eyes were sea-green, set like a parrot's in puckered gray
lids, and expressive of cunning and avarice in the highest
degree. His mouth, thin and straight, like a cut in his
face, lent this sinister countenance a crowning touch of
The pale, lean features — for Halpersohn was extraordi-
narily thin — were crowned by ill-kept gray hair, and graced
by a very thick, long beard, black streaked with white, that
THE SEAMY SIDE OF HISTORY 461
hid half his face, so that only the forehead and eyes, the
cheekbones, nose, and lips were visible.
This man, a friend of the agitator Lelewel, wore a black
velvet cap that came down in a point on his forehead and
showed off its mellow hue, worthy of Rembrandt's brush.
The doctor, who subsequently became equally famous
for his talents and his avarice, startled Godefroid by his
question, and the young man asked himself, "Can he take
me for a thief?"
The reply to the question was evident on the doctor's
table and chimney-piece. Godefroid had fancied himself
the first-comer — he was the last. His patients had laid very
handsome sums on the table and shelf, for Godefroid saw
piles of twenty and forty franc pieces and two thousand-
franc notes. Was all this the fruit of a single morning?
He greatly doubted it, and he suspected an ingenious trick.
The infallible but money-loving doctor perhaps tried thus
to encourage his patients' liberality, and to make his rich
clients believe that he was given banknotes as if they were
Moise Halpersohn was no doubt largely paid, for he
cured his patients, and cured them of those very com-
plaints which the profession gave up in despair. It is
very little known in Western Europe that the Slav nations
possess a store of medical secrets. They have a number of
sovereign remedies derived from their intercourse with the
Chinese, the Persians, the Cossacks, the Turks, and the
Tartars. Some peasant women, regarded as witches, have
been known to cure hydrophobia completely in Poland with
the juice of certain plants. There is among those nations a
great mass of uncodified information as to the effects of cer-
tain plants and the powdered bark of trees, which is handed
down from family to family, and miraculous cures are effected
Halpersohn, who for five or six years was regarded as
a charlatan, with his powders and mixtures, had the innate
instinct of a great healer. Not only was he learned, he had
462 BALZAC'S WORKS
observed with great care, and had travelled all over Ger-
many, Russia, Persia, and Turkey, where he had picked up
much traditional lore; and as he was learned in chemistry,
he became a living encyclopedia of the secrets preserved by
"the good women," as they were called, the mid wives and
"wise women" of every country whither he had followed
his father, a wandering trader.
It must not be supposed that the scene in "Richard in
Palestine," in which Saladin cures the King of England,
is pure fiction. Halpersohn has a little silk bag, which he
soaks in water till it is faintly colored, and certain fevers
yield to this infusion taken by the patient. The virtues
residing in plants are infinitely various, according to him,
and the most terrible maladies admit of cure. He, however,
like his brother physicians, pauses sometimes before the
incomprehensible. Halpersohn admires the invention of
homeopathy, less for its medical system than for its thera-
peutics; he was at that time in correspondence with He-
denius of Dresden, Chelius of Heidelberg, and the other
famous Germans, but keeping his own hand dark though
it was full of discoveries. He would have no pupils.
The setting of this figure, which might have stepped out
of a picture by Rembrandt, was quite in harmony with it.
The study, hung with green flock paper, was poorly fur-
nished with a green divan. The carpet, also of moss green,
showed the thread. A large armchair covered with black
leather, for the patients, stood near the window, which was
hung with green curtains. The doctor's seat was a study-
chair with arms, in the Roman style, of mahogany with a
green leather seat. Besides the chimney-piece and the long
table at which he wrote, there was in the middle of the wall
opposite the fireplace a common iron chest supporting a
clock of Vienna granite, on which stood a bronze group of
Love sporting with Death, the gift of a famous German
sculptor whom Halpersohn had, no doubt, cured. A tazza
between two candlesticks was all the ornament of the chim-
ney-shelf. Two bracket shelves, one at each end of the
THE SEAMY SIDE OF HISTORY 463
divan, served to place trajs on, and Godefroid noted that
there were silver bowls on them, water bottles, and table-
This simplicity, verging on bareness, struck Godefroid,
who took everything in at a glance, and he recovered his
presence of mind.
"I am perfectly well. Monsieur. I have not come to
consult you myself, but on behalf of a lady whom you
ought long since to have seen — a lady living on the
Boulevard du Mont-Parnasse."
