Home  »  Old Goriot  »  Paras. 700–799

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

Paras. 700–799

“Dear child!” he said. “Yes, yes, she is very fond of me. But you must not believe all that she tells you about Anastasie. The two sisters are jealous of each other, you see, another proof of their affection. Mme. de Restaud is very fond of me too. I know she is. A father sees his children as God sees all of us; he looks into the very depths of their hearts; he knows their intentions; and both of them are so loving. Oh! if I only had good sons-in-law, I should be too happy, and I dare say there is no perfect happiness here below. If I might live with them—simply hear their voices, know that they are there, see them go and come as I used to do at home when they were still with me; why, my heart bounds at the thought… Were they nicely dressed?”

“Yes,” said Eugène. “But, M. Goriot, how is it that your daughters have such fine houses, while you live in such a den as this?”

“Dear me, why should I want anything better?” he replied, with seeming carelessness. “I can’t quite explain to you how it is; I am not used to stringing words together properly, but it all lies there——” he said, tapping his heart. “My real life is in my two girls, you see; and so long as they are happy and smartly dressed, and have soft carpets under their feet, what does it matter what clothes I wear or where I lie down of a night? I shall never feel cold so long as they are warm; I shall never feel dull if they are laughing. I have no troubles but theirs. When you, too, are a father, and you hear your children’s little voices, you will say to yourself, ‘That has all come from me.’ You will feel that those little ones are akin to every drop in your veins, that they are the very flower of your life (and what else are they?); you will cleave so closely to them that you seem to feel every movement that they make. Everywhere I hear their voices sounding in my ears. If they are sad, the look in their eyes freezes my blood. Some day you will find out that there is far more happiness in another’s happiness than in your own. It is something that I cannot explain, something within that sends a glow of warmth all through you. In short, I live my life three times over. Shall I tell you something funny? Well, then, since I have been a father, I have come to understand God. He is everywhere in the world, because the whole world comes from Him. And it is just the same with my children, Monsieur. Only, I love my daughters better than God loves the world, for the world is not so beautiful as God Himself is, but my children are more beautiful than I am. Their lives are so bound up with mine that I felt somehow that you would see them this evening. Great Heavens! If any man would make my little Delphine as happy as a wife is when she is loved, I would black his boots and run on his errands. That miserable M. de Marsay is a cur; I know all about him from her maid. A longing to wring his neck comes over me now and then. He does not love her! does not love a pearl of a woman, with a voice like a nightingale and shaped like a model. Where can her eyes have been when she married that great lump of an Alsatian? They ought both of them to have married young men, good-looking and good-tempered—but, after all, they had their own way.”

Father Goriot was sublime. Eugène had never yet seen his face light up as it did now with the passionate fervor of a father’s love. It is worthy of remark that strong feeling has a very subtle and pervasive power; the roughest nature, in the endeavor to express a deep and sincere affection, communicates to others the influence that has put resonance into the voice and eloquence into every gesture, wrought a change in the very features of the speaker; for under the inspiration of passion the stupidest human being attains to the highest eloquence of ideas, if not of language, and seems to move in some sphere of light. In the old man’s tones and gesture there was something just then of the same spell that a great actor exerts over his audience. But does not the poet in us find expression in our affections?

“Well,” said Eugène, “perhaps you will not be sorry to hear that she is pretty sure to break with de Marsay before long. That sprig of fashion has left her for the Princesse Galathionne. For my own part, I fell in love with Mme. Delphine this evening.”

“Stuff!” said old Goriot.

“I did indeed, and she did not regard me with aversion. For a whole hour we talked of love, and I am to go to call on her on Saturday, the day after to-morrow.”

“Oh! how I should love you, if she should like you. You are kind-hearted; you would never make her miserable. If you were to forsake her, I would cut your throat at once. A woman does not love twice, you see! Good Heavens! what nonsense I am talking, M. Eugène! It is cold; you ought not to stay here. Mon Dieu! so you have heard her speak? What message did she give you for me?”

