Father Goriot/Section 13
That morning Mme. de Nucingen had driven Eugene to despair. In his own mind he had completely surrendered himself to Vautrin, and deliberately shut his eyes to the motive for the friendship which that extraordinary man professed for him, nor would he look to the consequences of such an alliance. Nothing short of a miracle could extricate him now out of the gulf into which he had walked an hour ago, when he exchanged vows in the softest whispers with Mlle. Taillefer. To Victorine it seemed as if she heard an angel's voice, that heaven was opening above her; the Maison Vauquer took strange and wonderful hues, like a stage fairy-palace. She loved and she was loved; at any rate, she believed that she was loved; and what woman would not likewise have believed after seeing Rastignac's face and listening to the tones of his voice during that hour snatched under the Argus eyes of the Maison Vauquer? He had trampled on his conscience; he knew that he was doing wrong, and did it deliberately; he had said to himself that a woman's happiness should atone for this venial sin. The energy of desperation had lent new beauty to his face; the lurid fire that burned in his heart shone from his eyes. Luckily for him, the miracle took place. Vautrin came in in high spirits, and at once read the hearts of these two young creatures whom he had brought together by the combinations of his infernal genius, but his deep voice broke in upon their bliss.
- "A charming girl is my Fanchette
- In her simplicity,"
he sang mockingly.
Victorine fled. Her heart was more full than it had ever been, but it was full of joy, and not of sorrow. Poor child! A pressure of the hand, the light touch of Rastignac's hair against her cheek, a word whispered in her ear so closely that she felt the student's warm breath on her, the pressure of a trembling arm about her waist, a kiss upon her throat—such had been her betrothal. The near neighborhood of the stout Sylvie, who might invade that glorified room at any moment, only made these first tokens of love more ardent, more eloquent, more entrancing than the noblest deeds done for love's sake in the most famous romances. This plain-song of love, to use the pretty expression of our forefathers, seemed almost criminal to the devout young girl who went to confession every fortnight. In that one hour she had poured out more of the treasures of her soul than she could give in later days of wealth and happiness, when her whole self followed the gift.
"The thing is arranged," Vautrin said to Eugene, who remained. "Our two dandies have fallen out. Everything was done in proper form. It is a matter of opinion. Our pigeon has insulted my hawk. They will meet to-morrow in the redoubt at Clignancourt. By half-past eight in the morning Mlle. Taillefer, calmly dipping her bread and butter in her coffee cup, will be sole heiress of her father's fortune and affections. A funny way of putting it, isn't it? Taillefer's youngster is an expert swordsman, and quite cocksure about it, but he will be bled; I have just invented a thrust for his benefit, a way of raising your sword point and driving it at the forehead. I must show you that thrust; it is an uncommonly handy thing to know."
Rastignac heard him in dazed bewilderment; he could not find a word in reply. Just then Goriot came in, and Bianchon and a few of the boarders likewise appeared.
"That is just as I intended." Vautrin said. "You know quite well what you are about. Good, my little eaglet! You are born to command, you are strong, you stand firm on your feet, you are game! I respect you."
He made as though he would take Eugene's hand, but Rastignac hastily withdrew it, sank into a chair, and turned ghastly pale; it seemed to him that there was a sea of blood before his eyes.
"Oh! so we still have a few dubious tatters of the swaddling clothes of virtue about us!" murmured Vautrin. "But Papa Doliban has three millions; I know the amount of his fortune. Once have her dowry in your hands, and your character will be as white as the bride's white dress, even in your own eyes."
Rastignac hesitated no longer. He made up his mind that he would go that evening to warn the Taillefers, father and son. But just as Vautrin left him, Father Goriot came up and said in his ear, "You look melancholy, my boy; I will cheer you up. Come with me."
The old vermicelli dealer lighted his dip at one of the lamps as he spoke. Eugene went with him, his curiosity had been aroused.
