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

Paras. 1400–1499

“Since when?”

“If you came yourself, you would know.”

“Don’t tease, Delphine,” said the Countess fretfully. “I am very miserable, I am lost. Oh! my poor father, it is hopeless this time!”

“What is it, Nasie?” cried Goriot. “Tell us all about it, child! How white she is! Quick, do something, Delphine; be kind to her, and I will love you even better, if that were possible.”

“Poor Nasie!” said Mme. de Nucingen, drawing her sister to a chair. “We are the only two people in the world whose love is always sufficient to forgive you everything. Family affection is the surest, you see.”

The Countess inhaled the salts and revived.

“This will kill me!” said their father. “There,” he went on, stirring the smoldering fire, “come nearer, both of you. It is cold. What is it, Nasie? Be quick and tell me, this is enough to——”

“Well, then, my husband knows everything,” said the Countess. “Just imagine it; do you remember, father, that bill of Maxime’s some time ago? Well, that was not the first. I had paid ever so many before that. About the beginning of January M. de Trailles seemed very much troubled. He said nothing to me; but it is so easy to read the hearts of those you love, a mere trifle is enough; and then you feel things instinctively. Indeed, he was more tender and affectionate than ever, and I was happier than I had ever been before. Poor Maxime! in himself he was really saying good-by to me, so he has told me since; he meant to blow his brains out! At last I worried him so, and begged and implored so hard; for two hours I knelt at his knees and prayed and entreated, and at last he told me—that he owed a hundred thousand francs. Oh! papa! a hundred thousand francs! I was beside myself! You had not the money, I knew; I had eaten up all that you had——”

“No,” said Goriot; “I could not have got it for you unless I had stolen it. But I would have done that for you, Nasie! I will do it yet.”

The words came from him like a sob, a hoarse sound like the death rattle of a dying man; it seemed indeed like the agony of death when the father’s love was powerless. There was a pause, and neither of the sisters spoke. It must have been selfishness indeed that could hear unmoved that cry of anguish that, like a pebble thrown over a precipice, revealed the depths of his despair.

“I found the money, father, by selling what was not mine to sell,” and the Countess burst into tears.

Delphine was touched; she laid her head on her sister’s shoulder, and cried too.

“Then it is all true,” she said.

Anastasie bowed her head, Mme. de Nucingen flung her arms about her, kissed her tenderly, and held her sister to her heart.

“I shall always love you and never judge you, Nasie,” she said.

“My angels!” murmured Goriot faintly. “Oh, why should it be trouble that draws you together?”

This warm and palpitating affection seemed to give the Countess courage.

“To save Maxime’s life,” she said, “to save all my own happiness, I went to the money-lender you know of, a man of iron forged in hell-fire; nothing can melt him; I took all the family diamonds that M. de Restaud is so proud of—his and mine too—and sold them to that M. Gosbeck. Sold them! Do you understand? I saved Maxime, but I am lost. Restaud found it all out.”

“How? Who told him? I will kill him,” cried Goriot. “Yesterday he sent to tell me to come to his room. I went… ‘Anastasie,’ he said in a voice—oh! such a voice; that was enough, it told me everything—‘where are your diamonds?’—‘In my room——’—‘No,’ he said, looking straight at me, ‘there they are on that chest of drawers——’ and he lifted his handkerchief and showed me the casket. ‘Do you know where they come from?’ he said. I fell at his feet.… I cried; I besought him to tell me the death he wished to see me die.”

“You said that!” cried Goriot. “By God in heaven, whoever lays a hand on either of you as long as I am alive may reckon on being roasted by slow fires! Yes, I will cut him in pieces like…”

Goriot stopped; the words died away in his threat.

“And then, dear, he asked something worse than death of me. Oh! Heaven preserve all other women from hearing such words as I heard then!”

“I will murder that man,” said Goriot quietly. “But he has only one life, and he deserves to die twice.—And then, what next?” he added, looking at Anastasie.

“Then,” the Countess resumed, “there was a pause, and he looked at me. ‘Anastasie,’ he said, ‘I will bury this in silence; there shall be no separation; there are the children. I will not kill M. de Trailles. I might miss him if we fought, and as for other ways of getting rid of him, I should come into collision with the law. If I killed him in your arms, it would bring dishonor on those children. But if you do not want to see your children perish, nor their father nor me, you must first of all submit to two conditions. Answer me. Have I a child of my own?’ I answered, ‘Yes.’—‘Which?’—‘Ernest, our eldest boy.’—‘Very well,’ he said, and now swear to obey me in this particular from this time forward.’ I swore. ‘You will make over your property to me when I require you to do so.’”

