Eugénie Grandet/Chapter IV
When the four relations were left alone, Monsieur Grandet said to his nephew,—
"We must go to bed. It is too late to talk about the matters which have brought you here; to-morrow we will take a suitable moment. We breakfast at eight o'clock; at midday we eat a little fruit or a bit of bread, and drink a glass of white wine; and we dine, like the Parisians, at five o'clock. That's the order of the day. If you like to go and see the town and the environs you are free to do so. You will excuse me if my occupations do not permit me to accompany you. You may perhaps hear people say that I am rich,—Monsieur Grandet this, Monsieur Grandet that. I let them talk; their gossip does not hurt my credit. But I have not a penny; I work in my old age like an apprentice whose worldly goods are a bad plane and two good arms. Perhaps you'll soon know yourself what a franc costs when you have got to sweat for it. Nanon, where are the candles?"
"I trust, my nephew, that you will find all you want," said Madame Grandet; "but if you should need anything else, you can call Nanon."
"My dear aunt, I shall need nothing; I have, I believe, brought everything with me. Permit me to bid you good-night, and my young cousin also."
Charles took a lighted wax candle from Nanon's hand,—an Anjou candle, very yellow in color, and so shopworn that it looked like tallow and deceived Monsieur Grandet, who, incapable of suspecting its presence under his roof, did not perceive this magnificence.
"I will show you the way," he said.
Instead of leaving the hall by the door which opened under the archway, Grandet ceremoniously went through the passage which divided the hall from the kitchen. A swing-door, furnished with a large oval pane of glass, shut this passage from the staircase, so as to fend off the cold air which rushed through it. But the north wind whistled none the less keenly in winter, and, in spite of the sand-bags at the bottom of the doors of the living-room, the temperature within could scarcely be kept at a proper height. Nanon went to bolt the outer door; then she closed the hall and let loose a wolf-dog, whose bark was so strangled that he seemed to have laryngitis. This animal, noted for his ferocity, recognized no one but Nanon; the two untutored children of the fields understood each other.
When Charles saw the yellow, smoke-stained walls of the well of the staircase, where each worm-eaten step shook under the heavy foot-fall of his uncle, his expectations began to sober more and more. He fancied himself in a hen-roost. His aunt and cousin, to whom he turned an inquiring look, were so used to the staircase that they did not guess the cause of his amazement, and took the glance for an expression of friendliness, which they answered by a smile that made him desperate.
"Why the devil did my father send me to such a place?" he said to himself.
When they reached the first landing he saw three doors painted in Etruscan red and without casings,—doors sunk in the dusty walls and provided with iron bars, which in fact were bolts, each ending with the pattern of a flame, as did both ends of the long sheath of the lock. The first door at the top of the staircase, which opened into a room directly above the kitchen, was evidently walled up. In fact, the only entrance to that room was through Grandet's bedchamber; the room itself was his office. The single window which lighted it, on the side of the court, was protected by a lattice of strong iron bars. No one, not even Madame Grandet, had permission to enter it. The old man chose to be alone, like an alchemist in his laboratory. There, no doubt, some hiding-place had been ingeniously constructed; there the title-deeds of property were stored; there hung the scales on which to weigh the louis; there were devised, by night and secretly, the estimates, the profits, the receipts, so that business men, finding Grandet prepared at all points, imagined that he got his cue from fairies or demons; there, no doubt, while Nanon's loud snoring shook the rafters, while the wolf-dog watched and yawned in the courtyard, while Madame and Mademoiselle Grandet were quietly sleeping, came the old cooper to cuddle, to con over, to caress and clutch and clasp his gold. The walls were thick, the screens sure. He alone had the key of this laboratory, where—so people declared—he studied the maps on which his fruit-trees were marked, and calculated his profits to a vine, and almost to a twig.
