papa!" in an expressive tone.
While talking to the old man, Godefroid had already
remarked, through the crack of the door opposite to that on
the landing, lines of neat white paint, showing that the sick
woman's room must be very different from the others that
composed the lodging.
His curiosity was now raised to the
highest pitch; the errand of mercy was to him no more than
a means; its end was to see the invalid. He would not
believe that any one who spoke in such a voice could be
horrible to behold.
"You are taking too much trouble, papa," said the
436 BALZAC'S WORKS
voice. "Why do not you have more servants — at your
age? — Dear me!"
"But you know, dear Vanda, that I will not allow any
one to wait on you but myself or your boy."
These two sentences, which Godefroid overheard, though
with some difficulty, for a curtain dulled the sound, made
him understand the case. The sick woman, surrounded by
every luxury, knew nothing of the real state in which her
father and son lived. Monsieur Bernard's silk wrapper, the
flowers, and his conversation with Cartier had already roused
Godefroid's suspicions, and he stood riveted, almost con-
founded, by this marvel of paternal devotion. The contrast
between the invalid's room as he imagined it and what he
saw was in fact amazing. The reader may judge —
Through the door of a third room which stood open,
Godefroid saw two narrow beds of painted wood like those
of the vilest lodging-houses, with a straw mattress and a
thin upper mattress; on each there was but one blanket.
A small iron stove such as porters use to cook on, with a
few lumps of dried fuel by the side of it, was enough to
show the destitution of the owner, without other details in
keeping with this wretched stove.
Godefroid by one step forward could see the pots and
pans of the wretched household — glazed earthenware jars,
in which a few potatoes were soaking in dirty water. Two
tables of blackened wood, covered with papers and books,
stood in front of a window looking out on the Rue Notre-
Dame des Champs, and showed how the father and son oc-
cupied themselves in the evening. On each table there was
a candlestick of wrought iron of the poorest description, and
in them candles of the cheapest kind, eight to the pound.
On a third table, which served as a dresser, there were two
shining sets of silver-gilt forks and spoons, some plates, a
basin and cup in Sevres china, and a knife with a gilt handle
lying in a case, all evidently for the invalid's use.
The stove was alight; the water in the kettle was steam-
ing gently. A wardrobe of painted deal contained no doubt
THE SEAMY SIDE OF HISTORY 437
the lady's linen and possessions, for lie saw on her father's
bed the clothes he had worn the day before, spread by way
of a covering.
Some other rags laid in the same way on his grandson's
bed led him to conclude that this was all their wardrobe;
and under the bed he saw their shoes. The floor, swept
but seldom no doubt, was like that of a schoolroom. A
large loaf that had been cut was visible on a shelf over the
table. In short, it was poverty in the last stage of squalor,
poverty reduced to a system, with the decent order of a de-
termination to endure it; driven poverty that has to do
everything at home, that insists on doing it, but that finds
it impossible, and so puts every poor possession to a wrong
use. A strong and sickening smell pervaded the room,
which evidently was but rarely cleaned.
The anteroom where Godefroid stood was at any rate
decent, and he guessed that it commonly served to hide the
horrors of the room inhabited by the old man and the youth.
This room, hung with a Scotch plaid paper, had four walnut-
wood chairs and a small table, and was graced with portraits
— a colored print of Horace Vernet's picture of the Emperor;
those of Louis XVIII. and Charles X. ; and one of Prince
Poniatowski, a friend no doubt of Monsieur Bernard's father-
in-law. There were cotton window-curtains bound with red
and finished with fringe.
Godefroid, keeping an eye on Nepomuc^ne, and hearing
him come up with a load of wood, signed to him to stack
it noiselessly in Monsieur Bernard's anteroom; and, with a
delicate feeling that showed he was making good progress,
he shut the bedroom door that Madame Vauthier's boy
might not see the old man's squalor.
The anteroom was partly filled up by three flower-
stands full of splendid plants, two oval and one round,
all three of rosewood, and elegantly finished; and N^po-
muc^ne, as he placed the logs on the floor, could not help
"Isn't that lovely ? — It must cost a pretty penny!"
438 BALZAC'S WORKS
"Jean, do not make too much noise — " Monsieur Bernard
"There, you hear him?" said Nepomuc^ne to Godefroid,
"the poor old boy is certainly cracked!"
"And what will you be at his age?"
