Fiction > Harvard Classics > Honoré de Balzac > Old Goriot > Paras. 200–299
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Honoré de Balzac (1799–1850).  Old Goriot.
The Harvard Classics Shelf of Fiction.  1917.
  
Paras. 200–299
  
  “Mme. de Restaud.” 200
  “Look at the old wretch,” said Mme. Vauquer, speaking to Vautrin; “how his eyes light up!” 201
  “Then does he really keep her?” said Mlle. Michonneau, in a whisper to the student. 202
  “Oh! yes, she was tremendously pretty,” Eugène answered. Old Goriot watched him with eager eyes. “If Mme. de Beauséant had not been there, my divine countess would have been the queen of the ball; none of the younger men had eyes for anyone else. I was the twelfth on her list, and she danced every quadrille. The other women were furious. She must have enjoyed herself, if ever creature did! It is a true saying that there is no more beautiful sight than a frigate in full sail, a galloping horse, or a woman dancing.” 203
  “So the wheel turns,” said Vautrin; “yesterday night at a duchess’s ball, this morning in a money-lender’s office, on the lowest rung of the ladder—just like a Parisienne! If their husbands cannot afford to pay for their frantic extravagance, they will sell themselves. Or if they cannot do that, they will tear out their mothers’ hearts to find something to pay for their splendor. They will turn the world upside down. Just a Parisienne through and through!” 204
  Old Goriot’s face, which had shone at the student’s words like the sun on a bright day, clouded over all at once at this cruel speech of Vautrin’s. 205
  “Well,” said Mme. Vauquer, “but where is your adventure? Did you speak to her? Did you ask her if she wanted to study law?” 206
  “She did not see me,” said Eugène. “But only think of meeting one of the prettiest women in Paris in the Rue des Grès at nine o’clock! She could not have reached home after the ball till two o’clock this morning. Wasn’t it queer? There is no place like Paris for these sort of adventures.” 207
  “Pshaw! much funnier things than that happen here!” exclaimed Vautrin. 208
  Mlle. Taillefer had scarcely heeded the talk, she was so absorbed by the thought of the new attempt that she was about to make. Mme. Couture made a sign that it was time to go upstairs and dress; the two ladies went out, and old Goriot followed their example. 209
  “Well, did you see?” said Mme. Vauquer, addressing Vautrin and the rest of the circle. “He is ruining himself for those women, that is plain.” 210
  “Nothing will ever make me believe that that beautiful Comtesse de Restaud is anything to old Goriot,” cried the student. 211
  “Well, and if you don’t,” broke in Vautrin, “we are not set on convincing you. You are too young to know Paris thoroughly yet; later on you will find out that there are what we call men with a passion——” 212
  Mlle. Michonneau gave Vautrin a quick glance at these words. They seemed to be like the sound of a trumpet to a trooper’s horse. “Aha!” said Vautrin, stopping in his speech to give her a searching glance, “so we have had our little experiences, have we?” 213
  The old maid lowered her eyes like a nun who sees a statue. 214
  “Well,” he went on, “when folks of that kind get a notion into their heads, they cannot drop it. They must drink the water from some particular spring—it is stagnant as often as not; but they will sell their wives and families, they will sell their own souls to the devil to get it. For some this spring is play, or the stock exchange, or music, or a collection of pictures or insects; for others it is some woman who can give them the dainties they like. You might offer these last all the woman on earth—they would turn up their noses; they will have the only one who can gratify their passion. It often happens that the woman does not care for them at all, and treats them cruelly; they buy their morsels of satisfaction very dear; but no matter, the fools are never tired of it; they will take their last blanket to the pawnbroker’s to give their last five-franc piece to her. Old Goriot here is one of that sort. He is discreet, so the Countess exploits him—just the way of the gay world. The poor old fellow thinks of her and of nothing else. In all other respects you see he is a stupid animal; but get him on that subject, and his eyes sparkle like diamonds. That secret is not difficult to guess. He took some plate himself this morning to the melting-pot, and I saw him at Daddy Gobseck’s in the Rue des Grès. And now, mark what follows—he came back here, and gave a letter for the Comtesse de Restaud to that noodle of a Christophe, who showed us the address; there was a receipted bill inside it. It is clear that it was an urgent matter if the Countess also went herself to the old money-lender. Old Goriot has financed her handsomely. There is no need to tack a tale together; the thing is self-evident. So that shows you, sir student, that all the time your Countess was smiling, dancing, flirting, swaying her peach-flower crowned head, with her gown gathered into her hand, her slippers were pinching her, as they say; she was thinking of her protested bills, or her lover’s protested bills.” 215
  “You have made me wild to know the truth,” cried Eugène; “I will go to call on Mme. de Restaud to-morrow.” 216
  “Yes,” echoed Poiret; “you must go and call on Mme. de Restaud.” 217
  “And perhaps you will find old Goriot there, who will take payment for the assistance he politely rendered.” 218
  Eugène looked disgusted. “Why, then, this Paris of yours is a slough.” 219
  “And an uncommonly queer slough, too,” replied Vautrin. “The mud splashes you as you drive through it in your carriage—you are a respectable person; you go afoot and are splashed—you are a scoundrel. You are so unlucky as to walk off with something or other belonging to somebody else, and they exhibit you as a curiosity in the Place du Palais-de-Justice; you steal a million, and you are pointed out in every salon as a model of virtue. And you pay thirty millions for the police and the courts of justice, for the maintenance of law and order! A pretty state of things it is!” 220