The door of Eugenie's chamber was opposite to the walled-up entrance to this room. At the other end of the landing were the appartements of the married pair, which occupied the whole front of the house. Madame Grandet had a room next to that of Eugenie, which was entered through a glass door. The master's chamber was separated from that of his wife by a partition, and from the mysterious strong-room by a thick wall. Pere Grandet lodged his nephew on the second floor, in the high mansarde attic which was above his own bedroom, so that he might hear him if the young man took it into his head to go and come. When Eugenie and her mother reached the middle of the landing they kissed each other for good-night; then with a few words of adieu to Charles, cold upon the lips, but certainly very warm in the heart of the young girl, they withdrew into their own chambers.
"Here you are in your room, my nephew," said Pere Grandet as he opened the door. "If you need to go out, call Nanon; without her, beware! the dog would eat you up without a word. Sleep well. Good-night. Ha! why, they have made you a fire!" he cried.
At this moment Nanon appeared with the warming pan.
"Here's something more!" said Monsieur Grandet. "Do you take my nephew for a lying-in woman? Carry off your brazier, Nanon!"
"But, monsieur, the sheets are damp, and this gentleman is as delicate as a woman."
"Well, go on, as you've taken it into your head," said Grandet, pushing her by the shoulders; "but don't set things on fire." So saying, the miser went down-stairs, grumbling indistinct sentences.
Charles stood aghast in the midst of his trunks. After casting his eyes on the attic-walls covered with that yellow paper sprinkled with bouquets so well known in dance-houses, on the fireplace of ribbed stone whose very look was chilling, on the chairs of yellow wood with varnished cane seats that seemed to have more than the usual four angles, on the open night-table capacious enough to hold a small sergeant-at-arms, on the meagre bit of rag-carpet beside the bed, on the tester whose cloth valance shook as if, devoured by moths, it was about to fall, he turned gravely to la Grande Nanon and said,—
"Look here! my dear woman, just tell me, am I in the house of Monsieur Grandet, formerly mayor of Saumur, and brother to Monsieur Grandet of Paris?"
"Yes, monsieur; and a very good, a very kind, a very perfect gentleman. Shall I help you to unpack your trunks?"
"Faith! yes, if you will, my old trooper. Didn't you serve in the marines of the Imperial Guard?"
"Ho, ho, ho!" laughed Nanon. "What's that,—the marines of the guard? Is it salt? Does it go in the water?"
"Here, get me my dressing-gown out of that valise; there's the key."
Nanon was wonder-struck by the sight of a dressing-gown made of green silk, brocaded with gold flowers of an antique design.
"Are you going to put that on to go to bed with?" she asked.
"Holy Virgin! what a beautiful altar-cloth it would make for the parish church! My dear darling monsieur, give it to the church, and you'll save your soul; if you don't, you'll lose it. Oh, how nice you look in it! I must call mademoiselle to see you."
"Come, Nanon, if Nanon you are, hold your tongue; let me go to bed. I'll arrange my things to-morrow. If my dressing-gown pleases you so much, you shall save your soul. I'm too good a Christian not to give it to you when I go away, and you can do what you like with it."
Nanon stood rooted to the ground, gazing at Charles and unable to put faith into his words.
"Good night, Nanon."
"What in the world have I come here for?" thought Charles as he went to sleep. "My father is not a fool; my journey must have some object. Pshaw! put off serious thought till the morrow, as some Greek idiot said."
"Blessed Virgin! how charming he is, my cousin!" Eugenie was saying, interrupting her prayers, which that night at least were never finished.
Madame Grandet had no thoughts at all as she went to bed. She heard the miser walking up and down his room through the door of communication which was in the middle of the partition. Like all timid women, she had studied the character of her lord. Just as the petrel foresees the storm, she knew by imperceptible signs when an inward tempest shook her husband; and at such times, to use an expression of her own, she "feigned dead."
Grandet gazed at the door lined with sheet-iron which he lately put to his sanctum, and said to himself,—
"What a crazy idea of my brother to bequeath his son to me! A fine legacy! I have not fifty francs to give him. What are fifty francs to a dandy who looked at my barometer as if he meant to make firewood of it!"
In thinking over the consequences of that legacy of anguish Grandet was perhaps more agitated than his brother had been at the moment of writing it.
"I shall have that golden robe," thought Nanon, who went to sleep tricked out in her altar-cloth, dreaming for the first time in her life of flowers, embroidery, and damask, just as Eugenie was dreaming of love.
