ended by reproaching himself for his curiosit3^ The neo-
phyte even understood that his feeling, however natural,
would die out by degrees as he carried out his merciful
errands, by dint of seeing new homes and new sorrows.
Such messengers, in fact, attain to a heavenly benignity
which nothing can shock or amaze, just as in love we attain
to a sublime quiescence of feeling in the conviction of its
strength and duration, by a constant habit of submission
Godefroid was told that Halpersohn had come home
during the night, but had been obliged to go out in his
carriage the first thing in the morning to see the patients
who were waiting for him. The woman at the gate told
Godefroid to come back next morning before nine.
Remembering Monsieur Alain's advice as to parsimony
in his personal expenses, Godefroid dined for twenty-five
sous in the Rue de Tournon, and was rewarded for his self-
denial by finding himself among compositors and proof-
readers. He heard a discussion about the cost of production,
and, joining in, picked up the information that an octavo
volume of forty sheets, of which a thousand copies were
printed, would not cost more than thirty sous per copy
under favorable circumstances. He determined on going
to inquire the price commonly asked tor such volumes on
sale at the law publishers, so as to be in a position to dis-
THE SEAMY SIDE OF HISTORY 449
pute the point with the publishers who had got a hold on
Monsieur Bernard, if he should happen to meet them.
At about seven in the evening he came back to the
Boulevard Mont-Parnasse along the Rue de Vaugirard,
the Rue Madame, and the Rue de TOaest, and he saw
how deserted that part of the town is, for he met nobody.
It is true that the cold was severe, snow fell in large flakes,
and the carts made no noise on the stones.
"Ah, here you are, Monsieur!" said Madame Vauthier
when she saw him. "If I iiad known you would come in
so early, I would have lighted your fire."
"It is unnecessary," replied Godefroid, as the woman
followed him; "I am going to spend the evening with Mon-
"Ah! very good. You are cousins, I suppose, that you
are hand and glove with him by the second day. I thought
perhaps you would have liked to finish what we were
saying — "
"Oh, about the four hundred francs?" said Godefroid
in an undertone. "Look here, Mother Vauthier, you would
have had them this evening if you had said nothing to
Monsieur Bernard. You'want to hunt with the hounds
and run with the hare, and you will get neither; for, so far
as I am concerned, you have spoiled my game — my chances
are altogether ruined — "
"Don't you believe that, my good sir. To-morrow, when
you are at breakfast — ' '
"Oh, to-morrow I must be off at daybreak like your
Godefroid's past experience and life as a dandy and
journalist had been so far of use to him as to lead him to
guess that, if he did not take this line, Barbet's spy would
warn the publisher that there was something in the wind,
and he would then take such steps as would erelong en-
danger Monsieur Bernard's liberty; whereas, by leaving
the three usurious negotiators to believe that their schemes
were not in peril, they would keep quiet.
450 BALZAC'S WORKS
But Godefroid was not yet a match for Parisian human-
ity when it assumes the guise of a Madame Vauthier. This
woman meant to have Godefroid's money and her landlord's
too. She flew off to Monsieur Barbet, while Godefroid
changed his dress to call on Monsieur Bernard's daughter.
Eight o'clock was striking at the Convent of the Visita-
tion, whose clock regulated the life of the whole neighbor-
hood, when Godefroid, full of curiosity, knocked at his
friend's door. Auguste opened it; as it was Saturday, the
lad spent his evening at home; Godefroid saw that he wore
a jacket of black velvet, black trousers that were quite
decent, and a blue silk tie; but his surprise at seeing the
youth so unlike his usual self ceased when he entered the
invalid's room. He at once understood the necessity for
the father and the boy to be presentably dressed.
The walls of the room, hung with yellow silk, panelled
•with bright green cord, made the room look extremely
cheerful; the cold, tiled floor was covered by a flowered
carpet on a white ground. The two windows, with their
handsome curtains lined with white silk, were like bowers,
the flower-stands were so full of beauty, and blinds hindered
them from being seen from outside in a quarter where such
lavishness was rare. The woodwork, painted white, and
varnished, was touched up with gold lines. A heavy cur-
tain, embroidered in tent stitch, with grotesque foliage on
a yellow ground, hung over the door and deadened every
sound from outside. This splendid curtain had been worked
by the invalid, who embroidered like a fairy when she had
the use of her hands.
