To Monsieur le Général Baron de Pommereul, a token of the
friendship between our fathers, which survives in their sons.
There is a special variety of human nature obtained in the Social
Kingdom by a process analogous to that of the gardener's craft in the
Vegetable Kingdom, to wit, by the forcing-house--a species of hybrid
which can be raised neither from seed nor from slips. This product is
known as the Cashier, an anthropomorphous growth, watered by religious
doctrine, trained up in fear of the guillotine, pruned by vice, to
flourish on a third floor with an estimable wife by his side and an
uninteresting family. The number of cashiers in Paris must always be a
problem for the physiologist. Has anyone as yet been able to state
correctly the terms of the proportion sum wherein the cashier figures
as the unknown _x_? Where will you find the man who shall live with
wealth, like a cat with a caged mouse? This man, for further
qualification, shall be capable of sitting boxed in behind an iron
grating for seven or eight hours a day during seven-eighths of the
year, perched upon a cane-seated chair in a space as narrow as a
lieutenant's cabin on board a man-of-war. Such a man must be able to
defy anchylosis of the knee and thigh joints; he must have a soul above
meanness, in order to live meanly; must lose all relish for money by
dint of handling it. Demand this peculiar specimen of any creed,
educational system, school, or institution you please, and select
Paris, that city of fiery ordeals and branch establishment of hell, as
the soil in which to plant the said cashier. So be it. Creeds, schools,
institutions, and moral systems, all human rules and regulations, great
and small, will, one after another, present much the same face that an
intimate friend turns upon you when you ask him to lend you a thousand
francs. With a dolorous dropping of the jaw, they indicate the
guillotine, much as your friend aforesaid will furnish you with the
address of the money lender, pointing you to one of the hundred gates
by which a man comes to the last refuge of the destitute.
 For the narrative "Melmoth the Wanderer," and a description of
Balzac's debt to its author, see Volume III, page 161.--EDITOR.
Yet Nature has her freaks in the making of a man's mind; she indulges
herself and makes a few honest folk now and again, and now and then a
Wherefore, that race of corsairs whom we dignify with the title of
bankers, the gentry who take out a license for which they pay a
thousand crowns, as the privateer takes out his letters of marque, hold
these rare products of the incubations of virtue in such esteem that
they confine them in cages in their counting-houses, much as
governments procure and maintain specimens of strange beasts at their
If the cashier is possessed of an imagination or of a fervid
temperament; if, as will sometimes happen to the most complete cashier,
he loves his wife, and that wife grows tired of her lot, has ambitions,
or merely some vanity in her composition, the cashier is undone. Search
the chronicles of the counting-house. You will not find a single
instance of a cashier attaining _a position_, as it is called. They are
sent to the hulks; they go to foreign parts; they vegetate on a second
floor in the Rue Saint-Louis among the market gardens of the Marais.
Some day, when the cashiers of Paris come to a sense of their real
value, a cashier will be hardly obtainable for money. Still, certain it
is that there are people who are fit for nothing but to be cashiers,
just as the bent of a certain order of mind inevitably makes for
rascality. But, oh marvel of our civilization! Society rewards virtue
with an income of a hundred louis in old age, a dwelling on a second
floor, bread sufficient, occasional new bandana handkerchiefs, an
elderly wife and her offspring.
So much for virtue. But for the opposite course, a little boldness, a
faculty for keeping on the windward side of the law, as Turenne
outflanked Montecuculli, and Society will sanction the theft of
millions, shower ribbons upon the thief, cram him with honors, and
smother him with consideration.
Government, moreover, works harmoniously with this profoundly illogical
reasoner--Society. Government levies a conscription on the young
intelligence of the kingdom at the age of seventeen or eighteen, a
conscription of precocious power. Great ability is prematurely
exhausted by excessive brain work before it is sent up to be submitted
to a process of selection. Nurserymen sort and select seeds in much the
same way. To this process the Government brings professional appraisers
of talent, men who can assay brains as experts assay gold at the Mint.
Five hundred such heads, set afire with hope, are sent up annually by
the most progressive portion of the population; and of these the
Government takes one third, puts them in sacks called the Écoles, and
shakes them up together for three years. Though every one of these
young plants represents vast productive power, they are made, as one
may say, into cashiers. They receive appointments; the rank and file of
engineers is made up of them; they are employed as captains of
artillery; there is no (subaltern) grade to which they may not aspire.
Finally, when these men, the pick of the youth of the nation, fattened
on mathematics and stuffed with knowledge, have attained the age of
fifty years, they have their reward, and receive as the price of their
services the third-floor lodging, the wife and family, and all the
comforts that sweeten life for mediocrity. If from among this race of
dupes there should escape some five or six men of genius who climb the
highest heights, is it not miraculous?
This is an exact statement of the relations between Talent and Probity
on the one hand, and Government and Society on the other, in an age
that considers itself to be progressive. Without this prefatory
explanation a recent occurrence in Paris would seem improbable; but
preceded by this summing up of the situation, it will perhaps receive
some thoughtful attention from minds capable o£ recognizing the real
plague spots of our civilization, a civilization which since 1815 has
been moved by the spirit of gain rather than by principles of honor.
* * * * *
The place where the strong boxes had been bedded in sheet iron was just
behind the little sanctum, where the cashier was busy. Doubtless he was
balancing his books. The open front gave a glimpse of a safe of
hammered iron, so enormously heavy (thanks to the science of the modern
inventor) that burglars could not carry it away. The door only opened
at the pleasure of those who knew its password. The letter-lock was a
warden who kept its own secret and could not be bribed; the mysterious
word was an ingenious realization of the "Open sesame!" in the _Arabian
Nights_. But even this was as nothing. A man might discover the
password; but unless he knew the lock's final secret, the _ultima
ratio_ of this gold-guarding dragon of mechanical science, it
discharged a blunderbuss at his head.
The door of the room, the walls of the room, the shutters of the
windows in the room, the whole place, in fact, was lined with sheet
iron a third of an inch in thickness, concealed behind the thin wooden
paneling. The shutters had been closed, the door had been shut. If ever
man could feel confident that he was absolutely alone, and that there
was no remote possibility of being watched by prying eyes, that man was
the cashier of the house of Nucingen and Company in the Rue
Accordingly the deepest silence prevailed in that iron cave. The fire
had died out in the stove, but the room was full of that tepid warmth
which produces the dull heavy-headedness and nauseous queasiness of a
morning after an orgy. The stove is a mesmerist that plays no small
part in the reduction of bank clerks and porters to a state of idiocy.
A room with a stove in it is a retort in which the power of strong men
is evaporated, where their vitality is exhausted, and their wills
enfeebled. Government offices are part of a great scheme for the
manufacture of the mediocrity necessary for the maintenance of a Feudal
System on a pecuniary basis--and money is the foundation of the Social
Contract. (See _Les Employés_.) The mephitic vapors in the atmosphere
of a crowded room contribute in no small degree to bring about a
gradual deterioration of intelligences, the brain that gives off the
largest quantity of nitrogen asphyxiates the others, in the long run.
The cashier was a man of five and forty or thereabouts. As he sat at
the table, the light from a moderator lamp shining full on his bald
head and glistening fringe of iron-gray hair that surrounded it--this
baldness and the round outlines of his face made his head look very
like a ball. His complexion was brick-red, a few wrinkles had gathered
about his eyes, but he had the smooth, plump hands of a stout man. His
blue cloth coat, a little rubbed and worn, and the creases and
shininess of his trousers, traces of hard wear that the clothes-brush
fails to remove, would impress a superficial observer with the idea
that here was a thrifty and upright human being, sufficient of the
philosopher or of the aristocrat to wear shabby clothes. But,
unluckily, it is easy to find penny-wise people who will prove weak,
wasteful, or incompetent in the capital things of life.
The cashier wore the ribbon of the Legion of Honor at his buttonhole,
for he had been a major of dragoons in the time of the Emperor. M. de
Nucingen, who had been a contractor before he became a banker, had had
reason in those days to know the honorable disposition of his cashier,
who then occupied a high position. Reverses of fortune had befallen the
major, and the banker out of regard for him paid him five hundred
francs a month. The soldier had become a cashier in the year 1813,
after his recovery from a wound received at Studzianka during the
Retreat from Moscow, followed by six months of enforced idleness at
Strasbourg, whither several officers had been transported by order of
the Emperor, that they might receive skilled attention. This particular
officer, Castanier by name, retired with the honorary grade of colonel,
and a pension of two thousand four hundred francs.
In ten years' time the cashier had completely effaced the soldier, and
Castanier inspired the banker with such trust in him, that he was
associated in the transactions that went on in the private office
behind his little counting-house. The baron himself had access to it by
means of a secret staircase. There, matters of business were decided.
It was the bolting room where proposals were sifted; the privy council
chamber where the reports of the money market were analyzed; circular
notes issued thence; and finally, the private ledger and the journal
which summarized the work of all the departments were kept there.
Castanier had gone himself to shut the door which opened on to a
staircase that led to the parlor occupied by the two bankers on the
first floor of their hotel. This done, he had sat down at his desk
again, and for a moment he gazed at a little collection of letters of
credit drawn on the firm of Watschildine of London. Then he had taken
up the pen and imitated the banker's signature upon each. _Nucingen_ he
wrote, and eyed the forged signatures critically to see which seemed
the most perfect copy.