"Oh, I know sure enough!" said Nepomucene; "I shall
be in a sugar-basin."
"In a sugar-basin?"
"Yes, my bones will have been made into charcoal. I
have seen the sugar-boilers' carts often enough at Mont
Souris come to fetch bone-black for their works, and they
told me they used it in making sugar." And with this phil-
osophical reply, he went off for another basketful of wood.
Godefroid quietly closed Monsieur Bernard's door, leav-
ing him alone with his daughter.
Mme. Vauthier had meanwhile prepared her new lodger's
breakfast, and came with Felicity to serve it. Godefroid,
lost in meditation, was staring at the fire on the hearth.
He was absorbed in reflecting on this poverty that included
so many different forms of misery, though he perceived that
it had its pleasures too; the ineffable joys and triumphs of
fatherly and of filial devotion. They were like pearls sewn
"What romance — even the most famous — can compare
with such reality?" thought he. "How noble is the life
that mingles with such lives as these, enabling the soul to
discern their cause and effect; to assuage suffering and en-
courage what is good; to become one with misfortune and
learn the secrets of such a home as this; to be an actor in
ever-new dramas such as delight us in the works of the most
famous authors! — I had no idea that goodness could be more
interesting than vice."
"Is everything to your mind, sir?" asked Madame Vau-
thier, who, helped by Felicite, had placed the table close
to Godefroid. He then saw an excellent cup of coffee
with milk, a smoking hot omelet, fresh butter, and little
THE SEAMY SIDE OF HISTORY 439
"Where did you find those radishes?" asked Godefroid.
"Monsieur Cartier gave tliem to me," said she. "I
thought you might like them, sir."
"And what do you expect me to pay for a breakfast like
this every day?" said Godefroid.
"Well, Monsieur, to be quite fair — it would be hard to
supply it under thirty sous."
"Say thirty sous," said Godefroid. "But how is it that
close by this, at Madame Machillot's, they only asic me
forty-five francs a month for dinner, which is just thirty
sous a day ? ' '
"Oh, but what a difference, sir, between getting a dinner
for fifteen people and going to buy everything that is needed
for one breakfast: a roll, you see, eggs, butter — lighting the
fire — and then sugar, milk, coffee. — Why, they will ask you
sixteen sous for nothing but a cup of coffee with milk in the
Place de I'Odeon, and you have to give a sou or two to the
waiter! — Here you have no trouble at all; you breakfast at
home, in your slippers."
"Well, then it is settled," said Godefroid.
"And even then, but for Madame Cartier, from whom
I get the milk and eggs and parsley, I could not do it at
all. —You must go and see their place, sir. Oh, it is really
a fine sight. They employ five gardeners' apprentices, and
N^pomuc^ne goes to help with the watering all the summer;
they pay me to let him go. And they make a lot of money
out of strawberries and melons. — You are very much inter-
ested in Monsieur Bernard, it would seem?" asked the
widow in her sweetest tones. "For really to answer for
their debts in that way! — ^But perhaps you don't know how
much they owe. — There is the lady that keeps the circulat-
ing library on the Place Saint-Michel; she calls every three
or four days for thirty francs, and she wants it badly too.
Heaven above! that poor woman in bed does read and read.
And at two sous a volume, thirty francs in two months — "
"Is a hundred volumes a month," said Godefroid.
"There goes the old fellow to fetch Madame's cream and
440 BALZAC'S WORKS
roll," the woman went on. "It is for her tea; for she lives
on nothing but tea, that lady; she has it twice a day, and
then twice a week she wants sweets. — She is dainty, I can
tell you! The oUl boy buys her cakes and tarts at the
pastry-cook's in the Rue de Buci, Oh, when it is for her,
he sticks at nothing. He says she is his daughter! —
Where's the man who would do all he does, and at his
age, for his daughter? He is killing himself — himself and
his Auguste — and all for her. — If you are like me, sir — I
would give twenty francs to see her. Monsieur Berton says
she is shocking, an object to make a show of. — They did
well to come to this part of the town where nobody ever
comes. — And you think of dining at Madame Machillot's,
"Yes, I thought of making an arrangement with her."
"Well, sir, it is not to interfere with any plan of yours;
but, take 'em as you find 'em, you will find a better eating-
place in the Rue de Tournon; you need not bind yourself
for a month, and you will have a better table — "
"Where in the Rue de Tournon?"
