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Title: Melmoth Reconciled
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 Ellen Marriage

  To Monsieur le General Baron de Pommereul, a token of the friendship
  between our fathers, which survives in their sons.

                                                        DE BALZAC.


There is a special variety of human nature obtained in the Social
Kingdom by a process analogous to that of the gardener’s craft in the
Vegetable Kingdom, to wit, by the forcing-house--a species of hybrid
which can be raised neither from seed nor from slips. This product is
known as the Cashier, an anthropomorphous growth, watered by religious
doctrine, trained up in fear of the guillotine, pruned by vice, to
flourish on a third floor with an estimable wife by his side and an
uninteresting family. The number of cashiers in Paris must always be
a problem for the physiologist. Has any one as yet been able to state
correctly the terms of the proportion sum wherein the cashier figures as
the unknown _x_? Where will you find the man who shall live with wealth,
like a cat with a caged mouse? This man, for further qualification,
shall be capable of sitting boxed in behind an iron grating for seven
or eight hours a day during seven-eighths of the year, perched upon a
cane-seated chair in a space as narrow as a lieutenant’s cabin on board
a man-of-war. Such a man must be able to defy anchylosis of the knee
and thigh joints; he must have a soul above meanness, in order to live
meanly; must lose all relish for money by dint of handling it. Demand
this peculiar specimen of any creed, educational system, school, or
institution you please, and select Paris, that city of fiery ordeals
and branch establishment of hell, as the soil in which to plant the said
cashier. So be it. Creeds, schools, institutions and moral systems, all
human rules and regulations, great and small, will, one after another,
present much the same face that an intimate friend turns upon you when
you ask him to lend you a thousand francs. With a dolorous dropping of
the jaw, they indicate the guillotine, much as your friend aforesaid
will furnish you with the address of the money-lender, pointing you to
one of the hundred gates by which a man comes to the last refuge of the

Yet nature has her freaks in the making of a man’s mind; she indulges
herself and makes a few honest folk now and again, and now and then a

Wherefore, that race of corsairs whom we dignify with the title of
bankers, the gentry who take out a license for which they pay a thousand
crowns, as the privateer takes out his letters of marque, hold these
rare products of the incubations of virtue in such esteem that they
confine them in cages in their counting-houses, much as governments
procure and maintain specimens of strange beasts at their own charges.

If the cashier is possessed of an imagination or of a fervid
temperament; if, as will sometimes happen to the most complete cashier,
he loves his wife, and that wife grows tired of her lot, has ambitions,
or merely some vanity in her composition, the cashier is undone.
Search the chronicles of the counting-house. You will not find a single
instance of a cashier attaining _a position_, as it is called. They are
sent to the hulks; they go to foreign parts; they vegetate on a second
floor in the Rue Saint-Louis among the market gardens of the Marais.
Some day, when the cashiers of Paris come to a sense of their real
value, a cashier will be hardly obtainable for money. Still, certain
it is that there are people who are fit for nothing but to be cashiers,
just as the bent of a certain order of mind inevitably makes for
rascality. But, oh marvel of our civilization! Society rewards virtue
with an income of a hundred louis in old age, a dwelling on a second
floor, bread sufficient, occasional new bandana handkerchiefs, an
elderly wife and her offspring.

So much for virtue. But for the opposite course, a little boldness,
a faculty for keeping on the windward side of the law, as Turenne
outflanked Montecuculi, and Society will sanction the theft of millions,
shower ribbons upon the thief, cram him with honors, and smother him
with consideration.

Government, moreover, works harmoniously with this profoundly illogical
reasoner--Society. Government levies a conscription on the young
intelligence of the kingdom at the age of seventeen or eighteen,
a conscription of precocious brain-work before it is sent up to be
submitted to a process of selection. Nurserymen sort and select seeds
in much the same way. To this process the Government brings professional
appraisers of talent, men who can assay brains as experts assay gold
at the Mint. Five hundred such heads, set afire with hope, are sent up
annually by the most progressive portion of the population; and of these
the Government takes one-third, puts them in sacks called the Ecoles,
and shakes them up together for three years. Though every one of these
young plants represents vast productive power, they are made, as one
may say, into cashiers. They receive appointments; the rank and file
of engineers is made up of them; they are employed as captains of
artillery; there is no (subaltern) grade to which they may not aspire.
Finally, when these men, the pick of the youth of the nation, fattened
on mathematics and stuffed with knowledge, have attained the age of
fifty years, they have their reward, and receive as the price of their
services the third-floor lodging, the wife and family, and all the
comforts that sweeten life for mediocrity. If from among this race of
dupes there should escape some five or six men of genius who climb the
highest heights, is it not miraculous?

This is an exact statement of the relations between Talent and Probity
on the one hand and Government and Society on the other, in an age that
considers itself to be progressive. Without this prefatory explanation
a recent occurrence in Paris would seem improbable; but preceded by this
summing up of the situation, it will perhaps receive some thoughtful
attention from minds capable of recognizing the real plague-spots of
our civilization, a civilization which since 1815 as been moved by the
spirit of gain rather than by principles of honor.

About five o’clock, on a dull autumn afternoon, the cashier of one of
the largest banks in Paris was still at his desk, working by the light
of a lamp that had been lit for some time. In accordance with the use
and wont of commerce, the counting-house was in the darkest corner of
the low-ceiled and far from spacious mezzanine floor, and at the very
end of a passage lighted only by borrowed lights. The office doors
along this corridor, each with its label, gave the place the look of a
bath-house. At four o’clock the stolid porter had proclaimed, according
to his orders, “The bank is closed.” And by this time the departments
were deserted, wives of the partners in the firm were expecting their
lovers; the two bankers dining with their mistresses. Everything was in

The place where the strong boxes had been bedded in sheet-iron was just
behind the little sanctum, where the cashier was busy. Doubtless he was
balancing his books. The open front gave a glimpse of a safe of hammered
iron, so enormously heavy (thanks to the science of the modern inventor)
that burglars could not carry it away. The door only opened at the
pleasure of those who knew its password. The letter-lock was a warden
who kept its own secret and could not be bribed; the mysterious word was
an ingenious realization of the “Open sesame!” in the _Arabian Nights_.
But even this was as nothing. A man might discover the password; but
unless he knew the lock’s final secret, the _ultima ratio_ of this
gold-guarding dragon of mechanical science, it discharged a blunderbuss
at his head.

The door of the room, the walls of the room, the shutters of the windows
in the room, the whole place, in fact, was lined with sheet-iron a third
of an inch in thickness, concealed behind the thin wooden paneling. The
shutters had been closed, the door had been shut. If ever man could feel
confident that he was absolutely alone, and that there was no remote
possibility of being watched by prying eyes, that man was the cashier of
the house of Nucingen and Company, in the Rue Saint-Lazare.

Accordingly the deepest silence prevailed in that iron cave. The fire
had died out in the stove, but the room was full of that tepid warmth
which produces the dull heavy-headedness and nauseous queasiness of a
morning after an orgy. The stove is a mesmerist that plays no small part
in the reduction of bank clerks and porters to a state of idiocy.

A room with a stove in it is a retort in which the power of strong
men is evaporated, where their vitality is exhausted, and their wills
enfeebled. Government offices are part of a great scheme for the
manufacture of the mediocrity necessary for the maintenance of a Feudal
System on a pecuniary basis--and money is the foundation of the Social
Contract. (See _Les Employes_.) The mephitic vapors in the atmosphere
of a crowded room contribute in no small degree to bring about a gradual
deterioration of intelligences, the brain that gives off the largest
quantity of nitrogen asphyxiates the others, in the long run.

The cashier was a man of five-and-forty or thereabouts. As he sat at the
table, the light from a moderator lamp shining full on his bald head and
glistening fringe of iron-gray hair that surrounded it--this baldness
and the round outlines of his face made his head look very like a ball.
His complexion was brick-red, a few wrinkles had gathered about his
eyes, but he had the smooth, plump hands of a stout man. His blue cloth
coat, a little rubbed and worn, and the creases and shininess of his
trousers, traces of hard wear that the clothes-brush fails to remove,
would impress a superficial observer with the idea that here was a
thrifty and upright human being, sufficient of the philosopher or of the
aristocrat to wear shabby clothes. But, unluckily, it is easy to find
penny-wise people who will prove weak, wasteful, or incompetent in the
capital things of life.

The cashier wore the ribbon of the Legion of Honor at his button-hole,
for he had been a major of dragoons in the time of the Emperor. M. de
Nucingen, who had been a contractor before he became a banker, had had
reason in those days to know the honorable disposition of his cashier,
who then occupied a high position. Reverses of fortune had befallen the
major, and the banker out of regard for him paid him five hundred francs
a month. The soldier had become a cashier in the year 1813, after his
recovery from a wound received at Studzianka during the Retreat from
Moscow, followed by six months of enforced idleness at Strasbourg,
whither several officers had been transported by order of the Emperor,
that they might receive skilled attention. This particular officer,
Castanier by name, retired with the honorary grade of colonel, and a
pension of two thousand four hundred francs.

In ten years’ time the cashier had completely effaced the soldier,
and Castanier inspired the banker with such trust in him, that he was
associated in the transactions that went on in the private office behind
his little counting-house. The baron himself had access to it by means
of a secret staircase. There, matters of business were decided. It was
the bolting-room where proposals were sifted; the privy council chamber
where the reports of the money market were analyzed; circular notes
issued thence; and finally, the private ledger and the journal which
summarized the work of all the departments were kept there.

Castanier had gone himself to shut the door which opened on to a
staircase that led to the parlor occupied by the two bankers on the
first floor of their hotel. This done, he had sat down at his desk
again, and for a moment he gazed at a little collection of letters of
credit drawn on the firm of Watschildine of London. Then he had taken
up the pen and imitated the banker’s signature on each. _Nucingen_ he
wrote, and eyed the forged signatures critically to see which seemed the
most perfect copy.

Suddenly he looked up as if a needle had pricked him. “You are not
alone!” a boding voice seemed to cry in his heart; and indeed the forger
saw a man standing at the little grated window of the counting-house, a
man whose breathing was so noiseless that he did not seem to breathe at
all. Castanier looked, and saw that the door at the end of the passage
was wide open; the stranger must have entered by that way.

