Home  »  Old Goriot  »  Paras. 1200–1299

Honoré de Balzac (1799–1850). Old Goriot.
The Harvard Classics Shelf of Fiction. 1917.

Paras. 1200–1299

In the twinkling of an eye it was clear that everyone in the room, save Poiret, was of the medical student’s opinion, so that the latter, strong in the support of the majority, went up to that elderly person.

“You are more intimate with Mlle. Michonneau than the rest of us,” he said; “speak to her, make her understand that she must go, and go at once.”

“At once!” echoed Poiret in amazement.

Then he went across to the crouching figure, and spoke a few words in her ear.

“I have paid beforehand for the quarter; I have as much right to be here as anyone else,” she said, with a viperous look at the boarders.

“Never mind that! we will club together and pay you the money back,” said Rastignac.

“Monsieur is taking Collin’s part,” she said, with a questioning, malignant glance at the law student; “it is not difficult to guess why.” Eugène started forward at the words, as if he meant to spring upon her and wring her neck. That glance, and the depths of treachery that it revealed, had been a hideous enlightment.

“Let her alone!” cried the boarders.

Rastignac folded his arms, and was silent.

“Let us have no more of Mlle. Judas,” said the painter, turning to Mme. Vauquer. “If you don’t show the Michonneau to the door, Madame, we shall all leave your shop, and wherever we go we shall say that there are only convicts and spies left there. If you do the other thing, we shall hold our tongues about the business; for when all is said and done, it might happen in the best society until they brand them on the forehead, when they send them to the hulks. They ought not to let convicts go about Paris disguised like decent citizens, so as to carry on their antics like a set of rascally humbugs, which they are.”

At this Mme. Vauquer recovered miraculously. She sat up and folded her arms; her eyes were wide open now, and there was no sign of tears in them.

“Why, do you really mean to be the ruin of my establishment, my dear sir? There is M. Vautrin—— Goodness,” she cried, interrupting herself, “I can’t help calling him by the name he passed himself off by for an honest man! There is one room to let already, and you want me to turn out two more lodgers in the middle of the season, when no one is moving——”

“Gentlemen, let us take our hats and go and dine at Flicoteaux’s in the Place Sorbonne,” cried Bianchon.

Mme. Vauquer glanced round, and saw in a moment on which side her interest lay. She waddled across to Mlle. Michonneau.

“Come now,” she said; “you would not be the ruin of my establishment, would you, eh? There’s a dear, kind soul. You see what a pass these gentlemen have brought me to; just go up to your room for this evening.”

“Never a bit of it!” cried the boarders. “She must go, and go this minute!”

“But the poor lady has had no dinner,” said Poiret, with piteous entreaty.

“She can go and dine where she likes,” shouted several voices.

“Turn her out, the spy!”

“Turn them both out! Spies!”

“Gentlemen,” cried Poiret, his heart swelling with the courage that love gives to the ovine male, “respect the weaker sex.”

“Spies are of no sex,” said the painter.

“A precious sexorama!”

“Turn her into the streetorama!”

“Gentlemen, this is not manners! If you turn people out of the house, it ought not to be done so unceremoniously and with no notice at all. We have paid our money, and we are not going,” said Poiret, putting on his cap, and taking a chair beside Mlle. Michonneau, with whom Mme. Vauquer was remonstrating.

“Naughty boy,” said the painter, with a comical look; “run away, naughty little boy!”

“Look here,” said Bianchon; “if you do not go, all the rest of us will,” and the boarders, to a man, made for the sitting-room door.

“Oh, Mademoiselle, what is to be done?” cried Mme. Vauquer. “I am a ruined woman. You can’t stay here; they will go further, do something violent.”

Mlle. Michonneau rose to her feet.

“She is going!—She is not going!—She is going!—No, she isn’t.”

These alternate exclamations, and a suggestion of hostile intentions, borne out by the behavior of the insurgents, compelled Mlle. Michonneau to take her departure. She made some stipulations, speaking in a low voice in her hostess’s ear, and then—“I shall go to Mme. Buneaud’s,” she said, with a threatening look.

“Go where you please, Mademoiselle,” said Mme. Vauquer, who regarded this choice of an opposition establishment as an atrocious insult. “Go and lodge with the Buneaud; the wine would give the cat the colic, and the food is cheap and nasty.”