Suddenly he looked up as if a needle had pricked him. "You are not
alone!" a boding voice seemed to cry in his heart; and indeed the
forger saw a man standing at the little grated window of the
counting-house, a man whose breathing was so noiseless that he did not
seem to breathe at all. Castanier looked, and saw that the door at the
end of the passage was wide open; the stranger must have entered by
For the first time in his life the old soldier felt a sensation of
dread that made him stare open-mouthed and wide-eyed at the man before
him; and for that matter, the appearance of the apparition was
sufficiently alarming even if unaccompanied by the mysterious
circumstances of so sudden an entry. The rounded forehead, the harsh
coloring of the long oval face, indicated quite as plainly as the cut
of his clothes that the man was an Englishman, reeking of his native
isles. You had only to look at the collar of his overcoat, at the
voluminous cravat which smothered the crushed frills of a shirt front
so white that it brought out the changeless leaden hue of an impassive
face, and the thin red line of the lips that seemed made to suck the
blood of corpses; and you could guess at once at the black gaiters
buttoned up to the knee, and the half-puritanical costume of a wealthy
Englishman dressed for a walking excursion. The intolerable glitter of
the stranger's eyes produced a vivid and unpleasant impression, which
was only deepened by the rigid outlines of his features. The dried-up,
emaciated creature seemed to carry within him some gnawing thought that
consumed him and could not be appeased.
He must have digested his food so rapidly that he could doubtless eat
continually without bringing any trace of color into his face or
features. A tun of Tokay _vin de succession_ would not have caused any
faltering in that piercing glance that read men's inmost thoughts, nor
dethroned the merciless reasoning faculty that always seemed to go to
the bottom of things. There was something of the fell and tranquil
majesty of a tiger about him.
"I have come to cash this bill of exchange, sir," he said. Castanier
felt the tones of his voice thrill through every nerve with a violent
shock similar to that given by a discharge of electricity.
"The safe is closed," said Castanier.
"It is open," said the Englishman, looking round the counting-house.
"To-morrow is Sunday, and I cannot wait. The amount is for five hundred
thousand francs. You have the money there, and I must have it."
"But how did you come in, sir?"
The Englishman smiled. That smile frightened Castanier. No words could
have replied more fully nor more peremptorily than that scornful and
imperial curl of the stranger's lips. Castanier turned away, took up
fifty packets, each containing ten thousand francs in bank notes, and
held them out to the stranger, receiving in exchange for them a bill
accepted by the Baron de Nucingen. A sort of convulsive tremor ran
through him as he saw a red gleam in the stranger's eyes when they fell
on the forged signature on the letter of credit.
"It ... it wants your signature ..." stammered Castanier, handing back
"Hand me your pen," answered the Englishman.
Castanier handed him the pen with which he had just committed forgery.
The stranger wrote _John Melmoth_, then he returned the slip of paper
and the pen to the cashier. Castanier looked at the handwriting,
noticing that it sloped from right to left in the Eastern fashion, and
Melmoth disappeared so noiselessly that when Castanier looked up again
an exclamation broke from him, partly because the man was no longer
there, partly because he felt a strange painful sensation such as our
imagination might take for an effect of poison.
The pen that Melmoth had handled sent the same sickening heat through
him that an emetic produces. But it seemed impossible to Castanier that
the Englishman should have guessed his crime. His inward qualms he
attributed to the palpitation of the heart that, according to received
ideas, was sure to follow at once on such a "turn" as the stranger had
"The devil take it; I am very stupid. Providence is watching over me;
for if that brute had come round to see my gentlemen to-morrow, my
goose would have been cooked!" said Castanier, and he burned the
unsuccessful attempts at forgery in the stove.
He put the bill that he meant to take with him in an envelope, and
helped himself to five hundred thousand francs in French and English
bank notes from the safe, which he locked. Then he put everything in
order, lit a candle, blew out the lamp, took up his hat and umbrella,
and went out sedately, as usual, to leave one of the two keys of the
strong room with Madame de Nucingen, in the absence of her husband the
"You are in luck, M. Castanier," said the banker's wife as he entered
her room; "we have a holiday on Monday; you can go into the country, or
"Madame, will you be so good as to tell your husband that the bill of
exchange on Watschildine, which was behind time, has just been
presented? The five hundred thousand francs have been paid; so I shall
not come back till noon on Tuesday."
"Good-by, monsieur; I hope you will have a pleasant time."
"The same to you, madame," replied the old dragoon as he went out. He
glanced as he spoke at a young man well known in fashionable society at
that time, a M. de Rastignac, who was regarded as Madame de Nucingen's
"Madame," remarked this latter, "the old boy looks to me as if he meant
to play you some ill turn."
"Pshaw! impossible; he is too stupid."
"Piquoizeau," said the cashier, walking into the porter's room, "what
made you let anybody come up after four o'clock?"
"I have been smoking a pipe here in the doorway ever since four
o'clock," said the man, "and nobody has gone into the bank. Nobody has
come out either except the gentlemen--"
"Are you quite sure?"
"Yes, upon my word and honor. Stay, though, at four o'clock M.
Werbrust's friend came, a young fellow from Messrs. du Tillet & Co., in
the Rue Joubert."
"All right," said Castanier, and he hurried away.
The sickening sensation of heat that he had felt when he took back the
pen returned in greater intensity. "_Mille diables!_" thought he, as he
threaded his way along the Boulevard de Gand, "haven't I taken proper
precautions? Let me think! Two clear days, Sunday and Monday, then a
day of uncertainty before they begin to look for me; altogether, three
days and four nights' respite. I have a couple of passports and two
different disguises; is not that enough to throw the cleverest
detective off the scent? On Tuesday morning I shall draw a million
francs in London before the slightest suspicion has been aroused. My
debts I am leaving behind for the benefit of my creditors, who will put
a 'P' on the bills, and I shall live comfortably in Italy for the
rest of my days as the Conte Ferraro. I was alone with him when he
died, poor fellow, in the marsh of Zembin, and I shall slip into his
skin.... _Mille diables!_ the woman who is to follow after me might
give them a clew! Think of an old campaigner like me infatuated enough
to tie myself to a petticoat tail!... Why take her? I must leave her
behind. Yes, I could make up my mind to it; but--I know myself--I
should be ass enough to go back for her. Still, nobody knows Aquilina.
Shall I take her or leave her?"
"You will not take her!" cried a voice that filled Castanier with
sickening dread. He turned sharply, and saw the Englishman.
"The devil is in it!" cried the cashier aloud.
Melmoth had passed his victim by this time; and if Castanier's first
impulse had been to fasten a quarrel on a man who read his own
thoughts, he was so much torn by opposing feelings that the immediate
result was a temporary paralysis. When he resumed his walk he fell once
more into that fever of irresolution which besets those who are so
carried away by passion that they are ready to commit a crime, but have
not sufficient strength of character to keep it to themselves without
suffering terribly in the process. So, although Castanier had made up
his mind to reap the fruits of a crime which was already half executed,
he hesitated to carry out his designs. For him, as for many men of
mixed character in whom weakness and strength are equally blended, the
least trifling consideration determines whether they shall continue to
lead blameless lives or become actively criminal. In the vast masses of
men enrolled in Napoleon's armies there were many who, like Castanier,
possessed the purely physical courage demanded on the battlefield, yet
lacked the moral courage which makes a man as great in crime as he
could have been in virtue.
The letter of credit was drafted in such terms that immediately on his
arrival he might draw twenty-five thousand pounds on the firm of
Watschildine, the London correspondents of the house of Nucingen. The
London house had been already advised of the draft about to be made
upon them; he had written to them himself. He had instructed an agent
(chosen at random) to take his passage in a vessel which was to leave
Portsmouth with a wealthy English family on board, who were going to
Italy, and the passage money had been paid in the name of the Conte
Ferraro. The smallest details of the scheme had been thought out. He
had arranged matters so as to divert the search that would be made for
him into Belgium and Switzerland, while he himself was at sea in the
English vessel. Then, by the time that Nucingen might flatter himself
that he was on the track of his late cashier, the said cashier, as the
Conte Ferraro, hoped to be safe in Naples. He had determined to
disfigure his face in order to disguise himself the more completely,
and by means of an acid to imitate the scars of smallpox. Yet, in spite
of all these precautions, which surely seemed as if they must secure
him complete immunity, his conscience tormented him; he was afraid. The
even and peaceful life that he had led for so long had modified the
morality of the camp. His life was stainless as yet; he could not sully
it without a pang. So for the last time he abandoned himself to all the
influences of the better self that strenuously resisted.
"Pshaw!" he said at last, at the corner of the Boulevard and the Rue
Montmartre, "I will take a cab after the play this evening and go out
to Versailles. A post-chaise will be ready for me at my old
quartermaster's place. He would keep my secret even if a dozen men were
standing ready to shoot him down. The chances are all in my favor, so
far as I see; so I shall take my little Naqui with me, and I will go."
"You will not go!" exclaimed the Englishman, and the strange tones of
his voice drove all the cashier's blood back to his heart.
Melmoth stepped into a tilbury which was waiting for him, and was
whirled away so quickly, that when Castanier looked up he saw his foe
some hundred paces away from him, and before it even crossed his mind
to cut off the man's retreat the tilbury was far on its way up the
"Well, upon my word, there is something supernatural about this!" said
he to himself. "If I were fool enough to believe in God, I should think
that He had set Saint Michael on my tracks. Suppose that the devil and
the police should let me go on as I please, so as to nab me in the nick
of time? Did anyone ever see the like! But there, this is folly...."
Castanier went along the Rue du Faubourg-Montmartre, slackening his
pace as he neared the Rue Richer. There, on the second floor of a block
of buildings which looked out upon some gardens, lived the unconscious
cause of Castanier's crime--a young woman known in the quarter as Mme.
de la Garde. A concise history of certain events in the cashier's past
life must be given in order to explain these facts, and to give a
complete presentment of the crisis when he yielded to temptation.