For the first time in his life the old soldier felt a sensation of dread
that made him stare open-mouthed and wide-eyed at the man before him;
and for that matter, the appearance of the apparition was sufficiently
alarming even if unaccompanied by the mysterious circumstances of so
sudden an entry. The rounded forehead, the harsh coloring of the long
oval face, indicated quite as plainly as the cut of his clothes that the
man was an Englishman, reeking of his native isles. You had only to look
at the collar of his overcoat, at the voluminous cravat which smothered
the crushed frills of a shirt front so white that it brought out the
changeless leaden hue of an impassive face, and the thin red line of the
lips that seemed made to suck the blood of corpses; and you can guess
at once at the black gaiters buttoned up to the knee, and the
half-puritanical costume of a wealthy Englishman dressed for a walking
excursion. The intolerable glitter of the stranger’s eyes produced a
vivid and unpleasant impression, which was only deepened by the rigid
outlines of his features. The dried-up, emaciated creature seemed to
carry within him some gnawing thought that consumed him and could not be

He must have digested his food so rapidly that he could doubtless
eat continually without bringing any trace of color into his face or
features. A tun of Tokay _vin de succession_ would not have caused any
faltering in that piercing glance that read men’s inmost thoughts, nor
dethroned the merciless reasoning faculty that always seemed to go
to the bottom of things. There was something of the fell and tranquil
majesty of a tiger about him.

“I have come to cash this bill of exchange, sir,” he said. Castanier
felt the tones of his voice thrill through every nerve with a violent
shock similar to that given by a discharge of electricity.

“The safe is closed,” said Castanier.

“It is open,” said the Englishman, looking round the counting-house.
“To-morrow is Sunday, and I cannot wait. The amount is for five hundred
thousand francs. You have the money there, and I must have it.”

“But how did you come in, sir?”

The Englishman smiled. That smile frightened Castanier. No words could
have replied more fully nor more peremptorily than that scornful and
imperial curl of the stranger’s lips. Castanier turned away, took up
fifty packets each containing ten thousand francs in bank-notes, and
held them out to the stranger, receiving in exchange for them a bill
accepted by the Baron de Nucingen. A sort of convulsive tremor ran
through him as he saw a red gleam in the stranger’s eyes when they fell
on the forged signature on the letter of credit.

“It... it wants your signature...” stammered Castanier, handing back the

“Hand me your pen,” answered the Englishman.

Castanier handed him the pen with which he had just committed forgery.
The stranger wrote _John Melmoth_, then he returned the slip of paper
and the pen to the cashier. Castanier looked at the handwriting,
noticing that it sloped from right to left in the Eastern fashion, and
Melmoth disappeared so noiselessly that when Castanier looked up again
an exclamation broke from him, partly because the man was no longer
there, partly because he felt a strange painful sensation such as our
imagination might take for an effect of poison.

The pen that Melmoth had handled sent the same sickening heat through
him that an emetic produces. But it seemed impossible to Castanier
that the Englishman should have guessed his crime. His inward qualms he
attributed to the palpitation of the heart that, according to received
ideas, was sure to follow at once on such a “turn” as the stranger had
given him.

“The devil take it; I am very stupid. Providence is watching over me;
for if that brute had come round to see my gentleman to-morrow, my goose
would have been cooked!” said Castanier, and he burned the unsuccessful
attempts at forgery in the stove.

He put the bill that he meant to take with him in an envelope, and
helped himself to five hundred thousand francs in French and English
bank-notes from the safe, which he locked. Then he put everything in
order, lit a candle, blew out the lamp, took up his hat and umbrella,
and went out sedately, as usual, to leave one of the two keys of the
strong room with Madame de Nucingen, in the absence of her husband the

“You are in luck, M. Castanier,” said the banker’s wife as he entered
the room; “we have a holiday on Monday; you can go into the country, or
to Soizy.”

“Madame, will you be so good as to tell your husband that the bill
of exchange on Watschildine, which was behind time, has just been
presented? The five hundred thousand francs have been paid; so I shall
not come back till noon on Tuesday.”

“Good-bye, monsieur; I hope you will have a pleasant time.”

“The same to you, madame,” replied the old dragoon as he went out. He
glanced as he spoke at a young man well known in fashionable society at
that time, a M. de Rastignac, who was regarded as Madame de Nucingen’s

“Madame,” remarked this latter, “the old boy looks to me as if he meant
to play you some ill turn.”

“Pshaw! impossible; he is too stupid.”

“Piquoizeau,” said the cashier, walking into the porter’s room, “what
made you let anybody come up after four o’clock?”

“I have been smoking a pipe here in the doorway ever since four
o’clock,” said the man, “and nobody has gone into the bank. Nobody has
come out either except the gentlemen----”

“Are you quite sure?”

“Yes, upon my word and honor. Stay, though, at four o’clock M.
Werbrust’s friend came, a young fellow from Messrs. du Tillet & Co., in
the Rue Joubert.”

“All right,” said Castanier, and he hurried away.

The sickening sensation of heat that he had felt when he took back the
pen returned in greater intensity. “_Mille diables_!” thought he, as he
threaded his way along the Boulevard de Gand, “haven’t I taken proper
precautions? Let me think! Two clear days, Sunday and Monday, then a day
of uncertainty before they begin to look for me; altogether, three days
and four nights’ respite. I have a couple of passports and two different
disguises; is not that enough to throw the cleverest detective off the
scent? On Tuesday morning I shall draw a million francs in London before
the slightest suspicion has been aroused. My debts I am leaving behind
for the benefit of my creditors, who will put a ‘P’ * on the bills, and
I shall live comfortably in Italy for the rest of my days as the Conte
Ferraro. [*Protested.] I was alone with him when he died, poor fellow,
in the marsh of Zembin, and I shall slip into his skin.... _Mille
diables_! the woman who is to follow after me might give them a clue!
Think of an old campaigner like me infatuated enough to tie myself to a
petticoat tail!... Why take her? I must leave her behind. Yes, I could
make up my mind to it; but--I know myself--I should be ass enough to
go back to her. Still, nobody knows Aquilina. Shall I take her or leave

“You will not take her!” cried a voice that filled Castanier with
sickening dread. He turned sharply, and saw the Englishman.

“The devil is in it!” cried the cashier aloud.

Melmoth had passed his victim by this time; and if Castanier’s first
impulse had been to fasten a quarrel on a man who read his own thoughts,
he was so much torn up by opposing feelings that the immediate result
was a temporary paralysis. When he resumed his walk he fell once more
into that fever of irresolution which besets those who are so carried
away by passion that they are ready to commit a crime, but have not
sufficient strength of character to keep it to themselves without
suffering terribly in the process. So, although Castanier had made up
his mind to reap the fruits of a crime which was already half executed,
he hesitated to carry out his designs. For him, as for many men of mixed
character in whom weakness and strength are equally blended, the least
trifling consideration determines whether they shall continue to lead
blameless lives or become actively criminal. In the vast masses of
men enrolled in Napoleon’s armies there are many who, like Castanier,
possessed the purely physical courage demanded on the battlefield, yet
lacked the moral courage which makes a man as great in crime as he could
have been in virtue.

The letter of credit was drafted in such terms that immediately on
his arrival he might draw twenty-five thousand pounds on the firm of
Watschildine, the London correspondents of the house of Nucingen. The
London house had already been advised of the draft about to be made upon
them, he had written to them himself. He had instructed an agent (chosen
at random) to take his passage in a vessel which was to leave Portsmouth
with a wealthy English family on board, who were going to Italy, and
the passage-money had been paid in the name of the Conte Ferraro. The
smallest details of the scheme had been thought out. He had arranged
matters so as to divert the search that would be made for him into
Belgium and Switzerland, while he himself was at sea in the English
vessel. Then, by the time that Nucingen might flatter himself that he
was on the track of his late cashier, the said cashier, as the Conte
Ferraro, hoped to be safe in Naples. He had determined to disfigure his
face in order to disguise himself the more completely, and by means of
an acid to imitate the scars of smallpox. Yet, in spite of all these
precautions, which surely seemed as if they must secure him complete
immunity, his conscience tormented him; he was afraid. The even and
peaceful life that he had led for so long had modified the morality of
the camp. His life was stainless as yet; he could not sully it without a
pang. So for the last time he abandoned himself to all the influences of
the better self that strenuously resisted.

“Pshaw!” he said at last, at the corner of the Boulevard and the Rue
Montmartre, “I will take a cab after the play this evening and go out to
Versailles. A post-chaise will be ready for me at my old quartermaster’s
place. He would keep my secret even if a dozen men were standing ready
to shoot him down. The chances are all in my favor, so far as I see; so
I shall take my little Naqui with me, and I will go.”

“You will not go!” exclaimed the Englishman, and the strange tones of
his voice drove all the cashier’s blood back to his heart.

Melmoth stepped into a tilbury which was waiting for him, and was
whirled away so quickly, that when Castanier looked up he saw his foe
some hundred paces away from him, and before it even crossed his mind
to cut off the man’s retreat the tilbury was far on its way up the
Boulevard Montmartre.

“Well, upon my word, there is something supernatural about this!” said
he to himself. “If I were fool enough to believe in God, I should think
that He had set Saint Michael on my tracks. Suppose that the devil and
the police should let me go on as I please, so as to nab me in the nick
of time? Did any one ever see the like! But there, this is folly...”

Castanier went along the Rue du Faubourg-Montmartre, slackening his pace
as he neared the Rue Richer. There on the second floor of a block of
buildings which looked out upon some gardens lived the unconscious cause
of Castanier’s crime--a young woman known in the quarter as Mme. de la
Garde. A concise history of certain events in the cashier’s past life
must be given in order to explain these facts, and to give a complete
presentment of the crisis when he yielded to temptation.

Mme. de la Garde said that she was a Piedmontese. No one, not even
Castanier, knew her real name. She was one of those young girls, who
are driven by dire misery, by inability to earn a living, or by fear of
starvation, to have recourse to a trade which most of them loathe, many
regard with indifference, and some few follow in obedience to the laws
of their constitution. But on the brink of the gulf of prostitution in
Paris, the young girl of sixteen, beautiful and pure as the Madonna, had
met with Castanier. The old dragoon was too rough and homely to make his
way in society, and he was tired of tramping the boulevard at night and
of the kind of conquests made there by gold. For some time past he had
desired to bring a certain regularity into an irregular life. He was
struck by the beauty of the poor child who had drifted by chance into
his arms, and his determination to rescue her from the life of the
streets was half benevolent, half selfish, as some of the thoughts of
the best of men are apt to be. Social conditions mingle elements of evil
with the promptings of natural goodness of heart, and the mixture
of motives underlying a man’s intentions should be leniently judged.
Castanier had just cleverness enough to be very shrewd where his own
interests were concerned. So he concluded to be a philanthropist on
either count, and at first made her his mistress.

“Hey! hey!” he said to himself, in his soldierly fashion. “I am an
old wolf, and a sheep shall not make a fool of me. Castanier, old man,
before you set up housekeeping, reconnoitre the girl’s character for a
bit, and see if she is a steady sort.”