"Oh, yes, that lady has sent her son to me several times.
Well, Monsieur, tell her to come to see me?"
"Tell her to come!" cried Godefroid indignantly.
"Why, Monsieur, she cannot be lifted from her bed to a
sofa; she has to be raised by straps."
"You are not a doctor?" asked the Jew, with a singu-
lar grimace which made his face look even more wicked.
"If Baron de Nucingen sent to tell you that he was ill
and to ask you to visit him, would you reply, 'Tell him to
come to me' ?"
"I should go to him," said the Jew dryly, as he spat
into a Dutch spittoon made of mahogany and filled with
"You would go to him," Godefroid said mildly, "be-
cause the Baron has two millions a year, and — "
"Nothing else has to do with the matter. I should
"Very well. Monsieur, you may come and see the lady
on the Boulevard du Mont-Parnasse for the same reason.
Though I have not such a fortune as the Baron de Nucin-
gen, I am here to tell you that you can name your own
price for the cure, or, if you fail, for your care of her. I
am prepared to pay you in advance. But how is it. Mon-
sieur, that you, a Polish exile, a communist, I believe, will
make no sacrifice for the sake of Poland! For this lady is
the granddaughter of General Tarlovski, Prince Poniatow-
ski's friend — "
464 BALZAC'S WORKS
"Monsieur, you came to ask me to prescribe for this
lady, and not to give me your advice. In Poland I am a
Pole; in Paris a Parisian. Every one does good in his own
way, and you may believe me when I tell you that the greed
attributed to me has its good reasons. The money I accu-
mulate has its uses; it is sacred. I sell health; rich persons
can pay for it, and I make them buy it. The poor have
their physicians. — If I had no aim in view, I should not
practice medicine. — I live soberly, and I spend my time in
rushing from one to another; I am by nature lazy, and I
used to be a gambler! You may draw your own conclu-
sions, young man! — You are not old enough to judge the
Godefroid kept silence.
"You live with the granddaughter of the foolhardy
soldier who had no courage but for fighting, and who be-
trayed his country to Catherine II. ?"
"Then be at home on Monday at three o'clock," said
he, laying down his pipe and taking up his notebook, in
which he wrote a few words. "When I call, you will please
to pay me two hundred francs; then, if I undertake to cure
her, you will give me a thousand crowns. — I have been
told," he went on, "that the lady is shrunken as if she had
fallen in the fire."
"It is a case, Monsieur, if you will believe the first phy-
sicians of Paris, of nervous disease, with symptoms so strange
that no one can imagine them who has not seen them."
"Ah, yes, now I remember the details given me by that
little fellow. — Till to-morrow, Monsieur."
Godefroid left with a bow to this singular and extraordi-
nary man. There was nothing about him to show or suggest
a medical man, not even in that bare consulting-room, where
the only article of furniture that was at all remarkable was
the ponderous chest, made by Huret or Fichet.
Godefroid reached the Passage Vivienne in time to pur-
chase a splendid harmonium before the shop was shut, and
THE SEAMY SIDE OF HISTORY 465
he despatched it forthwith to Monsieur Bernard, whose
address he gave.
Then he went to the Rue Chanoinesse, passing along the
Quai des Augustins, where he hoped still to find a book-
seller's shop open; he was, in fact, so fortunate, and had a
long conversation on the cost of law-books, with the clerk
He found Madame de la Chanterie and her friends just
come in from high mass, and he answered her first inquiring
glance with a significant shake.
"And our dear Father Alain is not with you?" said he.
"He will not be here this Sunday," replied Madame de
la Chanterie. "You will not find him here till this day
week, unless you go to the place where you know you can
"Madame," said Grodefroid, in an undertone, "you know
I am less afraid of him than of these gentlemen, and I in-
tended to confess to him."
