough, a waiter entered, followed by two scullions bearing
in three baskets a dinner, and six bottles of wine selected with

“How shall we ever eat it all up?” said Popinot.

“The man of letters!” cried Gaudissart, “don’t forget him. Finot loves
the pomps and the vanities; he is coming, the innocent boy, armed with
a dishevelled prospectus--the word is pat, hein? Prospectuses are always
thirsty. We must water the seed if we want flowers. Depart, slaves!” he
added, with a gorgeous air, “there is gold for you.”

He gave them ten sous with a gesture worthy of Napoleon, his idol.

“Thank you, Monsieur Gaudissart,” said the scullions, better pleased
with the jest than with the money.

“As for you, my son,” he said to the waiter, who stayed to serve
the dinner, “below is a porter’s wife; she lives in a lair where she
sometimes cooks, as in other days Nausicaa washed, for pure amusement.
Find her, implore her goodness; interest her, young man, in the
warmth of these dishes. Tell her she shall be blessed, and above all,
respected, most respected, by Felix Gaudissart, son of Jean-Francois
Gaudissart, grandson of all the Gaudissarts, vile proletaries of ancient
birth, his forefathers. March! and mind that everything is hot, or I’ll
deal retributive justice by a rap on your knuckles!”

Another knock sounded.

“Here comes the pungent Andoche!” shouted Gaudissart.

A stout, chubby-faced fellow of medium height, from head to foot the
evident son of a hat-maker, with round features whose shrewdness was
hidden under a restrained and subdued manner, suddenly appeared. His
face, which was melancholy, like that of a man weary of poverty, lighted
up hilariously when he caught sight of the table, and the bottles
swathed in significant napkins. At Gaudissart’s shout, his pale-blue
eyes sparkled, his big head, hollowed like that of a Kalmuc Tartar,
bobbed from right to left, and he bowed to Popinot with a queer manner,
which meant neither servility nor respect, but was rather that of a man
who feels he is not in his right place and will make no concessions.
He was just beginning to find out that he possessed no literary talent
whatever; he meant to stay in the profession, however, by living on the
brains of others, and getting astride the shoulders of those more able
than himself, making his profit there instead of struggling any longer
at his own ill-paid work. At the present moment he had drunk to the
dregs the humiliation of applications and appeals which constantly
failed, and he was now, like people in the higher walks of finance,
about to change his tone and become insolent, advisedly. But he needed a
small sum in hand on which to start, and Gaudissart gave him a share in
the present affair of ushering into the world the oil of Popinot.

“You are to negotiate on his account with the newspapers. But don’t
play double; if you do I’ll fight you to the death. Give him his money’s

Popinot gazed at “the author” which much uneasiness. People who are
purely commercial look upon an author with mingled sentiments of fear,
compassion, and curiosity. Though Popinot had been well brought up, the
habits of his relations, their ideas, and the obfuscating effect of a
shop and a counting-room, had lowered his intelligence by bending it to
the use and wont of his calling,--a phenomenon which may often be
seen if we observe the transformations which take place in a hundred
comrades, when ten years supervene between the time when they leave
college or a public school, to all intents and purposes alike, and
the period when they meet again after contact with the world. Andoche
accepted Popinot’s perturbation as a compliment.

“Now then, before dinner, let’s get to the bottom of the prospectus;
then we can drink without an afterthought,” said Gaudissart. “After
dinner one reads askew; the tongue digests.”

“Monsieur,” said Popinot, “a prospectus is often a fortune.”

“And for plebeians like myself,” said Andoche, “fortune is nothing more
than a prospectus.”

“Ha, very good!” cried Gaudissart, “that rogue of a Finot has the wit of
the forty Academicians.”

“Of a hundred Academicians,” said Popinot, bewildered by these ideas.

The impatient Gaudissart seized the manuscript and began to read in a
loud voice, with much emphasis, “CEPHALIC OIL.”

“I should prefer _Oil Cesarienne_,” said Popinot.

“My friend,” said Gaudissart, “you don’t know the provincials; there’s
a surgical operation called by that name, and they are such stupids that
they’ll think your oil is meant to facilitate childbirth. To drag them
back from that to hair is beyond even my powers of persuasion.”

“Without wishing to defend my term,” said the author, “I must ask you
to observe that ‘Cephalic Oil’ means oil for the head, and sums up your
ideas in one word.”

“Well, let us see,” said Popinot impatiently.

Here follows the prospectus; the same which the trade receives, by the
thousand, to the present day (another _piece justificative_):--

                              GOLD MEDAL
                          EXPOSITION OF 1819

                             CEPHALIC OIL

               Patents for Invention and Improvements.

  “No cosmetic can make the hair grow, and no chemical preparation
  can dye it without peril to the seat of intelligence. Science has
  recently made known the fact that hair is a dead substance, and
  that no agent can prevent it from falling off or whitening. To
  prevent Baldness and Dandruff, it is necessary to protect the bulb
  from which the hair issues from all deteriorating atmospheric
  influences, and to maintain the temperature of the head at its
  right medium. CEPHALIC OIL, based upon principles laid down by the
  Academy of Sciences, produces this important result, sought by the
  ancients,--the Greeks, the Romans, and all Northern nations,--to
  whom the preservation of the hair was peculiarly precious. Certain
  scientific researches have demonstrated that nobles, formerly
  distinguished for the length of their hair, used no other remedy
  than this; their method of preparation, which had been lost in the
  lapse of ages, has been intelligently re-discovered by A. Popinot,
  the inventor of CEPHALIC OIL.

  “To _preserve_, rather than provoke a useless and injurious
  stimulation of the instrument which contains the bulbs, is the
  mission of CEPHALIC OIL. In short, this oil, which counteracts the
  exfoliation of pellicular atoms, which exhales a soothing perfume,
  and arrests, by means of the substances of which it is composed
  (among them more especially the oil of nuts), the action of the
  outer air upon the scalp, also prevents influenzas, colds in the
  head, and other painful cephalic afflictions, by maintaining the
  normal temperature of the cranium. Consequently, the bulbs, which
  contain the generating fluids, are neither chilled by cold nor
  parched by heat. The hair of the head, that magnificent product,
  priceless alike to man and woman, will be preserved even to
  advanced age, in all the brilliancy and lustre which bestow their
  charm upon the heads of infancy, by those who make use of CEPHALIC

  “DIRECTIONS FOR USE are furnished with each bottle, and serve as a

  “METHOD OF USING CEPHALIC OIL.--It is quite useless to oil the
  hair; this is not only a vulgar and foolish prejudice, but an
  untidy habit, for the reason that all cosmetics leave their trace.
  It suffices to wet a little sponge in the oil, and after parting
  the hair with the comb, to apply it at the roots in such a manner
  that the whole skin of the head may be enabled to imbibe it, after
  the scalp has received a preliminary cleansing with brush and

  “The oil is sold in bottles bearing the signature of the inventor,
  to prevent counterfeits. Price, THREE FRANCS. A. POPINOT, Rue des
  Cinq-Diamants, quartier des Lombards, Paris.

  “_It is requested that all letters be prepaid._

  “N.B. The house of A. Popinot supplies all oils and essences
  appertaining to druggists: lavender, oil of almonds, sweet and
  bitter, orange oil, cocoa-nut oil, castor oil, and others.”

“My dear friend,” said the illustrious Gaudissart to Finot, “it is
admirably written. Thunder and lightning! we are in the upper regions
of science. We shirk nothing; we go straight to the point. That’s useful
literature; I congratulate you.”

“A noble prospectus!” cried Popinot, enthusiastically.

“A prospectus which slays Macassar at the first word,” continued
Gaudissart, rising with a magisterial air to deliver the following
speech, which he divided by gestures and pauses in his most
parliamentary manner.

“No--hair--can be made--to grow! Hair cannot be dyed without--danger!
Ha! ha! success is there. Modern science is in union with the customs
of the ancients. We can deal with young and old alike. We can say to
the old man, ‘Ha, monsieur! the ancients, the Greeks and Romans, knew a
thing or two, and were not so stupid as some would have us believe’; and
we can say to the young man, ‘My dear boy, here’s another discovery
due to progress and the lights of science. We advance; what may we not
obtain from steam and telegraphy, and other things! This oil is based
on the scientific treatise of Monsieur Vauquelin!’ Suppose we print an
extract from Monsieur Vauquelin’s report to the Academy of Sciences,
confirming our statement, hein? Famous! Come, Finot, sit down; attack
the viands! Soak up the champagne! let us drink to the success of my
young friend, here present!”

“I felt,” said the author modestly, “that the epoch of flimsy and
frivolous prospectuses had gone by; we are entering upon an era of
science; we need an academical tone,--a tone of authority, which imposes
upon the public.”

“We’ll boil that oil; my feet itch, and my tongue too. I’ve got
commissions from all the rival hair people; none of them give more
than thirty per cent discount; we must manage forty on every hundred
remitted, and I’ll answer for a hundred thousand bottles in six months.
I’ll attack apothecaries, grocers, perfumers! Give ‘em forty per cent,
and they’ll bamboozle the public.”

The three young fellows devoured their dinner like lions, and drank like
lords to the future success of Cephalic Oil.

“The oil is getting into my head,” said Finot.

Gaudissart poured out a series of jokes and puns upon hats and heads,
and hair and hair-oil, etc. In the midst of Homeric laughter a knock
resounded, and was heard, in spite of an uproar of toasts and reciprocal

“It is my uncle!” cried Popinot. “He has actually come to see me.”

“An uncle!” said Finot, “and we haven’t got a glass!”

“The uncle of my friend Popinot is a judge,” said Gaudissart to Finot,
“and he is not to be hoaxed; he saved my life. Ha! when one gets to the
pass where I was, under the scaffold--_Qou-ick_, and good-by to
your hair,”--imitating the fatal knife with voice and gesture. “One
recollects gratefully the virtuous magistrate who saved the gutter where
the champagne flows down. Recollect?--I’d recollect him dead-drunk! You
don’t know what it is, Finot, unless you have stood in need of Monsieur
Popinot. Huzza! we ought to fire a salute--from six pounders, too!”

The virtuous magistrate was now asking for his nephew at the door.
Recognizing his voice, Anselme went down, candlestick in hand, to light
him up.

“I wish you good evening, gentlemen,” said the judge.

The illustrious Gaudissart bowed profoundly. Finot examined the
magistrate with a tipsy eye, and thought him a bit of a blockhead.

“You have not much luxury here,” said the judge, gravely, looking round
the room. “Well, my son, if we wish to be something great, we must begin
by being nothing.”

“What profound wisdom!” said Gaudissart to Finot.

“Text for an article,” said the journalist.

“Ah! you here, monsieur?” said the judge, recognizing the commercial
traveller; “and what are you doing now?”

“Monsieur, I am contributing to the best of my small ability to the
success of your dear nephew. We have just been studying a prospectus for
his oil; you see before you the author of that prospectus, which seems
to us the finest essay in the literature of wigs.” The judge looked at
Finot. “Monsieur,” said Gaudissart, “is Monsieur Andoche Finot, a young
man distinguished in literature, who does high-class politics and the
little theatres in the government newspapers,--I may say a statesman on
the high-road to becoming an author.”

Finot pulled Gaudissart by the coat-tails.

“Well, well, my sons,” said the judge, to whom these words explained the
aspect of the table, where there stilled remained the tokens of a very
excusable feast. “Anselme,” said the old gentleman to his nephew, “dress
yourself, and come with me to Monsieur Birotteau’s, where I have a visit
to pay. You shall sign the deed of partnership, which I have carefully
examined. As you mean to have the manufactory for your oil on the
grounds in the Faubourg du Temple, I think you had better take a formal
lease of them. Monsieur Birotteau might have others in partnership with
him, and it is better to settle everything legally at once; then there
can be no discussion. These walls seem to me very damp, my dear boy;
take up the straw matting near your bed.”

“Permit me, monsieur,” said Gaudissart, with an ingratiating air, “to
explain to you that we have just pasted up the paper ourselves, and
that’s the--reason why--the walls--are not--dry.”

“Economy? quite right,” said the judge.

“Look here,” said Gaudissart in Finot’s ear, “my friend Popinot is a
virtuous young man; he is going with his uncle; let’s you and I go and
finish the evening with our cousins.”

The journalist showed the empty lining of his pockets. Popinot saw the
gesture, and slipped his twenty-franc piece into the palm of the author
of the prospectus.

The judge had a coach at the end of the street, in which he carried off
his nephew to the Birotteaus.


Pillerault, Monsieur and Madame Ragon, and Monsieur Roguin were playing
at boston, and Cesarine was embroidering a handkerchief, when the judge
and Anselme arrived. Roguin, placed opposite to Madame Ragon, near whom
Cesarine was sitting, noticed the pleasure of the young girl when she
saw Anselme enter, and he made Crottat a sign to observe that she turned
as rosy as a pomegranate.

“This is to be a day of deeds, then?” said the perfumer, when the
greetings were over and the judge told him the purpose of the visit.

Cesar, Anselme, and the judge went up to the perfumer’s temporary
bedroom on the second floor to discuss the lease and the deed of
partnership drawn up by the magistrate. A lease of eighteen years was
agreed upon, so that it might run the same length of time as the lease
of the shop in the Rue des Cinq-Diamants,--an insignificant circumstance
apparently, but one which did Birotteau good service in after days. When
Cesar and the judge returned to the _entresol_, the latter, surprised
at the general upset of the household, and the presence of workmen on
a Sunday in the house of a man so religious as Birotteau, asked the
meaning of it,--a question which Cesar had been eagerly expecting.

“Though you care very little for the world, monsieur,” he said, “you
will see no harm in celebrating the deliverance of our territory.
That, however, is not all. We are about to assemble a few friends to
commemorate my promotion to the order of the Legion of honor.”

“Ah!” exclaimed the judge, who was not decorated.

“Possibly I showed myself worthy of that signal and royal favor by
my services on the Bench--oh! of commerce,--and by fighting for the
Bourbons on the steps--”

“True,” said the judge.

“--of Saint-Roch on the 13th Vendemiaire, where I was wounded by
Napoleon. May I not hope that you and Madame Popinot will do us the
honor of being present?”

“Willingly,” said the judge. “If my wife is well enough I will bring

“Xandrot,” said Roguin to his clerk, as they left the house, “give up
all thoughts of marrying Cesarine; six weeks hence you will thank me for
that advice.”

“Why?” asked Crottat.

“My dear fellow, Birotteau is going to spend a hundred thousand francs
on his ball, and he is involving his whole fortune, against my advice,
in that speculation in lands. Six weeks hence he and his family won’t
have bread to eat. Marry Mademoiselle Lourdois, the daughter of the
house-painter. She has three hundred thousand francs _dot_. I threw out
that anchor to windward for you. If you will pay me a hundred thousand
francs down for my practice, you may have it to-morrow.”

The splendors of the approaching ball were announced by the newspapers
to all Europe, and were also made known to the world of commerce by
rumors to which the preparations, carried on night and day, had given
rise. Some said that Cesar had hired three houses, and that he was
gilding his salons; others that the supper would furnish dishes invented
for the occasion. On one hand it was reported that no merchants would be
invited, the fete being given to the members of the government; on the
other hand, Cesar was severely blamed for his ambition, and laughed at
for his political pretensions: some people even went so far as to deny
his wound. The ball gave rise to more than one intrigue in the second
arrondissement. The friends of the family were easy in their minds,
but the demands of mere acquaintances were enormous. Honors bring
sycophants; and there was a goodly number of people whose invitations
cost them more than one application. The Birotteaus were fairly
frightened at the number of friends whom they did not know they had.
These eager attentions alarmed Madame Birotteau, and day by day her face
grew sadder as the great solemnity drew near.

In the first place, as she owned to Cesar, she should never learn the
right demeanor; next, she was terrified by the innumerable details
of such a fete: where should she find the plate, the glass-ware, the
refreshments, the china, the servants? Who would superintend it all? She
entreated Birotteau to stand at the door of the appartement and let no
one enter but invited guests; she had heard strange stories of people
who came to bourgeois balls, claiming friends whose names they did not
know. When, a week before the fateful day, Braschon, Grindot, Lourdois,
and Chaffaroux, the builder, assured Cesar positively that the rooms
would be ready for the famous Sunday of December the 17th, an amusing
conference took place, in the evening after dinner, between Cesar, his
wife, and his daughter, for the purpose of making out the list of guests
and addressing the invitations,--which a stationer had sent home that
morning, printed on pink paper, in flowing English writing, and in the
formula of commonplace and puerile civility.

“Now we mustn’t forget any body,” said Birotteau.

“If we forget any one,” said Constance, “they won’t forget it. Madame
Derville, who never called before, sailed down upon me in all her glory

“She is very pretty,” said Cesarine. “I liked her.”

“And yet before her marriage she was even less than I was,” said
Constance. “She did plain sewing in the Rue Montmartre; she made shirts
for your father.”

“Well, now let us begin the list,” said Birotteau, “with the upper-crust
people. Cesarine, write down Monsieur le Duc and Madame la Duchesse de

“Good heavens, Cesar!” said Constance, “don’t send a single invitation
to people whom you only know as customers. Are you going to invite
the Princesse de Blamont-Chavry, who is more nearly related to your
godmother, the late Marquise d’Uxelles, than the Duc de Lenoncourt? You
surely don’t mean to invite the two Messieurs de Vandenesse, Monsieur
de Marsay, Monsieur de Ronquerolles, Monsieur d’Aiglemont, in short, all
your customers? You are mad; your honors have turned your head!”

“Well, but there’s Monsieur le Comte de Fontaine and his family,
hein?--the one that always went by the name of GRAND-JACQUES,--and
the YOUNG SCAMP, who was the Marquis de Montauran, and Monsieur de la
Billardiere, who was called the NANTAIS at ‘The Queen of Roses’ before
the 13th Vendemiaire. In those days it was all hand-shaking, and
‘Birotteau, take courage; let yourself be killed, like us, for the good
cause.’ Why, we are all comrades in conspiracy.”

“Very good, put them down,” said Constance. “If Monsieur de la
Billardiere comes he will want somebody to speak to.”

“Cesarine, write,” said Birotteau. “_Primo_, Monsieur the prefect of
the Seine; he’ll come or he won’t come, but any way he commands the
municipality,--honor to whom honor is due. Monsieur de la Billardiere
and his son, the mayor. Put the number of the guests after their names.
My colleague, Monsieur Granet, deputy-mayor, and his wife. She is very
ugly, but never mind, we can’t dispense with her. Monsieur Curel, the
jeweller, colonel of the National Guard, his wife, and two daughters.
Those are what I call the authorities. Now come the big wigs,--Monsieur
le Comte and Madame la Comtesse de Fontaine, and their daughter,
Mademoiselle Emilie de Fontaine.”

“An insolent girl, who makes me leave the shop and speak to her at the
door of the carriage, no matter what the weather is,” said Madame Cesar.
“If she comes, it will only be to ridicule me.”

“Then she’ll be sure to come,” said Cesar, bent on getting everybody.
“Go on, Cesarine. Monsieur le Comte and Madame la Comtesse de
Grandville, my landlord,--the longest head at the royal court, so
Derville says. Ah ca! Monsieur de la Billardiere is to present me as
a chevalier to-morrow to Monsieur le Comte de Lacepede himself, high
chancellor of the Legion of honor. It is only proper that I should
send him an invitation for the ball, and also to the dinner. Monsieur
Vauquelin; put him down for ball and dinner both, Cesarine. And (so
as not to forget them) put down all the Chiffrevilles and the Protez;
Monsieur and Madame Popinot, judge of the Lower Court of the Seine;
Monsieur and Madame Thirion, gentleman-usher of the bedchamber to the
king, friends of Ragon, and their daughter, who, they tell me, is to
marry the son of Monsieur Camusot by his first wife.”

“Cesar, don’t forget that little Horace Bianchon, the nephew of Monsieur
Popinot, and cousin of Anselme,” said Constance.

“Whew! Cesarine has written a four after the name of Popinot. Monsieur
and Madame Rabourdin, one of the under-secretaries in Monsieur de la
Billardiere’s division; Monsieur Cochin, same division, his wife
and son, sleeping-partners of Matifat, and Monsieur, Madame, and
Mademoiselle Matifat themselves.”

“The Matifats,” said Cesarine, “are fishing for invitations for Monsieur
and Madame Colleville, and Monsieur and Madame Thuillier, friends of

“We will see about that,” said Cesar. “Put down my broker, Monsieur and
Madame Jules Desmarets.”

“She will be the loveliest woman in the room,” said Cesarine. “I like
her--oh! better than any one else.”

“Derville and his wife.”

“Put down Monsieur and Madame Coquelin, the successors to my uncle
Pillerault,” said Constance. “They are so sure of an invitation that
the poor little woman has ordered my dressmaker to make her a superb
ball-dress, a skirt of white satin, and a tulle robe with succory
flowers embroidered all over it. A little more and she would have
ordered a court-dress of gold brocade. If you leave them out we shall
make bitter enemies.”

“Put them down, Cesarine; all honor to commerce, for we belong to it!
Monsieur and Madame Roguin.”

“Mamma, Madame Roguin will wear her diamond fillet and all her other
diamonds, and her dress trimmed with Mechlin.”

“Monsieur and Madame Lebas,” said Cesar; “also Monsieur le president of
the Court of Commerce,--I forgot him among the authorities,--his wife,
and two daughters; Monsieur and Madame Lourdois and their daughter;
Monsieur Claparon, banker; Monsieur du Tillet; Monsieur Grindot;
Monsieur Molineux; Pillerault and his landlord; Monsieur and Madame
Camusot, the rich silk-merchants, and all their children, the one at the
Ecole Polytechnique, and the lawyer; he is to be made a judge because of
his marriage to Mademoiselle Thirion.”

“A provincial judge,” remarked Constance.

“Monsieur Cardot, father-in-law of Camusot, and all the Cardot children.
Bless me, and the Guillaumes, Rue du Colombier, the father-in-law of
Lebas--old people, but they’ll sit in a corner; Alexandre Crottat;

“Papa, don’t forget Monsieur Andoche Finot and Monsieur Gaudissart, two
young men who are very useful to Monsieur Anselme.”

“Gaudissart? he was once in the hands of justice. But never mind, he is
going to travel for our oil and starts in a few days; put him down. As
to the Sieur Andoche Finot, what is he to us?”

“Monsieur Anselme says he will be a great man; he has a mind like

“An author? all atheists.”

“Let’s put him down, papa; we want more dancers. Besides, he wrote the
beautiful prospectus for the oil.”

“He believes in my oil?” said Cesar, “then put him down, dear child.”

“I have put down all my proteges,” said Cesarine.

“Put Monsieur Mitral, my bailiff; Monsieur Haudry, our doctor, as a
matter of form,--he won’t come.”

“Yes, he will, for his game of cards.”

“Now, Cesar, I do hope you mean to invite the Abbe Loraux to the
dinner,” said Constance.

“I have already written to him,” said Cesar.

“Oh! and don’t forget the sister-in-law of Monsieur Lebas, Madame
Augustine Sommervieux,” said Cesarine. “Poor little woman, she is so
delicate; she is dying of grief, so Monsieur Lebas says.”

“That’s what it is to marry artists!” cried her father. “Look! there’s
your mother asleep,” he whispered. “La! la! a very good night to you,
Madame Cesar--Now, then,” he added, “about your mother’s ball-dress?”

“Yes, papa, it will be all ready. Mamma thinks she will wear her
china-crape like mine. The dressmaker is sure there is no need of trying
it on.”

“How many people have you got down,” said Cesar aloud, seeing that
Constance opened her eyes.

“One hundred and nine, with the clerks.”

“Where shall we ever put them all?” said Madame Birotteau. “But, anyhow,
after that Sunday,” she added naively, “there will come a Monday.”

              *     *     *     *     *

Nothing can be done simply and naturally by people who are stepping from
one social level to another. Not a soul--not Madame Birotteau, nor Cesar
himself--was allowed to put foot into the new appartement on the first
floor. Cesar had promised Raguet, the shop-boy, a new suit of clothes
for the day of the ball, if he mounted guard faithfully and let no
one enter. Birotteau, like the Emperor Napoleon at Compiegne, when the
chateau was re-decorated for his marriage with Maria Louisa of Austria,
was determined to see nothing piecemeal; he wished to enjoy the surprise
of seeing it as a whole. Thus the two antagonists met once more, all
unknown to themselves, not on the field of battle, but on the peaceful
ground of bourgeois vanity. It was arranged that Monsieur Grindot was to
take Cesar by the hand and show him the appartement when finished,--just
as a guide shows a gallery to a sight-seer. Every member of the family
had provided his, or her, private “surprise.” Cesarine, dear child, had
spent all her little hoard, a hundred louis, on buying books for her
father. Monsieur Grindot confided to her one morning that there were two
book-cases in Cesar’s room, which enclosed an alcove,--an architectural
surprise to her father. Cesarine flung all her girlish savings upon the
counter of a bookseller’s shop, and obtained in return, Bossuet, Racine,
Voltaire, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Montesquieu, Moliere, Buffon, Fenelon,
Delille, Bernardin de Saint-Pierre, La Fontaine, Corneille, Pascal, La
Harpe,--in short, the whole array of matter-of-course libraries to be
found everywhere and which assuredly her father would never read. A
terrible bill for binding was in the background. The celebrated and
dilatory binder, Thouvenin, had promised to deliver the volumes at
twelve o’clock in the morning of the 16th. Cesarine confided her anxiety
to her uncle Pillerault, and he had promised to pay the bill. The
“surprise” of Cesar to his wife was the gown of cherry-colored velvet,
trimmed with lace, of which he spoke to his accomplice, Cesarine. The
“surprise” of Madame Birotteau to the new chevalier was a pair of gold
shoe-buckles, and a diamond pin. For the whole family there was the
surprise of the new appartement, and, a fortnight later, the still
greater surprise of the bills when they came in.

Cesar carefully weighed the question as to which invitations should be
given in person, and which should be sent by Raguet. He ordered a coach
and took his wife--much disfigured by a bonnet with feathers, and his
last gift, a shawl which she had coveted for fifteen years--on a round
of civilities. In their best array, these worthy people paid twenty-two
visits in the course of one morning.

Cesar excused his wife from the labor and difficulty of preparing at
home the various viands demanded by the splendor of the entertainment.
A diplomatic treaty was arranged between the famous Chevet and the
perfumer. Chevet furnished superb silver plate (which brought him an
income equal to that of land); he supplied the dinner, the wines, and
the waiters, under the orders of a major-domo of dignified aspect, who
was responsible for the proper management of everything. Chevet exacted
that the kitchen, and the dining-room on the _entresol_, should be given
up to him as headquarters; a dinner for twenty people was to be served
at six o’clock, a superb supper at one in the morning. Birotteau
arranged with the cafe Foy for ices in the shape of fruits, to be served
in pretty saucers, with gilt spoons, on silver trays. Tanrade, another
illustrious purveyor, furnished the refreshments.

“Don’t be worried,” said Cesar to his wife, observing her uneasiness on
the day before the great event, “Chevet, Tanrade, and the cafe Foy will
occupy the _entresol_, Virginie will take charge of the second floor,
the shop will be closed; all we shall have to do is to enshrine
ourselves on the first floor.”

At two o’clock, on the 16th, the mayor, Monsieur de la Billardiere, came
to take Cesar to the Chancellerie of the Legion of honor, where he
was to be received by Monsieur le Comte de Lacepede, and about a dozen
chevaliers of the order. Tears were in his eyes when he met the mayor;
Constance had just given him the “surprise” of the gold buckles and
diamond pin.

“It is very sweet to be so loved,” he said, getting into the coach in
presence of the assembled clerks, and Cesarine, and Constance. They,
one and all, gazed at Cesar, attired in black silk knee-breeches, silk
stockings, and the new bottle-blue coat, on which was about to gleam the
ribbon that, according to Molineux, was dyed in blood. When Cesar came
home to dinner, he was pale with joy; he looked at his cross in all the
mirrors, for in the first moments of exultation he was not satisfied
with the ribbon,--he wore the cross, and was glorious without false

“My wife,” he said, “Monsieur the high chancellor is a charming man. On
a hint from La Billardiere he accepted my invitation. He is coming with
Monsieur Vauquelin. Monsieur de Lacepede is a great man,--yes, as great
as Monsieur Vauquelin; he has continued the work of Buffon in forty
volumes; he is an author, peer of France! Don’t forget to address him
as, Your Excellence, or, Monsieur le comte.”

“Do eat something,” said his wife. “Your father is worse than a child,”
 added Constance to Cesarine.

“How well it looks in your button-hole,” said Cesarine. “When we walk
out together, won’t they present arms?”

“Yes, wherever there are sentries they will present arms.”

Just at this moment Grindot was coming downstairs with Braschon. It had
been arranged that after dinner, monsieur, madame, and mademoiselle were
to enjoy a first sight of the new appartement; Braschon’s foreman was
now nailing up the last brackets, and three men were lighting the rooms.

“It takes a hundred and twenty wax-candles,” said Braschon.

“A bill of two hundred francs at Trudon’s,” said Madame Cesar, whose
murmurs were checked by a glance from the chevalier Birotteau.

“Your ball will be magnificent, Monsieur le chevalier,” said Braschon.

Birotteau whispered to himself, “Flatterers already! The Abbe Loraux
urged me not to fall into that net, but to keep myself humble. I shall
try to remember my origin.”

Cesar did not perceive the meaning of the rich upholsterer’s speech.
Braschon made a dozen useless attempts to get invitations for himself,
his wife, daughter, mother-in-law, and aunt. He called the perfumer
Monsieur le chevalier to the door-way, and then he departed his enemy.

The rehearsal began. Cesar, his wife, and Cesarine went out by the
shop-door and re-entered the house from the street. The entrance had
been remodelled in the grand style, with double doors, divided into
square panels, in the centre of which were architectural ornaments in
cast-iron, painted. This style of door, since become common in Paris,
was then a novelty. At the further end of the vestibule the staircase
went up in two straight flights, and between them was the space which
had given Cesar some uneasiness, and which was now converted into
a species of box, where it was possible to seat an old woman. The
vestibule, paved in black and white marble, with its walls painted to
resemble marble, was lighted by an antique lamp with four jets. The
architect had combined richness with simplicity. A narrow red carpet
relieved the whiteness of the stairs, which were polished with
pumice-stone. The first landing gave an entrance to the _entresol_; the
doors to each appartement were of the same character as the street-door,
but of finer work by a cabinet-maker.

The family reached the first floor and entered an ante-chamber in
excellent taste, spacious, parquetted, and simply decorated. Next came a
salon, with three windows on the street, in white and red, with
cornices of an elegant design which had nothing gaudy about them. On
a chimney-piece of white marble supported by columns were a number of
mantel ornaments chosen with taste; they suggested nothing to ridicule,
and were in keeping with the other details. A soft harmony prevailed
throughout the room, a harmony which artists alone know how to attain by
carrying uniformity of decoration into the minutest particulars,--an art
of which the bourgeois mind is ignorant, though it is much taken with
its results. A glass chandelier, with twenty-four wax-candles, brought
out the color of the red silk draperies; the polished floor had an
enticing look, which tempted Cesarine to dance.

“How charming!” she said; “and yet there is nothing to seize the eye.”

“Exactly, mademoiselle,” said the architect; “the charm comes from the
harmony which reigns between the wainscots, walls, cornices, and the
decorations; I have gilded nothing, the colors are sober, and not
extravagant in tone.”

“It is a science,” said Cesarine.

A boudoir in green and white led into Cesar’s study.

“Here I have put a bed,” said Grindot, opening the doors of an alcove
cleverly hidden between the two bookcases. “If you or madame should
chance to be ill, each can have your own room.”

“But this bookcase full of books, all bound! Oh! my wife, my wife!”
 cried Cesar.

“No; that is Cesarine’s surprise.”

“Pardon the feelings of a father,” said Cesar to the architect, as he
kissed his daughter.

“Oh! of course, of course, monsieur,” said Grindot; “you are in your own

Brown was the prevailing color in the study, relieved here and there
with green, for a thread of harmony led through all the rooms and allied
them with one another. Thus the color which was the leading tone of one
room became the relieving tint of another. The engraving of Hero and
Leander shone on one of the panels of Cesar’s study.

“Ah! _thou_ wilt pay for all this,” said Birotteau, looking gaily at it.

“That beautiful engraving is given to you by Monsieur Anselme,” said

(Anselme, too, had allowed himself a “surprise.”)

“Poor boy! he has done just as I did for Monsieur Vauquelin.”

The bedroom of Madame Birotteau came next. The architect had there
displayed a magnificence well calculated to please the worthy people
whom he was anxious to snare; he had really kept his word and _studied_
this decoration. The room was hung in blue silk, with white ornaments;
the furniture was in white cassimere touched with blue. On the
chimney-piece, of white marble, stood a clock representing Venus
crouching, on a fine block of marble; a moquette carpet, of Turkish
design, harmonized this room with that of Cesarine, which opened out
of it, and was coquettishly hung with Persian chintz. A piano, a pretty
wardrobe with a mirror door, a chaste little bed with simple curtains,
and all the little trifles that young girls like, completed the
arrangements of the room. The dining-room was behind the bedroom of
Cesar and his wife, and was entered from the staircase; it was treated
in the style called Louis XIV., with a clock in buhl, buffets of the
same, inlaid with brass and tortoise-shell; the walls were hung with
purple stuff, fastened down by gilt nails. The happiness of these three
persons is not to be described, more especially when, re-entering her
room, Madame Birotteau found upon her bed (where Virginie had just
carried it, on tiptoe) the robe of cherry-colored velvet, with lace
trimmings, which was her husband’s “surprise.”

“Monsieur, this appartement will win you great distinction,” said
Constance to Grindot. “We shall receive a hundred and more persons
to-morrow evening, and you will win praises from everybody.”

“I shall recommend you,” said Cesar. “You will meet the very _heads_ of
commerce, and you will be better known through that one evening than if
you had built a hundred houses.”

Constance, much moved, thought no longer of costs, nor of blaming her
husband; and for the following reason: That morning, when he brought the
engraving of Hero and Leander, Anselme Popinot, whom Constance credited
with much intelligence and practical ability, had assured her of the
inevitable success of Cephalic Oil, for which he was working night and
day with a fury that was almost unprecedented. The lover promised that
no matter what was the round sum of Birotteau’s extravagance, it should
be covered in six months by Cesar’s share in the profits of the oil.
After fearing and trembling for nineteen years it was so sweet to give
herself up to one day of unalloyed happiness, that Constance promised
her daughter not to poison her husband’s pleasure by any doubts or
disapproval, but to share his happiness heartily. When therefore, about
eleven o’clock, Grindot left them, she threw herself into her husband’s
arms and said to him with tears of joy, “Cesar! ah, I am beside myself!
You have made me very happy!”

“Provided it lasts, you mean?” said Cesar, smiling.

“It will last; I have no more fears,” said Madame Birotteau.

“That’s right,” said the perfumer; “you appreciate me at last.”

People who are sufficiently large-minded to perceive their own innate
weakness will admit that an orphan girl who eighteen years earlier was
saleswoman at the Petit-Matelot, Ile Saint-Louis, and a poor peasant lad
coming from Touraine to Paris with hob-nailed shoes and a cudgel in his
hand, might well be flattered and happy in giving such a fete for such
praiseworthy reasons.

“Bless my heart!” cried Cesar. “I’d give a hundred francs if someone
would only come in now and pay us a visit.”

“Here is Monsieur l’Abbe Loraux,” said Virginie.

The abbe entered. He was at that time vicar of Saint-Sulpice. The power
of the soul was never better manifested than in this saintly priest,
whose intercourse with others left upon the minds of all an indelible
impression. His grim face, so plain as to check confidence, had grown
sublime through the exercise of Catholic virtues; upon it shone, as
it were by anticipation, the celestial glories. Sincerity and candor,
infused into his very blood, gave harmony to his unsightly features, and
the fires of charity blended the discordant lines by a phenomenon, the
exact counterpart of that which in Claparon had debased and brutalized
the human being. Faith, Hope, and Charity, the three noblest virtues
of humanity, shed their charm among the abbe’s wrinkles; his speech
was gentle, slow, and penetrating. His dress was that of the priests of
Paris, and he allowed himself to wear a brown frock-coat. No ambition
had ever crept into that pure heart, which the angels would some day
carry to God in all its pristine innocence. It required the gentle
firmness of the daughter of Louis XVI. to induce him to accept a
benefice in Paris, humble as it was. As he now entered the room he
glanced with an uneasy eye at the magnificence before him, smiled at the
three delighted people, and shook his gray head.

“My children,” he said, “my part in life is not to share in gaieties,
but to visit the afflicted. I came to thank Monsieur Cesar for his
invitation, and to congratulate you. I shall come to only one fete
here,--the marriage of this dear child.”

After the short visit the abbe went away without seeing the various
apartments, which the perfumer and his wife dared not show him. This
solemn apparition threw a few drops of cold water into the boiling
delight of Cesar’s heart. Each of the party slept amid their new luxury,
taking possession of the good things and the pretty things they
had severally wished for. Cesarine undressed her mother before a
toilet-table of white marble with a long mirror. Cesar had given himself
a few superfluities, and longed to make use of them at once: and they
all went to sleep thinking of the joys of the morrow.

On that morrow Cesarine and her mother, having been to Mass, and having
read their vespers, dressed about four o’clock in the afternoon, after
resigning the _entresol_ to the secular arm of Chevet and his people. No
attire ever suited Madame Cesar better than this cherry-colored velvet
dress with lace trimmings, and short sleeves made with jockeys: her
beautiful arms, still fresh and youthful, her bosom, sparklingly white,
her throat and shoulders of a lovely shape, were all heightened in
effect by the rich material and the resplendent color. The naive delight
which every woman feels when she sees herself in the plenitude of her
power gave an inexpressible sweetness to the Grecian profile of this
charming woman, whose beauty had all the delicacy of a cameo. Cesarine,
dressed in white crape, wore a wreath of white roses, a rose at her
waist, and a scarf chastely covering her shoulders and bust: Popinot was
beside himself.

“These people crush us,” said Madame Roguin to her husband as they went
through the appartement.

The notary’s wife was furious at appearing less beautiful than Madame
Cesar; for every woman knows how to judge the superiority or the
inferiority of a rival.

“Bah!” whispered Roguin to his wife, “it won’t last long; you will soon
bespatter her when you meet her a-foot in the streets, ruined.”

Vauquelin showed perfect tact; he came with Monsieur de Lacepede, his
colleague of the Institute, who had called to fetch him in a carriage.
On beholding the resplendent mistress of the fete they both launched
into scientific compliments.

“Ah, madame, you possess a secret of which science is ignorant,” said
the chemist, “the recipe for remaining young and beautiful.”