This irregular union gave the Piedmontese a status the most nearly
approaching respectability among those which the world declines to
recognize. During the first year she took the _nom de guerre_ of
Aquilina, one of the characters in _Venice Preserved_ which she had
chanced to read. She fancied that she resembled the courtesan in face
and general appearance, and in a certain precocity of heart and brain of
which she was conscious. When Castanier found that her life was as
well regulated and virtuous as was possible for a social outlaw, he
manifested a desire that they should live as husband and wife. So she
took the name of Mme. de la Garde, in order to approach, as closely as
Parisian usages permit, the conditions of a real marriage. As a matter
of fact, many of these unfortunate girls have one fixed idea, to be
looked upon as respectable middle-class women, who lead humdrum lives of
faithfulness to their husbands; women who would make excellent mothers,
keepers of household accounts, and menders of household linen. This
longing springs from a sentiment so laudable, that society should take
it into consideration. But society, incorrigible as ever, will assuredly
persist in regarding the married woman as a corvette duly authorized by
her flag and papers to go on her own course, while the woman who is a
wife in all but name is a pirate and an outlaw for lack of a document.
A day came when Mme. de la Garde would fain have signed herself “Mme.
Castanier.” The cashier was put out by this.

“So you do not love me well enough to marry me?” she said.

Castanier did not answer; he was absorbed by his thoughts. The poor girl
resigned herself to her fate. The ex-dragoon was in despair. Naqui’s
heart softened towards him at the sight of his trouble; she tried to
soothe him, but what could she do when she did not know what ailed him?
When Naqui made up her mind to know the secret, although she never asked
him a question, the cashier dolefully confessed to the existence of a
Mme. Castanier. This lawful wife, a thousand times accursed, was living
in a humble way in Strasbourg on a small property there; he wrote to her
twice a year, and kept the secret of her existence so well, that no one
suspected that he was married. The reason of this reticence? If it
is familiar to many military men who may chance to be in a like
predicament, it is perhaps worth while to give the story.

Your genuine trooper (if it is allowable here to employ the word which
in the army signifies a man who is destined to die as a captain) is a
sort of serf, a part and parcel of his regiment, an essentially simple
creature, and Castanier was marked out by nature as a victim to the
wiles of mothers with grown-up daughters left too long on their hands.
It was at Nancy, during one of those brief intervals of repose when the
Imperial armies were not on active service abroad, that Castanier was so
unlucky as to pay some attention to a young lady with whom he danced at
a _ridotto_, the provincial name for the entertainments often given
by the military to the townsfolk, or vice versa, in garrison towns. A
scheme for inveigling the gallant captain into matrimony was immediately
set on foot, one of those schemes by which mothers secure accomplices in
a human heart by touching all its motive springs, while they convert all
their friends into fellow-conspirators. Like all people possessed by
one idea, these ladies press everything into the service of their great
project, slowly elaborating their toils, much as the ant-lion excavates
its funnel in the sand and lies in wait at the bottom for its victim.
Suppose that no one strays, after all, into that carefully constructed
labyrinth? Suppose that the ant-lion dies of hunger and thirst in her
pit? Such things may be, but if any heedless creature once enters in, it
never comes out. All the wires which could be pulled to induce action
on the captain’s part were tried; appeals were made to the secret
interested motives that always come into play in such cases; they worked
on Castanier’s hopes and on the weaknesses and vanity of human nature.
Unluckily, he had praised the daughter to her mother when he brought her
back after a waltz, a little chat followed, and then an invitation in
the most natural way in the world. Once introduced into the house,
the dragoon was dazzled by the hospitality of a family who appeared
to conceal their real wealth beneath a show of careful economy. He was
skilfully flattered on all sides, and every one extolled for his benefit
the various treasures there displayed. A neatly timed dinner, served on
plate lent by an uncle, the attention shown to him by the only daughter
of the house, the gossip of the town, a well-to-do sub-lieutenant who
seemed likely to cut the ground from under his feet--all the innumerable
snares, in short, of the provincial ant-lion were set for him, and to
such good purpose, that Castanier said five years later, “To this day I
do not know how it came about!”

The dragoon received fifteen thousand francs with the lady, who after
two years of marriage, became the ugliest and consequently the
most peevish woman on earth. Luckily they had no children. The fair
complexion (maintained by a Spartan regimen), the fresh, bright color
in her face, which spoke of an engaging modesty, became overspread with
blotches and pimples; her figure, which had seemed so straight, grew
crooked, the angel became a suspicious and shrewish creature who drove
Castanier frantic. Then the fortune took to itself wings. At length the
dragoon, no longer recognizing the woman whom he had wedded, left her to
live on a little property at Strasbourg, until the time when it should
please God to remove her to adorn Paradise. She was one of those
virtuous women who, for want of other occupation, would weary the life
out of an angel with complainings, who pray till (if their prayers are
heard in heaven) they must exhaust the patience of the Almighty, and say
everything that is bad of their husbands in dovelike murmurs over a game
of boston with their neighbors. When Aquilina learned all these troubles
she clung still more affectionately to Castanier, and made him so happy,
varying with woman’s ingenuity the pleasures with which she filled his
life, that all unwittingly she was the cause of the cashier’s downfall.

Like many women who seem by nature destined to sound all the depths of
love, Mme. de la Garde was disinterested. She asked neither for gold
nor for jewelry, gave no thought to the future, lived entirely for the
present and for the pleasures of the present. She accepted expensive
ornaments and dresses, the carriage so eagerly coveted by women of
her class, as one harmony the more in the picture of life. There was
absolutely no vanity in her desire not to appear at a better advantage
but to look the fairer, and moreover, no woman could live without
luxuries more cheerfully. When a man of generous nature (and military
men are mostly of this stamp) meets with such a woman, he feels a sort
of exasperation at finding himself her debtor in generosity. He feels
that he could stop a mail coach to obtain money for her if he has not
sufficient for her whims. He will commit a crime if so he may be great
and noble in the eyes of some woman or of his special public; such
is the nature of the man. Such a lover is like a gambler who would be
dishonored in his own eyes if he did not repay the sum he borrowed from
a waiter in a gaming-house; but will shrink from no crime, will leave
his wife and children without a penny, and rob and murder, if so he
may come to the gaming-table with a full purse, and his honor remain
untarnished among the frequenters of that fatal abode. So it was with

He had begun by installing Aquiline is a modest fourth-floor dwelling,
the furniture being of the simplest kind. But when he saw the girl’s
beauty and great qualities, when he had known inexpressible and
unlooked-for happiness with her, he began to dote upon her; and longed
to adorn his idol. Then Aquilina’s toilette was so comically out of
keeping with her poor abode, that for both their sakes it was clearly
incumbent on him to move. The change swallowed up almost all Castanier’s
savings, for he furnished his domestic paradise with all the prodigality
that is lavished on a kept mistress. A pretty woman must have everything
pretty about her; the unity of charm in the woman and her surroundings
singles her out from among her sex. This sentiment of homogeneity
indeed, though it has frequently escaped the attention of observers,
is instinctive in human nature; and the same prompting leads elderly
spinsters to surround themselves with dreary relics of the past. But
the lovely Piedmontese must have the newest and latest fashions, and
all that was daintiest and prettiest in stuffs for hangings, in silks
or jewelry, in fine china and other brittle and fragile wares. She
asked for nothing; but when she was called upon to make a choice, when
Castanier asked her, “Which do you like?” she would answer, “Why, this
is the nicest!” Love never counts the cost, and Castanier therefore
always took the “nicest.”

When once the standard had been set up, there was nothing for it but
everything in the household must be in conformity, from the linen,
plate, and crystal through a thousand and one items of expenditure down
to the pots and pans in the kitchen. Castanier had meant to “do things
simply,” as the saying goes, but he gradually found himself more and
more in debt. One expense entailed another. The clock called for
candle sconces. Fires must be lighted in the ornamental grates, but the
curtains and hangings were too fresh and delicate to be soiled by smuts,
so they must be replaced by patent and elaborate fireplaces, warranted
to give out no smoke, recent inventions of the people who are so clever
at drawing up a prospectus. Then Aquilina found it so nice to run about
barefooted on the carpet in her room, that Castanier must have soft
carpets laid everywhere for the pleasure of playing with Naqui. A
bathroom, too, was built for her, everything to the end that she might
be more comfortable.

Shopkeepers, workmen, and manufacturers in Paris have a mysterious knack
of enlarging a hole in a man’s purse. They cannot give the price of
anything upon inquiry; and as the paroxysm of longing cannot abide
delay, orders are given by the feeble light of an approximate estimate
of cost. The same people never send in the bills at once, but ply the
purchaser with furniture till his head spins. Everything is so pretty,
so charming; and every one is satisfied.

A few months later the obliging furniture dealers are metamorphosed, and
reappear in the shape of alarming totals on invoices that fill the soul
with their horrid clamor; they are in urgent want of the money; they
are, as you may say on the brink of bankruptcy, their tears flow, it
is heartrending to hear them! And then----the gulf yawns, and gives up
serried columns of figures marching four deep, when as a matter of fact
they should have issued innocently three by three.

Before Castanier had any idea of how much he had spent, he had arranged
for Aquilina to have a carriage from a livery stable when she went out,
instead of a cab. Castanier was a gourmand; he engaged an excellent
cook; and Aquilina, to please him, had herself made the purchases of
early fruit and vegetables, rare delicacies, and exquisite wines. But,
as Aquilina had nothing of her own, these gifts of hers, so precious by
reason of the thought and tact and graciousness that prompted them, were
no less a drain upon Castanier’s purse; he did not like his Naqui to
be without money, and Naqui could not keep money in her pocket. So the
table was a heavy item of expenditure for a man with Castanier’s income.
The ex-dragoon was compelled to resort to various shifts for obtaining
money, for he could not bring himself to renounce this delightful life.
He loved the woman too well to cross the freaks of the mistress. He
was one of those men who, through self-love or through weakness of
character, can refuse nothing to a woman; false shame overpowers them,
and they rather face ruin than make the admissions: “I cannot----” “My
means will not permit----” “I cannot afford----”

When, therefore, Castanier saw that if he meant to emerge from the abyss
of debt into which he had plunged, he must part with Aquilina and live
upon bread and water, he was so unable to do without her or to change
his habits of life, that daily he put off his plans of reform until the
morrow. The debts were pressing, and he began by borrowing money. His
position and previous character inspired confidence, and of this he took
advantage to devise a system of borrowing money as he required it. Then,
as the total amount of debt rapidly increased, he had recourse to those
commercial inventions known as accommodation bills. This form of bill
does not represent goods or other value received, and the first endorser
pays the amount named for the obliging person who accepts it. This
species of fraud is tolerated because it is impossible to detect it,
and, moreover, it is an imaginary fraud which only becomes real if
payment is ultimately refused.

When at length it was evidently impossible to borrow any longer, whether
because the amount of the debt was now so greatly increased, or
because Castanier was unable to pay the large amount of interest on
the aforesaid sums of money, the cashier saw bankruptcy before him. On
making this discovery, he decided for a fraudulent bankruptcy rather
than an ordinary failure, and preferred a crime to a misdemeanor. He
determined, after the fashion of the celebrated cashier of the Royal
Treasury, to abuse the trust deservedly won, and to increase the number
of his creditors by making a final loan of the sum sufficient to keep
him in comfort in a foreign country for the rest of his days. All this,
as has been seen, he had prepared to do.