“Do nothing of the kind!” cried Goriot. “Aha! M. de Restaud, you could not make your wife happy; she has looked for happiness and found it elsewhere, and you make her suffer for your own ineptitude? He will have to reckon with me. Make yourself easy, Nasie. Aha! he cares about his heir! Good, very good. I will get hold of the boy; isn’t he my grandson? What the blazes! I can surely go to see the brat! I will stow him away somewhere; I will take care of him, you may be quite easy. I will bring Restaud to terms, the monster! I shall say to him, ‘A word or two with you! If you want your son back again, give my daughter her property, and leave her to do as she pleases.’”


“Yes. I am your father, Nasie, a father indeed! That rogue of a great lord had better not ill-treat my daughter. Tonnerre! What is it in my veins? There is the blood of a tiger in me; I could tear those two men to pieces! Oh! children, children! so this is what your lives are! Why, it is death!… What will become of you when I shall be here no longer? Fathers ought to live as long as their children. Ah! Lord God in heaven! how ill Thy world is ordered! Thou hast a Son, if what they tell us is true, and yet Thou leavest us to suffer so through our children. My darlings, my darlings! to think that trouble only should bring you to me, that I should only see you with tears on your faces! Ah! yes, yes, you love me, I see that you love me. Come to me and pour out your griefs to me; my heart is large enough to hold them all. Oh; you might rend my heart in pieces, and every fragment would make a father’s heart. If only I could bear all your sorrows for you!… Ah! you were so happy when you were little and still with me…”

“We have never been happy since,” said Delphine. “Where are the old days when we slid down the sacks in the great granary?”

“That is not all, father,” said Anastasie in Goriot’s ear. The old man gave a startled shudder. “The diamonds only sold for a hundred thousand francs. Maxime is hard pressed. There are twelve thousand francs still to pay. He has given me his word that he will be steady and give up play in future. His love is all that I have left in the world. I have paid such a fearful price for it that I shall die if I lose him now. I have sacrificed my fortune, my honor, my peace of mind, and my children for him. Oh! do something, so that at the least Maxime may be at large and live undisgraced in the world, where he will assuredly make a career for himself. Something more than my happiness is at stake; the children have nothing, and if he is sent to Sainte-Pélagie all his prospects will be ruined.”

“I haven’t the money, Nasie. I have nothing—nothing left. This is the end of everything. Yes, the world is crumbling into ruin, I am sure. Fly! Save yourselves! Ah!—I have still my silver buckles left, and half a dozen silver spoons and forks, the first I ever had in my life. But I have nothing else except my life annuity, twelve hundred francs…”

“Then what has become of your money in the Funds?”

“I sold out, and only kept a trifle for my wants. I wanted twelve thousand francs to furnish some rooms for Delphine.”

“In your own house?” asked Mme. de Restaud, looking at her sister.

“What does it matter where they were?” asked Goriot. “The money is spent now.”

“I see how it is,” said the Countess. “Rooms for M. de Rastignac. Poor Delphine, take warning by me!”

“M. de Rastignac is incapable of ruining the woman he loves, dear.”

“Thanks! Delphine. I thought you would have been kinder to me in my troubles, but you never did love me.”

“Yes, yes, she loves you, Nasie!” cried Goriot; “she was saying so only just now. We were talking about you, and she insisted that you were beautiful, and that she herself was only pretty!”

“Pretty!” said the Countess. “She is as hard as a marble statue.”

“And if I am?” cried Delphine, flushing up, “how have you treated me? You would not recognize me; you closed the doors of every house against me; you have never let an opportunity of mortifying me slip by. And when did I come, as you were always doing, to drain our poor father, a thousand francs at a time, till he is left as you see him now? That is all your doing, sister! I myself have seen my father as often as I could. I have not turned him out of the house, and then come and fawned upon him when I wanted money. I did not so much as know that he had spent those twelve thousand francs on me. I am economical, as you know; and when papa has made me presents, it has never been because I came and begged for them.”

“You were better off than I. M. de Marsay was rich, as you have reason to know. You always were as slippery as gold. Good-by; I have neither sister nor——”

“Oh! hush, hush! Nasie!” cried her father.

“Nobody else would repeat what everybody has ceased to believe. You are an unnatural sister!” cried Delphine.

