Nourrisson launched herself into frightful details on
the secret poverty of certain women reputed comme
il fant. The dealer in old clothes, enlivened by the
conversation, revealed herself. Without betraying
any name, any secret, she made the two artists
shudder in demonstrating to them that there was
very little happiness in Paris which was not estab-
lished on the vacillating basis of borrowing. She
THE INVOLUNTARY COA1EDIANS 353
held in her secret drawers souvenirs of late grand-
mothers, of living children, of deceased husbands,
of dead granddaughters, framed in gold and in bril-
liants ! She learned frightful histories in setting her
customers to talk of each other, in wresting their
secrets from them in moments of passion, of quar-
reling, of anger, and in those soothing preparations
which lead up to a loan for a conclusion.
"How did you come to engage in this business?"
"For my son," said she ingenuously.
Nearly always, these dealers in second-hand
clothes justify their commerce by reasons full of
fine motives. Madame Nourrisson pretended to
have lost several suitors, three daughters who had
taken to evil, all her illusions, in fact! She dis-
played as being among her most valuable effects,
tickets from the pawnshops to prove how many
evil chances there were in her business. She gave
out that she would be much embarrassed on the
thirtieth proximo. There was a great deal stolen
from her, she said.
The two artists looked at each other on hearing
this word, a little too strong.
"See here, my dears, I will show you how they
do us over again! This is not my case, but that of
my opposite neighbor, Madame Mahuchet, the
ladies' shoemaker. I had lent some money to a
countess, a woman who has too many passions con-
sidering her income. It is all putting on airs among
beautiful furniture, in a magnificent apartment! It
354 THE INVOLUNTARY COMEDIANS
is giving receptions, it is making, as we say, a
devil of a spread. She owes, then, three hundred
francs to her shoemaker, and there is a dinner
given, a soiree, no later than the day before yester-
day. The shoemaker, who learned this through
the cook, came to see me ; we got excited, she wished
to make a scandal; I, I said to her: 'My little
Mother Mahuchet, what good will that do? to get
yourself hated. It would be much better to obtain
good security. To a liar, a liar and a half! and you
only save your bile — . ' She insisted upon going
there; asked me to back her up; we went there.
'Madame is not at home. ' 'We know it!' 'We will
wait for her,' said Mother Mahuchet, 'if I have to
stay here till midnight.' And we settled ourselves
in the antechamber and went to talking. Ah! you
should have heard the doors which opened and shut,
the little footsteps, the hushed voices — . For my-
self, that made me uncomfortable. The guests
began to arrive for dinner. You can judge of the
state of affairs which this made. The countess sent
her femme de chambre to wheedle the Mahuchet.
'You shall be paid to-morrow!' In short, all the
humbugs! — Nothing would work. The countess,
fine as a Sunday, arrived at the dining-room. My
Mahuchet, who heard her, opened the door and pre-
sented herself. Bless me! on seeing a table glitter-
ing with silver — the chafing-dishes, the chandeliers,
everything shining like a jewel-box — she went off
like a sodavatre and threw her bomb-shell : 'When
one spends the money of others, one should be
THE INVOLUNTARY COMEDIANS 355
temperate, and not give dinner parties! To be a
countess and to owe a hundred ecus to a poor woman-
shoemaker who has seven children ! — ' You can
imagine what a volley she poured forth, this woman
has so little education. At a word of excuse — 'No
funds !' — of the countess, my Mahuchet cried : 'Eh !
Madame, see the silver-ware, pawn your spoons and
pay me!' 'Take them yourself,' said the countess,
gathering up six covers and thrusting them into her
hand. We tumbled down the stairs — ah, bah! like
a success ! — No, in the street, the Mahuchet began to
cry, for she is a good woman ; she took back the
covers, making her excuses: she had understood the
misery of this countess, they were in white
"She remained uncovered," said Leon de Lora, in
whom the ancient Mistigris often reappeared.
"Ah! my dear Monsieur," said Madame Nourris-
son, enlightened by this pun, "you are an artist,
you make the theatre pieces; you live in the Rue
du Helder, and you were with Madame Antonia;
you have the knacks that I know — . Come, now, you
wish to have some rarity in the grand style, Cara-
bine, or Mousqueton, Malaga or Jenny Cadine?"
"Malaga, Carabine! it is we who have made
them what they are! — " cried Leon de Lora.
"I swear to you, my dear Madame Nourrisson, that
we wished solely to have the pleasure of making
your acquaintance and that we desire some infor-
mation as to your antecedents, to know by what
descent you slipped into your trade," said Bixiou.