Aquilina knew nothing of the irksome cares of this life; she enjoyed her
existence, as many a woman does, making no inquiry as to where the
money came from, even as sundry other folk will eat their buttered rolls
untroubled by any restless spirit of curiosity as to the culture and
growth of wheat; but as the labor and miscalculations of agriculture
lie on the other side of the baker’s oven, so beneath the unappreciated
luxury of many a Parisian household lie intolerable anxieties and
exorbitant toil.

While Castanier was enduring the torture of the strain, and his thoughts
were full of the deed that should change his whole life, Aquilina was
lying luxuriously back in a great armchair by the fireside, beguiling
the time by chatting with her waiting-maid. As frequently happens in
such cases the maid had become the mistress’ confidant, Jenny having
first assured herself that her mistress’ ascendency over Castanier was

“What are we to do this evening? Leon seems determined to come,” Mme.
de la Garde was saying, as she read a passionate epistle indited upon a
faint gray notepaper.

“Here is the master!” said Jenny.

Castanier came in. Aquilina, nowise disconcerted, crumpled up the
letter, took it with the tongs, and held it in the flames.

“So that is what you do with your love-letters, is it?” asked Castanier.

“Oh goodness, yes,” said Aquilina; “is it not the best way of keeping
them safe? Besides, fire should go to fire, as water makes for the

“You are talking as if it were a real love-letter, Naqui----”

“Well, am I not handsome enough to receive them?” she said, holding up
her forehead for a kiss. There was a carelessness in her manner that
would have told any man less blind than Castanier that it was only a
piece of conjugal duty, as it were, to give this joy to the cashier, but
use and wont had brought Castanier to the point where clear-sightedness
is no longer possible for love.

“I have taken a box at the Gymnase this evening,” he said; “let us have
dinner early, and then we need not dine in a hurry.”

“Go and take Jenny. I am tired of plays. I do not know what is the
matter with me this evening; I would rather stay here by the fire.”

“Come, all the same though, Naqui; I shall not be here to bore you much
longer. Yes, Quiqui, I am going to start to-night, and it will be some
time before I come back again. I am leaving everything in your charge.
Will you keep your heart for me too?”

“Neither my heart nor anything else,” she said; “but when you come back
again, Naqui will still be Naqui for you.”

“Well, this is frankness. So you would not follow me?”


“Why not?”

“Eh! why, how can I leave the lover who writes me such sweet little
notes?” she asked, pointing to the blackened scrap of paper with a
mocking smile.

“Is there any truth in it?” asked Castanier. “Have you really a lover?”

“Really!” cried Aquilina; “and have you never given it a serious
thought, dear? To begin with, you are fifty years old. Then you have
just the sort of face to put on a fruit stall; if the woman tried to see
you for a pumpkin, no one would contradict her. You puff and blow like a
seal when you come upstairs; your paunch rises and falls like a diamond
on a woman’s forehead! It is pretty plain that you served in the
dragoons; you are a very ugly-looking old man. Fiddle-de-dee. If you
have any mind to keep my respect, I recommend you not to add imbecility
to these qualities by imagining that such a girl as I am will be content
with your asthmatic love, and not look for youth and good looks and
pleasure by way of a variety----”

“Aquilina! you are laughing, of course?”

“Oh, very well; and are you not laughing too? Do you take me for a fool,
telling me that you are going away? ‘I am going to start to-night!’” she
said, mimicking his tones. “Stuff and nonsense! Would you talk like that
if you were really going from your Naqui? You would cry, like the booby
that you are!”

“After all, if I go, will you follow?” he asked.

“Tell me first whether this journey of yours is a bad joke or not.”

“Yes, seriously, I am going.”

“Well, then, seriously, I shall stay. A pleasant journey to you, my boy!
I will wait till you come back. I would sooner take leave of life than
take leave of my dear, cozy Paris----”

“Will you not come to Italy, to Naples, and lead a pleasant life
there--a delicious, luxurious life, with this stout old fogy of yours,
who puffs and blows like a seal?”


“Ungrateful girl!”

“Ungrateful?” she cried, rising to her feet. “I might leave this house
this moment and take nothing out of it but myself. I shall have given
you all the treasures a young girl can give, and something that not
every drop in your veins and mine can ever give me back. If, by any
means whatever, by selling my hopes of eternity, for instance, I could
recover my past self, body and soul (for I have, perhaps, redeemed
my soul), and be pure as a lily for my lover, I would not hesitate a
moment! What sort of devotion has rewarded mine? You have housed and fed
me, just as you give a dog food and a kennel because he is a protection
to the house, and he may take kicks when we are out of humor, and lick
our hands as soon as we are pleased to call him. And which of us two
will have been the more generous?”

“Oh! dear child, do you not see that I am joking?” returned Castanier.
“I am going on a short journey; I shall not be away for very long. But
come with me to the Gymnase; I shall start just before midnight, after I
have had time to say good-bye to you.”

“Poor pet! so you are really going, are you?” she said. She put her arms
round his neck, and drew down his head against her bodice.

“You are smothering me!” cried Castanier, with his face buried in
Aquilina’s breast. That damsel turned to say in Jenny’s ear, “Go to
Leon, and tell him not to come till one o’clock. If you do not find
him, and he comes here during the leave-taking, keep him in your
room.--Well,” she went on, setting free Castanier, and giving a tweak
to the tip of his nose, “never mind, handsomest of seals that you are. I
will go to the theatre with you this evening? But all in good time; let
us have dinner! There is a nice little dinner for you--just what you

“It is very hard to part from such a woman as you!” exclaimed Castanier.

“Very well then, why do you go?” asked she.

“Ah! why? why? If I were to begin to begin to explain the reasons why,
I must tell you things that would prove to you that I love you almost to
madness. Ah! if you have sacrificed your honor for me, I have sold mine
for you; we are quits. Is that love?”

“What is all this about?” said she. “Come, now, promise me that if I had
a lover you would still love me as a father; that would be love! Come,
now, promise it at once, and give us your fist upon it.”

“I should kill you,” and Castanier smiled as he spoke.

They sat down to the dinner table, and went thence to the Gymnase. When
the first part of the performance was over, it occurred to Castanier to
show himself to some of his acquaintances in the house, so as to turn
away any suspicion of his departure. He left Mme. de la Garde in the
corner box where she was seated, according to her modest wont, and went
to walk up and down in the lobby. He had not gone many paces before he
saw the Englishman, and with a sudden return of the sickening sensation
of heat that once before had vibrated through him, and of the terror
that he had felt already, he stood face to face with Melmoth.


At the word, Castanier glanced round at the people who were moving about
them. He fancied that he could see astonishment and curiosity in their
eyes, and wishing to be rid of this Englishman at once, he raised his
hand to strike him--and felt his arm paralyzed by some invisible power
that sapped his strength and nailed him to the spot. He allowed the
stranger to take him by the arm, and they walked together to the
green-room like two friends.

“Who is strong enough to resist me?” said the Englishman, addressing
him. “Do you not know that everything here on earth must obey me, that
it is in my power to do everything? I read men’s thoughts, I see the
future, and I know the past. I am here, and I can be elsewhere also.
Time and space and distance are nothing to me. The whole world is at
my beck and call. I have the power of continual enjoyment and of giving
joy. I can see through walls, discover hidden treasures, and fill my
hands with them. Palaces arise at my nod, and my architect makes no
mistakes. I can make all lands break forth into blossom, heap up their
gold and precious stones, and surround myself with fair women and ever
new faces; everything is yielded up to my will. I could gamble on the
Stock Exchange, and my speculations would be infallible; but a man
who can find the hoards that misers have hidden in the earth need not
trouble himself about stocks. Feel the strength of the hand that grasps
you; poor wretch, doomed to shame! Try to bend the arm of iron! try to
soften the adamantine heart! Fly from me if you dare! You would hear
my voice in the depths of the caves that lie under the Seine; you might
hide in the Catacombs, but would you not see me there? My voice could
be heard through the sound of thunder, my eyes shine as brightly as the
sun, for I am the peer of Lucifer!”

Castanier heard the terrible words, and felt no protest nor
contradiction within himself. He walked side by side with the
Englishman, and had no power to leave him.

“You are mine; you have just committed a crime. I have found at last the
mate whom I have sought. Have you a mind to learn your destiny? Aha!
you came here to see a play, and you shall see a play--nay, two. Come.
Present me to Mme. de la Garde as one of your best friends. Am I not
your last hope of escape?”

Castanier, followed by the stranger, returned to his box; and in
accordance with the order he had just received, he hastened to introduce
Melmoth to Mme. de la Garde. Aquilina seemed to be not in the least
surprised. The Englishman declined to take a seat in front, and
Castanier was once more beside his mistress; the man’s slightest wish
must be obeyed. The last piece was about to begin, for, at that time,
small theatres gave only three pieces. One of the actors had made the
Gymnase the fashion, and that evening Perlet (the actor in question)
was to play in a vaudeville called _Le Comedien d’Etampes_, in which he
filled four different parts.

When the curtain rose, the stranger stretched out his hand over the
crowded house. Castanier’s cry of terror died away, for the walls of his
throat seemed glued together as Melmoth pointed to the stage, and the
cashier knew that the play had been changed at the Englishman’s desire.

He saw the strong-room at the bank; he saw the Baron de Nucingen in
conference with a police-officer from the Prefecture, who was informing
him of Castanier’s conduct, explaining that the cashier had absconded
with money taken from the safe, giving the history of the forged
signature. The information was put in writing; the document signed and
duly despatched to the Public Prosecutor.

“Are we in time, do you think?” asked Nucingen.

“Yes,” said the agent of police; “he is at the Gymnase, and has no
suspicion of anything.”

Castanier fidgeted on his chair, and made as if he would leave the
theatre, but Melmoth’s hand lay on his shoulder, and he was obliged to
sit and watch; the hideous power of the man produced an effect like that
of nightmare, and he could not move a limb. Nay, the man himself was the
nightmare; his presence weighed heavily on his victim like a poisoned
atmosphere. When the wretched cashier turned to implore the Englishman’s
mercy, he met those blazing eyes that discharged electric currents,
which pierced through him and transfixed him like darts of steel.

“What have I done to you?” he said, in his prostrate helplessness, and
he breathed hard like a stag at the water’s edge. “What do you want of

“Look!” cried Melmoth.

Castanier looked at the stage. The scene had been changed. The play
seemed to be over, and Castanier beheld himself stepping from the
carriage with Aquilina; but as he entered the courtyard of the house on
the Rue Richer, the scene again was suddenly changed, and he saw his
own house. Jenny was chatting by the fire in her mistress’ room with a
subaltern officer of a line regiment then stationed at Paris.