Opposite the door, at the further end of the room, the
chimney-shelf, covered with green velvet, had a set of very
costly ornaments, the only relic of the wealth of the two
families. There was a very curious clock; an elephant sup-
porting a porcelain tower filled with beautiful flowers; two
candelabra in the same style, and some valuable Oriental
pieces. The fender, the dogs, and fire-irons were all of the
THE SEAMY SIDE OF HISTORY 451
The largest of tlie three flower-stands stood in the middle
of the room, and above it hung a porcelain chandelier of
The bed on which the judge's daughter lay was one of
those fine examples of carved wood, painted white and gold,
that were made in the time of Louis XV. By the invalid's
pillow was a pretty inlaid table, on which were the various
objects necessary for a life spent in bed; a bracket light for
two candles was fixed to the wall, and could be, turned
backward and forward by a touch. In front of her was a
bed-table, wonderfully contrived for her convenience. The
bed was covered with a magnificent counterpane, and draped
with curtains looped back in festoons; it was loaded with
books and a work-basket, and among these various objects
Godefroid would hardly have discovered the sick woman
but for the tapers in the two candle-branches.
There seemed to be nothing of her but a very white face,
darkly marked round the eyes by much suffering ; her eyes
shone like fire; and her principal ornament was her splendid
black hair, of which the heavy curls, set out in bunches of
numerous ringlets, showed that the care and arrangement
of her hair occupied part of the invalid's day; a movable
mirror at the foot of the bed confirmed the idea.
No kind of modern elegance was lacking, and a few
trifling toys for poor Vanda's amusement showed that her
father's affection verged on mania.
The old man rose from a very handsome easy-chair of
Louis XV. style, white and gold, and covered with needle-
work, and went forward a few steps to welcome Godefroid,
who certainly would not have recognized him; for his cold,
stern face had assumed the gay expression peculiar to old
men who have preserved their dignity of manner and
the superficial frivolity of courtiers. His purple wadded
dressing-gown was in harmony with the luxury about him,
and he took snuff out of a gold box set with diamonds.
' "Here, my dear," said Monsieur Bernard to his daugh-
ter, "is our neighbor of whom I spoke to you." And he
452 BALZAC'S WORKS
signed to his grandson to bring forward one of two arm-
chairs, in the same style as his own, which were standing
on each side of the fire.
"Monsieur's name is Grodefroid, and he is most kind in
standing on no ceremony — "
Vauda's head moved in acknowledgment of Godefroid's
low bow; and by the movement of her throat as it bent and
unbent, he discovered that all this woman's vitality was
seated in her head. Her emaciated arms and lifeless hands
lay on the fine white sheet like objects quite apart from
the body, and that seemed to fill no space in the bed. The
things needed for her use were on a set of shelves behind
the bed, and screened by a silk curtain.
"You, my dear sir, are the first person, excepting only
the doctors — who have ceased to be men to me — whom I
have set eyes on for six years; so you can have no idea of
the interest I have felt in you ever since my father told me
you were coming to call on us. It was passionate, uncon-
querable curiosity, like that of our mother Eve. My father,
who is so good to me ; my son, of whom I am so fond ; are
undoubtedly enough to fill up the vacuum of a soul now
almost bereft of body; but that soul is still a woman's after
all! I recognized that in the childish joy I felt in the idea
of your visit. — You will do us the pleasure of taking a cup
of tea with us, I hope?"
"Yes, Monsieur Godefroid has promised us the pleasure
of his company for the evening," said the old man, with the
air of a millionnaire doing the honors of his house.
Auguste, seated in a low, worsted- work chair by a small
table of inlaid wood, finished with brass moldings, was read-
ing by the light of the wax-candles on the chimney-shelf.
"Auguste, my dear, tell Jean to bring tea in an hour's
She spoke with some pointed meaning, and Auguste
replied by a nod.
"Will you believe. Monsieur, that for the past six years
no one has waited on me but my father and my boy, and
THE SEAMY SIDE OF HISTORV 453
I could not endure anybody else. If I were to lose them,
I should die of it. — My father will not even allow Jean, a
poor old Normandy peasant who has lived with us for thirty
years — will not even let him come into the room."
"I should think not, indeed!'' said the old man readily.
"Monsieur Godefroid has seen him; he saws and brings
in the wood, he cooks and runs errands, and wears a dirty
apron; he would have made hay of all these pretty things,
which are so necessary to my poor child, to whom this
elegance is second nature."