  “What,” cried Mme. Vauquer, “has old Goriot really melted down his silver posset-dish?” 221
  “There were two turtle-doves on the lid, were there not?” asked Eugène. 222
  “Yes, that there were.” 223
  “Then, was he fond of it?” said Eugène. “He cried while he was breaking up the cup and plate. I happened to see him by accident.” 224
  “It was dear to him as his own life,” answered the widow. 225
  “There! you see how infatuated the old fellow is!” cried Vautrin. “The woman yonder can coax the soul out of him.” 226
  The student went up to his room. Vautrin went out, and a few minutes later Mme. Couture and Victorine drove away in a cub which Sylvie had called for them. Poiret gave his arm to Mlle. Michonneau, and they went together to spend the two sunniest hours of the day in the Jardin des Plantes. 227
  “Well, those two are as good as married,” was the portly Sylvie’s comment. “They are going out together to-day for the first time. They are such a couple of dry sticks that if they happen to strike against each other they will draw sparks like flint and steel.” 228
  “Keep clear of Mlle. Michonneau’s shawl, then,” said Mme. Vauquer, laughing; “it would flare up like tinder.” 229
  
  At four o’clock that evening, when Goriot came in, he saw, by the light of two smoky lamps, that Victorine’s eyes were red. Mme. Vauquer was listening to the history of the visit made that morning to M. Taillefer; it had been made in vain. Taillefer was tired of the annual application made by his daughter and her elderly friend; he gave them a personal interview in order to arrive at an understanding with him. 230
  “My dear lady,” said Mme. Couture, addressing Mme. Vauquer, “just imagine it; he did not even ask Victorine to sit down, she was standing the whole time. He said to me quite coolly, without putting himself in a passion, that we might spare ourselves the trouble of going there; that the young lady (he would not call her his daughter) was injuring her cause by importuning him (importuning! once a year, the wretch!); that as Victorine’s mother had nothing when he married her, Victorine ought not to expect anything from him; in fact, he said the most cruel things, that made the poor child burst out crying. The little thing threw herself at her father’s feet and spoke up bravely; she said that she only persevered in her visits for her mother’s sake; that she would obey him without a murmur, but that she begged him to read her poor dead mother’s farewell letter. She took it up and gave it to him, saying the most beautiful things in the world, most beautifully expressed; I do not know where she learned them; God must have put them into her head, for the poor child was inspired to speak so nicely that it made me cry like a fool to hear her talk. And what do you think the monster was doing all the time? Cutting his nails! He took the letter that poor Mme. Taillefer had soaked with tears, and flung it on to the chimney-piece. ‘That is all right,’ he said. He held out his hands to raise his daughter, but she covered them with kisses, and he drew them away again. Scandalous, isn’t it? And his great booby of a son came in and took no notice of his sister.” 231
  “What inhuman wretches they must be!” said old Goriot. 232
  “And then they both went out of the room,” Mme. Couture went on, without heeding the worthy vermicelli maker’s exclamation; “father and son bowed to me, and asked me to excuse them on account of urgent business! That is the history of our call. Well, he has seen his daughter at any rate. How he can refuse to acknowledge her I cannot think, for they are as like as two peas.” 233
  The boarders dropped in one after another, interchanging greetings and the empty jokes that certain classes of Parisians regard as humorous and witty. Dullness is their prevailing ingredient, and the whole point consists in mispronouncing a word or in a gesture. This kind of argot is always changing. The essence of the jest consists in some catchword suggested by a political event, an incident in the police courts, a street song, or a bit of burlesque at some theater, and forgotten in a month. Anything and everything serves to keep up a game of battledore and shuttlecock with words and ideas. The diorama, a recent invention, which carried an optical illusion a degree further than panoramas, had given rise to a mania among art students for ending every word with rama. The Maison Vauquer had caught the infection from a young artist among the boarders. 234
  “Well, Monsieur-r-r Poiret,” said the employé from the Muséum, “how is your health-orama?” Then, without waiting for an answer, he turned to Mme. Couture and Victorine with a “Ladies, you seem melancholy.” 235
  “Is dinner ready?” cried Horace Bianchon, a medical student, and a friend of Rastignac’s; “my stomach is sinking usque ad talones.” 236
  “There is an uncommon frozerama outside!” said Vautrin. “Make room there, Father Goriot! Confound it! your foot covers the whole front of the stove.” 237
  “Illustrious M. Vautrin,” put in Bianchon, “why do you say frozerama? is right by the same rule that you say ‘My feet are froze.’” 238
  “Ah! ah!” 239
  “Here is his Excellency the Marquis de Rastignac, Doctor of the Law of Contraries,” cried Bianchon, seizing Eugène by the throat, and almost throttling him. 240
  “Hallo there! hallo!” 241
  Mlle. Michonneau came noiselessly in, bowed to the rest of the party, and took her place beside the three women without saying a word. 242
  “That old bat always makes me shudder,” said Bianchon in a low voice, indicating Mlle. Michonneau to Vautrin. “I have studied Gall’s system, and I am sure she has the bump of Judas.” 243
  “Then you have seen a case before?” said Vautrin. 244
  “Who has not?” answered Bianchon. “Upon my word, that ghastly old maid looks just like one of the long worms that will gnaw a beam through, give them time enough.” 245
  “That is the way, young man,” returned he of the forty years and the dyed whiskers—
        “The rose has lived the life of a rose—
  A morning’s space.”
