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Dorothy Edwards


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Translated by Miss K. P. WORMELEY.

Already Published:


THE MAGIC SKIN (Peau de Chagrin).









Copyright, 1886,

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DURING winter nights noise never ceases in the Rue
Saint-Honor^ except for a short interval. Kitchen-
gardeners carrying their produce to market continue
the stir of carriages returning from theatres and balls.
Near the middle of this sustained pause in the grand
symphony of Parisian uproar, which occurs about one
o'clock in the morning, the wife of Monsieur Ce'sar
Birotteau, a perfumer established near the Place Ven-
dome, was startled from her sleep by a frightful dream.
She had seen her double. She had appeared to herself
clothed in rags, turning with a shrivelled, withered hand
the latch of her own shop-door, seeming to be at the
threshold, yet at the same time seated in her armchair
behind the counter. She was asking alms of herself,
and heard herself speaking from the doorway and also
from her seat at the desk.


2 CSsar Birotteau.

She tried to grasp her husband, but her hand fell on
a cold place. Her terror became so intense that she
could not move her neck, which stiffened as if petrified ;
the membranes of her throat became glued together,
her voice failed her. She remained sitting erect in the
same posture in the middle of the alcove, both panels
of which were wide open, her eyes staring and fixed,
her hair quivering, her ears filled with strange noises,
her heart tightened yet palpitating, and her person
bathed in perspiration though chilled to the bone.

Fear is a half-diseased sentiment, which presses so
violently upon the human mechanism that the faculties
are suddenly excited to the highest degree of their
power or driven to utter disorganization. Physiologists
have long wondered at this phenomenon, which over-
turns their systems and upsets all theories ; it is in fact
a thunderbolt working within the being, and, like all
electric accidents, capricious and whimsical in its course.
This explanation will become a mere commonplace in
the day when scientific men are brought to recognize the
immense part which electricity plays in human thought.

Madame Birotteau now passed through several of the
shocks, in some sort electrical, which are produced by
terrible explosions of the will forced out, or held under,
by some mysterious mechanism. Thus during a period
of time, very short if judged by a watch, but immeas-
urable when calculated by the rapidity of her impres-
sions, the poor woman had the supernatural power of
emitting more ideas and bringing to the surface more
recollections than, under any ordinary use of her facul-
ties, she could put forth in the course of a whole day.
The poignant tale of her monologue may be abridged

Cesar Birotteau. 3

into a few absurd sentences, as contradictory and bare
of meaning as the monologue itself.

" There is no reason why Birotteau should leave my
bed ! He has eaten so much veal that he may be ill.
But if he were ill he would have waked me. For nine-
teen years that we have slept together in this bed, in
this house, it has never happened that he left his place
without telling me, poor sheep ! He never slept
away except to pass the night in the guard-room. Did
become to bed to-night? Why, of course ; goodness!
how stupid I am."

She cast her eyes upon the bed and saw her hus-
band's night-cap, which still retained the almost conical
shape of his head.

" Can he be dead ? Has he killed himself? Why ? "
she went on. " For the last two years, since they made
him deputy-ma3 r or, he is all-I-don't-know-how. To
put him into public life ! On the word of an honest
woman, isn't it pitiable? His business is doing well,
for he gave me a shawl. But perhaps it is n't doing
well ? Bah ! I should know of it. Does one ever
know what a man has got in his head ; or a woman
either ? there is no harm in that. Did n't we sell five
thousand francs' worth to-day? Besides, a deputy-
ma3'or couldn't kill himself; he knows the laws too
well. Where is he then?"

She could neither turn her neck, nor stretch out her
hand to pull the bell, which would have put in motion
a cook, three clerks, and a shop-bo}'. A prey to the
nightmare, which still lasted though her mind was wide
awake, she forgot her daughter peacefully asleep in an
adjoining room, the door of which opened at the foot of

4 Cesar Birotteau.

her bed. At last she cried, "Birotteau!" hut got no
answer. She thought she had called the name aloud,
though in fact she had only uttered it mentally.