Mme. de la Garde said that she was a Piedmontese. No one, not even
Castanier, knew her real name. She was one of those young girls who are
driven by dire misery, by inability to earn a living, or by fear of
starvation, to have recourse to a trade which most of them loathe, many
regard with indifference, and some few follow in obedience to the laws
of their constitution. But on the brink of the gulf of prostitution in
Paris, the young girl of sixteen, beautiful and pure as the Madonna,
had met with Castanier. The old dragoon was too rough and homely to
make his way in society, and he was tired of tramping the boulevard at
night and of the kind of conquests made there by gold. For some time
past he had desired to bring a certain regularity into an irregular
life. He was struck by the beauty of the poor child who had drifted by
chance into his arms, and his determination to rescue her from the life
of the streets was half benevolent, half selfish, as some of the
thoughts of the best of men are apt to be. Social conditions mingle
elements of evil with the promptings of natural goodness of heart, and
the mixture of motives underlying a man's intentions should be
leniently judged. Castanier had just cleverness enough to be very
shrewd where his own interests were concerned. So he concluded to be a
philanthropist on either count, and at first made her his mistress.
"Hey! hey!" he said to himself, in his soldierly fashion, "I am an old
wolf, and a sheep shall not make a fool of me. Castanier, old man,
before you set up housekeeping, reconnoiter the girl's character for a
bit, and see if she is a steady sort."
This irregular union gave the Piedmontese a status the most nearly
approaching respectability among those which the world declines to
recognize. During the first year she took the _nom de guerre_ of
Aquilina, one of the characters in _Venice Preserved_ which she had
chanced to read. She fancied that she resembled the courtesan in face
and general appearance, and in a certain precocity of heart and brain
of which she was conscious. When Castanier found that her life was as
well regulated and virtuous as was possible for a social outlaw, he
manifested a desire that they should live as husband and wife. So she
took the name of Mme. de la Garde, in order to approach, as closely as
Parisian usages permit, the conditions of a real marriage. As a matter
of fact, many of these unfortunate girls have one fixed idea, to be
looked upon as respectable middle-class women, who lead humdrum lives
of faithfulness to their husbands; women who would make excellent
mothers, keepers of household accounts, and menders of household linen.
This longing springs from a sentiment so laudable that society should
take it into consideration. But society, incorrigible as ever, will
assuredly persist in regarding the married woman as a corvette duly
authorized by her flag and papers to go on her own course, while the
woman who is a wife in all but name is a pirate and an outlaw for lack
of a document. A day came when Mme. de la Garde would fain have signed
herself "Mme. Castanier." The cashier was put out by this.
"So you do not love me well enough to marry me?" she said.
Castanier did not answer; he was absorbed by his thoughts. The poor
girl resigned herself to her fate. The ex-dragoon was in despair.
Naqui's heart softened toward him at the sight of his trouble; she
tried to soothe him, but what could she do when she did not know what
ailed him? When Naqui made up her mind to know the secret, although she
never asked him a question, the cashier dolefully confessed to the
existence of a Mme. Castanier. This lawful wife, a thousand times
accursed, was living in a humble way in Strasbourg on a small property
there; he wrote to her twice a year, and kept the secret of her
existence so well, that no one suspected that he was married. The
reason of this reticence? If it is familiar to many military men who
may chance to be in a like predicament, it is perhaps worth while to
give the story.
Your genuine trooper (if it is allowable here to employ the word which
in the army signifies a man who is destined to die as a captain) is a
sort of serf, a part and parcel of his regiment, an essentially simple
creature, and Castanier was marked out by nature as a victim to the
wiles of mothers with grown-up daughters left too long on their hands.
It was at Nancy, during one of those brief intervals of repose when the
Imperial armies were not on active service abroad, that Castanier was
so unlucky as to pay some attention to a young lady with whom he danced
at a _ridotto_, the provincial name for the entertainments often given
by the military to the townsfolk, or _vice versâ_, in garrison towns. A
scheme for inveigling the gallant captain into matrimony was
immediately set on foot, one of those schemes by which mothers secure
accomplices in a human heart by touching all its motive springs, while
they convert all their friends into fellow-conspirators. Like all
people possessed by one idea, these ladies press everything into the
service of their great project, slowly elaborating their toils, much as
the ant-lion excavates its funnel in the sand and lies in wait at the
bottom for its victim. Suppose that no one strays, after all, into that
carefully constructed labyrinth? Suppose that the ant-lion dies of
hunger and thirst in her pit? Such things may be, but if any heedless
creature once enters in, it never comes out. All the wires which could
be pulled to induce action on the captain's part were tried; appeals
were made to the secret interested motives that always come into play
in such cases; they worked on Castanier's hopes and on the weaknesses
and vanity of human nature. Unluckily, he had praised the daughter to
her mother when he brought her back after a waltz, a little chat
followed, and then an invitation in the most natural way in the world.
Once introduced into the house, the dragoon was dazzled by the
hospitality of a family who appeared to conceal their real wealth
beneath a show of careful economy. He was skillfully flattered on all
sides, and everyone extolled for his benefit the various treasures
there displayed. A neatly timed dinner, served on plate lent by an
uncle, the attention shown to him by the only daughter of the house,
the gossip of the town, a well-to-do sub-lieutenant who seemed likely
to cut the ground from under his feet--all the innumerable snares, in
short, of the provincial ant-lion were set for him, and to such good
purpose, that Castanier said five years later, "To this day I do not
know how it came about!"
The dragoon received fifteen thousand francs with the lady, who, after
two years of marriage, became the ugliest and consequently the most
peevish woman on earth. Luckily they had no children. The fair
complexion (maintained by a Spartan regimen), the fresh, bright color
in her face, which spoke of an engaging modesty, became overspread with
blotches and pimples; her figure, which had seemed so straight, grew
crooked, the angel became a suspicious and shrewish creature who drove
Castanier frantic. Then the fortune took to itself wings. At length the
dragoon, no longer recognizing the woman whom he had wedded, left her
to live on a little property at Strasbourg, until the time when it
should please God to remove her to adorn Paradise. She was one of those
virtuous women who, for want of other occupation, would weary the life
out of an angel with complainings, who pray till (if their prayers are
heard in heaven) they must exhaust the patience of the Almighty, and
say everything that is bad of their husbands in dove-like murmurs over
a game of boston with their neighbors. When Aquilina learned all these
troubles she clung still more affectionately to Castanier, and made him
so happy, varying with woman's ingenuity the pleasures with which she
filled his life, that all unwittingly she was the cause of the
Like many women who seem by nature destined to sound all the depths of
love, Mme. de la Garde was disinterested. She asked neither for gold
nor for jewelry, gave no thought to the future, lived entirely for the
present and for the pleasures of the present. She accepted expensive
ornaments and dresses, the carriage so eagerly coveted by women of her
class, as one harmony the more in the picture of life. There was
absolutely no vanity in her desire not to appear at a better advantage
but to look the fairer, and, moreover, no woman could live without
luxuries more cheerfully. When a man of generous nature (and military
men are mostly of this stamp) meets with such a woman, he feels a sort
of exasperation at finding himself her debtor in generosity. He feels
that he could stop a mail coach to obtain money for her if he has not
sufficient for her whims. He will commit a crime if so he may be great
and noble in the eyes of some woman or of his special public; such is
the nature of the man. Such a lover is like a gambler who would be
dishonored in his own eyes if he did not repay the sum he borrowed from
a waiter in a gaming house; but will shrink from no crime, will leave
his wife and children without a penny, and rob and murder, if so he may
come to the gaming table with a full purse, and his honor remain
untarnished among the frequenters of that fatal abode. So it was with
He had begun by installing Aquilina in a modest fourth-floor dwelling,
the furniture being of the simplest kind. But when he saw the girl's
beauty and great qualities, when he had known inexpressible and
unlooked-for happiness with her, he began to dote upon her, and longed
to adorn his idol. Then Aquilina's toilet was so comically out of
keeping with her poor abode, that for both their sakes it was clearly
incumbent on him to move. The change swallowed up almost all
Castanier's savings, for he furnished his domestic paradise with all
the prodigality that is lavished on a kept mistress. A pretty woman
must have everything pretty about her; the unity of charm in the woman
and her surroundings singles her out from among her sex. This sentiment
of homogeneity indeed, though it has frequently escaped the attention
of observers, is instinctive in human nature; and the same prompting
leads elderly spinsters to surround themselves with dreary relies of
the past. But the lovely Piedmontese must have the newest and latest
fashions, and all that was daintiest and prettiest in stuffs for
hangings, in silks or jewelry, in fine china and other brittle and
fragile wares. She asked for nothing; but when she was called upon to
make a choice, when Castanier asked her, "Which do you like?" she would
answer, "Why, this is the nicest!" Love never counts the cost, and
Castanier therefore always took the "nicest."
When once the standard had been set up, there was nothing for it but
everything in the household must be in conformity, from the linen,
plate, and crystal through a thousand and one items of expenditure down
to the pots and pans in the kitchen. Castanier had meant to "do things
simply," as the saying goes, but he gradually found himself more and
more in debt. One expense entailed another. The clock called for candle
sconces. Fires must be lighted in the ornamental grates, but the
curtains and hangings were too fresh and delicate to be soiled by
smuts, so they must be replaced by patent and elaborate fireplaces,
warranted to give out no smoke, recent inventions of the people who are
clever at drawing up a prospectus. Then Aquilina found it so nice to
run about barefooted on the carpet in her room that Castanier must have
soft carpets laid everywhere for the pleasure of playing with Naqui. A
bathroom, too, was built for her, everything to the end that she might
be more comfortable.
Shopkeepers, workmen, and manufacturers in Paris have a mysterious
knack of enlarging a hole in a man's purse. They cannot give the price
of anything upon inquiry; and as the paroxysm of longing cannot abide
delay, orders are given by the feeble light of an approximate estimate
of cost. The same people never send in the bills at once, but ply the
purchaser with furniture till his head spins. Everything is so pretty,
so charming; and everyone is satisfied.
A few months later the obliging furniture dealers are metamorphosed,
and reappear in the shape of alarming totals on invoices that fill the
soul with their horrid clamor; they are in urgent want of the money;
they are, as you may say, on the brink of bankruptcy, their tears flow,
it is heartrending to hear them! And then--the gulf yawns and gives up
serried columns of figures marching four deep; when as a matter of fact
they should have issued innocently three by three.