“He is going, is he?” said the sergeant, who seemed to belong to
a family in easy circumstances; “I can be happy at my ease! I love
Aquilina too well to allow her to belong to that old toad! I, myself, am
going to marry Mme. de la Garde!” cried the sergeant.

“Old toad!” Castanier murmured piteously.

“Here come the master and mistress; hide yourself! Stay, get in here
Monsieur Leon,” said Jenny. “The master won’t stay here for very long.”

Castanier watched the sergeant hide himself among Aquilina’s gowns
in her dressing-room. Almost immediately he himself appeared upon the
scene, and took leave of his mistress, who made fun of him in “asides”
 to Jenny, while she uttered the sweetest and tenderest words in his
ears. She wept with one side of her face, and laughed with the other.
The audience called for an encore.

“Accursed creature!” cried Castanier from his box.

Aquilina was laughing till the tears came into her eyes.

“Goodness!” she cried, “how funny Perlet is as the Englishwoman!... Why
don’t you laugh? Every one else in the house is laughing. Laugh, dear!”
 she said to Castanier.

Melmoth burst out laughing, and the unhappy cashier shuddered. The
Englishman’s laughter wrung his heart and tortured his brain; it was as
if a surgeon had bored his skull with a red-hot iron.

“Laughing! are they laughing!” stammered Castanier.

He did not see the prim English lady whom Perlet was acting with such
ludicrous effect, nor hear the English-French that had filled the house
with roars of laughter; instead of all this, he beheld himself hurrying
from the Rue Richer, hailing a cab on the Boulevard, bargaining with
the man to take him to Versailles. Then once more the scene changed. He
recognized the sorry inn at the corner of the Rue de l’Orangerie and the
Rue des Recollets, which was kept by his old quartermaster. It was two
o’clock in the morning, the most perfect stillness prevailed, no one was
there to watch his movements. The post-horses were put into the carriage
(it came from a house in the Avenue de Paris in which an Englishman
lived, and had been ordered in the foreigner’s name to avoid raising
suspicion). Castanier saw that he had his bills and his passports,
stepped into the carriage, and set out. But at the barrier he saw two
gendarmes lying in wait for the carriage. A cry of horror burst from him
but Melmoth gave him a glance, and again the sound died in his throat.

“Keep your eyes on the stage, and be quiet!” said the Englishman.

In another moment Castanier saw himself flung into prison at the
Conciergerie; and in the fifth act of the drama, entitled _The Cashier_,
he saw himself, in three months’ time, condemned to twenty years of
penal servitude. Again a cry broke from him. He was exposed upon the
Place du Palais-de-Justice, and the executioner branded him with a
red-hot iron. Then came the last scene of all; among some sixty convicts
in the prison yard of the Bicetre, he was awaiting his turn to have the
irons riveted on his limbs.

“Dear me! I cannot laugh any more!...” said Aquilina. “You are very
solemn, dear boy; what can be the matter? The gentleman has gone.”

“A word with you, Castanier,” said Melmoth when the piece was at an end,
and the attendant was fastening Mme. de la Garde’s cloak.

The corridor was crowded, and escape impossible.

“Very well, what is it?”

“No human power can hinder you from taking Aquilina home, and going next
to Versailles, there to be arrested.”

“How so?”

“Because you are in a hand that will never relax its grasp,” returned
the Englishman.

Castanier longed for the power to utter some word that should blot him
out from among living men and hide him in the lowest depths of hell.

“Suppose that the Devil were to make a bid for your soul, would you not
give it to him now in exchange for the power of God? One single word,
and those five hundred thousand francs shall be back in the Baron de
Nucingen’s safe; then you can tear up the letter of credit, and all
traces of your crime will be obliterated. Moreover, you would have gold
in torrents. You hardly believe in anything perhaps? Well, if all this
comes to pass, you will believe at least in the Devil.”

“If it were only possible!” said Castanier joyfully.

“The man who can do it all gives you his word that it is possible,”
 answered the Englishman.

Melmoth, Castanier, and Mme. de la Garde were standing out in the
Boulevard when Melmoth raised his arm. A drizzling rain was falling,
the streets were muddy, the air was close, there was thick darkness
overhead; but in a moment, as the arm was outstretched, Paris was filled
with sunlight; it was high noon on a bright July day. The trees were
covered with leaves; a double stream of joyous holiday makers strolled
beneath them. Sellers of liquorice water shouted their cool drinks.
Splendid carriages rolled past along the streets. A cry of terror broke
from the cashier, and at that cry rain and darkness once more settled
down upon the Boulevard.

Mme. de la Garde had stepped into the carriage. “Do be quick, dear!”
 she cried; “either come in or stay out. Really you are as dull as
ditch-water this evening----”

“What must I do?” Castanier asked of Melmoth.

“Would you like to take my place?” inquired the Englishman.


“Very well, then; I will be at your house in a few moments.”

“By the by, Castanier, you are rather off your balance,” Aquilina
remarked. “There is some mischief brewing: you were quite melancholy and
thoughtful all through the play. Do you want anything that I can give
you, dear? Tell me.”

“I am waiting till we are at home to know whether you love me.”

“You need not wait till then,” she said, throwing her arms round his
neck. “There!” she said, as she embraced him, passionately to all
appearance, and plied him with the coaxing caresses that are part of the
business of such a life as hers, like stage action for an actress.

“Where is the music?” asked Castanier.

“What next? Only think of your hearing music now!”

“Heavenly music!” he went on. “The sounds seem to come from above.”

“What? You have always refused to give me a box at the Italiens because
you could not abide music, and are you turning music-mad at this time
of day? Mad--that you are! The music is inside your own noddle, old
addle-pate!” she went on, as she took his head in her hands and rocked
it to and fro on her shoulder. “Tell me now, old man; isn’t it the
creaking of the wheels that sings in your ears?”

“Just listen, Naqui! If the angels make music for God Almighty, it must
be such music as this that I am drinking in at every pore, rather
than hearing. I do no know how to tell you about it; it is as sweet as

“Why, of course, they have music in heaven, for the angels in all the
pictures have harps in their hands. He is mad, upon my word!” she
said to herself, as she saw Castanier’s attitude; he looked like an
opium-eater in a blissful trance.

They reached the house. Castanier, absorbed by the thought of all that
he had just heard and seen, knew not whether to believe it or not; he
was like a drunken man, and utterly unable to think connectedly. He
came to himself in Aquilina’s room, whither he had been supported by
the united efforts of his mistress, the porter, and Jenny; for he had
fainted as he stepped from the carriage.

“_He_ will be here directly! Oh, my friends, my friends,” he cried, and
he flung himself despairingly into the depths of a low chair beside the

Jenny heard the bell as he spoke, and admitted the Englishman. She
announced that “a gentleman had come who had made an appointment with
the master,” when Melmoth suddenly appeared, and deep silence followed.
He looked at the porter--the porter went; he looked at Jenny--and Jenny
went likewise.

“Madame,” said Melmoth, turning to Aquilina, “with your permission, we
will conclude a piece of urgent business.”

He took Castanier’s hand, and Castanier rose, and the two men went into
the drawing-room. There was no light in the room, but Melmoth’s eyes
lit up the thickest darkness. The gaze of those strange eyes had left
Aquilina like one spellbound; she was helpless, unable to take any
thought for her lover; moreover, she believed him to be safe in
Jenny’s room, whereas their early return had taken the waiting-woman by
surprise, and she had hidden the officer in the dressing-room. It had
all happened exactly as in the drama that Melmoth had displayed for his
victim. Presently the house-door was slammed violently, and Castanier

“What ails you?” cried the horror-struck Aquilina.

There was a change in the cashier’s appearance. A strange pallor
overspread his once rubicund countenance; it wore the peculiarly
sinister and stony look of the mysterious visitor. The sullen glare of
his eyes was intolerable, the fierce light in them seemed to scorch. The
man who had looked so good-humored and good-natured had suddenly grown
tyrannical and proud. The courtesan thought that Castanier had grown
thinner; there was a terrible majesty in his brow; it was as if a dragon
breathed forth a malignant influence that weighed upon the others like a
close, heavy atmosphere. For a moment Aquilina knew not what to do.

“What has passed between you and that diabolical-looking man in those
few minutes?” she asked at length.

“I have sold my soul to him. I feel it; I am no longer the same. He has
taken my _self_, and given me his soul in exchange.”


“You would not understand it at all.... Ah! he was right,” Castanier
went on, “the fiend was right! I see everything and know all
things.--You have been deceiving me!”

Aquilina turned cold with terror. Castanier lighted a candle and
went into the dressing-room. The unhappy girl followed him with dazed
bewilderment, and great was her astonishment when Castanier drew the
dresses that hung there aside and disclosed the sergeant.

“Come out, my boy,” said the cashier; and, taking Leon by a button of
his overcoat, he drew the officer into his room.

The Piedmontese, haggard and desperate, had flung herself into her
easy-chair. Castanier seated himself on a sofa by the fire, and left
Aquilina’s lover in a standing position.

“You have been in the army,” said Leon; “I am ready to give you

“You are a fool,” said Castanier drily. “I have no occasion to fight.
I could kill you by a look if I had any mind to do it. I will tell you
what it is, youngster; why should I kill you? I can see a red line round
your neck--the guillotine is waiting for you. Yes, you will end in the
Place de Greve. You are the headsman’s property! there is no escape for
you. You belong to a vendita, of the Carbonari. You are plotting against
the Government.”

“You did not tell me that,” cried the Piedmontese, turning to Leon.

“So you do not know that the Minister decided this morning to put down
your Society?” the cashier continued. “The Procureur-General has a list
of your names. You have been betrayed. They are busy drawing up the
indictment at this moment.”

“Then was it you who betrayed him?” cried Aquilina, and with a hoarse
sound in her throat like the growl of a tigress she rose to her feet;
she seemed as if she would tear Castanier in pieces.

“You know me too well to believe it,” Castanier retorted. Aquilina was
benumbed by his coolness.

“Then how do you know it?” she murmured.

“I did not know it until I went into the drawing-room; now I know
it--now I see and know all things, and can do all things.”

The sergeant was overcome with amazement.

“Very well then, save him, save him, dear!” cried the girl, flinging
herself at Castanier’s feet. “If nothing is impossible to you, save him!
I will love you, I will adore you, I will be your slave and not your
mistress. I will obey your wildest whims; you shall do as you will
with me. Yes, yes, I will give you more than love; you shall have a
daughter’s devotion as well as... Rodolphe! why will you not understand!
After all, however violent my passions may be, I shall be yours for
ever! What should I say to persuade you? I will invent pleasures... I...
Great heavens! one moment! whatever you shall ask of me--to fling myself
from the window for instance--you will need to say but one word, ‘Leon!’
and I will plunge down into hell. I would bear any torture, any pain of
body or soul, anything you might inflict upon me!”

Castanier heard her with indifference. For an answer, he indicated Leon
to her with a fiendish laugh.

“The guillotine is waiting for him,” he repeated.

