Fiction > Harvard Classics > Honoré de Balzac > Old Goriot > Paras. 100–199
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Honoré de Balzac (1799–1850).  Old Goriot.
The Harvard Classics Shelf of Fiction.  1917.
  
Paras. 100–199
  
  “Why, he must be as strong as Augustus, King of Poland!” said Eugène to himself when the bar was nearly finished. 100
  Old Goriot looked sadly at his handiwork, tears fell from his eyes, he blew out the dip which had served him for a light while he manipulated the silver, and Eugène heard him sigh as he lay down again. 101
  “He is mad,” thought the student. 102
  “Poor child!” old Goriot said aloud. Rastignac, hearing those words, concluded to keep silence; he would not hastily condemn his neighbor. He was just in the doorway of his room when a strange sound from the staircase below reached his ears; it might have been made by two men coming up in list slippers. Eugène listened; two men there certainly were, he could hear their breathing. Yet there had been no sound of opening the street door, no footsteps in the passage. Suddenly, too, he saw a faint gleam of light on the second story; it came from M. Vautrin’s room. 103
  ‘There are a good many mysteries here for a lodging-house!” he said to himself. 104
  He went part of the way downstairs and listened again. The rattle of gold reached his ears. In another moment the light was put out, and again he distinctly heard the breathing of two men, but no sound of a door being opened or shut. The two men went down stairs, the faint sounds growing fainter as they went. 105
  “Who is there!” cried Mme. Vauquer out of her bedroom window. 106
  “I, Mme. Vauquer,” answered Vautrin’s deep bass voice. “I am coming in.” 107
  “That is odd! Christophe drew the bolts,” said Eugène, going back to his room. “You have to sit up at night, it seems, if you really mean to know all that is going on about you in Paris.” 108
  These incidents turned his thought from his ambitious dreams; he betook himself to his work, but his thought wandered back to old Goriot’s suspicious occupation; Mme. de Restaud’s face swam again and again before his eyes like a vision of a brilliant future, and at last he lay down and slept with clenched fists. When a young man makes up his mind that he will work all night, the chances are that seven times out of ten he will sleep till morning. Such vigils do not begin before we are turned twenty. 109
  The next morning Paris was wrapped in one of the dense fogs that throw the most punctual people out in their calculations as to the time; even the most business-like folk fail to keep their appointments in such weather, and ordinary mortals wake up at noon and fancy it is eight o’clock. On this morning it was half-past nine, and Mme. Vauquer still lay abed. Christophe was late, Sylvie was late, but the two sat comfortably taking their coffee as usual. It was Sylvie’s custom to take the cream off the milk destined for the boarders’ breakfast for her own, and to boil the remainder for some time, so that Madame should not discover this illegal exaction. 110
  “Sylvie,” said Christophe, as he dipped a piece of toast into the coffee, “M. Vautrin, who is not such a bad sort, all the same, had two people come to see him again last night. If Madame says anything, mind you say nothing about it.” 111
  “Has he given you something?” 112
  “He gave me a five-franc piece this month, which is as good as saying, ‘Hold your tongue.’” 113
  “Except him and Mme. Couture, who don’t look twice at every penny, there’s no one in the house that doesn’t try to get back with the left hand all that they give with the right at New Year,” said Sylvie. 114
  “And, after all,” said Christophe, “what do they give you? A miserable five-franc piece. There is old Goriot, who has cleaned his shoes himself these two years past. There is that old beggar Poiret, who goes without blacking altogether; he would sooner drink it than put it on his boots. Then there is that whipper-snapper of a student, who gives me a couple of francs. Two francs will not pay for my brushes, and he sells his old clothes, and gets more for them than they are worth. Oh! they’re a shabby lot!” 115
  “Pooh!” said Sylvie, sipping her coffee, “our places are the best in the Quarter, that I know. But about that great big chap Vautrin, Christophe; has anyone told you anything about him?” 116
