Father Goriot/Section 16
The study was furnished as elegantly as the other rooms, and nothing was wanting there.
"Have we guessed your wishes rightly?" she asked, as they returned to the drawing-room for dinner.
"Yes," he said, "only too well, alas! For all this luxury so well carried out, this realization of pleasant dreams, the elegance that satisfies all the romantic fancies of youth, appeals to me so strongly that I cannot but feel that it is my rightful possession, but I cannot accept it from you, and I am too poor as yet to——"
"Ah! ah! you say me nay already," she said with arch imperiousness, and a charming little pout of the lips, a woman's way of laughing away scruples.
But Eugene had submitted so lately to that solemn self-questioning, and Vautrin's arrest had so plainly shown him the depths of the pit that lay ready to his feet, that the instincts of generosity and honor had been strengthened in him, and he could not allow himself to be coaxed into abandoning his high-minded determinations. Profound melancholy filled his mind.
"Do you really mean to refuse?" said Mme. de Nucingen. "And do you know what such a refusal means? That you are not sure of yourself, that you do not dare to bind yourself to me. Are you really afraid of betraying my affection? If you love me, if I—love you, why should you shrink back from such a slight obligation? If you but knew what a pleasure it has been to see after all the arrangements of this bachelor establishment, you would not hesitate any longer, you would ask me to forgive you for your hesitation. I had some money that belonged to you, and I have made good use of it, that is all. You mean this for magnanimity, but it is very little of you. You are asking me for far more than this. . . . Ah!" she cried, as Eugene's passionate glance was turned on her, "and you are making difficulties about the merest trifles. Of, if you feel no love whatever for me, refuse, by all means. My fate hangs on a word from you. Speak!—Father," she said after a pause, "make him listen to reason. Can he imagine that I am less nice than he is on the point of honor?"
Father Goriot was looking on and listening to this pretty quarrel with a placid smile, as if he had found some balm for all the sorrows of life.
"Child that you are!" she cried again, catching Eugene's hand. "You are just beginning life; you find barriers at the outset that many a man finds insurmountable; a woman's hand opens the way and you shrink back! Why, you are sure to succeed! You will have a brilliant future. Success is written on that broad forehead of yours, and will you not be able to repay me my loan of to-day? Did not a lady in olden times arm her knight with sword and helmet and coat of mail, and find him a charger, so that he might fight for her in the tournament? Well, then, Eugene, these things that I offer you are the weapons of this age; every one who means to be something must have such tools as these. A pretty place your garret must be if it is like papa's room! See, dinner is waiting all this time. Do you want to make me unhappy?—Why don't you answer?" she said, shaking his hand. "Mon Dieu! papa, make up his mind for him, or I will go away and never see him any more."
"I will make up your mind," said Goriot, coming down from the clouds. "Now, my dear M. Eugene, the next thing is to borrow money of the Jews, isn't it?"
"There is positively no help for it," said Eugene.
"All right, I will give you credit," said the other, drawing out a cheap leather pocket-book, much the worse for wear. "I have turned Jew myself; I paid for everything; here are the invoices. You do not owe a penny for anything here. It did not come to very much—five thousand francs at most, and I am going to lend you the money myself. I am not a woman—you can refuse me. You shall give me a receipt on a scrap of paper, and you can return it some time or other."
Delphine and Eugene looked at each other in amazement, tears sprang to their eyes. Rastignac held out his hand and grasped Goriot's warmly.
"Well, what is all this about? Are you not my children?"
"Oh! my poor father," said Mme. de Nucingen, "how did you do it?"
"Ah! now you ask me. When I made up my mind to move him nearer to you, and saw you buying things as if they were wedding presents, I said to myself, 'She will never be able to pay for them.' The attorney says that those law proceedings will last quite six months before your husband can be made to disgorge your fortune. Well and good. I sold out my property in the funds that brought in thirteen hundred and fifty livres a year, and bought a safe annuity of twelve hundred francs a year for fifteen thousand francs. Then I paid your tradesmen out of the rest of the capital. As for me, children, I have a room upstairs for which I pay fifty crowns a year; I can live like a prince on two francs a day, and still have something left over. I shall not have to spend anything much on clothes, for I never wear anything out. This fortnight past I have been laughing in my sleeve, thinking to myself, 'How happy they are going to be!' and—well, now, are you not happy?"
"Oh papa! papa!" cried Mme. de Nucingen, springing to her father, who took her on his knee. She covered him with kisses, her fair hair brushed his cheek, her tears fell on the withered face that had grown so bright and radiant.
"Dear father, what a father you are! No, there is not another father like you under the sun. If Eugene loved you before, what must he feel for you now?"
"Why, children, why Delphinette!" cried Goriot, who had not felt his daughter's heart beat against his breast for ten years, "do you want me to die of joy? My poor heart will break! Come, Monsieur Eugene, we are quits already." And the old man strained her to his breast with such fierce and passionate force that she cried out.