The boarders stood aside in two rows to let her pass; not a world was spoken. Poiret looked so wistfully after Mlle. Michonneau, and so artlessly revealed that he was in two minds whether to go or stay, that the boarders, in their joy at being quit of Mlle. Michonneau, burst out laughing at the sight of him.

“Hist!—st!—st! Poiret,” shouted the painter. “Hallo! I say, Poiret, hallo!” The employé from the Muséum began to sing—

  • “Partant pour la Syrie,
  • Le jeune et beau Dunois…”
  • “Get along with you; you must be dying to go, trahit suaquemque voluptas!” said Bianchon.

    “Everyone to his taste—free rendering from Virgil,” said the tutor.

    Mlle. Michonneau made a movement as if to take Poiret’s arm, with an appealing glance that he could not resist. The two went out together, the old maid leaning upon him, and there was a burst of applause, followed by peals of laughter.

    “Bravo, Poiret!”

    “Who would have thought it of old Poiret!”

    “Apollo Poiret!”

    “Mars Poiret!”

    “Intrepid Poiret!”

    A messenger came in at that moment with a letter for Mme. Vauquer, who read it through, and collapsed in her chair.

    “The house might as well be burned down at once,” cried she, “if there are to be any more of these thunderbolts! Young Taillefer died at three o’clock this afternoon. It serves me right for wishing well to those ladies at that poor young man’s expense. Mme. Couture and Victorine want me to send their things, because they are going to live with her father. M. Taillefer allows his daughter to keep old Mme. Couture with her as lady companion. Four rooms to let! and five lodgers gone!…”

    She sat up, and seemed about to burst into tears.

    “Bad luck has come to lodge here, I think,” she cried.

    Once more there came a sound of wheels from the street outside.

    “What! another windfall for somebody!” was Sylvie’s comment.

    But it was Goriot who came in, looking so radiant, so flushed with happiness, that he seemed to have grown young again.

    “Goriot in a cab!” cried the boarders; “the world is coming to an end.”

    The good soul made straight for Eugène, who was standing rapt in thought in a corner, and laid a hand on the young man’s arm.

    “Come,” he said, with gladness in his eyes.

    “Then you haven’t heard the news?” said Eugène. “Vautrin was an escaped convict; they have just arrested him; and young Taillefer is dead.”

    “Very well, but what business is it of ours?” replied old Goriot. “I am going to dine with my daughter in your house, do you understand? She is expecting you. Come!”

    He carried off Rastignac with him by main force, and they departed in as great a hurry as a pair of eloping lovers.

    “Now, let us have dinner,” cried the painter, and everyone drew his chair to the table.

    “Well, I never!” said the portly Sylvie. “Nothing goes right to-day! The haricot mutton has caught! Bah! you will have to eat it, burnt as it is, more’s the pity!”

    Mme. Vauquer was so dispirited that she could not say a word as she looked round the table and saw only ten people where eighteen should be; but everyone tried to comfort and cheer her. At first the dinner contingent, as was natural, talked about Vautrin and the day’s events; but the conversation wound round to such topics of interest as duels, jails, justice, prison life, and alterations that ought to be made in the laws. They soon wandered miles away from Jacques Collin and Victorine and her brother. There might be only ten of them, but they made noise enough for twenty; indeed, there seemed to be more of them than usual; that was the only difference between yesterday and to-day. Indifference to the fate of others is a matter of course in this selfish world, which, on the morrow of a tragedy, seeks among the events of Paris for a fresh sensation for its daily renewed appetite, and this indifference soon gained the upper hand. Mme. Vauquer herself grew calmer under the soothing influence of hope, and the mouthpiece of hope was the portly Sylvie.

    That day had gone by like a dream for Eugène, and the sense of unreality lasted into the evening; so that, in spite of his energetic character and clear-headedness, his ideas were a chaos as he sat beside Goriot in the cab. The old man’s voice was full of unwonted happiness, but Eugène had been shaken by so many emotions that the words sounded in his ears like words spoken in a dream.

    “It was finished this morning! All three of us are going to dine there together! Do you understand? I have not dined with my Delphine, my little Delphine, these four years, and I shall have her for a whole evening! We have been at your lodging the whole time since morning. I have been working like a porter in my shirt-sleeves, helping to carry in the furniture. Aha! you don’t know what pretty ways she has; at table she will look after me, ‘Here, papa, just try this, it is nice.’ And I shall not be able to eat. Oh it is a long while since I have been with her in quiet everyday life as we shall have her.”