 246
  “Aha! here is a magnificent soupe-au-rama,” cried Poiret as Christophe came in bearing the soup with cautious heed. 247
  “I beg your pardon, sir,” said Mme. Vauquer; “it is soupe aux choux.” 248
  All the young men roared with laughter. 249
  “Had you there, Poiret!” 250
  “Poir-r-r-rette! she had you there!” 251
  “Score two points to Mamma Vauquer,” said Vautrin. 252
  “Did anyone notice the fog this morning?” asked the official. 253
  “It was a frantic fog,” said Bianchon, “a fog unparalleled, doleful, melancholy, sea-green, asthmatical—a Goriot of a fog!” 254
  “A Goriorama,” said the art student, “because you couldn’t see a thing in it.” 255
  “Hey! Milord Gâôriotte, they air talking about yoo-o-ou!” 256
  Old Goriot, seated at the lower end of the table, close to the door through which the servant entered, raised his face; he had smelt at a scrap of bread that lay under his table napkin, an old trick acquired in his commercial capacity, that still showed itself at times. 257
  “Well,” Mme. Vauquer cried in sharp tones, that rang above the rattle of spoons and plates and the sound of other voices; “and is there anything the matter with the bread?” 258
  “Nothing whatever, Madame,” he answered; “on the contrary, it is made of the best quality of corn; flour from Étampes.” 259
  “How could you tell?” asked Eugène. 260
  “By the color, by the flavor.” 261
  “You knew the flavor by the smell, I suppose,” said Mme. Vauquer. “You have grown so economical, you will find out how t live on the smell of cooking at last.” 262
  “Take out a patent for it then,” cried the Muséum official; “you would make a handsome fortune.” 263
  “Never mind him,” said the artist; “he does that sort of thing to delude us into thinking that he was a vermicelli maker.” 264
  “Your nose is corn sampler, it appears?” inquired the official. 265
  “Corn what?” asked Bianchon. 266
  “Corn-el.” 267
  “Corn-et.” 268
  “Corn-elian.” 269
  “Corn-ice.” 270
  “Corn-ucopia.” 271
  “Corn-crake.” 272
  “Corn-cockle.” 273
  “Corn-orama.” 274
  The eight responses came like a rolling fire from every Part of the room, and the laughter that followed was the more uproarious because poor old Goriot stared at the others with a puzzled look, like a foreigner trying to catch the meaning of words in a language that he does not understand. 275
  “Corn?…” he said, turning to Vautrin, his next neighbor. 276
  “Corn on your foot, old man!” said Vautrin, and he drove old Goriot’s cap down over his eyes by a blow on the crown. 277
  The poor old man thus suddenly attacked was for a moment too bewildered to do anything. Christophe carried off his plate, thinking that he had finished his soup, so that when Goriot had pushed back his cap from his eyes his spoon encountered the table. Everyone burst out laughing. “You are a disagreeable joker, sir,” said the old man, “and if you take any further liberties with me——” 278
  “Well, what then, old boy?” Vautrin interrupted. 279
  “Well, then, you shall pay dearly for it some day——” 280
  “Down below, eh?” said the artist, “in the little dark corner where they put naughtly boys.”  281
  “Well, Mademoiselle,” Vautrin said, turning to Victorine, “you are eating nothing. So papa was refractory, was he?” 282
  “A monster!” said Mme. Couture. 283
  “Mademoiselle might make application for aliment pending her suit; she is not eating anything. Eh! eh! just see how old Goriot is staring at Mlle. Victorine!” 284
  The old man had forgotten his dinner, he was so absorbed in gazing at the poor girl; the sorrow in her face was unmistakable,—the slighted love of a child whose father would not recognize her. 285
  “We are mistaken about old Goriot, my dear boy,” said Eugène in a low voice. “He is not an idiot, nor wanting in energy. Try your Gall system on him, and let me know what you think. I saw him crush a silver dish last night as if it had been made of wax; there seems to be something extraordinary going on in his mind just now, to judge by his face. His life is so mysterious that it must be worth studying. Oh! you may laugh, Bianchon; I am not joking.” 286
  “The man is a subject, is he?” said Bianchon; “all right! I will dissect him, if he will give me a chance.” 287
  “No; feel his bumps.” 288
  “Hm!—his stupidity might perhaps be contagious.” 289
  