356 THE INVOLUNTARY COMEDIANS
"I was a confidential woman in the house of a mar-
shal of France, the Prince d'Ysembourg," she said,
taking a Dorine attitude. "One morning, there came
one of the most topping countesses of the Imperial
Court; she wished to speak to the marshal, and
secretly. I, 1 placed myself immediately so that
1 could hear. My lady melted into tears, she con-
fided to this booby of a marshal — the Prince d'Ysem-
bourg, this Conde of the Republic, a booby! — that
her husband, who was serving in Spain, had left her
without a thousand-franc note; that, if she did not
have one or two immediately, her children would be
without bread, she would have nothing to eat to-
morrow — . My marshal, sufficiently generous at
that time, drew two thousand-franc notes from his
secretary. I watched this fine countess from the
stairway without her being able to see me; she was
laughing with a contentment that seemed so little
maternal that I slipped out under the peristyle, and
I heard her say in a very low voice to her footman :
'To Leroy's!' I hastened there. My materfamilias
entered the shop of this famous merchant, in
the Rue de Richelieu, you know — . She ordered and
paid for a dress fifteen hundred francs; at that
time a dress was settled for when it was ordered.
Two days later she was able to appear at an am-
bassador's ball, adorned as a woman should be to
please at the same time all the world and some one
in particular. From that day, I said to myself: 'I
have a business! When 1 shall be no longer young,
I will lend money on their apparel to the great
THE INVOLUNTARY COA^EDIANS 357
ladies, for passion does not calculate and pays
blindly.' If it is subjects for vaudeville that you
are seeking, 1 will sell them to you—"
She went off on this tirade, in which each of the
phases of her previous life had left its color, leaving
Gazonal as much aghast at this confidence as at five
yellow teeth which she had shown in endeavoring
"And what are we going to do?" asked Gazonal.
"Notes!—" said Bixiou, who whistled for his
porter, "for I have need of money, and 1 will let you
see what the porters are for; you think that they
are to pull the cords of the front door,— they are to
pull out of embarrassment vagabond people like my-
self, artists whom they take under their protection ;
thus some day, mine will have the prize Montyon. "
Gazonal opened his eyes in such a manner as to
make comprehendable this phrase, — an oeil-de-
A middle-aged man, half lackey and half office-
boy, but more oily and more oiled, the hair greasy,
the stomach plump, the complexion pale and damp
like that of the Superior of a convent, shod with
cloth slippers, clothed in a vest of blue cloth and
grayish pantaloons, suddenly appeared.
"What will you have, Monsieur ?— " said he, with
an air which partook at once of the protector and of
"Ravenouillet— , his name is Ravenouillet," said
Bixiou, turning toward Gazonal, "have you our bill-
358 THE INVOLUNTARY COMEDIANS
Ravenouillet drew from his side pocket the most
glutinous note-book that Gazonal had ever seen.
"Write in it, at three months, these two notes for
five hundred francs each which you will sign for
And Bixiou presented two notes already drawn to
his order by Ravenouillet, which Ravenouillet signed
on the spot, and which he put down in the greasy
note-book in which his wife recorded the debts of
"Thanks, Ravenouillet," said Bixiou. "Well,
now, here is a box for the Vaudeville."
"Oh! my daughter will have a good time this
evening," said Ravenouillet, going away.
"We are here seventy-one tenants," said Bixiou;
"the average of what is owed to Ravenouillet is
about six thousand francs a month, eighteen thous-
and francs every three months, for advances and
carrying letters, without counting the rents due. It
is a Providence — at thirty per cent, which we give
to him without his ever having asked for any-
"Oh! Paris, Paris — " cried Gazonal.
"When we go away," said Bixiou, who pocketed
the notes, "for I am going to take you, cousin Ga-
zonal, to see again a comedian who is going to play
gratuitously a charming scene — "
"Where?" interrupted Gazonal.
"At a usurer's — . As we go, I will relate to you
the debut of friend Ravenouillet in Paris."
As they passed before the porter's lodge, Gazonal
THE INVOLUNTARY COMEDIANS 359
saw Mademoiselle Lucienne Ravenouillet, who was
studying a solfeggio; she was a pupil of the Con-
servatoire; the father was reading a newspaper, and
Madame Ravenouillet held in her hand letters to be
sent up to the lodgers.
"Thanks, Monsieur Bixiou,"said the little one.