“You are, as I may say, partly at home here, Monsieur l’academicien,”
 said Birotteau. “Yes, Monsieur le comte,” he added, turning to the
high chancellor of the Legion of honor, “I owe my fortune to Monsieur
Vauquelin. I have the honor to present to your lordship Monsieur
le president of the Court of Commerce. This is Monsieur le Comte de
Lacepede, peer of France,” he said to Joseph Lebas, who accompanied the

The guests were punctual. The dinner, like all commercial dinners, was
extremely gay, full of good humor, and enlivened by the rough jests
which always raise a laugh. The excellence of the dishes and the
goodness of the wines were fully appreciated. It was half-past nine
o’clock when the company returned to the salons to take their coffee. A
few hackney-coaches had already brought the first impatient dancers.
An hour later the rooms were full, and the ball took the character of a
rout. Monsieur de Lacepede and Monsieur Vauquelin went away, much to the
grief of Cesar, who followed them to the staircase, vainly entreating
them to remain. He succeeded, however, in keeping Monsieur Popinot the
judge, and Monsieur de la Billardiere. With the exception of three
women who severally represented the aristocracy, finance, and government
circles,--namely, Mademoiselle de Fontaine, Madame Jules, and Madame
Rabourdin, whose beauty, dress, and manners were sharply defined in this
assemblage,--all the other women wore heavy, over-loaded dresses, and
offered to the eye that anomalous air of richness which gives to the
bourgeois masses their vulgar aspect, made cruelly apparent on this
occasion by the airy graces of the three other women.

The bourgeoisie of the Rue Saint-Denis displayed itself majestically in
the plenitude of its native powers of jocose silliness. It was a fair
specimen of that middle class which dresses its children like lancers
or national guards, buys the “Victoires et Conquetes,” the
“Soldat-laboureur,” admires the “Convoi du Pauvre,” delights in mounting
guard, goes on Sunday to its own country-house, is anxious to acquire
the distinguished air, and dreams of municipal honors,--that middle
class which is jealous of all and of every one, and yet is good,
obliging, devoted, feeling, compassionate, ready to subscribe for the
children of General Foy, or for the Greeks, whose piracies it knows
nothing about, or the Exiles until none remained; duped through its
virtues and scouted for its defects by a social class that is not worthy
of it, for it has a heart precisely because it is ignorant of social
conventions,--that virtuous middle-class which brings up ingenuous
daughters to an honorable toil, giving them sterling qualities which
diminish as soon as they are brought in contact with the superior world
of social life; girls without mind, among whom the worthy Chrysale would
have chosen his wife,--in short, a middle-class admirably represented by
the Matifats, druggists in the Rue des Lombards, whose firm had supplied
“The Queen of Roses” for more than sixty years.

Madame Matifat, wishing to give herself a dignified air, danced in a
turban and a heavy robe of scarlet shot with gold threads,--a toilet
which harmonized well with a self-important manner, a Roman nose, and
the splendors of a crimson complexion. Monsieur Matifat, superb at a
review of the National Guard, where his protuberant paunch could be
distinguished at fifty paces, and upon which glittered a gold chain
and a bunch of trinkets, was under the yoke of this Catherine II. of
commerce. Short and fat, harnessed with spectacles and a shirt-collar
worn above his ears, he was chiefly distinguished for his bass voice
and the richness of his vocabulary. He never said Corneille, but “the
sublime Corneille”; Racine was “the gentle Racine”; Voltaire, “Oh!
Voltaire, second in everything, with more wit than genius, but
nevertheless a man of genius”; Rousseau, “a gloomy mind, a man full of
pride, who hanged himself.” He related in his prosy way vulgar anecdotes
of Piron, a poet who passes for a prodigy among the bourgeoisie.
Matifat, a passionate lover of the stage, had a slight leaning to
obscenity. It was even said that, in imitation of Cadot and the rich
Camusot, he kept a mistress. Sometimes Madame Matifat, seeing him about
to relate some questionable anecdote, would hasten to interrupt him by
screaming out: “Take care what you are saying, old man!” She called
him habitually her “old man.” This voluminous queen of drugs caused
Mademoiselle de Fontaine to lose her aristocratic countenance, for the
impertinent girl could not help laughing as she overheard her saying
to her husband: “Don’t fling yourself upon the ices, old man, it is bad

It is more difficult to explain the nature of the difference between
the great world and the bourgeoisie than it is for the bourgeoisie to
obliterate it. These women, embarrassed by their fine clothes and very
conscious of them, displayed a naive pleasure which proved that a
ball was a rarity in their busy lives; while the three women, who each
represented a sphere in the great world, were then exactly what they
would be on the morrow. They had no appearance of having dressed
purposely for the ball, they paid no heed to the splendor of their
jewels, nor to the effect which they themselves produced; all had been
arranged when they stood before their mirrors and put the last touches
on their toilets. Their faces showed no excitement or excessive
interest, and they danced with the grace and ease which unknown genius
has given to certain statues of antiquity.

The others, on the contrary, stamped with the mark of toil, retained
their vulgar attitudes, and amused themselves too heartily; their eyes
were full of inconsiderate curiosity; their voices ranged above the
low murmur which gives inimitable piquancy to the conversations of a
ball-room; above all, they had none of that composed impertinence
which contains the germs of epigram, nor the tranquil attitude
which characterizes those who are accustomed to maintain empire over
themselves. Thus Madame Rabourdin, Madame Jules, and Mademoiselle
de Fontaine, who had expected much amusement from the ball of their
perfumer, were detached from the background of the bourgeoisie about
them by their soft and easy grace, by the exquisite taste of their dress
and bearing,--just as three leading singers at an opera stand out in
relief from the stolid array of their supernumeraries. They were watched
with jealous, wondering eyes. Madame Roguin, Constance, and Cesarine
formed, as it were, a link which united the three types of feminine
aristocracy to the commercial figures about them.

There came, as there does at all balls, a moment when the animation of
the scene, the torrents of light, the gaiety, the music, the excitement
of dancing brought on a species of intoxication which puts out of
sight these gradations in the _crescendo_ of the _tutti_. The ball was
beginning to be noisy, and Mademoiselle de Fontaine made a movement to
retire; but when she looked about for the arm of her venerable Vendeen,
Birotteau, his wife, and daughter made haste to prevent such a desertion
of the aristocracy.

“There is a perfume of good taste about this appartement which really
amazes me,” remarked that impertinent young woman to the perfumer. “I
congratulate you.”

Birotteau was so intoxicated by compliments that he did not comprehend
her meaning; but his wife colored, and was at a loss how to reply.

“This is a national fete which does you honor,” said Camusot.

“I have seldom seen such a ball,” said Monsieur de la Billardiere, to
whom an official falsehood was of no consequence.

Birotteau took all these compliments seriously.

“What an enchanting scene! What a fine orchestra! Will you often give us
a ball?” said Madame Lebas.

“What a charming appartement! Is this your own taste?” said Madame

Birotteau ventured on a fib, and allowed her to suppose that he had
designed it.

Cesarine, who was asked, of course, for all the dances, understood very
well Anselme’s delicacy in that matter.

“If I thought only of my own wishes,” he had whispered as they left the
dinner-table, “I should beg you to grant me the favor of a quadrille;
but my happiness would be too costly to our mutual self-love.”

Cesarine, who thought all men walked ungracefully if they stood straight
on their legs, was resolved to open the ball with Popinot. Popinot,
emboldened by his aunt, who told him to dare all, ventured to tell his
love to the charming girl, during the pauses of the quadrille, using,
however, the roundabout terms of a timid lover.

“My fortune depends on you, mademoiselle.”

“And how?”

“There is but one hope that can enable me to make it.”

“Then hope.”

“Do you know what you have said to me in those two words?” murmured

“Hope for fortune,” said Cesarine, with an arch smile.

“Gaudissart! Gaudissart!” exclaimed Anselme, when the quadrille was
over, pressing the arm of his friend with Herculean force. “Succeed, or
I’ll blow my brains out! Success, and I shall marry Cesarine! she has
told me so: see how lovely she is!”

“Yes, she is prettily tricked out,” said Gaudissart, “and rich. We’ll
fry her in oil.”

The good understanding between Mademoiselle Lourdois and Alexandre
Crottat, the promised successor to Roguin, was noticed by Madame
Birotteau, who could not give up without a pang the hope of seeing her
daughter the wife of a notary of Paris.

Uncle Pillerault, who had exchanged bows with little Molineux,
seated himself in an armchair near the bookshelves. He looked at the
card-players, listened to the conversations, and went to the doorway
every now and then to watch the oscillating bouquet of flowers formed by
the circling heads of the dancers in the _moulinet_. The expression of
his face was that of a true philosopher. The men were dreadful,--all,
that is, except du Tillet, who had acquired the manners of the great
world, little La Billardiere, a budding fashionable, Monsieur Desmarets,
and the official personages. But among all the faces, more or less
comical, from which the assemblage took its character, there was
one that was particularly washed-out, like a five-franc piece of the
Republic, and whose owner’s apparel rendered him a curiosity. We
guess at once the little tyrant of the Cour Batave, arrayed with
linen yellowed by lying by in a cupboard, and exhibiting to the eye a
shirt-frill of lace that had been an heirloom, fastened with a bluish
cameo set as a pin; he wore short black-silk breeches which revealed the
skinny legs on which he boldly stood. Cesar showed him, triumphantly,
the four rooms constructed by the architect out of the first floors of
the two houses.

“Hey! hey! Well, it is your affair, Monsieur Birotteau,” said Molineux.
“My first floor thus improved will be worth more than three thousand
francs to me.”

Birotteau answered with a jest; but he was pricked as if with a pin at
the tone in which the little old man had pronounced the words.

“I shall soon have my first floor back again; the man will ruin
himself.” Such was the real meaning of the speech which Molineux
delivered like the scratch of a claw.

The sallow face and vindictive eye of the old man struck du Tillet,
whose attention had first been attracted by a watch-chain from which
hung a pound of jingling gew-gaws, and by a green coat with a collar
whimsically cocked up, which gave the old man the semblance of a
rattlesnake. The banker approached the usurer to find out how and why he
had thus bedizened himself.

“There, monsieur,” said Molineux, planting one foot in the boudoir, “I
stand upon the property of Monsieur le Comte de Grandville; but here,”
 he added, showing the other, “I stand upon my own. I am the owner of
this house.”

Molineux was so ready to lend himself to any one who would listen to
him, and so delighted by du Tillet’s attentive manner, that he gave a
sketch of his life, related his habits and customs, told the improper
conduct of the Sieur Gendrin, and, finally, explained all his
arrangements with the perfumer, without which, he said, the ball could
not have been given.

“Ah! Monsieur Cesar let you settle the lease?” said du Tillet. “It is
contrary to his habits.”

“Oh! I asked it of him. I am good to my tenants.”

“If Pere Birotteau fails,” thought du Tillet, “this little imp would
make an excellent assignee. His sharpness is invaluable; when he is
alone he must amuse himself by catching flies, like Domitian.”

Du Tillet went to the card-table, where Claparon was already stationed,
under orders; Ferdinand thought that under shelter of a game of
_bouillotte_ his counterfeit banker might escape notice. Their demeanor
to each other was that of two strangers, and the most suspicious man
could have detected nothing that betrayed an understanding between them.
Gaudissart, who knew the career of Claparon, dared not approach him
after receiving a solemnly frigid glance from the promoted commercial
traveller which warned him that the upstart banker was not to be
recognized by any former comrade. The ball, like a brilliant rocket,
was extinguished by five o’clock in the morning. At that hour only some
forty hackney-coaches remained, out of the hundred or more which
had crowded the Rue Saint-Honore. Within, they were dancing the
_boulangere_, which has since been dethroned by the cotillon and
the English galop. Du Tillet, Roguin, Cardot junior, the Comte de
Grandville, and Jules Desmarets were playing at _bouillotte_. Du Tillet
won three thousand francs. The day began to dawn, the wax lights paled,
the players joined the dancers for a last quadrille. In such houses
the final scenes of a ball never pass off without some impropriety. The
dignified personages have departed; the intoxication of dancing, the
heat of the atmosphere, the spirits concealed in the most innocent
drinks, have mellowed the angularities of the old women, who
good-naturedly join in the last quadrille and lend themselves to the
excitement of the moment; the men are heated, their hair, lately curled,
straggles down their faces, and gives them a grotesque expression which
excites laughter; the young women grow volatile, and a few flowers
drop from their garlands. The bourgeois Momus appears, followed by his
revellers. Laughs ring loudly; all present surrender to the amusement
of the moment, knowing that on the morrow toil will resume its sway.
Matifat danced with a woman’s bonnet on his head; Celestin called the
figures of the interminable country dance, and some of the women beat
their hands together excitedly at the words of command.

“How they do amuse themselves!” cried the happy Birotteau.

“I hope they won’t break anything,” said Constance to her uncle.

“You have given the most magnificent ball I have ever seen, and I have
seen many,” said du Tillet, bowing to his old master.

Among the eight symphonies of Beethoven there is a theme, glorious as a
poem, which dominates the finale of the symphony in C minor. When,
after slow preparations by the sublime magician, so well understood by
Habeneck, the enthusiastic leader of an orchestra raises the rich veil
with a motion of his hand and calls forth the transcendent theme towards
which the powers of music have all converged, poets whose hearts have
throbbed at those sounds will understand how the ball of Cesar Birotteau
produced upon his simple being the same effect that this fecund harmony
wrought in theirs,--an effect to which the symphony in C minor owes its
supremacy over its glorious sisters. A radiant fairy springs forward,
lifting high her wand. We hear the rustle of the violet silken curtains
which the angels raise. Sculptured golden doors, like those of the
baptistery at Florence, turn on their diamond hinges. The eye is lost in
splendid vistas: it sees a long perspective of rare palaces where beings
of a loftier nature glide. The incense of all prosperities sends up its
smoke, the altar of all joy flames, the perfumed air circulates! Beings
with divine smiles, robed in white tunics bordered with blue, flit
lightly before the eyes and show us visions of supernatural beauty,
shapes of an incomparable delicacy. The Loves hover in the air and waft
the flames of their torches! We feel ourselves beloved; we are happy
as we breathe a joy we understand not, as we bathe in the waves of a
harmony that flows for all, and pours out to all the ambrosia that
each desires. We are held in the grasp of our secret hopes which are
realized, for an instant, as we listen. When he has led us through the
skies, the great magician, with a deep mysterious transition of the
basses, flings us back into the marshes of cold reality, only to draw us
forth once more when, thirsting for his divine melodies, our souls cry
out, “Again! Again!” The psychical history of that rare moment in the
glorious finale of the C minor symphony is also that of the emotions
excited by this fete in the souls of Cesar and of Constance. The flute
of Collinet sounded the last notes of their commercial symphony.

Weary, but happy, the Birotteaus fell asleep in the early morning amid
echoes of the fete,--which for building, repairs, furnishing, suppers,
toilets, and the library (repaid to Cesarine), cost not less, though
Cesar was little aware of it, than sixty thousand francs. Such was the
price of the fatal red ribbon fastened by the king to the buttonhole
of an honest perfumer. If misfortunes were to overtake Cesar Birotteau,
this mad extravagance would be sufficient to arraign him before the
criminal courts. A merchant is amenable to the laws if, in the event of
bankruptcy, he is shown to have been guilty of “excessive expenditure.”
 It is perhaps more dreadful to go before the lesser courts charged with
folly or blundering mistakes, than before the Court of Assizes for an
enormous fraud. In the eyes of some people, it is better to be criminal
than a fool.



Eight days after his ball, the last dying flash of a prosperity of
eighteen years now about to be extinguished, Cesar Birotteau watched the
passers-by from the windows of his shop, thinking over the expansion of
his affairs, and beginning to find them burdensome. Until then all had
been simple in his life; he manufactured and sold, or bought to sell
again. To-day the land speculation, his share in the house of A. Popinot
and Company, the repayment of the hundred and sixty thousand francs
thrown upon the market, which necessitated either a traffic in
promissory notes (of which his wife would disapprove), or else some
unheard-of success in Cephalic Oil, all fretted the poor man by the
multiplicity of ideas which they involved; he felt he had more irons in
the fire than he could lay hold of. How would Anselme guide the helm?
Birotteau treated Popinot as a professor of rhetoric treats a pupil,--he
distrusted his methods, and regretted that he was not at his elbow. The
kick he had given Popinot to make him hold his tongue at Vauquelin’s
explains the uneasiness which the young merchant inspired in his mind.

Birotteau took care that neither his wife nor his daughter nor the
clerks should suspect his anxiety; but he was in truth like a humble
boatman on the Seine whom the government has suddenly put in command
of a frigate. Troubled thoughts filled his mind, never very capable of
reflection, as if with a fog; he stood still, as it were, and peered
about to see his way. At this moment a figure appeared in the street
for which he felt a violent antipathy; it was that of his new landlord,
little Molineux. Every one has dreamed dreams filled with the events
of a lifetime, in which there appears and reappears some wayward being,
commissioned to play the mischief and be the villain of the piece. To
Birotteau’s fancy Molineux seemed delegated by chance to fill some part
in his life. His weird face had grinned diabolically at the ball, and he
had looked at its magnificence with an evil eye. Catching sight of him
again at this moment, Cesar was all the more reminded of the impression
the little skin-flint (a word of his vocabulary) had made upon him,
because Molineux excited fresh repugnance by reappearing in the midst of
his anxious reverie.

“Monsieur,” said the little man, in his atrociously hypocritical voice,
“we settled our business so hastily that you forgot to guarantee the
signatures on the little private deed.”

Birotteau took the lease to repair the mistake. The architect came in
at this moment, and bowed to the perfumer, looking about him with a
diplomatic air.

“Monsieur,” he whispered to Cesar presently, “you can easily understand
that the first steps in a profession are difficult; you said you were
satisfied with me, and it would oblige me very much if you would pay me
my commission.”

Birotteau, who had stripped himself of ready money when he put his
current cash into Roguin’s hands two weeks earlier, called to Celestin
to make out an order for two thousand francs at ninety days’ sight, and
to write the form of a receipt.

“I am very glad you took part of your neighbor’s rental on yourself,”
 said Molineux in a sly, half-sneering tone. “My porter came to tell me
just now that the sheriff has affixed the seals to the Sieur Cayron’s
appartement; he has disappeared.”

“I hope I’m not juggled out of five thousand francs,” thought Birotteau.

“Cayron always seemed to do a good business,” said Lourdois, who just
then came in to bring his bill.

“A merchant is never safe from commercial reverses until he has retired
from business,” said little Molineux, folding up his document with fussy

The architect watched the queer old man with the enjoyment all artists
find in getting hold of a caricature which confirms their theories about
the bourgeoisie.

“When we have got our head under an umbrella we generally think it is
protected from the rain,” he said.

Molineux noticed the mustachios and the little chin-tuft of the artist
much more than he did his face, and he despised that individual folly as
much as Grindot despised him. He waited to give him a parting scratch
as he went out. By dint of living so long with his cats Molineux had
acquired, in his manners as well as in his eyes, something unmistakably

Just at this moment Ragon and Pillerault came in.

“We have been talking of the land affair with the judge,” said Ragon in
Cesar’s ear; “he says that in a speculation of that kind we must have a
warranty from the sellers, and record the deeds, and pay in cash, before
we are really owners and co-partners.”

“Ah! you are talking of the lands about the Madeleine,” said Lourdois;
“there is a good deal said about them: there will be some houses to

The painter who had come intending to have his bill settled, suddenly
thought it more to his interest not to press Birotteau.

“I brought my bill because it was the end of the year,” he whispered to
Cesar; “but there’s no hurry.”

“What is the matter, Cesar?” said Pillerault, noticing the amazement
of his nephew, who, having glanced at the bill, made no reply to either
Ragon or Lourdois.

“Oh, a trifle. I took notes to the amount of five thousand francs from
my neighbor, a dealer in umbrellas, and he has failed. If he has given
me bad securities I shall be caught, like a fool.”

“And yet I have warned you many times,” cried Ragon; “a drowning man
will catch at his father’s leg to save himself, and drown him too. I
have seen so many failures! People are not exactly scoundrels when the
disaster begins, but they soon come to be, out of sheer necessity.”

“That’s true,” said Pillerault.

“If I ever get into the Chamber of Deputies, and ever have any influence
in the government,” said Birotteau, rising on his toes and dropping back
on his heels,--

“What would you do?” said Lourdois, “for you’ve a long head.”

Molineux, interested in any discussion about law, lingered in the shop;
and as the attention of a few persons is apt to make others attentive,
Pillerault and Ragon listened as gravely as the three strangers, though
they perfectly well knew Cesar’s opinions.

“I would have,” said the perfumer, “a court of irremovable judges, with
a magistracy to attend to the application and execution of the laws.
After the examination of a case, during which the judge should fulfil
the functions of agent, assignee, and commissioner, the merchant
should be declared _insolvent with rights of reinstatement_, or else
_bankrupt_. If the former, he should be required to pay in full; he
should be left in control of his own property and that of his wife;
all his belongings and his inherited property should belong to his
creditors, and he should administer his affairs in their interests
under supervision; he should still carry on his business, signing always
‘So-and-so, insolvent,’ until the whole debt is paid off. If bankrupt,
he should be condemned, as formerly, to the pillory on the Place de la
Bourse, and exposed for two hours, wearing a green cap. His property and
that of his wife, and all his rights of every kind should be handed over
to his creditors, and he himself banished from the kingdom.”

“Business would be more secure,” said Lourdois; “people would think
twice before launching into speculations.”

“The existing laws are not enforced,” cried Cesar, lashing himself up.
“Out of every hundred merchants there are more than fifty who never
realize seventy-five per cent of the whole value of their business, or
who sell their merchandise at twenty-five per cent below the invoice
price; and that is the destruction of commerce.”

“Monsieur is very right,” said Molineux; “the law leaves a great deal
too much latitude. There should either be total relinquishment of
everything, or infamy.”

“Damn it!” said Cesar, “at the rate things are going now, a merchant
will soon be a licensed thief. With his mere signature he can dip into
anybody’s money-drawer.”

“You have no mercy, Monsieur Birotteau,” said Lourdois.

“He is quite right,” said old Ragon.

“All insolvents are suspicious characters,” said Cesar, exasperated by
his little loss, which sounded in his ears like the first cry of the
view-halloo in the ears of the game.

At this moment the late major-domo brought in Chevet’s account, followed
by a clerk sent by Felix, a waiter from the cafe Foy, and Collinet’s
clarionet, each with a bill.

“Rabelais’ quarter of an hour,” said Ragon, smiling.

“It was a fine ball,” said Lourdois.

“I am busy,” said Cesar to the messengers; who all left the bills and
went away.

“Monsieur Grindot,” said Lourdois, observing that the architect was
folding up Birotteau’s cheque, “will you certify my account? You need
only to add it up; the prices were all agreed to by you on Monsieur
Birotteau’s behalf.”

Pillerault looked at Lourdois and Grindot.

“Prices agreed upon between the architect and contractor?” he said in a
low voice to his nephew,--“they have robbed you.”

Grindot left the shop, and Molineux followed him with a mysterious air.

“Monsieur,” he said, “you listened to me, but you did not understand
me,--I wish you the protection of an umbrella.”

The architect was frightened. The more illegal a man’s gains the more he
clings to them: the human heart is so made. Grindot had really studied
the appartement lovingly; he had put all his art and all his time into
it; he had given ten thousand francs worth of labor, and he felt that in
so doing he had been the dupe of his vanity: the contractors therefore
had little trouble in seducing him. The irresistible argument and
threat, fully understood, of injuring him professionally by calumniating
his work were, however, less powerful than a remark made by Lourdois
about the lands near the Madeleine. Birotteau did not expect to hold
a single house upon them; he was speculating only on the value of the
land; but architects and contractors are to each other very much
what authors and actors are,--mutually dependent. Grindot, ordered by
Birotteau to stipulate the costs, went for the interests of the
builders against the bourgeoisie; and the result was that three large
contractors--Lourdois, Chaffaroux, and Thorein the carpenter--proclaimed
him “one of those good fellows it is a pleasure to work for.” Grindot
guessed that the contractor’s bills, out of which he was to have a
share, would be paid, like his commission, in notes; and little Molineux
had just filled his mind with doubts as to their payment. The architect
was about to become pitiless,--after the manner of artists, who are most
intolerant of men in their dealings with the middle classes.

By the end of December bills to the amount of sixty thousand francs had
been sent in. Felix, the cafe Foy, Tanrade, and all the little creditors
who ought to be paid in ready money, had asked for payment three times.
Failure to pay such trifles as these do more harm in business than a
real misfortune,--they foretell it: known losses are definite, but a
panic defies all reckoning. Birotteau saw his coffers empty, and
terror seized him: such a thing had never happened throughout his whole
commercial life. Like all persons who have never struggled long with
poverty, and who are by nature feeble, this circumstance, so common
among the greater number of the petty Parisian tradesmen, disturbed for
a moment Cesar’s brain. He ordered Celestin to send round the bills of
his customers and ask for payment. Before doing so, the head clerk made
him repeat the unheard-of order. The clients,--a fine term applied by
retail shopkeepers to their customers, and used by Cesar in spite of his
wife, who however ended by saying, “Call them what you like, provided
they pay!”--his clients, then, were rich people, through whom he had
never lost money, who paid when they pleased, and among whom Cesar often
had a floating amount of fifty or sixty thousand francs due to him. The
second clerk went through the books and copied off the largest sums.
Cesar dreaded his wife: that she might not see his depression under this
simoom of misfortune, he prepared to go out.

“Good morning, monsieur,” said Grindot, entering with the lively manner
artists put on when they speak of business, and wish to pretend they
know nothing about it; “I cannot get your paper cashed, and I am obliged
to ask you to give me the amount in ready money. I am truly unhappy in
making this request, but I don’t wish to go to the usurers. I have not
hawked your signature about; I know enough of business to feel sure it
would injure you. It is really in your own interest that I--”

“Monsieur,” said Birotteau, horrified, “speak lower if you please; you
surprise me strangely.”

Lourdois entered.

“Lourdois,” said Birotteau, smiling, “would you believe--”

The poor man stopped short; he was about to ask the painter to take the
note given to Grindot, ridiculing the architect with the good nature of
a merchant sure of his own standing; but he saw a cloud upon Lourdois’
brow, and he shuddered at his own imprudence. The innocent jest would
have been the death of his suspected credit. In such a case a prosperous
merchant takes back his note, and does not offer it elsewhere. Birotteau
felt his head swim, as though he had looked down the sides of a
precipice into a measureless abyss.

“My dear Monsieur Birotteau,” said Lourdois, drawing him to the back of
the shop, “my account has been examined, audited, and certified; I must
ask you to have the money ready for me to-morrow. I marry my daughter
to little Crottat; he wants money, for notaries will not take paper;
besides, I never give promissory notes.”

“Send to me on the day after to-morrow,” said Birotteau proudly,
counting on the payment of his own bills. “And you too, Monsieur,” he
said to the architect.

“Why not pay at once?” said Grindot.

“I have my workmen in the faubourg to pay,” said Birotteau, who knew not
how to lie.

He took his hat once more intending to follow them out, but the mason,
Thorein, and Chaffaroux stopped him as he was closing the door.

“Monsieur,” said Chaffaroux, “we are in great need of money.”

“Well, I have not the mines of Peru,” said Cesar, walking quickly away
from them. “There is something beneath all this,” he said to himself.
“That cursed ball! All the world thinks I am worth millions. Yet
Lourdois had a look that was not natural; there’s a snake in the grass

He walked along the Rue Saint-Honore, in no special direction, and
feeling much discomposed. At the corner of a street he ran against
Alexandre Crottat, just as a ram, or a mathematician absorbed in the
solution of a problem, might have knocked against another of his kind.

“Ah, monsieur,” said the future notary, “one word! Has Roguin given your
four hundred thousand francs to Monsieur Claparon?”

“The business was settled in your presence. Monsieur Claparon gave me
no receipt; my acceptances were to be--negotiated. Roguin was to give
him--my two hundred and forty thousand francs. He was told that he was
to pay for the property definitely. Monsieur Popinot the judge said--The
receipt!--but--why do you ask the question?”

“Why ask the question? To know if your two hundred and forty thousand
francs are still with Roguin. Roguin was so long connected with you,
that perhaps out of decent feeling he may have paid them over to
Claparon, and you will escape! But, no! what a fool I am! He has carried
off Claparon’s money as well! Happily, Claparon had only paid over, to
my care, one hundred thousand francs. I gave them to Roguin just as I
would give you my purse, and I have no receipt for them. The owners of
the land have not received one penny; they have just been talking to me.
The money you thought you raised upon your property in the Faubourg du
Temple had no existence for you, or the borrower; Roguin has squandered
it, together with your hundred thousand francs, which he used up long
ago,--and your last hundred thousand as well, for I just remember
drawing them from the bank.”

The pupils of Cesar’s eyes dilated so enormously that he saw only red

“Your hundred thousand francs in his hands, my hundred thousand for
his practice, a hundred thousand from Claparon,--there’s three hundred
thousand francs purloined, not to speak of other thefts which will be
discovered,” exclaimed the young notary. “Madame Roguin is not to be
counted on. Du Tillet has had a narrow escape. Roguin tormented him for
a month to get into that land speculation, but happily all his funds
were tied up in an affair with Nucingen. Roguin has written an atrocious
letter to his wife; I have read it. He has been making free with
his clients’ money for years; and why? for a mistress,--la belle
Hollandaise. He left her two weeks ago. The squandering hussy hasn’t
a farthing left; they sold her furniture,--she had signed promissory
notes. To escape arrest, she took refuge in a house in the Palais-Royal,
where she was assassinated last night by a captain in the army. God has
quickly punished her; she has wasted Roguin’s whole fortune and
much more. There are some women to whom nothing is sacred: think of
squandering the trust moneys of a notary! Madame Roguin won’t have a
penny, except by claiming her rights of dower; the scoundrel’s whole
property is encumbered to its full value. I bought the practice for
three hundred thousand francs,--I, who thought I was getting a good
thing!--and paid a hundred thousand down. I have no receipt; the
creditors will think I am an accomplice if I say a word about that
hundred thousand francs, and when a man is starting in life he must be
careful of his reputation. There will hardly be thirty per cent saved
for the creditors. At my age, to get such a set-back! A man fifty-nine
years of age to keep a mistress! the old villain! It is only two weeks
since he told me not to marry Cesarine; he said you would soon be
without bread,--the monster!”

Alexandre might have talked on indefinitely, for Birotteau stood still,
petrified. Every phrase was a calamity, like the blows of a bludgeon. He
heard the death-bells tolling in his ears,--just as his eyes had seen,
at the first word, the flames of his fortune. Alexandre Crottat, who
thought the worthy perfumer a strong and able man, was alarmed at his
paleness and rigidity. He was not aware that Roguin had carried off
Cesar’s whole property. The thought of immediate suicide passed through
the brain of the victim, deeply religious as he was. In such a case
suicide is only a way to escape a thousand deaths; it seems logical to
take it. Alexandre Crottat gave him his arm, and tried to make him walk
on, but it was impossible: his legs gave way under him as if he were

“What is the matter?” said Crottat. “Dear Monsieur Cesar, take courage!
it is not the death of a man. Besides, you will get back your forty
thousand francs. The lender hadn’t the money ready, you never received
it,--that is sufficient to set aside the agreement.”

“My ball--my cross--two hundred thousand francs in paper on the
market,--no money in hand! The Ragons, Pillerault,--and my wife, who saw

A rain of confused words, revealing a weight of crushing thoughts and
unutterable suffering, poured from his lips, like hail lashing the
flowers in the garden of “The Queen of Roses.”

“I wish they would cut off my head,” he said at last; “its weight
troubles me, it is good for nothing.”

“Poor Pere Birotteau,” said Alexandre, “are you in danger?”


“Well, take courage; make an effort.”


“Du Tillet was your clerk; he has a good head; he will help you.”

“Du Tillet!”

“Come, try to walk.”

“My God! I cannot go home as I am,” said Birotteau. “You who are my
friend, if there are friends,--you in whom I took an interest, who have
dined at my house,--take me somewhere in a carriage, for my wife’s sake.
Xandrot, go with me!”

The young notary compassionately put the inert mechanism which bore the
name of Cesar into a street coach, not without great difficulty.

“Xandrot,” said the perfumer, in a voice choked with tears,--for the
tears were now falling from his eyes, and loosening the iron band which
bound his brow,--“stop at my shop; go in and speak to Celestin for
me. My friend, tell him it is a matter of life or death, that on no
consideration must he or any one talk about Roguin’s flight. Tell
Cesarine to come down to me, and beg her not to say a word to her
mother. We must beware of our best friends, of Pillerault, Ragon,

The change in Birotteau’s voice startled Crottat, who began to
understand the importance of the warning; he fulfilled the instructions
of the poor man, whom Celestin and Cesarine were horrified to find pale
and half insensible in a corner of the carriage.

“Keep the secret,” he said.

“Ah!” said Xandrot to himself, “he is coming to. I thought him lost.”

From thence they went, at Cesar’s request, to a judge of the commercial
courts. The conference between Crottat and the magistrate lasted long,
and the president of the chamber of notaries was summoned. Cesar was
carried about from place to place, like a bale of goods; he never moved,
and said nothing. Towards seven in the evening Alexandre Crottat took
him home. The thought of appearing before Constance braced his nerves.
The young notary had the charity to go before, and warn Madame Birotteau
that her husband had had a rush of blood to the head.

“His ideas are rather cloudy,” he said, with a gesture implying
disturbance of the brain. “Perhaps he should be bled, or leeches

“No wonder,” said Constance, far from dreaming of a disaster; “he did
not take his precautionary medicine at the beginning of the winter, and
for the last two months he has been working like a galley slave,--just
as if his fortune were not made.”

The wife and daughter entreated Cesar to go to bed, and they sent for
his old friend Monsieur Haudry. The old man was a physician of
the school of Moliere, a great practitioner and in favor of the
old-fashioned formulas, who dosed his patients neither more nor less
than a quack, consulting physician though he was. He came, studied
the expression of Cesar’s face, and observing symptoms of cerebral
congestion, ordered an immediate application of mustard plasters to the
soles of his feet.

“What can have caused it?” asked Constance.

“The damp weather,” said the doctor, to whom Cesarine had given a hint.

It often becomes a physician’s duty to utter deliberately some silly
falsehood, to save honor or life, to those who are about a sick-bed. The
old doctor had seen much in his day, and he caught the meaning of half
a word. Cesarine followed him to the staircase, and asked for directions
in managing the case.

“Quiet and silence; when the head is clear we will try tonics.”

Madame Cesar passed two days at the bedside of her husband, who seemed
to her at times delirious. He lay in her beautiful blue room, and as he
looked at the curtains, the furniture, and all the costly magnificence
about him, he said things that were wholly incomprehensible to her.

“He must be out of his mind,” she whispered to Cesarine, as Cesar rose
up in bed and recited clauses of the commercial Code in a solemn voice.

“‘If the expenditure is judged excessive!’ Away with those curtains!”

At the end of three terrible days, during which his reason was in
danger, the strong constitution of the Tourangian peasant triumphed; his
head grew clear. Monsieur Haudry ordered stimulants and generous diet,
and before long, after an occasional cup of coffee, Cesar was on his
feet again. Constance, wearied out, took her husband’s place in bed.

“Poor woman!” said Cesar, looking at her as she slept.

“Come, papa, take courage! you are so superior a man that you will
triumph in the end. This trouble won’t last; Monsieur Anselme will help

Cesarine said these vague words in the tender tones which give courage
to a stricken heart, just as the songs of a mother soothe the weary
child tormented with pain as its cuts its teeth.

“Yes, my child, I shall struggle on; but say not a word to any one,--not
to Popinot who loves us, nor to your uncle Pillerault. I shall first
write to my brother; he is canon and vicar of the cathedral. He spends
nothing, and I have no doubt he has means. If he saves only three
thousand francs a year, that would give him at the end of twenty years
one hundred thousand francs. In the provinces the priests lay up money.”

Cesarine hastened to bring her father a little table with writing-things
upon it,--among them the surplus of invitations printed on pink paper.

“Burn all that!” cried her father. “The devil alone could have prompted
me to give that ball. If I fail, I shall seem to have been a swindler.
Stop!” he added, “words are of no avail.” And he wrote the following

  My dear Brother,--I find myself in so severe a commercial crisis
  that I must ask you to send me all the money you can dispose of,
  even if you have to borrow some for the purpose.

                                                Ever yours,

  Your niece, Cesarine, who is watching me as I write, while my poor
  wife sleeps, sends you her tender remembrances.

This postscript was added at Cesarine’s urgent request; she then took
the letter and gave it to Raguet.

“Father,” she said, returning, “here is Monsieur Lebas, who wants to
speak to you.”

“Monsieur Lebas!” cried Cesar, frightened, as though his disaster had
made him a criminal,--“a judge!”

“My dear Monsieur Birotteau, I take too great an interest in you,”
 said the stout draper, entering the room, “we have known each other too
long,--for we were both elected judges at the same time,--not to tell
you that a man named Bidault, called Gigonnet, a usurer, has notes of
yours turned over to his order, and marked ‘not guaranteed,’ by the
house of Claparon. Those words are not only an affront, but they are the
death of your credit.”

“Monsieur Claparon wishes to speak to you,” said Celestin, entering;
“may I tell him to come up?”

“Now we shall learn the meaning of this insult,” said Lebas.

“Monsieur,” said Cesar to Claparon, as he entered, “this is Monsieur
Lebas, a judge of the commercial courts, and my friend--”

“Ah! monsieur is Monsieur Lebas?” interrupted Claparon. “Delighted with
the opportunity, Monsieur Lebas of the commercial courts; there are so
many Lebas, you know, of one kind or another--”

“He has seen,” said Birotteau, cutting the gabbler short, “the notes
which I gave you, and which I understood from you would not be put into
circulation. He has seen them bearing the words ‘not guaranteed.’”

“Well,” said Claparon, “they are not in general circulation; they are
in the hands of a man with whom I do a great deal of business,--Pere
Bidault. That is why I affixed the words ‘not guaranteed.’ If the notes
were intended for circulation you would have made them payable to his
order. Monsieur Lebas will understand my position. What do these notes
represent? The price of landed property. Paid by whom? By Birotteau. Why
should I guarantee Birotteau by my signature? We are to pay, each on his
own account, our half of the price of the said land. Now, it is enough
to be jointly and separately liable to the sellers. I hold inflexibly to
one commercial rule: I never give my guarantee uselessly, any more than
I give my receipt for moneys not yet paid. He who signs, pays. I don’t
wish to be liable to pay three times.”

“Three times!” said Cesar.

“Yes, monsieur,” said Claparon, “I have already guaranteed Birotteau
to the sellers, why should I guarantee him again to the bankers? The
circumstances in which we are placed are very hard. Roguin has carried
off a hundred thousand francs of mine; therefore, my half of the
property costs me five hundred thousand francs instead of four hundred
thousand. Roguin has also carried off two hundred and forty thousand
francs of Birotteau’s. What would you do in my place, Monsieur Lebas?
Stand in my skin for a moment and view the case. Give me your attention.
Say that we are engaged in a transaction on equal shares; you provide
the money for your share, I give bills for mine; I offer them to you,
and you undertake, purely out of kindness, to convert them into money.
You learn that I, Claparon,--banker, rich, respected (I accept all the
virtues under the sun),--that the virtuous Claparon is on the verge of
failure, with six million of liabilities to meet: would you, at such a
moment, give your signature to guarantee mine? Of course not; you would
be mad to do it. Well, Monsieur Lebas, Birotteau is in the position
which I have supposed for Claparon. Don’t you see that if I endorse for
him I am liable not only for my own share of the purchase, but I shall
also be compelled to reimburse to the full amount of Birotteau’s paper,
and without--”

“To whom?” asked Birotteau, interrupting him.