“No, no, no! He shall not leave this house. I will save him!” she cried.
“Yes; I will kill any one who lays a finger upon him! Why will you not
save him?” she shrieked aloud; her eyes were blazing, her hair unbound.
“Can you save him?”

“I can do everything.”

“Why do you not save him?”

“Why?” shouted Castanier, and his voice made the ceiling ring.--“Eh! it
is my revenge! Doing evil is my trade!”

“Die?” said Aquilina; “must he die, my lover? Is it possible?”

She sprang up and snatched a stiletto from a basket that stood on the
chest of drawers and went to Castanier, who now began to laugh.

“You know very well that steel cannot hurt me now----”

Aquilina’s arm suddenly dropped like a snapped harp string.

“Out with you, my good friend,” said the cashier, turning to the
sergeant, “and go about your business.”

He held out his hand; the other felt Castanier’s superior power, and
could not choose but to obey.

“This house is mine; I could send for the commissary of police if I
chose, and give you up as a man who has hidden himself on my premises,
but I would rather let you go; I am a fiend, I am not a spy.”

“I shall follow him!” said Aquilina.

“Then follow him,” returned Castanier.--“Here, Jenny----”

Jenny appeared.

“Tell the porter to hail a cab for them.--Here Naqui,” said Castanier,
drawing a bundle of bank-notes from his pocket; “you shall not go away
like a pauper from a man who loves you still.”

He held out three hundred thousand francs. Aquilina took the notes,
flung them on the floor, spat on them, and trampled upon them in a
frenzy of despair.

“We will leave this house on foot,” she cried, “without a farthing of
your money.--Jenny, stay where you are.”

“Good-evening!” answered the cashier, as he gathered up the notes again.
“I have come back from my journey.--Jenny,” he added, looking at the
bewildered waiting-maid, “you seem to me to be a good sort of girl. You
have no mistress now. Come here. This evening you shall have a master.”

Aquilina, who felt safe nowhere, went at once with the sergeant to the
house of one of her friends. But all Leon’s movements were suspiciously
watched by the police, and after a time he and three of his friends were
arrested. The whole story may be found in the newspapers of that day.

Castanier felt that he had undergone a mental as well as a physical
transformation. The Castanier of old no longer existed--the boy, the
young Lothario, the soldier who had proved his courage, who had been
tricked into a marriage and disillusioned, the cashier, the passionate
lover who had committed a crime for Aquilina’s sake. His inmost nature
had suddenly asserted itself. His brain had expanded, his senses had
developed. His thoughts comprehended the whole world; he saw all the
things of earth as if he had been raised to some high pinnacle above the

Until that evening at the play he had loved Aquilina to distraction.
Rather than give her up he would have shut his eyes to her infidelities;
and now all that blind passion had passed away as a cloud vanishes in
the sunlight.

Jenny was delighted to succeed to her mistress’ position and fortune,
and did the cashier’s will in all things; but Castanier, who could read
the inmost thoughts of the soul, discovered the real motive underlying
this purely physical devotion. He amused himself with her, however,
like a mischievous child who greedily sucks the juice of the cherry and
flings away the stone. The next morning at breakfast time, when she
was fully convinced that she was a lady and the mistress of the house,
Castanier uttered one by one the thoughts that filled her mind as she
drank her coffee.

“Do you know what you are thinking, child?” he said, smiling. “I will
tell you: ‘So all that lovely rosewood furniture that I coveted so much,
and the pretty dresses that I used to try on, are mine now! All on easy
terms that Madame refused, I do no know why. My word! if I might
drive about in a carriage, have jewels and pretty things, a box at the
theatre, and put something by! with me he should lead a life of pleasure
fit to kill him if he were not as strong as a Turk! I never saw such
a man!’--Was not that just what you were thinking,” he went on, and
something in his voice made Jenny turn pale. “Well, yes, child; you
could not stand it, and I am sending you away for your own good; you
would perish in the attempt. Come, let us part good friends,” and he
coolly dismissed her with a very small sum of money.

The first use that Castanier had promised himself that he would make of
the terrible power brought at the price of his eternal happiness, was
the full and complete indulgence of all his tastes.

He first put his affairs in order, readily settled his accounts with
M. de Nucingen, who found a worthy German to succeed him, and then
determined on a carouse worthy of the palmiest days of the Roman Empire.
He plunged into dissipation as recklessly as Belshazzar of old went to
that last feast in Babylon. Like Belshazzar, he saw clearly through his
revels a gleaming hand that traced his doom in letters of flame, not on
the narrow walls of the banqueting-chamber, but over the vast spaces
of heaven that the rainbow spans. His feast was not, indeed, an orgy
confined within the limits of a banquet, for he squandered all the
powers of soul and body in exhausting all the pleasures of earth. The
table was in some sort earth itself, the earth that trembled beneath
his feet. His was the last festival of the reckless spendthrift who has
thrown all prudence to the winds. The devil had given him the key of the
storehouse of human pleasures; he had filled and refilled his hands, and
he was fast nearing the bottom. In a moment he had felt all that that
enormous power could accomplish; in a moment he had exercised it, proved
it, wearied of it. What had hitherto been the sum of human desires
became as nothing. So often it happens that with possession the vast
poetry of desire must end, and the thing possessed is seldom the thing
that we dreamed of.

Beneath Melmoth’s omnipotence lurked this tragical anticlimax of so
many a passion, and now the inanity of human nature was revealed to his
successor, to whom infinite power brought Nothingness as a dowry.

To come to a clear understanding of Castanier’s strange position, it
must be borne in mind how suddenly these revolutions of thought and
feeling had been wrought; how quickly they had succeeded each other;
and of these things it is hard to give any idea to those who have never
broken the prison bonds of time, and space, and distance. His relation
to the world without had been entirely changed with the expansion of his

Like Melmoth himself, Castanier could travel in a few moments over the
fertile plains of India, could soar on the wings of demons above African
desert spaces, or skim the surface of the seas. The same insight that
could read the inmost thoughts of others, could apprehend at a glance
the nature of any material object, just as he caught as it were all
flavors at once upon his tongue. He took his pleasure like a despot;
a blow of the axe felled the tree that he might eat its fruits. The
transitions, the alternations that measure joy and pain, and diversify
human happiness, no longer existed for him. He had so completely glutted
his appetites that pleasure must overpass the limits of pleasure to
tickle a palate cloyed with satiety, and suddenly grown fastidious
beyond all measure, so that ordinary pleasures became distasteful.
Conscious that at will he was the master of all the women that he could
desire, knowing that his power was irresistible, he did not care to
exercise it; they were pliant to his unexpressed wishes, to his most
extravagant caprices, until he felt a horrible thirst for love, and
would have love beyond their power to give.

The world refused him nothing save faith and prayer, the soothing
and consoling love that is not of this world. He was obeyed--it was a
horrible position.

The torrents of pain, and pleasure, and thought that shook his soul and
his bodily frame would have overwhelmed the strongest human being; but
in him there was a power of vitality proportioned to the power of the
sensations that assailed him. He felt within him a vague immensity of
longing that earth could not satisfy. He spent his days on outspread
wings, longing to traverse the luminous fields of space to other
spheres that he knew afar by intuitive perception, a clear and hopeless
knowledge. His soul dried up within him, for he hungered and thirsted
after things that can neither be drunk nor eaten, but for which he could
not choose but crave. His lips, like Melmoth’s, burned with desire; he
panted for the unknown, for he knew all things.

The mechanism and the scheme of the world was apparent to him, and its
working interested him no longer; he did not long disguise the profound
scorn that makes of a man of extraordinary powers a sphinx who knows
everything and says nothing, and sees all things with an unmoved
countenance. He felt not the slightest wish to communicate his knowledge
to other men. He was rich with all the wealth of the world, with one
effort he could make the circle of the globe, and riches and power were
meaningless for him. He felt the awful melancholy of omnipotence, a
melancholy which Satan and God relieve by the exercise of infinite power
in mysterious ways known to them alone. Castanier had not, like his
Master, the inextinguishable energy of hate and malice; he felt that he
was a devil, but a devil whose time was not yet come, while Satan is a
devil through all eternity, and being damned beyond redemption, delights
to stir up the world, like a dung heap, with his triple fork and to
thwart therein the designs of God. But Castanier, for his misfortune,
had one hope left.

If in a moment he could move from one pole to the other as a bird
springs restlessly from side to side in its cage, when, like the bird,
he has crossed his prison, he saw the vast immensity of space beyond it.
That vision of the Infinite left him for ever unable to see humanity and
its affairs as other men saw them. The insensate fools who long for the
power of the Devil gauge its desirability from a human standpoint; they
do not see that with the Devil’s power they will likewise assume his
thoughts, and that they will be doomed to remain as men among creatures
who will no longer understand them. The Nero unknown to history who
dreams of setting Paris on fire for his private entertainment, like
an exhibition of a burning house on the boards of a theatre, does not
suspect that if he had the power, Paris would become for him as little
interesting as an ant-heap by the roadside to a hurrying passer-by. The
circle of the sciences was for Castanier something like a logogriph
for a man who does not know the key to it. Kings and Governments were
despicable in his eyes. His great debauch had been in some sort a
deplorable farewell to his life as a man. The earth had grown too
narrow for him, for the infernal gifts laid bare for him the secrets of
creation--he saw the cause and foresaw its end. He was shut out from
all that men call “heaven” in all languages under the sun; he could no
longer think of heaven.

Then he came to understand the look on his predecessor’s face and the
drying up of the life within; then he knew all that was meant by the
baffled hope that gleamed in Melmoth’s eyes; he, too, knew the thirst
that burned those red lips, and the agony of a continual struggle
between two natures grown to giant size. Even yet he might be an angel,
and he knew himself to be a fiend. His was the fate of a sweet and
gentle creature that a wizard’s malice has imprisoned in a mis-shapen
form, entrapping it by a pact, so that another’s will must set it free
from its detested envelope.

As a deception only increases the ardor with which a man of really
great nature explores the infinite of sentiment in a woman’s heart, so
Castanier awoke to find that one idea lay like a weight upon his soul,
an idea which was perhaps the key to loftier spheres. The very fact that
he had bartered away his eternal happiness led him to dwell in thought
upon the future of those who pray and believe. On the morrow of his
debauch, when he entered into the sober possession of his power, this
idea made him feel himself a prisoner; he knew the burden of the woe
that poets, and prophets, and great oracles of faith have set forth for
us in such mighty words; he felt the point of the Flaming Sword plunged
into his side, and hurried in search of Melmoth. What had become of his

The Englishman was living in a mansion in the Rue Ferou, near
Saint-Sulpice--a gloomy, dark, damp, and cold abode. The Rue Ferou
itself is one of the most dismal streets in Paris; it has a north aspect
like all the streets that lie at right angles to the left bank of the
Seine, and the houses are in keeping with the site. As Castanier stood
on the threshold he found that the door itself, like the vaulted roof,
was hung with black; rows of lighted tapers shone brilliantly as though
some king were lying in state; and a priest stood on either side of a
catafalque that had been raised there.