“None at all,” said Eugène to himself; aloud he answered, “She told me to tell you that your daughter sends you a good kiss.”

“Good-night, neighbor! Sleep well, and pleasant dreams to you! I have mine already made for me by that message from her. May God grant you all your desires! You have come in like a good angel on me to-night, and brought with you the air that my daughter breathes.”

“Poor old fellow!” said Eugène as he lay down. “It is enough to melt a heart of stone. His daughter no more thought of him than of the Grand Turk.”

Ever after this conference Goriot looked upon his neighbor as a friend, a confidant such as he had never hoped to find; and there was established between the two the only relationship that could attach this old man to another man. The passions never miscalculate. Old Goriot felt that this friendship brought him closer to his daughter Delphine; he thought that he should find a warmer welcome for himself if the Baroness should care for Eugène. Moreover, he had confided one of his troubles to the younger man. Mme. de Nucingen, for whose happiness he prayed a thousand times daily, had never known the joys of love. Eugène was certainly (to make use of his own expression) one of the nicest young men that he had ever seen, and some prophetic instinct seemed to tell him that Eugène was to give her the happiness which had not been hers. These were the beginnings of a friendship that grew up between the old man and his neighbor; but for this friendship the catastrophe of the drama must have remained a mystery.

The affection with which old Goriot regarded Eugène, by whom he seated himself at breakfast, the change in Goriot’s face, which, as a rule, looked as expressionless as a plaster cast, and a few words that passed between the two, surprised the other lodgers. Vautrin, who saw Eugène for the first time since their interview, seemed as if he would fain read the student’s very soul. During the night Eugène had had some time in which lay scan the vast field which lay before him; and now, as he remembered yesterday’s proposal, the thought of Mlle. Taillefer’s dowry came, of course, to his mind, and he could not help thinking of Victorine as the most exemplary youth may think of an heiress. It chanced that their eyes met. The poor girl did not fail to see that Eugène looked very handsome in his new clothes. So much was said in the glance thus exchanged, that Eugène could not doubt but that he was associated in her mind with the vague hopes but that lie dormant in a girl’s heart and gather round the first attractive newcomer. “Eight hundred thousand francs!” a voice cried in his ears, but suddenly he took refuge in the memories of yesterday evening, thinking that his extemporized passion for Mme. de Nucingen was a talisman that would preserve him from this temptation.

“They gave Rossini’s Barber of Seville at the Italiens yesterday evening,” he remarked. “I never heard such delicious music. Good gracious! how lucky people are to have a box at the Italiens!”

Old Goriot drank in every word that Eugène let fall, and watched him as a dog watches his master’s slightest movement.

“You men are like fighting cocks,” said Mme. Vauquer; “you do what you like.”

“How did you get back?” inquired Vautrin.

“I walked,” answered Eugène.

“For my own part,” remarked the tempter, “I do not care about doing things by halves. If I want to enjoy myself that way, I should prefer to go in my carriage, sit in my own box, and to the thing comfortably. Everything or nothing; that is my motto.”

“And a good one, too,” commented Mme. Vauquer.

“Perhaps you will see Mme. de Nucingen to-day,” said Eugène, addressing Goriot in an undertone. “She will welcome you with open arms, I am sure; she would want to ask you for all sorts of little details about me. I have found out that she would do anything in the world to be known by my cousin Mme. de Beauséant; don’t forget to tell her that I love her too well not to think of trying to arrange this.”

Rastignac went at once to the École de Droit. He had no mind to stay a moment longer than was necessary in that odious house. He wasted his time that day; he had fallen a victim to that fever of the brain that accompanies the too vivid hopes of youth. Vautrin’s arguments had set him meditating on social life, and he was deep in these reflections when he happened on his friend Bianchon in the Jardin du Luxembourg.

“What makes you look so solemn?” said the medical student, putting an arm through Eugène’s they went towards the Palais.

“I’m tormented by temptations.”

“What kind? There is a cure for temptation.”


“Yielding to it.”

“You laugh, but you don’t know what it is all about. Have you read Rousseau?”