Before Castanier had any idea of how much he had spent, he had arranged
for Aquilina to have a carriage from a livery stable when she went out,
instead of a cab. Castanier was a gourmand; he engaged an excellent
cook; and Aquilina, to please him, had herself made the purchases of
early fruit and vegetables, rare delicacies, and exquisite wines. But,
as Aquilina had nothing of her own, these gifts of hers, so precious by
reason of the thought and tact and graciousness that prompted them,
were no less a drain upon Castanier's purse; he did not like his Naqui
to be without money, and Naqui could not keep money in her pocket. So
the table was a heavy item of expenditure for a man with Castanier's
income. The ex-dragoon was compelled to resort to various shifts for
obtaining money, for he could not bring himself to renounce this
delightful life. He loved the woman too well to cross the freaks of the
mistress. He was one of those men who, through self-love or through
weakness of character, can refuse nothing to a woman; false shame
overpowers them, and they rather face ruin than make the admissions: "I
cannot--" "My means will not permit--" "I cannot afford--"
When, therefore, Castanier saw that if he meant to emerge from the
abyss of debt into which he had plunged, he must part with Aquilina and
live upon bread and water, he was so unable to do without her or to
change his habits of life, that daily he put off his plans of reform
until the morrow. The debts were pressing, and he began by borrowing
money. His position and previous character inspired confidence, and of
this he took advantage to devise a system of borrowing money as he
required it. Then, as the total amount of debt rapidly increased, he
had recourse to those commercial inventions known as _accommodation
bills_. This form of bill does not represent goods or other value
received, and the first indorser pays the amount named for the obliging
person who accepts it. This species of fraud is tolerated because it is
impossible to detect it, and, moreover, it is an imaginary fraud which
only becomes real if payment is ultimately refused.
When at length it was evidently impossible to borrow any longer,
whether because the amount of the debt was now so greatly increased, or
because Castanier was unable to pay the large amount of interest on the
aforesaid sums of money, the cashier saw bankruptcy before him. On
making this discovery, he decided for a fraudulent bankruptcy rather
than an ordinary failure, and preferred a crime to a misdemeanor. He
determined, after the fashion of the celebrated cashier of the Royal
Treasury, to abuse the trust deservedly won, and to increase the number
of his creditors by making a final loan of the sum sufficient to keep
him in comfort in a foreign country for the rest of his days. All this,
as has been seen, he had prepared to do.
Aquilina knew nothing of the irksome cares of this life; she enjoyed
her existence, as many a woman does, making no inquiry as to where the
money came from, even as sundry other folk will eat their buttered
rolls untroubled by any restless spirit of curiosity as to the culture
and growth of wheat; but as the labor and miscalculations of
agriculture lie on the other side of the baker's oven, so, beneath the
unappreciated luxury of many a Parisian household lie intolerable
anxieties and exorbitant toil.
While Castanier was enduring the torture of the strain, and his
thoughts were full of the deed that should change his whole life,
Aquilina was lying luxuriously back in a great armchair by the
fireside, beguiling the time by chatting with her waiting-maid. As
frequently happens in such cases, the maid had become the mistress's
confidante, Jenny having first assured herself that her mistress's
ascendancy over Castanier was complete.
What are we to do this evening? Léon seems determined to come," Mme. de
la Garde was saying, as she read a passionate epistle indicted upon a
faint gray note paper.
"Here is the master!" said Jenny.
Castanier came in. Aquilina, nowise disconcerted, crumpled up the
letter, took it with the tongs, and held it in the flames.
"So that is what you do with your love letters, is it?" asked
"Oh, goodness, yes," said Aquilina; "is it not the best way of keeping
them safe? Besides, fire should go to the fire, as water makes for the
"You are talking as if it were a real love letter, Naqui--"
"Well, am I not handsome enough to receive them?" she said, holding up
her forehead for a kiss. There was a carelessness in her manner that
would have told any man less blind than Castanier that it was only a
piece of conjugal duty, as it were, to give this joy to the cashier;
but use and wont had brought Castanier to the point where
clear-sightedness is no longer possible for love.
"I have taken a box at the Gymnase this evening," he said; "let us have
dinner early, and then we need not dine in a hurry."
"Go and take Jenny. I am tired of plays. I do not know what is the
matter with me this evening; I would rather stay here by the fire."
"Come, all the same though, Naqui; I shall not be here to bore you much
longer. Yes, Quiqui, I am going to start to-night, and it will be some
time before I come back again. I am leaving everything in your charge.
Will you keep your heart for me too?"
"Neither my heart nor anything else," she said; "but when you come back
again, Naqui will still be Naqui for you."
"Well, this is frankness. So you would not follow me?"
"Eh! why, how can I leave the lover who writes me such sweet little
notes?" she asked, pointing to the blackened scrap of paper with a
"Is there any truth in it?" asked Castanier. "Have you really a lover?"
"Really!" cried Aquilina; "and have you never given it a serious
thought, dear? To begin with, you are fifty years old. Then you have
just the sort of face to put on a fruit stall; if the woman tried to
sell you for a pumpkin, no one would contradict her. You puff and blow
like a seal when you come upstairs; your paunch rises and falls like
the diamond on a woman's forehead! It is pretty plain that you served
in the dragoons; you are a very ugly-looking old man. Fiddle-de-dee. If
you have any mind to keep my respect, I recommend you not to add
imbecility to these qualities by imagining that such a girl as I am
will be content with your asthmatic love, and not look for youth and
good looks and pleasure by way of variety--"
"Aquilina! you are laughing, of course?"
"Oh, very well; and are you not laughing too? Do you take me for a
fool, telling me that you are going away? 'I am going to start
to-night!'" she said, mimicking his tones. "Stuff and nonsense! Would
you talk like that if you were really going away from your Naqui? You
would cry, like the booby that you are!"
"After all, if I go, will you follow?" he asked.
"Tell me first whether this journey of yours is a bad joke or not."
"Yes, seriously, I am going."
"Well, then, seriously, I shall stay. A pleasant journey to you, my
boy! I will wait till you come back. I would sooner take leave of life
than take leave of my dear, cozy Paris--"
"Will you not come to Italy, to Naples, and lead a pleasant life
there--a delicious, luxurious life, with this stout old fogey of yours,
who puffs and blows like a seal?"
"Ungrateful?" she cried, rising to her feet. "I might leave this house
this moment and take nothing out of it but myself. I shall have given
you all the treasures a young girl can give, and something that not
every drop in your veins and mine can ever give me back. If, by any
means whatever, by selling my hopes of eternity, for instance, I could
recover my past self, body as soul (for I have, perhaps, redeemed my
soul), and be pure as a lily for my lover I would not hesitate a
moment! What sort of devotion has rewarded mine? You have housed and
fed me, just as you give a dog food and a kennel because he is a
protection to the house, and he may take kicks when we are out of
humor, and lick our hands as soon as we are pleased to call to him. And
which of us two will have been the more generous?"
"Oh! dear child, do you not see that I am joking?" returned Castanier.
"I am going on a short journey; I shall not be away for very long. But
come with me to the Gymnase; I shall start just before midnight, after
I have had time to say good-by to you."
"Poor pet! so you are really going, are you?" she said. She put her
arms round his neck, and drew down his head against her bodice.
"You are smothering me!" cried Castanier, with his face buried in
Aquilina's breast. That damsel turned to say in Jenny's ear, "Go to
Léon, and tell him not to come till one o'clock. If you do not find
him, and he comes here during the leave-taking, keep him in your
room.--Well," she went on, setting free Castanier, and giving a tweak
to the tip of his nose, "never mind, handsomest of seals that you are.
I will go to the theater with you this evening. But all in good time;
let us have dinner! There is a nice little dinner for you--just what
"It is very hard to part from such a woman as you!" exclaimed
"Very well then, why do you go?" asked she.
"Ah! why? why? If I were to begin to explain the reasons why, I must
tell you things that would prove to you that I love you almost to
madness. Ah! if you have sacrificed your honor for me, I have sold mine
for you; we are quits. Is that love?"
"What is all this about?" said she. "Come, now, promise me that if I
had a lover you would still love me as a father; that would be love!
Come, now, promise it at once, and give us your fist upon it."
"I should kill you," and Castanier smiled as he spoke.
They sat down to the dinner table, and went thence to the Gymnase. When
the first part of the performance was over, it occurred to Castanier to
show himself to some of his acquaintances in the house, so as to turn
away any suspicion of his departure. He left Mme. de la Garde in the
corner box where she was seated, according to her modest wont, and went
to walk up and down in the lobby. He had not gone many paces before he
saw the Englishman, and with a sudden return of the sickening sensation
of heat that once before had vibrated through him, and of the terror
that he had felt already, he stood face to face with Melmoth.
At the word, Castanier glanced round at the people who were moving
about them. He fancied that he could see astonishment and curiosity in
their eyes, and wishing to be rid of this Englishman at once, he raised
his hand to strike him--and felt his arm paralyzed by some invisible
power that sapped his strength and nailed him to the spot. He allowed
the stranger to take him by the arm, and they walked together to the
greenroom like two friends.
"Who is strong enough to resist me?" said the Englishman, addressing
him. "Do you not know that everything here on earth must obey me, that
it is in my power to do everything? I read men's thoughts, I see the
future, and I know the past. I am here, and I can be elsewhere also.
Time and space and distance are nothing to me. The whole world is at my
beck and call. I have the power of continual enjoyment and of giving
joy. I can see through walls, discover hidden treasures, and fill my
hands with them. Palaces arise at my nod, and my architect makes no
mistakes. I can make all lands break forth into blossom, heap up their
gold and precious stones, and surround myself with fair women and ever
new faces; everything is yielded up to my will. I could gamble on the
Stock Exchange, and my speculations would be infallible; but a man who
can find the hoards that misers have hidden in the earth need not
trouble himself about stocks. Feel the strength of the hand that grasps
you; poor wretch, doomed to shame! Try to bend the arm of iron! try to
soften the adamantine heart! Fly from me if you dare! You would hear my
voice in the depths of the caves that lie under the Seine; you might
hide in the Catacombs, but would you not see me there? My voice could
be heard through the sound of the thunder, my eyes shine as brightly as
the sun, for I am the peer of Lucifer!"