"Let us go up to your room," the worthy soul remarked, when he had asked Sylvie for the law student's key. "This morning," he resumed, "you thought that she did not care about you, did you not? Eh? She would have nothing to say to you, and you went away out of humor and out of heart. Stuff and rubbish! She wanted you to go because she was expecting me! Now do you understand? We were to complete the arrangements for taking some chambers for you, a jewel of a place, you are to move into it in three days' time. Don't split upon me. She wants it to be a surprise; but I couldn't bear to keep the secret from you. You will be in the Rue d'Artois, only a step or two from the Rue Saint-Lazare, and you are to be housed like a prince! Any one might have thought we were furnishing the house for a bride. Oh! we have done a lot of things in the last month, and you knew nothing about it. My attorney has appeared on the scene, and my daughter is to have thirty-six thousand francs a year, the interest on her money, and I shall insist on having her eight hundred thousand invested in sound securities, landed property that won't run away."
Eugene was dumb. He folded his arms and paced up and down in his cheerless, untidy room. Father Goriot waited till the student's back was turned, and seized the opportunity to go to the chimney-piece and set upon it a little red morocco case with Rastignac's arms stamped in gold on the leather.
"My dear boy," said the kind soul, "I have been up to the eyes in this business. You see, there was plenty of selfishness on my part; I have an interested motive in helping you to change lodgings. You will not refuse me if I ask you something; will you, eh?"
"What is it?"
"There is a room on the fifth floor, up above your rooms, that is to let along with them; that is where I am going to live, isn't that so? I am getting old: I am too far from my girls. I shall not be in the way, but I shall be there, that is all. You will come and talk to me about her every evening. It will not put you about, will it? I shall have gone to bed before you come in, but I shall hear you come up, and I shall say to myself, 'He has just seen my little Delphine. He has been to a dance with her, and she is happy, thanks to him.' If I were ill, it would do my heart good to hear you moving about below, to know when you leave the house and when you come in. It is only a step to the Champs-Elysees, where they go every day, so I shall be sure of seeing them, whereas now I am sometimes too late. And then—perhaps she may come to see you! I shall hear her, I shall see her in her soft quilted pelisse tripping about as daintily as a kitten. In this one month she has become my little girl again, so light-hearted and gay. Her soul is recovering, and her happiness is owing to you! Oh! I would do impossibilities for you. Only just now she said to me, 'I am very happy, papa!' When they say 'father' stiffly, it sends a chill through me; but when they call me 'papa,' it brings all the old memories back. I feel most their father then; I even believe that they belong to me, and to no one else."
The good man wiped his eyes, he was crying.
"It is a long while since I have heard them talk like that, a long, long time since she took my arm as she did to-day. Yes, indeed, it must be quite ten years since I walked side by side with one of my girls. How pleasant it was to keep step with her, to feel the touch of her gown, the warmth of her arm! Well, I took Delphine everywhere this morning; I went shopping with her, and I brought her home again. Oh! you must let me live near you. You may want some one to do you a service some of these days, and I shall be on the spot to do it. Oh! if only that great dolt of an Alsatian would die, if his gout would have the sense to attack his stomach, how happy my poor child would be! You would be my son-in-law; you would be her husband in the eyes of the world. Bah! she has known no happiness, that excuses everything. Our Father in heaven is surely on the side of fathers on earth who love their children. How fond of you she is!" he said, raising his head after a pause. "All the time we were going about together she chatted away about you. 'He is so nice-looking, papa; isn't he? He is kind-hearted! Does he talk to you about me?' Pshaw! she said enough about you to fill whole volumes; between the Rue d'Artois and the Passage des Panoramas she poured her heart out into mine. I did not feel old once during that delightful morning; I felt as light as a feather. I told her how you had given the banknote to me; it moved my darling to tears. But what can this be on your chimney-piece?" said Father Goriot at last. Rastignac had showed no sign, and he was dying of impatience.
Eugene stared at his neighbor in dumb and dazed bewilderment. He thought of Vautrin, of that duel to be fought to-morrow morning, and of this realization of his dearest hopes, and the violent contrast between the two sets of ideas gave him all the sensations of nightmare. He went to the chimney-piece, saw the little square case, opened it, and found a watch of Breguet's make wrapped in paper, on which these words were written:
- "I want you to think of me every hour, because . . .
That last word doubtless contained an allusion to some scene that had taken place between them. Eugene felt touched. Inside the gold watch-case his arms had been wrought in enamel. The chain, the key, the workmanship and design of the trinket were all such as he had imagined, for he had long coveted such a possession. Father Goriot was radiant. Of course he had promised to tell his daughter every little detail of the scene and of the effect produced upon Eugene by her present; he shared in the pleasure and excitement of the young people, and seemed to be not the least happy of the three. He loved Rastignac already for his own as well as for his daughter's sake.