* * *
In the pure and monotonous life of young girls there comes a delicious hour when the sun sheds its rays into their soul, when the flowers express their thoughts, when the throbbings of the heart send upward to the brain their fertilizing warmth and melt all thoughts into a vague desire,—day of innocent melancholy and of dulcet joys! When babes begin to see, they smile; when a young girl first perceives the sentiment of nature, she smiles as she smiled when an infant. If light is the first love of life, is not love a light to the heart? The moment to see within the veil of earthly things had come for Eugenie.
An early riser, like all provincial girls, she was up betimes and said her prayers, and then began the business of dressing,—a business which henceforth was to have a meaning. First she brushed and smoothed her chestnut hair and twisted its heavy masses to the top of her head with the utmost care, preventing the loose tresses from straying, and giving to her head a symmetry which heightened the timid candor of her face; for the simplicity of these accessories accorded well with the innocent sincerity of its lines. As she washed her hands again and again in the cold water which hardened and reddened the skin, she looked at her handsome round arms and asked herself what her cousin did to make his hands so softly white, his nails so delicately curved. She put on new stockings and her prettiest shoes. She laced her corset straight, without skipping a single eyelet. And then, wishing for the first time in her life to appear to advantage, she felt the joy of having a new gown, well made, which rendered her attractive.
As she finished her toilet the clock of the parish church struck the hour; to her astonishment, it was only seven. The desire of having plenty of time for dressing carefully had led her to get up too early. Ignorant of the art of retouching every curl and studying every effect, Eugenie simply crossed her arms, sat down by the window, and looked at the court-yard, the narrow garden, and the high terraced walls that over-topped it: a dismal, hedged-in prospect, yet not wholly devoid of those mysterious beauties which belong to solitary or uncultivated nature. Near the kitchen was a well surrounded by a curb, with a pulley fastened to a bent iron rod clasped by a vine whose leaves were withered, reddened, and shrivelled by the season. From thence the tortuous shoots straggled to the wall, clutched it, and ran the whole length of the house, ending near the wood-pile, where the logs were ranged with as much precision as the books in a library. The pavement of the court-yard showed the black stains produced in time by lichens, herbage, and the absence of all movement or friction. The thick walls wore a coating of green moss streaked with waving brown lines, and the eight stone steps at the bottom of the court-yard which led up to the gate of the garden were disjointed and hidden beneath tall plants, like the tomb of a knight buried by his widow in the days of the Crusades. Above a foundation of moss-grown, crumbling stones was a trellis of rotten wood, half fallen from decay; over them clambered and intertwined at will a mass of clustering creepers. On each side of the latticed gate stretched the crooked arms of two stunted apple-trees. Three parallel walks, gravelled and separated from each other by square beds, where the earth was held in by box-borders, made the garden, which terminated, beneath a terrace of the old walls, in a group of lindens. At the farther end were raspberry-bushes; at the other, near the house, an immense walnut-tree drooped its branches almost into the window of the miser's sanctum.
A clear day and the beautiful autumnal sun common to the banks of the Loire was beginning to melt the hoar-frost which the night had laid on these picturesque objects, on the walls, and on the plants which swathed the court-yard. Eugenie found a novel charm in the aspect of things lately so insignificant to her. A thousand confused thoughts came to birth in her mind and grew there, as the sunbeams grew without along the wall. She felt that impulse of delight, vague, inexplicable, which wraps the moral being as a cloud wraps the physical body. Her thoughts were all in keeping with the details of this strange landscape, and the harmonies of her heart blended with the harmonies of nature. When the sun reached an angle of the wall where the "Venus-hair" of southern climes drooped its thick leaves, lit with the changing colors of a pigeon's breast, celestial rays of hope illumined the future to her eyes, and thenceforth she loved to gaze upon that piece of wall, on its pale flowers, its blue harebells, its wilting herbage, with which she mingled memories as tender as those of childhood. The noise made by each leaf as it fell from its twig in the void of that echoing court gave answer to the secret questionings of the young girl, who could have stayed there the livelong day without perceiving the flight of time. Then came tumultuous heavings of the soul. She rose often, went to her glass, and looked at herself, as an author in good faith looks at his work to criticise it and blame it in his own mind.
