Meet us on:
 
Entire Site
    Try our fun game

    Dueling book covers…may the best design win!

    Random Quote
    "I know how men in exile feed on dreams of hope."
     

    Subscribe to Our Newsletter

    Follow us on Twitter

    Never miss a good book again! Follow Read Print on Twitter

    Chapter 13

    • Rate it:
    Launch Reading Mode Next Chapter
    Chapter 13
    Previous Chapter
    While these events were happening in Saumur, Charles was making his
    fortune in the Indies. His commercial outfit had sold well. He began
    by realizing a sum of six thousand dollars. Crossing the line had
    brushed a good many cobwebs out of his brain; he perceived that the
    best means of attaining fortune in tropical regions, as well as in
    Europe, was to buy and sell men. He went to the coast of Africa and
    bought Negroes, combining his traffic in human flesh with that of
    other merchandise equally advantageous to his interests. He carried
    into this business an activity which left him not a moment of leisure.
    He was governed by the desire of reappearing in Paris with all the
    prestige of a large fortune, and by the hope of regaining a position
    even more brilliant than the one from which he had fallen.

    By dint of jostling with men, travelling through many lands, and
    studying a variety of conflicting customs, his ideas had been modified
    and had become sceptical. He ceased to have fixed principles of right
    and wrong, for he saw what was called a crime in one country lauded as
    a virtue in another. In the perpetual struggle of selfish interests
    his heart grew cold, then contracted, and then dried up. The blood of
    the Grandets did not fail of its destiny; Charles became hard, and
    eager for prey. He sold Chinamen, Negroes, birds' nests, children,
    artists; he practised usury on a large scale; the habit of defrauding
    custom-houses soon made him less scrupulous about the rights of his
    fellow men. He went to the Island of St. Thomas and bought, for a mere
    song, merchandise that had been captured by pirates, and took it to
    ports where he could sell it at a good price. If the pure and noble
    face of Eugenie went with him on his first voyage, like that image of
    the Virgin which Spanish mariners fastened to their masts, if he
    attributed his first success to the magic influence of the prayers and
    intercessions of his gentle love, later on women of other kinds,
    --blacks, mulattoes, whites, and Indian dancing-girls,--orgies and
    adventures in many lands, completely effaced all recollection of his
    cousin, of Saumur, of the house, the bench, the kiss snatched in the
    dark passage. He remembered only the little garden shut in with
    crumbling walls, for it was there he learned the fate that had
    overtaken him; but he rejected all connection with his family. His
    uncle was an old dog who had filched his jewels; Eugenie had no place
    in his heart nor in his thoughts, though she did have a place in his
    accounts as a creditor for the sum of six thousand francs.

    Such conduct and such ideas explain Charles Grandet's silence. In the
    Indies, at St. Thomas, on the coast of Africa, at Lisbon, and in the
    United States the adventurer had taken the pseudonym of Shepherd, that
    he might not compromise his own name. Charles Shepherd could safely be
    indefatigable, bold, grasping, and greedy of gain, like a man who
    resolves to snatch his fortune _quibus cumque viis_, and makes haste
    to have done with villany, that he may spend the rest of his life as
    an honest man.

    With such methods, prosperity was rapid and brilliant; and in 1827
    Charles Grandet returned to Bordeaux on the "Marie Caroline," a fine
    brig belonging to a royalist house of business. He brought with him
    nineteen hundred thousand francs worth of gold-dust, from which he
    expected to derive seven or eight per cent more at the Paris mint. On
    the brig he met a gentleman-in-ordinary to His Majesty Charles X.,
    Monsieur d'Aubrion, a worthy old man who had committed the folly of
    marrying a woman of fashion with a fortune derived from the West India
    Islands. To meet the costs of Madame d'Aubrion's extravagance, he had
    gone out to the Indies to sell the property, and was now returning
    with his family to France.