"At the successors of old Madame Girard. That is
where the gentlemen upstairs dine, and they are satisfied
— they could not be better pleased."
"Very well, Madame Vauthier, I will take your advice
and dine there."
"And, my dear sir," the woman went on, emboldened
by the easy-going air which Godefroid had intentionally
assumed, "do you mean to say, seriously, that you are such
a flat as to think of paying Monsieur Bernard's debts? — I
should be really very sorry; for you must remember, my
good Monsieur Godefroid, that he is very near on seventy,
and after him where are you ? There's an end to his pen-
sion. What will there be to repay you? Young men are
so rash. Do you know that he owes above a thousand
"But to whom ?" asked Godefroid.
"Oh, that is no concern of mine," said Madame Vauthier
THE SEAMY SIDE OF HISTORY 441
mysteriously. "He owes the money, and that's enough;
and between you and me, he is having a hard time of it;
he cannot get credit for a sou in all the neighborhood for
that very reason."
"A thousand crowns!" said Godefroid. "Be sure of one
thing; if I had a thousand crowns, 1 should be no lodger of
yours. But I, you see, cannot bear to see others suffering;
and for a few hundred francs that it may cost me, I will
make sure that ni}^ neighbor, a man with white hair, has
bread and firing. Why, a man often loses as much at
cards. — But three thousand francs — why, what do you
think? Good Heavens!"
Madame Yauthier, quite taken in by Godefroid's affected
candor, allowed a gleam of satisfaction to light up her face,
and this confirmed her lodger's suspicions. Godefroid was
convinced that the old woman was implicated in some plot
against the hapless Monsieur Bernard.
"It is a Strang* thing. Monsieur, what fancies come into
one's head. You will say that I am very inquisitive; but
yesterday, when I saw you talking to Monsieur Bernard, it
struck me that you must be a publisher's clerk — for this is
their part of the town. I had a lodger, a foreman printer,
whose works are in the Eue de Vaugirard, and he was
named the same name as you — "
"And what concern is it of yours what my business is?"
"Lor' ! whether you tell me or whether you don't, I shall
know just the same," said the widow. "Look at Monsieur
Bernard, for instance. Well, for eighteen months I could
never find out what he was; but in the nineteenth month
I discovered that he had been a judge or a magistrate, or
something of the kind, in the law, and that now he is writ-
ing a book about it. What does he get by it? That's what
I say. And if he had told me, I should have held my
tongue; so there!"
"I am not at present a publisher's agent, but I may be,
perhaps, before long."
442 BALZAC'S WORKS
"There, I knew it!" exclaimed the woman eagerly, and
turning from the bed she was making as an excuse to stay
chattering to her lodger. "You have come to cut the ground
from under — Well, well, 'a nod's as good as a wink' — "
"Hold hard!" cried Godefroid, standing between Madame
Vauthier and the door. "Now, tell me, what are you paid
to meddle in this?"
"Hey day!" cried the old woman, with a keen look at
Godefroid. "You are pretty sharp after all!"
She shut and locked the outer door; then she came back
and sat down by the fire.
"On my word and honor, as sure as my name is Vauthier,
I took you for a student till I saw you giving your logs to
old Father Bernard. My word, but you're a sharp one!
By the Piper! you can play a part well! I thought you
were a perfect flat. Now, will you promise me a thousand
francs? For as sure as the day above us, old Barbet and
Monsieur Metivier have promised me fiveJiundred if I keep
my eyes open."
"What? Not they! Two hundred at the very outside,
my good woman, and only promised at that — and you can-
not summons them for payment! — Look here; if you will
put me in a position to get the job they are trying to man-
age with Monsieur Bernard, I will give you four hundred!
— Come, now, what are they up to?"
"Well, they have paid him fifteen hundred francs on
account for his work, and made him sign a bill for a thou-
sand crowns. They doled it out to him a hundred francs at
a time, contriving to keep him as poor as poor. — They set
the duns upon him; they sent Cartier, you may wager."
At this, Godefroid, by a look of cynical perspicacity that
he shot at the woman, made it clear to her that he quite un-
derstood the game she was playing for her landlord's benefit.
Her speech threw a light on two sides of the question, for it
also explained the rather strange scene between the gardener
"Oh, yes!" she went on, "they have him fast; for where
THE SEAMY SIDE OF HISTORY 443
is he ever to find a thousand crowns! They intend to offer
him five hundred francs when tlie work is in their hands
complete, and five hundred francs per volume as they are
brought out for sale. The business is all in the name of a
bookseller these gentlemen have set up in business on the
Quai des Augustins — "
"Oh, yes — that little — what's-his-name?"