"It is not a rat," said Leon to his cousin, "it is a
chrysalis of a grasshopper."
"It appears, " said Gazonal, "that the friendship
of the lodge is obtained, like that of all the rest of
the world, by les loges — the lodges — "
"Which is developed in our society !" cried Leon,
charmed with the pun.
"This is the history of Ravenouillet," resumed
Bi.xiou when the three friends found themselves on
the boulevard. "In 1831, Massol, your Councilor of
State, was a journalist-advocate who wished at that
time only to be Keeper of the Seals, he deigned to
leave Louis-Philippe on the throne; but his ambition
will have to be forgiven, he was from Carcas-
sonne. One morning he saw a young country-
man enter, who said to him: 'You know me very
well, Monsu Massol, I am the little one of your
neighbor, the grocer; I have just come from down
there, for they say to us that in coming here each
one will find his place — ' On hearing these words
Massol was taken with a shudder, and said to himself
that, if he had the misfortune to oblige this compa-
triot, who was otherwise perfectly unknown to him,
the whole department would come tumbling in upon
him; that he would lose a great many bell-actions,
360 THE INVOLUNTARY COMEDIANS
eleven bell-cords, his carpets; that his only valet
would leave him; that he would have difficulties
with his landlord concerning the stairway, and
that the other tenants would complain of the odor of
garlic and of the commotion caused throughout the
house. Therefore, he looked at this solicitor as a
butcher looks at his sheep before cutting its throat;
but although the peasant had received this glance
or this knife-thrust, he went on in this way, as
Massol told us: 'I am ambitious just like any other,
and 1 do not wish to return to the country in any
other way but rich, if 1 do return ; for Paris is the
antechamber of paradise. It is said that you who
write in the journals, you make here rain and fair
weather; that it is enough for you to ask to obtain
no matter what from the government; but, if I have
any abilities, like all of us, I know myself, I have
no education; even if I had the means I would not
know how to write, and that is a misfortune, for I
have ideas ; I do not, then, think to rival you ; I judge
myself, 1 would not succeeed; but, as you can man-
age anything, and as we are almost brothers, hav-
ing played together during our childhood, I count on
your giving me a start and your protecting me — .
Oh! it is necessary; I want a situation, a place
which is suitable to my means, to what I am, and
where I can make my fortune — . ' Massol was about
to put his pays out of the door brutally, throwing in
his face some brutal phrase, when the countryman
concluded thus: 'I do not ask, then, to enter the
administration, where one gets on like tortoises,
THE INVOLUNTARY COMEDIANS 36 1
where your cousin has remained traveling comptrol-
ler for twenty years—. No, I wish only to come
out — . ' 'At the theatre? — ' said Massol to him,
happy at this termination. 'No, I have, well
enough, the gesture, the face, the memory; but
there is too much pulling; I wish to make my debut
in the career — of a porter.' Massol kept his gravity
and said to him : 'There will be still more pulling in
that, but at least you will see the lodges full.' And
he obtained for him, as Ravenouillet says, his first
"I am the first," Leon said, "who has seriously
occupied himself with the species portier. There
are sharpers of morality, buffoons of vanity, modern
sycophants, septembrisears * caparisoned with
gravity, inventors of questions palpitating with
actuality which preach the emancipation of the
negroes, the amelioration of petty thieves, benevo-
lence toward liberated convicts, and who leave their
porters in a state worse than that of the Irish, in
prisons more frightful than dungeons, and who give
them less money to live on than the state gives for
a convict — . I have only done one good action in
my life, that is the lodge of my porter."