"I am not beautiful enough for him!" Such was Eugenie's thought,—a humble thought, fertile in suffering. The poor girl did not do herself justice; but modesty, or rather fear, is among the first of love's virtues. Eugenie belonged to the type of children with sturdy constitutions, such as we see among the lesser bourgeoisie, whose beauties always seem a little vulgar; and yet, though she resembled the Venus of Milo, the lines of her figure were ennobled by the softer Christian sentiment which purifies womanhood and gives it a distinction unknown to the sculptors of antiquity. She had an enormous head, with the masculine yet delicate forehead of the Jupiter of Phidias, and gray eyes, to which her chaste life, penetrating fully into them, carried a flood of light. The features of her round face, formerly fresh and rosy, were at one time swollen by the small-pox, which destroyed the velvet texture of the skin, though it kindly left no other traces, and her cheek was still so soft and delicate that her mother's kiss made a momentary red mark upon it. Her nose was somewhat too thick, but it harmonized well with the vermilion mouth, whose lips, creased in many lines, were full of love and kindness. The throat was exquisitely round. The bust, well curved and carefully covered, attracted the eye and inspired reverie. It lacked, no doubt, the grace which a fitting dress can bestow; but to a connoisseur the non-flexibility of her figure had its own charm. Eugenie, tall and strongly made, had none of the prettiness which pleases the masses; but she was beautiful with a beauty which the spirit recognizes, and none but artists truly love. A painter seeking here below for a type of Mary's celestial purity, searching womankind for those proud modest eyes which Raphael divined, for those virgin lines, often due to chances of conception, which the modesty of Christian life alone can bestow or keep unchanged,—such a painter, in love with his ideal, would have found in the face of Eugenie the innate nobleness that is ignorant of itself; he would have seen beneath the calmness of that brow a world of love; he would have felt, in the shape of the eyes, in the fall of the eyelids, the presence of the nameless something that we call divine. Her features, the contour of her head, which no expression of pleasure had ever altered or wearied, were like the lines of the horizon softly traced in the far distance across the tranquil lakes. That calm and rosy countenance, margined with light like a lovely full-blown flower, rested the mind, held the eye, and imparted the charm of the conscience that was there reflected. Eugenie was standing on the shore of life where young illusions flower, where daisies are gathered with delights ere long to be unknown; and thus she said, looking at her image in the glass, unconscious as yet of love: "I am too ugly; he will not notice me."
Then she opened the door of her chamber which led to the staircase, and stretched out her neck to listen for the household noises. "He is not up," she thought, hearing Nanon's morning cough as the good soul went and came, sweeping out the halls, lighting her fire, chaining the dog, and speaking to the beasts in the stable. Eugenie at once went down and ran to Nanon, who was milking the cow.
"Nanon, my good Nanon, make a little cream for my cousin's breakfast."
"Why, mademoiselle, you should have thought of that yesterday," said Nanon, bursting into a loud peal of laughter. "I can't make cream. Your cousin is a darling, a darling! oh, that he is! You should have seen him in his dressing-gown, all silk and gold! I saw him, I did! He wears linen as fine as the surplice of monsieur le cure."
"Nanon, please make us a galette."
"And who'll give me wood for the oven, and flour and butter for the cakes?" said Nanon, who in her function of prime-minister to Grandet assumed at times enormous importance in the eyes of Eugenie and her mother. "Mustn't rob the master to feast the cousin. You ask him for butter and flour and wood: he's your father, perhaps he'll give you some. See! there he is now, coming to give out the provisions."