"Yes, that's your man. — Morand, formerl}^ Monsieur
Barbet's agent. — There is a heap of money to be got out
of it, it would seem."
"There will be a heap of money to put into it," said
Godefroid, with an expressive grimace.
Tliere was a gentle knock at the door, and Godefroid,
very glad of the interruption, rose to open it.
"All this is between you and me, Mother Vauthier, " said
Godefroid, seeing Monsieur Bernard.
"Monsieur Bernard," cried she, "I have a letter for you."
The old man went down a few steps.
"No, no, I have no letter for you, Monsieur Bernard; I
only wished to warn you against that young fellow there.
He is a publisher."
"Oh, that accounts for everything," said the old man to
himself. And he came back to his neighbor's room with
a quite altered countenance.
The calmly cold expression on Monsieur Bernard's face
when he reappeared was in such marked contrast to the
frank and friendly manner his gratitude had lent him that
Godefroid was struck by so sudden a change.
"Monsieur, forgive me for disturbing your solitude, but
you have since yesterday loaded me with favors, and a bene-
factor confers rights on those whom he obliges."
"I, who for five years have suffered once a fortnight the
torments of the Redeemer; I, who for six-and-thirty years
was the representative of Society and the Government, who
was then the arm of public vengeance, and who, as you may
suppose, have no illusions left — nothing, nothing but suffer-
444 BALZAC'S WORKS
ings. — Well, Monsieur, your careful attention in closing the
door of the dog-kennel in which my grandson and I sleep —
that trifling act was to me the cup of water of which Bossuet
speaks. I found in my heart, my worn-out heart, which is
as dry of tears as my withered body is of sweat, the last drop
of that elixir which in youth leads us to see the best side
of every human action, and I came to ofl[er you my hand,
which I never give to any one but my daughter; I came
to bring you the heavenly rose of belief, even now, in
"Monsieur Bernard," said Godefroid, remembering good
old Alain's injunctions, "I did nothing with a view to win-
ning your gratitude. — You are under a mistake."
"That is frank and aboveboard," said the old lawyer.
"Well, that is what 1 like. I was about to reproach you.
Forgive me; I esteem you. — So you are a publisher, and
you want to get my book in preference to Messieurs Barbet,
Metivier, and Morand ? — That explains all. You are pre-
pared to deal with me as they were; only you do it with
a good grace."
"Old Yauthier has just told you, I suppose, that I am
a publisher's agent?"
"Yes," said he.
"Well, Monsieur Bernard, before I can say what we are
prepared to pay more than those gentlemen ojfer, I must
understand on what terms you stand with them."
"Yerytrue," said the old man, who seemed delighted
to find himself the object of a competition by which he could
not fail to benefit. "Do you know what the work is ?"
"No; I only know that there is something to be made
"It is only half -past nine; my daughter has had her
breakfast, my grandson Auguste will not come in till a
quarter to eleven. Cartier will not be here with the flowers
for an hour — we have time to talk, Monsieur — Monsieur
THE SEAMY SIDE OF HISTORY 446
"Monsieur Godefroid. — The book in question was planned
by me in 1825, at a time when the Ministr}^, struck by the
constant reduction of personal estate, drafted the Law of
Entail and Seniority which was thrown out. I had observed
many defects in our codes and in the fundamental principle
of French law. The codes have been the subject of many
important works; but all those treatises are essentially on
jurisprudence; no one has been so bold as to study the
results of the Ee volution — or of Napoleon's rule, if you
prefer it — as a whole, analyzing the spirit of these laws and
the working of their application. That is, in general terms,
the purpose of my book. I have called it the 'Spirit of the
Modern Laws.' It covers organic law as well as the codes
— all the codes, for we have five! My book, too, is in five
volumes, and a sixth volume of authorities, quotations, and
references. I have still three months' work before me.
"The owner of this house, a retired publisher, scented a
speculation. I, in the first instance, thought only of bene-
fiting my country. This Barbet has got the better of me.
— You will wonder how a publisher could entrap an old
lawyer; but you, Monsieur, know my history, and this man
is a money-lender. He has the sharp eye and the knowl-
edge of the world that such men must have. His advances
have just kept pace with my necessity; he has always come
in at the very moment when despair has made me a defence-
"Not at all, my dear sir," said Godefroid. "He has
simply kept Madame Vauthier as a spy. — But the terms.