"Indeed, Madame, your father is quite right — "
"But why?" she urged. "If Jean had damaged my
room, my father would have renewed it."
"Of course, my child; but what would have prevented
me is the fact that 3'ou cannot leave it; and you have no
idea what Paris workmen are. It would take them more
than three months to restore your room. Only think of the
dust that would come out of your carpet if it were taken up.
Let Jean do your room! Do not think of such a thing. By
taking the extreme care which only your father and your
boy can take, we have s[)ared 3'ou sweeping and dust; if
Jean came in to help, everything would be done for in a
"It is not so much out of economy as for the sake of
your health," said Godefroid. "Monsieur your father is
"Oh, I am not complaining," said Vanda in a saucy tone.
Her voice had the quality of a concert; soul, action, and
life were all concentrated in her eyes and her voice; for
Vanda, by careful practice, for which time had certainly
not been lacking, had succeeded in overcoming the diffi-
culties arising from her loss of teeth.
"I am still happy. Monsieur, in spite of the dreadful
malady that tortures me; for wealth is certainly a great
help in enduring my sufferings. If we had been in poverty,
I should have died eighteen years ago, and I am still alive:
have many enjoyments, and they are all the keener because
464 BALZAC'S WORKS
I live on, triumphing over death. — You will think me a great
chatterbox," she added, with a smile.
"Madame," said Godefroid, "I could beg you to talk
forever, for I never heard a voice to compare with yours —
it is music! Rubini is not more delightful — "
"Do not mention Rubini or the opera," said the old man
sadly. "However rich we may be, it is impossible to give
my daughter, who was a great musician, a pleasure to which
she was devoted."
. "I apologize," said Godefroid.
"You will fall into our ways," said the old man.
"This is your training," said the invalid, smiling.
"When we have warned you several times by crying,
'Look out!' you will know all the blind man's bufi of
Godefroid exchanged a swift glance with Monsieur Ber-
nard, who, seeing tears in his new friend's eyes, put his
finger to his lip as a warning not to betray the heroic devo-
tion he and the boy had shown for the past seven years.
This devoted and unflagging imposture, proved by the
invalid's entire deception, produced on Godefroid at this
moment the effect of looking at a precipitous rock whence
two chamois-hunters were on the point of falling.
The splendid -gold and diamond snuffbox with which the
old man trifled, leaning over the foot of his daughter's bed,
was like the touch of genius which in a great actor wrings
from us a cry of admiration. Godefroid looked at the snuff-
box, wondering why it had not been sold or pawned, but he
postponed the idea till he could discuss it with the old man.
"This evening, Monsieur Godefroid, my daughter was so
greatly excited by the promise of your visit that the various
strange symptoms of her malady which, for nearly a fort-
night past, have driven us to despair, suddenly disappeared.
You may imagine my gratitude!"
"And mine!" cried Vanda, in an insinuating voice, with
a graceful inclination of her head. "You are a deputation
from the outer world. — Since I was twenty I have not known
THE SEAMY SIDE OF HISTORY 455
what a drawing-room, is like, or a party, or a ball; and I
love dancing, I am craz}' about the play, and above all about
masic. Well, 1 imagine everything in my mind. I read a
great deal, and my father tells me all about the gay world — "
As he listened, Godefroid felt prompted to kneel at the feet
of this poor old man.
"When he goes to the opera — and he often goes — he de-
scribes the dresses to me and all the singers. Oh! I should
like to be well again; in the first place, for my father's sake,
for he lives for me alone, as I live for him and through him,
and then for my son's — I should like him to know another
mother. Oh! Monsieur, what perfect men are my dear old
father and my admirable son ! — Then I could wish for health
also, that I might hear Lablache, Rubini, Tamburini, Grisi,
the 'Puritani' too!— But— "
"Come, my dear, compose yourself. If we talk about
music, it is fatal!" said the old father, with a smile.
And that smile, which made him look younger, evidently
constantly deceived the sick woman.
"Well, I will be good," said Vanda, with a saucy pout.
"But let me have a harmonium."
This instrument had lately been invented; it could, by a
little contrivance, be placed by the invalid's bed, and would
only need the pressure of the foot to give out an organ-like
tone. This instrument, in its most improved form, was as
effective as a piano; but at that time it cost three hundred
francs. Vanda, who read newspapers and reviews, had
heard of such an instrument, and had been longing for
one for two months past.