"If," continued Bixiou, "a man having built great
cages, divided into a thousand apartments like the
cells of a bee-hive or the cages of a menagerie, and
destined to receive creatures of every species and of
every avocation, if this animal in the figure of an
* Sept embriseurs— the name given to those who took part in the massacre of
362 THE INVOLUNTARY COMEDIANS
owner should come to consult a scientist and say to
him: 'I want an individual of the genus bimana
who can live in a sink full of old shoes, pestiferous
with rags, and ten feet square; I want him to live
there all his life, to sleep there, to be happy there,
to have children as pretty as Loves; that he shall
work there; that he shall do his cooking there; that
he shall promenade himself there; that he shall cul-
tivate flowers there ; that he shall sing there, and
that he shall not go out; that he shall not see clearly
there, and that he shall perceive everything that
goes on outside! — ' assuredly, the scientist would
not have been able to invent the porter; it required
Paris to create him, or, if you like, the devil — "
"Parisian industry has gone still farther into the
impossible," said Gazonal, "there are the work-
people — . You do not know all the products of in-
dustry, you who display them. Our industry com-
bats that of the continent by misfortunes as, under
the Empire, Napoleon combated Europe with regi-
"Here we are at the house of my friend Vauvinet,
the usurer," snid Bixiou. "One of the greatest
faults committed by the people who depict our man-
ners is to repeat the old portraits. To-day, every
profession has been renewed. The grocers become
peers of France, the artists capitalize, the vaude-
villistes have incomes in Rentes. If some rare
figures remain that which they formerly were, in
general, the professions no longer have their special
costume, nor their ancient manner. If we have had
THE INVOLUNTARY COMEDIANS 363
Gobseck, Gigonnet, Chaboisseau, Samanou, the
last of the Romans, we are in the enjoyment to-day
of Vauvinet, the good-fellow usurer, little fop who
haunts the side-scenes, the lorettes, and who takes
the air in a little low coupe with one horse — . Ob-
serve my man well, friend Gazonal, you are going
to see the comedy of money, the cold man who
wishes to give nothing, the hot man who suspects a
profit; listen to him, above all."
And, all three of them entered the second story
of a house of a very fine appearance situated on
the Boulevard des Italiens, and there found them-
selves surrounded by all the luxuries then in fash-
ion. A young man of about twenty-eight came to
meet them with an almost laughing air, for he saw
Leon de Lora first. Vauvinet gave a hand-clasp,
in appearance the most friendly, to Bixiou, saluted
Gazonal with a cold air, and caused them to enter
into a cabinet, where all the tastes of the bourgeois
might be divined under the artistic appearance of
the furnishing, and, despite the statuettes il la
mode, the thousand little things appropriated to our
little apartments by the modern art, which has made
itself as little as the consumer. Vauvinet was got-
ten up, like the young people who occupy them-
selves with business, with an excessive care, which,
for very many of them, is a species of prospectus.
"1 have come to you to get some money," said
Bixiou, laughing, presenting his note.
Vauvinet assumed a serious air which made Ga-
zonal smile, so much difference was there between
364 THE INVOLUNTARY COMEDIANS
the smiling visage and that of a discounter officially-
"My dear fellow," said Vauvinet, looking at Bix-
iou, "1 would oblige you with the greatest pleasure,
but at this moment 1 have no money."
"Yes, I've given everything, you know to whom.
— That poor Lousteau has associated himself for the
management of a theatre with an old vaudevilliste
very much protected by the minister — , Ridal ; and
they had to have thirty thousand francs yesterday.
1 am cleaned out, and so cleaned out that 1 have
sent for some money to Cerizet to pay a hundred
louis lost at lansquenet this morning, at Jenny
Cadine's — "
"It must be that you are very much cleaned out
not to oblige this poor Bixiou, " said Leon de Lora,
"for he has a very short tongue when he finds him-
self by the side — "
"But—" said Bixiou, "1 cannot say anything but
good of Vauvinet; he is full of good — "
"My dear fellow," resumed Vauvinet, "it would
be impossible for me, even if I had the money, to
discount for you, were it at fifty per cent, notes
signed by your porter. — The Ravenouillet is not in
demand. It is not like the Rothschild. 1 warn you
that this endorsement is quite worn out; it will be
necessary for you to invent another banking-house.
Look out for an uncle! for, the friend who signs
notes for us, that is no longer to be had, the posi-
tivism of the century makes horrible progress."
THE INVOLUNTARY COMEDIANS 365
"I have," said Bixiou, indicating Leon's cousin,
"I have Monsieur, — one of our most illustrious cloth
manufacturers of the Midi, named Gazonal. — He is
not very well coiffe," he resumed, looking at the
luxuriant and upright head of hair of the provincial;
"but I am going to take him to Marius, who will
relieve him of this resemblance to a poodle, so in-
jurious to his consideration and to ours."
"1 do not believe much in the securities of the
Midi, be it said without offence to Monsieur," replied
Vauvinet, who rendered Gazonal very well con-
tent, for he was not in the least vexed at this inso-
Gazonal, in his character of an excessively
shrewd man, believed that the painter and Bixiou
intended, in order to make him acquainted with
Paris, to make him pay a thousand francs for the
dejeuner of the Cafe de Paris; for the son of the
Roussillon had not abandoned that prodigious sus-
picion which in Paris fortifies the man from the
"How would you have me have business relations
at two hundred and fifty leagues from Paris, in the
Pyrenees?" added Vauvinet.