Tell me honestly."
"They advanced me fifteen hundred francs, represented
at the present rates by three bills for a thousand francs each,
and these three thousand francs are secured to them by a
lien on the property of my book, which I cannot dispose of
elsewhere till I have paid off the bills; the bills have been
protested; judgment has been pronounced. — Here, Monsieur,
you see the complications of poverty.
"At the most moderate estimate, the first edition of this
446 BALZAC'S WORKS
vast work, the result of ten years' labor and thirty-six years'
experience, will be well worth ten thousand francs. — Well,
just five days since, Morand offered me a thousand crowns
and my note of hand paid off for all rights. — As I could
never find three thousand two hundred and forty francs,
unless you intervene between us, I must yield.
"They would not take my word of honor; for further
security they insisted on bills of exchange which have been
protested, and I shall be imprisoned for debt. If I pay up,
these money-lenders will have doubled their loan; if I deal
with them, they will make a fortune, for one of them was a
papermaker, and God only knows how low they can keep
the price of materials. And then, with my name to it, they
know that they are certain of a sale of ten thousand copies. ' '
"Why, Monsieur — you, a retired Judge — !"
"What can I say? I have not a friend, no one remem-
bers me ! — And yet I saved many heads even if I sentenced
many to fall! — And then there is my daughter, my daughter
whose nurse and companion I am, for I work only at night.
— Ah! young man, none but the wretched should be set
to judge the wretched. I see now that of yore I was too
"I do not ask you your name. Monsieur. I have not a
thousand crowns at my disposal, especially if I pay Halper-
sohn and your little bills; but I can save you if you will
pledge your word not to dispose of your book without due
notice to me; it is impossible to embark in so important a
matter without consulting professional experts. The per-
sons I work for are powerful, and I can promise you success
if you can promise me perfect secrecy, even from your
children — and keep your word."
"The only success I care for is my poor Vanda's re-
covery; for, 1 assure you, the sight of such sufferings
extinguishes every other feeling in a father's heart; the
loss of fame is nothing to the man who sees a grave
yawning at his feet — "
"I will call on you this evening. Halpersohn may come
THE SEAMY SIDE OF HISTORY 447
home at any momeut, and I go every day to see if he has
returned. — 1 will spend to-day in your service."
"Oh, if you could bring about my daughter's recovery,
Monsieur , Monsieur, I would make you a present of my
"But," said Godefroid, "I am not a publisher."
The old man started with surprise.
"I could not help letting old Vauthier think so for the
sake of ascertaining what snares had been laid for you."
"But who are you, then ?"
"Godefroid," was the reply; "and as you have allowed
me to supply you with the means of living better," added
the young man, smiling, "you may call me Godefroid de
The old lawyer was too much touched to laugh at the
jest. He held out his hand to Godefroid and grasped the
young man's warmly.
"You wish to remain unknown?" said Monsieur Ber-
nard, looking at Godefroid with melancholy, mixed with
"If you will allow me."
"Well, do as you think proper.^ — And come in this even-
ing; you will see my daughter, if her state allows."
This was evidently the greatest concession the poor
father could make; and seeing Godefroid's grateful look,
the old man had the pleasure of feeling that he was un-
An hour later Cartier came back with some beautiful
flowers, replanted the stands with his own hands in fresh
moss, and Godefroid paid the bill, as he did the subscription
to the lending library, for which the account was sent in
soon after. Books and flowers were the staff of life to this
poor sick, or rather tormented, woman, who could live on
so little food.
As he thought of this family in the coils of disaster, like
that of Laocoon — a sublime allegory of many lives! — Gode-
448 BALZAC'S WORKS
froid, making his way leisurely on foot to the Rue Marbeuf,
felt in his heart that he was curious rather than benevolent.
The idea of the sick woman, surrounded with luxuries in
the midst of abject squalor, made him forget the horrible
details of the strange nervous malady, which is happily
an extraordinary exception, though abundantly proved by
various historians. One of our gossiping chronicle writers,
Tallemant des Reaux, mentions an instance. We like to
think of women as elegant even in their worst sufferings,
and Godefroid promised himself some pleasure in pene-
trating into the room which only the physician, the father,
and the son had entered for six years past. However, he