Chanterie flashed a look that petrified Godefroid, for the
THE SEAMY SIDE OF HISTORY 325
doubtful expression in the new boarder's face had not es-
"Monsieur is one of us," she said to the young author,
"You are a happy man, my dear fellow," said Vernisset.
"You are saved! — But, Madame," he went on, turning to
Madame de la Chanterie, "if all Paris could have seen me,
I should be delighted. Nothing can ever pay my debt to
you. I am your slave forever! I am yours, body and soul.
Command in whatever you will, I will obey; my gratitude
knows no bounds. I owe you my life — it is yours."
"Come, come," said the worthy Alain, "do not be rash.
Only work; and, above all, never attack religion in your
writings. — And remember you are in debt."
He handed him an envelope bulging with the banknotes
he had counted out. Victor de Yernisset's eyes filled with
tears. He respectfully kissed Madame de la Chanterie's
hand, and went away after shaking hands with Monsieur
Alain and with Godefroid.
"You did not obey Madame," said the good man sol-
emnly ; and his face had an expression of sadness, such as
Godefroid had not yet seen on it. "That is a capital crime.
If it occurs again, we must part. — It would be very hard on
you, after having seemed worthy of our confidence — "
"My dear Alain," said Madame de la Chanterie, "be so
good, for my sake, as to say nothing of this act of folly.
We must not expect too much of a new-comer who has had
no great sorrows, who has no religion — who has nothing, in
fact, but great curiosity concerning every vocation, and who
as yet does not believe in us."
"Forgive me, Madame," replied Godefroid. "From this
moment I will be worthy of you; I submit to every test you
may think necessary before initiating me into the secret of
your labors; and if Monsieur the Abb^ will undertake to
enlighten me, I give myself up to him, soul and reason."
These words made Madame de la Chanterie so happy
that a faint flush rose to her cheeks, she clasped Godefroid 's
826 BALZAC'S WORKS
hand and pressed it, saying, with strange emotion, "That is
In the evening, after dinner, Godefroid saw a Vicar-
General of the Diocese of Paris, who came to call, two
canons, two retired mayors of Paris, and a lady who de-
voted herself to the poor. There was no gambling; the
conversation was general, and cheerful without being futile.
A visitor who greatly surprised Godefroid was the Com-
tesse de Saint-Cygne, one of the loftiest stars of the aristo-
cratic spheres, whose 'drawing-room was quite inaccessible
to the citizen class and to parvenus. The mere presence of
this great lady in Madame de la Chanterie's room was suffi-
ciently amazing; but the way in which the two women met
and treated each other was to Godefroid quite inexplicable,
for it bore witness to an intimacy and constant intercourse
which proved the high merit of Madame de la Chanterie.
Madame de Saint-Cygne was gracious and friendly to her
friend's four friends, and very respectful to Monsieur
As may be seen, social vanity still had a hold on Gode-
froid, who, hitherto undecided, now determined to yield,
with or without conviction, to everything Madame de la
Chanterie and her friends might require of him, to succeed
in being affiliated by them to their Order, or initiated into
their secrets, promising himself that until then he would
not definitely commit himself.
On the following day, he went to the bookkeeper recom-
mended by Madame de la Chanterie, agreed with him as to
the hours when they were to work together, and so disposed
of all his time; for the Abbe de V^ze was to catechise him
in the morning, he spent two hours of every day learning
bookkeeping, and between breakfast and dinner he worked
at the exercises and imaginary commercial correspondence
set him by his master.