"Then that i*s all?" replied Bixiou.
"I have twenty francs about me," said the young
"I am sorry for you," replied the joker. "I
thought that you were worth a thousand francs," he
"You are worth a hundred thousand francs,"
366 THE INVOLUNTARY COMEDIANS
replied Vauvinet, "sometimes even you are inesti-
mable, — but I am cleaned out."
"Well," replied Bixiou, "let us say no more
about it — . I would have arranged for you this even-
ing, at the Carabine's, the best affair that you
could have wished, — you know?"
Vauvinet winked in looking at Bixiou, a grimace
of the horse dealers which says between themselves :
"Let us not play sharp with each other."
"You no longer remember having taken me around
the waist, exactly like a pretty woman, and wheed-
ling me with looks and with words," replied Bixiou,
"when you said to me: 'I will do anything for you
if you can procure me at par shares of the railroad
which Du Tillet and Nucingen put on the market.'
Well, my dear fellow, Maxime and Nucingen are
coming to Carabine's, who is receiving this evening
a great many men in political life. You are losing
there, my old fellow, a beautiful opportunity.
Come, good day, dabbler!"
And Bixiou arose, leaving Vauvinet sufficiently
unmoved in appearance, but really dissatisfied, like
a man who is conscious of having committed a folly.
"My dear fellow, a moment, — " said the dis-
counter; "if 1 have no money, I have credit. — If your
notes are worth nothing I can keep them and give
you in exchange securities in bills — . Afterwards,
we can come to an arrangement about the railway
shares; we will divide, in a certain proportion, the
profits of this operation, and I will then make you a
remittance on account of the prof — "
THE INVOLUNTARY COMEDIANS 367
"No, no," replied Bixiou, "I must have some
money ; it is necessary that I should use my Raven-
"Ravenouillet is otherwise very good," said
Vauvinet; "he deposits in the savings-bank, he is
"He is better than you," said Leon to him, "for
he does not keep a lorette ; he has no rent to pay ; he
does not embark in speculations fearing all the time
the rise or the fall—"
"You think to amuse, great man?" replied Vau-
vinet, suddenly become jovial and caressing; "you
have got out the quintessence of La Fontaine's
fable, The Oak and the Reed. — Come, Gubetta,
my old confederate," said Vauvinet, taking Bixiou
by the waist, "you must have some money? very
well, I can just as well borrow three thousand francs
from my friend Cerizet, instead of two thousand. —
And we will be friends, Cinna!— Give me your two
giant cabbage-leaves. If I refused you, it was be-
cause it was very hard for a man who can only carry
on his poor business by depositing his securities
with the Bank, to keep your Ravenouillet in his
bureau drawer, — it is hard, it is very hard. — "
"And what will you take for discount?" asked
"Almost nothing," replied Vauvinet. "That will
cost you, at three months, fifty unhappy francs — . "
"As Emile Blondet said formerly, you will be my
benefactor," replied Bixiou.
"Twenty per cent and interest!" saidGazonal in
368 THE INVOLUNTARY COMEDIANS
Bixiou's ear, who replied to him by a great poke
with his elbow in the region of the oesophagus.
"Wait," said Vauvinet, opening the drawer of his
bureau; "I see here, my good fellow, an old note of
five hundred which has stuck to the band and 1 did
not know myself so rich, for I find for you a bill
receivable due very soon, of four hundred and fifty.
Cerizet will lend it to you without much rebate,
and there is your sum made up. But no joking,
Bixiou? — . Hein! this evening, I will go to Cara-
bine's — you swear to me"
"Are we not r^-friends?" said Bixiou, who took
the five -hundred-franc bill and the note for four
hundred and fifty francs; "1 give you my word of
honor that you will see this evening Du Tillet and a
number of other people who wish to make their way,
— railway, with Carabine."
Vauvinet conducted the three friends as far as the
landing, wheedling Bixiou. Bixiou remained seri-
ous until upon the threshold of the door; he was lis-
tening to Gazonal, who endeavored to enlighten him
upon this operation and who proved to him that, if
the confederate of Vauvinet, this Cerizet, lent him at
twenty francs of discount on a note of four hundred
and fifty francs it was money at forty per cent. — On
the asphalt of the pavement, Bixiou froze Gazonal
by the laugh of the Parisian mystifier, this silent
and cold laugh, a sort of labial north-easter.
"The adjudication of the railway will be positively
adjourned in the Chamber," he said; "we know it