    Monsieur and Madame d'Aubrion, of the house of d'Aubrion de Buch, a
    family of southern France, whose last _captal_, or chief, died before
    1789, were now reduced to an income of about twenty thousand francs,
    and they possessed an ugly daughter whom the mother was resolved to
    marry without a _dot_,--the family fortune being scarcely sufficient
    for the demands of her own life in Paris. This was an enterprise whose
    success might have seemed problematical to most men of the world, in
    spite of the cleverness with which such men credit a fashionable
    woman; in fact, Madame d'Aubrion herself, when she looked at her
    daughter, almost despaired of getting rid of her to any one, even to a
    man craving connection with nobility. Mademoiselle d'Aubrion was a
    long, spare, spindling demoiselle, like her namesake the insect; her
    mouth was disdainful; over it hung a nose that was too long, thick at
    the end, sallow in its normal condition, but very red after a meal,--a
    sort of vegetable phenomenon which is particularly disagreeable when
    it appears in the middle of a pale, dull, and uninteresting face. In
    one sense she was all that a worldly mother, thirty-eight years of age
    and still a beauty with claims to admiration, could have wished.
    However, to counterbalance her personal defects, the marquise gave her
    daughter a distinguished air, subjected her to hygienic treatment
    which provisionally kept her nose at a reasonable flesh-tint, taught
    her the art of dressing well, endowed her with charming manners,
    showed her the trick of melancholy glances which interest a man and
    make him believe that he has found a long-sought angel, taught her the
    manoeuvre of the foot,--letting it peep beneath the petticoat, to show
    its tiny size, at the moment when the nose became aggressively red; in
    short, Madame d'Aubrion had cleverly made the very best of her
    offspring. By means of full sleeves, deceptive pads, puffed dresses
    amply trimmed, and high-pressure corsets, she had obtained such
    curious feminine developments that she ought, for the instruction of
    mothers, to have exhibited them in a museum.

    Charles became very intimate with Madame d'Aubrion precisely because
    she was desirous of becoming intimate with him. Persons who were on
    board the brig declared that the handsome Madame d'Aubrion neglected
    no means of capturing so rich a son-in-law. On landing at Bordeaux in
    June, 1827, Monsieur, Madame, Mademoiselle d'Aubrion, and Charles
    lodged at the same hotel and started together for Paris. The hotel
    d'Aubrion was hampered with mortgages; Charles was destined to free
    it. The mother told him how delighted she would be to give up the
    ground-floor to a son-in-law. Not sharing Monsieur d'Aubrion's
    prejudices on the score of nobility, she promised Charles Grandet to
    obtain a royal ordinance from Charles X. which would authorize him,
    Grandet, to take the name and arms of d'Aubrion and to succeed, by
    purchasing the entailed estate for thirty-six thousand francs a year,
    to the titles of Captal de Buch and Marquis d'Aubrion. By thus uniting
    their fortunes, living on good terms, and profiting by sinecures, the
    two families might occupy the hotel d'Aubrion with an income of over a
    hundred thousand francs.

    "And when a man has a hundred thousand francs a year, a name, a
    family, and a position at court,--for I will get you appointed as
    gentleman-of-the-bedchamber,--he can do what he likes," she said to
    Charles. "You can then become anything you choose,--master of the
    rolls in the council of State, prefect, secretary to an embassy, the
    ambassador himself, if you like. Charles X. is fond of d'Aubrion; they
    have known each other from childhood."

    Intoxicated with ambition, Charles toyed with the hopes thus cleverly
    presented to him in the guise of confidences poured from heart to
    heart. Believing his father's affairs to have been settled by his
    uncle, he imagined himself suddenly anchored in the Faubourg
    Saint-Germain,--that social object of all desire, where, under shelter
    of Mademoiselle Mathilde's purple nose, he was to reappear as the
    Comte d'Aubrion, very much as the Dreux reappeared in Breze. Dazzled
    by the prosperity of the Restoration, which was tottering when he left
    France, fascinated by the splendor of aristocratic ideas, his
    intoxication, which began on the brig, increased after he reached
    Paris, and he finally determined to take the course and reach the high
    position which the selfish hopes of his would-be mother-in-law pointed
    out to him. His cousin counted for no more than a speck in this
    brilliant perspective; but he went to see Annette. True woman of the
    world, Annette advised her old friend to make the marriage, and
    promised him her support in all his ambitious projects. In her heart
    she was enchanted to fasten an ugly and uninteresting girl on Charles,
    whose life in the West Indies had rendered him very attractive. His
    complexion had bronzed, his manners had grown decided and bold, like
    those of a man accustomed to make sharp decisions, to rule, and to
    succeed. Charles breathed more at his ease in Paris, conscious that he
    now had a part to play.