" Has he a mistress? He is too stupid," she added.
"Besides, he loves me too well for that. Didn't he
tell Madame Roguin that he had never been unfaithful
to me, even in thought? He is virtue upon earth, that
man. If any one ever deserved paradise he does.
What does he accuse himself of to his confessor, I

wonder? He must tell him a lot of fiddle-faddle. Koy-

alist as he is, though he does n't know whj-, he carrt

froth up his religion. Poor dear cat ! he creeps to Mass
at eight o'clock as slyly as if he were going to a bad
house. He fears God for God's sake ; hell is nothing
to him. How could he have a mistress? He is so tied
to my petticoat that he bores me. He loves me better
than his own eyes ; he would put them out for my sake.
For nineteen years he has never said to me one word
louder than another. His daughter is never considered
before me. But Ce*sarine is here Cesarine ! Cesa-
rine 5 Birotteau has never had a thought which he did
not tell me. He was right enough when he declared to
me at the Petit-Matelot that I should never know him
till I tried him. And not here! It is extraordinary ! "
She turned her head with difficulty and glanced fur-
tively about the room, then filled with those picturesque
effects which are the despair of language and seem to
belong exclusively to the painters of genre. What
words can picture the alarming zig-zags produced by
falling shadows, the fantastic appearance of curtains
bulged out by the wind, the flicker of uncertain light
thrown by a night-lamp upon the folds of red calico,

Csar Birotteau. 5

the rays shed from a curtain-holder whose lurid centre
was like the eye of a burglar, the apparition of a kneel-
ing dress, in short, all the grotesque effects which
terrify the imagination at a moment when it has no
power except to foresee misfortunes and exaggerate
them? Madame Birotteau suddenly saw a strong light
in the room beyond her chamber, and thought of fire ;
but perceiving a red foulard which looked like a pool
of blood, her mind turned exclusively to burglars,
especially when she thought she saw traces of a
struggle in the way the furniture stood about the
room. Recollecting the sum of money which was in
the desk, a generous fear put an end to the chill fer-
ment of her nightmare. She sprang terrified, and in
her night-gown, into the very centre of the room to
help her husband, whom she supposed to be in the
grasp of assassins.

" Birotteau ! Birotteau ! " she cried at last in a voice
full of anguish.

She then saw the perfumer in the middle of the next
room, a 3*ard-stick in his hand measuring the air, and
so ill wrapped up in his green cotton dressing-gown
with chocolate-colored spots that the cold had reddened
his legs without his feeling it, preoccupied as he was.
When Cesar turned about to say to his wife, "Well,
what do you want, Constance?" his air and manner,
like those of a man absorbed in calculations, were so
prodigiously silly that Madame Birotteau began to

" Goodness! Cesar, if you are not an odditj r like
that ! " she said. " Why did } T OU leave me alone with-
out telling me? I have nearly died of terror; I did

6 C6sar Birotteau.

not know what to imagine. What are you doing there,
flying open to all the winds ? You '11 get as hoarse as
a wolf. Do you hear me, Birotteau ? "

"Yes, wife, here I am," answered the perfumer,
coming into the bedroom.

" Come and warm yourself, and tell me what maggot
you've got in your head," replied Madame Birotteau
opening the ashes of the fire, which she hastened to
relight. ' ' I am frozen. What a goose I was to get
up in my night-gown ! But I really thought they were
assassinating you."

The shopkeeper put his candlestick on the chimney-
piece, wrapped his dressing-gown closer about him, and
went mechanically to find a flannel petticoat for his

" Here, Mimi, cover yourself up," he said. "Twenty-
two by eighteen," he resumed, going on with his mono-
logue ; "we can get a superb salon."

"Ah, a! Birotteau, are you on the high-road to
insanity ? Are you dreaming ? "

" No, wife, I am calculating."

"You had better wait till daylight for your non-
sense," she cried, fastening the petticoat beneath her
short night-gown and going to the door of the room
where her daughter was in bed.

" Cesarine is asleep," she said, " she won't hear us.
Come, Birotteau, speak up. What is it?"

" We can give a ball."

"Give a ball! we? On the word of an honest
woman, you are dreaming, my dear friend."

"I am not dreaming, my beautiful white doe. Listen.
People should always do what their position in life

CSsar Birotteau. 7

demands. Government has brought me forward into
prominence. I belong to the government; it is my
duty to study its mind, and further its intentions by
developing them. The Due de Richelieu has just put
an end to the occupation of France by the foreign
armies. According to Monsieur de la Billardiere, the
functionaries who represent the city of Paris should
make it their duty, each in his own sphere of influence,
to celebrate the liberation of our territory. Let us
show a true patriotism which shall put these liberals,
these damned intriguers, to the blush; hein? Do you
think I don't love my country? I wish to show the
liberals, my enemies, that to love the king is to love
I France."