Eugenie escaped into the garden, quite frightened as she heard the staircase shaking under her father's step. Already she felt the effects of that virgin modesty and that special consciousness of happiness which lead us to fancy, not perhaps without reason, that our thoughts are graven on our foreheads and are open to the eyes of all. Perceiving for the first time the cold nakedness of her father's house, the poor girl felt a sort of rage that she could not put it in harmony with her cousin's elegance. She felt the need of doing something for him,—what, she did not know. Ingenuous and truthful, she followed her angelic nature without mistrusting her impressions or her feelings. The mere sight of her cousin had wakened within her the natural yearnings of a woman,—yearnings that were the more likely to develop ardently because, having reached her twenty-third year, she was in the plenitude of her intelligence and her desires. For the first time in her life her heart was full of terror at the sight of her father; in him she saw the master of the fate, and she fancied herself guilty of wrong-doing in hiding from his knowledge certain thoughts. She walked with hasty steps, surprised to breathe a purer air, to feel the sun's rays quickening her pulses, to absorb from their heat a moral warmth and a new life. As she turned over in her mind some stratagem by which to get the cake, a quarrel—an event as rare as the sight of swallows in winter—broke out between la Grande Nanon and Grandet. Armed with his keys, the master had come to dole out provisions for the day's consumption.
"Is there any bread left from yesterday?" he said to Nanon.
"Not a crumb, monsieur."
Grandet took a large round loaf, well floured and moulded in one of the flat baskets which they use for baking in Anjou, and was about to cut it, when Nanon said to him,—
"We are five, to-day, monsieur."
"That's true," said Grandet, "but your loaves weigh six pounds; there'll be some left. Besides, these young fellows from Paris don't eat bread, you'll see."
"Then they must eat frippe?" said Nanon.
Frippe is a word of the local lexicon of Anjou, and means any accompaniment of bread, from butter which is spread upon it, the commonest kind of frippe, to peach preserve, the most distinguished of all the frippes; those who in their childhood have licked the frippe and left the bread, will comprehend the meaning of Nanon's speech.
"No," answered Grandet, "they eat neither bread nor frippe; they are something like marriageable girls."
After ordering the meals for the day with his usual parsimony, the goodman, having locked the closets containing the supplies, was about to go towards the fruit-garden, when Nanon stopped him to say,—
"Monsieur, give me a little flour and some butter, and I'll make a galette for the young ones."
"Are you going to pillage the house on account of my nephew?"
"I wasn't thinking any more of your nephew than I was of your dog,—not more than you think yourself; for, look here, you've only forked out six bits of sugar. I want eight."
"What's all this, Nanon? I have never seen you like this before. What have you got in your head? Are you the mistress here? You sha'n't have more than six pieces of sugar."
"Well, then, how is your nephew to sweeten his coffee?"
"With two pieces; I'll go without myself."
"Go without sugar at your age! I'd rather buy you some out of my own pocket."
"Mind your own business."
In spite of the recent fall in prices, sugar was still in Grandet's eyes the most valuable of all the colonial products; to him it was always six francs a pound. The necessity of economizing it, acquired under the Empire, had grown to be the most inveterate of his habits. All women, even the greatest ninnies, know how to dodge and dodge to get their ends; Nanon abandoned the sugar for the sake of getting the galette.
"Mademoiselle!" she called through the window, "do you want some galette?"
"No, no," answered Eugenie.
"Come, Nanon," said Grandet, hearing his daughter's voice. "See here." He opened the cupboard where the flour was kept, gave her a cupful, and added a few ounces of butter to the piece he had already cut off.
"I shall want wood for the oven," said the implacable Nanon.
"Well, take what you want," he answered sadly; "but in that case you must make us a fruit-tart, and you'll cook the whole dinner in the oven. In that way you won't need two fires."
"Goodness!" cried Nanon, "you needn't tell me that."
Grandet cast a look that was well-nigh paternal upon his faithful deputy.
"Mademoiselle," she cried, when his back was turned, "we shall have the galette."
Pere Grandet returned from the garden with the fruit and arranged a plateful on the kitchen-table.
"Just see, monsieur," said Nanon, "what pretty boots your nephew has. What leather! why it smells good! What does he clean it with, I wonder? Am I to put your egg-polish on it?"
"Nanon, I think eggs would injure that kind of leather. Tell him you don't know how to black morocco; yes, that's morocco. He will get you something himself in Saumur to polish those boots with. I have heard that they put sugar into the blacking to make it shine."