Castanier heard the terrible words, and felt no protest nor
contradiction within himself. He walked side by side with the
Englishman, and had no power to leave him.
"You are mine; you have just committed a crime. I have found at last
the mate whom I have sought. Have you a mind to learn your destiny?
Aha! you came here to see a play, and you shall see a play--nay, two.
Come. Present me to Mme. de la Garde as one of your best friends. Am I
not your last hope of escape?"
Castanier, followed by the stranger, returned to his box; and in
accordance with the order he had just received, he hastened to
introduce Melmoth to Mme. de la Garde. Aquilina seemed to be not in the
least surprised. The Englishman declined to take a seat in front, and
Castanier was once more beside his mistress; the man's slightest wish
must be obeyed. The last piece was about to begin, for, at that time,
small theaters only gave three pieces. One of the actors had made the
Gymnase the fashion, and that evening Perlet (the actor in question)
was to play in a vaudeville called _Le Comédien d'Étampes_, in which he
filled four different parts.
When the curtain rose, the stranger stretched out his hand over the
crowded house. Castanier's cry of terror died away, for the walls of
his throat seemed glued together as Melmoth pointed to the stage, and
the cashier knew that the play had been changed at the Englishman's
He saw the strong room at the bank; he saw the Baron de Nucingen in
conference with a police officer from the prefecture, who was informing
him of Castanier's conduct, explaining that the cashier had absconded
with money taken from the safe, giving the history of the forged
signature. The information was put in writing; the document signed and
duly dispatched to the public prosecutor.
"Are we in time, do you think?" asked Nucingen.
"Yes," said the agent of police; "he is at the Gymnase, and has no
suspicion of anything."
Castanier fidgeted on his chair, and made as if he would leave the
theater, but Melmoth's hand lay on his shoulder, and he was obliged to
sit and watch; the hideous power of the man produced an effect like
that of nightmare, and he could not move a limb. Nay, the man himself
was the nightmare; his presence weighed heavily on his victim like a
poisoned atmosphere. When the wretched cashier turned to implore the
Englishman's mercy, he met those blazing eyes that discharged electric
currents, which pierced through him and transfixed him like darts of
"What have I done to you?" he said, in his prostrate helplessness, and
he breathed hard like a stag at the water's edge. "What do you want of
"Look!" cried Melmoth.
Castanier looked at the stage. The scene had been changed. The play
seemed to be over, and Castanier beheld himself stepping from the
carriage with Aquilina; but as he entered the courtyard of the house in
the Rue Richer, the scene again was suddenly changed, and he saw his
own house. Jenny was chatting by the fire in her mistress's room with a
subaltern officer of a line regiment then stationed at Paris.
"He is going, is he?" said the sergeant, who seemed to belong to a
family in easy circumstances; "I can be happy at my ease! I love
Aquilina too well to allow her to belong to that old toad! I, myself,
am going to marry Mme. de la Garde!" cried the sergeant.
"Old toad!" Castanier murmured piteously.
"Here come the master and mistress; hide yourself! Stay, get in here,
Monsieur Léon," said Jenny. "The master won't stay here for very long."
Castanier watched the sergeant hide himself among Aquilina's gowns in
her dressing room. Almost immediately he himself appeared upon the
scene, and took leave of his mistress, who made fun of him in "asides"
to Jenny, while she uttered the sweetest and tenderest words in his
ears. She wept with one side of her face, and laughed with the other.
The audience called for an encore.
"Accursed creature!" cried Castanier from his box.
Aquilina was laughing till the tears came into her eyes.
"Goodness!" she cried, "how funny Perlet is as the Englishwoman!... Why
don't you laugh? Everyone else in the house is laughing. Laugh, dear!"
she said to Castanier.
Melmoth burst out laughing, and the unhappy cashier shuddered. The
Englishman's laughter wrung his heart and tortured his brain; it was as
if a surgeon had bored his skull with a red-hot iron.
"Laughing! are they laughing?" stammered Castanier.
He did not see the prim English lady whom Perlet was acting with such
ludicrous effect, nor hear the English-French that had filled the house
with roars of laughter; instead of all this, he beheld himself hurrying
from the Rue Richer, hailing a cab on the Boulevard, bargaining with
the man to take him to Versailles. Then once more the scene changed. He
recognized the sorry inn at the corner of the Rue de l'Orangerie and
the Rue des Récollets, which was kept by his old quartermaster. It was
two o'clock in the morning, the most perfect stillness prevailed, no
one was there to watch his movements. The post-horses were put into the
carriage (it came from a house in the Avenue de Paris in which an
Englishman lived, and had been ordered in the foreigner's name to avoid
raising suspicion). Castanier saw that he had his bills and his
passports, stepped into the carriage, and set out. But at the barrier
he saw two gendarmes lying in wait for the carriage. A cry of horror
burst from him, but Melmoth gave him a glance, and again the sound died
in his throat.
"Keep your eyes on the stage, and be quiet!" said the Englishman.
In another moment Castanier saw himself flung into prison at the
Conciergerie; and in the fifth act of the drama, entitled _The
Cashier_, he saw himself, in three months' time, condemned to twenty
years of penal servitude. Again a cry broke from him. He was exposed
upon the Place du Palais-de-Justice, and the executioner branded him
with a red-hot iron. Then came the last scene of all; among some sixty
convicts in the prison yard of the Bicêtre, he was awaiting his turn to
have the irons riveted on his limbs.
"Dear me! I cannot laugh any more!..." said Aquilina. "You are very
solemn, dear boy; what can be the matter? The gentleman has gone."
"A word with you, Castanier," said Melmoth when the piece was at an
end, and the attendant was fastening Mme. de la Garde's cloak.
The corridor was crowded, and escape impossible.
"Very well, what is it?"
"No human power can hinder you from taking Aquilina home, and going
next to Versailles, there to be arrested."
"Because you are in a hand that will never relax its grasp," returned
Castanier longed for the power to utter some word that should blot him
out from among living men and hide him in the lowest depths of hell.
"Suppose that the devil were to make a bid for your soul, would you not
give it to him now in exchange for the power of God? One single word,
and those five hundred thousand francs shall be back in the Baron de
Nucingen's safe; then you can tear up your letter of credit, and all
traces of your crime will be obliterated. Moreover, you would have gold
in torrents. You hardly believe in anything perhaps? Well, if all this
comes to pass, you will believe at least in the devil."
"If it were only possible!" said Castanier joyfully.
"The man who can do it all gives you his word that it is possible,"
answered the Englishman.
Melmoth, Castanier, and Mme. de la Garde were standing out in the
Boulevard when Melmoth raised his arm. A drizzling rain was falling,
the streets were muddy, the air was close, there was thick darkness
overhead; but in a moment, as the arm was outstretched, Paris was
filled with sunlight; it was high noon on a bright July day. The trees
were covered with leaves; a double stream of joyous holiday makers
strolled beneath them. Sellers of licorice water shouted their cool
drinks. Splendid carriages rolled past along the streets. A cry of
terror broke from the cashier, and at that cry rain and darkness once
more settled down upon the Boulevard.
Mme. de la Garde had stepped into the carriage. "Do be quick, dear!"
she cried; "either come in or stay out. Really, you are as dull as
ditch-water this evening--"
"What must I do?" Castanier asked of Melmoth.
"Would you like to take my place?" inquired the Englishman.
"Very well, then; I will be at your house in a few moments."
"By the bye, Castanier, you are rather off your balance," Aquilina
remarked. "There is some mischief brewing; you were quite melancholy
and thoughtful all through the play. Do you want anything that I can
give you, dear? Tell me."
"I am waiting till we are at home to know whether you love me."
"You need not wait till then," she said, throwing her arms round his
neck. "There!" she said, as she embraced him, passionately to all
appearance, and plied him with the coaxing caresses that are part of
the business of such a life as hers, like stage action for an actress.
"Where is the music?" asked Castanier.
"What next? Only think of your hearing music now!"
"Heavenly music!" he went on. "The sounds seem to come from above."
"What? You have always refused to give me a box at the Italiens because
you could not abide music, and are you turning music-mad at this time
of day? Mad--that you are! The music is inside your own noddle, old
addle-pate!" she went on, as she took his head in her hands and rocked
it to and fro on her shoulder. "Tell me now, old man; isn't it the
creaking of the wheels that sings in your ears?"
"Just listen, Naqui! If the angels make music for God Almighty, it must
be such music as this that I am drinking in at every pore, rather than
hearing. I do not know how to tell you about it; it is as sweet as
"Why, of course, they have music in heaven, for the angels in all the
pictures have harps in their hands. He is mad, upon my word!" she said
to herself, as she saw Castanier's attitude; he looked like an opium
eater in a blissful trance.
They reached the house. Castanier, absorbed by the thought of all that
he had just heard and seen, knew not whether to believe it or no; he
was like a drunken man, and utterly unable to think connectedly. He
came to himself in Aquilina's room, whither he had been supported by
the united efforts of his mistress, the porter, and Jenny; for he had
fainted as he stepped from the carriage.
"_He_ will be here directly! Oh, my friends, my friends!" he cried, and
he flung himself despairingly into the depths of a low chair beside the
Jenny heard the bell as he spoke, and admitted the Englishman. She
announced that "a gentleman had come who had made an appointment with
the master," when Melmoth suddenly appeared, and deep silence followed.
He looked at the porter--the porter went; he looked at Jenny--and Jenny
"Madame," said Melmoth, turning to Aquilina, "with your permission, we
will conclude a piece of urgent business."