“There is no need to ask why you have come, sir,” the old hall porter
said to Castanier; “you are so like our poor dear master that is gone.
But if you are his brother, you have come too late to bid him good-bye.
The good gentleman died the night before last.”

“How did he die?” Castanier asked of one of the priests.

“Set your mind at rest,” said the old priest; he partly raised as he
spoke the black pall that covered the catafalque.

Castanier, looking at him, saw one of those faces that faith has made
sublime; the soul seemed to shine forth from every line of it, bringing
light and warmth for other men, kindled by the unfailing charity within.
This was Sir John Melmoth’s confessor.

“Your brother made an end that men may envy, and that must rejoice
the angels. Do you know what joy there is in heaven over a sinner
that repents? His tears of penitence, excited by grace, flowed without
ceasing; death alone checked them. The Holy Spirit dwelt in him. His
burning words, full of lively faith, were worthy of the Prophet-King.
If, in the course of my life, I have never heard a more dreadful
confession than from the lips of this Irish gentleman, I have likewise
never heard such fervent and passionate prayers. However great the
measures of his sins may have been, his repentance has filled the abyss
to overflowing. The hand of God was visibly stretched out above him, for
he was completely changed, there was such heavenly beauty in his face.
The hard eyes were softened by tears; the resonant voice that struck
terror into those who heard it took the tender and compassionate tones
of those who themselves have passed through deep humiliation. He so
edified those who heard his words, that some who had felt drawn to see
the spectacle of a Christian’s death fell on their knees as he spoke of
heavenly things, and of the infinite glory of God, and gave thanks and
praise to Him. If he is leaving no worldly wealth to his family, no
family can possess a greater blessing than this that he surely gained
for them, a soul among the blessed, who will watch over you all and
direct you in the path to heaven.”

These words made such a vivid impression upon Castanier that he
instantly hurried from the house to the Church of Saint-Sulpice,
obeying what might be called a decree of fate. Melmoth’s repentance had
stupefied him.

At that time, on certain mornings in the week, a preacher, famed for
his eloquence, was wont to hold conferences, in the course of which
he demonstrated the truths of the Catholic faith for the youth of a
generation proclaimed to be indifferent in matters of belief by another
voice no less eloquent than his own. The conference had been put off to
a later hour on account of Melmoth’s funeral, so Castanier arrived just
as the great preacher was epitomizing the proofs of a future existence
of happiness with all the charm of eloquence and force of expression
which have made him famous. The seeds of divine doctrine fell into
a soil prepared for them in the old dragoon, into whom the Devil had
glided. Indeed, if there is a phenomenon well attested by experience,
is it not the spiritual phenomenon commonly called “the faith of the
peasant”? The strength of belief varies inversely with the amount of
use that a man has made of his reasoning faculties. Simple people and
soldiers belong to the unreasoning class. Those who have marched through
life beneath the banner of instinct are far more ready to receive the
light than minds and hearts overwearied with the world’s sophistries.

Castanier had the southern temperament; he had joined the army as a lad
of sixteen, and had followed the French flag till he was nearly forty
years old. As a common trooper, he had fought day and night, and day
after day, and, as in duty bound, had thought of his horse first, and
of himself afterwards. While he served his military apprenticeship,
therefore, he had but little leisure in which to reflect on the destiny
of man, and when he became an officer he had his men to think of. He had
been swept from battlefield to battlefield, but he had never thought of
what comes after death. A soldier’s life does not demand much thinking.
Those who cannot understand the lofty political ends involved and the
interests of nation and nation; who cannot grasp political schemes as
well as plans of campaign, and combine the science of the tactician with
that of the administrator, are bound to live in a state of ignorance;
the most boorish peasant in the most backward district in France is
scarcely in a worse case. Such men as these bear the brunt of war, yield
passive obedience to the brain that directs them, and strike down
the men opposed to them as the woodcutter fells timber in the forest.
Violent physical exertion is succeeded by times of inertia, when they
repair the waste. They fight and drink, fight and eat, fight and sleep,
that they may the better deal hard blows; the powers of the mind are
not greatly exercised in this turbulent round of existence, and the
character is as simple as heretofore.

When the men who have shown such energy on the battlefield return to
ordinary civilization, most of those who have not risen to high rank
seem to have acquired no ideas, and to have no aptitude, no capacity,
for grasping new ideas. To the utter amazement of a younger generation,
those who made our armies so glorious and so terrible are as simple as
children, and as slow-witted as a clerk at his worst, and the captain of
a thundering squadron is scarcely fit to keep a merchant’s day-book. Old
soldiers of this stamp, therefore being innocent of any attempt to
use their reasoning faculties, act upon their strongest impulses.
Castanier’s crime was one of those matters that raise so many questions,
that, in order to debate about it, a moralist might call for its
“discussion by clauses,” to make use of a parliamentary expression.

Passion had counseled the crime; the cruelly irresistible power of
feminine witchery had driven him to commit it; no man can say of
himself, “I will never do that,” when a siren joins in the combat and
throws her spells over him.

So the word of life fell upon a conscience newly awakened to the truths
of religion which the French Revolution and a soldier’s career had
forced Castanier to neglect. The solemn words, “You will be happy or
miserable for all eternity!” made but the more terrible impression upon
him, because he had exhausted earth and shaken it like a barren tree;
because his desires could effect all things, so that it was enough that
any spot in earth or heaven should be forbidden him, and he forthwith
thought of nothing else. If it were allowable to compare such great
things with social follies, Castanier’s position was not unlike that of
a banker who, finding that his all-powerful millions cannot obtain for
him an entrance into the society of the noblesse, must set his heart
upon entering that circle, and all the social privileges that he has
already acquired are as nothing in his eyes from the moment when he
discovers that a single one is lacking.

Here is a man more powerful than all the kings on earth put together; a
man who, like Satan, could wrestle with God Himself; leaning against
one of the pillars in the Church of Saint-Sulpice, weighed down by the
feelings and thoughts that oppressed him, and absorbed in the thought of
a Future, the same thought that had engulfed Melmoth.

“He was very happy, was Melmoth!” cried Castanier. “He died in the
certain knowledge that he would go to heaven.”

In a moment the greatest possible change had been wrought in the
cashier’s ideas. For several days he had been a devil, now he was
nothing but a man; an image of the fallen Adam, of the sacred tradition
embodied in all cosmogonies. But while he had thus shrunk he retained
a germ of greatness, he had been steeped in the Infinite. The power of
hell had revealed the divine power. He thirsted for heaven as he had
never thirsted after the pleasures of earth, that are so soon exhausted.
The enjoyments which the fiend promises are but the enjoyments of earth
on a larger scale, but to the joys of heaven there is no limit. He
believed in God, and the spell that gave him the treasures of the world
was as nothing to him now; the treasures themselves seemed to him as
contemptible as pebbles to an admirer of diamonds; they were but gewgaws
compared with the eternal glories of the other life. A curse lay, he
thought, on all things that came to him from this source. He sounded
dark depths of painful thought as he listened to the service performed
for Melmoth. The _Dies irae_ filled him with awe; he felt all the
grandeur of that cry of a repentant soul trembling before the Throne of
God. The Holy Spirit, like a devouring flame, passed through him as fire
consumes straw.

The tears were falling from his eyes when--“Are you a relation of the
dead?” the beadle asked him.

“I am his heir,” Castanier answered.

“Give something for the expenses of the services!” cried the man.

“No,” said the cashier. (The Devil’s money should not go to the Church.)

“For the poor!”


“For repairing the Church!”


“The Lady Chapel!”


“For the schools!”


Castanier went, not caring to expose himself to the sour looks that the
irritated functionaries gave him.

Outside, in the street, he looked up at the Church of Saint-Sulpice.
“What made people build the giant cathedrals I have seen in every
country?” he asked himself. “The feeling shared so widely throughout all
time must surely be based upon something.”

“Something! Do you call God _something_?” cried his conscience. “God!
God! God!...”

The word was echoed and re-echoed by an inner voice, til it overwhelmed
him; but his feeling of terror subsided as he heard sweet distant sounds
of music that he had caught faintly before. They were singing in the
church, he thought, and his eyes scanned the great doorway. But as he
listened more closely, the sounds poured upon him from all sides; he
looked round the square, but there was no sign of any musicians. The
melody brought visions of a distant heaven and far-off gleams of hope;
but it also quickened the remorse that had set the lost soul in a
ferment. He went on his way through Paris, walking as men walk who
are crushed beneath the burden of their sorrow, seeing everything
with unseeing eyes, loitering like an idler, stopping without cause,
muttering to himself, careless of the traffic, making no effort to avoid
a blow from a plank of timber.

Imperceptibly repentance brought him under the influence of the divine
grace that soothes while it bruises the heart so terribly. His face came
to wear a look of Melmoth, something great, with a trace of madness in
the greatness--a look of dull and hopeless distress, mingled with the
excited eagerness of hope, and, beneath it all, a gnawing sense of
loathing for all that the world can give. The humblest of prayers lurked
in the eyes that saw with such dreadful clearness. His power was the
measure of his anguish. His body was bowed down by the fearful storm
that shook his soul, as the tall pines bend before the blast. Like his
predecessor, he could not refuse to bear the burden of life; he
was afraid to die while he bore the yoke of hell. The torment grew

At last, one morning, he bethought himself how that Melmoth (now among
the blessed) had made the proposal of an exchange, and how that he had
accepted it; others, doubtless, would follow his example; for in an age
proclaimed, by the inheritors of the eloquence of the Fathers of the
Church, to be fatally indifferent to religion, it should be easy to find
a man who would accept the conditions of the contract in order to prove
its advantages.

“There is one place where you can learn what kings will fetch in the
market; where nations are weighed in the balance and systems appraised;
where the value of a government is stated in terms of the five-franc
piece; where ideas and beliefs have their price, and everything is
discounted; where God Himself, in a manner, borrows on the security of
His revenue of souls, for the Pope has a running account there. Is it
not there that I should go to traffic in souls?”

Castanier went quite joyously on ‘Change, thinking that it would be as
easy to buy a soul as to invest money in the Funds. Any ordinary person
would have feared ridicule, but Castanier knew by experience that
a desperate man takes everything seriously. A prisoner lying under
sentence of death would listen to the madman who should tell him that
by pronouncing some gibberish he could escape through the keyhole; for
suffering is credulous, and clings to an idea until it fails, as the
swimmer borne along by the current clings to the branch that snaps in
his hand.

Towards four o’clock that afternoon Castanier appeared among the little
knots of men who were transacting private business after ‘Change. He was
personally known to some of the brokers; and while affecting to be in
search of an acquaintance, he managed to pick up the current gossip and
rumors of failure.