"Oh, you — I will tell you everything, for I have many
things to say to you. As a beginning, I have come upon
the most extraordinary case of destitution, the strangest
union of poverty and luxury, and figures of a sublimity
which outdoes the inventions of our most admired ro-
"Nature, and especially moral nature, is always as far
above art as God is above His creatures. But come," said
Madame de la Chanterie, "and tell me all about your ex-
pedition into the unknown lands where you made your
Monsieur Nicolas and Monsieur Joseph — for the Abbe
de V^ze had remained for a few minutes at Notre-Dame —
left Madame de la Chanterie alone with Godefroid; and he,
fresh from the emotions he had gone through the day before,
related every detail with the intensity, the gesticulation, and
the eagerness that come of the first impression produced by
such a scene and its accessories of men and things. He had
466 BALZAC'S WORKS
a success too; for Madame de la Chanterie, calm and gentle
as she was, and accustomed to look into gulfs of suffering,
"You did right," said she, "to send the harmonium."
"I wish I could have done much more," replied Gode-
froid, "since this is the first family through whom I have
known the pleasures of charity; I want to secure to this
noble old man the chief part of the profits on his great
work. I do not know whether you have enough confidence
in me to enable me to undertake such a business. From
the information I have gained, it would cost about nine
thousand francs to bring out an edition of fifteen hundred
copies, and their lowest selling value would be twenty-four
thousand francs. As we must, in the first instance, pay off
the three thousand and odd francs that have been advanced
on the manuscript, we should have to risk twelve thousand
"Oh, Madame! if you could but imagine how bitterly,
as I made my way hither from the Quai des Augustins, I
rued having so foolishly wasted my little fortune. The
Genius of Charity appeared to me, as it were, and filled me
with the ardor of a neophyte; I desire to renounce the
world, to live the life of these gentlemen, and to be worthy
of you. Many a time during the past two days have I
blessed the chance that brought me to your house. I will
obey you in every particular till you judge me worthy to
join the brotherhood."
"Well," said Madame de la Chanterie very seriously,
after a few minutes of reflection, "listen to me, 1 have im-
portant things to say to you. You have been fascinated,
my dear boy, by the poetry of misfortune. Yes, misfortune
often has a poetry of its own; for, to me, poetry is a certain
exaltation of feeling, and suffering is feeling. We live so
much through suffering!"
"Yes, Madame, I was captured by the demon of curi-
osity. How could I help it! I have not yet acquired the
habit of seeing into the heart of these unfortunate lives, and
THE SEAMY SIDE OF HISTORY 467
I cannot set out with the calm resolution, of your three
pious soldiers of the Lord. But I rnay tell you, it was not
till I had quelled this incitement that I devoted myself to
"Listen, my very dear son," said Madame de la Chan-
terie, saying the words with a saintly sweetness which
deeply touched Godefroid, "we have forbidden ourselves
absolutely — and this is no exaggeration, for we do not allow
ourselves even to think of what is forbidden — we have for-
bidden ourselves ever to embark in a speculation. To print
a book for sale, and looking for a return, is business, and
any transaction of that kind would involve us in the difficul-
ties of trade. To be sure, it looks in this case very feasible,
and even necessary. Do you suppose that it is the first in-
stance of the kind that has come before us ? Twenty times,
a hundred times, we have seen how a family, a concern,
could be saved. But, then, what should we have become in
undertaking matters of this kind ? We should be simply a
trading firm. To be a sleeping partner with the unfortunate
is not work; it is only helping misfortu-ne to work. In a
few days you may meet with even harder cases than this;
will you do the same thing? You would be overwhelmed.
"Remember, for one thing, that the house of Mongenod,
for a year past, has ceased to keep our accounts. Quite half
of your time will be taken up by keeping our books. There
are, at this time, nearly two thousand persons in our debt
in Paris; and of those who may repay us, at any rate, it is
necessary that we should check the amounts they owe us.
We never sue — we wait. We calculate that half of the
money given out is lost. The other half sometimes returns
"Now, suppose this lawyer were to die, the twelve thou-
sand francs would be badly invested! But if his daughter
recovers, if his grandson does well, if he one day gets an-
other appointment — then, if he has any sense of honor, he
will remember the debt, and return the funds of the poor
with interest. Do you know that more than one family.
468 BALZAO'S WORKS
raised from poverty and started by us on the road to fortune
by considerable loans without interest, has saved for the
poor and returned us sums of double and sometimes treble
the amount ?
"This is our only form of speculation.