  “Yes. I met a gentleman in the street a few days ago; he said to me, ‘There’s a gentleman at your place, isn’t there? a tall man that dyes his whiskers?’ I told him, ‘No, sir; they aren’t dyed. A gay fellow like him hasn’t the time to do it.’ And when I told M. Vautrin about it afterwards, he said, ‘Quite right, my boy. That is the way to answer them. There is nothing more unpleasant than to have your little weaknesses known; it might spoil many a match.’” 117
  “Well, and for my part,” said Sylvie, “a man tried to humbug me at the market, wanting to know if I had seen him put on his shirt. Such bosh! There,” she cried, interrupting herself, “that’s a quarter to ten striking at the Valde-Grâce, and not a soul stirring!” 118
  “Pooh! they are all gone out. Mme. Couture and the girl went out at eight o’clock to take the wafer at Saint-Étienne. Old Goriot started off somewhere with a parcel, and the student won’t be back from his lecture till ten o’clock. I saw them go while I was sweeping the stairs; old Goriot knocked up against me, and his parcel was as hard as iron. What is the old fellow up to, I wonder? He is as good as a plaything for the rest of them; they can never let him alone; but he is a good man, all the same, and worth more than all of them put together. He doesn’t give you much himself, but he sometimes sends you with a message to ladies who fork out famous tips; they are dressed grandly, too.” 119
  “His daughters, as he calls them, eh? There are a dozen of them.” 120
  “I have never been to more than two—the two who came here.” 121
  “There is Madame moving overhead; I shall have to go, or she will raise a fine racket. Just keep an eye on the milk, Christophe; don’t let the cat get at it.” 122
  Sylvie went up to her mistress’s room. 123
  “Sylvie! How is this? It’s nearly ten o’clock, and you let me sleep on like a dormouse! Such a thing has never happened before.” 124
  “It’s the fog; it is that thick, you could cut it with a knife.” 125
  “But how about breakfast?” 126
  “Bah! the boarders are possessed, I’m sure. They all cleared out before there was a wink of daylight.” 127
  “Do you speak properly, Sylvie,” Mme. Vauquer retorted; “say a blink of daylight.” 128
  “Ah, well, Madame, whichever you please. Anyhow, you can have breakfast at ten o’clock. La Michonnette and Poiret have neither of them stirred. There are only those two upstairs, and they are sleeping like the logs they are.” 129
  “But, Sylvie, you put their names together as if——” 130
  “As if what?” said Sylvie, bursting into a guffaw. “The two of them make a pair.” 131
  “It is a strange thing, isn’t it, Sylvie, how M. Vautrin got in last night after Christophe had bolted the door?” 132
  “Not at all, Madame. Christophe heard M. Vautrin, and went down and undid the door for him. And here are you imagining that——” 133
  “Give me my bodice, and be quick and get breakfast ready. Dish up the rest of the mutton with the potatoes, and you can put the stewed pears on the table, those at five a penny.” 134
  A few moments later Mme. Vauquer came down, just in time to see the cat knock down a plate that covered a bowl of milk, and begin to lap in all haste. 135
  “Mistigris!” she cried. 136
  The cat fled, but promptly returned to rub against her ankles. 137
  “Oh! yes, you can wheedle, you old hypocrite!” she said “Sylvie! Sylvie!” 138
  “Yes, Madame; what is it?” 139
  “Just see what the cat has done!” 140
  “It is all that stupid Christophe’s fault. I told him to stop and lay the table. What has become of him? Don’t you worry, Madame; old Goriot shall have it. I will fill it up with water, and he won’t know the difference; he never notices anything, not even what he eats.” 141
  “I wonder where the old heathen can have gone?” said Mme. Vauquer, setting the plates round the table. 142
  “Who knows? He is up to all sorts of tricks.” 143
  “I have overslept myself,” said Mme. Vauquer. 144
  “But Madame looks as fresh as a rose, all the same.” 145
  The door bell rang at that moment, and Vautrin came through the sitting-room, singing loudly—
        “’Tis the same old story everywhere,
  A roving heart and a roving glance…”
 146
  “Oh! Mamma Vauquer! good-morning!” he cried at the sight of his hostess, and he put his arm gayly round her waist. 147
  “There! have done——” 148
  “‘Impertinence!’ Say it!” he answered. “Come, say it! Now isn’t that what you really mean? Stop a bit, I will help you to set the table. Ah! I am a nice man, am I not?