"You must go and see her; she is expecting you this evening. That great lout of an Alsatian is going to have supper with his opera-dancer. Aha! he looked very foolish when my attorney let him know where he was. He says he idolizes my daughter, does he? He had better let her alone, or I will kill him. To think that my Delphine is his"—he heaved a sigh—"it is enough to make me murder him, but it would not be manslaughter to kill that animal; he is a pig with a calf's brains.—You will take me with you, will you not?"
"Yes, dear Father Goriot; you know very well how fond I am of you——"
"Yes, I do know very well. You are not ashamed of me, are you? Not you! Let me embrace you," and he flung his arms around the student's neck.
"You will make her very happy; promise me that you will! You will go to her this evening, will you not?"
"Oh! yes. I must go out; I have some urgent business on hand."
"Can I be of any use?"
"My word, yes! Will you go to old Taillefer's while I go to Mme. de Nucingen? Ask him to make an appointment with me some time this evening; it is a matter of life and death."
"Really, young man!" cried Father Goriot, with a change of countenance; "are you really paying court to his daughter, as those simpletons were saying down below? . . . Tonnerre de dieu! you have no notion what a tap a la Goriot is like, and if you are playing a double game, I shall put a stop to it by one blow of the fist. . . Oh! the thing is impossible!"
"I swear to you that I love but one woman in the world," said the student. "I only knew it a moment ago."
"Oh! what happiness!" cried Goriot.
"But young Taillefer has been called out; the duel comes off to-morrow morning, and I have heard it said that he may lose his life in it."
"But what business is it of yours?" said Goriot.
"Why, I ought to tell him so, that he may prevent his son from putting in an appearance——"
Just at that moment Vautrin's voice broke in upon them; he was standing at the threshold of his door and singing:
- "Oh! Richard, oh my king!
- All the world abandons thee!
- Broum! broum! broum! broum! broum!
- The same old story everywhere,
- A roving heart and a . . . tra la la."
"Gentlemen!" shouted Christophe, "the soup is ready, and every one is waiting for you."
"Here," Vautrin called down to him, "come and take a bottle of my Bordeaux."
"Do you think your watch is pretty?" asked Goriot. "She has good taste, hasn't she? Eh?"
Vautrin, Father Goriot, and Rastignac came downstairs in company, and, all three of them being late, were obliged to sit together.
Eugene was as distant as possible in his manner to Vautrin during dinner; but the other, so charming in Mme. Vauquer's opinion, had never been so witty. His lively sallies and sparkling talk put the whole table in good humor. His assurance and coolness filled Eugene with consternation.
"Why, what has come to you to-day?" inquired Mme. Vauquer. "You are as merry as a skylark."
"I am always in spirits after I have made a good bargain."
"Bargain?" said Eugene.
"Well, yes, bargain. I have just delivered a lot of goods, and I shall be paid a handsome commission on them—Mlle. Michonneau," he went on, seeing that the elderly spinster was scrutinizing him intently, "have you any objection to some feature in my face, that you are making those lynx eyes at me? Just let me know, and I will have it changed to oblige you . . . We shall not fall out about it, Poiret, I dare say?" he added, winking at the superannuated clerk.
"Bless my soul, you ought to stand as model for a burlesque Hercules," said the young painter.
"I will, upon my word! if Mlle. Michonneau will consent to sit as the Venus of Pere-Lachaise," replied Vautrin.
"There's Poiret," suggested Bianchon.
"Oh! Poiret shall pose as Poiret. He can be a garden god!" cried Vautrin; "his name means a pear——"
"A sleepy pear!" Bianchon put in. "You will come in between the pear and the cheese."
"What stuff are you all talking!" said Mme. Vauquer; "you would do better to treat us to your Bordeaux; I see a glimpse of a bottle there. It would keep us all in a good humor, and it is good for the stomach besides."
"Gentlemen," said Vautrin, "the Lady President calls us to order. Mme. Couture and Mlle. Victorine will take your jokes in good part, but respect the innocence of the aged Goriot. I propose a glass or two of Bordeauxrama, rendered twice illustrious by the name of Laffite, no political allusions intended.—Come, you Turk!" he added, looking at Christophe, who did not offer to stir. "Christophe! Here! What, you don't answer to your own name? Bring us some liquor, Turk!"