    Des Grassins, hearing of his return, of his approaching marriage and
    his large fortune, came to see him, and inquired about the three
    hundred thousand francs still required to settle his father's debts.
    He found Grandet in conference with a goldsmith, from whom he had
    ordered jewels for Mademoiselle d'Aubrion's _corbeille_, and who was
    then submitting the designs. Charles had brought back magnificent
    diamonds, and the value of their setting, together with the plate and
    jewelry of the new establishment, amounted to more than two hundred
    thousand francs. He received des Grassins, whom he did not recognize,
    with the impertinence of a young man of fashion conscious of having
    killed four men in as many duels in the Indies. Monsieur des Grassins
    had already called several times. Charles listened to him coldly, and
    then replied, without fully understanding what had been said to him,--

    "My father's affairs are not mine. I am much obliged, monsieur, for
    the trouble you have been good enough to take,--by which, however, I
    really cannot profit. I have not earned two millions by the sweat of
    my brow to fling them at the head of my father's creditors."

    "But suppose that your father's estate were within a few days to be
    declared bankrupt?"

    "Monsieur, in a few days I shall be called the Comte d'Aubrion; you
    will understand, therefore, that what you threaten is of no
    consequence to me. Besides, you know as well as I do that when a man
    has an income of a hundred thousand francs his father has _never
    failed_." So saying, he politely edged Monsieur des Grassins to the
    door.

    * * * * *

    At the beginning of August in the same year, Eugenie was sitting on
    the little wooden bench where her cousin had sworn to love her
    eternally, and where she usually breakfasted if the weather were fine.
    The poor girl was happy, for the moment, in the fresh and joyous
    summer air, letting her memory recall the great and the little events
    of her love and the catastrophes which had followed it. The sun had
    just reached the angle of the ruined wall, so full of chinks, which no
    one, through a caprice of the mistress, was allowed to touch, though
    Cornoiller often remarked to his wife that "it would fall and crush
    somebody one of these days." At this moment the postman knocked, and
    gave a letter to Madame Cornoiller, who ran into the garden, crying
    out:

    "Mademoiselle, a letter!" She gave it to her mistress, adding, "Is it
    the one you expected?"

    The words rang as loudly in the heart of Eugenie as they echoed in
    sound from wall to wall of the court and garden.

    "Paris--from him--he has returned!"

    Eugenie turned pale and held the letter for a moment. She trembled so
    violently that she could not break the seal. La Grande Nanon stood
    before her, both hands on her hips, her joy puffing as it were like
    smoke through the cracks of her brown face.

    "Read it, mademoiselle!"

    "Ah, Nanon, why did he return to Paris? He went from Saumur."

    "Read it, and you'll find out."

    Eugenie opened the letter with trembling fingers. A cheque on the
    house of "Madame des Grassins and Coret, of Saumur," fluttered down.
    Nanon picked it up.

    My dear Cousin,--

    "No longer 'Eugenie,'" she thought, and her heart quailed.

    You--

    "He once said 'thou.'" She folded her arms and dared not read another
    word; great tears gathered in her eyes.

    "Is he dead?" asked Nanon.

    "If he were, he could not write," said Eugenie.

    She then read the whole letter, which was as follows:

    My dear Cousin,--You will, I am sure, hear with pleasure of the
    success of my enterprise. You brought me luck; I have come back
    rich, and I have followed the advice of my uncle, whose death,
    together with that of my aunt, I have just learned from Monsieur
    des Grassins. The death of parents is in the course of nature, and
    we must succeed them. I trust you are by this time consoled.
    Nothing can resist time, as I am well aware. Yes, my dear cousin,
    the day of illusions is, unfortunately, gone for me. How could it
    be otherwise? Travelling through many lands, I have reflected upon
    life. I was a child when I went away,--I have come back a man.
    To-day, I think of many I did not dream of then. You are free, my
    dear cousin, and I am free still. Nothing apparently hinders the
    realization of our early hopes; but my nature is too loyal to hide
    from you the situation in which I find myself. I have not
    forgotten our relations; I have always remembered, throughout my
    long wanderings, the little wooden seat--

    Eugenie rose as if she were sitting on live coals, and went away and
    sat down on the stone steps of the court.