He took Castanier's hand, and Castanier rose, and the two men went into
the drawing-room. There was no light in the room, but Melmoth's eyes
lit up the thickest darkness. The gaze of those strange eyes had left
Aquilina like one spellbound; she was helpless, unable to take any
thought for her lover; moreover, she believed him to be safe in Jenny's
room, whereas their early return had taken the waiting woman by
surprise, and she had hidden the officer in the dressing room. It had
all happened exactly as in the drama that Melmoth had displayed for his
victim. Presently the house door was slammed violently, and Castanier
"What ails you?" cried the horror-struck Aquilina.
There was a change in the cashier's appearance. A strange pallor
overspread his once rubicund countenance; it wore the peculiarly
sinister and stony look of the mysterious visitor. The sullen glare of
his eyes was intolerable, the fierce light in them seemed to scorch.
The man who had looked so good-humored and good-natured had suddenly
grown tyrannical and proud. The courtesan thought that Castanier had
grown thinner; there was a terrible majesty in his brow; it was as if a
dragon breathed forth a malignant influence that weighed upon the
others like a close, heavy atmosphere. For a moment Aquilina knew not
what to do.
"What passed between you and that diabolical-looking man in those few
minutes?" she asked at length.
"I have sold my soul to him. I feel it; I am no longer the same. He has
taken my _self_, and given me his soul in exchange."
"You would not understand it at all.... Ah! he was right," Castanier
went on, "the fiend was right! I see everything and know all
things.--You have been deceiving me!"
Aquilina turned cold with terror. Castanier lighted a candle and went
into the dressing room. The unhappy girl followed him in dazed
bewilderment, and great was her astonishment when Castanier drew the
dresses that hung there aside and disclosed the sergeant.
"Come out, my boy," said the cashier; and, taking Léon by a button of
his overcoat, he drew the officer into his room.
The Piedmontese, haggard and desperate, had flung herself into her easy
chair. Castanier seated himself on a sofa by the fire, and left
Aquilina's lover in a standing position.
"You have been in the army," said Léon; "I am ready to give you
"You are a fool," said Castanier dryly. "I have no occasion to fight. I
could kill you by a look if I had any mind to do it. I will tell you
what it is, youngster; why should I kill you? I can see a red line
round your neck--the guillotine is waiting for you. Yes, you will end
in the Place de Grève. You are the headsman's property! there is no
escape for you. You belong to a _vendita_ of the Carbonari. You are
plotting against the Government."
"You did not tell me that," cried the Piedmontese, turning to Léon.
"So you do not know that the Minister decided this morning to put down
your Society?" the cashier continued. "The Procureur-Général has a list
of your names. You have been betrayed. They are busy drawing up the
indictment at this moment."
"Then was it you who betrayed him?" cried Aquilina, and with a hoarse
sound in her throat like the growl of a tigress she rose to her feet;
she seemed as if she would tear Castanier in pieces.
"You know me too well to believe it," Castanier retorted. Aquilina was
benumbed by his coolness.
"Then how did you know it?" she murmured.
"I did not know it until I went into the drawing-room; now I know
it--now I see and know all things, and can do all things."
The sergeant was overcome with amazement.
"Very well then, save him, save him, dear!" cried the girl, flinging
herself at Castanier's feet. "If nothing is impossible to you, save
him! I will love you, I will adore you, I will be your slave and not
your mistress. I will obey your wildest whims; you shall do as you will
with me. Yes, yes, I will give you more than love; you shall have a
daughter's devotion as well as ... Rodolphe! why will you not
understand! After all, however violent my passions may be, I shall be
yours forever! What should I say to persuade you? I will invent
pleasures ... I ... Great heavens! one moment! whatever you shall ask
of me--to fling myself from the window, for instance--you will need to
say but one word, 'Léon!' and I will plunge down into hell. I would
bear any torture, any pain of body or soul, anything you might inflict
Castanier heard her with indifference. For all answer, he indicated
Léon to her with a fiendish laugh.
"The guillotine is waiting for him," he repeated.
"No, no, no! He shall not leave this house. I will save him!" she
cried. "Yes; I will kill anyone who lays a finger upon him! Why will
you not save him?" she shrieked aloud; her eyes were blazing, her hair
unbound. "Can you save him?"
"I can do everything."
"Why do you not save him?"
"Why?" shouted Castanier, and his voice made the ceiling ring.--"Eh! it
is my revenge! Doing evil is my trade!"
"Die?" said Aquilina; "must he die, my lover? Is it possible?"
She sprang up and snatched a stiletto from a basket that stood on the
chest of drawers and went to Castanier, who began to laugh.
"You know very well that steel cannot hurt me now--"
Aquilina's arm suddenly dropped like a snapped harp string.
"Out with you, my good friend," said the cashier, turning to the
sergeant, "and go about your business."
He held out his hand; the other felt Castanier's superior power, and
could not choose but obey.
"This house is mine; I could send for the commissary of police if I
chose, and give you up as a man who has hidden himself on my premises,
but I would rather let you go; I am a fiend, I am not a spy."
"I shall follow him!" said Aquilina.
"Then follow him," returned Castanier.--"Here, Jenny--"
"Tell the porter to hail a cab for them.--Here, Naqui," said Castanier,
drawing a bundle of banknotes from his pocket; "you shall not go away
like a pauper from a man who loves you still."
He held out three hundred thousand francs. Aquilina took the notes,
flung them on the floor, spat on them, and trampled upon them in a
frenzy of despair.
"We will leave this house on foot," she cried, "without a farthing of
your money.--Jenny, stay where you are."
"Good evening!" answered the cashier, as he gathered up the notes
again. "I have come back from my journey.--Jenny," he added, looking at
the bewildered waiting maid, "you seem to me to be a good sort of girl.
You have no mistress now. Come here. This evening you shall have a
Aquilina, who felt safe nowhere, went at once with the sergeant to the
house of one of her friends. But all Léon's movements were suspiciously
watched by the police, and after a time he and three of his friends
were arrested. The whole story may be found in the newspapers of that
* * * * *
Castanier felt that he had undergone a mental as well as a physical
transformation. The Castanier of old no longer existed--the boy, the
young Lothario, the soldier who had proved his courage, who had been
tricked into a marriage and disillusioned, the cashier, the passionate
lover who had committed a crime for Aquilina's sake. His inmost nature
had suddenly asserted itself. His brain had expanded, his senses had
developed. His thoughts comprehended the whole world; he saw all the
things of earth as if he had been raised to some high pinnacle above
Until that evening at the play he had loved Aquilina to distraction.
Rather than give her up he would have shut his eyes to her
infidelities; and now all that blind passion had passed away as a cloud
vanishes in the sunlight.
Jenny was delighted to succeed to her mistress's position and fortune,
and did the cashier's will in all things; but Castanier, who could read
the inmost thoughts of the soul, discovered the real motive underlying
this purely physical devotion. He amused himself with her, however,
like a mischievous child who greedily sucks the juice of the cherry and
flings away the stone. The next morning at breakfast time, when she was
fully convinced that she was a lady and the mistress of the house,
Castanier uttered one by one the thoughts that filled her mind as she
drank her coffee.
"Do you know what you are thinking, child?" he said, smiling. "I will
tell you: 'So all that lovely rosewood furniture that I coveted so
much, and the pretty dresses that I used to try on, are mine now! All
on easy terms that madame refused, I do not know why. My word! if I
might drive about in a carriage, have jewels and pretty things, a box
at the theater, and put something by! with me he should lead a life of
pleasure fit to kill him if he were not as strong as a Turk! I never
saw such a man!'--Was not that just what you were thinking?" he went
on, and something in his voice made Jenny turn pale. "Well, yes, child;
you could not stand it, and I am sending you away for your own good;
you would perish in the attempt. Come, let us part good friends," and
he coolly dismissed her with a very small sum of money.
The first use that Castanier had promised himself that he would make of
the terrible power bought at the price of his eternal happiness, was
the full and complete indulgence of all his tastes.
He first put his affairs in order, readily settled his account with M.
de Nucingen, who found a worthy German to succeed him, and then
determined on a carouse worthy of the palmiest days of the Roman
Empire. He plunged into dissipation as recklessly as Belshazzar of old
went to that last feast in Babylon. Like Belshazzar, he saw clearly
through his revels a gleaming hand that traced his doom in letters of
flame, not on the narrow walls of the banqueting chamber, but over the
vast spaces of heaven that the rainbow spans. His feast was not,
indeed, an orgy confined within the limits of a banquet, for he
squandered all the powers of soul and body in exhausting all the
pleasures of earth. The table was in some sort earth itself, the earth
that trembled beneath his feet. He was the last festival of the
reckless spendthrift who has thrown all prudence to the winds. The
devil had given him the key of the storehouse of human pleasures; he
had filled and refilled his hands, and he was fast nearing the bottom.
In a moment he had felt all that that enormous power could accomplish;
in a moment he had exercised it, proved it, wearied of it. What had
hitherto been the sum of human desires became as nothing. So often it
happens that with possession the vast poetry of desire must end, and
the thing possessed is seldom the thing that we dreamed of.
Beneath Melmoth's omnipotence lurked this tragical anticlimax of so
many a passion, and now the inanity of human nature was revealed to his
successor, to whom infinite power brought Nothingness as a dowry.
To come to a clear understanding of Castanier's strange position, it
must be borne in mind how suddenly these revolutions of thought and
feeling had been wrought; how quickly they had succeeded each other;
and of these things it is hard to give any idea to those who have never
broken the prison bonds of time, and space, and distance. His relation
to the world without had been entirely changed with the expansion of
Like Melmoth himself, Castanier could travel in a few moments over the
fertile plains of India, could soar on the wings of demons above
African desert spaces, or skim the surface of the seas. The same
insight that could read the inmost thoughts of others, could apprehend
at a glance the nature of any material object, just as he caught as it
were all flavors at once upon his tongue. He took his pleasure like a
despot; a blow of the ax felled the tree that he might eat its fruits.
