Honoré de Balzac.

A woman of thirty ; The seamy side of history and other stories online

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thought that he himself alone possessed.

'* From Rastignac's introduction to society in Paris, he had
been led to contemn it utterly. From the year 1820 he
thought, like the baron, that honesty was a question of
appearances ; he looked upon the world as a mixture of cor-
ruption and rascality of every sort. If he admitted excep-
tions, he condemned the mass ; he put no belief in any virtue
— men did right or wrong, as circumstances decided. His
worldly wisdom was the work of a moment ; he learned his
lesson at the summit of Pdre Lachaise one day when he buried
a poor, good man there ; it was his Delphine's father, who
died deserted by his daughters and their husbands, a dupe of
our society and of the truest affection. Rastignac then and
there resolved to exploit this world, to wear full dress of
virtue, honesty, and fine manners. He was empanoplied in
selfishness. When the young scion of nobility discovered
that Nucingen wore the same armor, he respected him much
as some knight mounted upon a barb and arrayed in damas-
cened steel would have respected an adversary equally well
horsed and equipped at a tournament in the Middle Ages.
But for the time he had grown effeminate amid the delights
of Capua. The friendship of such a woman as the Baronne
de Nucingen is of a kind that sets a man abjuring egoism in
all its forms.

"Delphine had been deceived once already; in her first ven-
ture of the affections she came across a piece of Birmingham
manufacture, in the shape of the late lamented de Marsay;
and therefore she could not but feel a limitless affection for a
young provincial with all the provincial's articles of faith.
Her tenderness reacted upon Rastignac. So by the time that
Nucingen had put his wife's friend into the harness in which
the exploiter always gets the exploited, he had reached the
precise juncture when he (the baron) meditated a third sus-
pension of payment. To Rastignac he confided his position;



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THE FIRM OF NUCINGEN. 867

be pointed out to Rastignac a means of making ^reparation.'
As a consequence of his intimacy, he was expected to play
the part of confederate. The baron judged it unsafe to com-
municate the whole of his plot to his conjugal collaborator.
Rastignac quite believed in impending disaster; and the
baron allowed him to believe further that he (Rastignac)
saved the shop.

" But when there are so many threads in a skein, there are
apt to be knots. Rastignac trembled for Delphine's money.
He stipulated that Delphine must be independent and her
estate separated from her husband's, swearing to himself that
he would repay her by trebling her fortune. As, however,
Rastignac said nothing of himself, Nucingen begged him to
take, in the event of success, twenty-five shares of a thousand
francs in the argentiferous lead-mines, and Eugdne took them
— ^not to offend him ! Nucingen had put Rastignac up to this
the day before that evening in the Rue Joubert when our
friend counseled Malvina to marry. A cold shiver ran
through Rastignac at the sight of so many happy folk in Paris
going to and fro unconscious of the impending loss ; even as
a young commander might shiver at the first sight of an army
drawn up before a battle. He saw the d'Aiglemonts, the
d'Aldriggers, and Beaudenord. Poor little Isaure and Gode-
froid playing at love, what were they but Acis and Galatea
under the rock which a hulking Polyphemus was about to send
down upon them?'*

"That monkey of a Bixiou has something almost like
talent," said Blondet.

**Oh! so I am not maundering now?" asked Bixiou, en-
joying his success as he looked round at his surprised auditors.
*' For two months past," he continued, ** Godefroid had given
himself up to all the little pleasures of preparation for the mar-
riage. At such times men are like birds building nests in
spring ; they come and go, pick up their bits of straw, and fly
off with them in their beaks to line the nest that is to hold a



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868 THE FIRM CF NUCINGEK.

brood of young birds by-and-by. Isaure's bridegroom had
taken a house in the Rue de la Plancher at a thousand crowns,
a comfortable little house, neither too large nor too small,
which suited them. Every morning he went round to take a
look at the workmen and to superintend the painters. He
had introduced * comfort ' (the only good thing in England) —
heating apparatus to maintain an even temperature ail over the
house; fresh, soft colors, carefully chosen furniture, neither
too showy nor too much in the fashion \ spring-blinds fitted to
every window inside and out ; plate and new carriages. He
had seen to the stables, coach-house, and harness-room, where
Toby, Joby, Paddy floundered and fidgeted about like a mar-
mot let loose, apparently rejoiced to know that there would be
women about the place and a Mady ! ' This fervent passion
of a man that sets up housekeeping, choosing clocks, going to
visit his betrothed with his pockets full of patterns of stufis,
consulting her as to the bedroom furniture, going, coming,
and trotting about, for love's sake — ^all this, I say, is a spec-
tacle in the highest degree calculated to rejoice the hearts
of honest people, especially tradespeople. And as nothing
pleases folk better than the marriage of a good-looking young
fellow of seven-and-twenty and a charming girl of nineteen
that dances admirably well, Godefroid in his perplexity over
the carbeille (wedding-basket) asked Mme. de Nucingen and
Rastignac to breakfast with him and advise him on this all-
important point. He hit likewise on the happy idea of asking
his cousin d'Aiglemont and his wife to meet them, as well as
Mme. de S^rizy. Women of the world are ready enough to
join for once in an improvised breakfast-party at a bachelor's
rooms."