"In tlie first place, as to this case which interests you,
and ought to interest you, consider that the sale of the law-
yer's book depends on its merits; have you read it ? Then,
even if the work is excellent, how many excellent books
have remained two or three years without acliieving the
success they deserved. How many a wreath is laid on a
tomb! And, as I know, publishers have ways of driving
bargains and taking their charges which make the business
one of the most risky and the most difficult to disentangle
of all in Paris. Monsieur Nicolas can tell you about these
difficulties, inherent in the nature of book-making. So, you
see, we are prudent; we have ample experience of every
kind of misery, as of every branch of trade, for we have
long been studying Paris. The Mongenods give us much
help; they are a light to our path, and through them we
know that the Bank of France is always suspicious of the
book-trade, though it is a noble trade— but it is badly
"As to the four thousand francs needed to save this
noble family from the horrors of indigence, I will give you
the money ; for the poor boy and his grandfather must be
fed and decently dressed. — There are sorrows, miseries,
wounds, which we bind up at once without inquiring who
it is that we are helping; religion, honor, character, are not
inquired into; but as soon as it is a case of lending the
money belonging to the poor to assist the unfortunate under
the more active form of industry or trade, then we require
some guarantee, and are as rigid as the money-lenders. So,
for all beyond this immediate relief, be satisfied with finding
the most honest publisher for the old man's book. This is
a matter for Monsieur Nicolas. He is acquainted with law-
yers and professors and authors of works in jurisprudence;
THE SEAMY SIDE OF HISTORY 469
next Saturday he will, no doubt, be prepared with some
good advice for you.
"Be easy; the difficulty will be got over if possible. At
the same time, it might be well if Monsieur Nicolas could
read the magistrate's book; if you can persuade him to
Godefroid was amazed at this woman's sound sense, for
he had believed her to be animated solely by the spirit of
charity. He knelt on one knee and kissed one of her beau-
tiful hands, saying —
"Then you are Keason too!"
"In our work we have to be everything," said she, with
the peculiar cheerfulness of a true saint.
There was a brief silence, broken by Godefroid, who
"Two thousand debtors, did you say, Madame? Two
thousand accounts! It is tremendous!"
"Two thousand accounts, which may lead, as I have
told you, to our being repaid from the delicate honor of the
borrowers. But there are three thousand more — families
wbo will never make us any return but in thanks. Thus, as
I have told you, we feel that it is necessary to keep books;
and if your secrecy is above suspicion, you will be our
financial oracle. We ought to keep a day-book, a ledger, a
book of current expenses, and a cash-book. Of course, we
have receipts, notes of hand, biit it takes a great deal of
time to look for them — Here come the gentlemen."
Godefroid, at first serious and thoughtful, took little part
in the conversation; he was bewildered by the revelation
Madame de la Chanter ie had just imparted to him in a way
which showed that she meant it to be the reward of his zeal.
"Two thousand families indebted to us!" said he to him-
self. "Why, if they all cost as much as Monsieur Bernard
will cost us, we must have millions sown broadcast in
This reflection .was one of the last promptings of the
worldly spirit which was fast dying out in Godefroid. As
470 BALZAC'S WORKS
he thought the matter over, he understood that the united
fortunes of Madame de la Chanterie, of Messieurs Alain,
Nicolas, Joseph, and Judge Popinot, with the gifts collected
by the Abb^ de V^ze, and the loans from the Mongenods,
must have produced a considerable capital; also, that in
twelve or fifteen years this capital, with the interest paid
on it by those who had shown their gratitude, must have
increased. like a snowball, since the charitable holders took
nothing from it. By degrees he began to see clearly how
the immense afiEair was managed, and his wish to co-operate
At nine o'clock he was about to return on foot to the
Boulevard du Mont-Parnasse; but Madame de la Chanterie,
distrustful of so lonely a neighborhood, insisted on his
taking a cab. As he got out of the vehicle, though the
shutters were so closely fastened that not a gleam of light
was visible, Godefroid heard the sounds of the instrument;
and Auguste, who, no doubt, was watching for Godefroid's
return, half opened the door on the landing, and said —
"Mamma would very much like to see you, and my
grandfather begs you will take a cup of tea."
Godefroid went in and found the invalid transfigured by
the pleasure of the music; her face beamed and her eyes
sparkled like diamonds.
"I ought to have waited' for you, to let you hear the first
chords; but I flew at this little organ as a hungry man
rushes on a banquet. But you have a soul to understand
me, and I know I am forgiven."