“Oh, children, children! hush! hush! or I will kill myself before your eyes.”

“There, Nasie, I forgive you,” said Mme. de Nucingen; “you are very unhappy. But I am kinder than you are. How could you say that just when I was ready to do anything in the world to help you, even to be reconciled with my husband, which for my own sake I—— Oh! it is just like you; you have behaved cruelly to me all through these nine years.”

“Children, children, kiss each other!” cried the father. “You are angels, both of you.”

“No. Let me alone,” cried the Countess, shaking off the hand that her father had laid on her arm. “She is more merciless than my husband. Anyone might think she was a model of all the virtues herself!”

“I would rather have people think that I owed money to M. de Marsay than own that M. de Trailles had cost me more than two hundred thousand francs,” retorted Mme. de Nucingen.

“Delphine!” cried the Countess, stepping towards her sister.

“I shall tell you the truth about yourself if you begin to slander me,” said the Baroness coldly.

“Delphine! you are a——”

Old Goriot sprang between them, grasped the Countess’s hand, and laid his own over her mouth.

“Good Heavens, father! What have you been handling this morning?” said Anastasie.

“Ah, well, yes, I ought not to have touched you,” said the poor father, wiping his hands on his trousers, “but I have been packing up my things; I did not know that you were coming to see me.”

He was glad that he had drawn down her wrath upon himself.

“Ah!” he sighed, as he sat down, “you children have broken my heart between you. This is killing me. My head feels as if it were on fire. Be good to each other and love each other! This will be the death of me! Delphine! Nasie! come, be sensible; you are both in the wrong. Come, Dedel,” he added, looking through his tears at the Baroness, “she must have twelve thousand francs, you see; let us see if we can find them for her. Oh, my girls, do not look at each other like that!” and he sank on his knees beside Delphine. “Ask her to forgive you—just to please me,” he said in her ear. “She is more miserable than you are. Come now, Dedel.”

“Poor Nasie!” said Delphine, alarmed at the wild extravagant grief in her father’s face, “I was in the wrong, kiss me——”

“Ah! that is like balm to my heart,” cried Father Goriot. “But how are we to find twelve thousand francs? I might offer myself as a substitute in the army——”

“Oh! father dear!” they both cried, flinging their arms about him. “No, no!”

“God reward you for the thought. We are not worth it, are we, Nasie?” asked Delphine.

“And besides, father dear, it would only be a drop in the bucket,” observed the Countess.

“But is flesh and blood worth nothing?” cried the old man in his despair. “I would give body and soul to save you, Nasie. I would do a murder for the man who would rescue you. I would do, as Vautrin did, go to the hulks, go——” He stopped as if struck by a thunderbolt, and put both hands to his head. “Nothing left!” he cried, tearing his hair.

“If I only knew of a way to steal money, but it is so hard to do it, and then you can’t set to work by yourself, and it takes time to rob a bank. Yes, it is time I was dead; there is nothing left me to do but to die. I am no good in the world; I am no longer a father! No. She has come to me in her extremity, and, wretch that I am, I have nothing to give her. Ah! you put your money into a life annuity, old scoundrel; and had you not daughters? You did not love them. Die, die in a ditch, like the dog that you are! Yes, I am worse than a dog; a beast would not have done as I have done! Oh! my head… it throbs as if it would burst.”

“Papa!” cried both the young women at once, “do, pray, be reasonable!” and they clung to him to prevent him from dashing his head against the wall. There was a sound of sobbing.

Eugene, greatly alarmed, took the bill that bore Vautrin’s signature, saw that the stamp would suffice for a larger sum, altered the figures, made it into a regular bill for twelve thousand francs, payable to Goriot’s order, and went to his neighbor’s room.

“Here is the money, Madame,” he said, handing the piece of paper to her. “I was asleep; your conversation awoke me, and by this means I learned all that I owed to M. Goriot. This bill can be discounted, and I shall meet it punctually at the due date.”

The Countess stood motionless and speechless, but she held the bill in her fingers.

“Delphine,” she said, with a white face, and her whole frame quivering with indignation, anger, and rage, “I forgave you everything; God is my witness that I forgave you, but I cannot forgive this! So this gentleman was there all the time, and you knew it! Your petty spite has led you to wreak your vengeance on me by betraying my secrets, my life, my children’s lives, my shame, my honor! There, you are nothing to me any longer. I hate you. I will do all that I can to injure you, I will…”

Anger paralyzed her; the words died in her dry parched throat.