** It is their way of playing truant," put in Blondet.

**Of course they went over the new house," resumed
Bixiou. "Married women relish these little expeditions
as ogres relish warm flesh ; they feel young again with the
young bliss, unspoiled as yet by fruition. Breakfast



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THE FIRM OF NUCINGEN. 859

served in Godefroid's sitting-room, decked out like a troop-
horse for a farewell to bachelor life. There were dainty little
dishes such as women love to devour, nibble at, and sip of a
morning, when they are usually alarmingly hungry and hor-
ribly afraid to confess to it. It would seem that a woman
compromises herself by admitting that she is hungry. * Why
have you come alone ? ' inquired Godefroid when Rastignac
appeared. * Mrae. de Nucingen is out of spirits ; I will tell
you all about it,' answered Rastignac, with the air of a man
whose temper has been tried. * A quarrel ? ' hazarded Gode-
froid. * No.' At four o'clock the women took flight for the
Bois de Boulogne ; Rastignac stayed in the room and looked
out of the window, fixing his melancholy gaze upon Toby,
Joby, Paddy, who stood, his arms crossed in Napoleonic
fashion, audaciously posted in front of Beaudenord's cab-horse.
The child could only control the animal with his shrill little
voice, but the horse was afraid of Joby, Toby.

" ' Well,' began Godefroid, * what is the matter with you,
my dear fellow ? You look gloomy and anxious ; your gayety
is forced. You are tormented by incomplete happiness. It
is wretched, and that is a fact, when one cannot marry the
woman one loves at the mayor's office and the church.'

*'*Have you courage to hear what I have to say? I
wonder whether you will see how much a man must be at-
tached to a friend if he can be guilty of such a breach of
confidence as this for his sake.'

''Something in Rastignac's voice stung like a lash of a
whip.

" * What?' asked Godefroid de Beaudenord, turning pale.

" * I was unhappy over your joy ; I had not the heart to
keep such a secret to myself when I saw all these preparations,
your happiness in bloom.'

" * Just say it out in three words I '

'' * Swear to me on your honor that you will be as silent as
the ^rave '



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MO THE FIRM OF NUCINGBN.

** * As the grave,' repeated Beaudenord.

<^ ' That if one of your nearest relatives were concerned in
this secret, he should not know it/

*'*No.'

" * Very well. Nucingen started to-night for Brussels.
He must file his schedule if he cannot arrange a settlement.
This very morning Delphine petitioned for the separation of
her estate. You may still save your fortune.'

" * How? ' faltered Godefroid ; the blood turned to ice in
his veins.

" * Simply write to the Baron de Nucingen, antedating your
letter a fortnight, and instruct him to invest all your capital
in shares.' Rastignac suggested Claparon and Company, and
continued — * You have a fortnight, a month, possibly three
months, in which to realize and make something ; the shares
are still going up '

'' ' But d' Aiglemont, who was here at breakfast with us, has
a million in Nucingen 's bank.'

" ' Look here ; I do not know whether there will be enough
of these shares to cover it ; and, beside, I am not his friend,
I cannot betray Nucingen's confidence. You must not speak
to d'Aiglemont. If you say a word, you must answer to me
for the consequences.'

*' Godefroid stood stockstill for ten minutes.

"*Do you accept? Yes or no?' said the inexorable
Rastignac.

" Godefroid took up the pen, wrote at Rastignac's dicta-
tion, and signed his name.

" * My poor cousin ! ' he cried.

*'*Each for himself,' said Rastignac. 'And there is one
more settled ! ' he added to himself as he left Godefroid de
Beaudenord.