“--without gaining his half of the property?” said Claparon, paying no
attention to the interruption. “For I should have no rights in it; I
should have to buy it over again; consequently, I repeat, I should have
to pay for it three times.”

“Reimburse whom?” persisted Birotteau.

“Why, the holder of the notes, if I were to endorse, and you were to

“I shall not fail, monsieur,” said Birotteau.

“Very good,” said Claparon. “But you have been a judge, and you are
a clever merchant; you know very well that we should look ahead and
foresee everything; you can’t be surprised that I should attend to my
business properly.”

“Monsieur Claparon is right,” said Joseph Lebas.

“I am right,” said Claparon,--“right commercially. But this is an affair
of landed property. Now, what must I have? Money, to pay the sellers. We
won’t speak now of the two hundred and forty thousand francs,--which I
am sure Monsieur Birotteau will be able to raise soon,” said Claparon,
looking at Lebas. “I have come now to ask for a trifle, merely
twenty-five thousand francs,” he added, turning to Birotteau.

“Twenty-five thousand francs!” cried Cesar, feeling ice in his veins
instead of blood. “What claim have you, monsieur?”

“What claim? Hey! we have to make a payment and execute the deeds before
a notary. Among ourselves, of course, we could come to an understanding
about the payment, but when we have to do with a financial public
functionary it is quite another thing! He won’t palaver; he’ll trust you
no farther than he can see. We have got to come down with forty
thousand francs, to secure the registration, this week. I did not expect
reproaches in coming here, for, thinking this twenty-five thousand
francs might be inconvenient to you just now, I meant to tell you that,
by a mere chance, I have saved you--”

“What?” said Birotteau, with that rending cry of anguish which no man
ever mistakes.

“A trifle! The notes amounting to twenty-five thousand francs on divers
securities which Roguin gave me to negotiate I have credited to you,
for the registration payment and the fees, of which I will send you an
account; there will be a small amount to deduct, and you will then owe
me about six or seven thousand francs.”

“All that seems to me perfectly proper,” said Lebas. “In your place,
monsieur, I should do the same towards a stranger.”

“Monsieur Birotteau won’t die of it,” said Claparon; “it takes more than
one shot to kill an old wolf. I have seen wolves with a ball in their
head run, by God, like--wolves!”

“Who could have foreseen such villany as Roguin’s?” said Lebas, as
much alarmed by Cesar’s silence as by the discovery of such enormous
speculations outside of his friend’s legitimate business of perfumery.

“I came very near giving Monsieur Birotteau a receipt for his four
hundred thousand francs,” said Claparon. “I should have blown up if I
had, for I had given Roguin a hundred thousand myself the day before.
Our mutual confidence is all that saved me. Whether the money were in a
lawyer’s hands or in mine until the day came to pay for the land, seemed
to us all a matter of no importance.”

“It would have been better,” said Lebas, “to have kept the money in the
Bank of France until the time came to make the payments.”

“Roguin was the bank to me,” said Cesar. “But he is in the speculation,”
 he added, looking at Claparon.

“Yes, for one-fourth, by verbal agreement only. After being such a fool
as to let him run off with my money, I sha’n’t be such a fool as to
throw any more after it. If he sends me my hundred thousand francs, and
two hundred thousand more for his half of our share, I shall then see
about it. But he will take good care not to send them for an affair
which needs five years’ pot-boiling before you get any broth. If he has
only carried off, as they say, three hundred thousand francs, he will
want the income of all of that to live suitably in foreign countries.”

“The villain!”

“Eh! the devil take him! It was a woman who got him where he is,” said
Claparon. “Where’s the old man who can answer for himself that he won’t
be the slave of his last fancy? None of us, who think ourselves so
virtuous, know how we shall end. A last passion,--eh! it is the most
violent of all! Look at Cardot, Camusot, Matifat; they all have their
mistresses! If we have been gobbled up to satisfy Roguin’s, isn’t it
our own fault? Why didn’t we distrust a notary who meddles with
speculations? Every notary, every broker, every trustee who speculates
is an object of suspicion. Failure for them is fraudulent bankruptcy;
they are sure to go before the criminal courts, and therefore they
prefer to run out of the country. I sha’n’t commit such a stupid blunder
again. Well, well! we are too shaky ourselves in the matter not to let
judgment go by default against the men we have dined with, who have
given us fine balls,--men of the world, in short. Nobody complains; we
are all to blame.”

“Very much to blame,” said Birotteau. “The laws about failures and
insolvency should be looked into.”

“If you have any need of me,” said Lebas to Cesar, “I am at your

“Monsieur does not need any one,” said the irrepressible chatterbox,
whose floodgates du Tillet had set wide open when he turned on the
water,--for Claparon was now repeating a lesson du Tillet had cleverly
taught him. “His course is quite clear. Roguin’s assets will give fifty
per cent to the creditors, so little Crottat tells me. Besides this,
Monsieur Birotteau gets back the forty thousand on his note to Roguin’s
client, which the lender never paid over; then, of course, he can borrow
on that property. We have four months ahead before we are obliged to
make a payment of two hundred thousand francs to the sellers. Between
now and then, Monsieur Birotteau can pay off his notes; though of course
he can’t count on what Roguin has carried off to meet them. Even if
Monsieur Birotteau should be rather pinched, with a little manipulation
he will come out all right.”

The poor man took courage, as he heard Claparon analyzing the affair and
summing it up with advice as to his future conduct. His countenance grew
firm and decided; and he began to think highly of the late commercial
traveller’s capacity. Du Tillet had thought best to let Claparon believe
himself really the victim of Roguin. He had given Claparon a hundred
thousand francs to pay over to Roguin the day before the latter’s
flight, and Roguin had returned the money to du Tillet. Claparon,
therefore, to that extent was playing a genuine part; and he told
whoever would listen to him that Roguin had cost him a hundred thousand
francs. Du Tillet thought Claparon was not bold enough, and fancied he
had still too much honor and decency to make it safe to trust him with
the full extent of his plans; and he knew him to be mentally incapable
of conjecturing them.

“If our first friend is not our first dupe, we shall never find a
second,” he made answer to Claparon, on the day when his catchpenny
banker reproached him for the trick; and he flung him away like a
wornout instrument.

Monsieur Lebas and Claparon went out together.

“I shall pull through,” said Birotteau to himself. “My liabilities
amount to two hundred and thirty-five thousand francs; that is,
sixty-five thousand in bills for the cost of the ball, and a hundred
and seventy-five thousand given in notes for the lands. To meet these,
I have my share of Roguin’s assets, say perhaps one hundred thousand
francs; and I can cancel the loan on my property in the Faubourg du
Temple, as the mortgage never paid the money,--in all, one hundred and
forty thousand. All depends on making a hundred thousand francs out of
Cephalic Oil, and waiting patiently, with the help of a few notes, or
a credit at a banker’s, until I repair my losses or the lands about the
Madeleine reach their full value.”

When a man crushed by misfortune is once able to make the fiction of a
hope for himself by a series of arguments, more or less reasonable, with
which he bolsters himself up to rest his head, it often happens that he
is really saved. Many a man has derived energy from the confidence born
of illusions. Possibly, hope is the better half of courage; indeed,
the Catholic religion makes it a virtue. Hope! has it not sustained
the weak, and given the fainting heart time and patience to await the
chances and changes of life? Cesar resolved to confide his situation to
his wife’s uncle before seeking for succor elsewhere. But as he walked
down the Rue Saint-Honore towards the Rue des Bourdonnais, he endured an
inward anguish and distress which shook him so violently that he
fancied his health was giving way. His bowels seemed on fire. It is an
established fact that persons who feel through their diaphragms suffer
in those parts when overtaken by misfortune, just as others whose
perceptions are in their heads suffer from cerebral pains and
affections. In great crises, the physical powers are attacked at the
point where the individual temperament has placed the vital spark.
Feeble beings have the colic. Napoleon slept. Before assailing the
confidence of a life-long friendship, and breaking down all the barriers
of pride and self-assurance, an honorable man must needs feel in
his heart--and feel it more than once--the spur of that cruel rider,
necessity. Thus it happened that Birotteau had been goaded for two days
before he could bring himself to seek his uncle; it was, indeed, only
family reasons which finally decided him to do so. In any state of
the case, it was his duty to explain his position to the severe old
ironmonger, his wife’s uncle. Nevertheless, as he reached the house
he felt that inward faintness which a child feels when taken to a
dentist’s; but this shrinking of the heart involved the whole of his
life, past, present, and to come,--it was not the fugitive pain of a
moment. He went slowly up the stairs.


The old man was reading the “Constitutionnel” in his chimney-corner,
before a little round table on which stood his frugal breakfast,--a
roll, some butter, a plate of Brie cheese, and a cup of coffee.

“Here is true wisdom,” thought Birotteau, envying his uncle’s life.

“Well!” said Pillerault, taking off his spectacles, “I heard at the cafe
David last night about Roguin’s affair, and the assassination of his
mistress, la belle Hollandaise. I hope, as we desire to be actual owners
of the property, that you obtained Claparon’s receipt for the money.”

“Alas! uncle, no. The trouble is just there,--you have put your finger
upon the sore.”

“Good God! you are ruined!” cried Pillerault, letting fall
his newspaper, which Birotteau picked up, though it was the

Pillerault was so violently roused by his reflections that his
face--like the image on a medal and of the same stern character--took a
deep bronze tone, such as the metal itself takes under the oscillating
tool of a coiner; he remained motionless, gazing through the
window-panes at the opposite wall, but seeing nothing,--listening,
however, to Birotteau. Evidently he heard and judged, and weighed the
_pros_ and _cons_ with the inflexibility of a Minos who had crossed the
Styx of commerce when he quitted the Quai des Morfondus for his little
third storey.

“Well, uncle?” said Birotteau, who waited for an answer, after closing
what he had to say with an entreaty that Pillerault would sell sixty
thousand francs out of the Funds.

“Well, my poor nephew, I cannot do it; you are too heavily involved. The
Ragons and I each lose our fifty thousand francs. Those worthy people
have, by my advice, sold their shares in the mines of Wortschin: I feel
obliged, in case of loss, not to return the capital of course, but
to succor them, and to succor my niece and Cesarine. You may all want
bread, and you shall find it with me.”

“Want bread, uncle?”

“Yes, bread. See things as they are, Cesar. _You cannot extricate
yourself._ With five thousand six hundred francs income, I could
set aside four thousand francs for you and the Ragons. If misfortune
overtakes you,--I know Constance, she will work herself to the bone, she
will deny herself everything; and so will you, Cesar.”

“All is not hopeless, uncle.”

“I cannot see it as you do.”

“I will prove that you are mistaken.”

“Nothing would give me greater happiness.”

Birotteau left Pillerault without another word. He had come to seek
courage and consolation, and he received a blow less severe, perhaps,
than the first; but instead of striking his head it struck his heart,
and his heart was the whole of life to the poor man. After going down a
few stairs he returned.

“Monsieur,” he said, in a cold voice, “Constance knows nothing. Keep my
secret at any rate; beg the Ragons to say nothing, and not to take from
my home the peace I need so much in my struggle against misfortune.”

Pillerault made a gesture of assent.

“Courage, Cesar!” he said. “I see you are angry with me; but later, when
you think of your wife and daughter, you will do me justice.”

Discouraged by his uncle’s opinion, and recognizing its
clear-sightedness, Cesar tumbled from the heights of hope into the miry
marshes of doubt and uncertainty. In such horrible commercial straits
a man, unless his soul is tempered like that of Pillerault, becomes the
plaything of events; he follows the ideas of others, or his own, as a
traveller pursues a will-o’-the-wisp. He lets the gust whirl him along,
instead of lying flat and not looking up as it passes; or else gathering
himself together to follow the direction of the storm till he can escape
from the edges of it. In the midst of his pain Birotteau bethought him
of the steps he ought to take about the mortgage on his property. He
turned towards the Rue Vivienne to find Derville, his solicitor, and
institute proceedings at once, in case the lawyer should see any chance
of annulling the agreement. He found Derville sitting by the fire,
wrapped in a white woollen dressing-gown, calm and composed in manner,
like all lawyers long used to receiving terrible confidences. Birotteau
noticed for the first time in his life this necessary coldness, which
struck a chill to the soul of a man grasped by the fever of imperilled
interests,--passionate, wounded, and cruelly gashed in his life, his
honor, his wife, his child, as Cesar showed himself to be while he
related his misfortunes.

“If it can be proved,” said Derville, after listening to him, “that the
lender no longer had in Roguin’s hands the sum which Roguin pretended to
borrow for you upon your property, then, as there has been no delivery
of the money, there is ground for annulling the contract; the lender may
seek redress through the warranty, as you will for your hundred thousand
francs. I will answer for the case, however, as much as one can ever
answer. No case is won till it is tried.”

The opinion of so able a lawyer restored Cesar’s courage a little,
and he begged Derville to obtain a judgment within a fortnight. The
solicitor replied that it might take three months to get such a judgment
as would annul the agreement.

“Three months!” cried Birotteau, who needed immediate resources.

“Though we may get the case at once on the docket, we cannot make your
adversary keep pace with us. He will employ all the law’s delays, and
the barristers are seldom ready. Perhaps your opponents will let the
case go by default. We can’t always get on as we wish,” said Derville,

“In the commercial courts--” began Birotteau.

“Oh!” said the lawyer, “the judges of the commercial courts and the
judges of the civil courts are different sorts of judges. You dash
through things. At the Palais de Justice we have stricter forms. Forms
are the bulwarks of law. How would you like slap-dash judgments, which
can’t be appealed, and which would make you lose forty thousand francs?
Well, your adversary, who sees that sum involved, will defend himself.
Delays may be called judicial fortifications.”

“You are right,” said Birotteau, bidding Derville good-by, and going
hurriedly away, with death in his heart.

“They are all right. Money! money! I must have money!” he cried as he
went along the streets, talking to himself like other busy men in the
turbulent and seething city, which a modern poet has called a vat. When
he entered his shop, the clerk who had carried round the bills informed
him that the customers had returned the receipts and kept the accounts,
as it was so near the first of January.

“Then there is no money to be had anywhere,” said the perfumer, aloud.

He bit his lips, for the clerks all raised their heads and looked at

Five days went by; five days during which Braschon, Lourdois, Thorein,
Grindot, Chaffaroux, and all the other creditors with unpaid bills
passed through the chameleon phases that are customary to uneasy
creditors before they take the sanguinary colors of the commercial
Bellona, and reach a state of peaceful confidence. In Paris the
astringent stage of suspicion and mistrust is as quick to declare
itself as the expansive flow of confidence is slow in gathering way. The
creditor who has once turned into the narrow path of commercial fears
and precautions speedily takes a course of malignant meanness which puts
him below the level of his debtor. He passes from specious civility
to impatient rage, to the surly clamor of importunity, to bursts of
disappointment, to the livid coldness of a mind made up to vengeance,
and the scowling insolence of a summons before the courts. Braschon, the
rich upholsterer of the Faubourg Saint-Antoine, who was not invited
to the ball, and was therefore stabbed in his self-love, sounded the
charge; he insisted on being paid within twenty-four hours. He demanded
security; not an attachment on the furniture, but a second mortgage on
the property in the Faubourg du Temple.

In spite of such attacks and the violence of these recriminations, a
few peaceful intervals occurred, when Birotteau breathed once more; but
instead of resolutely facing and vanquishing the first skirmishings of
adverse fortune, Cesar employed his whole mind in the effort to keep his
wife, the only person able to advise him, from knowing anything about
them. He guarded the very threshold of his door, and set a watch on
all around him. He took Celestin into confidence so far as to admit a
momentary embarrassment, and Celestin examined him with an amazed and
inquisitive look. In his eyes Cesar lessened, as men lessen in presence
of disasters when accustomed only to success, and when their whole
mental strength consists of knowledge which commonplace minds acquire
through routine.

Menaced as he was on so many sides at once, and without the energy or
capacity to defend himself, Cesar nevertheless had the courage to look
his position in the face. To meet the payments on his house and on
his loans, and to pay his rents and his current expenses, he required,
between the end of December and the fifteenth of January, a sum of sixty
thousand francs, half of which must be obtained before the thirtieth
of December. All his resources put together gave him a scant twenty
thousand; he lacked ten thousand francs for the first payments. To his
mind the position did not seem desperate; for like an adventurer who
lives from day to day, he saw only the present moment. He resolved to
attempt, before the news of his embarrassments was made public, what
seemed to him a great stroke, and seek out the famous Francois Keller,
banker, orator, and philanthropist, celebrated for his benevolence and
for his desire to serve the interests of Parisian commerce,--with the
view, we may add, of being always returned to the Chamber as a deputy of

The banker was Liberal, Birotteau was Royalist; but the perfumer judged
by his own heart, and believed that the difference in their political
opinions would only be one reason the more for obtaining the credit
he intended to ask. In case actual securities were required he felt no
doubt of Popinot’s devotion, from whom he expected to obtain some thirty
thousand francs, which would enable him to await the result of
his law-suit by satisfying the demands of the most exacting of the
creditors. The demonstrative perfumer, who told his dear Constance, with
his head on her pillow, the smallest thoughts and feelings of his whole
life, looking for the lights of her contradiction, and gathering courage
as he did so, was now prevented from speaking of his situation to his
head-clerk, his uncle, or his wife. His thoughts were therefore doubly
heavy,--and yet the generous martyr preferred to suffer, rather than
fling the fiery brand into the soul of his wife. He meant to tell her
of the danger when it was over. The awe with which she inspired him gave
him courage. He went every morning to hear Mass at Saint-Roch, and took
God for his confidant.

“If I do not meet a soldier coming home from Saint-Roch, my request
will be granted. That will be God’s answer,” he said to himself, after
praying that God would help him.

And he was overjoyed when it happened that he did not meet a soldier.
Still, his heart was so heavy that he needed another heart on which to
lean and moan. Cesarine, to whom from the first he confided the fatal
truth, knew all his secrets. Many stolen glances passed between them,
glances of despair or smothered hope,--interpellations of the eye darted
with mutual eagerness, inquiries and replies full of sympathy, rays
passing from soul to soul. Birotteau compelled himself to seem gay, even
jovial, with his wife. If Constance asked a question--bah! everything
was going well; Popinot (about whom Cesar knew nothing) was succeeding;
the oil was looking up; the notes with Claparon would be paid; there was
nothing to fear. His mock joy was terrible to witness. When his wife had
fallen asleep in the sumptuous bed, Birotteau would rise to a sitting
position and think over his troubles. Cesarine would sometimes creep
in with her bare feet, in her chemise, and a shawl over her white

“Papa, I hear you,--you are crying,” she would say, crying herself.

Birotteau sank into such a torpor, after writing the letter which asked
for an interview with the great Francois Keller, that his daughter took
him out for a walk through the streets of Paris. For the first time he
was roused to notice enormous scarlet placards on all the walls, and his
eyes encountered the words “Cephalic Oil.”

While catastrophes thus threatened “The Queen of Roses” to westward,
the house of A. Popinot was rising, radiant in the eastern splendors of
success. By the advice of Gaudissart and Finot, Anselme launched his oil
heroically. Two thousand placards were pasted in three days on the most
conspicuous spots in all Paris. No one could avoid coming face to face
with Cephalic Oil, and reading a pithy sentence, constructed by Finot,
which announced the impossibility of forcing the hair to grow and the
dangers of dyeing it, and was judiciously accompanied by a quotation
from Vauquelin’s report to the Academy of Sciences,--in short, a
regular certificate of life for dead hair, offered to all those who
used Cephalic Oil. Every hair-dresser in Paris, and all the perfumers,
ornamented their doorways with gilt frames containing a fine impression
of the prospectus on vellum, at the top of which shone the engraving of
Hero and Leander, reduced in size, with the following assertion as an
epigraph: “The peoples of antiquity preserved their hair by the use of
Cephalic Oil.”

“He has devised frames, permanent frames, perpetual placards,”
 said Birotteau to himself, quite dumbfounded as he stood before the
shop-front of the Cloche d’Argent.

“Then you have not seen,” said his daughter, “the frame which Monsieur
Anselme has brought with his own hands, sending Celestin three hundred
bottles of oil?”

“No,” he said.

“Celestin has already sold fifty to passers-by, and sixty to regular

“Ah!” exclaimed Cesar.

The poor man, bewildered by the clash of bells which misery jangles in
the ears of its victims, lived and moved in a dazed condition. The night
before, Popinot had waited more than an hour to see him, and went away
after talking with Constance and Cesarine, who told him that Cesar was
absorbed in his great enterprise.

“Ah, true! the lands about the Madeleine.”

Happily, Popinot--who for a month had never left the Rue des
Cinq-Diamants, sitting up all night, and working all Sunday at the
manufactory--had seen neither the Ragons, nor Pillerault, nor his uncle
the judge. He allowed himself but two hours’ sleep, poor lad! he had
only two clerks, but at the rate things were now going, he would soon
need four. In business, opportunity is everything. He who does not
spring upon the back of success and clutch it by the mane, lets fortune
escape. Popinot felt that his suit would prosper if six months hence he
could say to his uncle and aunt, “I am secure; my fortune is made,” and
carry to Birotteau thirty or forty thousand francs as his share of
the profits. He was ignorant of Roguin’s flight, of the disasters and
embarrassments which were closing down on Cesar, and he therefore could
say nothing indiscreet to Madame Birotteau.

Popinot had promised Finot five hundred francs for every puff in a
first-class newspaper, and already there were ten of them; three hundred
francs for every second-rate paper, and there were ten of those,--in all
of them Cephalic Oil was mentioned three times a month! Finot saw three
thousand francs for himself out of these eight thousand--his first stake
on the vast green table of speculation! He therefore sprang like a lion
on his friends and acquaintances; he haunted the editorial rooms; he
wormed himself to the very bedsides of editors in the morning, and
prowled about the lobby of the theatres at night. “Think of my oil, dear
friend; I have no interest in it--bit of good fellowship, you know!”
 “Gaudissart, jolly dog!” Such was the first and the last phrase of all
his allocutions. He begged for the bottom lines of the final columns of
the newspapers, and inserted articles for which he asked no pay from the
editors. Wily as a supernumerary who wants to be an actor, wide-awake
as an errand-boy who earns sixty francs a month, he wrote wheedling
letters, flattered the self-love of editors-in-chief, and did them base
services to get his articles inserted. Money, dinners, platitudes, all
served the purpose of his eager activity. With tickets for the theatre,
he bribed the printers who about midnight are finishing up the columns
of a newspaper with little facts and ready-made items kept on hand. At
that hour Finot hovered around printing-presses, busy, apparently,
with proofs to be corrected. Keeping friends with everybody, he
brought Cephalic Oil to a triumphant success over Pate de Regnauld, and
Brazilian Mixture, and all the other inventions which had the genius to
comprehend journalistic influence and the suction power that reiterated
newspaper articles have upon the public mind. In these early days of
their innocence many journalists were like cattle; they were unaware
of their inborn power; their heads were full of actresses,--Florine,
Tullia, Mariette, etc. They laid down the law to everybody, but they
picked up nothing for themselves. As Finot’s schemes did not concern
actresses who wanted applause, nor plays to be puffed, nor vaudevilles
to be accepted, nor articles which had to be paid for,--on the contrary,
he paid money on occasion, and gave timely breakfasts,--there was soon
not a newspaper in Paris which did not mention Cephalic Oil, and
call attention to its remarkable concurrence with the principles of
Vauquelin’s analysis; ridiculing all those who thought hair could be
made to grow, and proclaiming the danger of dyeing it.

These articles rejoiced the soul of Gaudissart, who used them as
ammunition to destroy prejudices, bringing to bear upon the provinces
what his successors have since named, in honor of him, “the charge
of the tongue-battery.” In those days Parisian newspapers ruled the
departments, which were still (unhappy regions!) without _local organs_.
The papers were therefore soberly studied, from the title to the name
of the printer,--a last line which may have hidden the ironies of
persecuted opinion. Gaudissart, thus backed up by the press, met with
startling success from the very first town which he favored with his
tongue. Every shopkeeper in the provinces wanted the gilt frames, and
the prospectuses with Hero and Leander at the top of them.

In Paris, Finot fired at Macassar Oil that delightful joke which
made people so merry at the Funambules, when Pierrot, taking an old
hair-broom, anointed it with Macassar Oil, and the broom incontinently
became a mop. This ironical scene excited universal laughter. Finot
gaily related in after days that without the thousand crowns he earned
through Cephalic Oil he should have died of misery and despair. To him
a thousand crowns was fortune. It was in this campaign that he
guessed--let him have the honor of being the first to do so--the
illimitable power of advertisement, of which he made so great and so
judicious a use. Three months later he became editor-in-chief of a
little journal which he finally bought, and which laid the foundation
of his ultimate success. Just as the tongue-battery of the illustrious
Gaudissart, that Murat of travellers, when brought to bear upon the
provinces and the frontiers, made the house of A. Popinot and Company
a triumphant mercantile success in the country regions, so likewise did
Cephalic Oil triumph in Parisian opinion, thanks to Finot’s famishing
assault upon the newspapers, which gave it as much publicity as that
obtained by Brazilian Mixture and the Pate de Regnauld. From the start,
public opinion, thus carried by storm, begot three successes, three
fortunes, and proved the advance guard of that invasion of ambitious
schemes which since have poured their crowded battalions into the arena
of journalism, for which they have created--oh, mighty revolution!--the
paid advertisement. The name of A. Popinot and Company now flaunted on
all the walls and all the shop-fronts. Incapable of perceiving the full
bearing of such publicity, Birotteau merely said to his daughter,--

“Little Popinot is following in my steps.”

He did not understand the difference of the times, nor appreciate the
power of the novel methods of execution, whose rapidity and extent took
in, far more promptly than ever before, the whole commercial universe.
Birotteau had not set foot in his manufactory since the ball; he knew
nothing therefore of the energy and enterprise displayed by Popinot.
Anselme had engaged all Cesar’s workmen, and often slept himself on the
premises. His fancy pictured Cesarine sitting on the cases, and hovering
over the shipments; her name seemed printed on the bills; and as he
worked with his coat off, and his shirt-sleeves rolled up, courageously
nailing up the cases himself, in default of the necessary clerks, he
said in his heart, “She shall be mine!”

              *     *     *     *     *

The following day Cesar went to Francois Keller’s house in Rue du
Houssaye, having spent the night turning over in his mind what he
ought to say, or ought not to say, to a leading man in banking circles.
Horrible palpitations of the heart assailed him as he approached the
house of the Liberal banker, who belonged to a party accused, with good
reason, of seeking the overthrow of the restored Bourbons. The perfumer,
like all the lesser tradesmen of Paris, was ignorant of the habits
and customs of the upper banking circles. Between the higher walks of
finance and ordinary commerce, there is in Paris a class of secondary
houses, useful intermediaries for banking interests, which find in them
an additional security. Constance and Birotteau, who had never gone
beyond their means, whose purse had never run dry, and who kept their
moneys in their own possession, had so far never needed the services
of these intermediary houses; they were therefore unknown in the higher
regions of a bank. Perhaps it is a mistake not to take out credits, even
if we do not need them. Opinions vary on this point. However that may
be, Birotteau now deeply regretted that his signature was unknown.
Still, as deputy-mayor, and therefore known in politics, he thought he
had only to present his name and be admitted: he was quite ignorant of
the ceremonial, half regal, which attended an audience with Francois
Keller. He was shown into a salon which adjoined the study of the
celebrated banker,--celebrated in various ways. Birotteau found
himself among a numerous company of deputies, writers, journalists,
stock-brokers, merchants of the upper grades, agents, engineers, and
above all satellites, or henchmen, who passed from group to group, and
knocked in a peculiar manner at the door of the study, which they were,
as it seemed, privileged to enter.

“What am I in the midst of all this?” thought Birotteau, quite
bewildered by the stir of this intellectual kiln, where the daily bread
of the opposition was kneaded and baked, and the scenes of the grand
tragi-comedy played by the Left were rehearsed. On one side he heard
them discussing the question of loans to complete the net-work of canals
proposed by the department on highways; and the discussion involved
millions! On the other, journalists, pandering to the banker’s
self-love, were talking about the session of the day before, and the
impromptu speech of the great man. In the course of two long hours
Birotteau saw the banker three times, as he accompanied certain persons
of importance three steps from the door of his study. But Francois
Keller went to the door of the antechamber with the last, who was
General Foy.

“There is no hope for me!” thought Birotteau with a shrinking heart.

When the banker returned to his study, the troop of courtiers, friends,
and self-seekers pressed round him like dogs pursuing a bitch. A few
bold curs slipped, in spite of him, into the sanctum. The conferences
lasted five, ten, or fifteen minutes. Some went away chap-fallen; others
affected satisfaction, and took on airs of importance. Time passed;
Birotteau looked anxiously at the clock. No one paid the least attention
to the hidden grief which moaned silently in the gilded armchair in the
chimney corner, near the door of the cabinet where dwelt the universal
panacea--credit! Cesar remembered sadly that for a brief moment he too
had been a king among his own people, as this man was a king daily; and
he measured the depth of the abyss down which he had fallen. Ah, bitter
thought! how many tears were driven back during those waiting hours! how
many times did he not pray to God that this man might be favorable to
him! for he saw, through the coarse varnish of popular good humor, a
tone of insolence, a choleric tyranny, a brutal desire to rule, which
terrified his gentle spirit. At last, when only ten or twelve persons
were left in the room, Birotteau resolved that the next time the outer
door of the study turned on its hinges he would rise and face the great
orator, and say to him, “I am Birotteau!” The grenadier who sprang first
into the redoubt at Moscow displayed no greater courage than Cesar now
summoned up to perform this act.

“After all, I am his mayor,” he said to himself as he rose to proclaim
his name.

The countenance of Francois Keller at once became affable; he evidently
desired to be cordial. He glanced at Cesar’s red ribbon, and stepping
back, opened the door of his study and motioned him to enter, remaining
himself for some time to speak with two men, who rushed in from the
staircase with the violence of a waterspout.

“Decazes wants to speak to you,” said one of them.

“It is a question of defeating the Pavillon Marsan!” cried the other.
“The King’s eyes are opened. He is coming round to us.”

“We will go together to the Chamber,” said the banker, striking the
attitude of the frog who imitates an ox.

“How can he find time to think of business?” thought Birotteau, much

The sun of successful superiority dazzled the perfumer, as light blinds
those insects who seek the falling day or the half-shadows of a starlit
night. On a table of immense size lay the budget, piles of the Chamber
records, open volumes of the “Moniteur,” with passages carefully marked,
to throw at the head of a Minister his forgotten words and force him to
recant them, under the jeering plaudits of a foolish crowd incapable of
perceiving how circumstances alter cases. On another table were heaped
portfolios, minutes, projects, specifications, and all the thousand
memoranda brought to bear upon a man into whose funds so many nascent
industries sought to dip. The royal luxury of this cabinet, filled with
pictures, statues, and works of art; the encumbered chimney-piece; the
accumulation of many interests, national and foreign, heaped together
like bales,--all struck Birotteau’s mind, dwarfed his powers, heightened
his terror, and froze his blood. On Francois Keller’s desk lay bundles
of notes and checks, letters of credit, and commercial circulars.
Keller sat down and began to sign rapidly such letters as needed no

“Monsieur, to what do I owe the honor of this visit?”

At these words, uttered for him alone by a voice which influenced
all Europe, while the eager hand was running over the paper, the poor
perfumer felt something that was like a hot iron in his stomach. He
assumed the ingratiating manner which for ten years past the banker had
seen all men put on when they wanted to get the better of him for
their own purposes, and which gave him at once the advantage over them.
Francois Keller accordingly darted at Cesar a look which shot through
his head,--a Napoleonic look. This imitation of Napoleon’s glance was a
silly satire, then popular with certain parvenus who had never seen so
much as the base coin of their emperor. This glance fell upon Birotteau,
a devotee of the Right, a partisan of the government,--himself an
element of monarchical election,--like the stamp of a custom-house
officer affixed to a bale of merchandise.

“Monsieur, I will not waste your time; I will be brief. I come on
commercial business only,--to ask if I can obtain a credit. I was
formerly a judge of the commercial courts, and known to the Bank of
France. You will easily understand that if I had plenty of ready money
I need only apply there, where you are yourself a director. I had the
honor of sitting on the Bench of commerce with Monsieur le baron Thibon,
chairman of the committee on discounts; and he, most assuredly, would
not refuse me. But up to this time I have never made use of my credit
or my signature; my signature is virgin,--and you know what difficulties
that puts in the way of negotiation.”

Keller moved his head, and Birotteau took the movement for one of

“Monsieur, these are the facts,” he resumed. “I am engaged in an affair
of landed property, outside of my business--”

Francois Keller, who continued to sign and read his documents, without
seeming to listen to Birotteau, here turned round and made him a little
sign of attention, which encouraged the poor man. He thought the matter
was taking a favorable turn, and breathed again.

“Go on; I hear you,” said Keller good-naturedly.

“I have purchased, at half its value, certain land about the

“Yes; I heard Nucingen speak of that immense affair,--undertaken, I
believe, by Claparon and Company.”

“Well,” continued Cesar, “a credit of a hundred thousand francs, secured
on my share of the purchase, will suffice to carry me along until I can
reap certain profits from a discovery of mine in perfumery. Should it be
necessary, I will cover your risk by notes on a new establishment,--the
firm of A. Popinot--”

Keller seemed to care very little about the firm of Popinot; and
Birotteau, perceiving that he had made a false move, stopped short;
then, alarmed by the silence, he resumed, “As for the interest, we--”

“Yes, yes,” said the banker, “the matter can be arranged; don’t doubt my
desire to be of service to you. Busy as I am,--for I have the finances
of Europe on my shoulders, and the Chamber takes all my time,--you will
not be surprised to hear that I leave the vast bulk of our affairs to
the examination of others. Go and see my brother Adolphe, downstairs;
explain to him the nature of your securities; if he approves of the
operation, come back here with him to-morrow or the day after, at five
in the morning,--the hour at which I examine into certain business
matters. We shall be proud and happy to obtain your confidence. You are
one of those consistent royalists with whom, of course, we are political
enemies, but whose good-will is always flattering--”

“Monsieur,” said Cesar, elated by this specimen of tribune eloquence, “I
trust I am as worthy of the honor you do me as I was of the signal and
royal favor which I earned by my services on the Bench of commerce, and
by fighting--”

“Yes, yes,” interrupted the banker, “your reputation is a passport,
Monsieur Birotteau. You will, of course, propose nothing that is not
feasible, and you can depend on our co-operation.”

A lady, Madame Keller, one of the two daughters of the Comte de
Gondreville, here opened a door which Birotteau had not observed.

“I hope to see you before you go the Chamber,” she said.

“It is two o’clock,” exclaimed the banker; “the battle has begun.
Excuse me, monsieur, it is a question of upsetting the ministry. See my

He conducted the perfumer to the door of the salon, and said to one of
the servants, “Show monsieur the way to Monsieur Adolphe.”

As Cesar traversed a labyrinth of staircases, under the guidance of a
man in livery, towards an office far less sumptuous but more useful than
that of the head of the house, feeling himself astride the gentle steed
of hope, he stroked his chin, and augured well from the flatteries of
the great man. He regretted that an enemy of the Bourbons should be so
gracious, so able, so fine an orator.

Full of these illusions he entered a cold bare room, furnished with
two desks on rollers, some shabby armchairs, a threadbare carpet, and
curtains that were much neglected. This cabinet was to that of the elder
brother like a kitchen to a dining-room, or a work-room to a shop. Here
were turned inside out all matters touching the bank and commerce; here
all enterprises were sifted, and the first tithes levied, on behalf of
the bank, upon the profits of industries judged worthy of being upheld.
Here were devised those bold strokes by which short-lived monopolies
were called into being and rapidly sucked dry. Here defects of
legislation were chronicled; and bargains driven, without shame, for
what the Bourse terms “pickings to be gobbled up,” commissions exacted
for the smallest services, such as lending their name to an enterprise,
and allowing it credit. Here were hatched the specious, legal plots by
which silent partnerships were taken in doubtful enterprises, that the
bank might lie in wait for the moment of success, and then crush
them and seize the property by demanding a return of the capital at a
critical moment,--an infamous trick, which involves and ruins many small

The two brothers had each selected his appropriate part. Upstairs,
Francois, the brilliant man of the world and of politics, assumed a
regal air, bestowed courtesies and promises, and made himself agreeable
to all. His manners were easy and complying; he looked at business
from a lofty standpoint; he intoxicated new recruits and fledgling
speculators with the wine of his favor and his fervid speech, as he made
plain to them their own ideas. Downstairs, Adolphe unsaid his brother’s
words, excused him on the ground of political preoccupation, and
cleverly slipped the rake along the cloth. He played the part of the
responsible partner, the careful business man. Two words, two speeches,
two interviews, were required before an understanding could be reached
with this perfidious house. Often the gracious “yes” of the sumptuous
upper floor became a dry “no” in Adolphe’s region. This obstructive
manoeuvre gave time for reflection, and often served to fool unskilful
applicants. As Cesar entered, the banker’s brother was conversing with
the famous Palma, intimate adviser of the house of Keller, who retired
on the appearance of the perfumer. When Birotteau had explained his
errand, Adolphe--much the cleverest of the two brothers, a thorough
lynx, with a keen eye, thin lips, and a dry skin--cast at Birotteau,
lowering his head to look over his spectacles as he did so, a look which
we must call the banker-look,--a cross between that of a vulture and
that of an attorney; eager yet indifferent, clear yet vague, glittering
though sombre.

“Have the goodness to send me the deeds relating to the affair of the
Madeleine,” he said; “our security in making you this credit lies there:
we must examine them before we consent to make it, or discuss the terms.
If the affair is sound, we shall be willing, so as not to embarrass you,
to take a share of the profits in place of receiving a discount.”

“Well,” thought Birotteau, as he walked away, “I see what it means. Like
the hunted beaver, I am to give up a part of my skin. After all, it is
better to be shorn than killed.”

He went home smiling gaily, and his gaiety was genuine.

“I am saved,” he said to Cesarine. “I am to have a credit with the


It was not until the 29th of December that Birotteau was allowed to
re-enter Adolphe’s cabinet. The first time he called, Adolphe had gone
into the country to look at a piece of property which the great orator
thought of buying. The second time, the two Kellers were deeply engaged
for the whole day, preparing a tender for a loan proposed in the
Chamber, and they begged Monsieur Birotteau to return on the following
Friday. These delays were killing to the poor man. But Friday came at
last. Birotteau found himself in the cabinet, placed in one corner
of the fireplace, facing the light from a window, with Adolphe Keller
opposite to him.