“Why, he is my son, my child; he is your brother, your preserver!” cried Goriot. “Kiss his hand, Nasie! Stay, I will embrace him myself,” he said, straining Eugene to his breast in a frenzied clasp. “Oh my boy! I will be more than a father to you; I would be everything in the world to you; if I had God’s power, I would fling worlds at your feet. Why don’t you kiss him, Nasie? He is not a man, but an angel, an angel out of heaven.”

“Never mind her, father; she is mad just now.”

“Mad! am I? And what are you?” cried Mme. de Restaud.

“Children, children, I shall die if you go on like this,” cried the old man, and he staggered and fell on the bed as if a bullet had struck him.—“They are killing me between them,” he said to himself.

The Countess fixed her eyes on Eugène, who stood stockstill; all his faculties were numbed by this violent scene.

“Sir?…” she said, doubt and inquiry in her face, tone, and bearing; she took no notice now of her father nor of Delphine, who was hastily unfastening his waistcoat.

“Madame,” said Eugène, answering the question before it was asked, “I will meet the bill, and keep silence about it.”

“You have killed our father, Nasie!” said Delphine, pointing to Goriot, who lay unconscious on the bed. The Countess fled.

“I freely forgive her,” said the old man, opening his eyes; “her position is horrible; it would turn an older head than hers. Comfort Nasie, and be nice to her, Delphine; promise it to your poor father before he dies,” he asked, holding Delphine’s hands in a convulsive clasp.

“Oh! what ails you, father?” she cried in real alarm.

“Nothing, nothing,” said Goriot; “it will go off. There is something heavy pressing on my forehead, a little headache… Ah! poor Nasie, what a life lies before her!”

Just as he spoke, the Countess came back again and flung herself on her knees before him. “Forgive me!” she cried.

“Come,” said her father, “you are hurting me still more.”

“Monsieur,” the Countess said, turning to Rastignac, “misery made me unjust to you. You will be a brother to me, will you not?” and she held out her hand. Her eyes were full of tears as she spoke.

“Nasie,” cried Delphine, flinging her arms round her sister, “my little Nasie, let us forget and forgive.”

“No, no,” cried Nasie; “I shall never forget!”

“Dear angels,” cried Goriot, “it is as if a dark curtain over my eyes had been raised; your voices have called me back to life. Kiss each other once more. Well, now, Nasie, that bill will save you, won’t it?”

“I hope so. I say, papa, will you write your name on it?”

“There! how stupid of me to forget that! But I am not feeling at all well, Nasie, so you must not remember it against me. Send and let me know as soon as you are out of your strait. No, I will go to you. No, after all, I will not go; I might meet your husband, and I should kill him on the spot. And as for signing away your property, I shall have a word to say about that. Quick, my child, and keep Maxime in order in future.”

Eugène was too bewildered to speak.

“Poor Anastasie, she always had a violent temper,” said Mme. de Nucingen, “but she has a good heart.”

“She came back for the indorsement,” said Eugène in Delphine’s ear.

“Do you think so?”

“I only wish I could think otherwise. Do not trust her,” he answered, raising his eyes as if he confided to Heaven the thoughts that he did not venture to express.

“Yes. She is always acting a part to some extent.”

“How do you feel now, dear Father Goriot?” asked Rastignac.

“I should like to go to sleep,” he replied.

Eugène helped him to bed, and Delphine sat by the bedside, holding his hand until he fell asleep. Then she went.

“This evening at the Italiens,” she said to Eugène, “and you can let me know how he is. To-morrow you will leave this place, Monsieur. Let us go into your room.—Oh, how frightful!” she cried on the threshold. “Why, you are even worse lodged than our father. Eugène, you have behaved well. I would love you more if that were possible; but, dear boy, if you are to succeed in life. you must not begin by flinging twelve thousand francs out of the windows like that. The Comte de Trailles is a confirmed gambler. My sister shuts her eyes to it. He would have made the twelve thousand francs in the same way that he wins and loses heaps of gold.”

A groan from the next room brought them back to Goriot’s bedside; to all appearance he was asleep, but the two lovers caught the words, “They are not happy!” Whether he was awake or sleeping, the tone in which they were spoken went to his daughter’s heart. She stole up to the pallet-bed on which her father lay, and kissed his forehead. He opened his eyes.

“Ah! Delphine!” he said.