'< While Rastignac was manoeuvring thus in Paris, imagine
the state of things on the Bourse. A friend of mine, a pro-
vincial, a stupid creature, once asked me as we came past the



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THE FIRM OF NUCINGEN. 861

Bourse between four and five in the afternoon what all that
crowd of chatterers was doing, what they could possibly find
to say to each other, and why they were wandering to and fro
when business in public securities was over for the day.
*My friend/ said I, 'they have made their meal, and now
they are digesting it ; while they digest it, they gossip about
their neighbors, or there would be no commercial security in
Paris. Concerns are floated here, such and such a man —
Palma, for instance, who is something the same here as
Sinard at the Academic Royale des Sciences — Palma says,
''Let the speculation be made!" and the speculation is
made.' "

"What a man that Hebrew is," put in Blondet; **he has
not had a university education, but a universal education.
And universal does not in his case mean superficial ; whatever
he knows, he knows to the bottom. He has a genius, an
intuitive faculty for business. He is the oracle of all the
lynxes that rule the Paris market 5 they will not touch an
investment until Palma has looked into it. He looks solemn,
he listens, ponders, and reflects ; his interlocutor thinks that
after this consideration he has come round his man, till Palma
says, 'This will not do for me.* The most extraordinary
thing about Palma, to my mind, is the fact that he and Wer-
bnist were partners for ten years, and there was never the
shadow of a disagreement between them."

" That is the way with the very strong or the very weak ;
any two between the extremes fall out and lose no time in
making enemies of each other," said Couture.

" Nucingen, you see, had neatly and skillfully put a little
bombshell under the colonnades of the Bourse, and toward
four o'clock in the afternoon it exploded. * Here is some-
thing serious; have you heard the news?' asked du Tillet,
drawing Werbnist into a comer. 'Here is Nucingen gone
off to Brussels, and his wife petitioning for the separation of
her estate.'



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362 THE FIRM OF NUCINGEH.

*' 'Are you and he in it together for a liquidation?' asked
Werbrust, smiling.

***No foolery, Werbrust/ said du Tillet. *You know
the holders of his paper. Now, look here. There is business
in it. Shares in this new concern of ours have gone up twenty
per cent, already ; they will go up to five-and-twenty by the
end of the quarter ; you know why. They are going to pay
a splendid dividend.'

** * Sly dog,' said Werbrust. * Get along with you ; you arc
a devil with long and sharp claws, and you have them deep
in the butter.'

** ' Just let me speak or we shall not have time to operate.
I hit on the idea as soon as I heard the news. I positively
saw Mme. de Nucingen crying; slie is afraid for her fortune.*

***Poor little thing!' said the old Alsacian Jew, with
an ironical expression. *Well?' he added, as du Tillet was
silent.

** * Well. At my place I have a thousand shares of a thou-
sand francs in our concern ; Nucingen handed them over to
me to put on the market, do you understand ? Good. Now
let us buy up a million of Nucingen's paper at a discount of
ten or twenty per cent., and we shall make a handsome per-
centage out of it. We shall be debtors and creditors both ;
confusion will be worked I But we must set about it care-
fully, or the holders may imagine that we are operating in
Nucingen's interests.'

«*Then Werbrust understood. He squeezed du Tillet's
hand with an expression such as a woman's face wears when
she is playing her neighbor a trick.

"Martin Falleix came up. *Well, have you heard the
news? ' he asked. ' Nucingen has stopped payment.'

*' ' Pooh,' said Werbrust, * pray don't noise it about ; give
those that hold his paper a chance.'

'' < What is the cause of the smash ; do you know? ' put in
Claparon*



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THE FIRM OF NUCINGEN, 368

***You know nothing about it/ said du Tillet. 'There
isn't any smash. Payment will be made in full. Nucingen
will start again ; I shall find him all the money he wants. I
know the causes of the suspension. He put all his capital into
Mexican securities, and they are sending him metal in return ;
old Spanish cannon cast in such an insane fashion that they
melted down gold and bell-raetal and church plate for it, and
all the wreck of the Spanish dominion in the Indies. The
specie is slow in coming, and the dear baron is hard up.
That is all.'

** * It is a fact,' said Werbrust ; * I am taking his paper my- '
self at twenty per cent, discount.'

" The news spread swift as fire in a straw-rick. The most
contradictory reports got about. But such confidence was felt
in the firm after the two previous suspensions, that every one
stuck to Nucingen's paper. * Palma must lend us a hand,'
said Werbrust.