“They are all right, monsieur,” said the banker, pointing to the deeds.
“But what payments have you made on the price of the land?”

“One hundred and forty thousand francs.”



“Are they paid?”

“They are not yet due.”

“But supposing you have paid more than the present value of the
property, where will be our security? It will rest solely on the respect
you inspire, and the consideration in which you are held. Business is
not conducted on sentiment. If you had paid two hundred thousand francs,
supposing that there were another one hundred thousand paid down in
advance for possession of the land, we should then have had the security
of a hundred thousand francs, to warrant us in giving you a credit of
one hundred thousand. The result might be to make us owners of your
share by our paying for it, instead of your doing so; consequently we
must be satisfied that the affair is a sound one. To wait five years to
double our capital won’t do for us; it is better to employ it in other
ways. There are so many chances! You are trying to circulate paper to
pay your notes when they fall due,--a dangerous game. It is wiser to
step back for a better leap. The affair does not suit us.”

This sentence struck Birotteau as if the executioner had stamped his
shoulder with the marking-iron; he lost his head.

“Come,” said Adolphe, “my brother feels a great interest in you;
he spoke of you to me. Let us examine into your affairs,” he added,
glancing at Cesar with the look of a courtesan eager to pay her rent.

Birotteau became Molineux,--a being at whom he had once laughed so
loftily. Enticed along by the banker,--who enjoyed disentangling
the bobbins of the poor man’s thought, and who knew as well how to
cross-question a merchant as Popinot the judge knew how to make a
criminal betray himself,--Cesar recounted all his enterprises; he put
forward his Double Paste of Sultans and Carminative Balm, the Roguin
affair, and his lawsuit about the mortgage on which he had received
no money. As he watched the smiling, attentive face of Keller and the
motions of his head, Birotteau said to himself, “He is listening; I
interest him; I shall get my credit!” Adolphe Keller was laughing at
Cesar, just as Cesar had laughed at Molineux. Carried away by the lust
of speech peculiar to those who are made drunk by misfortune, Cesar
revealed his inner man; he gave his measure when he ended by offering
the security of Cephalic Oil and the firm of Popinot,--his last stake.
The worthy man, led on by false hopes, allowed Adolphe Keller to sound
and fathom him, and he stood revealed to the banker’s eyes as a royalist
jackass on the point of failure. Delighted to foresee the bankruptcy of
a deputy-mayor of the arrondissement, an official just decorated, and
a man in power, Keller now curtly told Birotteau that he could neither
give him a credit nor say anything in his favor to his brother Francois.
If Francois gave way to idiotic generosity, and helped people of another
way of thinking from his own, men who were his political enemies, he,
Adolphe, would oppose with might and main any attempt to make a dupe of
him, and would prevent him from holding out a hand to the adversary of
Napoleon, wounded at Saint-Roch. Birotteau, exasperated, tried to
say something about the cupidity of the great banking-houses, their
harshness, their false philanthropy; but he was seized with so violent
a pain that he could scarcely stammer a few words about the Bank of
France, from which the Kellers were allowed to borrow.

“Yes,” said Adolphe Keller; “but the Bank would never discount paper
which a private bank refused.”

“The Bank of France,” said Birotteau, “has always seemed to me to miss
its vocation when it congratulates itself, as it does in presenting its
reports, on never losing more than one or two hundred thousand francs
through Parisian commerce: it should be the guardian and protector of
Parisian commerce.”

Adolphe smiled, and got up with the air and gesture of being bored.

“If the Bank were mixed up as silent partners with people who are
involved in the most knavish and hazardous market in the world, it would
soon have to hand in its schedule. It has, even now, immense difficulty
in protecting itself against forgeries and false circulations of all
kinds. Where would it be if it had to take account of the business of
every one who wanted to get something out of it?”

              *     *     *     *     *

“Where shall I find ten thousand francs for to-morrow, the THIRTIETH?”
 cried Birotteau, as he crossed the courtyard.

According to Parisian custom, notes were paid on the thirtieth, if the
thirty-first was a holiday.

As Cesar reached the outer gate, his eyes bathed in tears, he scarcely
saw a fine English horse, covered with sweat, which drew the handsomest
cabriolet that rolled in those days along the pavements of Paris, and
which was now pulled up suddenly beside him. He would gladly have been
run over and crushed by it; if he died by accident, the confusion of
his affairs would be laid to that circumstance. He did not recognize du
Tillet, who in elegant morning dress jumped lightly down, throwing
the reins to his groom and a blanket over the back of his smoking

“What chance brings you here?” said the former clerk to his old patron.

Du Tillet knew very well what it was, for the Kellers had made inquiries
of Claparon, who by referring them to du Tillet had demolished the past
reputation of the poor man. Though quickly checked, the tears on Cesar’s
face spoke volumes.

“It is possible that you have asked assistance from these Bedouins?”
 said du Tillet, “these cut-throats of commerce, full of infamous tricks;
who run up indigo when they have monopolized the trade, and pull down
rice to force the holders to sell at low prices, and so enable them to
manage the market? Atrocious pirates, who have neither faith, nor law,
nor soul, nor honor! You don’t know what they are capable of doing.
They will give you a credit if they think you have got a good thing, and
close it the moment you get into the thick of the enterprise; and then
you will be forced to make it all over to them, at any villanous price
they choose to give. Havre, Bordeaux, Marseilles, could tell you tales
about them! They make use of politics to cover up their filthy ways. If
I were you I should get what I could out of them in any way, and without
scruple. Let us walk on, Birotteau. Joseph, lead the horse about, he is
too hot: the devil! he is a capital of a thousand crowns.”

So saying, he turned toward the boulevard.

“Come, my dear master,--for you were once my master,--tell me, are you
in want of money? Have they asked you for securities, the scoundrels?
I, who know you, I offer you money on your simple note. I have made an
honorable fortune with infinite pains. I began it in Germany; I may as
well tell you that I bought up the debts of the king, at sixty per cent
of their amount: your endorsement was very useful to me at that time,
and I am not ungrateful,--not I. If you want ten thousand francs, they
are yours.”

“Du Tillet!” cried Cesar, “can it be true? you are not joking with me?
Yes, I am rather pinched, but only for a moment.”

“I know,--that affair of Roguin,” replied du Tillet. “Hey! I am in for
ten thousand francs which the old rogue borrowed of me just before he
went off; but Madame Roguin will pay them back from her dower. I have
advised the poor woman not to be so foolish as to spend her own fortune
in paying debts contracted for a prostitute. Of course, it would be
well if she paid everything, but she cannot favor some creditors to
the detriment of others. You are not a Roguin; I know you,” said du
Tillet,--“you would blow your brains out rather than make me lose a sou.
Here we are at Rue de la Chaussee-d’Antin; come home with me.”

They entered a bedroom, with which Madame Birotteau’s compared like
that of a chorus-singer’s on a fourth floor with the appartement of a
prima-donna. The ceiling was of violet-colored satin, heightened in its
effect by folds of white satin; a rug of ermine lay at the bedside, and
contrasted with the purple tones of a Turkish carpet. The furniture
and all the accessories were novel in shape, costly, and choice in
character. Birotteau paused before an exquisite clock, decorated with
Cupid and Psyche, just designed for a famous banker, from whom du Tillet
had obtained the sole copy ever made of it. The former master and
his former clerk at last reached an elegant coquettish cabinet, more
redolent of love than finance. Madame Roguin had doubtless contributed,
in return for the care bestowed upon her fortune, the paper-knife in
chiselled gold, the paper-weights of carved malachite, and all the
costly knick-knacks of unrestrained luxury. The carpet, one of the rich
products of Belgium, was as pleasant to the eye as to the foot which
felt the soft thickness of its texture. Du Tillet made the poor, amazed,
bewildered perfumer sit down at a corner of the fireplace.

“Will you breakfast with me?”

He rang the bell. Enter a footman better dressed than Birotteau.

“Tell Monsieur Legras to come here, and then find Joseph at the door of
the Messrs. Keller; tell him to return to the stable. Leave word with
Adolphe Keller that instead of going to see him, I shall expect him at
the Bourse; and order breakfast served immediately.”

These commands amazed Cesar.

“He whistles to that formidable Adolphe Keller like a dog!--he, du

A little tiger, about a thumb high, set out a table, which Birotteau had
not observed, so slim was it, and brought in a _pate de foie gras_, a
bottle of claret, and a number of dainty dishes which only appeared in
Birotteau’s household once in three months, on great festive occasions.
Du Tillet enjoyed the effect. His hatred towards the only man who had it
in his power to despise him burned so hotly that Birotteau seemed, even
to his own mind, like a sheep defending itself against a tiger. For an
instant, a generous idea entered du Tillet’s heart: he asked himself if
his vengeance were not sufficiently accomplished. He hesitated between
this awakened mercy and his dormant hate.

“I can annihilate him commercially,” he thought; “I have the power of
life or death over him,--over his wife who insulted me, and his daughter
whose hand once seemed to me a fortune. I have got his money; suppose I
content myself with letting the poor fool swim at the end of a line I’ll
hold for him?”

Honest minds are devoid of tact; their excellence is uncalculating,
even unreflecting, because they are wholly without evasions or mental
reservations of their own. Birotteau now brought about his downfall; he
incensed the tiger, pierced him to the heart without knowing it,
made him implacable by a thoughtless word, a eulogy, a virtuous
recognition,--by the kind-heartedness, as it were, of his own integrity.
When the cashier entered, du Tillet motioned him to take notice of

“Monsieur Legras, bring me ten thousand francs, and a note of hand for
that amount, drawn to my order, at ninety days’ sight, by monsieur, who
is Monsieur Cesar Birotteau, you know.”

Du Tillet cut the pate, poured out a glass of claret, and urged Cesar
to eat. The poor man felt he was saved, and gave way to convulsive
laughter; he played with his watch-chain, and only put a mouthful into
his mouth, when du Tillet said to him, “You are not eating!” Birotteau
thus betrayed the depths of the abyss into which du Tillet’s hand had
plunged him, from which that hand now withdrew him, and into which it
had the power to plunge him again. When the cashier returned, and Cesar
signed the note, and felt the ten bank-notes in his pocket, he was
no longer master of himself. A moment sooner, and the Bank, his
neighborhood, every one, was to know that he could not meet his
payments, and he must have told his ruin to his wife; now, all was safe!
The joy of this deliverance equalled in its intensity the tortures of
his peril. The eyes of the poor man moistened, in spite of himself.

“What is the matter with you, my dear master?” asked du Tillet. “Would
you not do for me to-morrow what I do for you to-day? Is it not as
simple as saying, How do you do?”

“Du Tillet,” said the worthy man, with gravity and emphasis, and rising
to take the hand of his former clerk, “I give you back my esteem.”

“What! had I lost it?” cried du Tillet, so violently stabbed in the very
bosom of his prosperity that the color came into his face.

“Lost?--well, not precisely,” said Birotteau, thunder-struck at his own
stupidity: “they told me certain things about your _liaison_ with Madame
Roguin. The devil! taking the wife of another man--”

“You are beating round the bush, old fellow,” thought du Tillet, and
as the words crossed his mind he came back to his original project,
and vowed to bring that virtue low, to trample it under foot, to render
despicable in the marts of Paris the honorable and virtuous merchant who
had caught him, red-handed, in a theft. All hatreds, public or private,
from woman to woman, from man to man, have no other cause then some
such detection. People do not hate each other for injured interests, for
wounds, not even for a blow; all such wrongs can be redressed. But to
have been seized, _flagrante delicto_, in a base act! The duel which
follows between the criminal and the witness of his crime ends only with
the death of the one or of the other.

“Oh! Madame Roguin!” said du Tillet, jestingly, “don’t you call that a
feather in a young man’s cap? I understand you, my dear master; somebody
has told you that she lent me money. Well, on the contrary it is I
who have protected her fortune, which was strangely involved in her
husband’s affairs. The origin of my fortune is pure, as I have just told
you. I had nothing, you know. Young men are sometimes in positions of
frightful necessity. They may lose their self-control in the depths of
poverty, and if they make, as the Republic made, forced loans--well,
they pay them back; and in so doing they are more honest than France

“That is true,” cried Birotteau. “My son, God--is it not Voltaire who

  “‘He rendered repentance the virtue of mortals’?”

“Provided,” answered du Tillet, stabbed afresh by this
quotation,--“provided they do not carry off the property of their
neighbors, basely, meanly; as, for example, you would do if you failed
within three months, and my ten thousand francs went to perdition.”

“I fail!” cried Birotteau, who had taken three glasses of wine, and
was half-drunk with joy. “Everybody knows what I think about failure!
Failure is death to a merchant; I should die of it!”

“I drink your health,” said du Tillet.

“Your health and prosperity,” returned Cesar. “Why don’t you buy your
perfumery from me?”

“The fact is,” said du Tillet, “I am afraid of Madame Cesar; she always
made an impression on me. If you had not been my master, on my word!

“You are not the first to think her beautiful; others have desired her;
but she loves me! Well, now, du Tillet, my friend,” resumed Birotteau,
“don’t do things by halves.”

“What is it?”

Birotteau explained the affair of the lands to his former clerk, who
pretended to open his eyes wide, and complimented the perfumer on his
perspicacity and penetration, and praised the enterprise.

“Well, I am very glad to have your approbation; you are thought one
of the wise-heads of the banking business, du Tillet. Dear fellow, you
might get me a credit at the Bank of France, so that I can wait for the
profits of Cephalic Oil at my ease.”

“I can give you a letter to the firm of Nucingen,” answered du Tillet,
perceiving that he could make his victim dance all the figures in the
reel of bankruptcy.

Ferdinand sat down to his desk and wrote the following letter:--

  _To Monsieur le baron de Nucingen_:

  My dear Baron,--The bearer of this letter is Monsieur Cesar
  Birotteau, deputy-mayor of the second arrondissement, and one of
  the best known manufacturers of Parisian perfumery; he wishes to
  have business relations with your house. You can confidently do
  all that he asks of you; and in obliging him you will oblige

                                                     Your friend,
                                                     F. Du Tillet.

Du Tillet did not dot the _i_ in his signature. To those with whom he
did business this intentional error was a sign previously agreed upon.
The strongest recommendations, the warmest appeals contained in the
letter were to mean nothing. All such letters, in which exclamation
marks were suppliants and du Tillet placed himself, as it were, upon
his knees, were to be considered as extorted by necessity; he could
not refuse to write them, but they were to be regarded as not written.
Seeing the _i_ without a dot, the correspondent was to amuse the
petitioner with empty promises. Even men of the world, and sometimes
the most distinguished, are thus gulled like children by business men,
bankers, and lawyers, who all have a double signature,--one dead,
the other living. The cleverest among them are fooled in this way. To
understand the trick, we must experience the two-fold effects of a warm
letter and a cold one.

“You have saved me, du Tillet!” said Cesar, reading the letter.

“Thank heaven!” said du Tillet, “ask for what money you want. When
Nucingen reads my letter he will give you all you need. Unhappily, my
own funds are tied up for a few days; if not, I certainly would not send
you to the great banking princes. The Kellers are mere pygmies compared
to Baron de Nucingen. Law reappears on earth in Nucingen. With this
letter of mine you can face the 15th of January, and after that, we will
see about it. Nucingen and I are the best friends in the world; he would
not disoblige me for a million.”

“It is a guarantee in itself,” thought Birotteau, as he went away full
of gratitude to his old clerk. “Well, a benefit is never lost!” he
continued, philosophizing very wide of the mark. Nevertheless, one
thought embittered his joy. For several days he had prevented his wife
from looking into the ledgers; he had put the business on Celestin’s
shoulders and assisted in it himself; he wished, apparently, that his
wife and daughter should be at liberty to take full enjoyment out of
the beautiful appartement he had given them. But the first flush of
happiness over, Madame Birotteau would have died rather than renounce
her right of personally inspecting the affairs of the house,--of
holding, as she phrased it, the handle of the frying-pan. Birotteau was
at his wits’ end; he had used all his cunning in trying to hide from his
wife the symptoms of his embarrassment. Constance strongly disapproved
of sending round the bills; she had scolded the clerks and accused
Celestin of wishing to ruin the establishment, thinking that it was all
his doing. Celestin, by Birotteau’s order, had allowed himself to be
scolded. In the eyes of the clerks Madame Cesar governed her husband;
for though it is possible to deceive the public, the inmates of a
household are never deceived as to who exercises the real authority.
Birotteau knew that he must now reveal his real situation to his wife,
for the account with du Tillet needed an explanation. When he got back
to the shop, he saw, not without a shudder, that Constance was sitting
in her old place behind the counter, examining the expense account, and
no doubt counting up the money in the desk.

“How will you meet your payments to-morrow?” she whispered as he sat
down beside her.

“With money,” he answered, pulling out the bank-bills, and signing to
Celestin to take them.

“Where did you get that money?”

“I’ll tell you all about it this evening. Celestin, write down, ‘Last of
March, note for ten thousand francs, to du Tillet’s order.’”

“Du Tillet!” repeated Constance, struck with consternation.

“I am going to see Popinot,” said Cesar; “it is very wrong in me not to
have gone before. Have we sold his oil?”

“The three hundred bottles he sent us are all gone.”

“Birotteau, don’t go out; I want to speak to you,” said Constance,
taking him by the arm, and leading him into her bedroom with an
impetuosity which would have caused a laugh under other circumstances.
“Du Tillet,” she said, when she had made sure no one but Cesarine was
with them,--“du Tillet, who robbed us of three thousand francs! So you
are doing business with du Tillet,--a monster, who wished to seduce me,”
 she whispered in his ear.

“Folly of youth,” said Birotteau, assuming for the nonce the tone of a

“Listen to me, Birotteau! You are all upset; you don’t go to the
manufactory any more; there is something the matter, I feel it! You must
tell me; I must know what it is.”

“Well,” said Birotteau, “we came very near being ruined,--we were ruined
this very morning; but it is all safe now.”

And he told the horrible story of his two weeks’ misery.

“So that was the cause of your illness!” exclaimed Constance.

“Yes, mamma,” cried Cesarine, “and papa has been so courageous! All that
I desire in life is to be loved as he loves you. He has thought only of
your grief.”

“My dream is fulfilled!” said the poor woman, dropping upon the sofa at
the corner of the fireplace, pale, livid, terrified. “I foresaw it all.
I warned you on that fatal night, in our old room which you pulled to
pieces, that we should have nothing left but our eyes to weep with. My
poor Cesarine, I--”

“Now, there you go!” cried Cesar; “you will take away from me the
courage I need.”

“Forgive me, dear friend,” said Constance, taking his hand, and pressing
it with a tenderness which went to the heart of the poor man. “I do
wrong. Misfortune has come; I will be silent, resigned, strong to bear
it. No, you shall never hear a complaint from me.” She threw herself
into his arms, weeping, and whispering, “Courage, dear friend, courage!
I will have courage for both, if necessary.”

“My oil, wife,--my oil will save us!”

“May God help us!” said Constance.

“Anselme will help my father,” said Cesarine.

“I’ll go and see him,” cried Cesar, deeply moved by the passionate
accents of his wife, who after nineteen years of married life was not
yet fully known to him. “Constance, fear nothing! Here, read du
Tillet’s letter to Monsieur de Nucingen; we are sure to obtain a credit.
Besides,” he said, allowing himself a necessary lie, “there is our uncle
Pillerault; that is enough to give us courage.”

“If that were all!” said Constance, smiling.

Birotteau, relieved of a heavy weight, walked away like a man suddenly
set at liberty, though he felt within him that indefinable sinking which
succeeds great moral struggles in which more of the nervous fluid, more
of the will is emitted than should be spent at one time, and by which,
if we may say so, the capital of the existence is drawn upon. Birotteau
had aged already.

              *     *     *     *     *

The house of A. Popinot, Rue des Cinq-Diamants, had undergone a great
change in two months. The shop was repainted. The shelves, re-varnished
and gilded and crowded with bottles, rejoiced the eye of those who had
eyes to see the symptoms of prosperity. The floors were littered with
packages and wrapping-paper. The storerooms held small casks of various
oils, obtained for Popinot on commission by the devoted Gaudissart. The
ledgers, the accounts, and the desks were moved into the rooms above the
shop and the back-shop. An old cook did all the household work for the
master and his three clerks. Popinot, penned up in a corner of the shop
closed in with glass, might be seen in a serge apron and long sleeves
of green linen, with a pen behind his ear, in the midst of a mass of
papers, where in fact Birotteau now found him, as he was overhauling his
letters full of proposals and checks and orders. At the words “Hey, my
boy!” uttered by his old master, Popinot raised his head, locked up his
cubby-hole, and came forward with a joyous air and the end of his nose a
little red. There was no fire in the shop, and the door was always open.

“I feared you were never coming,” he said respectfully.

The clerks crowded round to look at the distinguished perfumer, the
decorated deputy-mayor, the partner of their own master. Birotteau,
so pitifully small at the Kellers, felt a craving to imitate
those magnates; he stroked his chin, rose on his heels with native
self-complacency, and talked his usual platitudes.

“Hey, my lad! we get up early, don’t we?” he remarked.

“No, for we don’t always go to bed,” said Popinot. “We must clutch

“What did I tell you? My oil will make your fortune!”

“Yes, monsieur. But the means employed to sell it count for something. I
have set your diamond well.”

“How do we stand?” said Cesar. “How far have you got? What are the

“Profits! at the end of two months! How can you expect it? Friend
Gaudissart has only been on the road for twenty-five days; he took a
post-chaise without saying a word to me. Oh, he is devoted! We owe
a great deal to my uncle. The newspapers alone (here he whispered in
Birotteau’s ear) will cost us twelve thousand francs.”

“Newspapers!” exclaimed the deputy-mayor.

“Haven’t you read them?”


“Then you know nothing,” said Popinot. “Twenty thousand francs worth of
placards, gilt frames, copies of the prospectus. One hundred thousand
bottles bought. Ah, it is all paying through the nose at this moment! We
are manufacturing on a grand scale. If you had set foot in the faubourg,
where I often work all night, you would have seen a little nut-cracker
which isn’t to be sneezed at, I can tell you. On my own account, I have
made, in the last five days, not less than ten thousand francs, merely
by commissions on the sale of druggists’ oils.”

“What a capable head!” said Birotteau, laying his hand on little
Popinot’s thick hair and rubbing it about as if he were a baby. “I found
it out.”

Several persons here came in.

“On Sunday we dine at your aunt Ragon’s,” added Cesar, leaving Popinot
to go on with his business, for he perceived that the fresh meat he had
come to taste was not yet cut up.

“It is amazing! A clerk becomes a merchant in twenty-four hours,”
 thought Birotteau, who understood the happiness and self-assurance of
Anselme as little as the dandy luxury of du Tillet. “Anselme put on
a little stiff air when I patted him on the head, just as if he were
Francois Keller himself.”

Birotteau never once reflected that the clerks were looking on, and that
the master of the establishment had his dignity to preserve. In this
instance, as in the case of his speech to du Tillet, the worthy soul
committed a folly out of pure goodness of heart, and for lack of knowing
how to withhold an honest sentiment vulgarly expressed. By this trifling
act Cesar would have wounded irretrievably any other man than little

              *     *     *     *     *

The Sunday dinner at the Ragon’s was destined to be the last pleasure of
the nineteen happy years of the Birotteau household,--years of
happiness that were full to overflowing. Ragon lived in the Rue du
Petit-Bourbon-Saint-Sulpice, on the second floor of a dignified old
house, in an appartement decorated with large panels where painted
shepherdesses danced in panniers, before whom fed the sheep of our
nineteenth century, the sober and serious bourgeoisie,--whose comical
demeanor, with their respectful notions about the nobility, and their
devotion to the Sovereign and the Church, were all admirably represented
by Ragon himself. The furniture, the clocks, linen, dinner-service, all
seemed patriarchal; novel in form because of their very age. The salon,
hung with old damask and draped with curtains in brocatelle, contained
portraits of duchesses and other royalist tributes; also a superb
Popinot, sheriff of Sancerre, painted by Latour,--the father of Madame
Ragon, a worthy, excellent man, in a picture out of which he smiled like
a parvenu in all his glory. When at home, Madame Ragon completed her
natural self with a little King Charles spaniel, which presented a
surprisingly harmonious effect as it lay on the hard little sofa, rococo
in shape, that assuredly never played the part assigned to the sofa of

Among their many virtues, the Ragons were noted for the possession
of old wines which had come to perfect mellowness, and for certain of
Madame Anfoux’s liqueurs, which certain persons, obstinately (though it
was said hopelessly) bent on making love to Madame Ragon, had brought
her from the West Indies. Thus their little dinners were much prized.
Jeannette, the old cook, took care of the aged couple with blind
devotion: she would have stolen the fruit to make their sweetmeats.
Instead of taking her money to the savings-bank, she put it judiciously
into lotteries, hoping that some day she could bestow a good round sum
on her master and mistress. On the appointed Sundays when they received
their guests, she was, despite her years, active in the kitchen to
superintend the dishes, which she served at the table with an agility
that (to use a favorite expression of the worthy Ragon) might have given
points to Mademoiselle Contat when she played Susanne in the “Mariage de

The guests on this occasion were Popinot the judge, Pillerault, Anselme,
the three Birotteaus, three Matifats, and the Abbe Loraux. Madame
Matifat, whom we lately met crowned with a turban for the ball, now
wore a gown of blue velvet, with coarse cotton stockings, leather shoes,
gloves of chamois-skin with a border of green plush, and a bonnet
lined with pink, filled in with white puffs about the face. These ten
personages assembled at five o’clock. The old Ragons always requested
their guests to be punctual. When this worthy couple were invited out,
their hosts always put the dinner at the same hour, remembering that
stomachs which were sixty-five years old could not adapt themselves to
the novel hours recently adopted in the great world.

Cesarine was sure that Madame Ragon would place her beside Anselme;
for all women, be they fools or saints, know what is what in love. The
daughter of “The Queen of Roses” therefore dressed with the intention of
turning Popinot’s head. Her mother--having renounced, not without pain,
the thought of marrying her to Crottat, who to her eyes played the part
of heir-apparent--assisted, with some bitter thoughts, at the toilet.
Maternal forethought lowered the modest gauzy neckerchief to show a
little of Cesarine’s shoulders and the spring of her graceful throat,
which was remarkably elegant. The Grecian bodice, crossing from left to
right with five folds, opened slightly, showing delicious curves; the
gray merino dress with green furbelows defined the pretty waist, which
had never looked so slender nor so supple. She wore earrings of gold
fret-work, and her hair, gathered up _a la chinoise_, let the eye take
in the soft freshness of a skin traced with blue veins, where the light
shone chastely on the pure white tones. Cesarine was so coquettishly
lovely that Madame Matifat could not help admitting it, without,
however, perceiving that mother and daughter had the one purpose of
bewitching Anselme.

Neither Birotteau, his wife, Madame Matifat nor any of the others
disturbed the sweet converse which the young people, thrilling with
love, held in whispering voices within the embrasure of a window,
through whose chinks the north wind blew its chilly whistle. The
conversation of the elders became animated when Popinot the judge let
fall a word about Roguin’s flight, remarking that he was the second
notary who had absconded,--a crime formerly unknown. Madame Ragon, at
the word Roguin, touched her brother’s foot, Pillerault spoke loudly to
drown his voice, and both made him a sign to remember Madame Birotteau.

“I know all,” said Constance in a low, pained voice.

“Well, then,” said Madame Matifat to Birotteau, who humbly bowed his
head, “how much did he carry of? If we are to believe the gossips, you
are ruined.”

“He had two hundred thousand francs of mine,” said Cesar. “As to the
forty thousand he pretended to make me borrow from one of his clients,
whose property he had already squandered, I am now bringing a suit to
recover them.”

“The case will be decided this week,” said Popinot. “I thought you would
not be unwilling that I should explain your situation to Monsieur le
president; he has ordered that all Roguin’s papers be submitted to the
custody of the court, so as to ascertain the exact time when Roguin made
away with the funds of his client, and thus verify the facts alleged by
Derville, who made the argument himself to save you the expense.”

“Shall we win?” asked Madame Birotteau.

“I don’t know,” answered Popinot. “Though I belong to the court in which
the suit is bought, I shall abstain from giving an opinion, even if
called upon.”

“Can there be any doubt in such a simple case?” said Pillerault. “Such
deeds make mention that payment has been made, and notaries are obliged
to declare that they have seen the money passed from the lender to the
borrower. Roguin would be sent to the galleys if the law could get hold
of him.

“According to my ideas,” said the judge, “the lender ought to have sued
Roguin for the costs and the caution-money; but it sometimes happens
at the Cour Royale that in matters even more plain than this the judges
stand six against six.”

“Mademoiselle, what are they saying? Has Monsieur Roguin absconded?”
 said Anselme, hearing at last what was going on about him. “Monsieur
said nothing of it to me,--to me who would shed my blood for him--”

Cesarine fully understood that the whole family were included in the
“for him”; for if the innocent girl could mistake the accent, she could
not misunderstand the glance, which wrapped her, as it were, in a rosy

“I know you would; I told him so. He hid everything from my mother, and
confided only in me.”

“You spoke to him of me?” said Popinot; “you have read my heart? Have
you read all that is there?”


“I am very happy,” said Popinot. “If you would lighten all my fears--in
a year I shall be so prosperous that your father cannot object when I
speak to him of our marriage. From henceforth I shall sleep only five
hours a night.”

“Do not injure yourself,” said Cesarine, with an inexpressible accent
and a look in which Popinot was suffered to read her thoughts.

“Wife,” said Cesar, as they rose from table, “I think those young people
love each other.”

“Well, so much the better,” said Constance, in a grave voice; “my
daughter will be the wife of a man of sense and energy. Talent is the
best dower a man can offer.”

She left the room hastily and went to Madame Ragon’s bedchamber. Cesar
during the dinner had make various fatuous remarks, which caused the
judge and Pillerault to smile, and reminded the unhappy woman of how
unfitted her poor husband was to grapple with misfortune. Her heart was
full of tears; and she instinctively dreaded du Tillet, for every mother
knows the _Timeo Danaos et dona ferentes_, even if she does not know
Latin. Constance wept in the arms of Madame Ragon and her daughter,
though she would not tell them the cause of her distress.

“I’m nervous,” she said.

The rest of the evening was spent by the elders at the card-table, and
by the young people in those little games called innocent because they
cover the innocent by-play of bourgeois love. The Matifats joined in
these games.

“Cesar,” said Constance as they drove home, “go and see Monsieur le
Baron de Nucingen on the 8th so as to be sure of having your payments
ready in advance of the 15th. If there should be any hitch, how could
you scrape the money together if you have only one day to do it in?”

“I will see to it, wife,” said Cesar, pressing his wife’s hand and his
daughter’s, adding, “Ah, my dear white lambs, I have given you a sad New
Year’s gift!”

The two women, unable to see him in the obscurity of the hackney coach,
felt his tears falling hot upon their hands.

“Be hopeful, dear friend,” said Constance.

“All will go well, papa; Monsieur Anselme Popinot told me he would shed
his blood for you.”

“For me?” said Cesar, trying to speak gaily; “and for the family as
well. Isn’t it so?”

Cesarine pressed her father’s hand, as if to let him know she was
betrothed to Anselme.


During the first three days of the year, two hundred visiting cards
were sent to Birotteau. This rush of fictitious friendship, these empty
testimonials of favor, are horrible to those who feel themselves drawn
down into the vortex of misfortune. Birotteau presented himself three
times at the hotel of the famous banker, the Baron de Nucingen, but
in vain. The opening of the year with all its festivities sufficiently
explained the absences of the financier. On the last occasion Birotteau
got as far as the office of the banker, where the head-clerk, a German,
told him that Monsieur de Nucingen had returned at five in the morning
from a ball at the Kellers’, and would not be visible until half-past
nine o’clock. Birotteau had the luck to interest this man in his
affairs, and remained talking with him more than half an hour. In the
course of the afternoon this prime minister of the house of Nucingen
wrote Birotteau that the baron would receive him the next day, 13th, at
noon. Though every hour brought its drop of absinthe, the day went by
with frightful rapidity. Cesar took a hackney coach, but stopped it
several paces distant from the hotel, whose courtyard was crowded
with carriages. The poor man’s heart sank within him when he saw the
splendors of that noted house.

“And yet he has failed twice,” he said to himself as he went up a superb
staircase banked with flowers, and crossed the sumptuous rooms which
helped to make Madame Delphine de Nucingen famous in the Chaussee
d’Antin. The baronne’s ambition was to rival the great ladies of the
Faubourg Saint-Germain, to whose houses she was not as yet admitted. The
baron was breakfasting with his wife. In spite of the crowd which was
waiting for him in the counting-room, he had left word that any friend
of du Tillet was to be admitted. Birotteau trembled with hope as he
noticed the change which the baron’s order had wrought in the hitherto
insolent manner of the footman.

“Pardon me, my tear,” said the baron to his wife, in a strong German
accent, as he rose and nodded to Birotteau, “monsieur is a good
royalist, and der intimate frient of tu Tillet. Bezides, monsieur is
debudy-mayor of der zecond arrondissement, and gifs palls of Aziatigue
magnifissence; so vill you mak his acquentence mit blaysure.”

“I should be delighted to take lessons from Madame Birotteau, for

“She calls him Ferdinand!” thought Cesar.

“--spoke of the ball with great admiration, which is all the more
valuable because he usually admires nothing. Ferdinand is a harsh
critic; in his eyes everything ought to be perfect. Shall you soon give
another ball?” she inquired affably.

“Madame, poor people, such as we are, seldom have many amusements of
that kind,” said the perfumer, not knowing whether she meant to ridicule
him, or was merely paying an empty compliment.

“Monsieur Grindot suberintented der resdoration of your abbartement, I
zink?” said the baron.

“Ah, Grindot! that nice little architect who has just returned from
Rome,” said Delphine de Nucingen. “I dote on him; he makes delicious
drawings in my album.”

No culprit enduring the torments of hell in Venetian dungeons ever
suffered more from the torture of the boot than Birotteau did, standing
there in his ordinary clothes. He felt a sneer in every word.

“Vill you gif oder little palls?” said the banker, with a searching look
at the perfumer. “You see all der vorld ist inderesded.”

“Will Monsieur Birotteau breakfast with us, without ceremony?” said
Delphine, motioning towards the table which was sumptuously served.

“Madame la baronne, I came on business, and I am--”

“Yes, matame, vill you bermit us to speak of business?”

Delphine made a little sign of assent, saying to her husband, “Are you
going to buy perfumery?” The baron shrugged his shoulders and turned to
Cesar, who trembled with anxiety.

“Tu Tillet takes der graadest inderest in you,” he said.

“At last,” thought the poor man, “we are coming to the point.”

“His ledder gif you in my house a creydit vich is only limided by der
limids of my privade fortune.”

The exhilarating balm infused into the water offered by the angel
to Hagar in the desert, must have been the same cordial which flowed
through Cesar’s veins as he listened to these words. The wily banker
retained the horrible pronunciation of the German Jews,--possibly
that he might be able to deny promises actually given, but only

“You shall haf a running aggont. Ve vill broceed in dis vay--” said this
great and good and venerable financier, with Alsatian good-humor.

Birotteau doubted no longer; he was a merchant, and new very well that
those who have no intention of rendering a service never enter into the
details of executing it.

“I neet not tell you dat der Bank demands of all, graat and small
alaike, dree zignatures. So denn, you traw a cheque to die order of our
frient tu Tillet, and I vill sent it, same tay, to der Bank mit mein
zignature; so shall you haf, at four o’clock, der amount of die cheque
you trew in der morning; and at der costs of die Bank. I vill not receif
a commission, no! I vill haf only der blaysure to be agreeaple to you.
But I mak one condeetion,” he added, laying his left finger lightly on
his nose with an inimitably sly gesture.

“Monsieur le baron, it is granted on the sport,” said Birotteau, who
thought it concerned some tithe to be levied on his profits.

“A condeetion to vich I attache der graatest imbortance, because I vish
Matame de Nucingen should receif, as she say, zom lessons from Matame

“Monsieur le baron! pray do not laugh at me, I entreat you.”

“Monsieur Pirodot,” said the financier, with a serious air, “it is deen
agreet; you vill invite us to your nex pall? My vife is shalous; she
vish to see your abbartement, of vich she hear so mooch.”

“Monsieur le baron!--”

“Oh! if you reffuse me, no creydit! Yes, I know der Prayfic of die Seine
was at your las pall.”

“Monsieur le baron!--”

“You had Pillartiere, shentelman of der betchamber; goot royalist like
you, who vas vounded at Zaint-Roqque--”

“On the 13th Vendemiaire, Monsieur le baron.”

“Denn you hat Monsieur de Lazabed, Monsieur Fauquelin of der Agatemi--”

“Monsieur le baron!--”

“Hey! der tefle! dont pe zo humple, Monsieur der debudy-mayor; I haf
heard dat der king say dat your ball--”

“The king?” exclaimed Birotteau, who was destined to hear no more, for,
at this moment, a young man entered the room familiarly, whose step,
recognized from afar by the beautiful Delphine de Nucingen, brought the
color to her cheek.

“Goot morning, my tear te Marsay; tak my blace. Dere is a crowd, zey
tell me, waiting in der gounting-room. I know vy. Der mines of Wortschin
bay a graat divitent! I haf receifed die aggonts. You vill haf one
hundert tousant francs, Matame de Nucingen, so you can buy chewels and
oder tings to make you bretty,--as if you could be brettier!”

“Good God! the Ragons sold their shares!” exclaimed Birotteau.

“Who are those persons?” asked the elegant de Marsay, smiling.

“Egzactly,” said Monsieur de Nucingen, turning back when he was almost
at the door. “I zink tat dose persons--te Marsay, dis is Monsieur
Pirodot, your berfumer, who gifs palls of a magnifissence druly
Aziatique, and whom der king has decoraded.”

De Marsay lifted his eyeglass, and said, “Ah! true, I thought the face
was not unknown to me. So you are going to perfume your affairs with
potent cosmetics, oil them with--”

“Ah! dose Rakkons,” interrupted the baron, making a grimace expressive
of disgust; “dey had an aggont mit us; I fafored dem, and dey could haf
made der fortune, but dey would not wait one zingle day longer.”

“Monsieur le baron!” cried Birotteau.

The worthy man thought his own prospects extremely doubtful, and without
bowing to Madame de Nucingen, or to de Marsay, he hastily followed the
banker. The baron was already on the staircase, and Birotteau caught
him at the bottom just as he was about to enter the counting-room.
As Nucingen opened the door he saw the despairing gesture of the poor
creature behind him, who felt himself pushed into a gulf, and said

“Vell, it is all agreet. See tu Tillet, and arranche it mit him.”