"They look good to eat," said the cook, putting the boots to her nose. "Bless me! if they don't smell like madame's eau-de-cologne. Ah! how funny!"
"Funny!" said her master. "Do you call it funny to put more money into boots than the man who stands in them is worth?"
"Monsieur," she said, when Grandet returned the second time, after locking the fruit-garden, "won't you have the pot-au-feu put on once or twice a week on account of your nephew?"
"Am I to go to the butcher's?"
"Certainly not. We will make the broth of fowls; the farmers will bring them. I shall tell Cornoiller to shoot some crows; they make the best soup in the world."
"Isn't it true, monsieur, that crows eat the dead?"
"You are a fool, Nanon. They eat what they can get, like the rest of the world. Don't we all live on the dead? What are legacies?"
Monsieur Grandet, having no further orders to give, drew out his watch, and seeing that he had half an hour to dispose of before breakfast, he took his hat, went and kissed his daughter, and said to her:
"Do you want to come for a walk in the fields, down by the Loire? I have something to do there."
Eugenie fetched her straw bonnet, lined with pink taffeta; then the father and daughter went down the winding street to the shore.
"Where are you going at this early hour?" said Cruchot, the notary, meeting them.
"To see something," answered Grandet, not duped by the matutinal appearance of his friend.
When Pere Grandet went to "see something," the notary knew by experience there was something to be got by going with him; so he went.
"Come, Cruchot," said Grandet, "you are one of my friends. I'll show you what folly it is to plant poplar-trees on good ground."
"Do you call the sixty thousand francs that you pocketed for those that were in your fields down by the Loire, folly?" said Maitre Cruchot, opening his eyes with amazement. "What luck you have had! To cut down your trees at the very time they ran short of white-wood at Nantes, and to sell them at thirty francs!"
Eugenie listened, without knowing that she approached the most solemn moment of her whole life, and that the notary was about to bring down upon her head a paternal and supreme sentence. Grandet had now reached the magnificent fields which he owned on the banks of the Loire, where thirty workmen were employed in clearing away, filling up, and levelling the spots formerly occupied by the poplars.
"Maitre Cruchot, see how much ground this tree once took up! Jean," he cried to a laborer, "m-m-measure with your r-r-rule, b-both ways."
"Four times eight feet," said the man.
"Thirty-two feet lost," said Grandet to Cruchot. "I had three hundred poplars in this one line, isn't that so? Well, then, three h-h-hundred times thir-thirty-two lost m-m-me five hundred in h-h-hay; add twice as much for the side rows,—fifteen hundred; the middle rows as much more. So we may c-c-call it a th-thousand b-b-bales of h-h-hay—"
"Very good," said Cruchot, to help out his friend; "a thousand bales are worth about six hundred francs."
"Say t-t-twelve hundred, be-c-cause there's three or four hundred francs on the second crop. Well, then, c-c-calculate that t-twelve thousand francs a year for f-f-forty years with interest c-c-comes to—"
"Say sixty thousand francs," said the notary.
"I am willing; c-c-comes t-t-to sixty th-th-thousand. Very good," continued Grandet, without stuttering: "two thousand poplars forty years old will only yield me fifty thousand francs. There's a loss. I have found that myself," said Grandet, getting on his high horse. "Jean, fill up all the holes except those at the bank of the river; there you are to plant the poplars I have bought. Plant 'em there, and they'll get nourishment from the government," he said, turning to Cruchot, and giving a slight motion to the wen on his nose, which expressed more than the most ironical of smiles.
"True enough; poplars should only be planted on poor soil," said Cruchot, amazed at Grandet's calculations.
"Y-y-yes, monsieur," answered the old man satirically.
Eugenie, who was gazing at the sublime scenery of the Loire, and paying no attention to her father's reckonings, presently turned an ear to the remarks of Cruchot when she heard him say,—
"So you have brought a son-in-law from Paris. All Saumur is talking about your nephew. I shall soon have the marriage-contract to draw up, hey! Pere Grandet?"