Some few days thus passed, during which Godefroid
learned the charm of a life of which every hour has its
employment. The recurrence of the same duties at fixed
THE SEAMY SIDE OF HISTORY 327
hours, and perfect regularity, sufficiently account for many
happy lives, and prove how deeply the founders of religious
orders had meditated on human nature. Grodefroid, who
had made up his mind to learn of the Abbd de Y^ze, had
already begun to feel qualms as to his future life, and to
discover that he was ignorant of the importance of religious
Finally, day by day, Madame de la Chanterie, with
whom he always sat for about an hour after the second
breakfast, revealed some fresh treasures of her nature; he
had never conceived of goodness so complete, so all-
embracing. A woman as old as Madame de la Chanterie
seemed to be has none of the triviality of a young woman;
she is a friend who may offer you every feminine dainty,
who displays all the grace and refinement with which
Nature inspires woman to please man, but who no longer
asks for a return ; she may be execrable or exquisite, for all
her demands on life are buried beneath the skin — or are
dead; and Madame de la Chanterie was exquisite. She
seemed never to have been young; her looks never spoke
of the past. Far from allaying his curiosity, Godefroid's
increased intimacy with this beautiful character, and the
discoveries he made day by day, increased his desire to
know something of the previous history of the woman he
now saw as a saint. Had she ever loved? Had she been
married ? Had she been a mother ? There was nothing in
her suggestive of the old maid; she had all the elegance of
a woman of birth; and her strong health, and the extraordi-
nary charm of her conversation, seemed to reveal a heavenly
life, a sort of ignorance of the world. Excepting the worthy
and cheerful Alain, all these persons had known suffering;
but Monsieur Nicolas himself seemed to give the palm of
martyrdom to Madame de la Chanterie; nevertheless, the
memory of her sorrows was so entirely suppressed by Cath-
olic resignation, and her secret occupations, that she seemed
to have been always happy.
"You are the life of your friends," said Godefroid to her
828 BALZAC'S WORKS
one day. "You are the bond that unites them; you are the
housekeeper, so to speak, of a great work; and as we are
all mortal, I cannot but wonder what would become of your
association without you. ' '
"Yes, that is what they fear; but Providence — to whom
we owe our bookkeeper," said she with a smile— "will
doubtless provide. However, I shall think it over — "
"And will your bookkeeper soon find himself at work
for your business?" asked Godefroid, laughing.
"That must depend on him," she said with a smile. "If
he is sincerely religious, truly pious, has not the smallest
conceit, does not trouble his head about the wealth of the
establishment, and endeavors to rise superior to petty social
considerations by soaring on the wings God has bestowed
on us — "
"Which are they?"
"Simplicity and purity," replied Madame de la Chan-
terie. "Your ignorance proves that you neglect reading
your book," she added, laughing at the innocent trap she
had laid to discover whether Godefroid read the "Imitation
of Christ." "Soak your mind in Saint Paul's chapter on
Charity. It is not you who will be devoted to us, but we
to you," she said with a lofty look, "and it will be your
part to keep account of the greatest riches ever possessed
by any sovereign; you will have the same enjoyment of
them as we have; and let me tell you, if you remember the
Thousand and One Nights, that the treasures of Aladdin
are as nothing in comparison with ours. Indeed, for a year
past, we have not known what to do; it was too much for
us. We needed a bookkeeper."
As she spoke she studied Godefroid's face; he knew not
what to think of this strange confidence; but the scene
between Madame de la Chanterie and the elder Madame
Mongenod had often recurred to him, and he hesitated be-
tween doubt and belief.
"Yes, you would be very fortunate!" said she.
Godefroid was so consumed by curiosity that from that
THE SEAMY SIDE OF HISTORY 329
instant he resolved to undermine the reserve of the four
friends, and to ask thera about themselves. Now, of all
Madame de la Chanterie's boarders, the one who most at-
tracted Godefroid, and who was the most fitted in all ways
to invite the sympathy of people of every class, was the
kindly, cheerful, and unaffected Monsieur Alain. By what
means had Providence guided this simple-minded being to
this secular convent, where the votaries lived under rules as
strictly observed, in perfect freedom and in the midst of
Paris, as though they were under the sternest of Priors?
What drama, what catastrophe, had made him turn aside
from his road through the world to take a path so hard to
tread across the troubles of a great city ?
One evening Godefroid determined to call on his neigh-
bor, with the purpose of satisfying a curiosity which was
more excited by the incredibility of any catastrophe in such
a man's life than it could have been by the expectation of
listening to some terrible episode in the life of a pirate.
On hearing the reply, "Come in," in answer to two mod-
est raps on the door, Godefroid turned the key, which was
always in the lock, and found Monsieur Alain seated in his
chimney corner, reading a chapter of the "Imitation" before
going to bed by the light of two wax candles with green
shades, such as whist-players use. The worthy man had
on his trousers and a dressing-gown of thick gray flannel;
his feet were raised to the level of the fire on a hassock
worked in cross-stitch — as his slippers were also — by Ma-
dame de la Chanterie. His striking old head, with its cir-
clet of white hair, almost resembling that of an old monk,
stood out, a lighter spot against the brown background of
an immense armchair.