Birotteau, thinking that de Marsay might have some influence with
Nucingen, ran back with the rapidity of a swallow, and slipped into the
dining-room where he had left the baronne and the young man, and where
Delphine was waiting for a cup of _cafe a la creme_. He saw that the
coffee had been served, but the baronne and the dandy had disappeared.
The footman smiled at the astonishment of the worthy man, who slowly
re-descended the stairs. Cesar rushed to du Tillet’s, and was told that
he had gone into the country with Madame Roguin. He took a cabriolet,
and paid the driver well to be taken rapidly to Nogent-sur-Marne.
At Nogent-sur-Marne the porter told him that monsieur and madame had
started for Paris. Birotteau returned home, shattered in mind and body.
When he related his wild-goose chase to his wife and daughter he was
amazed to find his Constance, usually perched like a bird of ill omen
on the smallest commercial mishap, now giving him the tenderest
consolation, and assuring him that everything would turn out well.

The next morning, Birotteau mounted guard as early as seven o’clock
before du Tillet’s door. He begged the porter, slipping ten francs
into his hand, to put him in communication with du Tillet’s valet, and
obtained from the latter a promise to show him in to his master the
moment that du Tillet was visible: he slid two pieces of gold into the
valet’s hand. By such little sacrifices and great humiliations, common
to all courtiers and petitioners, he was able to attain his end.
At half-past eight, just as his former clerk was putting on a
dressing-gown, yawning, stretching, and shaking off the cobwebs of
sleep, Birotteau came face to face with the tiger, hungry for revenge,
whom he now looked upon as his only friend.

“Go on with your dressing,” said Birotteau.

“What do you want, _my good Cesar_?” said du Tillet.

Cesar stated, with painful trepidation, the answer and requirements
of Monsieur de Nucingen to the inattentive ears of du Tillet, who was
looking for the bellows and scolding his valet for the clumsy manner in
which he had lighted the fire.

The valet listened. At first Cesar did not notice him; when he did so
he stopped short, confused, but resumed what he was saying as du Tillet
touched him with the spur exclaiming, “Go on! go on! I am listening to

The poor man’s shirt was wet; his perspiration turned to ice as du
Tillet looked fixedly at him, and he saw the silver-lined pupils of
those eyes, streaked with threads of gold, which pierced to his very
heart with a diabolical gleam.

“My dear master, the Bank has refused to take your notes which the house
of Claparon passed over to Gigonnet _not guaranteed_. Is that my
fault? How is it that you, an old commercial judge, should commit such
blunders? I am, first and foremost, a banker. I will give you my money,
but I cannot risk having my signature refused at the Bank. My credit is
my life; that is the case with all of us. Do you want money?”

“Can you give me what I want?”

“That depends on how much you owe. How much do you want?”

“Thirty thousand francs.”

“Are the chimney-bricks coming down on my head?” exclaimed du Tillet,
bursting into a laugh.

Cesar, misled by the luxury about him, fancied it was the laugh of a man
to whom the sum was a mere trifle; he breathed again. Du Tillet rang the

“Send the cashier to me.”

“He has not come, monsieur,” said the valet.

“These fellows take advantage of me! It is half-past eight o’clock, and
he ought to have done a million francs’ worth of business by this time.”

Five minutes later Monsieur Legras came in.

“How much have we in the desk?”

“Only twenty thousand francs. Monsieur gave orders to buy into the Funds
to the amount of thirty thousand francs cash, payable on the 15th.”

“That’s true; I am half-asleep still.”

The cashier gave Birotteau a suspicious look as he left the room.

“If truth were banished from this earth, she would leave her last word
with a cashier,” said du Tillet. “Haven’t you some interest in this
little Popinot, who has set up for himself?” he added, after a dreadful
pause, in which the sweat rolled in drops from Cesar’s brow.

“Yes,” he answered, naively. “Do you think you could discount his
signature for a large amount?”

“Bring me his acceptances for fifty thousand francs, and I will get them
discounted for you at a reasonable rate by old Gobseck, who is very easy
to deal with when he has funds to invest; and he has some now.”

Birotteau went home broken-hearted, not perceiving that the bankers were
tossing him from one to the other like a shuttle-cock; but Constance had
already guessed that credit was unattainable. If three bankers refused
it, it was very certain that they had inquired of each other about so
prominent a man as a deputy-mayor; and there was, consequently, no hope
from the Bank of France.

“Try to renew your notes,” she said; “go and see Monsieur Claparon, your
copartner, and all the others to whom you gave notes for the 15th, and
ask them to renew. It will be time enough to go to the money-lenders
with Popinot’s paper if that fails.”

“To-morrow is the 13th,” said Birotteau, completely crushed.

In the language of his own prospectus, he enjoyed a sanguine
temperament, which was subject to an enormous waste through emotions and
the pressure of thought, and imperatively demanded sleep to repair it.
Cesarine took her father into the salon and played to him “Rousseau’s
Dream,”--a pretty piece of music by Herold; while Constance sat sewing
beside him. The poor man laid his head on a cushion, and every time he
looked up at his wife he saw a soft smile upon her lips; and thus he
fell asleep.

“Poor man!” said Constance; “what misery is in store for him! God grant
he may have strength to bear it!”

“Oh! what troubles you, mamma?” said Cesarine, seeing that her mother
was weeping.

“Dear daughter, I see a failure coming. If your father is forced to
make an assignment, we must ask no one’s pity. My child, be prepared
to become a simple shop-girl. If I see you accepting your life
courageously, I shall have strength to begin my life over again. I know
your father,--he will not keep back one farthing; I shall resign my
dower; all that we possess will be sold. My child, you must take your
jewels and your clothes to-morrow to your uncle Pillerault; for you are
not bound to any sacrifice.”

Cesarine was seized with a terror beyond control as she listened to
these words, spoken with religious simplicity. The thought came into her
mind to go and see Anselme; but her native delicacy checked it.

On the morrow, at nine o’clock, Birotteau, following his wife’s advice,
went to find Claparon in the Rue de Provence, in the grasp of anxieties
quite other than those through which he had lately passed. To ask for a
credit is an ordinary business matter; it happens every day that those
who undertake an enterprise are obliged to borrow capital; but to
ask for the renewal of notes is in commercial jurisprudence what the
correctional police is to the court of assizes,--a first step towards
bankruptcy, just as a misdemeanor leads to crime. The secret of your
embarrassment is in other hands than your own. A merchant delivers
himself over, bound hand and foot, to another merchant; and mercy is a
virtue not practised at the Bourse.

Cesar, who once walked the streets of Paris with his head high and his
eye beaming with confidence, now, unstrung by perplexity, shrank from
meeting Claparon; he began to realize that a banker’s heart is mere
viscera. Claparon had seemed to him so brutal in his coarse jollity,
and he had felt the man’s vulgarity so keenly, that he shuddered at the
necessity of accosting him.

“But he is nearer to the people; perhaps he will therefore have more
heart!” Such was the first reproachful word which the anguish of his
position forced from Cesar’s lips.

Birotteau drew upon the dregs of his courage, and went up the stairway
of a mean little _entresol_, at whose windows he had caught a glimpse of
green curtains yellowed by the sun. He read the word “Offices,” stamped
in black letters on an oval copper-plate; he rapped, nobody answered,
and he went in. The place, worse than humble, conveyed an idea of
penury, or avarice, or neglect. No employe was to be seen behind
the brass lattice which topped an unpainted white wooden enclosure,
breast-high, within which were tables and desks in stained black wood.
These deserted places were littered with inkstands, in which the ink was
mouldy and the pens as rumpled as a ragammufin’s head, and twisted like
sunfish; with boxes and papers and printed matter,--all worthless,
no doubt. The floor was as dirty, defaced, and damp as that of a
boarding-house. The second room, announced by the word “Counting-Room”
 on its door, harmonized with the grim _facetiae_ of its neighbor. In one
corner was a large space screened off by an oak balustrade, trellised
with copper wire and furnished with a sliding cat-hole, within which was
an enormous iron chest. This space, apparently given over to the rioting
of rats, also contained an odd-looking desk, with a shabby arm-chair,
which was ragged, green, and torn in the seat,--from which the
horse-hair protruded, like the wig of its master, in half a hundred
libertine curls. The chief adornment of this room, which had evidently
been the salon of the appartement before it was converted into a
banking-office, was a round table covered with a green cloth, round
which stood a few old chairs of black leather with tarnished gilt nails.
The fireplace, somewhat elegant, showed none of the sooty marks of a
fire; the hearth was clean; the mirror, covered with fly-specks, had a
paltry air, in keeping with a mahogany clock bought at the sale of some
old notary, which annoyed the eye, already depressed by two candelabras
without candles and the sticky dust that covered them. The wall-paper,
mouse-gray with a pink border, revealed, by certain fuliginous stains,
the unwholesome presence of smokers. Nothing ever more faithfully
represented that prosaic precinct called by the newspapers an “editorial
sanctum.” Birotteau, fearing that he might be indiscreet, knocked
sharply three times on the door opposite to that by which he entered.

“Come in!” cried Claparon, the reverberation of whose voice revealed
the distance it had to traverse and the emptiness of the room,--in
which Cesar heard the crackling of a good fire, though the owner was
apparently not there.

The room was, in truth, Claparon’s private office. Between the
ostentatious reception-room of Francois Keller and the untidy abode of
the counterfeit banker, there was all the difference that exists between
Versailles and the wigwam of a Huron chief. Birotteau had witnessed the
splendors of finance; he was now to see its fooleries. Lying in bed,
in a sort of oblong recess or den opening from the farther end of the
office, and where the habits of a slovenly life had spoiled, dirtied,
greased, torn, defaced, obliterated, and ruined furniture which had been
elegant in its day, Claparon, at the entrance of Birotteau, wrapped his
filthy dressing-gown around him, laid down his pipe, and drew together
the curtains of the bed with a haste which made even the innocent
perfumer suspect his morals.

“Sit down, monsieur,” said the make-believe banker.

Claparon, without his wig, his head wrapped up in a bandanna
handkerchief twisted awry, seemed all the more hideous to Birotteau
because, when the dressing-gown gaped open, he saw an undershirt
of knitted wool, once white, but now yellowed by wear indefinitely

“Will you breakfast with me?” said Claparon, recollecting the perfumer’s
ball, and thinking to make him a return and also to put him off the
scent by this invitation.

Cesar now perceived a round table, hastily cleared of its litter, which
bore testimony to the presence of jovial company by a pate, oysters,
white wine, and vulgar kidneys, _sautes au vin de champagne_, sodden in
their own sauce. The light of a charcoal brazier gleamed on an _omelette
aux truffes_.

Two covers and two napkins, soiled by the supper of the previous night,
might have enlightened the purest innocence. Claparon, thinking himself
very clever, pressed his invitation in spite of Cesar’s refusal.

“I was to have had a guest, but that guest has disappointed me,” said
the crafty traveller, in a voice likely to reach a person buried under

“Monsieur,” said Birotteau, “I came solely on business, and I shall not
detain you long.”

“I’m used up,” said Claparon, pointing to the desk and the tables piled
with documents; “they don’t leave me a poor miserable moment to myself!
I don’t receive people except on Saturdays. But as for you, my dear
friend, I’ll see you at any time. I haven’t a moment to love or to loaf;
I have lost even the inspiration of business; to catch its vim one must
have the sloth of ease. Nobody ever sees me now on the boulevard doing
nothing. Bah! I’m sick of business; I don’t want to talk about business;
I’ve got money enough, but I never can get enough happiness. My
gracious! I want to travel,--to see Italy! Oh, that dear Italy!
beautiful in spite of all her reverses! adorable land, where I shall no
doubt encounter some angel, complying yet majestic! I have always loved
Italian women. Did you ever have an Italian woman yourself? No?
Then come with me to Italy. We will see Venice, the abode of
doges,--unfortunately fallen into those intelligent Austrian hands that
know nothing of art! Bah! let us get rid of business, canals, loans, and
peaceful governments. I’m a good fellow when I’ve got my pockets lined.
Thunder! let’s travel.”

“One word, monsieur, and I will release you,” said Birotteau. “You made
over my notes to Monsieur Bidault.”

“You mean Gigonnet, that good little Gigonnet, easy-going--”

“Yes,” said Cesar; “but I wish,--and here I count upon your honor and

Claparon bowed.

“--to renew those notes.”

“Impossible!” snapped the banker. “I’m not alone in the matter. We have
met in council,--regular Chamber; but we all agreed like bacon in a
frying-pan. The devil! we deliberated. Those lands about the Madeleine
don’t amount to anything; we are operating elsewhere. Hey! my dear sir,
if we were not involved in the Champs Elysees and at the Bourse which
they are going to finish, and in the quartier Saint-Lazare and at
Tivoli, we shouldn’t be, as that fat Nucingen says, in _peaseness_ at
all. What’s the Madeleine to us?--a midge of a thing. Pr-r-r! We don’t
play low, my good fellow,” he said, tapping Birotteau on the stomach
and catching him round the waist. “Come, let’s have our breakfast, and
talk,” added Claparon, wishing to soften his refusal.

“Very good,” said Birotteau. “So much the worse for the other guest,”
 he thought, meaning to make Claparon drunk, and to find out who were his
real associates in an affair which began to look suspicious to him.

“All right! Victoire!” called the banker.

This call brought a regular Leonarde, tricked out like a fish-woman.

“Tell the clerks that I can’t see any one,--not even Nucingen, Keller,
Gigonnet, and all the rest of them.”

“No one has come but Monsieur Lempereur.”

“He can receive the great people,” said Claparon; “the small fry are
not to get beyond the first room. They are to say I’m cogitating a great
enterprise--in champagne.”

To make an old commercial traveller drunk is an impossibility. Cesar
mistook the elation of the man’s vulgarity when he attempted to sound
his mind.

“That infamous Roguin is still connected with you,” he began; “don’t you
think you ought to write and tell him to assist an old friend whom he
has compromised,--a man with whom he dined every Sunday, and whom he has
known for twenty years?”

“Roguin? A fool! his share is ours now. Don’t be worried, old fellow,
all will go well. Pay up to the 15th, and after that we will see--I say,
we will see. Another glass of wine? The capital doesn’t concern me one
atom; pay or don’t pay, I sha’n’t make faces at you. I’m only in the
business for a commission on the sales, and for a share when the lands
are converted into money; and it’s for that I manage the owners. Don’t
you understand? You have got solid men behind you, so I’m not afraid, my
good sir. Nowadays, business is all parcelled out in portions. A single
enterprise requires a combination of capacities. Go in with us; don’t
potter with pomatum and perfumes,--rubbish! rubbish! Shave the public;

“Speculation!” said Cesar, “is that commerce?”

“It is abstract commerce,” said Claparon,--“commerce which won’t be
developed for ten years to come, according to Nucingen, the Napoleon of
finance; commerce by which a man can grasp the totality of fractions,
and skim the profits before there are any. Gigantic idea! one way of
pouring hope into pint cups,--in short, a new necromancy! So far, we
have only got ten or a dozen hard heads initiated into the cabalistic
secrets of these magnificent combinations.”

Cesar opened his eyes and ears, endeavoring to understand this composite

“Listen,” said Claparon, after a pause. “Such master-strokes need men.
There’s the man of genius who hasn’t a sou--like all men of genius.
Those fellows spend their thoughts and spend their money just as it
comes. Imagine a pig rooting round a truffle-patch; he is followed by
a jolly fellow, a moneyed man, who listens for the grunt as piggy finds
the succulent. Now, when the man of genius has found a good thing, the
moneyed man taps him on the shoulder and says, ‘What have you got there?
You are rushing into the fiery furnace, my good fellow, and you haven’t
the loins to run out again. There’s a thousand francs; just let me take
it in hand and manage the affair.’ Very good! The banker then convokes
the traders: ‘My friends, let us go to work: write a prospectus! Down
with humbug!’ On that they get out the hunting-horns and shout and
clamor,--‘One hundred thousand francs for five sous! or five sous for
a hundred thousand francs! gold mines! coal mines!’ In short, all the
clap-trap of commerce. We buy up men of arts and sciences; the show
begins, the public enters; it gets its money’s worth, and we get the
profits. The pig is penned up with his potatoes, and the rest of us
wallow in banknotes. There it all is, my good sir. Come, go into the
business with us. What would you like to be,--pig, buzzard, clown,
or millionaire? Reflect upon it; I have now laid before you the whole
theory of the modern loan-system. Come and see me often; you’ll always
find me a jovial, jolly fellow. French joviality--gaiety and gravity,
all in one--never injures business; quite the contrary. Men who quaff
the sparkling cup are born to understand each other. Come, another glass
of champagne! it is good, I tell you! It was sent to me from Epernay
itself, by a man for whom I once sold quantities at a good price--I
used to be in wines. He shows his gratitude, and remembers me in my
prosperity; very rare, that.”

Birotteau, overcome by the frivolity and heedlessness of a man to whom
the world attributed extreme depth and capacity, dared not question him
any further. In the midst of his own haziness of mind produced by the
champagne, he did, however, recollect a name spoken by du Tillet; and he
asked Claparon who Gobseck the banker was, and where he lived.

“Have you got as far as that?” said Claparon. “Gobseck is a banker,
just as the headsman is a doctor. The first word is ‘fifty per cent’; he
belongs to the race of Harpagon; he’ll take canary birds at all seasons,
fur tippets in summer, nankeens in winter. What securities are you going
to offer him? If you want him to take your paper without security you
will have to deposit your wife, your daughter, your umbrella, everything
down to your hat-box, your socks (don’t you go in for ribbed socks?),
your shovel and tongs, and the very wood you’ve got in the cellar!
Gobseck! Gobseck! in the name of virtuous folly, who told you to go to
that commercial guillotine?”

“Monsieur du Tillet.”

“Ah! the scoundrel, I recognize him! We used to be friends. If we have
quarrelled so that we don’t speak to each other, you may depend upon it
my aversion to him is well-founded; he let me read down to the bottom of
his infamous soul, and he made me uncomfortable at that beautiful ball
you gave us. I can’t stand his impudent airs--all because he has got
a notary’s wife! I could have countesses if I wanted them; I sha’n’t
respect him any the more for that. Ah! my respect is a princess who’ll
never give birth to such as he. But, I say, you are a funny fellow, old
man, to flash us a ball like that, and two months after try to renew
your paper! You seem to have some go in you. Let’s do business together.
You have got a reputation which would be very useful to me. Oh! du
Tillet was born to understand Gobseck. Du Tillet will come to a bad end
at the Bourse. If he is, as they say, the tool of old Gobseck, he won’t
be allowed to go far. Gobseck sits in a corner of his web like an old
spider who has travelled round the world. Sooner or later, ztit! the
usurer will toss him off as I do this glass of wine. So much the better!
Du Tillet has played me a trick--oh! a damnable trick.”

At the end of an hour and a half spend in just such senseless chatter,
Birotteau attempted to get away, seeing that the late commercial
traveller was about to relate the adventure of a republican deputy of
Marseilles, in love with a certain actress then playing the part of la
belle Arsene, who, on one occasion, was hissed by a royalist crowd in
the pit.

“He stood up in his box,” said Claparon, “and shouted: ‘Arrest whoever
hissed her! Eugh! If it’s a woman, I’ll kiss her; if it’s a man, we’ll
see about it; if it’s neither the one nor the other, may God’s lightning
blast it!’ Guess how it ended.”

“Adieu, monsieur,” said Birotteau.

“You will have to come and see me,” said Claparon; “that first scrap of
paper you gave Cayron has come back to us protested; I endorsed it, so
I’ve paid it. I shall send after you; business before everything.”

Birotteau felt stabbed to the heart by this cold and grinning kindness
as much as by the harshness of Keller or the coarse German banter of
Nucingen. The familiarity of the man, and his grotesque gabble excited
by champagne, seemed to tarnish the soul of the honest bourgeois as
though he came from a house of financial ill-fame. He went down the
stairway and found himself in the streets without knowing where he
was going. As he walked along the boulevards and reached the Rue
Saint-Denis, he recollected Molineux, and turned into the Cour Batave.
He went up the dirty, tortuous staircase which he once trod so proudly.
He recalled to mind the mean and niggardly acrimony of Molineux, and
he shrank from imploring his favor. The landlord was sitting in the
chimney-corner, as on the occasion of Cesar’s first visit, but his
breakfast was now in process of digestion. Birotteau proffered his

“Renew a note for twelve hundred francs?” said Molineux, with mocking
incredulity. “Have you got to that, monsieur? If you have not twelve
hundred francs to pay me on the 15th, do you intend to send back my
receipt for the rent unpaid? I shall be sorry; but I have not the
smallest civility in money-matters,--my rents are my living. Without
them how could I pay what I owe myself? No merchant will deny the
soundness of that principle. Money is no respecter of persons; money has
no ears, it has no heart. The winter is hard, the price of wood has gone
up. If you don’t pay me on the 15th, a little summons will be served
upon you at twelve o’clock on the 16th. Bah! the worthy Mitral, your
bailiff, is mine as well; he will send you the writ in an envelope, with
all the consideration due to your high position.”

“Monsieur, I have never received a summons in my life,” said Birotteau.

“There is a beginning to everything,” said Molineux.

Dismayed by the curt malevolence of the old man, Cesar was cowed; he
heard the knell of failure ringing in his ears, and every jangle woke
a memory of the stern sayings his pitiless justice had uttered against
bankrupts. His former opinions now seared, as with fire, the soft
substance of his brain.

“By the by,” said Molineux, “you neglected to put upon your notes, ‘for
value received in rental,’ which would secure me preference.”

“My position will prevent me from doing anything to the detriment of
my creditors,” said Cesar, stunned by the sudden sight of the precipice
yawning before him.

“Very good, monsieur, very good; I thought I knew everything relating to
rentals and tenants, but I have learned through you never to take notes
in payment. Ah! I shall sue you, for your answer shows plainly enough
that you are not going to meet your liabilities. Hard cash is a matter
which concerns every landlord in Paris.”

Birotteau went out, weary of life. It is in the nature of such soft
and tender souls to be disheartened by a first rebuff, just as a first
success encourages them. Cesar no longer had any hope except in the
devotion of little Popinot, to whom his thoughts naturally turned as he
crossed the Marche des Innocents.

“Poor boy! who could have believed it when I launched him, only six
weeks ago, in the Tuileries?”

It was just four o’clock, the hour at which the judges left their
court-rooms. Popinot the elder chanced to go and see his nephew. This
judge, whose mind was singularly acute on all moral questions, was
also gifted with a second-sight which enabled him to discover secret
intentions, to perceive the meaning of insignificant human actions, the
germs of crime, the roots of wrongdoing; and he now watched Birotteau,
though Birotteau was not aware of it. The perfumer, who was annoyed at
finding the judge with his nephew, seemed to him harassed, preoccupied,
pensive. Little Popinot, always busy, with his pen behind his ear, lay
down as usual flat on his stomach before the father of his Cesarine. The
empty phrases which Cesar addressed to his partner seemed to the judge
to mask some important request. Instead of going away, the crafty old
man stayed in spite of his nephew’s evident desire, for he guessed that
the perfumer would soon try to get rid of him by going away himself.
Accordingly, when Birotteau went out the judge followed, and saw
Birotteau hanging about that part of the Rue des Cinq-Diamants which
leads into the Rue Aubry-le-Boucher. This trifling circumstance roused
the suspicions of old Popinot as to Cesar’s intentions; he turned into
the Rue des Lombards, and when he saw the perfumer re-enter Anselme’s
door, he came hastily back again.

“My dear Popinot,” said Cesar to his partner, “I have come to ask a
service of you.”

“What can I do?” cried Popinot with generous ardor.

“Ah! you save my life,” exclaimed the poor man, comforted by this
warmth of heart which flamed upon the sea of ice he had traversed for
twenty-five days.

“You must give me a note for fifty thousand francs on my share of the
profits; we will arrange later about the payment.”

Popinot looked fixedly at Cesar. Cesar dropped his eyes. At this moment
the judge re-entered.

“My son--ah! excuse me, Monsieur Birotteau--Anselme, I forget to tell
you--” and with an imperious gesture he led his nephew into the street
and forced him, in his shirt-sleeves and bareheaded, to listen as they
walked towards the Rue des Lombards. “My nephew, your old master may
find himself so involved that he will be forced to make an assignment.
Before taking that step, honorable men who have forty years of integrity
to boast of, virtuous men seeking to save their good name, will play the
part of reckless gamblers; they become capable of anything; they will
sell their wives, traffic with their daughters, compromise their
best friends, pawn what does not belong to them; they will frequent
gambling-tables, become dissemblers, hypocrites, liars; they will even
shed tears. I have witnessed strange things. You yourself have seen
Roguin’s respectability,--a man to whom they would have given the
sacraments without confession. I do not apply these remarks in their
full force to Monsieur Birotteau,--I believe him to be an honest man;
but if he asks you to do anything, no matter what, against the rules of
business, such as endorsing notes out of good-nature, or launching into
a system of ‘circulations,’ which, to my mind, is the first step to
swindling,--for it is uttering counterfeit paper-money,--if he asks
you to do anything of the kind, promise me that you will sign nothing
without consulting me. Remember that if you love his daughter you must
not--in the very interests of your love you must not--destroy your
future. If Monsieur Birotteau is to fall, what will it avail if you fall
too? You will deprive yourselves, one as much as the other, of all the
chances of your new business, which may prove his only refuge.”

“Thank you, my uncle; a word to the wise is enough,” said Popinot, to
whom Cesar’s heart-rending exclamation was now explained.

The merchant in oils, refined and otherwise, returned to his gloomy shop
with an anxious brow. Birotteau saw the change.

“Will you do me the honor to come up into my bedroom? We shall be better
there. The clerks, though very busy, might overhear us.”

Birotteau followed Popinot, a prey to the anxiety a condemned man goes
through from the moment of his appeal for mercy until its rejection.

“My dear benefactor,” said Anselme, “you cannot doubt my devotion; it is
absolute. Permit me only to ask you one thing. Will this sum clear you
entirely, or is it only a means of delaying some catastrophe? If it
is that, what good will it do to drag me down also? You want notes at
ninety days. Well, it is absolutely impossible that I could meet them in
that time.”

Birotteau rose, pale and solemn, and looked at Popinot.

Popinot, horror-struck, cried out, “I will do them for you, if you wish

“UNGRATEFUL!” said his master, who spent his whole remaining strength
in hurling the word at Anselme’s brow, as if it were a living mark of

Birotteau walked to the door, and went out. Popinot, rousing himself
from the sensation which the terrible word produced upon him, rushed
down the staircase and into the street, but Birotteau was out of sight.
Cesarine’s lover heard that dreadful charge ringing in his ears, and saw
the distorted face of the poor distracted Cesar constantly before him;
Popinot was to live henceforth, like Hamlet, with a spectre beside him.

Birotteau wandered about the streets of the neighborhood like a drunken
man. At last he found himself upon the quay, and followed it till he
reached Sevres, where he passed the night at an inn, maddened with
grief, while his terrified wife dared not send in search of him. She
knew that in such circumstances an alarm, imprudently given, might be
fatal to his credit, and the wise Constance sacrificed her own anxiety
to her husband’s commercial reputation: she waited silently through the
night, mingling her prayers and terrors. Was Cesar dead? Had he left
Paris on the scent of some last hope? The next morning she behaved as
though she knew the reasons for his absence; but at five o’clock in the
afternoon when Cesar had not returned, she sent for her uncle and
begged him to go at once to the Morgue. During the whole of that day the
courageous creature sat behind her counter, her daughter embroidering
beside her. When Pillerault returned, Cesar was with him; on his way
back the old man had met him in the Palais-Royal, hesitating before the
entrance to a gambling-house.

This was the 14th. At dinner Cesar could not eat. His stomach, violently
contracted, rejected food. The evening hours were terrible. The shaken
man went through, for the hundredth time, one of those frightful
alternations of hope and despair which, by forcing the soul to run up
the scale of joyous emotion and then precipitating it to the last
depths of agony, exhaust the vital strength of feeble beings. Derville,
Birotteau’s advocate, rushed into the handsome salon where Madame Cesar
was using all her persuasion to retain her husband, who wished to sleep
on the fifth floor,--“that I may not see,” he said, “these monuments of
my folly.”

“The suit is won!” cried Derville.

At these words Cesar’s drawn face relaxed; but his joy alarmed Derville
and Pillerault. The women left the room to go and weep by themselves in
Cesarine’s chamber.

“Now I can get a loan!” cried Birotteau.

“It would be imprudent,” said Derville; “they have appealed; the court
might reverse the judgment; but in a month it would be safe.”

“A month!”

Cesar fell into a sort of slumber, from which no one tried to rouse
him,--a species of catalepsy, in which the body lived and suffered while
the functions of the mind were in abeyance. This respite, bestowed by
chance, was looked upon by Constance, Cesarine, Pillerault, and Derville
as a blessing from God. And they judged rightly: Cesar was thus enabled
to bear the harrowing emotions of that night. He was sitting in a corner
of the sofa near the fire; his wife was in the other corner watching him
attentively, with a soft smile upon her lips,--the smile which proves
that women are nearer than men to angelic nature, in that they know how
to mingle an infinite tenderness with an all-embracing compassion; a
secret belonging only to angels seen in dreams providentially strewn at
long intervals through the history of human life. Cesarine, sitting on
a little stool at her mother’s feet, touched her father’s hand lightly
with her hair from time to time, as she gave him a caress into which
she strove to put the thoughts which, in such crises, the voice seems to
render intrusive.

Seated in his arm-chair, like the Chancelier de l’Hopital on the
peristyle of the Chamber of Deputies, Pillerault--a philosopher prepared
for all events, and showing upon his countenance the wisdom of an
Egyptian sphinx--was talking to Derville and his niece in a suppressed
voice. Constance thought it best to consult the lawyer, whose discretion
was beyond a doubt. With the balance-sheet written in her head, she
explained the whole situation in low tones. After an hour’s conference,
held in presence of the stupefied Cesar, Derville shook his head and
looked at Pillerault.

“Madame,” he said, with the horrible coolness of his profession, “you
must give in your schedule and make an assignment. Even supposing that
by some contrivance you could meet the payments for to-morrow, you would
have to pay down at least three hundred thousand francs before you could
borrow on those lands. Your liabilities are five hundred thousand. To
meet them you have assets that are very promising, very productive,
but not convertible at present; you must fail within a given time. My
opinion is that it is better to jump out of the window than to roll

“That is my advice, too, dear child,” said Pillerault.

Derville left, and Madame Cesar and Pillerault went with him to the

“Poor father!” said Cesarine, who rose softly to lay a kiss on Cesar’s
head. “Then Anselme could do nothing?” she added, as her mother and
Pillerault returned.

“UNGRATEFUL!” cried Cesar, struck by the name of Anselme in the only
living part of his memory,--as the note of a piano lifts the hammer
which strikes its corresponding string.


From the moment when that word “Ungrateful” was flung at him like an
anathema, little Popinot had not had an hour’s sleep nor an instant’s
peace of mind. The unhappy lad cursed his uncle, and finally went to
see him. To get the better of that experienced judicial wisdom he poured
forth the eloquence of love, hoping it might seduce a being from whose
mind human speech slips like water from a duck’s back,--a judge!

“From a commercial point of view,” he said, “custom does allow the
managing-partner to advance a certain sum to the sleeping-partner on the
profits of the business, and we are certain to make profits. After close
examination of my affairs I do feel strong enough to pay forty thousand
francs in three months. The known integrity of Monsieur Cesar is a
guarantee that he will use that forty thousand to pay off his debts.
Thus the creditors, if there should come a failure, can lay no blame on
us. Besides, uncle, I would rather lose forty thousand francs than lose
Cesarine. At this very moment while I am speaking, she has doubtless
been told of my refusal, and will cease to esteem me. I vowed my blood
to my benefactor! I am like a young sailor who ought to sink with his
captain, or a soldier who should die with his general.”

“Good heart and bad merchant, you will never lose my esteem,” said the
judge, pressing the hand of his nephew. “I have thought a great deal of
this,” he added. “I know you love Cesarine devotedly, and I think you
can satisfy the claims of love and the claims of commerce.”

“Ah! my uncle, if you have found a way my honor is saved!”

“Advance Birotteau fifty thousand on his share in your oil, which has
now become a species of property, reserving to yourself the right of
buying it back. I will draw up the deed.”

Anselme embraced his uncle and rushed home, made notes to the amount
of fifty thousand francs, and ran from the Rue des Cinq-Diamants to the
Place Vendome, so that just as Cesarine, her mother, and Pillerault were
gazing at Cesar, amazed at the sepulchural tone in which he had
uttered the word “Ungrateful!” the door of the salon opened and Popinot

“My dear and beloved master!” he cried, wiping the perspiration from his
forehead, “here is what you asked of me!” He held out the notes. “Yes, I
have carefully examined my situation; you need have no fear, I shall be
able to pay them. Save--save your honor!”

“I was sure of him!” cried Cesarine, seizing Popinot’s hand, and
pressing it with convulsive force.

Madame Cesar embraced him; Birotteau rose up like the righteous at the
sound of the last trumpet, and issued, as it were, from the tomb. Then
he stretched out a frenzied hand to seize the fifty stamped papers.

“Stop!” said the terrible uncle, Pillerault, snatching the papers from
Popinot, “one moment!”

The four individuals present,--Cesar, his wife, Cesarine, and
Popinot,--bewildered by the action of the old man and by the tone of
his voice, saw him tear the papers and fling them in the fire, without
attempting to interfere.





Four voices and but one heart; a startling unanimity! Uncle Pillerault
passed his arm round Popinot’s neck, held him to his breast, and kissed

“You are worthy of the love of those who have hearts,” he said. “If you
loved a daughter of mine, had she a million and you had nothing but that
[pointing to the black ashes of the notes], you should marry her in a
fortnight, if she loved you. Your master,” he said, pointing to Cesar,
“is beside himself. My nephew,” resumed Pillerault, gravely, addressing
the poor man,--“my nephew, away with illusions! We must do business with
francs, not feelings. All this is noble, but useless. I spent two hours
at the Bourse this afternoon. You have not one farthing’s credit; every
one is talking of your disaster, of your attempts to renew, of your
appeals to various bankers, of their refusals, of your follies,--going
up six flights of stairs to beg a gossiping landlord, who chatters like
a magpie, to renew a note of twelve hundred francs!--your ball, given to
conceal your embarrassments. They have gone so far as to say you had no
property in Roguin’s hands; according to your enemies, Roguin is only
a blind. A friend of mine, whom I sent about to learn what is going on,
confirms what I tell you. Every one foresees that Popinot will issue
notes, and believes that you set him up in business expressly as a last
resource. In short, every calumny or slander which a man brings upon
himself when he tries to mount a rung of the social ladder, is going the
rounds among business men to-day. You might hawk about those notes of
Popinot in vain; you would meet humiliating refusals; no one would take
them; no one could be sure how many such notes you are issuing; every
one expects you to sacrifice the poor lad to your own safety. You would
destroy to no purpose the credit of the house of Popinot. Do you
know how much the boldest money-lender would give you for those fifty
thousand francs? Twenty thousand at the most; twenty thousand, do you
hear me? There are crises in business when we must stand up three days
before the world without eating, as if we had indigestion, and on the
fourth day we may be admitted to the larder of credit. You cannot live
through those three days; and the whole matter lies there. My poor
nephew, take courage! file your schedule, make an assignment. Here is
Popinot, here am I; we will go to work as soon as the clerks have gone
to bed, and spare you the agony of it.”

“My uncle!” said Cesar, clasping his hands.

“Cesar, would you choose a shameful failure, in which there are no
assets? Your share in the house of Popinot is all that saves your

Cesar, awakened by this last and fatal stream of light, saw at length
the frightful truth in its full extent; he fell back upon the sofa, from
thence to his knees, and his mind seemed to wander; he became like a
little child. His wife thought he was dying. She knelt down to raise
him, but joined her voice to his when she saw him clasp his hands and
lift his eyes, and recite, with resigned contrition, in the hearing of
his uncle, his daughter, and Popinot, the sublime catholic prayer:--

“Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be Thy name; Thy kingdom come;
Thy will be done on earth, as it is in heaven; GIVE US THIS DAY OUR
DAILY BREAD; and forgive us our offences, as we forgive those who have
offended against us. So be it!”

Tears came into the eyes of the stoic Pillerault; Cesarine, overcome and
weeping, leaned her head upon Popinot’s shoulder, as he stood pale and
rigid as a statue.

“Let us go below,” said the old merchant, taking the arm of the young

It was half-past eleven when they left Cesar to the care of his wife
and daughter. Just at that moment Celestin, the head-clerk, to whom the
management of the house had been left during this secret tumult, came up
to the appartement and entered the salon. Hearing his step, Cesarine ran
to meet him, that he might not see the prostration of his master.

“Among the letters this evening there was one from Tours, which was
misdirected and therefore delayed. I thought it might be from monsieur’s
brother, so I did not open it.”

“Father!” cried Cesarine; “a letter from my uncle at Tours!”

“Ah, I am saved!” cried Cesar. “My brother! oh, my brother!” He kissed
the letter, as he broke the seal, and read it aloud to his wife and
daughter in a trembling voice:--

  Answer of Francois to Cesar Birotteau.
                                             Tours, 10th.

  My beloved Brother,--Your letter gave me the deepest pain. As soon
  as I had read it, I went at once and offered to God the holy
  sacrifice of the Mass, imploring Him by the blood which His Son,
  our divine Redeemer, shed for us, to look with mercy upon your
  afflictions. At the moment when I offered the prayer _Pro meo
  fratre Caesare_, my eyes were filled with tears as I thought of
  you,--from whom, unfortunately, I am separated in these days when
  you must sorely need the support of fraternal friendship. I have
  thought that the worthy and venerable Monsieur Pillerault would
  doubtless replace me. My dear Cesar, never forget, in the midst of
  your troubles, that this life is a scene of trial, and is passing
  away; that one day we shall be rewarded for having suffered for
  the holy name of God, for His holy Church, for having followed the
  teachings of His Gospel and practised virtue. If it were
  otherwise, this world would have no meaning. I repeat to you these
  maxims, though I know how good and pious you are, because it may
  happen that those who, like you, are flung into the storms of life
  upon the perilous waves of human interests might be tempted to
  utter blasphemies in the midst of their adversity,--carried away
  as they are by anguish. Curse neither the men who injure you nor
  the God who mingles, at His will, your joy with bitterness. Look
  not on life, but lift your eyes to heaven; there is comfort for
  the weak, there are riches for the poor, there are terrors for

“But, Birotteau,” said his wife, “skip all that, and see what he sends

“We will read it over and over hereafter,” said Cesar, wiping his eyes
and turning over the page,--letting fall, as he did so, a Treasury note.
“I was sure of him, poor brother!” said Birotteau, picking up the note
and continuing to read, in a voice broken by tears.

  I went to Madame de Listomere, and without telling her the reason
  of my request I asked her to lend me all she could dispose of, so
  as to swell the amount of my savings. Her generosity has enabled
  me to make up a thousand francs; which I send herewith, in a note
  of the Receiver-General of Tours on the Treasury.

“A fine sum!” said Constance, looking at Cesarine.