    “It really seems as if the world had been turned upside down.”

    “Upside down?” repeated old Goriot. “Why, the world has never been so right-side up. I see none but smiling faces in the streets, people who shake hands cordially and embrace each other, people who all look as happy as if they were going to dine with their daughter, and gobble down a nice little dinner that she went with me to order of the chef at the Café des Anglais. But, pshaw! with her beside you gall and wormwood would be as sweet as honey.”

    “I feel as if I were coming back to life again,” said Eugène.

    “Why, hurry up there!” cried old Goriot, letting down the window in front. “Get on faster; I will give you five francs if you get to the place I told you of in ten minutes’ time.”

    With this prospect before him the cabman crossed Paris with miraculous celerity.

    “How that fellow crawls!” said the old Goriot.

    “But where are you taking me?” Eugène asked him.

    “To your own house,” said Goriot.

    The cab stopped in the Rue d’Artois. Old Goriot stepped out first and flung ten francs to the man with the recklessness of a widower returning to bachelor ways.

    “Come along upstairs,” he said to Rastignac. They crossed a courtyard, and climbed up to the third floor of a new and handsome house. Here they stopped before a door; but before Goriot could ring, it was opened by Thérèse, Mme. du Nucingen’s maid. Eugène found himself in a charming set of chambers; an anteroom, a little drawing-room, a bedroom, and a study, looking out upon a garden. The furniture and the decoration of the little drawing-room were of the most daintily charming description, the room was full of soft light, and Delphine rose up from a low chair by the fire and stood before him. She set her fire-screen down on the chimney-piece, and spoke with tenderness in every tone of her voice.

    “So we had to go in search of you, sir, you who were so slow to understand!”

    Thérèse left the room. The student took Delphine in his arms and held her in a tight clasp, his eyes filled with tears of joy. This last contrast between his present surroundings and the scenes he had just witnessed was too much for Rastignac’s overwrought nerves, after the day’s strain and excitement that had wearied heart and brain; he was almost overcome by it.

    “I felt sure myself that he loved you,” murmured old Goriot, while Eugène lay back bewildered on the sofa utterly unable to speak a word or to reason out how and why the magic wand had been waved to bring about this final transformation scene.

    “But you must see your rooms,” said Mme. de Nucingen. She took his hand and led him into a room carpeted and furnished like her own; indeed, down to the smallest details, it was a reproduction in miniature of Delphine’s apartment.

    “There is no bed,” said Rastignac.

    “No, Monsieur,” she answered, reddening, and pressing his hand. Eugène, looking at her, understood, young though he was, how deeply modesty is implanted in the heart of a woman who loves.

    “You are one of those beings whom we cannot choose but to adore forever,” he said in her ear. “Yes, the deeper and truer love is, the more mysterious and closely veiled it should be; I can dare to say so, since we understand each other so well. No one shall learn our secret.”

    “Oh! so I am nobody, I suppose,” growled the father.

    “You know quite well that ‘we’ means you.”

    “Ah! that is what I wanted. You will not mind me, will you? I shall go and come like a good fairy who makes himself felt everywhere without being seen, shall I not? Eh, Delphinette, Ninette, Dedel—was it not a good idea of mine to say to you, ‘There are some nice rooms to let in the Rue d’Artois; let us furnish them for him’? And she would not hear of it! Ah! your happiness has been all my doing. I am the author of your happiness and of your existence. Fathers must always be giving if they would be happy themselves; always giving—they would not be fathers else.”

    “Was that how it happened?” asked Eugène.

    “Yes. She would not listen to me. She was afraid that people would talk, as if the rubbish that they say about you were to be compared with happiness! Why, all women dream of doing what she has done——”

    Father Goriot found himself without an audience, for Mme. de Nucingen had led Rastignac into the study; he heard a kiss given and taken, low though the sound was.

    The study was furnished as elegantly as the other rooms, and nothing was wanting there.

    “Have we guessed your wishes rightly?” she asked, as they returned to the drawing-room for dinner.

    “Yes,” he said, “only too well, alas! For all this luxury so well carried out, this realization of pleasant dreams, the elegance that satisfies all the romantic fancies of youth, appeals to me so strongly that I cannot but feel that it is my rightful possession; but I cannot accept it from you, and I am too poor as yet to——”

    “Ah! ah! you say me nay already,” she said with arch imperiousness, and a charming little pout of the lips, a woman’s way of laughing away scruples.