"Yes, Madame, and I can procure you one," replied
Godefroid at an appealing glance from the old man. "A
friend of mine who is setting out for Algiers has a very fine
one, which I will borrow of him; for before buying one, you
had better try it. It is quite possible that the sound, which
is strongly vibrating, may be too much for you."
"Can I have it to-morrow?" she asked, with the eager-
ness of a Creole.
456 BALZAC'S WORKS
"To-morrow!" objected Monsieur Bernard. "That is
very soon; besides, to-morrow will be Sunday."
"To be sure," said she, looking at Godefroid, who felt
as though he saw a soul fluttering, as he admired the
ubiquity of Vanda's eyes.
Until now he had never understood what the power of
the voice and eyes might be when the entire vitality was
concentrated in them. Her glance was more than a glance;
it was a flame, or rather a blaze of divine light, a commu-
nicative ray of life and intelligence, thought made visible.
The voice, with its endless intonations, supplied the place
of movement, gesture, and turns of the head. And her
changing color, varying like that of the fabled chameleon,
made the illusion — or, if you will, the delusion — complete.
That weary head, buried in a cambric pillow frilled with
lace, was a complete woman.
Never in his life had Godefroid seen so noble a spectacle,
and he could hardly endure his emotions. Another grand
feature, where everything was strange in a situation so full
of romance and of horror, was that the soul alone seemed to
be living in the spectators. This atmosphere, where all was
sentiment, had a celestial influence. They were as uncon-
scious of their bodies as the woman in bed ; everything was
pure spirit. By dint of gazing at these frail remains of a
pretty woman, Godefroid forgot the elegant luxury of the
room, and felt himself in heaven. It was not till half an
hour after that he noticed a whatnot covered with curiosi-
ties, over which hung a noble portrait that Vanda desired
him to look at, as it was by Gericault.
"Gericault," said she, "was a native of Rouen, and his
family being under some obligations to my father, who was
President of the Supreme Court there, he showed his grati-
tude by painting that masterpiece, in which you see me at
the age of sixteen. ' '
"You have there a very fine picture," said Godefroid,
"and one that is quite unknown to those who have studied
the rare works of that great genius."
THE SEAMY SIDE OF HISTORY 457
"To me it is no longer an object of anything but affec-
tionate regard," said she, "since I live only by my feelings;
and I have a beautiful life," she went on, looking at her
father with her whole soul in her eyes. "Oh, Monsieur, if
you could but know what my father is! Who would believe
that the austere and dignified Judge to whom the Emperor
owed so much that he gave him that snuff-box, and whom
Charles X. rewarded by the gift of that Sevres tray" — and
she looked at a side-table — "that the stanch upholder of
law and authority, the learned political writer, has in a
heart of rock all the tenderness of a mother? — Oh, papa,
papa! Come, kiss me — I insist on it — if you love me."
The old man rose, leaned over the bed, and set a kiss on
his daughter's high poetic brow, for her sickly fancies were
DOt invariably furies of affection. Then he walked up and
down the room, but without a sound, for he wore slippers
— the work of his daughter's hands.
"And what is your occupation?" she asked Grodefroid
after a pause.
"Madame, I am employed by certain pious persons to
take help to the unfortunate."
"A beautiful mission!" said she. "Do you know that
the idea of devoting myself to such work has often occurred
to me? Bat what ideas have not occurred to me?" said
she, with a little shake of her head. "Pain is a torch that
throws light on life, and if I ever recover my health — "
"You shall enjoy yourself, my child," the old man
"Certainly I long to enjoy life," said she, "but should
I be able for it ? — My son, I hope, will be a lawyer, worthy
of his two grandfathers, and he must leave me. What is
to be done ? — If Grod restores me to life, I will dedicate it to
Him. — Oh, not till I have given you both as much of it as
you desire!" she exclaimed, looking at her father and her
boy. "There are times, my dear father, when Monsieur de
Maistre's ideas work in my brain, and 1 fancy I am expiat-
ing some sin."
(T)— Vol. 17
458 BALZAC'S WORKS
"That is what comes of reading so much!" cried the old
man, visibly grieved.
"There was that brave Polish General, my great-grand-
father; he meddled very innocently in the concerns of
"Now we have come back to Poland!" exclaimed
"How can I help it, papa? M}'' sufferings are intoler-
able, they make me hate life, and disgust me with myself.