“Do you remember that he asks the reader somewhere what he would do if he could make a fortune by killing an old mandarin somewhere in China by mere force of wishing it, and without stirring from Paris?”


“Well, then?”

“Pshaw! I am at my thirty-third mandarin.”

“Seriously, though. Look here, suppose you were sure that you could do it, and had only to give a nod. Would you do it?”

“Is he well stricken in years, this mandarin of yours? Pshaw! after all, young or old, paralytic, or well and sound, my word for it.… Well, then. Hang it, no!”

“You are a good fellow, Bianchon. But suppose you loved a woman well enough to lose your soul in hell for her, and that she wanted money, lots of money for dresses and a carriage, and all her whims, in fact?”

“Why, here you are taking away my reason, and want me to reason!”

“Well, then, Bianchon, I am mad; bring me to my senses. I have two sisters as beautiful and innocent as angels, and I want them to be happy. How am I to find two hundred thousand francs apiece for them in the next five years? Now and then in life, you see, you must play for heavy stakes, and it is no use wasting your luck on low play.”

“But you are only stating the problem that lies before everyone at the outset of his life, and you want to cut the Gordian knot with a sword. If that is the way of it, dear boy, you must be an Alexander, or to the hulks you go. For my own part, I am quite contented with the little lot I mean to make for myself somewhere in the country, when I mean to step into my father’s shoes and plod along. A man’s affections are just as fully satisfied by the smallest circle as they can be by a vast circumference. Napoleon himself could only dine once, and he could not have more mistresses than a house student at the Capucins. Happiness, old man, depends on what lies between the sole of your foot and the crown of your head; and whether it costs a million or a hundred louis, the actual amount of pleasure that you receive rests entirely with you, and is just exactly the same in any case. I am for letting that Chinaman live.”

“Thank you, Bianchon; you have done me good. We will always be friends.”

“I say,” remarked the medical student, as they came to the end of a broad walk in the Jardin des Plantes, “I saw the Michonneau and Poiret a few minutes ago on a bench chatting with a gentleman whom I used to see in last year’s troubles hanging about the Chamber of Deputies; he seems to me, in fact, to be a detective dressed up like a decent retired tradesman. Let us keep an eye on that couple; I will tell you why some time. Good-bye; it is nearly four o’clock, and I must be in to answer to my name.”

When Eugène reached the lodging-house, he found old Goriot waiting for him.

“Here!” cried the old man, “here is a letter from her. Pretty handwriting, eh?”

Eugène broke the seal and read—

  • “SIR,—I have heard from my father that you are fond of Italian music. I shall be delighted if you will do me the pleasure of accepting a seat in my box. La Fodor and Pellegrini will sing on Saturday, so I am sure that you will not refuse me. M. de Nucingen and I shall be pleased if you will dine with us; we shall be quite by ourselves. If you will come and be my escort, my husband will be glad to be relieved from his conjugal duties. Do not answer, but simply come.—Yours sincerely,
  • “D. DE N.”
  • “Let me see it,” said old Goriot, when Eugène had read the letter. “You are going, aren’t you?” he added, when he had smelt the writing-paper. “How nice it smells! Her fingers have touched it, that is certain.”

    “A woman does not fling herself at a man’s head in this way,” the student was thinking. “She wants to use me to bring back de Marsay; nothing but pique makes a woman do a thing like this.”

    “Well,” said old Goriot, “what are you thinking about?”

    Eugène did not know the fever of vanity that possessed some women in those days; how should he imagine that to open a door in the Faubourg Saint-Germain a banker’s wife would go to almost any length? For the coterie of the Faubourg Saint-Germain was a charmed circle, and the women who moved in it were at that time the queens of society; and among the greatest of these Dames du Petit-Château as they were called, were Mme. de Beauséant and her friends the Duchesse de Langeais and the Duchesse de Maufrigneuse. Rastignac was alone in his ignorance of the frantic efforts made by women who lived in the Chaussée-d’Antin to enter this seventh heaven and shine among the brightest constellations of their sex. But his cautious disposition stood him in good stead, and kept his judgment cool, and the not altogether enviable power of imposing instead of accepting conditions.