"Here it is, sir," said Christophe, holding out the bottle.
Vautrin filled Eugene's glass and Goriot's likewise, then he deliberately poured out a few drops into his own glass, and sipped it while his two neighbors drank their wine. All at once he made a grimace.
"Corked!" he cried. "The devil! You can drink the rest of this, Christophe, and go and find another bottle; take from the right-hand side, you know. There are sixteen of us; take down eight bottles."
"If you are going to stand treat," said the painter, "I will pay for a hundred chestnuts."
These exclamations came from all parts of the table like squibs from a set firework.
"Come, now, Mama Vauquer, a couple of bottles of champagne," called Vautrin.
"Quien! just like you! Why not ask for the whole house at once. A couple of bottles of champagne; that means twelve francs! I shall never see the money back again, I know! But if M. Eugene has a mind to pay for it, I have some currant cordial."
"That currant cordial of hers is as bad as a black draught," muttered the medical student.
"Shut up, Bianchon," exclaimed Rastignac; "the very mention of black draught makes me feel——. Yes, champagne, by all means; I will pay for it," he added.
"Sylvie," called Mme. Vauquer, "bring in some biscuits, and the little cakes."
"Those little cakes are mouldy graybeards," said Vautrin. "But trot out the biscuits."
The Bordeaux wine circulated; the dinner table became a livelier scene than ever, and the fun grew fast and furious. Imitations of the cries of various animals mingled with the loud laughter; the Museum official having taken it into his head to mimic a cat-call rather like the caterwauling of the animal in question, eight voices simultaneously struck up with the following variations:
"Scissors to grind!"
"Chick-weeds for singing bir-ds!"
"China to mend!"
"Sticks to beat your wives or your clothes!"
"Cherries all ripe!"
But the palm was awarded to Bianchon for the nasal accent with which he rendered the cry of "Umbrellas to me-end!"
A few seconds later, and there was a head-splitting racket in the room, a storm of tomfoolery, a sort of cats' concert, with Vautrin as conductor of the orchestra, the latter keeping an eye the while on Eugene and Father Goriot. The wine seemed to have gone to their heads already. They leaned back in their chairs, looking at the general confusion with an air of gravity, and drank but little; both of them were absorbed in the thought of what lay before them to do that evening, and yet neither of them felt able to rise and go. Vautrin gave a side glance at them from time to time, and watched the change that came over their faces, choosing the moment when their eyes drooped and seemed about to close, to bend over Rastignac and to say in his ear:—
"My little lad, you are not quite shrewd enough to outwit Papa Vautrin yet, and he is too fond of you to let you make a mess of your affairs. When I have made up my mind to do a thing, no one short of Providence can put me off. Aha! we were for going round to warn old Taillefer, telling tales out of school! The oven is hot, the dough is kneaded, the bread is ready for the oven; to-morrow we will eat it up and whisk away the crumbs; and we are not going to spoil the baking? . . . No, no, it is all as good as done! We may suffer from a few conscientious scruples, but they will be digested along with the bread. While we are having our forty winks, Colonel Count Franchessini will clear the way to Michel Taillefer's inheritance with the point of his sword. Victorine will come in for her brother's money, a snug fifteen thousand francs a year. I have made inquiries already, and I know that her late mother's property amounts to more than three hundred thousand——"
Eugene heard all this, and could not answer a word; his tongue seemed to be glued to the roof of his mouth, an irresistible drowsiness was creeping over him. He still saw the table and the faces round it, but it was through a bright mist. Soon the noise began to subside, one by one the boarders went. At last, when their numbers had so dwindled that the party consisted of Mme. Vauquer, Mme. Couture, Mlle. Victorine, Vautrin, and Father Goriot, Rastignac watched as though in a dream how Mme. Vauquer busied herself by collecting the bottles, and drained the remainder of the wine out of each to fill others.
"Oh! how uproarious they are! what a thing it is to be young!" said the widow.
These were the last words that Eugene heard and understood.
"There is no one like M. Vautrin for a bit of fun like this," said Sylvie. "There, just hark at Christophe, he is snoring like a top."