The transitions, the alternations that measure joy and pain, and
diversify human happiness, no longer existed for him. He had so
completely glutted his appetites that pleasure must overpass the limits
of pleasure to tickle a palate cloyed with satiety, and suddenly grown
fastidious beyond all measure, so that ordinary pleasures became
distasteful. Conscious that at will he was the master of all the women
that he could desire, knowing that his power was irresistible, he did
not care to exercise it; they were pliant to his unexpressed wishes, to
his most extravagant caprices, until he felt a horrible thirst for
love, and would have love beyond their power to give.
The world refused him nothing save faith and prayer, the soothing and
consoling love that is not of this world. He was obeyed--it was a
The torrents of pain, and pleasure, and thought that shook his soul and
his bodily frame would have overwhelmed the strongest human being; but
in him there was a power of vitality proportioned to the power of the
sensations that assailed him. He felt within him a vague immensity of
longing that earth could not satisfy. He spent his days on outspread
wings, longing to traverse the luminous fields of space to other
spheres that he knew afar by intuitive perception, a clear and hopeless
knowledge. His soul dried up within him, for he hungered and thirsted
after things that can neither be drunk nor eaten, but for which he
could not choose but crave. His lips, like Melmoth's, burned with
desire; he panted for the unknown, for he knew all things.
The mechanism and the scheme of the world was apparent to him, and its
working interested him no longer; he did not long disguise the profound
scorn that makes of a man of extraordinary powers a sphinx who knows
everything and says nothing, and sees all things with an unmoved
countenance. He felt not the slightest wish to communicate his
knowledge to other men. He was rich with all the wealth of the world,
with one effort he could make the circle of the globe, and riches and
power were meaningless for him. He felt the awful melancholy of
omnipotence, a melancholy which Satan and God relieve by the exercise
of infinite power in mysterious ways known to them alone. Castanier had
not, like his Master, the inextinguishable energy of hate and malice;
he felt that he was a devil, but a devil whose time was not yet come,
while Satan is a devil through all eternity, and being damned beyond
redemption, delights to stir up the world, like a dungheap, with his
triple fork and to thwart therein the designs of God. But Castanier,
for his misfortune, had one hope left.
If in a moment he could move from one pole to the other as a bird
springs restlessly from side to side in its cage, when, like the bird,
he had crossed his prison, he saw the vast immensity of space beyond
it. That vision of the Infinite left him forever unable to see humanity
and its affairs as other men saw them. The insensate fools who long for
the power of the Devil gauge its desirability from a human standpoint;
they do not see that with the Devil's power they will likewise assume
his thoughts, and that they will be doomed to remain as men among
creatures who will no longer understand them. The Nero unknown to
history who dreams of setting Paris on fire for his private
entertainment, like an exhibition of a burning house on the boards of a
theater, does not suspect that if he had that power, Paris would become
for him as little interesting as an ant heap by the roadside to a
hurrying passer-by. The circle of the sciences was for Castanier
something like a logogriph for a man who does not know the key to it.
Kings and Governments were despicable in his eyes. His great debauch
had been in some sort a deplorable farewell to his life as a man. The
earth had grown too narrow for him, for the infernal gifts laid bare
for him the secrets of creation--he saw the cause and foresaw its end.
He was shut out from all that men call "heaven" in all languages under
the sun; he could no longer think of heaven.
Then he came to understand the look on his predecessor's face and the
drying up of the life within; then he knew all that was meant by the
baffled hope that gleamed in Melmoth's eyes; he, too, knew the thirst
that burned those red lips, and the agony of a continual struggle
between two natures grown to giant size. Even yet he might be an angel,
and he knew himself to be a fiend. His was the fate of a sweet and
gentle creature that a wizard's malice has imprisoned in a misshapen
form, entrapping it by a pact, so that another's will must set it free
from its detested envelope.
As a deception only increases the ardor with which a man of really
great nature explores the infinite of sentiment in a woman's heart, so
Castanier awoke to find that one idea lay like a weight upon his soul,
an idea which was perhaps the key to loftier spheres. The very fact
that he had bartered away his eternal happiness led him to dwell in
thought upon the future of those who pray and believe. On the morrow of
his debauch, when he entered into the sober possession of his power,
this idea made him feel himself a prisoner; he knew the burden of the
woe that poets, and prophets, and great oracles of faith have set forth
for us in such mighty words; he felt the point of the Flaming Sword
plunged into his side, and hurried in search of Melmoth. What had
become of his predecessor?
The Englishman was living in a mansion in the Rue Férou, near
Saint-Sulpice--a gloomy, dark, damp, and cold abode. The Rue Férou
itself is one of the most dismal streets in Paris; it has a north
aspect like all the streets that lie at right angles to the left bank
of the Seine, and the houses are in keeping with the site. As Castanier
stood on the threshold he found that the door itself, like the vaulted
roof, was hung with black; rows of lighted tapers shone brilliantly as
though some king were lying in state; and a priest stood on either side
of a catafalque that had been raised there.
"There is no need to ask why you have come, sir," the old hall porter
said to Castanier; "you are so like our poor dear master that is gone.
But if you are his brother, you have come too late to bid him good-by.
The good gentleman died the night before last."
"How did he die?" Castanier asked of one of the priests.
"Set your mind at rest," said an old priest; he partly raised as he
spoke the black pall that covered the catafalque.
Castanier, looking at him, saw one of those faces that faith has made
sublime; the soul seemed to shine forth from every line of it, bringing
light and warmth for other men, kindled by the unfailing charity
within. This was Sir John Melmoth's confessor.
"Your brother made an end that men may envy, and that must rejoice the
angels. Do you know what joy there is in heaven over a sinner that
repents? His tears of penitence, excited by grace, flowed without
ceasing; death alone checked them. The Holy Spirit dwelt in him. His
burning words, full of lively faith, were worthy of the Prophet-King.
If, in the course of my life, I have never heard a more dreadful
confession than from the lips of this Irish gentleman, I have likewise
never heard such fervent and passionate prayers. However great the
measures of his sins may have been, his repentance has filled the abyss
to overflowing. The hand of God was visibly stretched out above him,
for he was completely changed, there was such heavenly beauty in his
face. The hard eyes were softened by tears; the resonant voice that
struck terror into those who heard it took the tender and compassionate
tones of those who themselves have passed through deep humiliation. He
so edified those who heard his words that some who had felt drawn to
see the spectacle of a Christian's death fell on their knees as he
spoke of heavenly things, and of the infinite glory of God, and gave
thanks and praise to Him. If he is leaving no worldly wealth to his
family, no family can possess a greater blessing than this that he
surely gained for them, a soul among the blessed, who will watch over
you all and direct you in the path to heaven."
These words made such a vivid impression upon Castanier that he
instantly hurried from the house to the Church of Saint-Sulpice,
obeying what might be called a decree of fate. Melmoth's repentance had
At that time, on certain mornings in the week, a preacher, famed for
his eloquence, was wont to hold conferences, in the course of which he
demonstrated the truths of the Catholic faith for the youth of a
generation proclaimed to be indifferent in matters of belief by another
voice no less eloquent than his own. The conference had been put off to
a later hour on account of Melmoth's funeral, so Castanier arrived just
as the great preacher was epitomizing the proofs of a future existence
of happiness with all the charm of eloquence and force of expression
which have made him famous. The seeds of divine doctrine fell into a
soil prepared for them in the old dragoon, into whom the Devil had
glided. Indeed, if there is a phenomenon well attested by experience,
is it not the spiritual phenomenon commonly called "the faith of the
peasant"? The strength of belief varies inversely with the amount of
use that a man has made of his reasoning faculties. Simple people and
soldiers belong to the unreasoning class. Those who have marched
through life beneath the banner of instinct are far more ready to
receive the light than minds and hearts overwearied with the world's
Castanier had the southern temperament; he had joined the army as a lad
of sixteen, and had followed the French flag till he was nearly forty
years old. As a common trooper, he had fought day and night, and day
after day, and, as in duty bound, had thought of his horse first, and
of himself afterwards. While he served his military apprenticeship,
therefore, he had but little leisure in which to reflect on the destiny
of man, and when he became an officer he had his men to think of. He
had been swept from battlefield to battlefield, but he had never
thought of what comes after death. A soldier's life does not demand
much thinking. Those who cannot understand the lofty political ends
involved and the interests of nation and nation; who cannot grasp
political schemes as well as plans of campaign and combine the science
of the tactician with that of the administrator, are bound to live in a
state of ignorance; the most boorish peasant in the most backward
district in France is scarcely in a worse case. Such men as these bear
the brunt of war, yield passive obedience to the brain that directs
them, and strike down the men opposed to them as the woodcutter fells
timber in the forest. Violent physical exertion is succeeded by times
of inertia, when they repair the waste. They fight and drink, fight and
eat, fight and sleep, that they may the better deal hard blows; the
powers of the mind are not greatly exercised in this turbulent round of
existence, and the character is as simple as heretofore.
When the men who have shown such energy on the battlefield return to
ordinary civilization, most of those who have not risen to high rank
seem to have acquired no ideas, and to have no aptitude, no capacity,
for grasping new ideas. To the utter amazement of a younger generation,
those who made our armies so glorious and so terrible are as simple as
children, and as slow-witted as a clerk at his worst, and the captain
of a thundering squadron is scarcely fit to keep a merchant's day-book.
Old soldiers of this stamp, therefore, being innocent of any attempt to
use their reasoning faculties, act upon their strongest impulses.
Castanier's crime was one of those matters that raise so many
questions, that, in order to debate about it, a moralist might call for
its "discussion by clauses," to make use of a parliamentary expression.
Passion had counseled the crime; the cruelly irresistible power of
feminine witchery had driven him to commit it; no man can say of
himself, "I will never do that," when a siren joins in the combat and
throws her spells over him.