Monsieur Alain quietly laid his book, with its worn cor-
ners, on the little table with twisted legs, while with the
other hand he waved the young man to the second arm-
chair, removing his glasses, which nipped the end of his
330 BALZAC'S WORKS
"Are you unwell, that you have come down so late?"
"Dear Monsieur Alain," Godefroid frankly replied, "I
am a prey to curiosity which a single word from you will
prove to be very innocent or very indiscreet, and that is
enough to show you in what spirit I shall venture to ask
"Oh, ho! and what is it?" said he, with an almost
mischievous sparkle in his eye.
"What was the circumstance that induced you to lead
the life you lead here ? For, to embrace such a doctrine of
utter renunciation, a man must be disgusted with the world,
must have been deeply wounded, or have wounded others."
"Why, why, my boy?" replied the old man, and his full
lips parted in one of those smiles which made his ruddy
mouth one of the most affectionate that the genius of a
painter could conceive of. "May he not feel touched to
the deepest pity by the sight of the woes to be seen within
the walls of Paris? Did Saint Vincent de Paul need the
goad of remorse or of wounded vanity to devote himself
to foundling babes?"
"Such an answer shuts my mouth all the more effect-
ually, because if ever a soul was a match for that of the
Christian hero, it is yours," replied Godefroid.
In spite of the thickening given by age to his yellow and
wrinkled face, the old man colored crimson, for he might
seem to have invited the eulogium, though his well-known
modesty forbade the idea that he had thought of it. Gode-
froid knew full well that Madame de la Chanterie's guests
had no taste for this kind of incense. And yet good Mon-
sieur Alain's guilelessness was more distressed by this
scruple than a young maid would have been by some evil
"Though I am far from resembling him in spirit," replied
Monsieur Alain, "I certainly am like him in appearance — "
Godefroid was about to speak, but was checked by a ges-
ture from the old man, whose nose had in fact the bulbous
THE SEAMY SIDE OF HISTORY 331
appearance of the Saint's, and whose face, much like that
of some old vinedresser, was the very duplicate of the
coarse, common countenance of the founder of the Found-
ling Hospital. "As to that, you are right," he went on;
"my vocation to this work was the result of an impulse
of repentance in consequence of an adventure — "
"An adventure! You!" said Godefroid softly, who at
this word forgot what he had been about to say.
"Oh, the story I have to tell will seem to you a mere
trifle, a foolish business; but before the tribunal of con-
science it looked different. If, after having heard me, you
persist in your wish to join in our labors, you will under-
stand that feelings are in inverse proportion to our strength
of soul, and that a matter which would not trouble a Free-
thinker may greatly weigh on a feeble Christian."
After this prelude, the neophyte's curiosity had risen to
an indescribable pitch. What could be the crime of this
good soul whom Madame de la Chanterie had nicknamed
her Paschal Lamhf It was as exciting as a book entitled
"The Crimes of a Sheep." Sheep, perhaps, are ferocious
to the grass and flowers. If we listen to one of the mildest
Hepublicans of our day, the best creatures living are cruel
to something. But good Monsieur Alain! He, who, like
Sterne's Uncle Toby, would not crush a fly when it had
stung him twenty times! This beautiful soul — tortured by
These reflections filled up the pause made by the old
man after ha had said, "Listen, then!" and during which
he pushed forward the footstool under Godefroid's feet that
they might share it.
"I was a little over thirty," said he; "it was in the year
'98, so far as I recollect, a time when young men of thirty
had the experience of men of sixty. One morning, a little
before my breakfast hour at nine o'clock, my old house-
keeper announced one of the few friends left to me by the
storms of the Revolution. So my first words were to ask
him to breakfast. My friend, whose name was Mongenod,
832 BALZAC'S WOBKS
a young fellow of eight-and-twenty, accepted, but with some
hesitancy. I had not seen him since 1793 — "
"Mongenod!" cried Godefroid, "the—?"
"If you want to know the end of the story before the
beginning," the old man put in with a smile, "how am
I to tell it?"
Godefroid settled himself with an air that promised per-
"When Mongenod had seated himself," the good man
went on, "I observed that his shoes were dreadfully worn.
His spotted stockings had been so often washed that it was
hard to recognize that they were of silk. His knee-breeches
were of nankeen-colored kerseymere, so faded as to tell of
long wear, emphasized by stains in many places, and their
buckles, instead of steel, seemed to me to be of common
iron; his shoe-buckles were to match. His flowered white
waistcoat, yellow with long use, his shirt with its frayed
plaited frill, revealed extreme though decent poverty.