"Good-bye, mamma," said Vautrin; "I am going to a theatre on the boulevard to see M. Marty in Le Mont Sauvage, a fine play taken from Le Solitaire. . . . If you like, I will take you and these two ladies——"
"Thank you; I must decline," said Mme. Couture.
"What! my good lady!" cried Mme. Vauquer, "decline to see a play founded on the Le Solitaire, a work by Atala de Chateaubriand? We were so fond of that book that we cried over it like Magdalens under the line-trees last summer, and then it is an improving work that might edify your young lady."
"We are forbidden to go to the play," answered Victorine.
"Just look, those two yonder have dropped off where they sit," said Vautrin, shaking the heads of the two sleepers in a comical way.
He altered the sleeping student's position, settled his head more comfortably on the back of his chair, kissed him warmly on the forehead, and began to sing:
- "Sleep, little darlings;
- I watch while you slumber."
"I am afraid he may be ill," said Victorine.
"Then stop and take care of him," returned Vautrin. "'Tis your duty as a meek and obedient wife," he whispered in her ear. "The young fellow worships you, and you will be his little wife—there's your fortune for you. In short," he added aloud, "they lived happily ever afterwards, were much looked up to in all the countryside, and had a numerous family. That is how all the romances end.—Now, mamma," he went on, as he turned to Madame Vauquer and put his arm round her waist, "put on your bonnet, your best flowered silk, and the countess' scarf, while I go out and call a cab—all my own self."
And he started out, singing as he went:
- "Oh! sun! divine sun!
- Ripening the pumpkins every one."
"My goodness! Well, I'm sure! Mme. Couture, I could live happily in a garret with a man like that.—There, now!" she added, looking round for the old vermicelli maker, "there is that Father Goriot half seas over. He never thought of taking me anywhere, the old skinflint. But he will measure his length somewhere. My word! it is disgraceful to lose his senses like that, at his age! You will be telling me that he couldn't lose what he hadn't got—Sylvie, just take him up to his room!"
Sylvie took him by the arm, supported him upstairs, and flung him just as he was, like a package, across the bed.
"Poor young fellow!" said Mme. Couture, putting back Eugene's hair that had fallen over his eyes; "he is like a young girl, he does not know what dissipation is."
"Well, I can tell you this, I know," said Mme. Vauquer, "I have taken lodgers these thirty years, and a good many have passed through my hands, as the saying is, but I have never seen a nicer nor a more aristocratic looking young man than M. Eugene. How handsome he looks sleeping! Just let his head rest on your shoulder, Mme. Couture. Pshaw! he falls over towards Mlle. Victorine. There's a special providence for young things. A little more, and he would have broken his head against the knob of the chair. They'd make a pretty pair those two would!"
"Hush, my good neighbor," cried Mme. Couture, "you are saying such things——"
"Pooh!" put in Mme. Vauquer, "he does not hear.—Here, Sylvie! come and help me to dress. I shall put on my best stays."
"What! your best stays just after dinner, madame?" said Sylvie. "No, you can get some one else to lace you. I am not going to be your murderer. It's a rash thing to do, and might cost you your life."
"I don't care, I must do honor to M. Vautrin."
"Are you so fond of your heirs as all that?"
"Come, Sylvie, don't argue," said the widow, as she left the room.
"At her age, too!" said the cook to Victorine, pointing to her mistress as she spoke.
Mme. Couture and her ward were left in the dining-room, and Eugene slept on Victorine's shoulder. The sound of Christophe's snoring echoed through the silent house; Eugene's quiet breathing seemed all the quieter by force of contrast, he was sleeping as peacefully as a child. Victorine was very happy; she was free to perform one of those acts of charity which form an innocent outlet for all the overflowing sentiments of a woman's nature; he was so close to her that she could feel the throbbing of his heart; there was a look of almost maternal protection and conscious pride in Victorine's face. Among the countless thoughts that crowded up in her young innocent heart, there was a wild flutter of joy at this close contact.
"Poor, dear child!" said Mme. Couture, squeezing her hand.
The old lady looked at the girl. Victorine's innocent, pathetic face, so radiant with the new happiness that had befallen her, called to mind some naive work of mediaeval art, when the painter neglected the accessories, reserving all the magic of his brush for the quiet, austere outlines and ivory tints of the face, which seems to have caught something of the golden glory of heaven.