"You g-g-got up very early to t-t-tell me that," said Grandet, accompanying the remark with a motion of his wen. "Well, old c-c-comrade, I'll be frank, and t-t-tell you what you want t-t-to know. I would rather, do you see, f-f-fling my daughter into the Loire than g-g-give her to her c-c-cousin. You may t-t-tell that everywhere,—no, never mind; let the world t-t-talk."
This answer dazzled and blinded the young girl with sudden light. The distant hopes upspringing in her heart bloomed suddenly, became real, tangible, like a cluster of flowers, and she saw them cut down and wilting on the earth. Since the previous evening she had attached herself to Charles by those links of happiness which bind soul to soul; from henceforth suffering was to rivet them. Is it not the noble destiny of women to be more moved by the dark solemnities of grief than by the splendors of fortune? How was it that fatherly feeling had died out of her father's heart? Of what crime had Charles been guilty? Mysterious questions! Already her dawning love, a mystery so profound, was wrapping itself in mystery. She walked back trembling in all her limbs; and when she reached the gloomy street, lately so joyous to her, she felt its sadness, she breathed the melancholy which time and events had printed there. None of love's lessons lacked. A few steps from their own door she went on before her father and waited at the threshold. But Grandet, who saw a newspaper in the notary's hand, stopped short and asked,—
"How are the Funds?"
"You never listen to my advice, Grandet," answered Cruchot. "Buy soon; you will still make twenty per cent in two years, besides getting an excellent rate of interest,—five thousand a year for eighty thousand francs fifty centimes."
"We'll see about that," answered Grandet, rubbing his chin.
"Good God!" exclaimed the notary.
"Well, what?" cried Grandet; and at the same moment Cruchot put the newspaper under his eyes and said:
"Monsieur Grandet, one of the most respected merchants in Paris,
blew his brains out yesterday, after making his usual appearance
at the Bourse. He had sent his resignation to the president of the
Chamber of Deputies, and had also resigned his functions as a
judge of the commercial courts. The failures of Monsieur Roguin
and Monsieur Souchet, his broker and his notary, had ruined him.
The esteem felt for Monsieur Grandet and the credit he enjoyed
were nevertheless such that he might have obtained the necessary
assistance from other business houses. It is much to be regretted
that so honorable a man should have yielded to momentary despair,"
"I knew it," said the old wine-grower to the notary.
The words sent a chill of horror through Maitre Cruchot, who, notwithstanding his impassibility as a notary, felt the cold running down his spine as he thought that Grandet of Paris had possibly implored in vain the millions of Grandet of Saumur.
"And his son, so joyous yesterday—"
"He knows nothing as yet," answered Grandet, with the same composure.
"Adieu! Monsieur Grandet," said Cruchot, who now understood the state of the case, and went off to reassure Monsieur de Bonfons.
On entering, Grandet found breakfast ready. Madame Grandet, round whose neck Eugenie had flung her arms, kissing her with the quick effusion of feeling often caused by secret grief, was already seated in her chair on castors, knitting sleeves for the coming winter.
"You can begin to eat," said Nanon, coming downstairs four steps at a time; "the young one is sleeping like a cherub. Isn't he a darling with his eyes shut? I went in and I called him: no answer."
"Let him sleep," said Grandet; "he'll wake soon enough to hear ill-tidings."
"What is it?" asked Eugenie, putting into her coffee the two little bits of sugar weighing less than half an ounce which the old miser amused himself by cutting up in his leisure hours. Madame Grandet, who did not dare to put the question, gazed at her husband.
"His father has blown his brains out."
"My uncle?" said Eugenie.
"Poor young man!" exclaimed Madame Grandet.
"Poor indeed!" said Grandet; "he isn't worth a sou!"
"Eh! poor boy, and he's sleeping like the king of the world!" said Nanon in a gentle voice.
Eugenie stopped eating. Her heart was wrung, as the young heart is wrung when pity for the suffering of one she loves overflows, for the first time, the whole being of a woman. The poor girl wept.
"What are you crying about? You didn't know your uncle," said her father, giving her one of those hungry tigerish looks he doubtless threw upon his piles of gold.
"But, monsieur," said Nanon, "who wouldn't feel pity for the poor young man, sleeping there like a wooden shoe, without knowing what's coming?"