** Now Palma was the Kellers' oracle, and the Kellers were
brimful of Nucingen's paper. A hint from Palma would be
enough. Werbrust. arranged with Palma, and he rang the
alarm bell. There was a panic next day on the Bourse. The
Kellers, acting on Pal ma's advice, let go Nucingen's paper at
ten per cent, of loss; they set the example on 'Change, for
they were supposed to know very well what they were about.
Taillefer followed up with three hundred thousand francs at a
discount of twenty per cent., and Martin Falleix with two
hundred thousand at fifteen. Gigonnet saw what was going
on. He helped to spread the panic, with a view to buying
up Nucingen's paper himself and making a commission of two
or three per cent, out of Werbrust.

" In a corner of the Bourse he came upon poor Matifat,
who had three hundred thousand francs in Nucingen's bank.
Matifat, ghastly and haggard, beheld the terrible Gigonnet,
the bill-discounter of his old quarter, coming up to worry
bim. He shuddered in spite of himself.

7



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864 THE FIRM OF AUCINGEN.



it «'



'Things are looking bad. There is a crisis on hand.
Nucingen is compounding with his creditors. But this does
not interest you, Daddy Matifat; you are out of business.'

*' ' Oh, well, you are mistaken, Gigonnet ;* I am in for three
hundred thousand francs. I meant to speculate in Spanish
bonds.'

** * Then you have saved your money. Spanish bonds would
have swept everytliing away ; whereas I am prepared to offer
you something like fifty per cent, for your account with
Nucingen.*

• ** * I would rather wait for the composition,' said Matifat ;
' I never knew a banker yet that paid less than fifty per cent.

Ah, if it were only a matter of ten per cent, of loss ' added

the retired man of drugs.

'* * Well, will you take fifteen ? ' asked Gigonnet.

** * You are very keen about it, it seems to me,* said Matifat.

"'Good-night.*

** ' Will you take twelve?*

*' ' Done,* said Gigonnet.

"Before night two millions had been .bought up in the
names of the three chance-united confederates, and posted by
du Tillet to the debit side of Nucingen's account. Next day
they drew their premium.

** The dainty little old Baroness d'Aldrigger was at break-
fast with her two daughters and Godefroid, when Rastignac
came in with a diplomatic air to steer the conversation on the
financial crisis. The Baron de Nucingen felt a lively regard
for the d'Aldrigger family ; he was prepared, if things went
amiss, to cover the baroness* account with his best securities,
to wit, some shares in the argentiferous lead-mines, but the
application must come from the lady.

*' *Poor Nucingen ! * said the baroness. * What can have
become of him ? '

** 'He is in Belgium. His wife is petitioning for a separa*
* Sec " C^ar Birotteau."



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THE FIRM OF NUCINGEN. 366

tion of her property \ but he has gone to see if he can arrange
with some bankers to see him through.*

***Dear me I That reminds me of my poor husband!
Dear Monsieur de Rastignac, how you must feel this, so at-
tached as you are to the house 1 '

'* ' If all the indifferent are covered, his personal friends
will be rewarded later on. He will pull through ; he is a
clever man.*

" * An honest man, above all things,' said the baroness.

** A month later, Nucingen met all his liabilities, with no
formalities beyond the letters by which creditors signified the
investments which they preferred to take in exchange for their
capital ; and with no action on the part of other banks beyond
registering the transfer of Nucingen's paper for the invest-
ments in favor.

"While du Tillet, Werbrust, Claparon, Gigonnet, and
others that thought themselves clever were fetching in Nucin-
gen's paper from abroad with a premium of one per cent. —
for it was still worth their while to exchange it for securities
in a rising market — there was all the more talk on the Bourse,
because there was nothing now to fear. They babbled over
Nucingen ; he was discussed and judged ; they even slandered
him. His luxurious life, his enterprises ! When a man has
so much* on his hands, he overreaches himself, and so forth,
and so forth.

"The talk was at its height, when several people were
greatly astonished to receive letters from Geneva, Basel,
Milan, Naples, Genoa, Marseilles, and London, in which
their correspondents, previously advised of the failure, in-
formed them that somebody was offering one per cent, for
Nucingen's paper! * There is something up,' said the lynxes
of the Bourse.

"The Court meanwhile had granted the application for
Mme. de Nucingen's separation as to her estate, and the
question became still more complicated. The newspapers



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866 THE FIRM OF NUCINGEN.

announced the return of M. le Baron de Nucingen from a
journey to Belgium ; he had been arranging, it was said, with
a well-known Belgian firm to resume the working of some
coal-pits in the Bois de Bossut. The baron himself appeared
on the Bourse, and never even took the trouble to contradict
the slanders circulating against him. He scorned to reply
through the press ; he simply bought a splendid estate just
outside Paris for two millions of francs. Six weeks afterward,
the Bordeaux shipping intelligence announced that two vessels
with cargoes of bullion to the amount of seven millions, con-
signed to the firm of Nucingen, were lying in the river.