Finally, his coat — a houppelande, as we called such a
coat, with a single collar like a very short cape — was
enough to assure me that my friend had fallen on bad
times. This coat of nut-brown cloth, extremely thread-
bare, and brushed with excessive care, had a rim of grease
or powder round the collar, and buttons off which the plat-
ing had worn to the copper. In fact, the whole outfit was
so wretched that I could not bear to look at it. His crush
hat — a semicircular structure of beaver, which it was then
customary to carry under one arm instead of .wearing it on
the head — must have survived many changes of government.
"However, my friend had no doubt just spent a few sous
to have his head dressed by a barber, for he was freshly
shaved, and his hair, fastened into a club with a comb, was
luxuriously powdered, and smelled of pomatum. I could
see two chains hanging parallel out of his fobs, chains of
tarnished steel, but no sign of the watches within. It was
winter, but Mongenod had no cloak, for some large drops
of melting snow fallen from the eaves under which he had
THE SEAMY SIDE OF HISTORY 333
walked for shelter lay on the collar of his coat. When he
drew off his rabbit-fur gloves and I saw his right hand,
I could perceive the traces of some kind of hard labor.
"Now, his father, an advocate in the higher court, had
left him some little fortune — five or six thousand francs a
year. I at once understood that Mongenod had come to
borrow of me. 1 had in a certain hiding-place two hun-
dred louis in gold, an enormous sum at that time, when
it represented I know not how many hundred thousand
francs in paper assignats.
"Mongenod and I had been schoolfellows at the College
des Grassins, and we had been thrown together again in the
same lawyer's office — an honest man, the worthy Bordin.
When two men have spent their boyhood together and
shared the follies of their youth, there is an almost sacred
bond of sympathy between them; the man's voice and look
stir certain chords in your heart, which never vibrate but to
the particular memories that he can rouse. Even if you
have some cause to complain of such a comrade, that does
not wipe out every claim of friendship, and between us there
had not been the slightest quarrel.
"In 1787, when his father died, Mongenod had been a
richer man than I; and though I have never borrowed from
him, I had owed to him certain pleasures which my father's
strictness would have prohibited. But for my friend's gen-
erosity, I should not have seen the first performance of the
'Marriage of Figaro.'
"Mongenod was at that time what was called a finished
gentleman, a man about town and attentive to 'the ladies.'
I constantly reproved him for his too great facility in mak-
ing friends and obliging them; his purse was constantly
open, he lived largely, he would have stood surety for
you after meeting you twice. — Dear me, dear me! You
have started me on reminiscences of my youth!" cried
Monsieur Alain, with a bright smile at Godefroid as he
"You are not vexed with me?" said Godefroid.
334 BALZAO'S WORKS
"No, no. And you may judge by the minute details I
am giving you how large a place the event filled in my life.
— Mongenod, with a good heart and plenty of courage, some-
thing of a Voltairean, was inclined to play the fine gentle-
man," Monsieur Alain went on. "His education at the
Grassins, where noblemen's sons were to be met, and his
adventures of gallantry, had given him the polish of men
of rank, in those days termed Aristocrats. So you may
imagine how great was my consternation at observing in
Mongenod such signs of poverty as degraded him in my
eyes from the elegant young Mongenod I had known in
1787, when my eyes wandered from his face to examine
"However, at that time of general public penury, some
wily folk assumed an appearance of wretchedness; and as
others no doubt had ample reasons for assuming a disguise,
I hoped for some explanation, and invited it.
" 'What a plight you are in, my dear Mongenod!' said
I, accepting a pinch of snuff, which he offered me from a
box of imitation gold.
" 'Sad enough!' replied he. 'I have but one friend left
— and you are that friend. I have done everything in the
world to avoid coming to this point, but I have come to ask
you to loan me a hundred louis. It is a large sum,' said
he, noticing my surprise, 'but if you loan me no more than
fifty, I shall never be able to repay you; whereas, if I
should fail in what I am undertaking, I shall still have
fifty louis to try some other road to fortune, and I do not
yet know what inspiration despair may bring me. '
" 'Then, have you nothing?' said I.