    --the little wooden seat where we vowed to love each other
    forever, the passage, the gray hall, my attic chamber, and the
    night when, by your delicate kindness, you made my future easier
    to me. Yes, these recollections sustained my courage; I said in my
    heart that you were thinking of me at the hour we had agreed upon.
    Have you always looked at the clouds at nine o'clock? Yes, I am
    sure of it. I cannot betray so true a friendship,--no, I must not
    deceive you. An alliance has been proposed to me which satisfies
    all my ideas of matrimony. Love in marriage is a delusion. My
    present experience warns me that in marrying we are bound to obey
    all social laws and meet the conventional demands of the world.
    Now, between you and me there are differences which might affect
    your future, my dear cousin, even more than they would mine. I
    will not here speak of your customs and inclinations, your
    education, nor yet of your habits, none of which are in keeping
    with Parisian life, or with the future which I have marked out for
    myself. My intention is to keep my household on a stately footing,
    to receive much company,--in short, to live in the world; and I
    think I remember that you love a quiet and tranquil life. I will
    be frank, and make you the judge of my situation; you have the
    right to understand it and to judge it.

    I possess at the present moment an income of eighty thousand
    francs. This fortune enables me to marry into the family of
    Aubrion, whose heiress, a young girl nineteen years of age, brings
    me a title, a place of gentleman-of-the-bed-chamber to His
    Majesty, and a very brilliant position. I will admit to you, my
    dear cousin, that I do not love Mademoiselle d'Aubrion; but in
    marrying her I secure to my children a social rank whose
    advantages will one day be incalculable: monarchical principles
    are daily coming more and more into favor. Thus in course of time
    my son, when he becomes Marquis d'Aubrion, having, as he then will
    have, an entailed estate with a rental of forty thousand francs a
    year, can obtain any position in the State which he may think
    proper to select. We owe ourselves to our children.

    You see, my cousin, with what good faith I lay the state of my
    heart, my hopes, and my fortune before you. Possibly, after seven
    years' separation, you have yourself forgotten our youthful loves;
    but I have never forgotten either your kindness or my own words. I
    remember all, even words that were lightly uttered,--words by
    which a man less conscientious than I, with a heart less youthful
    and less upright, would scarcely feel himself bound. In telling
    you that the marriage I propose to make is solely one of
    convenience, that I still remember our childish love, am I not
    putting myself entirely in your hands and making you the mistress
    of my fate? am I not telling you that if I must renounce my social
    ambitions, I shall willingly content myself with the pure and
    simple happiness of which you have shown me so sweet an image?

    "Tan, ta, ta--tan, ta, ti," sang Charles Grandet to the air of _Non
    piu andrai_, as he signed himself,--

    Your devoted cousin,
    Charles.

    "Thunder! that's doing it handsomely!" he said, as he looked about him
    for the cheque; having found it, he added the words:--

    P.S.--I enclose a cheque on the des Grassins bank for eight
    thousand francs to your order, payable in gold, which includes the
    capital and interest of the sum you were kind enough to lend me. I
    am expecting a case from Bordeaux which contains a few things
    which you must allow me to offer you as a mark of my unceasing
    gratitude. You can send my dressing-case by the diligence to the
    hotel d'Aubrion, rue Hillerin-Bertin.

    "By the diligence!" said Eugenie. "A thing for which I would have laid
    down my life!"

    Terrible and utter disaster! The ship went down, leaving not a spar,
    not a plank, on a vast ocean of hope! Some women when they see
    themselves abandoned will try to tear their lover from the arms of a
    rival, they will kill her, and rush to the ends of the earth,--to the
    scaffold, to their tomb. That, no doubt, is fine; the motive of the
    crime is a great passion, which awes even human justice. Other women
    bow their heads and suffer in silence; they go their way dying,
    resigned, weeping, forgiving, praying, and recollecting, till they
    draw their last breath. This is love,--true love, the love of angels,
    the proud love which lives upon its anguish and dies of it. Such was
    Eugenie's love after she had read that dreadful letter. She raised her
    eyes to heaven, thinking of the last words uttered by her dying
    mother, who, with the prescience of death, had looked into the future
    with clear and penetrating eyes: Eugenie, remembering that prophetic
    death, that prophetic life, measured with one glance her own destiny.
    Nothing was left for her; she could only unfold her wings, stretch
    upward to the skies, and live in prayer until the day of her
    deliverance.

    "My mother was right," she said, weeping. "Suffer--and die!"
    Next Chapter
    Chapter 13
    Previous Chapter
    If you're writing a Honore de Balzac essay and need some advice, post your Honore de Balzac essay question on our Facebook page where fellow bookworms are always glad to help!

    Top 5 Authors

    Top 5 Books

    Book Status
    Finished
    Want to read
    Abandoned

    Are you sure you want to leave this group?