    “Yes, I am going,” he replied.

    So it was curiosity that drew him to Mme. de Nucingen; while, if she had treated him disdainfully, passion perhaps might have brought him to her feet. Still he waited almost impatiently for to-morrow, and the hour when he could go to her. There is almost as much charm for a young man in a first flirtation as there is in first love. The certainty of success is a source of happiness to which men do not confess, and all the charm of certain women lies in this. The desire of conquest springs no less from the easiness than from the difficulty of triumph, and every passion is excited or sustained by one or other of these two motives which divide the empire of love. Perhaps this division is one result of the great question of temperaments; which, after all, dominates social life. The melancholic temperament may stand in need of the tonic of coquetry, while those of nervous or sanguine complexion withdraw if they meet with a too stubborn resistance. In other words, the lymphatic temperament is essentially despondent, and the rhapsodic is bilious.

    Eugène lingered over his toilet with an enjoyment of all its little details that is grateful to a young man’s self-love, though he will not own to it for fear of being laughed at. He thought, as he arranged his hair, that a pretty woman’s glances would wander through the dark curls. He indulged in childish tricks like any young girl dressing for a dance, and gazed complacently at his graceful figure while he smoothed out the creases of his coat.

    “There are worse figures, that is certain,” he said to himself.

    Then he went downstairs, just as the rest of the household were sitting down to dinner, and took with good humor the boisterous applause excited by his elegant appearance. The amazement with which any attention to dress is regarded in a lodging-house is a very characteristic trait. No one can put on a new coat but everyone else must say his say about it.

    “Clk! clk! clk!” cried Bianchon, making the sound with his tongue against the roof of his mouth, like a driver urging on a horse.

    “He holds himself like a duke and a peer of France,” said Mme. Vauquer.

    “Are you going a-courting?” inquired Mlle. Michonneau.

    “Cock-a-doodle-doo!” cried the artist.

    “My compliments to my lady your wife,” from the employé at the Muséum.

    “Your wife; have you a wife?” asked Poiret.

    “Yes, in compartments, water-tight and floats, guaranteed fast color, all prices from twenty-five to forty sous, neat check patterns in the latest fashion and best taste, will wash, half-linen, half-cotton, half-wool; a certain cure for toothache and other complaints under the patronage of the Royal College of Physicians! children like it! a remedy for headache, indigestion, and all other diseases affecting the throat, eyes, and ears!” cried Vautrin, with a comical imitation of the volubility of a quack at a fair. “And how much shall we say for this marvel, gentlemen? Twopence? No. Nothing of the sort. All that is left is stock after supplying the Great Mogul. All the crowned heads of Europe, including the Gr-r-r-rand Duke of Baden, have been anxious to get a sight of it. Walk up! walk up! gentlemen! Pay at the desk as you go in! Strike up the music there! Brooum, la, la, trinn! la, la, boum! boum! Mister Clarinette, there you are out of tune!” he added gruffly; “I will rap your knuckles for you!”

    “Goodness! what an amusing man!” said Mme. Vauquer to Mme. Couture; “I should never feel dull with him in the house.”

    This burlesque of Vautrin’s was the signal for an outburst of merriment, and under cover of jokes and laughter Eugène caught a glance from Mlle. Taillefer; she had leaned over to say a few words in Mme. Couture’s ear.

    “The cab is at the door,” announced Sylvie.

    “But where is he going to dine?” asked Bianchon.

    “With Madame la Baronne de Nucingen.”

    “M. Goriot’s daughter,” said the law student.

    At this, all eyes turned to the old vermicelli maker; he was gazing at Eugène with something like envy in his eyes.

    Rastignac reached the house in the Rue Saint-Lazare, one of those many-windowed houses with a mean-looking portico and slender columns, which are considered the thing in Paris; a typical banker’s house, decorated in the most ostentatious fashion; the walls lined with stucco, the landings of marble mosaic. Mme. de Nucingen was sitting in a little drawing-room; the room was painted in the Italian fashion, and decorated like a restaurant. The Baroness seemed depressed. The effort that she made to hide her feelings aroused Eugène’s interest; it was plain that she was not playing a part. He had expected a little flutter of excitement at his coming, and he found her dispirited and sad. The disappointment piqued his vanity.