        ‘For the locks of brown and the golden hair
  A sighing lover.’
 149
  “Oh! I have just seen something so funny——
                    ‘… led by chance.’”
 150
  “What?” asked the widow. 151
  “Old Goriot in the goldsmith’s shop in the Rue Dauphine at half-past eight this morning. They buy old spoons and forks and gold lace there, and Goriot sold a piece of silver plate for a good round sum. It had been twisted out of shape very neatly for a man that’s not used to the trade.” 152
  “Really? You don’t say so?” 153
  “Yes. One of my friends is expatriating himself; I had been to see him off on board the Royal Mail steamer, and was coming back here. I waited after that to see what old Goriot would do; it is a comical affair. He came back to this quarter of the world, to the Rue des Grès, and went into a money-lender’s house; everybody knows him, Gobseck, a stuck-up rascal, that would make dominos out of his father’s bones; a Turk, a heathen, an old Jew, a Greek; it would be a difficult matter to rob him, for he puts all his coin into the Bank.” 154
  “Then what was old Goriot doing there?” 155
  “Doing?” said Vautrin. “Nothing; he was bent on his own undoing. He is a simpleton, stupid enough to ruin himself by running after——” 156
  “There he is!” said Sylvie. 157
  “Christophe,” said old Goriot’s voice, “come upstairs with me.” 158
  Christophe went up, and shortly afterwards came down again. 159
  “Where are you going?” Mme. Vauquer asked of her servant. 160
  “Out on an errand for M. Goriot.” 161
  “What may that be?” said Vautrin, pouncing on a letter in Christophe’s hand. “Mme. la Comtesse Anastasie de Restaud,” he read. “Where are you going with it?” he added, as he gave the letter back to Christophe. 162
  “To the Rue du Helder. I have orders to give this into her hands myself.” 163
  “What is there inside it?” said Vautrin, holding the letter up to the light. “A bank-note? No.” He peered into the envelope. “A receipted account!” he cried. “My word! ’tis a gallant old dotard. Off with you, old chap,” he said, bringing down a hand on Christophe’s head, and spinning the man round like a thimble; “you will have a famous tip.” 164
  By this time the table was set. Sylvie was boiling the milk, Mme. Vauquer was lighting a fire in the stove with some assistance from Vautrin, who kept on humming to himself—
        “The same old story everywhere.
  A roving heart and a roving glance.”
 165
  When everything was ready, Mme. Couture and Mlle. Taillefer came in. 166
  “Where have you been this morning, fair lady?” said Mme. Vauquer, turning to Mme. Couture. 167
  “We have just been to say our prayers at Saint-Étienne du Mont. To-day is the day when we must go to see M. Taillefer. Poor little thing! She is trembling like a leaf,” Mme. Couture went on, as she seated herself before the fire and held the steaming soles of her boots to the blaze. 168
  “Warm yourself, Victorine,” said Mme. Vauquer. 169
  “It is quite right and proper, Mademoiselle, to pray to Heaven to soften your father’s heart,” said Vautrin, as he drew a chair nearer to the orphan girl; “but that is not enough. What you want is a friend who will give the monster a piece of his mind; a barbarian that has three millions (so they say), and will not give you a dowry; and a pretty girl needs a dowry nowadays.” 170
  “Poor child!” said Mme. Vauquer. “Never mind, my pet, your wretch of a father is going just the way to bring trouble upon himself.” 171
  Victorine’s eyes filled with tears at the words, and the widow checked herself at a sign from Mme. Couture. 172
  “If we could only see him!” said the Commissary-General’s widow; “if I could speak to him myself and give him his wife’s last letter! I have never dared to run the risk of sending it by post; he knew my handwriting——” 173
  “‘Oh woman, persecuted and injured innocent!’” exclaimed Vautrin, breaking in upon her. “So that is how you are, is it? In a few days’ time I will look into your affairs, and it will be all right, you shall see.” 174