Well, what have I done to deserve them? Such an illness
is not mere disordered health; it is a complete wreck of the
whole constitution, and — "
"Sing the national air your poor mother used to sing;
it will please Monsieur Godefroid. I have spoken to him
of your voice," said her father, evidently anxious to divert
his daughter's mind from the ideas she was following out.
Vanda began to sing in a low, soft voice a hymn in the
Polish tongue, which left Godefroid bewildered with admi-
ration and sadness. This melody, a good deal like the long-
drawn melancholy tunes of Brittany, is one of those poetic
airs that linger in the mind long after being heard. As he
listened to Vanda, Godefroid at first looked at her; but
he could not bear the ecstatic eyes of this remnant of a
woman, now half-crazed, and he gazed at some tassels that
hung on each side of the top of the bed.
"Ah, ha!" said Yanda, laughing at Godefroid's evident
curiosity, "you are wondering what those are for?"
"Vanda, Vanda, be calm, my child! See, here comes
the tea. — This, Monsieur, is a very expensive contrivance,"
he said to Godefroid. "My daughter cannot raise herself,
nor can she remain in bed while it is being made and the
sheets changed. Those cords work over pulleys, and by
slipping a sheet of leather under her and attaching it by
rings at the corners to those ropes, we can lift her without
fatiguing her or ourselves."
"Yes, I am carried up — up!" said Vanda deliriously.
Auguste happily came in with a teapot, which he set on
THE SEAMY SIDE OF HISTORY 459
a little table, where be also placed the Sevres tray, covered
with sandwiches and cakes. Then he brought in the cream
and butter. This diverted the sick woman's mind; she had
been on the verge of an attack.
"Here, Vanda, is Nathan's last novel. If you should
lie awake to-night, you will have something to read."
" 'Le Perle de Doir That will be a love-story no doubt. —
Auguste, what do you think ? 1 am to have a harmonium!"
Auguste raised his head quickly, and looked strangely
at his grandfather.
"You see how fond he is of his mother!" Yanda went
on. — "Come and kiss me, dear rogue. — No, it is not your
grandfather that you must thank, but Monsieur Godefroid;
our kind neighbor promises to borrow one for me to-morrow
morning. — What is it like, Monsieur?"
Godefroid, at a nod from the old man, gave a long de-
scription of the harmonium while enjoying the tea Auguste
had made, which was of superior quality and delicious
At about half-past ten the visitor withdrew, quite over-
powered by the frantic struggle maintained by the father
and son, while admiring their heroism and the patience that
enabled them, day after day, to play two equally exhausting
"Now," said Monsieur Bernard, accompanying him to
his own door, "now you know the life I lead! At every
hour I have to endure the alarms of a robber, on the alert
for everything. One word, one look might kill my daugh-
ter. One toy removed from those she is accustomed to see
about her would reveal everything to her, for mind sees
"Monsieur," said Godefroid, "on Monday Halpersohn
will pronounce his opinion on your daughter, for he is at
home again. I doubt whether science can restore her
"Oh, I do not count upon it," said the old man with
a sigh. "If they will only make her life endurable: — I
460 BALZAC'S WORKS
trusted to your tact, Monsieur, and I want to thank you,
for you understood. — Ah! the attack has come on!" cried
he, hearing a scream. "She has done too much — "
He pressed Grodefroid's hand and hurried away.
At eight next morning Godefroid knocked at the famous
doctor's door. He was shown up by the servant to a room
on the first floor of the house, which he had had time to
examine while the porter found the manservant.
Happily, Grodefroid's punctuality had saved him the
vexation of waiting, as he had hoped it might.' He was
evidently the first-comer. He was led through a very plain
anteroom into a large study, where he found an old man in
a dressing-gown, smoking a long pipe. The dressing-gown,
of black moreen, was shiny with wear, and dated from the
time of the Polish dispersion.
"What can I do to serve you?" said the Jew, "for you
are not ill."
And he fixed Godefroid with a look that had all the
sharp inquisitiveness of the Polish Jew, eyes which seem
to have ears.
To Godefroid 's great surprise, Halpersohn was a man of
fifty-six, with short bow-legs and a broad, powerful frame.
There was an Oriental stamp about the man, and his face
must in youth have been singularly handsome; the remains
showed a marked Jewish nose, as long and as curved as a
Damascus cimeter. His forehead was truly Polish, broad
and lofty, wrinkled all over like crumpled paper, and recall-
ing that of a Saint-Joseph by some old Italian master. His