  By retrenching a few superfluities in my life, I can return the
  four hundred francs Madame de Listomere has lent me in three
  years; so do not make yourself uneasy about them, my dear Cesar. I
  send you all I have in the world; hoping that this sum may help
  you to a happy conclusion of your financial difficulties, which
  doubtless are only momentary. I well know your delicacy, and I
  wish to forestall your objections. Do not dream of paying me any
  interest for this money, nor of paying it back at all in the day
  of prosperity which ere long will dawn for you if God deigns to
  hear the prayers I offer to Him daily. After I received your last
  letter, two years ago, I thought you so rich that I felt at
  liberty to spend my savings upon the poor; but now, all that I
  have is yours. When you have overcome this little commercial
  difficulty, keep the sum I now send for my niece Cesarine; so that
  when she marries she may buy some trifle to remind her of her old
  uncle, who daily lifts his hands to heaven to implore the blessing
  of God upon her and all who are dear to her. And also, my dear
  Cesar, recollect I am a poor priest who dwells, by the grace of
  God, like the larks in the meadow, in quiet places, trying to obey
  the commandment of our divine Saviour, and who consequently needs
  but little money. Therefore, do not have the least scruple in the
  trying circumstances in which you find yourself; and think of me
  as one who loves you tenderly.

  Our excellent Abbe Chapeloud, to whom I have not revealed your
  situation, desires me to convey his friendly regards to every
  member of your family, and his wishes for the continuance of your
  prosperity. Adieu, dear and well-beloved brother; I pray that at
  this painful juncture God will be pleased to preserve your health,
  and also that of your wife and daughter. I wish you, one and all,
  patience and courage under your afflictions.

            Francois Birotteau,
            Priest, Vicar of the Cathedral and Parochial Church
                    of Saint-Gatien de Tours.

“A thousand francs!” cried Madame Birotteau.

“Put them away,” said Cesar gravely; “they are all he had. Besides, they
belong to our daughter, and will enable us to live; so that we need ask
nothing of our creditors.”

“They will think you are abstracting large sums.”

“Then I will show them the letter.”

“They will say that it is a fraud.”

“My God! my God!” cried Birotteau. “I once thought thus of poor, unhappy
people who were doubtless as I am now.”

Terribly anxious about Cesar’s state, mother and daughter sat plying
their needles by his side, in profound silence. At two in the morning
Popinot gently opened the door of the salon and made a sign to Madame
Cesar to come down. On seeing his niece Pillerault took off his

“My child, there is hope,” he said; “all is not lost. But your husband
could not bear the uncertainty of the negotiations which Anselme and I
are about to undertake. Don’t leave your shop to-morrow, and take the
addresses of all the bills; we have till four o’clock in the afternoon
of the 15th. Here is my plan: Neither Ragon nor I am to be considered.
Suppose that your hundred thousand francs deposited with Roguin had been
remitted to the purchasers, you would not have them then any more than
you have them now. The hundred and forty thousand francs for which notes
were given to Claparon, and which must be paid in any state of the case,
are what you have to meet. Therefore it is not Roguin’s bankruptcy which
as ruined you. I find, to meet your obligations, forty thousand francs
which you can, sooner or later, borrow on your property in the Faubourg
du Temple, and sixty thousand for your share in the house of Popinot.
Thus you can make a struggle, for later you may borrow on the lands
about the Madeleine. If your chief creditor agrees to help you, I shall
not consider my interests; I shall sell out my Funds and live on dry
bread; Popinot will get along between life and death, and as for you,
you will be at the mercy of the smallest commercial mischance; but
Cephalic Oil will undoubtedly make great returns. Popinot and I have
consulted together; we will stand by you in this struggle. Ah! I shall
eat my dry bread gaily if I see daylight breaking on the horizon. But
everything depends on Gigonnet, who holds the notes, and the associates
of Claparon. Popinot and I are going to see Gigonnet between seven
and eight o’clock in the morning, and then we shall know what their
intentions are.”

Constance, wholly overcome, threw herself into her uncle’s arms,
voiceless except through tears and sobs.

Neither Popinot nor Pillerault knew or could know that Bidault, called
Gigonnet, and Claparon were du Tillet under two shapes; and that du
Tillet was resolved to read in the “Journal des Petites Affiches” this
terrible article:--

  “Judgment of the Court of Commerce, which declares the Sieur Cesar
  Birotteau, merchant-perfumer, living in Paris, Rue Saint-Honore,
  no. 397, insolvent, and appoints the preliminary examination on
  the 17th of January, 1819. Commissioner, Monsieur
  Gobenheim-Keller. Agent, Monsieur Molineux.”

Anselme and Pillerault examined Cesar’s affairs until daylight. At eight
o’clock in the morning the two brave friends,--one an old soldier,
the other a young recruit, who had never known, except by hearsay, the
terrible anguish of those who commonly went up the staircase of Bidault
called Gigonnet,--wended their way, without a word to each other,
towards the Rue Grenetat. Both were suffering; from time to time
Pillerault passed his hand across his brow.

The Rue Grenetat is a street where all the houses, crowded with trades
of every kind, have a repulsive aspect. The buildings are horrible.
The vile uncleanliness of manufactories is their leading feature. Old
Gigonnet lived on the third floor of a house whose window-sashes,
with small and very dirty panes, swung by the middle, on pivots. The
staircase opened directly upon the street. The porter’s lodge was on the
_entresol_, in a space which was lighted only from the staircase. All
the lodgers, with the exception of Gigonnet, worked at trades. Workmen
were continually coming and going. The stairs were caked with a layer
of mud, hard or soft according to the state of the atmosphere, and were
covered with filth. Each landing of this noisome stairway bore the
names of the occupants in gilt letters on a metal plate, painted red and
varnished, to which were attached specimens of their craft. As a rule,
the doors stood open and gave to view queer combinations of the domestic
household and the manufacturing operations. Strange cries and grunts
issued therefrom, with songs and whistles and hisses that recalled the
hour of four o’clock in the Jardin des Plantes. On the first floor,
in an evil-smelling lair, the handsomest braces to be found in the
_article-Paris_ were made. On the second floor, the elegant boxes which
adorn the shop-windows of the boulevards and the Palais-Royal at the
beginning of the new year were manufactured, in the midst of the vilest
filth. Gigonnet eventually died, worth eighteen hundred thousand francs,
on a third floor of this house, from which no consideration could
move him; though his niece, Madame Saillard, offered to give him an
appartement in a hotel in the Place Royalle.

“Courage!” said Pillerault, as he pulled the deer’s hoof hanging from
the bell-rope of Gigonnet’s clean gray door.

Gigonnet opened the door himself. Cesar’s two supporters, entering the
precincts of bankruptcy, crossed the first room, which was clean and
chilly and without curtains to its windows. All three sat down in the
inner room where the money-lender lived, before a hearth full of ashes,
in the midst of which the wood was successfully defending itself against
the fire. Popinot’s courage froze at sight of the usurer’s green boxes
and the monastic austerity of the room, whose atmosphere was like that
of a cellar. He looked with a wondering eye at the miserable blueish
paper sprinkled with tricolor flowers, which had been on the walls
for twenty-five years; and then his anxious glance fell upon the
chimney-piece, ornamented with a clock shaped like a lyre, and two oval
vases in Sevres blue richly mounted in copper-gilt. This relic, picked
up by Gigonnet after the pillage of Versailles, where the populace broke
nearly everything, came from the queen’s boudoir; but these rare vases
were flanked by two candelabra of abject shape made of wrought-iron, and
the barbarous contrast recalled the circumstances under which the vases
had been acquired.

“I know that you have not come on your own account,” said Gigonnet, “but
on behalf of the great Birotteau. Well, what is it, my friends?”

“We can tell you nothing that you do not already know; so I will be
brief,” said Pillerault. “You have notes to the order of Claparon?”


“Will you exchange the first fifty thousand of those notes against the
notes of Monsieur Popinot, here present,--less the discount, of course?”

Gigonnet took off the terrible green cap which seemed to have been born
on him, pointed to his skull, denuded of hair and of the color of fresh
butter, made his usual Voltairean grimace, and said: “You wish to pay me
in hair-oil; have I any use for it?”

“If you choose to jest, there is nothing to be done but to beat a
retreat,” said Pillerault.

“You speak like the wise man that you are,” answered Gigonnet, with a
flattering smile.

“Well, suppose I endorse Monsieur Popinot’s notes?” said Pillerault,
playing his last card.

“You are gold by the ingot, Monsieur Pillerault; but I don’t want bars
of gold, I want my money.”

Pillerault and Popinot bowed and went away. Going down the stairs,
Popinot’s knees shook under him.

“Is that a man?” he said to Pillerault.

“They say so,” replied the other. “My boy, always bear in mind this
short interview. Anselme, you have just seen the banking-business
unmasked, without its cloak of courtesy. Unexpected events are the screw
of the press, we are the grapes, the bankers are the casks. That land
speculation is no doubt a good one; Gigonnet, or some one behind him,
means to strangle Cesar and step into his skin. It is all over; there’s
no remedy. But such is the Bank: be warned; never have recourse to it!”

After this horrible morning, during which Madame Birotteau for the first
time sent away those who came for their money, taking their addresses,
the courageous woman, happy in the thought that she was thus sparing her
husband from distress, saw Popinot and Pillerault, for whom she waited
with ever-growing anxiety, return at eleven o’clock, and read her
sentence in their faces. The assignment was inevitable.

“He will die of grief,” said the poor woman.

“I could almost wish he might,” said Pillerault, solemnly; “but he is so
religious that, as things are now, his director, the Abbe Loraux, alone
can save him.”

Pillerault, Popinot, and Constance waited while a clerk was sent to
bring the Abbe Loraux, before they carried up to Cesar the schedule
which Celestin had prepared, and asked him to affix his signature. The
clerks were in despair, for they loved their master. At four o’clock
the good priest came; Constance explained the misfortune that had fallen
upon them, and the abbe went upstairs as a soldier mounts the breach.

“I know why you have come!” cried Birotteau.

“My son,” said the priest, “your feelings of resignation to the Divine
will have long been known to me; it now remains to apply them. Keep
your eyes upon the cross; never cease to behold it, and think upon the
humiliations heaped upon the Saviour of men. Meditate upon the agonies
of his passion, and you will be able to bear the mortification which God
has laid upon you--”

“My brother, the abbe, has already prepared me,” said Cesar, showing the
letter, which he had re-read and now held out to his confessor.

“You have a good brother,” said Monsieur Loraux, “a virtuous and gentle
wife, a tender daughter, two good friends,--your uncle and our dear
Anselme,--two indulgent creditors, the Ragons: all these kind hearts
will pour balm upon your wounds daily, and will help you to bear your
cross. Promise me to have the firmness of a martyr, and to face the blow
without faltering.”

The abbe coughed, to give notice to Pillerault who was waiting in the

“My resignation is unbounded,” said Cesar, calmly. “Dishonor has come; I
must now think only of reparation.”

The firm voice of the poor man and his whole manner surprised Cesarine
and the priest. Yet nothing could be more natural. All men can better
bear a known and definite misfortune than the cruel uncertainties of
a fate which, from one moment to another, brings excessive hope or
crushing sorrow.

“I have dreamed a dream for twenty-two years; to-day I awake with my
cudgel in my hand,” said Cesar, his mind turning back to the Tourangian
peasant days.

Pillerault pressed his nephew in his arms as he heard the words.
Birotteau saw that his wife, Anselme, and Celestin were present. The
papers which the head-clerk held in his hand were significant. Cesar
calmly contemplated the little group where every eye was sad but loving.

“Stay!” he said, unfastening his cross, which he held out to the Abbe
Loraux; “give it back to me on the day when I can wear it without shame.
Celestin,” he added, “write my resignation as deputy-mayor,--Monsieur
l’abbe will dictate the letter to you; date it the 14th, and send it at
once to Monsieur de la Billardiere by Raguet.”

Celestin and the abbe went down stairs. For a quarter of an hour silence
reigned unbroken in Cesar’s study. Such strength of mind surprised
the family. Celestin and the abbe came back, and Cesar signed his
resignation. When his uncle Pillerault presented the schedule and the
papers of his assignment, the poor man could not repress a horrible
nervous shudder.

“My God, have pity upon me!” he said, signing the dreadful paper, and
holding it out to Celestin.

“Monsieur,” said Anselme Popinot, over whose dejected brow a luminous
light flashed suddenly, “madame, do me the honor to grant me the hand of
Mademoiselle Cesarine.”

At these words tears came into the eyes of all present except Cesar; he
rose, took Anselme by the hand and said, in a hollow voice, “My son, you
shall never marry the daughter of a bankrupt.”

Anselme looked fixedly at Birotteau and said: “Monsieur, will you pledge
yourself, here, in presence of your whole family, to consent to our
marriage, if mademoiselle will accept me as her husband, on the day when
you have retrieved your failure?”

There was an instant’s silence, during which all present were affected
by the emotions painted on the worn face of the poor man.

“Yes,” he said, at last.

Anselme made a gesture of unspeakable joy, as he took the hand which
Cesarine held out to him, and kissed it.

“You consent, then?” he said to her.

“Yes,” she answered.

“Now that I am one of the family, I have the right to concern myself in
its affairs,” he said, with a strange, excited expression of face.

He left the room precipitately, that he might not show a joy which
contrasted too cruelly with the sorrow of his master. Anselme was not
actually happy at the failure, but love is such an egoist! Even Cesarine
felt within her heart an emotion that counteracted her bitter grief.

“Now that we have got so far,” whispered Pillerault to Constance, “shall
we strike the last blow?”

Madame Birotteau let a sign of grief rather than of acquiescence escape

“My nephew,” said Pillerault, addressing Cesar, “what do you intend to

“To carry on my business.”

“That would not be my judgment,” said Pillerault. “Take my advice, wind
up everything, make over your whole assets to your creditors, and keep
out of business. I have often imagined how it would be if I were in a
situation such as yours--Ah, one has to foresee everything in business!
a merchant who does not think of failure is like a general who counts on
never being defeated; he is only half a merchant. I, in your position,
would never have continued in business. What! be forced to blush
before the men I had injured, to bear their suspicious looks and tacit
reproaches? I can conceive of the guillotine--a moment, and all is over.
But to have the head replaced, and daily cut off anew,--that is agony I
could not have borne. Many men take up their business as if nothing
had happened: so much the better for them; they are stronger than
Claude-Joseph Pillerault. If you pay in cash, and you are obliged to
do so, they say that you have kept back part of your assets; if you are
without a penny, it is useless to attempt to recover yourself. No, give
up your property, sell your business, and find something else to do.”

“What could I find?” said Cesar.

“Well,” said Pillerault, “look for a situation. You have influential
friends,--the Duc and the Duchesse de Lenoncourt, Madame de Mortsauf,
Monsieur de Vandenesse. Write to them, go and see them; they might get
you a situation in the royal household which would give you a thousand
crowns or so; your wife could earn as much more, and perhaps your
daughter also. The situation is not hopeless. You three might earn
nearly ten thousand francs a year. In ten years you can pay off a
hundred thousand francs, for you shall not use a penny of what you earn;
your two women will have fifteen hundred francs a year from me for their
expenses, and, as for you,--we will see about that.”

Constance and Cesar laid these wise words to heart. Pillerault left
them to go to the Bourse, which in those days was held in a provisional
wooden building of a circular shape, and was entered from the Rue
Faydeau. The failure, already known, of a man lately noted and envied,
excited general comment in the upper commercial circles, which at that
period were all “constitutionnel.” The gentry of the Opposition claimed
a monopoly of patriotism. Royalists might love the king, but to love
your country was the exclusive privilege of the Left; the people
belonged to it. The downfall of the protege of the palace, of a
ministeralist, an incorrigible royalist who on the 13th Vendemiaire had
insulted the cause of liberty by fighting against the glorious French
Revolution,--such a downfall excited the applause and tittle-tattle of
the Bourse. Pillerault wished to learn and study the state of public
opinion. He found in one of the most animated groups du Tillet,
Gobenheim-Keller, Nucingen, old Guillaume, and his son-in-law Joseph
Lebas, Claparon, Gigonnet, Mongenod, Camusot, Gobseck, Adolphe Keller,
Palma, Chiffreville, Matifat, Grindot, and Lourdois.

“What caution one needs to have!” said Gobenheim to du Tillet. “It was
a mere chance that one of my brothers-in-law did not give Birotteau a

“I am in for ten thousand francs,” said du Tillet; “he asked me for them
two weeks ago, and I let him have them on his own note without security.
But he formerly did me some service, and I am willing to lose the

“Your nephew has done like all the rest,” said Lourdois to
Pillerault,--“given balls and parties! That a scoundrel should try to
throw dust in people’s eyes, I can understand; but it is amazing that
a man who passed for as honest as the day should play those worn-out,
knavish tricks which we are always finding out and condemning.”

“Don’t trust people unless they live in hovels like Claparon,” said

“Hey! mein freint,” said the fat Nucingen to du Tillet, “you haf joust
missed blaying me a bretty drick in zenting Pirodot to me. I don’t
know,” he added, addressing Gobenheim the manufacturer, “vy he tid not
ask me for fifdy tousand francs. I should haf gif dem to him.”

“Oh, no, Monsieur le baron,” said Joseph Lebas, “you knew very well that
the Bank had refused his paper; you made them reject it in the committee
on discounts. The affair of this unfortunate man, for whom I still feel
the highest esteem, presents certain peculiar circumstances.”

Pillerault pressed the hand of Joseph Lebas.

“Yes,” said Mongenod, “it seems impossible to believe what has happened,
unless we believe that concealed behind Gigonnet there are certain
bankers who want to strangle the speculation in the lands about the

“What has happened is what happens always to those who go out of their
proper business,” said Claparon, hastily interrupting Mongenod. “If he
had set up his own Cephalic Oil instead of running up the price of all
the land in Paris by pouncing upon it, he might have lost his hundred
thousand francs with Roguin, but he wouldn’t have failed. He will go on
now under the name of Popinot.”

“Keep a watch on Popinot,” said Gigonnet.

Roguin, in the parlance of such worthy merchants, was now the
“unfortunate Roguin.” Cesar had become “that wretched Birotteau.”
 The one seemed to them excused by his great passion; the other they
considered all the more guilty for his harmless pretensions.

Gigonnet, after leaving the Bourse, went round by the Rue
Perrin-Gasselin on his way home, in search of Madame Madou, the vendor
of dried fruits.

“Well, old woman,” he said, with his coarse good-humor, “how goes the

“So-so,” said Madame Madou, respectfully, offering her only armchair to
the usurer, with a show of attention she had never bestowed on her “dear

Mother Madou, who would have floored a recalcitrant or too-familiar
wagoner and gone fearlessly to the assault of the Tuileries on the 10th
of October, who jeered her best customers and was capable of speaking up
to the king in the name of her associate market-women,--Angelique Madou
received Gigonnet with abject respect. Without strength in his presence,
she shuddered under his rasping glance. The lower classes will long
tremble at sight of the executioner, and Gigonnet was the executioner of
petty commerce. In the markets no power on earth is so respected as that
of the man who controls the flow of money; all other human institutions
are as nothing beside him. Justice herself takes the form of a
commissioner, a familiar personage in the eyes of the market; but usury
seated behind its green boxes,--usury, entreated with fear tugging at
the heart-strings, dries up all jesting, parches the throat, lowers the
proudest look, and makes the commonest market women respectful.

“Do you want anything of me?” she said.

“A trifle, a mere nothing. Hold yourself ready to make good those notes
of Birotteau; the man has failed, and claims must be put in at once. I
will send you the account to-morrow morning.”

Madame Madou’s eyes contracted like those of a cat for a second, and
then shot out flames.

“Ah, the villain! Ah, the scoundrel! He came and told me himself he was
a deputy-mayor,--a trumped-up story! Reprobate! is that what he calls
business? There is no honor among mayors; the government deceives us.
Stop! I’ll go and make him pay me; I will--”

“Hey! at such times everybody looks out for himself, my dear!” said
Gigonnet, lifting his leg with the quaint little action of a cat fearing
to cross a wet place,--a habit to which he owed his nickname. “There are
some very big wigs in the matter who mean to get themselves out of the

“Yes, and I’ll pull my nuts out of the fire, too! Marie-Jeanne, bring my
clogs and my rabbit-skin cloak; and quick, too, or I’ll warm you up with
a box on the ear.”

“There’ll be warm work down there!” thought Gigonnet, rubbing his hands
as he walked away. “Du Tillet will be satisfied; it will make a fine
scandal all through the quarter. I don’t know what that poor devil of
a perfumer has done to him; for my part I pity the fellow as I do a dog
with a broken leg. He isn’t a man, he has got no force.”

Madame Madou bore down, like an insurrectionary wave from the Faubourg
Saint-Antoine, upon the shop-door of the hapless Birotteau, which she
opened with excessive violence, for her walk had increased her fury.

“Heap of vermin! I want my money; I will have my money! You shall give
me my money, or I carry off your scent-bags, and that satin trumpery,
and the fans, and everything you’ve got here, for my two thousand
francs. Who ever heard of mayors robbing the people? If you don’t pay me
I’ll send you to the galleys; I’ll go to the police,--justice shall be
done! I won’t leave this place till I’ve got my money.”

She made a gesture as if to break the glass before the shelves on which
the valuables were placed.

“Mother Madou takes a drop too much,” whispered Celestin to his

The virago overheard him,--for in paroxysms of passion the organs
are either paralyzed or trebly acute,--and she forthwith applied to
Celestin’s ear the most vigorous blow that ever resounded in a Parisian

“Learn to respect women, my angel,” she said, “and don’t smirch the
names of the people you rob.”

“Madame,” said Madame Birotteau, entering from the back-shop, where she
happened to be with her husband,--whom Pillerault was persuading to
go with him, while Cesar, to obey the law, was humbly expressing his
willingness to go to prison,--“madame, for heaven’s sake do not raise a
mob, and bring a crowd upon us!”

“Hey! let them come,” said the woman; “I’ll tell them a tale that will
make you laugh the wrong side of your mouth. Yes, my nuts and my francs,
picked up by the sweat of my brow, helped you to give balls. There you
are, dressed like the queen of France in woollen which you sheared
off the backs of poor sheep such as me! Good God! it would burn my
shoulders, that it would, to wear stolen goods! I’ve got nothing but
rabbit-skin to cover my carcass, but it is mine! Brigands, thieves, my
money or--”

She darted at a pretty inlaid box containing toilet articles.

“Put that down, madame!” said Cesar, coming forward, “nothing here
is mine; everything belongs to my creditors. I own nothing but my own
person; if you wish to seize that and put me in prison, I give you my
word of honor”--the tears fell from his eyes--“that I will wait here
till you have me arrested.”

The tone and gesture were so completely in keeping with his words that
Madame Madou’s anger subsided.

“My property has been carried off by a notary; I am innocent of the
disasters I cause,” continued Cesar, “but you shall be paid in course of
time if I have to die in the effort, and work like a galley-slave as a
porter in the markets.”

“Come, you are a good man,” said the market-woman. “Excuse my words,
madame; but I may as well go and drown myself, for Gigonnet will hound
me down. I can’t get any money for ten months to redeem those damned
notes of yours which I gave him.”

“Come and see me to-morrow morning,” said Pillerault, showing himself.
“I will get you the money from one of my friends, at five per cent.”

“Hey! if it isn’t the worthy Pere Pillerault! Why, to be sure, he’s your
uncle,” she said to Constance. “Well, you are all honest people, and I
sha’n’t lose my money, shall I? To-morrow morning, then, old fellow!”
 she said to the retired iron-monger.

              *     *     *     *     *

Cesar was determined to live on amid the wreck of his fortunes at “The
Queen of Roses,” insisting that he would see his creditors and explain
his affairs to them himself. Despite Madame Birotteau’s earnest
entreaties, Pillerault seemed to approve of Cesar’s decision and took
him back to his own room. The wily old man then went to Monsieur Haudry,
explained the case, and obtained from him a prescription for a sleeping
draught, which he took to be made up, and then returned to spend the
evening with the family. Aided by Cesarine he induced her father to
drink with them. The narcotic soon put Cesar to sleep, and when he
woke up, fourteen hours later, he was in Pillerault’s bedroom, Rue des
Bourdonnais, fairly imprisoned by the old man, who was sleeping himself
on a cot-bed in the salon.

When Constance heard the coach containing Pillerault and Cesar roll away
from the door, her courage deserted her. Our powers are often stimulated
by the necessity of upholding some being feebler than ourselves. The
poor woman wept to find herself alone in her home as she would have wept
for Cesar dead.

“Mamma,” said Cesarine, sitting on her mother’s knee, and caressing her
with the pretty kittenish grace which women only display to perfection
amongst themselves, “you said that if I took up my life bravely, you
would have strength to bear adversity. Don’t cry, dear mother; I am
ready and willing to go into some shop, and I shall never think again of
what we once were. I shall be like you in your young days; and you shall
never hear a complaint, nor even a regret, from me. I have a hope. Did
you not hear what Monsieur Anselme said?”

“That dear boy! he shall not be my son-in-law--”

“Oh, mamma!”

“--he shall be my own son.”

“Sorry has one good,” said Cesarine, kissing her mother; “it teaches us
to know our true friends.”

The daughter at last eased the pain of the poor woman by changing places
and playing the mother to her. The next morning Constance went to the
house of the Duc de Lenoncourt, one of the gentlemen of the king’s
bedchamber, and left a letter asking for an interview at a later hour
of the day. In the interval she went to Monsieur de la Billardiere,
and explained to him the situation in which Roguin’s flight had placed
Cesar, begging him to go with her to the duke and speak for her, as she
feared she might explain matters ill herself. She wanted a place
for Birotteau. Birotteau, she said, would be the most upright of
cashiers,--if there could be degrees of integrity among honest men.

“The King has just appointed the Comte de Fontaine master of his
household; there is no time to be lost in making the application,” said
the mayor.

At two o’clock Monsieur de la Billardiere and Madame Cesar went up the
grand staircase of the Hotel de Lenoncourt, Rue Saint-Dominique, and
were ushered into the presence of the nobleman whom the king preferred
to all others,--if it can be said that Louis XVIII. ever had a
preference. The gracious welcome of this great lord, who belonged to the
small number of true gentlemen whom the preceding century bequeathed
to ours, encouraged Madame Cesar. She was dignified, yet simple, in her
sorrow. Grief ennobles even the plainest people; for it has a grandeur
of its own; to reflect its lustre, a nature must needs be true.
Constance was a woman essentially true.

The question was, how to speak to the king at once. In the midst of the
conference Monsieur de Vandenesse was announced; and the duke exclaimed,
“Here is our support!”

Madame Birotteau was not unknown to this young man, who had been to her
shop two or three times in search of those trifles which are sometimes
of more importance than greater things. The duke explained Monsieur de
la Billardiere’s wishes. As soon as he learned the misfortune which had
overtaken the godson of the Marquise d’Uxelles, Vandenesse went at once,
accompanied by Monsieur de la Billardiere, to the Comte de Fontaine,
begging Madame Birotteau to wait their return. Monsieur le Comte
de Fontaine was, like Monsieur de la Billardiere, one of those fine
provincial gentlemen, the heroes, almost unknown, who made “la Vendee.”
 Birotteau was not a stranger to him, for he had seen him in the old
days at “The Queen of Roses.” Men who had shed their blood for the
royal cause enjoyed at this time certain privileges, which the king kept
secret, so as not to give umbrage to the Liberals.

Monsieur de Fontaine, always a favorite with Louis XVIII., was thought
to be wholly in his confidence. Not only did the count positively
promise a place, but he returned with the two gentlemen to the Duc
de Lenoncourt, and asked him to procure for him an audience that very
evening; and also to obtain for Billardiere an audience with MONSIEUR,
who was greatly attached to the old Vendeen diplomatist.

The same evening, the Comte de Fontaine came from the Tuileries to “The
Queen of Roses,” and announced to Madame Birotteau that as soon as the
proceedings in bankruptcy were over, her husband would be officially
appointed to a situation in the Sinking-fund Office, with a salary of
two thousand five hundred francs,--all the functions in the household of
the king being overcrowded with noble supernumeraries to whom promises
had already been made.

This success was but one part of the task before Madame Birotteau.
The poor woman now went to the “Maison du Chat-qui-pelote,” in the Rue
Saint-Denis, to find Joseph Lebas. As she walked along she met Madame
Roguin in a brilliant equipage, apparently making purchases. Their eyes
met; and the shame which the rich woman could not hide as she looked at
the ruined woman, gave Constance fresh courage.

“Never will I roll in a carriage bought with the money of others,” she
said to herself.

Joseph Lebas received her kindly, and she begged him to obtain a place
for Cesarine in some respectable commercial establishment. Lebas made no
promises; but eight days later Cesarine had board, lodging, and a salary
of three thousand francs from one of the largest linen-drapers in
Paris, who was about to open a branch establishment in the quartier
des Italiens. Cesarine was put in charge of the desk, and the
superintendence of the new shop was entrusted to her; she filled, in
fact, a position above that of forewoman, and supplied the place of both
master and mistress.

Madame Cesar went from the “Chat-qui-pelote” to the Rue des
Cinq-Diamants, and asked Popinot to let her take charge of his accounts
and do his writing, and also manage his household. Popinot felt that his
was the only house where Cesar’s wife could meet with the respect that
was due to her, and find employment without humiliation. The noble lad
gave her three thousand francs a year, her board, and his own room;
going himself into an attic occupied by one of his clerks. Thus it
happened that the beautiful woman, after one month’s enjoyment of her
sumptuous home, came to live in the wretched chamber looking into a
damp, dark court, where Gaudissart, Anselme, and Finot had inaugurated
Cephalic Oil.

When Molineux, appointed agent by the Court of Commerce, came to take
possession of Cesar Birotteau’s assets, Madame Birotteau, aided
by Celestin, went over the inventory with him. Then the mother and
daughter, plainly dressed, left the house on foot and went to their
uncle Pillerault’s, without once turning their heads to look at the home
where they had passed the greater part of their lives. They walked in
silence to the Rue des Bourdonnais, where they were to dine with Cesar
for the first time since their separation. It was a sad dinner. Each
had had time for reflection,--time to weigh the duties before them, and
sound the depths of their courage. All three were like sailors ready
to face foul weather, but not deceived as to their danger. Birotteau
gathered courage as he was told of the interest people in high places
had taken in finding employment for him, but he wept when he heard what
his daughter was to become. Then he held out his hand to his wife, as he
saw the courage with which she had returned to labor. Old Pillerault’s
eyes were wet, for the last time in his life, as he looked at these
three beings folded together in one embrace; from the centre of which
Birotteau, feeblest of the three and the most stricken, raised his
hands, saying:--

“Let us have hope!”

“You shall live with me,” said Pillerault, “for the sake of economy; you
shall have my chamber, and share my bread. I have long been lonely; you
shall replace the poor child I lost. From my house it is but a step to
your office in the Rue de l’Oratoire.”

“God of mercy!” exclaimed Birotteau; “in the worst of a storm a star
guides me.”

Resignation is the last stage of man’s misfortune. From this moment
Cesar’s downfall was accomplished; he accepted it, and strength returned
to him.


After admitting his insolvency and filing his schedule, a merchant
should find some retired spot in France, or in foreign countries, where
he may live without taking part in life, like the child that he is; for
the law declares him a minor, and not competent for any legal action as
a citizen. This, however, is never done. Before reappearing he obtains a
safe-conduct, which neither judge nor creditor ever refuses to give; for
if the debtor were found without this _exeat_ he would be put in prison,
while with it he passes safely, as with a flag of truce, through the
enemy’s camp,--not by way of curiosity, but for the purpose of defeating
the severe intention of the laws relating to bankruptcy. The effect of
all laws which touch private interests is to develop, enormously, the
knavery of men’s minds. The object of a bankrupt, like that of other
persons whose interests are thwarted by any law, is to make void the law
in his particular case.

The status of civil death in which the bankrupt remains a chrysalis
lasts for about three months,--a period required by formalities which
precede a conference at which the creditors and their debtor sign a
treaty of peace, by which the bankrupt is allowed the ability to make
payments, and receives a bankrupt’s certificate. This transaction is
called the _concordat_,--a word implying, perhaps, that peace reigns
after the storm and stress of interests violently in opposition.

As soon as the insolvent’s schedule is filed, the Court of commerce
appoints a judge-commissioner, whose duty it is to look after the
interests of the still unknown body of creditors, and also to protect
the insolvent against the vexatious measures of angry creditors,--a
double office, which might be nobly magnified if the judges had time
to attend to it. The commissioner, however, delegates an agent to take
possession of the property, the securities, and the merchandise, and to
verify the schedule; when this is done, the court appoints a day for
a meeting of the creditors, notice of which is trumpeted forth in the
newspapers. The creditors, real or pretended, are expected to be present
and choose the provisional assignees, who are to supersede the agent,
step into the insolvent’s shoes, became by a fiction of law the
insolvent himself, and are authorized to liquidate the business,
negotiate all transactions, sell the property,--in short, recast
everything in the interest of the creditors, provided the bankrupt makes
no opposition. The majority of Parisian failures stop short at this
point, and the reason is as follows:

The appointment of one or more permanent assignees is an act which gives
opportunity for the bitterest action on the part of creditors who
are thirsting for vengeance, who have been tricked, baffled, cozened,
trapped, duped, robbed, and cheated. Although, as a general thing, all
creditors are cheated, robbed, duped, trapped, cozened, tricked, and
baffled, yet there is not in all Paris a commercial passion able to keep
itself alive for ninety days. The paper of commerce alone maintains its
vitality, and rises, athirst for payment, in three months. Before ninety
days are over, the creditors, worn out by coming and going, by the
marches and countermarches which a failure entails, are asleep at
the side of their excellent little wives. This may help a stranger to
understand why it is that the provisional in France is so often the
definitive: out of every thousand provisional assignees, not more than
five ever become permanent. The subsidence of passions stirred up by
failures is thus accounted for.

But here it becomes necessary to explain to persons who have not had the
happiness to be in business the whole drama of bankruptcy, so as to make
them understand how it constitutes in Paris a monstrous legal farce; and
also how the bankruptcy of Cesar Birotteau was a signal exception to the
general rule.

This fine commercial drama is in three distinct acts,--the agent’s act,
the assignee’s act, the _concordat_, or certificate-of-bankruptcy act.
Like all theatrical performances, it is played with a double-intent:
it is put upon the stage for the public eye, but it also has a hidden
purpose; there is one performance for the pit, and another for the
side-scenes. Posted in the side-scenes are the bankrupt and his
solicitor, the attorney of the creditors, the assignees, the agent, and
the judge-commissioner himself. No one out of Paris knows, and no one in
Paris does not know, that a judge of the commercial courts is the most
extraordinary magistrate that society ever allowed itself to create.
This judge may live in dread of his own justice at any moment. Paris
has seen the president of her courts of commerce file his own schedule.
Instead of being an experienced retired merchant, to whom the magistracy
might properly be made the reward of a pure life, this judge is a
trader, bending under the weight of enormous enterprises, and at the
head of some large commercial house. The _sine qua non_ condition in the
election of this functionary, whose business it is to pass judgment
on the avalanche of commercial suits incessantly rolling through the
courts, is that he shall have the greatest difficulty in managing his
own affairs. This commercial tribunal, far from being made a useful
means of transition whereby a merchant might rise, without ridicule,
into the ranks of the nobility, is in point of fact made up of traders
who are trading, and who are liable to suffer for their judgments when
they next meet with dissatisfied parties,--very much as Birotteau was
now punished by du Tillet.

The commissioner is of necessity a personage before whom much is said;
who listens, recollecting all the while his own interests, and leaves
the cause to the assignees and the attorneys,--except, possibly, in
a few strange and unusual cases where dishonesty is accompanied by
peculiar circumstances, when the judge usually observes that the debtor,
or the creditors, as it may happen, are clever people. This personage,
set up in the drama like the royal bust in a public audience-chamber,
may be found early in the morning at his wood-yard, if he sells wood; in
his shop, if, like Birotteau, he is a perfumer; or, in the evenings,
at his dessert after dinner,--always, it should be added, in a terrible
hurry; as a general thing he is silent. Let us, however, do justice
to the law: the legislation that governs his functions, and which was
pushed through in haste, has tied the hands of this commissioner; and
it sometimes happens that he sanctions fraud which he cannot hinder,--as
the reader will shortly see.

The agent to whom the judge delegates the first proceedings, instead
of serving the creditors, may become if he please a tool of the debtor.
Every one hopes to swell his own gains by getting on the right side of
the debtor, who is always supposed to keep back a hidden treasure. The
agent may make himself useful to both parties; on the one hand by not
laying the bankrupt’s business in ashes, on the other by snatching a few
morsels for men of influence,--in short, he runs with the hare and holds
with the hounds. A clever agent has frequently arrested judgment by
buying up the debts and then releasing the merchant, who then rebounds
like an india-rubber ball. The agent chooses the best-stocked crib,
whether it leads him to cover the largest creditors and shear the
debtor, or to sacrifice the creditors for the future prosperity of
the restored merchant. The action of the agent is decisive. This man,
together with the bankrupt’s solicitor, plays the utility role in the
drama, where it may be said neither the one nor the other would accept
a part if not sure of their fees. Taking the average of a thousand
failures, an agent would be found nine hundred and fifty times on the
side of the bankrupt. At the period of our history, the solicitors
frequently sought the judge with the request that he would appoint
an agent whom they proposed to him,--a man, as they said, to whom the
affairs of the bankrupt were well-known, who would know how to reconcile
the interests of the whole body of creditors with those of a man
honorably overtaken by misfortune. For some years past the best judges
have sought the advice of the solicitors in this matter for the purpose
of not taking it, endeavoring to appoint some other agent _quasi_

During this act of the drama the creditors, real or pretended, come
forward to select the provisional assignees, who are often, as we have
said, the final ones. In this electoral assembly all creditors have the
right to vote, whether the sum owing to them is fifty sous, or fifty
thousand francs. This assembly, in which are found pretended creditors
introduced by the bankrupt,--the only electors who never fail to come
to the meeting,--proposes the whole body of creditors as candidates from
among whom the commissioner, a president without power, is supposed
to select the assignees. Thus it happens that the judge almost always
appoints as assignees those creditors whom it suits the bankrupt to
have,--another abuse which makes the catastrophe of bankruptcy one
of the most burlesque dramas to which justice ever lent her name.
The honorable bankrupt overtaken by misfortune is then master of the
situation, and proceeds to legalize the theft he premeditated. As a
rule, the petty trades of Paris are guiltless in this respect. When
a shopkeeper gets as far as making an assignment, the worthy man has
usually sold his wife’s shawl, pawned his plate, left no stone unturned,
and succumbs at last with empty hands, ruined, and without enough money
to pay his attorney, who in consequence cares little for him.