"Oh! you are hurting me!" she said.
"I am hurting you!" He grew pale at the words. The pain expressed in his face seemed greater than it is given to humanity to know. The agony of this Christ of paternity can only be compared with the masterpieces of those princes of the palette who have left for us the record of their visions of an agony suffered for a whole world by the Saviour of men. Father Goriot pressed his lips very gently against the waist than his fingers had grasped too roughly.
"Oh! no, no," he cried. "I have not hurt you, have I?" and his smile seemed to repeat the question. "YOU have hurt me with that cry just now.—The things cost rather more than that," he said in her ear, with another gentle kiss, "but I had to deceive him about it, or he would have been angry."
Eugene sat dumb with amazement in the presence of this inexhaustible love; he gazed at Goriot, and his face betrayed the artless admiration which shapes the beliefs of youth.
"I will be worthy of all this," he cried.
"Oh! my Eugene, that is nobly said," and Mme. de Nucingen kissed the law student on the forehead.
"He gave up Mlle. Taillefer and her millions for you," said Father Goriot. "Yes, the little thing was in love with you, and now that her brother is dead she is as rich as Croesus."
"Oh! why did you tell her?" cried Rastignac.
"Eugene," Delphine said in his ear, "I have one regret now this evening. Ah! how I will love you! and for ever!"
"This is the happiest day I have had since you two were married!" cried Goriot. "God may send me any suffering, so long as I do not suffer through you, and I can still say, 'In this short month of February I had more happiness than other men have in their whole lives.'—Look at me, Fifine!" he said to his daughter. "She is very beautiful, is she not? Tell me, now, have you seen many women with that pretty soft color—that little dimple of hers? No, I thought not. Ah, well, and but for me this lovely woman would never have been. And very soon happiness will make her a thousand times lovelier, happiness through you. I could give up my place in heaven to you, neighbor, if needs be, and go down to hell instead. Come, let us have dinner," he added, scarcely knowing what he said, "everything is ours."
"Poor dear father!"
He rose and went over to her, and took her face in his hands, and set a kiss on the plaits of hair. "If you only knew, little one, how happy you can make me—how little it takes to make me happy! Will you come and see me sometimes? I shall be just above, so it is only a step. Promise me, say that you will!"
"Yes, dear father."
"Say it again."
"Yes, I will, my kind father."
"Hush! hush! I should make you say it a hundred times over if I followed my own wishes. Let us have dinner."
The three behaved like children that evening, and Father Goriot's spirits were certainly not the least wild. He lay at his daughter's feet, kissed them, gazed into her eyes, rubbed his head against her dress; in short, no young lover could have been more extravagant or more tender.
"You see!" Delphine said with a look at Eugene, "so long as my father is with us, he monopolizes me. He will be rather in the way sometimes."
Eugene had himself already felt certain twinges of jealousy, and could not blame this speech that contained the germ of all ingratitude.
"And when will the rooms be ready?" asked Eugene, looking round. "We must all leave them this evening, I suppose."
"Yes, but to-morrow you must come and dine with me," she answered, with an eloquent glance. "It is our night at the Italiens."
"I shall go to the pit," said her father.
It was midnight. Mme. de Nucingen's carriage was waiting for her, and Father Goriot and the student walked back to the Maison Vauquer, talking of Delphine, and warming over their talk till there grew up a curious rivalry between the two violent passions. Eugene could not help seeing that the father's self-less love was deeper and more steadfast than his own. For this worshiper Delphine was always pure and fair, and her father's adoration drew its fervor from a whole past as well as a future of love.
They found Mme. Vauquer by the stove, with Sylvie and Christophe to keep her company; the old landlady, sitting like Marius among the ruins of Carthage, was waiting for the two lodgers that yet remained to her, and bemoaning her lot with the sympathetic Sylvie. Tasso's lamentations as recorded in Byron's poem are undoubtedly eloquent, but for sheer force of truth they fall far short of the widow's cry from the depths.
"Only three cups of coffee in the morning, Sylvie! Oh dear! to have your house emptied in this way is enough to break your heart. What is life, now my lodgers are gone? Nothing at all. Just think of it! It is just as if all the furniture had been taken out of the house, and your furniture is your life. How have I offended heaven to draw down all this trouble upon me? And haricot beans and potatoes laid in for twenty people! The police in my house too! We shall have to live on potatoes now, and Christophe will have to go!"
The Savoyard, who was fast asleep, suddenly woke up at this, and said, "Madame," questioningly.
"Poor fellow!" said Sylvie, "he is like a dog."
"In the dead season, too! Nobody is moving now. I would like to know where the lodgers are to drop down from. It drives me distracted. And that old witch of a Michonneau goes and takes Poiret with her! What can she have done to make him so fond of her? He runs about after her like a little dog."