"I didn't speak to you, Nanon. Hold your tongue!"
Eugenie learned at that moment that the woman who loves must be able to hide her feelings. She did not answer.
"You will say nothing to him about it, Ma'ame Grandet, till I return," said the old man. "I have to go and straighten the line of my hedge along the high-road. I shall be back at noon, in time for the second breakfast, and then I will talk with my nephew about his affairs. As for you, Mademoiselle Eugenie, if it is for that dandy you are crying, that's enough, child. He's going off like a shot to the Indies. You will never see him again."
The father took his gloves from the brim of his hat, put them on with his usual composure, pushed them in place by shoving the fingers of both hands together, and went out.
"Mamma, I am suffocating!" cried Eugenie when she was alone with her mother; "I have never suffered like this."
Madame Grandet, seeing that she turned pale, opened the window and let her breathe fresh air.
"I feel better!" said Eugenie after a moment.
This nervous excitement in a nature hitherto, to all appearance, calm and cold, reacted on Madame Grandet; she looked at her daughter with the sympathetic intuition with which mothers are gifted for the objects of their tenderness, and guessed all. In truth the life of the Hungarian sisters, bound together by a freak of nature, could scarcely have been more intimate than that of Eugenie and her mother,—always together in the embrasure of that window, and sleeping together in the same atmosphere.
"My poor child!" said Madame Grandet, taking Eugenie's head and laying it upon her bosom.
At these words the young girl raised her head, questioned her mother by a look, and seemed to search out her inmost thought.
"Why send him to the Indies?" she said. "If he is unhappy, ought he not to stay with us? Is he not our nearest relation?"
"Yes, my child, it seems natural; but your father has his reasons: we must respect them."
The mother and daughter sat down in silence, the former upon her raised seat, the latter in her little armchair, and both took up their work. Swelling with gratitude for the full heart-understanding her mother had given her, Eugenie kissed the dear hand, saying,—
"How good you are, my kind mamma!"
The words sent a glow of light into the motherly face, worn and blighted as it was by many sorrows.
"You like him?" asked Eugenie.
Madame Grandet only smiled in reply. Then, after a moment's silence, she said in a low voice: "Do you love him already? That is wrong."
"Wrong?" said Eugenie. "Why is it wrong? You are pleased with him, Nanon is pleased with him; why should he not please me? Come, mamma, let us set the table for his breakfast."
She threw down her work, and her mother did the same, saying, "Foolish child!" But she sanctioned the child's folly by sharing it. Eugenie called Nanon.
"What do you want now, mademoiselle?"
"Nanon, can we have cream by midday?"
"Ah! midday, to be sure you can," answered the old servant.
"Well, let him have his coffee very strong; I heard Monsieur des Grassins say that they make the coffee very strong in Paris. Put in a great deal."
"Where am I to get it?"
"Suppose monsieur meets me?"
"He has gone to his fields."
"I'll run, then. But Monsieur Fessard asked me yesterday if the Magi had come to stay with us when I bought the wax candle. All the town will know our goings-on."
"If your father finds it out," said Madame Grandet, "he is capable of beating us."
"Well, let him beat us; we will take his blows on our knees."
Madame Grandet for all answer raised her eyes to heaven. Nanon put on her hood and went off. Eugenie got out some clean table-linen, and went to fetch a few bunches of grapes which she had amused herself by hanging on a string across the attic; she walked softly along the corridor, so as not to waken her cousin, and she could not help listening at the door to his quiet breathing.
"Sorrow is watching while he sleeps," she thought.
She took the freshest vine-leaves and arranged her dish of grapes as coquettishly as a practised house-keeper might have done, and placed it triumphantly on the table. She laid hands on the pears counted out by her father, and piled them in a pyramid mixed with leaves. She went and came, and skipped and ran. She would have liked to lay under contribution everything in her father's house; but the keys were in his pocket. Nanon came back with two fresh eggs. At sight of them Eugenie almost hugged her round the neck.
"The farmer from Lande had them in his basket. I asked him for them, and he gave them to me, the darling, for nothing, as an attention!"