The law requires that the _concordat_, at which is granted the
bankrupt’s certificate that remits to the merchant a portion of his
debt, and restores to him the right of managing his affairs, shall
be attended by a majority of the creditors, and also that they shall
represent a certain proportion of the debt. This important action brings
out much clever diplomacy, on the part of the bankrupt, his assignees,
and his solicitor, among the contending interests which cross and
jostle each other. A usual and very common manoeuvre is to offer to that
section of the creditors who make up in number and amount the majority
required by law certain premiums, which the debtor consents to pay over
and above the dividend publicly agreed upon. This monstrous fraud is
without remedy. The thirty commercial courts which up to the present
time have followed one after the other, have each known of it, for all
have practised it. Enlightened by experience, they have lately tried to
render void such fraudulent agreements; and as the bankrupts have reason
to complain of the extortion, the judges had some hope of reforming to
that extent the system of bankruptcy. The attempt, however, will end in
producing something still more immoral; for the creditors will devise
other rascally methods, which the judges will condemn as judges, but by
which they will profit as merchants.

Another much-used stratagem, and one to which we owe the term “serious
and legitimate creditor,” is that of creating creditors,--just as du
Tillet created a banker and a banking-house,--and introducing a certain
quantity of Claparons under whose skin the bankrupt hides, diminishing
by just so much the dividends of the true creditors, and laying up for
the honest man a store for the future; always, however, providing a
sufficient majority of votes and debts to secure the passage of his
certificate. The “gay and illegitimate creditors” are like false
electors admitted into the electoral college. What chance has the
“serious and legitimate creditor” against the “gay and illegitimate
creditor?” Shall he get rid of him by attacking him? How can he do it?
To drive out the intruder the legitimate creditor must sacrifice his
time, his own business, and pay an attorney to help him; while the said
attorney, making little out of it, prefers to manage the bankruptcy in
another capacity, and therefore works for the genuine credit without

To dislodge the illegitimate creditor it is necessary to thread the
labyrinth of proceedings in bankruptcy, search among past events,
ransack accounts, obtain by injunction the books of the false creditors,
show the improbability of the fiction of their existence, prove it to
the judges, sue for justice, go and come, and stir up sympathy; and,
finally, to charge like Don Quixote upon each “gay and illegitimate
creditor,” who if convicted of “gaiety” withdraws from court, saying
with a bow to the judges, “Excuse me, you are mistaken, I am very
‘serious.’” All this without prejudice to the rights of the bankrupt,
who may carry Don Quixote and his remonstrance to the upper courts;
during which time Don Quixote’s own business is suffering, and he is
liable to become a bankrupt himself.

The upshot of all this is, that in point of fact the debtor appoints
his assignees, audits his own accounts, and draws up the certificate of
bankruptcy himself.

Given these premises, it is easy to imagine the devices of Frontin, the
trickeries of Sganarelle, the lies of Mascarille, and the empty bags
of Scapin which such a system develops. There has never been a failure
which did not generate enough matter to fill the fourteen volumes of
“Clarissa Harlowe,” if an author could be found to describe them. A
single example will suffice. The illustrious Gobseck,--ruler of Palma,
Gigonnet, Werbrust, Keller, Nucingen, and the like,--being concerned in
a failure where he attempted to roughly handle the insolvent, who had
managed to get the better of him, obtained notes from his debtor for an
amount which together with the declared dividend made up the sum total
of his loss. These notes were to fall due after the _concordat_. Gobseck
then brought about a settlement in the _concordat_ by which sixty-five
per cent was remitted to the bankrupt. Thus the creditors were swindled
in the interests of Gobseck. But the bankrupt had signed the illicit
notes with the name of his insolvent firm, and he was therefore able
to bring them under the reduction of sixty-five per cent. Gobseck, the
great Gobseck, received scarcely fifty per cent on his loss. From that
day forth he bowed to his debtor with ironical respect.

As all operations undertaken by an insolvent within ten days before his
failure can be impeached, prudent men are careful to enter upon certain
affairs with a certain number of creditors whose interest, like that
of the bankrupt, is to arrive at the _concordat_ as fast as possible.
Skilful creditors will approach dull creditors or very busy ones, give
an ugly look into the failure, and buy up their claims at half what
they are worth at the liquidation; in this way they get back their money
partly by the dividend on their own claims, partly from the half, or
third, or fourth, gained on these purchased claims.

A failure is the closer, more or less hermetically tight, of a house
where pillage has left a few remaining bags of silver. Lucky the man who
can get in at a window, slide down a chimney, creep in through a cellar
or through a hole, and seize a bag to swell his share! In the general
rout, the _sauve qui peut_ of Beresina is passed from mouth to mouth;
all is legal and illegal, false and true, honest and dishonest. A man is
admired if he “covers” himself. To “cover” himself means that he seizes
securities to the detriment of the other creditors. France has lately
rung with the discussion of an immense failure that took place in a town
where one of the upper courts holds its sittings, and where the judges,
having current accounts with the bankrupts, wore such heavy india-rubber
mantles that the mantle of justice was rubbed into holes. It was
absolutely necessary, in order to avert legitimate suspicion, to send
the case for judgment in another court. There was neither judge nor
agent nor supreme court in the region where the failure took place that
could be trusted.

This alarming commercial tangle is so well understood in Paris, that
unless a merchant is involved to a large amount he accepts a failure
as total shipwreck without insurance, passes it to his profit-and-loss
account, and does not commit the folly of wasting time upon it; he
contents himself with brewing his own malt. As to the petty trader,
worried about his monthly payments, busied in pushing the chariot of his
little fortunes, a long and costly legal process terrifies him. He gives
up trying to see his way, imitates the substantial merchant, bows his
head, and accepts his loss.

The wholesale merchants seldom fail, nowadays; they make friendly
liquidations; the creditors take what is given to them, and hand in
their receipts. In this way many things are avoided,--dishonor, judicial
delays, fees to lawyers, and the depreciation of merchandise.
All parties think that bankruptcy will give less in the end than
liquidation. There are now more liquidations than bankruptcies in Paris.

The assignee’s act in the drama is intended to prove that every assignee
is incorruptible, and that no collusion has ever existed between any
of them and the bankrupt. The pit--which has all, more or less, been
assignee in its day--knows very well that every assignee is a “covered”
 merchant. It listens, and believes as it likes. After three months
employed in auditing the debtor and creditor accounts, the time comes
for the _concordat_. The provisional assignees make a little report at
the meeting, of which the following is the usual formula:--

  Messieurs,--There is owing to the whole of us, in bulk, about a
  million. We have dismantled our man like a condemned frigate. The
  nails, iron, wood, and copper will bring about three hundred
  thousand francs. We shall thus get about thirty per cent of our
  money. Happy in obtaining this amount, when our debtor might have
  left us only one hundred thousand, we hereby declare him an
  Aristides; we vote him a premium and crown of encouragement, and
  propose to leave him to manage his assets, giving him ten or
  twelve years in which to pay us the fifty per cent which he has
  been so good as to offer us. Here is the certificate of
  bankruptcy; have the goodness to walk up to the desk and sign it.

At this speech, all the fortune creditors congratulate each other and
shake hands. After the ratification of the certificate, the bankrupt
becomes once more a merchant, precisely such as he was before; he
receives back his securities, he continues his business, he is not
deprived of the power to fail again, on the promised dividend,--an
additional little failure which often occurs, like the birth of a child
nine months after the mother has married her daughter.

If the certificate of bankruptcy is not granted, the creditors then
select the permanent assignees, take extreme measures, and form an
association to get possession of the whole property and the business
of their debtor, seizing everything that he has or ever will have,--his
inheritance from his father, his mother, his aunt, _et caetera_.
This stern measure can only be carried through by an association of

              *     *     *     *     *

There are therefore two sorts of failures,--the failure of the merchant
who means to repossess himself of his business, and the failure of the
merchant who has fallen into the water and is willing to sink to the
bottom. Pillerault knew the difference. It was, to his thinking and to
that of Ragon, as hard to come out pure from the first as to come out
safe from the second. After advising Cesar to abandon everything to his
creditors, he went to the most honorable solicitor in such matters,
that immediate steps might be taken to liquidate the failure and put
everything at once at the disposition of the creditors. The law requires
that while the drama is being acted, the creditors shall provide for
the support of the bankrupt and his family. Pillerault notified the
commissioner that he would himself supply the wants of his niece and

Du Tillet had worked all things together to make the failure a prolonged
agony for his old master; and this is how he did it. Time is so precious
in Paris that it is customary, when two assignees are appointed, for
only one to attend to the affair: the duty of the other is merely
formal,--he approves and signs, like the second notary in notarial
deeds. By this means, the largest failures in Paris are so vigorously
handled that, in spite of the law’s delays, they are adjusted, settled,
and secured with such rapidity that within a hundred days the judge can
echo the atrocious saying of the Minister,--“Order reigns in Warsaw.”

Du Tillet meant to compass Cesar’s commercial death. The names of
the assignees selected through the influence of du Tillet were very
significant to Pillerault. Monsieur Bidault, called Gigonnet,--the
principal creditor,--was the one to take no active part; and Molineux,
the mischievous old man who lost nothing by the failure, was to manage
everything. Du Tillet flung the noble commercial carcass to the little
jackal, that he might torment it as he devoured it. After the meeting
at which the creditors appointed the assignees, little Molineux returned
home “honored,” so he said, “by the suffrages of his fellow-citizens”;
happy in the prospect of hectoring Birotteau, just as a child
delights in having an insect to maltreat. The landlord, astride of his
hobby,--the law,--begged du Tillet to favor him with his ideas; and he
bought a copy of the commercial Code. Happily, Joseph Lebas, cautioned
by Pillerault, had already requested the president of the Board
of Commerce to select a sagacious and well-meaning commissioner.
Gobenheim-Keller, whom du Tillet hoped to have, found himself displaced
by Monsieur Camusot, a substitute-judge,--a rich silk-merchant, Liberal
in politics, and the owner of the house in which Pillerault lived; a man
counted honorable.

              *     *     *     *     *

One of the cruellest scenes of Cesar’s life was his forced conference
with little Molineux,--the being he had once regarded as a nonentity,
who now by a fiction of law had become Cesar Birotteau. He was compelled
to go to the Cour Batave, to mount the six flights, and re-enter the
miserable appartement of the old man, now his custodian, his _quasi_
judge,--the representative of his creditors. Pillerault accompanied him.

“What is the matter?” said the old man, as Cesar gave vent to an

“Ah, uncle! you do not know the sort of man this Molineux is!”

“I have seen him from time to time for fifteen years past at the cafe
David, where he plays dominoes. That is why I have come with you.”

Monsieur Molineux showed the utmost politeness to Pillerault, and much
disdainful condescension to the bankrupt; he had thought over his part,
studied the shades of his demeanor, and prepared his ideas.

“What information is it that you need?” asked Pillerault. “There is no
dispute as to the claims.”

“Oh,” said little Molineux, “the claims are in order,--they have been
examined. The creditors are all serious and legitimate. But the
law, monsieur,--the law! The expenditures of the bankrupt have been
disproportional to his fortune. It appears that the ball--”

“At which you were present,” interrupted Pillerault.

“--cost nearly sixty thousand francs, and at that time the assets of
the insolvent amounted to not more than one hundred and a few thousand
francs. There is cause to arraign the bankrupt on a charge of wilful

“Is that your intention?” said Pillerault, noticing the despondency into
which these words had cast Birotteau.

“Monsieur, I make a distinction; the Sieur Birotteau was a member of the

“You have not sent for us, I presume, to explain that we are to be
brought into a criminal police court?” said Pillerault. “The cafe David
would laugh finely at your conduct this evening.”

The opinion of the cafe David seemed to frighten the old man, who looked
at Pillerault with a startled air. He had counted on meeting Birotteau
alone, intending to pose as the sovereign arbiter of his fate,--a
legal Jupiter. He meant to frighten him with the thunder-bolt of an
accusation, to brandish the axe of a criminal charge over his head,
enjoy his fears and his terrors, and then allow himself to be touched
and softened, and persuaded at last to restore his victim to a life of
perpetual gratitude. Instead of his insect, he had got hold of an old
commercial sphinx.

“Monsieur,” he replied, “I see nothing to laugh at.”

“Excuse me,” said Pillerault. “You have negotiated largely with Monsieur
Claparon; you have neglected the interests of the main body of
the creditors, so as to make sure that certain claims shall have
a preference. Now I can as one of the creditors interfere. The
commissioner is to be taken into account.”

“Monsieur,” said Molineux, “I am incorruptible.”

“I am aware of it,” said Pillerault. “You have only taken your iron out
of the fire, as they say. You are keen; you are acting just as you do
with your tenants--”

“Oh, monsieur!” said the assignee, suddenly dropping into the
landlord,--just as the cat metamorphosed into a woman ran after a mouse
when she caught sight of it,--“my affair of the Rue Montorgeuil is not
yet settled. What they call an impediment has arisen. The tenant is the
chief tenant. This conspirator declares that as he has paid a year in
advance, and having only one more year to”--here Pillerault gave Cesar
a look which advised him to pay strict attention--“and, the year being
paid for, that he has the right to take away his furniture. I shall sue
him! I must hold on to my securities to the last; he may owe something
for repairs before the year is out.”

“But,” said Pillerault, “the law only allows you to take furniture as
security for the rent--”

“And its accessories!” cried Molineux, assailed in his trenches. “That
article in the Code has been interpreted by various judgments rendered
in the matter: however, there ought to be legislative rectification to
it. At this very moment I am elaborating a memorial to his Highness,
the Keeper of the Seals, relating to this flaw in our statutes. It
is desirable that the government should maintain the interests of
landlords. That is the chief question in statecraft. We are the tap-root
of taxation.”

“You are well fitted to enlighten the government,” said Pillerault; “but
in what way can we enlighten you--about our affairs?”

“I wish to know,” said Molineux, with pompous authority, “if Monsieur
Birotteau has received moneys from Monsieur Popinot.”

“No, monsieur,” said Birotteau.

Then followed a discussion on Birotteau’s interests in the house of
Popinot, from which it appeared that Popinot had the right to have all
his advances paid in full, and that he was not involved in the failure
to the amount of half the costs of his establishment, due to him by
Birotteau. Molineux, judiciously handled by Pillerault, insensibly got
back to gentler ways, which only showed how he cared for the opinion of
those who frequented the cafe David. He ended by offering consolation
to Birotteau, and by inviting him, as well as Pillerault, to share his
humble dinner. If the ex-perfumer had gone alone, he would probably have
irritated Molineux, and the matter would have become envenomed. In this
instance, as in others, old Pillerault was his tutelary angel.

Commercial law imposes a horrible torture upon the bankrupt; he is
compelled to appear in person at the meeting of his creditors, when they
decide upon his future fate. For a man who can hold himself above it
all, or for a merchant who expects to recover himself, this ceremony is
little feared. But to a man like Cesar Birotteau it was agony only to
be compared to the last day of a criminal condemned to death. Pillerault
did all in his power to make that terrible day endurable to his nephew.

The steps taken by Molineux, and agreed to by the bankrupt, were as
follows: The suit relating to the mortgage on the property in the
Faubourg du Temple having been won in the courts, the assignees decided
to sell that property, and Cesar made no opposition. Du Tillet, hearing
privately that the government intended to cut a canal which should lead
from Saint-Denis to the upper Seine through the Faubourg du Temple,
bought the property of Birotteau for seventy thousand francs. All
Cesar’s rights in the lands about the Madeleine were turned over to
Monsieur Claparon, on condition that he on his side would abandon all
claim against Birotteau for half the costs of drawing up and registering
the contracts; also for all payments on the price of the lands, by
receiving himself, under the failure, the dividend which was to be
paid over to the sellers. The interests of the perfumer in the house
of Popinot and Company were sold to the said Popinot for the sum of
forty-eight thousand francs. The business of “The Queen of Roses” was
bought by Celestin Crevel at fifty-seven thousand francs, with the
lease, the fixtures, the merchandise, furniture, and all rights in the
Paste of Sultans and the Carminative Balm, with twelve years’ lease of
the manufactories, whose various appliances were also sold to him. The
assets when liquidated came to one hundred and ninety-five thousand
francs, to which the assignees added seventy thousand produced by
Birotteau’s claims in the liquidation of the “unfortunate” Roguin. Thus
the total amount made over to Cesar’s creditors was two hundred and
fifty-five thousand francs. The debts amounted to four hundred and forty
thousand; consequently, the creditors received more than fifty per cent
on their claims.

Bankruptcy is a species of chemical transmutation, from which a clever
merchant tries to emerge in fresh shape. Birotteau, distilled to the
last drop in this retort, gave a result which made du Tillet furious.
Du Tillet looked to see a dishonorable failure; he saw an honorable one.
Caring little for his own gains, though he was about to get
possession of the lands around the Madeleine without ever drawing his
purse-strings, he wanted to see his old master dishonored, lost, and
vilified. The creditors at the general meeting would undoubtedly show
the poor man that they respected him.

By degrees, as Birotteau’s courage came back to him, Pillerault, like
a wise doctor, informed him, by gradual doses, of the transactions
resulting from his failure. These harsh tidings were like so many blows.
A merchant cannot learn without a shock the depreciation of property
which represents to him so much money, so much solicitude, so much
labor. The facts his uncle now told him petrified the poor man.

“Fifty-seven thousand francs for ‘The Queen of Roses’! Why, the shop
alone cost ten thousand; the appartement cost forty thousand; the mere
outlay on the manufactories, the utensils, the frames, the boilers, cost
thirty thousand. Why! at fifty per cent abatement, if my creditors allow
me that, there would still be ten thousand francs worth of property in
the shop. Why! the Paste and the Balm are solid property,--worth as much
as a farm!”

Poor Cesar’s jeremiads made no impression upon Pillerault. The old
merchant took them as a horse takes a down-pour; but he was alarmed by
the gloomy silence Birotteau maintained when it was a question of the
meeting. Those who comprehend the vanities and weaknesses which in all
social spheres beset mankind, will know what a martyrdom it was for this
poor man to enter as a bankrupt the commercial tribunal of justice
where he once sat as judge; to meet affronts where so often he had been
thanked for services rendered,--he, Birotteau, whose inflexible opinions
about bankruptcy were so well known; he who had said, “A man may be
honest till he fails, but he comes out of a meeting of his creditors
a swindler.” Pillerault watched for the right moment to familiarize
Cesar’s mind with the thought of appearing before his creditors as the
law demands. The thought killed him. His mute grief and resignation made
a deep impression on his uncle, who often heard him at night, through
the partition, crying out to himself, “Never! never! I will die sooner.”

Pillerault, a strong man,--strong through the simplicity of his
life,--was able to understand weakness. He resolved to spare Cesar the
anguish of appearing before his creditors,--a terrible scene which the
law renders inevitable, and to which, indeed, he might succumb. On this
point the law is precise, formal, and not to be evaded. The merchant
who refused to appear would, for that act alone, be brought before
the criminal police courts. But though the law compels the bankrupt to
appear, it has no power to oblige the creditor to do so. A meeting
of creditors is a ceremony of no real importance except in special
cases,--when, for instance, a swindler is to be dispossessed and a
coalition among the creditors agreed upon, when there is difference of
opinion between the privileged creditors and the unsecured creditors, or
when the _concordat_ is specially dishonest, and the bankrupt is in need
of a deceptive majority. But in the case of a failure when all has
been given up, the meeting is a mere formality. Pillerault went to each
creditor, one after the other, and asked him to give his proxy to his
attorney. Every creditor, except du Tillet, sincerely pitied Cesar,
after striking him down. Each knew that his conduct was scrupulously
honest, that his books were regular, and his business as clear as the
day. All were pleased to find no “gay and illegitimate creditor” among
them. Molineux, first the agent and then the provisional assignee, had
found in Cesar’s house everything the poor man owned, even the engraving
of Hero and Leander which Popinot had given him, his personal trinkets,
his breast-pin, his gold buckles, his two watches,--things which an
honest man might have taken without thinking himself less than honest.
Constance had left her modest jewel-case. This touching obedience to
the law struck the commercial mind keenly. Birotteau’s enemies called
it foolishness; but men of sense held it up to its true light as a
magnificent supererogation of integrity. In two months the opinion of
the Bourse had changed; every one, even those who were most indifferent,
admitted this failure to be a rare commercial wonder, seldom seen in the
markets of Paris. Thus the creditors, knowing that they were secure
of nearly sixty per cent of their claims, were very ready to do what
Pillerault asked of them. The solicitors of the commercial courts are
few in number; it therefore happened that several creditors employed
the same man, giving him their proxies. Pillerault finally succeeded in
reducing the formidable assemblage to three solicitors, himself, Ragon,
the two assignees, and the commissioner.

Early in the morning of the solemn day, Pillerault said to his nephew,--

“Cesar, you can go to your meeting to-day without fear; nobody will be

Monsieur Ragon wished to accompany his debtor. When the former master of
“The Queen of Roses” first made known the wish in his little dry voice,
his ex-successor turned pale; but the good old man opened his arms,
and Birotteau threw himself into them as a child into the arms of its
father, and the two perfumers mingled their tears. The bankrupt gathered
courage as he felt the indulgences shown to him, and he got into the
coach with his uncle and Ragon. Precisely at half past ten o’clock the
three reached the cloister Saint-Merri, where the Court of Commerce was
then held. At that hour there was no one in the Hall of Bankruptcy. The
day and the hour had been chosen by agreement with the judge and the
assignees. The three solicitors were already there on behalf of their
clients. There was nothing, therefore, to distress or intimidate Cesar
Birotteau; yet the poor man could not enter the office of Monsieur
Camusot--which chanced to be the one he had formerly occupied--without
deep emotion, and he shuddered as he passed through the Hall of

“It is cold,” said Monsieur Camusot to Birotteau. “I am sure these
gentlemen will not be sorry to stay here, instead of our going to freeze
in the Hall.” He did not say the word “Bankruptcy.” “Gentlemen, be

Each took his seat, and the judge gave his own armchair to Birotteau,
who was bewildered. The solicitors and the assignees signed the papers.

“In consideration of the surrender of your entire property,” said
Camusot to Birotteau, “your creditors unanimously agree to relinquish
the rest of their claims. Your certificate is couched in terms which
may well soften your pain; your solicitor will see that it is promptly
recorded; you are now free. All the judges of this court, dear Monsieur
Birotteau,” said Camusot, taking him by the hand, “feel for your
position, and are not surprised at your courage; none have failed to do
justice to your integrity. In the midst of a great misfortune you have
been worthy of what you once were here. I have been in business for
twenty years, and this is only the second time that I have seen a fallen
merchant gaining, instead of losing, public respect.”

Birotteau took the hands of the judge and wrung them, with tears in his
eyes. Camusot asked him what he now meant to do. Birotteau replied that
he should work till he had paid his creditors in full to the last penny.

“If to accomplish that noble task you should ever want a few thousand
francs, you will always find them with me,” said Camusot. “I would give
them with a great deal of pleasure to witness a deed so rare in Paris.”

Pillerault, Ragon, and Birotteau retired.

“Well! that wasn’t the ocean to drink,” said Pillerault, as they left
the court-room.

“I recognize your hand in it,” said the poor man, much affected.

“Now, here you are, free, and we are only a few steps from the Rue des
Cinq-Diamants; come and see my nephew,” said Ragon.

A cruel pang shot through Cesar’s heart when he saw Constance sitting
in a little office in the damp, dark _entresol_ above the shop, whose
single window was one third darkened by a sign which intercepted the
daylight and bore the name,--A. POPINOT.

“Behold a lieutenant of Alexander,” said Cesar, with the gaiety of
grief, pointing to the sign.

This forced gaiety, through which an inextinguishable sense of the
superiority which Birotteau attributed to himself was naively revealed,
made Ragon shudder in spite of his seventy years. Cesar saw his wife
passing down letters and papers for Popinot to sign; he could neither
restrain his tears nor keep his face from turning pale.

“Good-morning, my friend,” she said to him, smiling.

“I do not ask if you are comfortable here,” said Cesar, looking at

“As if I were living with my own son,” she answered, with a tender
manner that struck her husband.

Birotteau took Popinot and kissed him, saying,--

“I have lost the right, forever, of calling him my son.”

“Let us hope!” said Popinot. “_Your_ oil succeeds--thanks to my
advertisements in the newspapers, and to Gaudissart, who has travelled
over the whole of France; he has inundated the country with placards and
prospectuses; he is now at Strasburg getting the prospectuses printed in
the German language, and he is about to descend, like an invasion, upon
Germany itself. We have received orders for three thousand gross.”

“Three thousand gross!” exclaimed Cesar.

“And I have bought a piece of land in the Faubourg Saint-Marceau,--not
dear,--where I am building a manufactory.”

“Wife,” whispered Cesar to Constance, “with a little help we might have
pulled through.”

              *     *     *     *     *

After that fatal day Cesar, his wife, and daughter understood
each other. The poor clerk resolved to attain an end which, if not
impossible, was at least gigantic in its enterprise,--namely, the
payment of his debts to their last penny. These three beings,--father,
mother, daughter,--bound together by the tie of a passionate integrity,
became misers, denying themselves everything; a farthing was sacred in
their eyes. Out of sheer calculation Cesarine threw herself into her
business with the devotion of a young girl. She sat up at night,
taxing her ingenuity to find ways of increasing the prosperity of the
establishment, and displaying an innate commercial talent. The masters
of the house were obliged to check her ardor for work; they rewarded her
by presents, but she refused all articles of dress and the jewels which
they offered her. Money! money! was her cry. Every month she carried her
salary and her little earnings to her uncle Pillerault. Cesar did the
same; so did Madame Birotteau. All three, feeling themselves incapable,
dared not take upon themselves the responsibility of managing their
money, and they made over to Pillerault the whole business of investing
their savings. Returning thus to business, the latter made the most of
these funds by negotiations at the Bourse. It was known afterwards that
he had been helped in this work by Jules Desmarets and Joseph Lebas,
both of whom were eager to point out opportunities which Pillerault
might take without risk.

Cesar, though he lived with his uncle, never ventured to question him
as to what was done with the money acquired by his labor and that of his
wife and daughter. He walked the streets with a bowed head, hiding
from every eye his stricken, dull, distraught face. He felt, with
self-reproach, that the cloth he wore was too good for him.

“At least,” he said to Pillerault, with a look that was angelic, “I do
not eat the bread of my creditors. Your bread is sweet to me, though
it is your pity that gives it; thanks to your sacred charity, I do not
steal a farthing of my salary!”

The merchants, his old associates, who met the clerk could see no
vestige of the perfumer. Even careless minds gained an idea of the
immensity of human disaster from the aspect of this man, on whose face
sorrow had cast its black pall, who revealed the havoc caused by that
which had never before appeared in him,--by thought! _N’est pas detruit
qui veut_. Light-minded people, devoid of conscience, to whom all
things are indifferent, can never present such a spectacle of disaster.
Religion alone sets a special seal upon fallen human beings; they
believe in a future, in a divine Providence; from within them gleams a
light that marks them, a look of saintly resignation mingled with hope,
which lends them a certain tender emotion; they realize all that
they have lost, like the exiled angel weeping at the gates of heaven.
Bankrupts are forbidden to enter the Bourse. Cesar, driven from the
regions of integrity, was like an angel sighing for pardon. For fourteen
months he lived on, full of religious thoughts with which his fall
inspired him, and denying himself every pleasure. Though sure of the
Ragons’ friendship, nothing could induce him to dine with them, nor with
the Lebas, nor the Matifats, nor the Protez and Chiffrevilles, not even
with Monsieur Vauquelin; all of whom were eager to do honor to his rare
virtue. Cesar preferred to be alone in his room rather than meet the
eye of a creditor. The warmest greetings of his friends reminded him the
more bitterly of his position. Constance and Cesarine went nowhere. On
Sundays and fete days, the only days when they were at liberty, the two
women went to fetch Cesar at the hour for Mass, and they stayed with
him at Pillerault’s after their religious duties were accomplished.
Pillerault often invited the Abbe Loraux, whose words sustained Cesar
in this life of trial. And in this way their lives were spent. The old
ironmonger had too tough a fibre of integrity not to approve of Cesar’s
sensitive honor. His mind, however, turned on increasing the number of
persons among whom the poor bankrupt might show himself with an open
brow, and an eye that could meet the eyes of his fellows.


In the month of May, 1821, this family, ever grappling with adversity,
received a first reward for its efforts at a little fete which
Pillerault, the arbiter of its destinies, prepared for it. The last
Sunday of that month was the anniversary of the day on which Constance
had consented to marry Cesar. Pillerault, in concert with the Ragons,
hired a little country-house at Sceaux, and the worthy old ironmonger
silently prepared a joyous house-warming.

“Cesar,” said Pillerault, on the Saturday evening, “to-morrow we are all
going into the country, and you must come.”

Cesar, who wrote a superb hand, spent his evenings in copying for
Derville and other lawyers. On Sundays, justified by ecclesiastical
permission, he worked like a Negro.

“No,” he said, “Monsieur Derville is waiting for a guardianship

“Your wife and daughter ought to have some reward. You will meet none
but our particular friends,--the Abbe Loraux, the Ragons, Popinot, and
his uncle. Besides, I wish it.”

Cesar and his wife, carried along by the whirlwind of business, had
never revisited Sceaux, though from time to time each longed to see once
more the tree under which the head-clerk of “The Queen of Roses” had
fainted with joy. During the trip, which Cesar made in a hackney-coach
with his wife and daughter, and Popinot who escorted them, Constance
cast many meaning glances at her husband without bringing to his lips
a single smile. She whispered a few words in his ear; for all answer he
shook his head. The soft signs of her tenderness, ever-present yet at
the moment forced, instead of brightening Cesar’s face made it more
sombre, and brought the long-repressed tears into his eyes. Poor man! he
had gone over this road twenty years before, young, prosperous, full
of hope, the lover of a girl as beautiful as their own Cesarine; he was
dreaming then of happiness. To-day, in the coach before him, sat his
noble child pale and worn by vigils, and his brave wife, whose only
beauty now was that of cities through whose streets have flowed the
lava waves of a volcano. Love alone remained to him! Cesar’s sadness
smothered the joy that welled up in the hearts of Cesarine and Anselme,
who embodied to his eyes the charming scene of other days.

“Be happy, my children! you have earned the right,” said the poor father
in heart-rending tones. “You may love without one bitter thought.”

As he said these words he took his wife’s hands and kissed them with
a sacred and admiring effect which touched Constance more than the
brightest gaiety. When they reached the house where Pillerault, the
Ragons, the Abbe Loraux, and Popinot the judge were waiting for them,
these five choice people assumed an air and manner and speech which put
Cesar at his ease; for all were deeply moved to see him still on the
morrow of his great disaster.

“Go and take a walk in the Aulnay woods,” said Pillerault, putting
Cesar’s hand into that of Constance; “go with Anselme and Cesarine! but
come back by four o’clock.”

“Poor souls, we should be a restraint upon them,” said Madame Ragon,
touched by the deep grief of her debtor. “He will be very happy

“It is repentance without sin,” said the Abbe Loraux.

“He could rise to greatness only through adversity,” said the judge.

To forget is the great secret of strong, creative natures,--to forget,
in the way of Nature herself, who knows no past, who begins afresh, at
every hour, the mysteries of her untiring travail.

Feeble existences, like that of Birotteau, live sunk in sorrows, instead
of transmuting them into doctrines of experience: they let them saturate
their being, and are worn-out, finally, by falling more and more under
the weight of past misfortunes.

When the two couples reached the path which leads to the woods
of Aulnay, placed like a crown upon the prettiest hillside in the
neighborhood of Paris, and from which the Vallee-aux-Loups is seen in
all its coquetry, the beauty of the day, the charm of the landscape, the
first spring verdure, the delicious memory of the happiest day of all
his youth, loosened the tight chords in Cesar’s soul; he pressed the arm
of his wife against his beating heart; his eye was no longer glassy, for
the light of pleasure once more brightened in it.

“At last,” said Constance to her husband, “I see you again, my poor
Cesar. I think we have all behaved well enough to allow ourselves a
little pleasure now and then.”

“Ought I?” said the poor man. “Ah! Constance, thy affection is all that
remains to me. Yes, I have lost even my old self-confidence; I have no
strength left; my only desire is that I may live to die discharged of
debt on earth. Thou, dear wife, thou who art my wisdom and my prudence,
thou whose eyes saw clear, thou who art irreproachable, thou canst have
pleasure. I alone--of us three--am guilty. Eighteen months ago, in the
midst of that fatal ball, I saw my Constance, the only woman I have ever
loved, more beautiful than the young girl I followed along this path
twenty years ago--like our children yonder! In eighteen months I have
blasted that beauty,--my pride, my legitimate and sanctioned pride. I
love thee better since I know thee well. Oh, _dear_!” he said, giving to
the word a tone which reached to the inmost heart of his wife, “I would
rather have thee scold me, than see thee so tender to my pain.”

“I did not think,” she said, “that after twenty years of married life
the love of a wife for her husband could deepen.”

These words drove from Cesar’s mind, for one brief moment, all his
sorrows; his heart was so true that they were to him a fortune. He
walked forward almost joyously to _their_ tree, which by chance had not
been felled. Husband and wife sat down beneath it, watching Anselme and
Cesarine, who were sauntering across the grassy slope without perceiving
them, thinking probably that they were still following.

“Mademoiselle,” Anselme was saying, “do not think me so base and
grasping as to profit by your father’s share which I have acquired
in the Cephalic Oil. I am keeping his share for him; I nurse it with
careful love. I invest the profits; if there is any loss I put it to
my own account. We can only belong to one another on the day when your
father is restored to his position, free of debt. I work for that day
with all the strength that love has given me.”

“Will it come soon?” she said.

“Soon,” said Popinot. The word was uttered in a tone so full of meaning,
that the chaste and pure young girl inclined her head to her dear
Anselme, who laid an eager and respectful kiss upon her brow,--so noble
was her gesture and action.

“Papa, all is well,” she said to Cesar with a little air of confidence.
“Be good and sweet; talk to us, put away that sad look.”

When this family, so tenderly bound together, re-entered the house, even
Cesar, little observing as he was, saw a change in the manner of the
Ragons which seemed to denote some remarkable event. The greeting of
Madame Ragon was particularly impressive; her look and accent seemed to
say to Cesar, “We are paid.”

At the dessert, the notary of Sceaux appeared. Pillerault made him sit
down, and then looked at Cesar, who began to suspect a surprise, though
he was far indeed from imagining the extent of it.

“My nephew, the savings of your wife, your daughter, and yourself, for
the last eighteen months, amounted to twenty thousand francs. I have
received thirty thousand by the dividend on my claim. We have therefore
fifty thousand francs to divide among your creditors. Monsieur Ragon has
received thirty thousand francs for his dividend, and you have now
paid him the balance of his claim in full, interest included, for which
monsieur here, the notary of Sceaux, has brought you a receipt. The
rest of the money is with Crottat, ready for Lourdois, Madame Madou, the
mason, carpenter, and the other most pressing creditors. Next year, we
may do as well. With time and patience we can go far.”

Birotteau’s joy is not to be described; he threw himself into his
uncle’s arms, weeping.

“May he not wear his cross?” said Ragon to the Abbe Loraux.

The confessor fastened the red ribbon to Cesar’s buttonhole. The poor
clerk looked at himself again and again during the evening in the
mirrors of the salon, manifesting a joy at which people thinking
themselves superior might have laughed, but which these good bourgeois
thought quite natural.

The next day Birotteau went to find Madame Madou.

“Ah, there you are, good soul!” she cried. “I didn’t recognize you, you
have turned so gray. Yet you don’t really drudge, you people; you’ve got
good places. As for me, I work like a turnspit that deserves baptism.”

“But, madame--”

“Never mind, I don’t mean it as a reproach,” she said. “You have got my

“I came to tell you that I shall pay you to-morrow, at Monsieur
Crottat’s, the rest of your claim in full, with interest.”

“Is that true?”

“Be there at eleven o’clock.”

“Hey! there’s honor for you! good measure and running over!” she cried
with naive admiration. “Look here, my good monsieur, I am doing a fine
trade with your little red-head. He’s a nice young fellow; he lets
me earn a fair penny without haggling over it, so that I may get an
equivalent for that loss. Well, I’ll get you a receipt in full, anyhow;
you keep the money, my poor old man! La Madou may get in a fury, and she
does scold; but she has got something here--” she cried, thumping the
most voluminous mounds of flesh ever yet seen in the markets.

“No,” said Birotteau, “the law is plain. I wish to pay you in full.”

“Then I won’t deny you the pleasure,” she said; “and to-morrow I’ll
trumpet your conduct through the markets. Ha! it’s rare, rare!”

The worthy man had much the same scene, with variations, at Lourdois the
house painter’s, father-in-law of Crottat. It was raining; Cesar left
his umbrella at the corner of the door. The prosperous painter, seeing
the water trickling into the room where he was breakfasting with his
wife, was not tender.

“Come, what do you want, my poor Pere Birotteau?” he said, in the hard
tone which some people take to importunate beggars.

“Monsieur, has not your son-in-law told you--”

“What?” cried Lourdois, expecting some appeal.

“To be at his office this morning at half past eleven, and give me a
receipt for the payment of your claims in full, with interest?”

“Ah, that’s another thing! Sit down, Monsieur Birotteau, and eat a
mouthful with us.”

“Do us the pleasure to share our breakfast,” said Madame Lourdois.

“You are doing well, then?” asked the fat Lourdois.

“No, monsieur, I have lived from hand to mouth, that I might scrape up
this money; but I hope, in time, to repair the wrongs I have done to my

“Ah!” said the painter, swallowing a mouthful of _pate de foie gras_,
“you are truly a man of honor.”

“What is Madame Birotteau doing?” asked Madame Lourdois.

“She is keeping the books of Monsieur Anselme Popinot.”

“Poor people!” said Madame Lourdois, in a low voice to her husband.

“If you ever need me, my dear Monsieur Birotteau, come and see me,” said
Lourdois. “I might help--”

“I do need you--at eleven o’clock to-day, monsieur,” said Birotteau,

              *     *     *     *     *

This first result gave courage to the poor bankrupt, but not peace of
mind. On the contrary, the thought of regaining his honor agitated his
life inordinately; he completely lost the natural color of his
cheeks, his eyes grew sunken and dim, and his face hollow. When old
acquaintances met him, in the morning at eight o’clock or in the evening
at four, as he went to and from the Rue de l’Oratoire, wearing the
surtout coat he wore at the time of his fall, and which he husbanded as
a poor sub-lieutenant husbands his uniform,--his hair entirely white,
his face pale, his manner timid,--some few would stop him in spite of
himself; for his eye was alert to avoid those he knew as he crept along
beside the walls, like a thief.

“Your conduct is known, my friend,” said one; “everybody regrets the
sternness with which you treat yourself, also your wife and daughter.”

“Take a little more time,” said others; “the wounds of money do not

“No, but the wounds of the soul do,” the poor worn Cesar answered one
day to his friend Matifat.