! "Do you think you have got any enemies, my poor

" Why, yes, wife, we have enemies. Half our friends
in the quarter are our enemies. They all say, ' Birot-
teau has had luck ; Birotteau is a man who came from
nothing : yet here he is deputy-mayor ; everything suc-
ceeds with him.' Well, they ai'e going to be finely sur-
prised. You are the first to be told that I am made a
chevalier of the Legion of honor. The king signed
the order yesterday ."

" Oh! then," said Madame Birotteau, much moved,
" of course we must give the ball, my good friend. But
what have } r ou done to merit the cross ? "

" Yesterday, when Monsieur de la Billardiere told me
the news," said Birotteau, modestly, " I asked mj'self,
as j'ou do, what claims I had to it ; but I ended by see-
ing what they were, and in approving the action of the
government. In the first place, I am a royalist ; I was

8 Csar Birotteau.

wounded at Saint-Koch in Vendemiaire : is n't it some-
thing to have borne arms in those days for the good
cause? Then, according to the merchants, I exercised
my judicial functions in a way to give general satisfac-
tion. I am now deputy-mayor. The king grants four
crosses to the municipality of Paris ; the prefect,
selecting among the deputies suitable persons to be
thus decorated, has placed my name first on the list.
The king moreover knows me : thanks to old Ragon.
I furnish him with the only powder he is willing to use ;
we alone possess the receipt of the late queen, poor,
dear, august victim ! The mayor vehemently supported
me. So there it is. If the king gives me the cross
without my asking for it, it seems to me that I cannot
refuse it without failing in my duty to him. Did I seek
to be deputy-mayor? So, wife, since we are sailing be-
fore the wind, as your uncle Pillerault says when he
is jovial, I have decided to put the household on a foot-
ing in conformit}^ with our high position. If I can
become anything, I '11 risk being whatever the good God
wills that I shall be, sub-prefect, if such be my destin}'.
My wife, you are much mistaken if you think a citizen
has paid his debt to his country by merely selling per-
fumery for twenty years to those who came to buy it.
If the State demands the help of our intelligence, we
are as much bound to give it as we are to pay the tax
on personal property, on windows and doors, et ccetera.
Do you want to stay forever behind your counter? You
i have been there, thank God, a long time. This ball
shall be our fete r j'ours and mine. Good-by to econ-
omy, for your sake, be it understood. I burn our
sign, ' The Queen of Roses ; ' I efface the name, ' Cesar

Csar Birotteau. 9

Birotteau, Perfumer, Successor to Eagon,' and put
simply ' Perfumery ' in big letters of gold. On the
entresol I place the office, the counting-room, and a
pretty little sanctum for you. I make the shop out of
the back-shop, the present dining-room, and kitchen.
I hire the first floor of the next house, and open a door
into it through the wall. I turn the staircase so as to
pass from house to house on one floor ; and we shall
thus get a grand appartement, furnished like a nest.
Yes, I shall refurnish your bedroom, and contrive a
boudoir for you and a pretty chamber for Cesarine. The
shop-girl whom you will hire, our head clerk, and your
lady's-maid (yes, Madame, you are to have one !) will
sleep on the second floor. On the third will be the
kitchen and rooms of the cook and the man -of-all- work.
The fourth shall be a general store-house for bottles,
crystals, and porcelains. The workshop for our people,
in the attic ! Passers-by shall no longer see them gum-
ming on the labels, making the bags, sorting the flasks,
and corking the phials. Very well for the Rue Saint-
Denis, but for the Rue Saint-Honore fy! bad style!
Our shop must be as comfortable as a drawing-room.
Tell me, are we the only perfumers who have reached
public honors ? Are there not vinegar merchants and
mustard men who command in the National Guard and
are very well received at the Palace ? Let us imitate
them ; let us extend our business, and at the same time
press forward into higher society."