"After all, he only took two glasses, mamma," said Victorine, passing her fingers through Eugene's hair.
"Indeed, if he had been a dissipated young man, child, he would have carried his wine like the rest of them. His drowsiness does him credit."
There was a sound of wheels outside in the street.
"There is M. Vautrin, mamma," said the girl. "Just take M. Eugene. I would rather not have that man see me like this; there are some ways of looking at you that seem to sully your soul and make you feel as though you had nothing on."
"Oh, no, you are wrong!" said Mme. Couture. "M. Vautrin is a worthy man; he reminds me a little of my late husband, poor dear M. Couture, rough but kind-hearted; his bark is worse than his bite."
Vautrin came in while she was speaking; he did not make a sound, but looked for a while at the picture of the two young faces—the lamplight falling full upon them seemed to caress them.
"Well," he remarked, folding his arms, "here is a picture! It would have suggested some pleasing pages to Bernardin de Saint-Pierre (good soul), who wrote Paul et Virginie. Youth is very charming, Mme. Couture!—Sleep on, poor boy," he added, looking at Eugene, "luck sometimes comes while you are sleeping.—There is something touching and attractive to me about this young man, madame," he continued; "I know that his nature is in harmony with his face. Just look, the head of a cherub on an angel's shoulder! He deserves to be loved. If I were a woman, I would die (no—not such a fool), I would live for him." He bent lower and spoke in the widow's ear. "When I see those two together, madame, I cannot help thinking that Providence meant them for each other; He works by secret ways, and tries the reins and the heart," he said in a loud voice. "And when I see you, my children, thus united by a like purity and by all human affections, I say to myself that it is quite impossible that the future should separate you. God is just."—He turned to Victorine. "It seems to me," he said, "that I have seen the line of success in your hand. Let me look at it, Mlle. Victorine; I am well up in palmistry, and I have told fortunes many a time. Come, now, don't be frightened. Ah! what do I see? Upon my word, you will be one of the richest heiresses in Paris before very long. You will heap riches on the man who loves you. Your father will want you to go and live with him. You will marry a young and handsome man with a title, and he will idolize you."
The heavy footsteps of the coquettish widow, who was coming down the stairs, interrupted Vautrin's fortune-telling. "Here is Mamma Vauquerre, fair as a starr-r-r, dressed within an inch of her life.—Aren't we a trifle pinched for room?" he inquired, with his arm round the lady; "we are screwed up very tightly about the bust, mamma! If we are much agitated, there may be an explosion; but I will pick up the fragments with all the care of an antiquary."
"There is a man who can talk the language of French gallantry!" said the widow, bending to speak in Mme. Couture's ear.
"Good-bye, little ones!" said Vautrin, turning to Eugene and Victorine. "Bless you both!" and he laid a hand on either head. "Take my word for it, young lady, an honest man's prayers are worth something; they should bring you happiness, for God hears them."
"Good-bye, dear," said Mme. Vauquer to her lodger. "Do you think that M. Vautrin means to run away with me?" she added, lowering her voice.
"Lack-a-day!" said the widow.
"Oh! mamma dear, suppose it should really happen as that kind M. Vautrin said!" said Victorine with a sigh as she looked at her hands. The two women were alone together.
"Why, it wouldn't take much to bring it to pass," said the elderly lady; "just a fall from his horse, and your monster of a brother——"
"Good Lord! Well, perhaps it is a sin to wish bad luck to an enemy," the widow remarked. "I will do penance for it. Still, I would strew flowers on his grave with the greatest pleasure, and that is the truth. Black-hearted, that he is! The coward couldn't speak up for his own mother, and cheats you out of your share by deceit and trickery. My cousin had a pretty fortune of her own, but unluckily for you, nothing was said in the marriage-contract about anything that she might come in for."
"It would be very hard if my fortune is to cost some one else his life," said Victorine. "If I cannot be happy unless my brother is to be taken out of the world, I would rather stay here all my life."
"Mon Dieu! it is just as that good M. Vautrin says, and he is full of piety, you see," Mme. Couture remarked. "I am very glad to find that he is not an unbeliever like the rest of them that talk of the Almighty with less respect than they do of the Devil. Well, as he was saying, who can know the ways by which it may please Providence to lead us?"