              *     *     *     *     *

At the beginning of the year 1822, the Canal Saint-Martin was begun.
Land in the Faubourg du Temple increased enormously in value. The canal
would cut through the property which du Tillet had bought of Cesar
Birotteau. The company who obtained the right of building it agreed to
pay the banker an exorbitant sum, provided they could take possession
within a given time. The lease Cesar had granted to Popinot, which
went with the sale to du Tillet, now hindered the transfer to the
canal company. The banker came to the Rue des Cinq-Diamants to see the
druggist. If du Tillet was indifferent to Popinot, it is very certain
that the lover of Cesarine felt an instinctive hatred for du Tillet.
He knew nothing of the theft and the infamous scheme of the prosperous
banker, but an inward voice cried to him, “The man is an unpunished
rascal.” Popinot would never have transacted the smallest business with
him; du Tillet’s very presence was odious to his feelings. Under the
present circumstances it was doubly so, for the banker was now enriched
through the forced spoliation of his former master; the lands about the
Madeleine, as well as those in the Faubourg du Temple, were beginning to
rise in price, and to foreshadow the enormous value they were to reach
in 1827. So that after du Tillet had explained the object of his visit,
Popinot looked at him with concentrated wrath.

“I shall not refuse to give up my lease; but I demand sixty thousand
francs for it, and I shall not take one farthing less.”

“Sixty thousand francs!” exclaimed du Tillet, making a movement to leave
the shop.

“I have fifteen years’ lease still to run; it will, moreover, cost me
three thousand francs a year to get other buildings. Therefore, sixty
thousand francs, or say no more about it,” said Popinot, going to the
back of the shop, where du Tillet followed him.

The discussion grew warm, Birotteau’s name was mentioned; Madame Cesar
heard it and came down, and saw du Tillet for the first time since the
famous ball. The banker was unable to restrain a gesture of surprise at
the change which had come over the beautiful woman; he lowered his eyes,
shocked at the result of his own work.

“Monsieur,” said Popinot to Madame Cesar, “is going to make three
hundred thousand francs out of _your_ land, and he refuses _us_ sixty
thousand francs’ indemnity for _our_ lease.”

“That is three thousand francs a year,” said du Tillet.

“Three--thousand--francs!” said Madame Cesar, slowly, in a clear,
penetrating voice.

Du Tillet turned pale. Popinot looked at Madame Birotteau. There was a
moment of profound silence, which made the scene still more inexplicable
to Anselme.

“Sign your relinquishment of the lease, which I have made Crottat draw
up,” said du Tillet, drawing a stamped paper from a side-pocket. “I will
give you a cheque on the Bank of France for sixty thousand francs.”

Popinot looked at Madame Cesar without concealing his astonishment; he
thought he was dreaming. While du Tillet was writing his cheque at a
high desk, Madame Cesar disappeared and went upstairs. The druggist and
the banker exchanged papers. Du Tillet bowed coldly to Popinot, and went

“At last, in a few months,” thought Popinot, as he watched du Tillet
going towards the Rue des Lombards, where his cabriolet was waiting,
“thanks to this extraordinary affair, I shall have my Cesarine. My poor
little wife shall not wear herself out any longer. A look from Madame
Cesar was enough! What secret is there between her and that brigand? The
whole thing is extraordinary.”

Popinot sent the cheque at once to the Bank, and went up to speak to
Madame Birotteau; she was not in the counting-room, and had doubtless
gone to her chamber. Anselme and Constance lived like mother-in-law and
son-in-law when people in that relation suit each other; he therefore
rushed up to Madame Cesar’s appartement with the natural eagerness of a
lover on the threshold of his happiness. The young man was prodigiously
surprised to find her, as he sprang like a cat into the room, reading
a letter from du Tillet, whose handwriting he recognized at a glance. A
lighted candle, and the black and quivering phantoms of burned letters
lying on the floor made him shudder, for his quick eyes caught the
following words in the letter which Constance held in her hand:--

  “I adore you! You know it well, angel of my life, and--”

“What power have you over du Tillet that could force him to agree to
such terms?” he said with a convulsive laugh that came from repressed

“Do not let us speak of that,” she said, showing great distress.

“No,” said Popinot, bewildered; “let us rather talk of the end of all
your troubles.” Anselme turned on his heel towards the window, and
drummed with his fingers on the panes as he gazed into the court.
“Well,” he said to himself, “even if she did love du Tillet, is that any
reason why I should not behave like an honorable man?”

“What is the matter, my child?” said the poor woman.

“The total of the net profits of Cephalic Oil mount up to two hundred
and forty-two thousand francs; half of that is one hundred and
twenty-one thousand,” said Popinot, brusquely. “If I withdraw from
that amount the forty-eight thousand francs which I paid to Monsieur
Birotteau, there remains seventy-three thousand, which, joined to these
sixty thousand paid for the relinquishment of the lease, gives _you_ one
hundred and thirty-three thousand francs.”

Madame Cesar listened with fluctuations of joy which made her tremble so
violently that Popinot could hear the beating of her heart.

“Well, I have always considered Monsieur Birotteau as my partner,” he
went on; “we can use this sum to pay his creditors in full. Add
the twenty-eight thousand you have saved and placed in our uncle
Pillerault’s hands, and we have one hundred and sixty-one thousand
francs. Our uncle will not refuse his receipt for his own claim of
twenty-five thousand. No human power can deprive me of the right of
lending to my father-in-law, by anticipating our profits of next year,
the necessary sum to make up the total amount due to his creditor,

“Restored!” cried Madame Cesar, falling on her knees beside a chair. She
joined her hands and said a prayer; as she did so, the letter slid from
her fingers. “Dear Anselme,” she said, crossing herself, “dear son!” She
took his head in her hands, kissed him on the forehead, pressed him to
her heart, and seemed for a moment beside herself. “Cesarine is thine!
My daughter will be happy at last. She can leave that shop where she is
killing herself--”

“For love?” said Popinot.

“Yes,” answered the mother, smiling.

“Listen to a little secret,” said Popinot, glancing at the fatal letter
from a corner of his eye. “I helped Celestin to buy your business; but I
did it on one condition,--your appartement was to be kept exactly as you
left it. I had an idea in my head, though I never thought that chance
would favor it so much. Celestin is bound to sub-let to you your old
appartement, where he has never set foot, and where all the furniture
will be yours. I have kept the second story, where I shall live with
Cesarine, who shall never leave you. After our marriage I shall come and
pass the days from eight in the morning till six in the evening here.
I will buy out Monsieur Cesar’s share in this business for a hundred
thousand francs, and that will give you an income to live on. Shall you
not be happy?”

“Tell me no more, Anselme, or I shall go out of my mind.”

The angelic attitude of Madame Cesar, the purity of her eyes, the
innocence of her candid brow, contradicted so gloriously the thoughts
which surged in the lover’s brain that he resolved to make an end of
their monstrosities forever. Sin was incompatible with the life and
sentiments of such a woman.

“My dear, adored mother,” said Anselme, “in spite of myself, a horrible
suspicion has entered my soul. If you wish to see me happy, you will put
an end to it at once.”

Popinot stretched out his hand and picked up the letter.

“Without intending it,” he resumed, alarmed at the terror painted on
Constance’s face, “I read the first words of this letter of du Tillet.
The words coincide in a singular manner with the power you have just
shown in forcing that man to accept my absurd exactions; any man would
explain it as the devil explains it to me, in spite of myself. Your
look--three words suffice--”

“Stop!” said Madame Cesar, taking the letter and burning it. “My son, I
am severely punished for a trifling error. You shall know all, Anselme.
I shall not allow a suspicion inspired by her mother to injure my
daughter; and besides, I can speak without blushing. What I now tell
you, I could tell my husband. Du Tillet wished to seduce me; I informed
my husband of it, and du Tillet was to have been dismissed. On the
very day my husband was about to send him away, he robbed us of three
thousand francs.”

“I was sure of it!” said Popinot, expressing his hatred by the tones of
his voice.

“Anselme, your future, your happiness, demand this confidence; but
you must let it die in your heart, just as it is dead in mine and in
Cesar’s. Do you not remember how my husband scolded us for an error in
the accounts? Monsieur Birotteau, to avoid a police-court which might
have destroyed the man for life, no doubt placed in the desk three
thousand francs,--the price of that cashmere shawl which I did not
receive till three years later. All this explains the scene. Alas!
my dear child, I must admit my foolishness; du Tillet wrote me three
love-letters, which pictured him so well that I kept them,” she said,
lowering her eyes and sighing, “as a curiosity. I have not re-read them
more than once; still, it was imprudent to keep them. When I saw du
Tillet just now I was reminded of them, and I came upstairs to burn
them; I was looking over the last as you came in. That’s the whole
story, my friend.”

Anselme knelt for a moment beside her and kissed her hand with an
unspeakable emotion, which brought tears into the eyes of both; Madame
Cesar raised him, stretched out her arms and pressed him to her heart.

              *     *     *     *     *

This day was destined to be a day of joy to Cesar. The private secretary
of the king, Monsieur de Vandenesse, called at the Sinking-Fund Office
to find him. They walked out together into the little courtyard.

“Monsieur Birotteau,” said the Vicomte de Vandenesse, “your efforts to
pay your creditors in full have accidentally become known to the king.
His Majesty, touched by such rare conduct, and hearing that through
humility you no longer wear the cross of the Legion of honor, has sent
me to command you to put it on again. Moreover, wishing to help you in
meeting your obligations, he has charged me to give you this sum from
his privy purse, regretting that he is unable to make it larger. Let
this be a profound secret. His Majesty thinks it derogatory to the royal
dignity to have his good deeds divulged,” said the private secretary,
putting six thousand francs into the hand of the poor clerk, who
listened to this speech with unutterable emotion. The words that came to
his lips were disconnected and stammering. Vandenesse waved his hand to
him, smiling, and went away.

The principle which actuated poor Cesar is so rare in Paris that his
conduct by degrees attracted admiration. Joseph Lebas, Popinot the
judge, Camusot, the Abbe Loraux, Ragon, the head of the important house
where Cesarine was employed, Lourdois, Monsieur de la Billardiere, and
others, talked of it. Public opinion, undergoing a change, now lauded
him to the skies.

“He is indeed a man of honor!” The phrase even sounded in Cesar’s ears
as he passed along the streets, and caused him the emotion an author
feels when he hears the muttered words: “That is he!” This noble
recovery of credit enraged du Tillet. Cesar’s first thought on receiving
the bank-notes sent by the king was to use them in paying the debt still
due to his former clerk. The worthy man went to the Rue de la Chaussee
d’Antin just as the banker was returning from the Bourse; they met upon
the stairway.

“Well, my poor Birotteau!” said du Tillet, with a stealthy glance.

“Poor!” exclaimed the debtor proudly, “I am very rich. I shall lay my
head this night upon my pillow with the happiness of knowing that I have
paid you in full.”

This speech, ringing with integrity, sent a sharp pang through du
Tillet. In spite of the esteem he publicly enjoyed, he did not esteem
himself; an inextinguishable voice cried aloud within his soul, “The man
is sublime!”

“Pay me?” he said; “why, what business are you doing?”

Feeling sure that du Tillet would not repeat what he told him, Birotteau
answered: “I shall never go back to business, monsieur. No human power
could have foreseen what has happened to me there. Who knows that I
might not be the victim of another Roguin? But my conduct has been
placed under the eyes of the king; his heart has deigned to sympathize
with my efforts; he has encouraged them by sending me a sum of money
large enough to--”

“Do you want a receipt?” said du Tillet, interrupting him; “are you
going to pay--”

“In full, with interest. I must ask you to come with me now to Monsieur
Crottat, only two steps from here.”

“Before a notary?”

“Monsieur; I am not forbidden to aim at my complete reinstatement; to
obtain it, all deeds and receipts must be legal and undeniable.”

“Come, then,” said du Tillet, going out with Birotteau; “it is only a
step. But where did you take all that money from?”

“I have not taken it,” said Cesar; “I have earned it by the sweat of my

“You owe an enormous sum to Claparon.”

“Alas! yes; that is my largest debt. I think sometimes I shall die
before I pay it.”

“You never can pay it,” said du Tillet harshly.

“He is right,” thought Birotteau.

As he went home the poor man passed, inadvertently, along the Rue
Saint-Honore; for he was in the habit of making a circuit to avoid
seeing his shop and the windows of his former home. For the first time
since his fall he saw the house where eighteen years of happiness had
been effaced by the anguish of three months.

“I hoped to end my days there,” he thought; and he hastened his steps,
for he caught sight of the new sign,--

                           CELESTIN CREVEL

                     Successor to Cesar Birotteau

“Am I dazzled, am I going blind? Was that Cesarine?” he cried,
recollecting a blond head he had seen at the window.

He had actually seen his daughter, his wife, and Popinot. The lovers
knew that Birotteau never passed before the windows of his old home, and
they had come to the house to make arrangements for a fete which they
intended to give him. This amazing apparition so astonished Birotteau
that he stood stock-still, unable to move.

“There is Monsieur Birotteau looking at his old house,” said Monsieur
Molineux to the owner of a shop opposite to “The Queen of Roses.”

“Poor man!” said the perfumer’s former neighbor; “he gave a fine
ball--two hundred carriages in the street.”

“I was there; and he failed in three months,” said Molineux. “I was the

Birotteau fled, trembling in every limb, and hastened back to

Pillerault, who had just been informed of what had happened in the Rue
des Cinq-Diamants, feared that his nephew was scarcely fit to bear the
shock of joy which the sudden knowledge of his restoration would cause
him; for Pillerault was a daily witness of the moral struggles of the
poor man, whose mind stood always face to face with his inflexible
doctrines against bankruptcy, and whose vital forces were used and spent
at every hour. Honor was to Cesar a corpse, for which an Easter morning
might yet dawn. This hope kept his sorrow incessantly active. Pillerault
took upon himself the duty of preparing his nephew to receive the good
news; and when Birotteau came in he was thinking over the best means
of accomplishing his purpose. Cesar’s joy as he related the proof of
interest which the king had bestowed upon him seemed of good augury, and
the astonishment he expressed at seeing Cesarine at “The Queen of Roses”
 afforded, Pillerault thought, an excellent opening.

“Well, Cesar,” said the old man, “do you know what is at the bottom
of it?--the hurry Popinot is in to marry Cesarine. He cannot wait any
longer; and you ought not, for the sake of your exaggerated ideas of
honor, to make him pass his youth eating dry bread with the fumes of
a good dinner under his nose. Popinot wishes to lend you the amount
necessary to pay your creditors in full.”

“Then he would buy his wife,” said Birotteau.

“Is it not honorable to reinstate his father-in-law?”

“There would be ground for contention; besides--”

“Besides,” exclaimed Pillerault, pretending anger, “you may have the
right to immolate yourself if you choose, but you have no right to
immolate your daughter.”

A vehement discussion ensued, which Pillerault designedly excited.

“Hey! if Popinot lent you nothing,” cried Pillerault, “if he had called
you his partner, if he had considered the price which he paid to the
creditors for your share in the Oil as an advance upon the profits, so
as not to strip you of everything--”

“I should have seemed to rob my creditors in collusion with him.”

Pillerault feigned to be defeated by this argument. He knew the human
heart well enough to be certain that during the night Cesar would go
over the question in his own mind, and the mental discussion would
accustom him to the idea of his complete vindication.

“But how came my wife and daughter to be in our old appartement?” asked
Birotteau, while they were dining.

“Anselme wants to hire it, and live there with Cesarine. Your wife is
on his side. They have had the banns published without saying anything
about it, so as to force you to consent. Popinot says there will be much
less merit in marrying Cesarine after you are reinstated. You take six
thousand francs from the king, and you won’t accept anything from your
relations! I can well afford to give you a receipt in full for all that
is owing to me; do you mean to refuse it?”

“No,” said Cesar; “but that won’t keep me from saving up everything to
pay you.”

“Irrational folly!” cried Pillerault. “In matters of honor I ought to
be believed. What nonsense were you saying just now? How have you robbed
your creditors when you have paid them all in full?”

Cesar looked earnestly at Pillerault, and Pillerault was touched to see,
for the first time in three years, a genuine smile on the face of his
poor nephew.

“It is true,” he said, “they would be paid; but it would be selling my

“And I wish to be bought!” cried Cesarine, entering with Popinot.

The lovers had heard Birotteau’s last words as they came on tiptoe
through the antechamber of their uncle’s little appartement, Madame
Birotteau following. All three had driven round to the creditors who
were still unpaid, requesting them to meet at Alexandre Crottat’s that
evening to receive their money. The all-powerful logic of the enamored
Popinot triumphed in the end over Cesar’s scruples, though he persisted
for some time in calling himself a debtor, and in declaring that he
was circumventing the law by a substitution. But the refinements of his
conscience gave way when Popinot cried out: “Do you want to kill your

“Kill my daughter!” said Cesar, thunderstruck.

“Well, then,” said Popinot, “I have the right to convey to you the sum
which I conscientiously believe to be your share in my profits. Do you
refuse it?”

“No,” said Cesar.

“Very good; then let us go at once to Crottat and settle the matter,
so that there may be no backing out of it. We will arrange about our
marriage contract at the same time.”

              *     *     *     *     *

A petition for reinstatement with corroborative documents was at once
deposited by Derville at the office of the _procureur-general_ of the
Cour Royale.

During the month required for the legal formalities and for the
publication of the banns of marriage between Cesarine and Anselme,
Birotteau was a prey to feverish agitation. He was restless. He
feared he should not live till the great day when the decree for his
vindication would be rendered. His heart throbbed, he said, without
cause. He complained of dull pains in that organ, worn out as it was
by emotions of sorrow, and now wearied with the rush of excessive joy.
Decrees of rehabilitation are so rare in the bankrupt court of Paris
that seldom more than one is granted in ten years.

To those persons who take society in its serious aspects, the
paraphernalia of justice has a grand and solemn character difficult
perhaps to define. Institutions depend altogether on the feelings with
which men view them and the degree of grandeur which men’s thoughts
attach to them. When there is no longer, we will not say religion,
but belief among the people, whenever early education has loosened all
conservative bonds by accustoming youth to the practice of pitiless
analysis, a nation will be found in process of dissolution; for it will
then be held together only by the base solder of material interests, and
by the formulas of a creed created by intelligent egotism.

Bred in religious ideas, Birotteau held justice to be what it ought to
be in the eyes of men,--a representation of society itself, an august
utterance of the will of all, apart from the particular form by which it
is expressed. The older, feebler, grayer the magistrate, the more solemn
seemed the exercise of his function,--a function which demands profound
study of men and things, which subdues the heart and hardens it against
the influence of eager interests. It is a rare thing nowadays to find
men who mount the stairway of the old Palais de Justice in the grasp of
keen emotions. Cesar Birotteau was one of those men.

Few persons have noticed the majestic solemnity of that stairway,
admirably placed as it is to produce a solemn effect. It rises, beyond
the outer peristyle which adorns the courtyard of the Palais, from the
centre of a gallery leading, at one end, to the vast hall of the Pas
Perdus, and at the other to the Sainte-Chapelle,--two architectural
monuments which make all buildings in their neighborhood seem paltry.
The church of Saint-Louis is among the most imposing edifices in Paris,
and the approach to it through this long gallery is at once sombre and
romantic. The great hall of the Pas Perdus, on the contrary, presents at
the other end of the gallery a broad space of light; it is impossible to
forget that the history of France is linked to those walls. The stairway
should therefore be imposing in character; and, in point of act, it is
neither dwarfed nor crushed by the architectural splendors on either
side of it. Possibly the mind is sobered by a glimpse, caught through
the rich gratings, of the Place du Palais-de-Justice, where so many
sentences have been executed. The staircase opens above into an enormous
space, or antechamber, leading to the hall where the Court holds its
public sittings.

Imagine the emotions with which the bankrupt, susceptible by nature
to the awe of such accessories, went up that stairway to the hall of
judgment, surrounded by his nearest friends,--Lebas, president of the
Court of Commerce, Camusot his former judge, Ragon, and Monsieur l’Abbe
Loraux his confessor. The pious priest made the splendors of human
justice stand forth in strong relief by reflections which gave them
still greater solemnity in Cesar’s eyes. Pillerault, the practical
philosopher, fearing the danger of unexpected events on the worn mind of
his nephew, had schemed to prepare him by degrees for the joys of this
festal day. Just as Cesar finished dressing, a number of his faithful
friends arrived, all eager for the honor of accompanying him to the bar
of the Court. The presence of this retinue roused the honest man to an
elation which gave him strength to meet the imposing spectacle in the
halls of justice. Birotteau found more friends awaiting him in the
solemn audience chamber, where about a dozen members of the council were
in session.

After the cases were called over, Birotteau’s attorney made his demand
for reinstatement in the usual terms. On a sign from the presiding
judge, the _procureur-general_ rose. In the name of his office this
public prosecutor, the representative of public vindictiveness, asked
that honor might be restored to the merchant who had never really lost
it,--a solitary instance of such an appeal; for a condemned man can
only be pardoned. Men of honor alone can imagine the emotions of Cesar
Birotteau as he heard Monsieur de Grandville pronounce a speech, of
which the following is an abridgement:--

  “Gentlemen,” said that celebrated official, “on the 16th of
  January, 1820, Birotteau was declared a bankrupt by the commercial
  tribunal of the Seine. His failure was not caused by imprudence,
  nor by rash speculations, nor by any act that stained his honor.
  We desire to say publicly that this failure was the result of a
  disaster which has again and again occurred, to the detriment of
  justice and the great injury of the city of Paris. It has been
  reserved for our generation, in which the bitter leaven of
  republican principles and manners will long be felt, to behold the
  notariat of Paris abandoning the glorious traditions of preceding
  centuries, and producing in a few years as many failures as two
  centuries of the old monarchy had produced. The thirst for gold
  rapidly acquired has beset even these officers of trust, these
  guardians of the public wealth, these mediators between the law
  and the people!”

On this text followed an allocution, in which the Comte de Grandville,
obedient to the necessities of his role, contrived to incriminate
the Liberals, the Bonapartists, and all other enemies of the throne.
Subsequent events have proved that he had reason for his apprehension.

  “The flight of a notary of Paris who carried off the funds which
  Birotteau had deposited in his hands, caused the fall of your
  petitioner,” he resumed. “The Court rendered in that matter a
  decree which showed to what extent the confidence of Roguin’s
  clients had been betrayed. A _concordat_ was held. For the honor
  of your petitioner, we call attention to the fact that his
  proceedings were remarkable for a purity not found in any of the
  scandalous failures which daily degrade the commerce of Paris. The
  creditors of Birotteau received the whole property, down to the
  smallest articles that the unfortunate man possessed. They
  received, gentlemen, his clothes, his jewels, things of purely
  personal use,--and not only his, but those of his wife, who
  abandoned all her rights to swell the total of his assets. Under
  these circumstances Birotteau showed himself worthy of the respect
  which his municipal functions had already acquired for him; for he
  was at the time a deputy-mayor of the second arrondissement and
  had just received the decoration of the Legion of honor, granted
  as much for his devotion to the royal cause in Vendemiaire, on the
  steps of the Saint-Roch, which were stained with his blood, as for
  his conciliating spirit, his estimable qualities as a magistrate,
  and the modesty with which he declined the honors of the
  mayoralty, pointing out one more worthy of them, the Baron de la
  Billardiere, one of those noble Vendeens whom he had learned to
  value in the dark days.”

“That phrase is better than mine,” whispered Cesar to Pillerault.

  “At that time the creditors, who received sixty per cent of their
  claims through the aforesaid relinquishment on the part of this
  loyal merchant, his wife, and his daughter of all that they
  possessed, recorded their respect for their debtor in the
  certificate of bankruptcy granted at the _concordat_ which then
  took place, giving him at the same time a release from the
  remainder of their claims. This testimonial is couched in terms
  which are worthy of the attention of the Court.”

Here the _procureur-general_ read the passage from the certificate of

  “After receiving such expressions of good-will, gentlemen, most
  merchants would have considered themselves released from
  obligation and free to return boldly into the vortex of business.
  Far from so doing, Birotteau, without allowing himself to be cast
  down, resolved within his conscience to toil for the glorious day
  which has at length dawned for him here. Nothing disheartened him.
  Our beloved sovereign granted to the man who shed his blood on the
  steps of Saint-Roch an office where he might earn his bread. The
  salary of that office the bankrupt laid by for his creditors,
  taking nothing for his own wants; for family devotion has
  supported him.”

Birotteau pressed his uncle’s hand, weeping.

  “His wife and his daughter poured their earnings into the common
  fund, for they too espoused the noble hope of Birotteau. Each came
  down from the position she had held and took an inferior one.
  These sacrifices, gentlemen, should be held in honor, for they are
  harder than all others to bear. I will now show you what sort of
  task it was that Birotteau imposed upon himself.”

Here the _procureur-general_ read a summing-up of the schedule, giving
the amounts which had remained unpaid and the names of the creditors.

  “Each of these sums, with the interest thereon, has been paid,
  gentlemen; and the payment is not shown by receipts under private
  seal, which might be questioned: they are payments made before a
  notary, properly authenticated; and according to the inflexible
  requirements of this Court they have been examined and verified by
  the proper authority. We now ask you to restore Birotteau, not to
  honor, but to all the rights of which he was deprived. In doing
  this you are doing justice. Such exhibitions of character are so
  rare in this Court that we cannot refrain from testifying to the
  petitioner how heartily we applaud his conduct, which an august
  approval has already privately encouraged.”

The prosecuting officer closed by reading his charge in the customary
formal terms.

The Court deliberated without retiring, and the president rose to
pronounce judgement.

  “The Court,” he said, in closing, “desires me to express to
  Birotteau the satisfaction with which it renders such a judgment.
  Clerk, call the next case.”

Birotteau, clothed with the caftan of honor which the speech of the
illustrious _procureur-general_ had cast about him, stood dumb with joy
as he listened to the solemn words of the president, which betrayed the
quiverings of a heart beneath the impassibility of human justice. He was
unable to stir from his place before the bar, and seemed for a moment
nailed there, gazing at the judges with a wondering air, as though they
were angels opening to him the gates of social life. His uncle took him
by the arm and led him from the hall. Cesar had not as yet obeyed the
command of Louis XVIII., but he now mechanically fastened the ribbon of
the Legion of honor to his button-hole. In a moment he was surrounded by
his friends and borne in triumph down the great stairway to his coach.

“Where are you taking me, my friends?” he said to Joseph Lebas,
Pillerault, and Ragon.

“To your own home.”

“No; it is only three o’clock. I wish to go to the Bourse, and use my

“To the Bourse!” said Pillerault to the coachman, making an expressive
sign to Joseph Lebas, for he saw symptoms in Cesar which led him to fear
he might lose his mind.

The late perfumer re-entered the Bourse leaning on the arms of the
two honored merchants, his uncle and Joseph Lebas. The news of his
rehabilitation had preceded him. The first person who saw them enter,
followed by Ragon, was du Tillet.

“Ah! my dear master,” he cried, “I am delighted that you have pulled
through. I have perhaps contributed to this happy ending of your
troubles by letting that little Popinot drag a feather from my wing. I
am as glad of your happiness as if it were my own.”

“You could not be otherwise,” said Pillerault. “Such a thing can never
happen to you.”

“What do you mean by that?” said du Tillet.

“Oh! all in good part,” said Lebas, smiling at the malicious meaning of
Pillerault, who, without knowing the real truth, considered the man a

Matifat caught sight of Cesar, and immediately the most noted merchants
surrounded him and gave him an _ovation boursiere_. He was overwhelmed
with flattering compliments and grasped by the hand, which roused some
jealousy and caused some remorse; for out of every hundred persons
walking about that hall fifty at least had “liquidated” their affairs.
Gigonnet and Gobseck, who were talking together in a corner, looked at
the man of commercial honor very much as a naturalist must have looked
at the first electric-eel that was ever brought to him,--a fish armed
with the power of a Leyden jar, which is the greatest curiosity of the
animal kingdom. After inhaling the incense of his triumph, Cesar got
into the coach to go to his own home, where the marriage contract of
his dear Cesarine and the devoted Popinot was ready for signature. His
nervous laugh disturbed the minds of the three old friends.

It is a fault of youth to think the whole world vigorous with its own
vigor,--a fault derived from its virtues. Youth sees neither men nor
things through spectacles; it colors all with the reflex glory of its
ardent fires, and casts the superabundance of its own life upon the
aged. Like Cesar and like Constance, Popinot held in his memory a
glowing recollection of the famous ball. Constance and Cesar through
their years of trial had often, though they never spoke of it to each
other, heard the strains of Collinet’s orchestra, often beheld
that festive company, and tasted the joys so swiftly and so cruelly
chastised,--as Adam and Eve must have tasted in after times the
forbidden fruit which gave both death and life to all posterity; for it
appears that the generation of angels is a mystery of the skies.

Popinot, however, could dream of the fete without remorse, nay, with
ecstasy. Had not Cesarine in all her glory then promised herself to
him--to him, poor? During that evening had he not won the assurance
that he was loved for himself alone? So when he bought the appartement
restored by Grindot, from Celestin, when he stipulated that all should
be kept intact, when he religiously preserved the smallest things that
once belonged to Cesar and to Constance, he was dreaming of another
ball,--his ball, his wedding-ball! He made loving preparation for
it, imitating his old master in necessary expenses, but eschewing all
follies,--follies that were now past and done with. So the dinner was
to be served by Chevet; the guests were to be mostly the same: the Abbe
Loraux replaced the chancellor of the Legion of honor; the president of
the Court of Commerce, Monsieur Lebas, had promised to be there; Popinot
invited Monsieur Camusot in acknowledgment of the kindness he had
bestowed upon Birotteau; Monsieur de Vandenesse and Monsieur de Fontaine
took the place of Roguin and his wife. Cesarine and Popinot distributed
their invitations with much discretion. Both dreaded the publicity of
a wedding, and they escaped the jar such scenes must cause to pure and
tender hearts by giving the ball on the evening of the day appointed for
signing the marriage-contract.

Constance found in her room the gown of cherry velvet in which she had
shone for a single night with fleeting splendor. Cesarine cherished
a dream of appearing before Popinot in the identical ball-dress about
which, time and time again, he had talked to her. The appartement was
made ready to present to Cesar’s eyes the same enchanting scene he had
once enjoyed for a single evening. Neither Constance, nor Cesarine, nor
Popinot perceived the danger to Cesar in this sudden and overwhelming
surprise, and they awaited his arrival at four o’clock with a delight
that was almost childish.

Following close upon the unspeakable emotion his re-entrance at the
Bourse had caused him, the hero of commercial honor was now to meet the
sudden shock of felicity that awaited him in his old home. He entered
the house, and saw at the foot of the staircase (still new as he had
left it) his wife in her velvet robe, Cesarine, the Comte de Fontaine,
the Vicomte de Vandenesse, the Baron de la Billardiere, the illustrious
Vauquelin. A light film dimmed his eyes, and his uncle Pillerault, who
held his arm, felt him shudder inwardly.

“It is too much,” said the philosopher to the happy lover; “he can never
carry all the wine you are pouring out to him.”

Joy was so vivid in their hearts that each attributed Cesar’s
emotion and his stumbling step to the natural intoxication of his
feelings,--natural, but sometimes mortal. When he found himself once
more in his own home, when he saw his salon, his guests, the women in
their ball-dresses, suddenly the heroic measure in the finale of the
great symphony rang forth in his head and heart. Beethoven’s ideal
music echoed, vibrated, in many tones, sounding its clarions through the
membranes of the weary brain, of which it was indeed the grand finale.

Oppressed with this inward harmony, Cesar took the arm of his wife
and whispered, in a voice suffocated by a rush of blood that was still
repressed: “I am not well.”

Constance, alarmed, led him to her bedroom; he reached it with
difficulty, and fell into a chair, saying: “Monsieur Haudry, Monsieur

The Abbe Loraux came, followed by the guests and the women in their
ball-dresses, who stopped short, a frightened group. In presence of that
shining company Cesar pressed the hand of his confessor and laid his
head upon the bosom of his kneeling wife. A vessel had broken in his
heart, and the rush of blood strangled his last sigh.

“Behold the death of the righteous!” said the Abbe Loraux solemnly,
pointing to Cesar with the divine gesture which Rembrandt gave to Christ
in his picture of the Raising of Lazarus.

Jesus commanded the earth to give up its prey; the priest called heaven
to behold a martyr of commercial honor worthy to receive the everlasting


The following personages appear in other stories of the Human Comedy.

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

     Bidault (known as Gigonnet)
       The Government Clerks
       The Vendetta
       The Firm of Nucingen
       A Daughter of Eve

     Birotteau, Cesar
       A Bachelor’s Establishment
       At the Sign of the Cat and Racket

     Birotteau, Abbe Francois
       The Lily of the Valley
       The Vicar of Tours

       Scenes from a Courtesan’s Life

       A Distinguished Provincial at Paris
       A Bachelor’s Establishment
       Cousin Pons
       The Muse of the Department
       At the Sign of the Cat and Racket

     Camusot de Marville, Madame
       The Vendetta
       Jealousies of a Country Town
       Scenes from a Courtesan’s Life
       Cousin Pons

     Cardot, Jean-Jerome-Severin
       A Start in Life
       Lost Illusions
       A Distinguished Provincial at Paris
       A Bachelor’s Establishment
       At the Sign of the Cat and Racket

       A Prince of Bohemia
       The Middle Classes

     Chiffreville, Monsieur and Madame
       The Quest of the Absolute

     Claparon, Charles
       A Bachelor’s Establishment
       Melmoth Reconciled
       The Firm of Nucingen
       A Man of Business
       The Middle Classes

     Cochin, Emile-Louis-Lucien-Emmanuel
       The Government Clerks
       The Firm of Nucingen
       The Middle Classes

     Cochin, Adolphe
       The Firm of Nucingen

     Crevel, Celestin
       Cousin Betty
       Cousin Pons

     Crottat, Monsieur and Madame
       Scenes from a Courtesan’s Life

     Crottat, Alexandre
       Colonel Chabert
       A Start in Life
       A Woman of Thirty
       Cousin Pons

     Derville, Madame

     Desmartes, Jules
       The Thirteen

     Desmartes, Madame Jules
       The Thirteen

     Finot, Andoche
       A Bachelor’s Establishment
       A Distinguished Provincial at Paris
       Scenes from a Courtesan’s Life
       The Government Clerks
       A Start in Life
       Gaudissart the Great
       The Firm of Nucingen

     Fontaine, Comte de
       The Chouans
       Modeste Mignon
       The Ball at Sceaux
       The Government Clerks

     Gaudissart, Felix
       Scenes from a Courtesan’s Life
       Cousin Pons
       Gaudissart the Great

     Gobseck, Jean-Esther Van
       Father Goriot
       The Government Clerks
       The Unconscious Humorists

     Gobseck, Sarah Van
       The Maranas
       Scenes from a Courtesan’s Life
       The Member for Arcis

     Granville, Vicomte de (later Comte)
       The Gondreville Mystery
       A Second Home
       Farewell (Adieu)
       Scenes from a Courtesan’s Life
       A Daughter of Eve
       Cousin Pons

       Lost Illusions
       A Distinguished Provincial at Paris
       A Start in Life
       Scenes from a Courtesan’s Life
       The Middle Classes
       Cousin Betty

       At the Sign of the Cat and Racket

     Haudry (doctor)
       The Thirteen
       A Bachelor’s Establishment
       The Seamy Side of History
       Cousin Pons

     Keller, Francois
       Domestic Peace
       Eugenie Grandet
       The Government Clerks
       The Member for Arcis

     Keller, Adolphe
       The Middle Classes

     La Billardiere, Athanase-Jean-Francois-Michel, Baron Flamet de
       The Chouans
       The Government Clerks

     Lebas, Joseph
       At the Sign of the Cat and Racket
       Cousin Betty

     Lebas, Madame Joseph (Virginie)
       At the Sign of the Cat and Racket
       Cousin Betty

     Lenoncourt, Duc de
       The Lily of the Valley
       Jealousies of a Country Town
       The Gondreville Mystery

     Listomere, Baronne de
       The Vicar of Tours
       The Muse of the Department

     Loraux, Abbe
       A Start in Life
       A Bachelor’s Establishment

       At the Sign of the Cat and Racket

     Matifat (wealthy druggist)
       A Bachelor’s Establishment
       Lost Illusions
       A Distinguished Provincial at Paris
       The Firm of Nucingen
       Cousin Pons

     Matifat, Madame
       The Firm of Nucingen

     Matifat, Mademoiselle
       The Firm of Nucingen

     Molineux, Jean-Baptiste
       A Second Home
       The Purse

       The Seamy Side of History

     Montauran, Marquis Alphonse de
       The Chouans

     Nucingen, Baron Frederic de
       The Firm of Nucingen
       Father Goriot
       Lost Illusions
       A Distinguished Provincial at Paris
       Scenes from a Courtesan’s Life
       Another Study of Woman
       The Secrets of a Princess
       A Man of Business
       Cousin Betty
       The Muse of the Department
       The Unconscious Humorists

     Nucingen, Baronne Delphine de
       Father Goriot
       The Thirteen
       Eugenie Grandet
       Melmoth Reconciled
       Lost Illusions
       A Distinguished Provincial at Paris
       The Commission in Lunacy
       Scenes from a Courtesan’s Life
       Modeste Mignon
       The Firm of Nucingen
       Another Study of Woman
       A Daughter of Eve
       The Member for Arcis

     Palma (banker)
       The Firm of Nucingen
       Lost Illusions
       A Distinguished Provincial at Paris
       The Ball at Sceaux

     Popinot, Jean-Jules
       The Commission in Lunacy
       The Seamy Side of History
       The Middle Classes

     Popinot, Anselme
       Gaudissart the Great
       Cousin Pons
       Cousin Betty

     Popinot, Madame Anselme
       A Prince of Bohemia
       Cousin Betty
       Cousin Pons

     Protez and Chiffreville
       The Quest of the Absolute

     Rabourdin, Xavier
       The Government Clerks
       At the Sign of the Cat and Racket
       The Middle Classes

     Ragon, M. and Mme.
       An Episode Under the Terror

       Eugenie Grandet
       A Bachelor’s Establishment
       The Vendetta

     Roguin, Madame
       At the Sign of the Cat and Racket
       A Second Home
       A Daughter of Eve

     Saillard, Madame
       The Government Clerks

     Sommervieux, Madame Theodore de (Augustine)
       At the Sign of the Cat and Racket

       The Vendetta
       Jealousies of a Country Town

       Cousin Pons

     Tillet, Ferdinand du
       The Firm of Nucingen
       The Middle Classes
       A Bachelor’s Establishment
       Melmoth Reconciled
       A Distinguished Provincial at Paris
       The Secrets of a Princess
       A Daughter of Eve
       The Member for Arcis
       Cousin Betty
       The Unconscious Humorists

     Trailles, Comte Maxime de
       Father Goriot
       Ursule Mirouet
       A Man of Business
       The Member for Arcis
       The Secrets of a Princess
       Cousin Betty
       The Unconscious Humorists

     Vaillant, Madame
       Facino Cane

     Vandenesse, Marquise Charles de
       The Ball at Sceaux
       Ursule Mirouet
       A Daughter of Eve

     Vandenesse, Comte Felix de
       The Lily of the Valley
       Lost Illusions
       A Distinguished Provincial at Paris
       Letters of Two Brides
       A Start in Life
       The Marriage Settlement
       The Secrets of a Princess
       Another Study of Woman
       The Gondreville Mystery
       A Daughter of Eve

       The Firm of Nucingen

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