"Goodness! Birotteau, do you know what I am
thinking of as I listen to you ? You are like the man
who looks for knots in a bulrush. Recollect what I said
when it was a question of making you deputy-mayor :

10 Ctsar Birotteau.

* your peace of mind before everything ! ' You are as fit,
I told you, ' to be put forward in public life as my arm is
to turn a windmill. Honors will be your ruin ! ' You
would not listen to me, and now the ruin has come. To
play a part in politics J T OU must have money : have we
any? What ! would you burn your sign, which cost six
hundred francs, and renounce ' The Queen of Roses,'
your true glory ? Leave ambition to others. He who
puts his hand in the fire gets burned, is n't that true ?
Politics burn in these days. We have one hundred
good thousand francs invested outside of our business,
our productions, our merchandise. If you want to in-
crease your fortune, do as they did in 1793. The Funds
are at sixty-two : buy into the Funds. You will get ten
thousand francs' income, and the investment won't ham-
per our property. Take advantage of the occasion to
marry our daughter; sell the business, and let us go
and live in your native place. Why ! for fifteen years
you have talked of nothing but buying Les Tresorieres,
that pretty little propertj 7 near Chinon, where there are
woods and fields, and ponds and vineyards, and two
dairies, which bring in a thousand crowns a year, with
a house which we both like, all of which we can have
for sixty thousand francs ; and, lo ! Monsieur now wants
to become something under government! Recollect
what we are, perfumers. If sixteen years before
you invented the DOUBLE PASTE OP SULTANS and the
CARMINATIVE BALM some one had said, 'You are going
to make enough money to buy Les Tresorieres,' would n't
you have been half sick with joy? Well, you can ac-
quire that property which you wanted so much that you
hardly opened your mouth about anything else, and

CSsar Birotteau. 11

now you talk of spending on nonsense money earned by
the sweat of our brow : I can say ours, for I 've sat be-
hind the desk through all that time, like a poor dog in
his kennel. Is n't it much better to come and visit our
daughter after she is married to a notary of Paris, and
live eight months of the year at Chinon, than to begin
here to make five sous six blanks, and of six blanks
nothing ? Wait for a rise in the Funds, and you can
give eight thousand francs a j*ear to your daughter and
we can keep two thousand for ourselves, and the pro-
ceeds of the business will allow us to buy Les Treso-
rieres. There in your native place, my good little
cat, with our furniture, which is worth a great deal, we
shall live like princes ; whereas here we want at least a
million to make any figure at all."

"I expected you to say all this, wife," said Ce'sar
Birotteau. "I am not quite such a fool (though you
think me a great fool, you do) as not to have thought
of all that. Now, listen to me. Alexandre Crottat will
fit us like a glove for a son-in-law, and he will succeed
Roguin ; but do you suppose he will be satisfied with a
hundred thousand francs dot? supposing that we gave
our whole property outside of the business to establish
our daughter, and I am willing ; I would gladly live
on dry bread the rest of my days to see her happy as
a queen, the wife of a notary of Paris, as you say.
Well, then, a hundred thousand francs, or even eight
thousand francs a year, is nothing at all towards buy-
ing Roguin's practice. Little Xandrot, as we call him,
thinks, like all the rest of the world, that we are richer
than we are. If his father, that big farmer who is as
close as a snail, won't sell a hundred thousand francs

12 CSsar Birotteau.

worth of land Xandrot can't be a notary, for Roguin's
practice is worth four or five hundred thousand. If
Crottat does not pay half down, how could he negotiate
the affair? Cesarine must have two hundred thousand
francs dot / and I mean that you and I shall retire solid
bourgeois of Paris, with fifteen thousand francs a year.
Hein ! If I could make you see that as plain as day,
would n't it shut your mouth ? "

" Oh, if you 've got the mines of Peru "
*' Yes, I have, my lamb. Yes," he said, taking his
wife by the waist and striking her with little taps, under
an emotion of joy which lighted up his features, "I
did not wish to tell you of this matter till it was all
cooked ; but to-morrow it will be done, that is, per-
haps it will. Here it is then : Roguin has proposed a
speculation to me, so safe that he has gone into it with
Ragon, with your uncle Pillerault, and two other of his
clients. We are to buy property near the Madeleine,
which, according to Roguin's calculations, we shall get
for a quarter of the value which it will bring three j-ears
from now, at which time, the present leases having ex-
pired, we shall manage it for ourselves. We have all
six taken certain shares. I furnish three hundred thou-
sand francs, that is, three-eighths of the whole. If
any one of us wants money, Roguin will get it for him
by hypothecating his share. To hold the gridiron and
know how the fish are fried, I have chosen to be nomi-
nally proprietor of one half, which is, however, to be
the common property of Pillerault and the worth}'
Ragon and myself. Roguin will be, under the name of
Monsieur Charles Claparon, co-proprietor with me, and
will give a reversionary deed to his associates, as I shall