  “Oh!” said Victorine, with a tearful but eager glance at Vautrin, who showed no sign of being touched by it, “if you know of any way of communicating with my father, please be sure and tell him that his affection and my mother’s honor are more to me than all the money in the world. If you can induce him to relent a little towards me, I will pray to God for you. You may be sure of my gratitude——” 175
  “The same old story everywhere,” sang Vautrin, with a satirical intonation. At this juncture, Goriot, Mlle. Michonneau, and Poiret came downstairs together; possibly the scent of the gravy which Sylvie was making to serve with the mutton had announced breakfast. The seven people thus assembled bade each other good-morning, and took their places at the table; the clock struck ten, and the student’s footstep was heard outside. 176
  “Ah! here you are, M. Eugène,” said Sylvie; “everyone is breakfasting at home to-day.” 177
  The student exchanged greetings with the lodgers, and sat down beside Goriot. 178
  “I have just met with a queer adventure,” he said, as he helped himself abundantly to the mutton, and cut a slice of bread, which Mme. Vauquer’s eye gauged as usual. 179
  “An adventure?” queried Poiret. 180
  “Well, and what is there to astonish you in that, old boy?” Vautrin asked of Poiret. “M. Eugène is cut out for that kind of thing.” 181
  Mlle. Taillefer stole a timid glance at the young student. 182
  “Tell us about your adventure?” demanded Mme. Vauquer. 183
  “Yesterday evening I went to a ball given by a cousin of mine, the Vicomtesse de Beauséant. She has a magnificent house; the rooms were hung with silk—in short, it was a splendid affair, and I was as happy as a king——” 184
  “Fisher,” put in Vautrin, interrupting. 185
  “What do you mean, sir?” said Eugène sharply. 186
  “I said ‘fisher,’ because kingfishers see a good deal more fun than kings.” 187
  “Quite true; I would much rather be the little careless bird than a king,” said Poiret the ditto-ist, “because——” 188
  “In fact”—the law-student cut him short—“I danced with one of the handsomest women in the room, a charming countess, the most exquisite creature I have ever seen. There was peach blossom in her hair, and she had the loveliest bouquet of flowers—real flowers, that scented the air—but there! it is no use trying to describe a woman glowing with the dance. You ought to have seen her! Well, and this morning I met this divine countess about nine o’clock, on foot in the Rue de Grès. Oh! how my heart beat! I began to think——” 189
  “That she was coming here,” said Vautrin, with a keen look at the student. “I expect that she was going to call on old Gobseck, a money-lender. If ever you explore a Parisian woman’s heart, you will find the money-lender first, and the lover afterwards. Your countess is called Anastasie de Restaud, and she lives in the Rue du Helder.” 190
  The student stared hard at Vautrin. Old Goriot raised his head at the words, and gave the two speakers a glance so full of intelligence and uneasiness that the lodgers beheld him with astonishment. 191
  “Then Christophe was too late, and she must have gone to him!” cried Goriot, with anguish in his voice. 192
  “It is just as I guessed,” said Vautrin, leaning over to whisper in Mme. Vauquer’s ear. 193
  Goriot went on with his breakfast, but seemed unconscious of what he was doing. He had never looked more stupid nor more taken up with his own thoughts than he did at that moment. 194
  “Who the devil could have told you her name, M. Vautrin?” asked Eugène. 195
  “Aha! there you are!” answered Vautrin. “Old Father Goriot there knew it quite well! and why should not I know it too?” 196
  “M. Goriot?” the student cried. 197
  “What is it?” said the old man. “So she was very beautiful, was she, yesterday night?” 198
  “Who?” 199

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