"Lord!" said Sylvie, flinging up her head, "those old maids are up to all sorts of tricks."
"There's that poor M. Vautrin that they made out to be a convict," the widow went on. "Well, you know that is too much for me, Sylvie; I can't bring myself to believe it. Such a lively man as he was, and paid fifteen francs a month for his coffee of an evening, paid you very penny on the nail too."
"And open-handed he was!" said Christophe.
"There is some mistake," said Sylvie.
"Why, no there isn't! he said so himself!" said Mme. Vauquer. "And to think that all these things have happened in my house, and in a quarter where you never see a cat go by. On my word as an honest woman, it's like a dream. For, look here, we saw Louis XVI. meet with his mishap; we saw the fall of the Emperor; and we saw him come back and fall again; there was nothing out of the way in all that, but lodging-houses are not liable to revolutions. You can do without a king, but you must eat all the same; and so long as a decent woman, a de Conflans born and bred, will give you all sorts of good things for dinner, nothing short of the end of the world ought to—but there, it is the end of the world, that is just what it is!"
"And to think that Mlle. Michonneau who made all this mischief is to have a thousand crowns a year for it, so I hear," cried Sylvie.
"Don't speak of her, she is a wicked woman!" said Mme. Vauquer. "She is going to the Buneaud, who charges less than cost. But the Buneaud is capable of anything; she must have done frightful things, robbed and murdered people in her time. She ought to be put in jail for life instead of that poor dear——"
Eugene and Goriot rang the door-bell at that moment.
"Ah! here are my two faithful lodgers," said the widow, sighing.
But the two faithful lodgers, who retained but shadowy recollections of the misfortunes of their lodging-house, announced to their hostess without more ado that they were about to remove to the Chaussee d'Antin.
"Sylvie!" cried the widow, "this is the last straw.—Gentlemen, this will be the death of me! It has quite upset me! There's a weight on my chest! I am ten years older for this day! Upon my word, I shall go out of my senses! And what is to be done with the haricots!—Oh, well, if I am to be left here all by myself, you shall go to-morrow, Christophe.—Good-night, gentlemen," and she went.
"What is the matter now?" Eugene inquired of Sylvie.
"Lord! everybody is going about his business, and that has addled her wits. There! she is crying upstairs. It will do her good to snivel a bit. It's the first time she has cried since I've been with her."
By the morning, Mme. Vauquer, to use her own expression, had "made up her mind to it." True, she still wore a doleful countenance, as might be expected of a woman who had lost all her lodgers, and whose manner of life had been suddenly revolutionized, but she had all her wits about her. Her grief was genuine and profound; it was real pain of mind, for her purse had suffered, the routine of her existence had been broken. A lover's farewell glance at his lady-love's window is not more mournful than Mme. Vauquer's survey of the empty places round her table. Eugene administered comfort, telling the widow that Bianchon, whose term of residence at the hospital was about to expire, would doubtless take his (Rastignac's) place; that the official from the Museum had often expressed a desire to have Mme. Couture's rooms; and that in a very few days her household would be on the old footing.
"God send it may, my dear sir! but bad luck has come to lodge here. There'll be a death in the house before ten days are out, you'll see," and she gave a lugubrious look round the dining-room. "Whose turn will it be, I wonder?"
"It is just as well that we are moving out," said Eugene to Father Goriot in a low voice.
"Madame," said Sylvie, running in with a scared face, "I have not seen Mistigris these three days."
"Ah! well, if my cat is dead, if he has gone and left us, I——"
The poor woman could not finish her sentence; she clasped her hands and hid her face on the back of her armchair, quite overcome by this dreadful portent.
By twelve o'clock, when the postman reaches that quarter, Eugene received a letter. The dainty envelope bore the Beauseant arms on the seal, and contained an invitation to the Vicomtesse's great ball, which had been talked of in Paris for a month. A little note for Eugene was slipped in with the card.
- "I think, monsieur, that you will undertake with pleasure to interpret my sentiments to Mme. de Nucingen, so I am sending the card for which you asked me to you. I shall be delighted to make the acquaintance of Mme. de Restaud's sister. Pray introduce that charming lady to me, and do not let her monopolize all your affection, for you owe me not a little in return for mine.
- "VICOMTESSE DE BEAUSEANT."
"Well," said Eugene to himself, as he read the note a second time, "Mme. de Beauseant says pretty plainly that she does not want the Baron de Nucingen."
He went to Delphine at once in his joy. He had procured this pleasure for her, and doubtless he would receive the price of it. Mme. de Nucingen was dressing. Rastignac waited in her boudoir, enduring as best he might the natural impatience of an eager temperament for the reward desired and withheld for a year. Such sensations are only known once in a life. The first woman to whom a man is drawn, if she is really a woman—that is to say, if she appears to him amid the splendid accessories that form a necessary background to life in the world of Paris—will never have a rival.