    “My claim to your confidence is very small, Madame,” he said, after rallying her on her abstracted mood; “but if I am in the way, please tell me so frankly; I count on your good faith.”

    “No, stay with me,” she said; “I shall be all alone if you go. Nucingen is dining in town, and I do not want to be alone; I want to be taken out of myself.”

    “But what is the matter?”

    “You are the very last person whom I should tell,” she exclaimed.

    “Then I am connected in some way with this secret. I wonder what it is.”

    “Perhaps. Yet, no,” she went on; “it is a domestic quarrel, which ought to be buried in the depths of the heart. I am very unhappy; did I not tell you so the day before yesterday? Golden chains are the heaviest of all fetters.”

    When a woman tells a young man that she is very unhappy, and when the young man is clever, and well dressed, and has fifteen hundred francs lying idle in his pocket, he is sure to think as Eugène said, and he becomes a coxcomb.

    “What can you have left to wish for?” he answered. “You are young, beautiful, beloved, and rich.”

    “Do not let us talk of my affairs,” she said, shaking her head mournfully. “We will dine together tête-à-tête, and afterwards we will go to hear the most exquisite music. Am I to your taste?” she went on, rising and displaying her gown of white cashmere, covered with Persian designs in the most superb taste.

    “I wish that you were altogether mine,” said Eugène; “you are charming.”

    “You would have a forlorn piece of property,” she said, smiling bitterly. “There is nothing about me that betrays my wretchedness; and yet, in spite of appearances, I am in despair. I cannot sleep; my troubles have broken my night’s rest; I shall grow ugly.”

    “Oh! that is impossible,” cried the law student; “but I am curious to know what these troubles can be that a devoted love cannot efface.”

    “Ah! if I were to tell you about them, you would shun me,” she said. “Your love for me as yet is only the conventional gallantry that men use to masquerade in; and, if you really loved me, you would be driven to despair. I must keep silence, you see. Let us talk of something else for pity’s sake,” she added. “Let me show you my rooms.”

    “No, let us stay here,” answered Eugène; he sat down on the sofa before the fire, and boldly took Mme. de Nucingen’s hand in his. She surrendered it to him; he even felt the pressure of her fingers in one of the spasmodic clutches that betray terrible agitation.

    “Listen,” said Rastignac; “if you are in trouble, you ought to tell me about it. I want to prove to you that I love you for yourself alone. You must speak to me frankly about your troubles, so that I can put an end to them, even if I have to kill half-a-dozen men; or I shall go, never to return.”

    “Very well,” she cried, putting her hand to her forehead in an agony of despair, “I will put you to the proof, and this very moment. Yes,” she said to herself, “I have no other resource left.”

    She rang the bell.

    “Are the horses put in for the master?” she asked of the servant.

    “Yes, Madame.”

    “I shall take his carriage myself. He can have mine and my horses. Serve dinner at seven o’clock.”

    “Now, come with me,” she said to Eugène, who thought as he sat in the banker’s carriage beside Mme. de Nucingen that he must surely be dreaming.

    “To the Palais-Royal,” she said to the coachman; “stop near the Théâtre-Français.”

    She seemed to be too troubled and excited to answer the innumerable questions that Eugène put to her. He was at a loss what to think of her mute resistance, her obstinate silence.

    “Another moment and she will escape me,” he said to himself.

    When the carriage stopped at last, the Baroness gave the law student a glance that silenced his wild words, for he was almost beside himself.

    “Is it true that you love me?” she asked.

    “Yes,” he answered, and in his manner and tone there was no trace of the uneasiness that he felt.

    “You will not think ill of me, will you, whatever I may ask of you?”


    “Are you ready to do my bidding?”


    “Have you ever been to a gaming-house?” she asked in a tremulous voice.