With Sylvie's help the two women at last succeeded in getting Eugene up to his room; they laid him on the bed, and the cook unfastened his clothes to make him more comfortable. Before they left the room, Victorine snatched an opportunity when her guardian's back was turned, and pressed a kiss on Eugene's forehead, feeling all the joy that this stolen pleasure could give her. Then she looked round the room, and gathering up, as it were, into one single thought all the untold bliss of that day, she made a picture of her memories, and dwelt upon it until she slept, the happiest creature in Paris.
That evening's merry-making, in the course of which Vautrin had given the drugged wine to Eugene and Father Goriot, was his own ruin. Bianchon, flustered with wine, forgot to open the subject of Trompe-la-Mort with Mlle. Michonneau. The mere mention of the name would have set Vautrin on his guard; for Vautrin, or, to give him his real name, Jacques Collin, was in fact the notorious escaped convict.
But it was the joke about the Venus of Pere-Lachaise that finally decided his fate. Mlle. Michonneau had very nearly made up her mind to warn the convict and to throw herself on his generosity, with the idea of making a better bargain for herself by helping him to escape that night; but as it was, she went out escorted by Poiret in search of the famous chief of detectives in the Petite Rue Saint-Anne, still thinking that it was the district superintendent—one Gondureau—with whom she had to do. The head of the department received his visitors courteously. There was a little talk, and the details were definitely arranged. Mlle. Michonneau asked for the draught that she was to administer in order to set about her investigation. But the great man's evident satisfaction set Mlle. Michonneau thinking; and she began to see that this business involved something more than the mere capture of a runaway convict. She racked her brains while he looked in a drawer in his desk for the little phial, and it dawned upon her that in consequence of treacherous revelations made by the prisoners the police were hoping to lay their hands on a considerable sum of money. But on hinting her suspicions to the old fox of the Petite Rue Saint-Anne, that officer began to smile, and tried to put her off the scent.
"A delusion," he said. "Collin's sorbonne is the most dangerous that has yet been found among the dangerous classes. That is all, and the rascals are quite aware of it. They rally round him; he is the backbone of the federation, its Bonaparte, in short; he is very popular with them all. The rogue will never leave his chump in the Place de Greve."
As Mlle. Michonneau seemed mystified, Gondureau explained the two slang words for her benefit. Sorbonne and chump are two forcible expressions borrowed from thieves' Latin, thieves, of all people, being compelled to consider the human head in its two aspects. A sorbonne is the head of a living man, his faculty of thinking—his council; a chump is a contemptuous epithet that implies how little a human head is worth after the axe has done its work.
"Collin is playing us off," he continued. "When we come across a man like a bar of steel tempered in the English fashion, there is always one resource left—we can kill him if he takes it into his head to make the least resistance. We are reckoning on several methods of killing Collin to-morrow morning. It saves a trial, and society is rid of him without all the expense of guarding and feeding him. What with getting up the case, summoning witnesses, paying their expenses, and carrying out the sentence, it costs a lot to go through all the proper formalities before you can get quit of one of these good-for-nothings, over and above the three thousand francs that you are going to have. There is a saving in time as well. One good thrust of the bayonet into Trompe-la-Mort's paunch will prevent scores of crimes, and save fifty scoundrels from following his example; they will be very careful to keep themselves out of the police courts. That is doing the work of the police thoroughly, and true philanthropists will tell you that it is better to prevent crime than to punish it."
"And you do a service to our country," said Poiret.
"Really, you are talking in a very sensible manner tonight, that you are," said the head of the department. "Yes, of course, we are serving our country, and we are very hardly used too. We do society very great services that are not recognized. In fact, a superior man must rise above vulgar prejudices, and a Christian must resign himself to the mishaps that doing right entails, when right is done in an out-of-the-way style. Paris is Paris, you see! That is the explanation of my life.—I have the honor to wish you a good-evening, mademoiselle. I shall bring my men to the Jardin du Roi in the morning. Send Christophe to the Rue du Buffon, tell him to ask for M. Gondureau in the house where you saw me before.—Your servant, sir. If you should ever have anything stolen from you, come to me, and I will do my best to get it back for you."
"Well, now," Poiret remarked to Mlle. Michonneau, "there are idiots who are scared out of their wits by the word police. That was a very pleasant-spoken gentleman, and what he wants you to do is as easy as saying 'Good-day.'"