"Then it was plain to Palma, Werbrust, and du Tillet that
the trick had been played. Nobody else was any the wiser.
The three scholars studied the means by which the great
bubble had been created, saw that it had been preparing for
eleven months, and pronounced Nucingen the greatest finan-
cier in Europe.

'* Rastignac understood nothing of all this, but he had the
four hundred thousand francs which Nucingen had allowed
him to shear from the Parisian sheep, and he portioned his
sisters. D'Aiglemont, at a hint from his cousin Beaudenord,
besought Rastignac to accept ten per cent, upon his million
if he would undertake to convert it into shares in a canal
which is still to make, for Nucingen worked things with the
Government to such purpose that the concessionaries find it
to their interest not to finish their scheme. Charles Grandet
implored Delphine's lover to use his interest to secure shares
for him in exchange for his cash. And altogether Rastignac
played the part of Law for ten days ; he had the prettiest
duchesses in France praying him to allot shares to them, and
to-day the young man very likely has an income of forty
thousand livres, derived in the first instance from the ai^n-
tiferous lead-mines.**

" If every one was better off, who can have lost? ** asked
Finot.



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THE FIRM OF NUCINGEN. 367

" Hear the conclusion," rejoined Bixiou. "The Marquis
d'Aiglemont and Beaudenord (I put them forward as two ex-
amples out of many) kept their allotted shares, enticed by the
so-called dividend that fell due a few months afterward. They
had another three per cent, on their capital, they sang Nu-
cingen's praises, and took his part at a time when everybody
suspected that he was going to bankrupt. Godefroid married
his beloved Isaure and took shares in the mines to the value
of a hundred thousand francs. The Nucingens gave a ball
even more splendid than people expected of them on the occa-
sion of the wedding ; Delphine's present to the bride was a
charming set of rubies. Isaure danced, a happy wife, a girl
no longer. The little baroness was more than ever a Shep-
herdess of the Alps. The ball was at its height when Malvina,
the Andalouse of Musset's poem, heard du Tillet's voice drily
advising her to take Desroches. Dcsroches, warmed to the
right degree by Rastignac and Nucingen, tried to come to an
understanding financially ; but at the first hint of shares in
the mines for the bride's portion, he broke off and went back
to the Matifats in the Rue du Cherche-Midi, only to find the
accursed canal shares which Gigonnet had foisted on Matifat
in lieu of cash.

'* They had not long to wait for the crash. The firm of
Claparon did business on too large a scale, the capital was
locked up, the concern ceased to serve its purposes, or to pay
dividends, though the speculations were sound. These mis-
fortunes coincided with the events of 1827. In 1829 it was too
well known that Claparon was a man of straw set up by the
two giants ; he fell from his pedestal. Shares that had fetched
twelve hundred and fifty francs fell to four hundred, though
intrinsically they were worth six. Nucingen, knowing their
value, bought them up at four.

" Meanwhile the little Baroness d'Aldrigger had sold out of
the mines that paid no dividends, and Godefroid had rein-
vested the money belonging to his wife and her mother in



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868 THE FIRM OF NVCINGEN.

Claparon's concern. Debts compelled them to realize when
the shares were at their lowest, so that of seven hundred thou-
sand francs only two hundred thousand remained. They made
a clearance, and all that was left was prudently invested in the
three per cents, at seventy-five. Godefroid, the sometime gay
and careless bachelor who had lived without taking thought
all his life long, found himself saddled with a little goose of
a wife totally unfitted to bear adversity (indeed, before six
months were over he had witnessed the anserine transformation
of his beloved), to say nothing of a mother-in-law whose mind
ran on pretty dresses while she liad not bread to eat. The
two families must live together to live at all. It was only by
stirring up all his considerably chilled interest that Godefroid
got a post in the audit department. His friends? They were
out of town. His relatives? All astonishment and promises.
* What ! my dear boy ! Oh ! count upon me ! Poor fellow ! '
and Beaudenord was clean forgotten fifteen minutes afterward.
He owed his place to Nucingen and de Vandenesse.

"And to-day these so estimable and unfortunate people are
living on a fourth floor (not counting the entresol) in the Rue



Online LibraryHonoré de BalzacA woman of thirty ; The seamy side of history and other stories → online text (page 61 of 63)