“Catch me negotiating bills for Claparon & Co., my boy. The bank
collector went round to return their acceptances to them this morning,”
 said a fat banker in his outspoken way. “If you have any of their paper,
look out.”

Claparon was in the building, in deep consultation with a man well known
for the ruinous rate at which he lent money. Castanier went forthwith in
search of the said Claparon, a merchant who had a reputation for taking
heavy risks that meant wealth or utter ruin. The money-lender walked
away as Castanier came up. A gesture betrayed the speculator’s despair.

“Well, Claparon, the Bank wants a hundred thousand francs of you, and it
is four o’clock; the thing is known, and it is too late to arrange your
little failure comfortably,” said Castanier.


“Speak lower,” the cashier went on. “How if I were to propose a piece of
business that would bring you in as much money as you require?”

“It would not discharge my liabilities; every business that I ever heard
of wants a little time to simmer in.”

“I know of something that will set you straight in a moment,” answered
Castanier; “but first you would have to----”

“Do what?”

“Sell your share of paradise. It is a matter of business like anything
else, isn’t it? We all hold shares in the great Speculation of

“I tell you this,” said Claparon angrily, “that I am just the man to
lend you a slap in the face. When a man is in trouble, it is no time to
pay silly jokes on him.”

“I am talking seriously,” said Castanier, and he drew a bundle of notes
from his pocket.

“In the first place,” said Claparon, “I am not going to sell my soul
to the Devil for a trifle. I want five hundred thousand francs before I

“Who talks of stinting you?” asked Castanier, cutting him short. “You
shall have more gold than you could stow in the cellars of the Bank of

He held out a handful of notes. That decided Claparon.

“Done,” he cried; “but how is the bargain to be make?”

“Let us go over yonder, no one is standing there,” said Castanier,
pointing to a corner of the court.

Claparon and his tempter exchanged a few words, with their faces turned
to the wall. None of the onlookers guessed the nature of this by-play,
though their curiosity was keenly excited by the strange gestures of
the two contracting parties. When Castanier returned, there was a sudden
outburst of amazed exclamation. As in the Assembly where the least event
immediately attracts attention, all faces were turned to the two men who
had caused the sensation, and a shiver passed through all beholders at
the change that had taken place in them.

The men who form the moving crowd that fills the Stock Exchange are soon
known to each other by sight. They watch each other like players round
a card-table. Some shrewd observers can tell how a man will play and
the condition of his exchequer from a survey of his face; and the Stock
Exchange is simply a vast card-table. Every one, therefore, had noticed
Claparon and Castanier. The latter (like the Irishman before him) had
been muscular and powerful, his eyes were full of light, his color high.
The dignity and power in his face had struck awe into them all; they
wondered how old Castanier had come by it; and now they beheld Castanier
divested of his power, shrunken, wrinkled, aged, and feeble. He had
drawn Claparon out of the crowd with the energy of a sick man in a
fever fit; he had looked like an opium-eater during the brief period of
excitement that the drug can give; now, on his return, he seemed to be
in the condition of utter exhaustion in which the patient dies after
the fever departs, or to be suffering from the horrible prostration
that follows on excessive indulgence in the delights of narcotics. The
infernal power that had upheld him through his debauches had left him,
and the body was left unaided and alone to endure the agony of remorse
and the heavy burden of sincere repentance. Claparon’s troubles every
one could guess; but Claparon reappeared, on the other hand, with
sparkling eyes, holding his head high with the pride of Lucifer. The
crisis had passed from the one man to the other.

“Now you can drop off with an easy mind, old man,” said Claparon to

“For pity’s sake, send for a cab and for a priest; send for the curate
of Saint-Sulpice!” answered the old dragoon, sinking down upon the

The words “a priest” reached the ears of several people, and produced
uproarious jeering among the stockbrokers, for faith with these
gentlemen means a belief that a scrap of paper called a mortgage
represents an estate, and the List of Fundholders is their Bible.

“Shall I have time to repent?” said Castanier to himself, in a piteous
voice, that impressed Claparon.

A cab carried away the dying man; the speculator went to the bank at
once to meet his bills; and the momentary sensation produced upon the
throng of business men by the sudden change on the two faces, vanished
like the furrow cut by a ship’s keel in the sea. News of the greatest
importance kept the attention of the world of commerce on the alert; and
when commercial interests are at stake, Moses might appear with his two
luminous horns, and his coming would scarcely receive the honors of
a pun, the gentlemen whose business it is to write the Market Reports
would ignore his existence.

When Claparon had made his payments, fear seized upon him. There was
no mistake about his power. He went on ‘Change again, and offered his
bargain to other men in embarrassed circumstances. The Devil’s bond,
“together with the rights, easements, and privileges appertaining
thereunto,”--to use the expression of the notary who succeeded Claparon,
changed hands for the sum of seven hundred thousand francs. The notary
in his turn parted with the agreement with the Devil for five hundred
thousand francs to a building contractor in difficulties, who likewise
was rid of it to an iron merchant in consideration of a hundred thousand
crowns. In fact, by five o’clock people had ceased to believe in the
strange contract, and purchasers were lacking for want of confidence.

At half-past five the holder of the bond was a house-painter, who was
lounging by the door of the building in the Rue Feydeau, where at that
time stockbrokers temporarily congregated. The house-painter, simple
fellow, could not think what was the matter with him. He “felt all
anyhow”; so he told his wife when he went home.

The Rue Feydeau, as idlers about town are aware, is a place of
pilgrimage for youths who for lack of a mistress bestow their ardent
affection upon the whole sex. On the first floor of the most rigidly
respectable domicile therein dwelt one of those exquisite creatures
whom it has pleased heaven to endow with the rarest and most surpassing
beauty. As it is impossible that they should all be duchesses or queens
(since there are many more pretty women in the world than titles and
thrones for them to adorn), they are content to make a stockbroker or a
banker happy at a fixed price. To this good-natured beauty, Euphrasia
by name, an unbounded ambition had led a notary’s clerk to aspire. In
short, the second clerk in the office of Maitre Crottat, notary, had
fallen in love with her, as youth at two-and-twenty can fall in love.
The scrivener would have murdered the Pope and run amuck through the
whole sacred college to procure the miserable sum of a hundred louis to
pay for a shawl which had turned Euphrasia’s head, at which price her
waiting-woman had promised that Euphrasia should be his. The infatuated
youth walked to and fro under Madame Euphrasia’s windows, like the
polar bears in their cage at the Jardin des Plantes, with his right hand
thrust beneath his waistcoat in the region of the heart, which he was
fit to tear from his bosom, but as yet he had only wrenched at the
elastic of his braces.

“What can one do to raise ten thousand francs?” he asked himself. “Shall
I make off with the money that I must pay on the registration of that
conveyance? Good heavens! my loan would not ruin the purchaser, a man
with seven millions! And then next day I would fling myself at his feet
and say, ‘I have taken ten thousand francs belonging to you, sir; I am
twenty-two years of age, and I am in love with Euphrasia--that is my
story. My father is rich, he will pay you back; do not ruin me! Have
not you yourself been twenty-two years old and madly in love?’ But these
beggarly landowners have no souls! He would be quite likely to give me
up to the public prosecutor, instead of taking pity upon me. Good God!
if it were only possible to sell your soul to the Devil! But there is
neither a God nor a Devil; it is all nonsense out of nursery tales and
old wives’ talk. What shall I do?”

“If you have a mind to sell your soul to the Devil, sir,” said the
house-painter, who had overheard something that the clerk let fall, “you
can have the ten thousand francs.”

“And Euphrasia!” cried the clerk, as he struck a bargain with the devil
that inhabited the house-painter.

The pact concluded, the frantic clerk went to find the shawl, and
mounted Madame Euphrasia’s staircase; and as (literally) the devil was
in him, he did not come down for twelve days, drowning the thought
of hell and of his privileges in twelve days of love and riot and
forgetfulness, for which he had bartered away all his hopes of a
paradise to come.

And in this way the secret of the vast power discovered and acquired by
the Irishman, the offspring of Maturin’s brain, was lost to mankind;
and the various Orientalists, Mystics, and Archaeologists who take an
interest in these matters were unable to hand down to posterity the
proper method of invoking the Devil, for the following sufficient

On the thirteenth day after these frenzied nuptials the wretched
clerk lay on a pallet bed in a garret in his master’s house in the Rue
Saint-Honore. Shame, the stupid goddess who dares not behold herself,
had taken possession of the young man. He had fallen ill; he would nurse
himself; misjudged the quantity of a remedy devised by the skill of
a practitioner well known on the walls of Paris, and succumbed to the
effects of an overdose of mercury. His corpse was as black as a mole’s
back. A devil had left unmistakable traces of its passage there; could
it have been Ashtaroth?

“The estimable youth to whom you refer has been carried away to the
planet Mercury,” said the head clerk to a German demonologist who came
to investigate the matter at first hand.

“I am quite prepared to believe it,” answered the Teuton.


“Yes, sir,” returned the other. “The opinion you advance coincides with
the very words of Jacob Boehme. In the forty-eighth proposition of _The
Threefold Life of Man_ he says that ‘if God hath brought all things
to pass with a LET THERE BE, the FIAT is the secret matrix which
comprehends and apprehends the nature which is formed by the spirit born
of Mercury and of God.’”

“What do you say, sir?”

The German delivered his quotation afresh.

“We do not know it,” said the clerks.

“_Fiat_?...” said a clerk. “_Fiat lux_!”

“You can verify the citation for yourselves,” said the German. “You will
find the passage in the _Treatise of the Threefold Life of Man_, page
75; the edition was published by M. Migneret in 1809. It was translated
into French by a philosopher who had a great admiration for the famous

“Oh! he was a shoemaker, was he?” said the head clerk.

“In Prussia,” said the German.

“Did he work for the King of Prussia?” inquired a Boeotian of a second

“He must have vamped up his prose,” said a third.

“That man is colossal!” cried the fourth, pointing to the Teuton.

That gentleman, though a demonologist of the first rank, did not know
the amount of devilry to be found in a notary’s clerk. He went away
without the least idea that they were making game of him, and fully
under the impression that the young fellows regarded Boehme as a
colossal genius.

“Education is making strides in France,” said he to himself.

PARIS, May 6, 1835.


The following personages appear in other stories of the Human Comedy.

       The Magic Skin

     Claparon, Charles
       A Bachelor’s Establishment
       Cesar Birotteau
       The Firm of Nucingen
       A Man of Business
       The Middle Classes

       The Magic Skin

     Nucingen, Baronne Delphine de
       Father Goriot
       The Thirteen
       Eugenie Grandet
       Cesar Birotteau
       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

     Tillet, Ferdinand du
       Cesar Birotteau
       The Firm of Nucingen
       The Middle Classes
       A Bachelor’s Establishment
       A Distinguished Provencial at Paris
       The Secrets of a Princess
       A Daughter of Eve
       The Member for Arcis
       Cousin Betty
       The Unconscious Humorists

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