" 'I have,' said he, hiding a tear, 'just five sous left out
of my last piece of silver. To call on you, I had my boots
cleaned and my head dressed. I have the clothes on my
back. — But,' he went on, with a desperate shrug, 'I owe ray
landlady a thousand crowns in assignats, and the man at the
cookshop yesterday refused to trust me. So I have nothing
THE SEAMY SIDE OF HISTORY 835
" 'And what do you propose to do?' said I, insistently
meddling with his private affairs.
" 'To enlist if you refuse to help me.'
" 'You, a soldierl You — Mongenod!'
" 'I will get killed, or I will be General Mongenod.'
" 'Well,' said I, really moved, 'eat your breakfast in
peace; I have a hundred louis — '
"And here," said the good man, looking slyly at Gode-
froid, "I thought it necessary to tell a little lender's fib,
" 'But it is all I have in the world,' I said to Mongenod.
'I was waiting till the Funds had gone down to the lowest
mark to invest my money, but I will place it in your hands,
and you may regard me as your partner; I leave it to your
conscience to repay me the whole in due time and place.
An honest man's conscience,' I added, 'is the best possible
"Mongenod looked hard at me as I spoke, seeming to
stamp my words on his heart. He held out his right hand,
I gave him my left, and we clasped hands — I, greatly
moved, and he, without restraining two tears which now
trickled down his thin cheeks. The sight of those tears
wrung my heart; and I was still more unnerved when,
forgetful of everything in such a moment, Mongenod, to
wipe them away, pulled out a ragged bandanna.
" 'Wait here,' said I, running off to my hidden store,
my heart as full as though I had heard a woman confess
that she loved me. I returned with two rolls of fifty louis
" 'Here — count them.'
"But he would not count them; he looked about him
for a writing-table in order, as he said, to give me a receipt.
I positively refused to have one.
" 'If I were to die,' said I, 'my heirs would worry you.
This is a matter between you and me.'
"Finding me so true a friend, Mongenod presently lost
the haggard and anxious expression he had worn on enter-
ing, and became cheerful. My housekeeper gave us oysters,
336 BALZAC'S WORKS
white wine, an omelet, kidneys a la brochette, and the re-
mains of a pat^ de Chartres sent me by my mother; a little
dessert, coffee, and West Indian liqueur. Mongenod, who
had fasted for two days, was the better for it. We sat till
three in the afternoon talking over our life before the Revo-
lution, the best friends in the world.
"Mongenod told me how he had lost his fortune. In the
first instance, the reduction of the dividends on the Hotel
de Ville had deprived him of two-thirds of his income, for
his father had invested the larger part of his fortune in
municipal securities; then, after selling his house in the
Rue de Savoie, he had been obliged to accept payment in
assignais; he had then taken it into his head to run a news-
paper, 'La Sentinelle,' and at the end of six months was
forced to fly. At the present moment all his hopes hung
on the success of a comic opera called 'Les Peruviens.'
This last confession made me quake. Mongenod, as an
author, having spent his all on the 'Sentinelle,' and living
no doubt at the theatre, mixed up with Feydeau's singers,
with musicians, and the motley world behind the curtain,
did not seem to me like the same, like my Mongenod. I
shuddered a little. But how could I get back my hundred
louis ? I could see the two rolls, one in each fob like the
barrel of a pistol.
"Mongenod went away. When I found myself alone, no
longer face to face with his bitter and cruel poverty, I began
to reflect in spite of myself; I was sober again. 'Mongenod,'
thought I to myself, 'has no doubt sunk as low as possible;
he has acted a little farce for my benefit!' His glee when
he saw me calmly hand over so vast a sum now struck me
as that of a stage rascal cheating some G^ronte. I ended
where I ought to have begun, resolved to make some in-
quiries about my friend Mongenod, who had written his
address on the back of a playing-card.
"A feeling of delicacy kept me from going to see him
the next day; he might have ascribed my haste to distrust
of him. Two days after I found my whole time absorbed
THE SEAMY SIDE OF HISTORY SS7
by various business; and it was not, in fact, till a fortnight
had elapsed that, seeing no more of Mongenod, I mafle my
way from La Croix-Rouge, where I then lived, to the Rue
des Moineaux, where he lived.
"Mongenod was lodged in a furnished house of the
meanest description; but his landlady was a very decent
woman, the widow of a farmer-general who had died on the
scaffold. She, completely ruined, had started with a few
louis the precarious business of letting rooms. Since then
she has rented seven houses in the neighborhood of Saint-
Roch and made a fortune.