    But Eugène had submitted so lately to that solemn self-questioning, and Vautrin’s arrest had so plainly shown him the depths of the pit that lay ready to his feet, that the instincts of generosity and honor had been strengthened in him, and he could not allow himself to be coaxed into abandoning his high-minded determinations. Profound melancholy filled his mind.

    “Do you really mean to refuse?” said Mme. de Nucingen. “And do you know what such a refusal means? That you are not sure of yourself, that you do not dare to bind yourself to me. Are you really afraid of betraying my affection? If you love me, if I—love you, why should you shrink back from such a slight obligation? If you but knew what a pleasure it has been to see after all the arrangements of this bachelor establishment, you would not hesitate any longer, you would ask me to forgive you for your hesitation. I had some money that belonged to you, and I have made good use of it, that is all. You mean this for magnanimity, but it is very little of you. You are asking me for far more than this.…” (“Ah!” she cried, as Eugène’s passionate glance was turned on her), “and you are making difficulties about the merest trifles. Oh, if you feel no love whatever for me, refuse, by all means. My fate hangs on a word from you. Speak!—Father,” she said after a pause, “make him listen to reason. Can he imagine that I am less nice than he is on the point of honor?”

    Old Goriot was looking on and listening to this pretty quarrel with a placid smile, as if he had found some balm for all the sorrows of life.

    “Child that you are!” she cried again, catching Eugène’s hand. “You are just beginning life; you find barriers at the outset that many a man finds insurmountable; a woman’s hand opens the way, and you shrink back! Why, you are sure to succeed! You will have a brilliant future. Success is written on that broad forehead of yours, and will you not be able to repay me my loan of to-day? Did not a lady in olden times arm her knight with sword and helmet and coat of mail, and find him a charger, so that he might fight for her in the tournament? Well, then, Eugène, these things that I offer you are the weapons of this age; everyone who means to be something must have such tools as these. A pretty place your garret must be if it is like papa’s room! See, dinner is waiting all this time. Do you want to make me unhappy?—Why don’t you answer?” she said, shaking his hand. “Mon Dieu! papa, make up his mind for him, or I will go away and never see him any more.”

    “I will make up your mind,” said Goriot, coming down from the clouds. “Now, my dear M. Eugène, the next thing is to borrow money of the Jews, isn’t it?”

    “There is positively no help for it,” said Eugène.

    “All right, I will give you credit,” said the other, drawing out a cheap leather pocket-book, much the worse for wear. “I have turned Jew myself; I paid for everything; here are the invoices. You do not owe a penny for anything here. It did not come to very much—five thousand francs at most, and I am going to lend you the money myself. I am not a woman—you cannot refuse me. You shall give me a receipt on a scrap of paper, and you can return it some time or other.”

    Delphine and Eugène looked at each other in amazement, tears sprang to their eyes. Rastignac held out his hand and grasped Goriot’s warmly.

    “Well, what is all this about? Are you not my children?”

    “Oh my poor father,” said Mme. de Nucingen, “how did you do it?”

    “Ah! now you ask me. When I made up my mind to move him nearer to you, and saw you buying things as if they were wedding presents, I said to myself, ‘She will never be able to pay for them.’ The attorney says that those law proceedings will last quite six months before your husband can be made to disgorge your fortune. Well and good. I sold out my property in the Funds that brought in thirteen hundred and fifty livres a year, and bought a safe annuity of twelve hundred francs a year for fifteen thousand francs. Then I paid your tradesmen out of the rest of the capital. As for me, children, I have a room upstairs for which I pay fifty crowns a year; I can live like a prince on two francs a day, and still have something left over. I shall not have to spend anything much on clothes, for I never wear anything out. This fortnight past I have been laughing in my sleeve, thinking to myself, ‘How happy they are going to be!’ and—well, now, are you not happy?”

    “Oh papa! papa!” cried Mme. de Nucingen, springing to her father, who took her on his knee. She covered him with kisses, her fair hair brushed his cheek, her tears fell on the withered face that had grown so bright and radiant.

    “Dear father, what a father you are! No, there is not another father like you under the sun. If Eugène loved you before, what must he feel for you now?”