Vanda made a sign to her son, who placed himself where
he could press the pedal that supplied the interior of the
instrument with wind; and, with her eyes raised to heaven
like Saint Cecilia, the invalid, whose hands had for a time
recovered their strength and agility, performed some varia-
tions on the prayer in "Mos^" which her son had bought for
her. She had composed them in a few hours. Godefroid
discerned in her a talent identical with that of Chopin. It
THE SEAMY SIDE OF HISTORY 471
was a soul manifesting itself by divine sounds in which
sweet melancholy predominated.
Monsieur Bernard greeted Godefroid with a look ex-
pressing a sentiment long since in abeyance. If the tears
had not been forever dried up in the old man, scorched by
so many fierce sorrows, his eyes would at this moment have
The old lawyer was fingering his snuff-box and gazing at
his daughter with unutterable rapture.
"To-morrow, Madame," said Godefroid, when the music
had ceased, "your fate will be sealed, for I have good news
for you. The famous Halpersohn will come at three
o'clock. — And he has promised," he added in Monsieur
Bernard's ear, "to tell me the truth."
The old man rose, and taking Godefroid by the hand,
led him into a corner of the room near the fireplace. He
"What a night lies before me! It is the final sentence!"
said he in a whisper. "My daughter will be cured or con-
"Take courage," said Godefroid, "and after tea come to
"Cease playing, my child," said Monsieur Bernard;
"you will bring on an attack. Such an expenditure of
strength will be followed by a reaction."
He made Auguste remove the instrument, and brought
his daughter her cup of tea with the coaxing ways of a
nurse who wants to anticipate the impatience of a baby.
"And what is this doctor like?" asked she, already
diverted by the prospect of seeing a stranger.
Yanda, like all prisoners, was consumed by curiosity.
When the physical symptoms of her complaint gave her
some respite, they seemed to develop in her mind, and then
she had the strangest whims and violent caprices. She
wanted to see Eossini, and cried because her father, who
could, she imagined, do everything, assured her he could
not bring him.
472 BALZAC'S WORKS
Godefroid gave her a minute description of the Jewish
physician and his consulting-room, for she knew nothing of
the steps taken by her father. Monsieur Bernard had en-
joined silence on his grandson as to his visits to Halper-
sohn; he had so much feared to excite hopes which might
not be realized. Vauda seemed to hang on the words that
fell from Godefroid's lips; she was spellbound and almost
crazy, so ardent did her desire become to see the strange Pole.
"Poland has produced many singular and mysterious
figures," said the old lawyer. "Just now, for instance,
besides this doctor there is Hoene Vronski the mathemati-
cian and seer, Mickievicz the poet, the inspired Tovianski,
and Chopin with his superhuman talent. Great national
agitations always produce these crippled giants."
"Oh, my dear papa, what a man you are! If you were
to write down all that we hear you say simply to entertain
me, you would make a fortune! For, would you believe
me, Monsieur, my kind old father invents tales for me when
I have no more novels to read, and so sends me to sleep.
His voice lulls me, and he often soothes my pain with his
cleverness. Who will ever repay him ? — Auguste, my dear
boy, you ought to kiss your grandfather's footprints for me."
The youth looked at his mother with his fine eyes full
of tears; and that look, overflowing with long repressed
compassion, was a poem in itself. Godefroid rose, took
Auguste's hand, and pressed it warmly.
"God has given you two angels for your companions,
Madame!" he exclaimed.
"Indeed I know it. And I blame myself for so often
provoking them. Come, dear Auguste, and kiss your
mother. He is a son. Monsieur, of whom any mother
would be proud. He is as good as gold, candid — a soul
without sin; but a rather too impassioned creature, like
his mamma. God has nailed me to my bed to preserve
me perhaps from the follies women commit — when they
have too much heart!" she ended with a smile.
Godefroid smiled in reply and bowed good-night.
THE SEAMY SIDE OF HISTORY 473
"Good-night, Monsieur; and be sure to thank your
friend, for he has made a poor cripple very happy."
"Monsieur," said Godefroid when he was in his rooms,
alone with Monsieur Bernard, who had followed him, "I
think I may promise you that you shall not be robbed by
those three sharpers. I can get the required sum, but yea
must place the papers proving the loan in my hands. If I
am to do anything more, you should allow me to have your
book — not to read myself, for I am not learned enough to
judge of it, but to be read by an old lawyer I know, a man
of unimpeachable integrity, who will undertake, according
to the character of the work, to find a respectable firm with