  The next day Rastignac dressed himself very elegantly, and about three o’clock in the afternoon went to call on Mme. de Restaud. On the way thither he indulged in the wild intoxicating dreams which fill a young head so full of delicious excitement. Young men at his age take no account of obstacles nor of dangers; they see success in every direction; imagination has free play, and turns their lives into a romance; they are saddened or discouraged by the collapse of one of the wild visionary schemes that have no existence save in their heated fancy. If youth were not ignorant and timid, civilization would be impossible. 290
  Eugène took unheard-of pains to keep himself in a spotless condition, but on his way through the streets he began to think about Mme. de Restaud and what he should say to her. He equipped himself with wit, rehearsed repartees in the course of an imaginary conversation, and prepared certain neat speeches à la Talleyrand, conjuring up a series of small events which should prepare the way for the declaration on which he had based his future; and during these musings the law student was bespattered with mud, and by the time he reached the Palais Royal he was obliged to have his boots blacked and his trousers brushed. 291
  “If I were rich,” he said, as he changed the five-franc piece he had brought with him in case anything might happen, “I would take a cab, then I could think at my ease.” 292
  At last he reached the Rue du Helder, and asked for the Comtesse de Restaud. He bore the contemptuous glances of the servants, who had seen him cross the court on foot, with the cold fury of a man who knows that he will succeed some day. He understood the meaning of their glances at once, for he had felt his inferiority as soon as he entered the court, where a smart cab was waiting. All the delights of life in Paris seemed to be implied by this visible and manifest sign of luxury and extravagance. A fine horse, in magnificent harness, was pawing the ground, and all at once the law student felt out of humor with himself. Every compartment in his brain which he had thought to find so full of wit was bolted fast; he grew positively stupid. He sent up his name to the Countess, and waited in the antechamber, standing on one foot before a window that looked out upon the court; mechanically he leant his elbow against the sash, and stared before him. The time seemed long; he would have left the house but for the southern tenacity of purpose which works miracles when it is single-minded. 293
  “Madame is in her boudoir, and cannot see anyone at present, sir,” said the servant. “She gave me no answer; but if you will go into the dining-room, there is someone already there.” 294
  Rastignac was impressed with a sense of the formidable power of the lackey who can accuse or condemn his masters by a word; he coolly opened the door by which the man had just entered the ante-chamber, meaning, no doubt, to show these insolent flunkeys that he was familiar with the house; but he found that he had thoughtlessly precipitated himself into a small room full of dressers, where lamps were standing, and hot-water pipes, on which towels were being dried; a dark passage and a back staircase lay beyond it. Stifled laughter from the ante-chamber added to his confusion. 295
  “This way to the drawing-room, sir,” said the servant, with the exaggerated respect which seemed to be one more jest at his expense. 296
  Eugène turned so quickly that he stumbled against a bath. By good luck, he managed to keep his hat on his head, and saved it from immersion in the water; but just as he turned, a door opened at the further end of the dark passage, dimly lighted by a small lamp. Rastignac heard voices and the sound of a kiss; one of the speakers was Mme. de Restaud, the other was old Goriot. Eugène followed the servant through the dining-room into the drawing-room; he went to a window that looked out into the courtyard, and stood there for a while. He meant to know whether this Goriot was really the Goriot that he knew. His heart beat unwontedly fast; he remembered Vautrin’s hideous insinuations. A well-dressed young man suddenly emerged from the room almost as Eugène entered it, saying impatiently to the servant who stood at the door: “I am going, Maurice. Tell Mme. la Comtesse that I waited more than half an hour for her.” 297
  Whereupon this insolent being, who, doubtless, had a right to be insolent, sang an Italian trill, and went towards the window where Eugène was standing, moved thereto quite as much by a desire to see the student’s face as by a wish to look out into the courtyard. 298
  “But M. le Comte had better wait a moment longer; Madame is disengaged,” said Maurice, as he returned to the ante-chamber. 299

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