Cesar Birotteau. 13

to mine. The deeds of purchase are made by promises
of sale under private seal, until we are masters of the
whole property. Roguin will investigate as to which
of the contracts should be paid in money, for he is not
sure that we can dispense with registering and yet turn
over the titles to those to whom we sell in small parcels.
But it takes too long to explain all this to you. The
ground once paid for, we have only to cross our arms
and in three years we shall be rich by a million. Ce-
sariue will then be twenty, our business will be sold,
and we shall step, by the grace of God, modestly to

" Where will you get your three hundred thousand
francs? " said Madame Birotteau.

"You don't understand business, my beloved little
cat. I shall take the hundred thousand francs which
are now with Roguin ; I shall borrow forty thousand
on the buildings and gardens where we now have our
manufactory in the Faubourg du Temple ; we have
twenty thousand francs here in hand, in all, one hun-
dred and sixty thousand. There remain one hundred
and forty thousand more, for which I shall sign notes
to the order of Monsieur Charles Claparon, banker.
He will pay the value, less the discount. So there are
the three hundred thousand francs provided for. H
who owns rents o,wpg nn+Mng wv.n the notes fall
due we can pay them off with our profits. If we
cannot pay them in cash, Roguin will give the money at
five per cent, hypothecated on my share of the prop-
erty. But such loans will be unnecessary. I have dis-
covered an essence which will make the hair grow,
an Oil Comagene, from Syria! Livingston has just

14 Csar Birotteau.

set up for me an hydraulic press to manufacture the
oil from nuts, which yield it readily under strong pres-
sure. In a year, according to my calculations, I shall
have made a hundred thousand francs at least. I
meditate an advertisement which shall begin, ' Down
with wigs ! ' the effect will be prodigious. You have
never found out my wakefulness, Madame ! For three
months the success of Macassar Oil has kept me from
sleeping. I am resolved to take the shine out of
Macassar ! "

" So these are the fine projects you've been rolling
in 3'our noddle for two months without choosing to tell
me? I have just seen myself begging at my own
door, a warning from heaven ! Before long we shall
have nothing left but our eyes to weep with. Never
while I live shall you do it; do you hear me, Cesar?
Underneath all this there is some plot which you don't
perceive ; you are too upright and Io3'al to suspect the
tricker}' of others. Wiry should they come and offer
you millions? You are giving up your property, you
are going bej-ond your means ; and if your oil does n't
succeed, if you don't make the money, if the value of
the land can't be realized, how will you pay your
notes? With the shells of your nuts? To rise in so-
ciet}* you are going to hide your name, take down
3'our sign, ' The Queen of Roses,' and yet, you mean
to salaam and bow and scrape in advertisements and
prospectuses, which will placard Cesar Birotteau at

r every corner, and on all the boards, wherever they are


" Oh ! you are not up to it all. I shall have a
branch establishment, under the name of Popinot, in

Csar Birotteau. 15

some house near the Rue des Lombards, where I shall
put little Anselme. I shall pa)- my debt of gratitude
to Monsieur and Madame Ragon by setting up their
nephew, who can make his fortune. The poor Rago-
nines look to me half-starved of late."
" Bah ! all those people want } r our money."
"But what people, my treasure? Is it your uncle
Pillerault, who loves us like the apple of his eye, and
dines with us every Sunday? Is it good old Ragon,
our predecessor, who has forty upright years in business
to boast of, and with whom we play our game of bos-
ton? Is it Roguin, a notary, a man fiftj'-seven years
old, twenty-five of which he has been in office? A
notary of Paris ! he would be the flower of the lot, if
honest folk were not all worth the same price. If
necessary, my associates will help me. Where is the
plot, my white doe? Look here, I must tell you your
defect. On the word of an honest man it lies on my

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