So the word of life fell upon a conscience newly awakened to the truths
of religion which the French Revolution and a soldier's career had
forced Castanier to neglect. The solemn words, "You will be happy or
miserable for all eternity!" made but the more terrible impression upon
him, because he had exhausted earth and shaken it like a barren tree;
because his desires could effect all things, so that it was enough that
any spot in earth or heaven should be forbidden him, and he forthwith
thought of nothing else. If it were allowable to compare such great
things with social follies, Castanier's position was not unlike that of
a banker who, finding that his all-powerful millions cannot obtain for
him an entrance into the society of the noblesse, must set his heart
upon entering that circle, and all the social privileges that he has
already acquired are as nothing in his eyes from the moment when he
discovers that a single one is lacking.
Here was a man more powerful than all the kings on earth put together;
a man who, like Satan, could wrestle with God Himself; leaning against
one of the pillars in the Church of Saint-Sulpice, weighed down by the
feelings and thoughts that oppressed him, and absorbed in the thought
of a Future, the same thought that had engulfed Melmoth.
"He was very happy, was Melmoth!" cried Castanier. "He died in the
certain knowledge that he would go to heaven."
In a moment the greatest possible change had been wrought in the
cashier's ideas. For several days he had been a devil, now he was
nothing but a man; an image of the fallen Adam, of the sacred tradition
embodied in all cosmogonies. But while he had thus shrunk to manhood,
he retained a germ of greatness, he had been steeped in the Infinite.
The power of hell had revealed the divine power. He thirsted for heaven
as he had never thirsted after the pleasures of earth, that are so soon
exhausted. The enjoyments which the fiend promises are but the
enjoyments of earth on a larger scale, but to the joys of heaven there
is no limit. He believed in God, and the spell that gave him the
treasures of the world was as nothing to him now; the treasures
themselves seemed to him as contemptible as pebbles to an admirer of
diamonds; they were but gewgaws compared with the eternal glories of
the other life. A curse lay, he thought, on all things that came to him
from this source. He sounded dark depths of painful thought as he
listened to the service performed for Melmoth. The _Dies iræ_ filled
him with awe; he felt all the grandeur of that cry of a repentant soul
trembling before the Throne of God. The Holy Spirit, like a devouring
flame, passed through him as fire consumes straw.
The tears were falling from his eyes when--"Are you a relation of the
dead?" the beadle asked him.
"I am his heir," Castanier answered.
"Give something for the expenses of the services!" cried the man.
"No," said the cashier. (The Devil's money should not go to the
"For the poor!"
"For repairing the Church!"
"The Lady Chapel!"
"For the schools!"
Castanier went, not caring to expose himself to the sour looks that the
irritated functionaries gave him.
Outside, in the street, he looked up at the Church of Saint-Sulpice.
"What made people build the giant cathedrals I have seen in every
country?" he asked himself. "The feeling shared so widely throughout
all time must surely be based upon something."
"Something! Do you call God _something_?" cried his conscience. "God!
The word was echoed and reëchoed by an inner voice, till it overwhelmed
him; but his feeling of terror subsided as he heard sweet distant
sounds of music that he had caught faintly before. They were singing in
the church, he thought, and his eyes scanned the great doorway. But as
he listened more closely, the sounds poured upon him from all sides; he
looked round the square, but there was no sign of any musicians. The
melody brought visions of a distant heaven and far-off gleams of hope;
but it also quickened the remorse that had set the lost soul in a
ferment. He went on his way through Paris, walking as men walk who are
crushed beneath the burden of their sorrow, seeing everything with
unseeing eyes, loitering like an idler, stopping without cause,
muttering to himself, careless of the traffic, making no effort to
avoid a blow from a plank of timber.
Imperceptibly repentance brought him under the influence of the divine
grace that soothes while it bruises the heart so terribly. His face
came to wear a look of Melmoth, something great, with a trace of
madness in the greatness. A look of dull and hopeless distress, mingled
with the excited eagerness of hope, and, beneath it all, a gnawing
sense of loathing for all that the world can give. The humblest of
prayers lurked in the eyes that saw with such dreadful clearness. His
power was the measure of his anguish. His body was bowed down by the
fearful storm that shook his soul, as the tall pines bend before the
blast. Like his predecessor, he could not refuse to bear the burden of
life; he was afraid to die while he bore the yoke of hell. The torment
At last, one morning, he bethought himself how that Melmoth (now among
the blessed) had made the proposal of an exchange, and how that he had
accepted it; others, doubtless, would follow his example; for in an age
proclaimed, by the inheritors of the eloquence of the Fathers of the
Church, to be fatally indifferent to religion, it should be easy to
find a man who would accept the conditions of the contract in order to
prove its advantages.
"There is one place where you can learn what kings will fetch in the
market; where nations are weighed in the balance and systems appraised;
where the value of a government is stated in terms of the five-franc
piece; where ideas and beliefs have their price, and everything is
discounted; where God Himself, in a manner, borrows on the security of
His revenue of souls, for the Pope has a running account there. Is it
not there that I should go to traffic in souls?"
Castanier went quite joyously on 'Change, thinking that it would be as
easy to buy a soul as to invest money in the Funds. Any ordinary person
would have feared ridicule, but Castanier knew by experience that a
desperate man takes everything seriously. A prisoner lying under
sentence of death would listen to the madman who should tell him that
by pronouncing some gibberish he could escape through the keyhole; for
suffering is credulous, and clings to an idea until it fails, as the
swimmer borne along by the current clings to the branch that snaps in
Toward four o'clock that afternoon Castanier appeared among the little
knots of men who were transacting private business after 'Change. He
was personally known to some of the brokers; and while affecting to be
in search of an acquaintance, he managed to pick up the current gossip
and rumors of failure.
"Catch me negotiating bills for Claparon & Co., my boy. The bank
collector went round to return their acceptances to them this morning,"
said a fat banker in his outspoken way. "If you have any of their
paper, look out."
Claparon was in the building, in deep consultation with a man well
known for the ruinous rate at which he lent money. Castanier went
forthwith in search of the said Claparon, a merchant who had a
reputation for taking heavy risks that meant wealth or utter ruin. The
money lender walked away as Castanier came up. A gesture betrayed the
"Well, Claparon, the bank wants a hundred thousand francs of you, and
it is four o'clock; the thing is known, and it is too late to arrange
your little failure comfortably," said Castanier.
"Speak lower," the cashier went on. "How if I were to propose a piece
of business that would bring you in as much money as you require?"
"It would not discharge my liabilities; every business that I ever
heard of wants a little time to simmer in."
"I know of something that will set you straight in a moment," answered
Castanier; "but first you would have to--"
"Sell your share of Paradise. It is a matter of business like anything
else, isn't it? We all hold shares in the great Speculation of
"I tell you this," said Claparon angrily, "that I am just the man to
lend you a slap in the face. When a man is in trouble, it is no time to
play silly jokes on him."
"I am talking seriously," said Castanier, and he drew a bundle of notes
from his pocket.
"In the first place," said Claparon, "I am not going to sell my soul to
the Devil for a trifle. I want five hundred thousand francs before I
"Who talks of stinting you?" asked Castanier, cutting him short. "You
should have more gold than you could stow in the cellars of the Bank of
He held out a handful of notes. That decided Claparon.
"Done," he cried; "but how is the bargain to be made?"
"Let us go over yonder, no one is standing there," said Castanier,
pointing to a corner of the court.
Claparon and his tempter exchanged a few words, with their faces turned
to the wall. None of the onlookers guessed the nature of this by-play,
though their curiosity was keenly excited by the strange gestures of
the two contracting parties. When Castanier returned, there was a
sudden outburst of amazed exclamation. As in the Assembly where the
least event immediately attracts attention, all faces were turned to
the two men who had caused the sensation, and a shiver passed through
all beholders at the change that had taken place in them.
The men who form the moving crowd that fills the Stock Exchange are
soon known to each other by sight. They watch each other like players
round a card table. Some shrewd observers can tell how a man will play
and the condition of his exchequer from a survey of his face; and the
Stock Exchange is simply a vast card table. Everyone, therefore, had
noticed Claparon and Castanier. The latter (like the Irishman before
him) had been muscular and powerful, his eyes were full of light,
his color high. The dignity and power in his face had struck awe into
them all; they wondered how old Castanier had come by it; and now they
beheld Castanier divested of his power, shrunken, wrinkled, aged, and
feeble. He had drawn Claparon out of the crowd with the energy of a
sick man in a fever fit; he had looked like an opium eater during the
brief period of excitement that the drug can give; now, on his return,
he seemed to be in the condition of utter exhaustion in which the
patient dies after the fever departs, or to be suffering from the
horrible prostration that follows on excessive indulgence in the
delights of narcotics. The infernal power that had upheld him through
his debauches had left him, and the body was left unaided and alone to
endure the agony of remorse and the heavy burden of sincere repentance.
Claparon's troubles everyone could guess; but Claparon reappeared, on
the other hand, with sparkling eyes, holding his head high with the
pride of Lucifer. The crisis had passed from the one man to the other.
 Referring to John Melmoth--see note at head of this story.--EDITOR.
"Now you can drop off with an easy mind, old man," said Claparon to
"For pity's sake, send for a cab and for a priest; send for the curate
of Saint-Sulpice!" answered the old dragoon, sinking down upon the
The words "a priest" reached the ears of several people, and produced
uproarious jeering among the stockbrokers, for faith with these
gentlemen means a belief that a scrap of paper called a mortgage
represents an estate, and the List of Fundholders is their Bible.
"Shall I have time to repent?" said Castanier to himself, in a piteous
voice, that impressed Claparon.
A cab carried away the dying man; the speculator went to the bank at
once to meet his bills; and the momentary sensation produced upon the
throng of business men by the sudden change on the two faces, vanished
like the furrow cut by a ship's keel in the sea. News of the greatest
importance kept the attention of the world of commerce on the alert;
and when commercial interests are at stake, Moses might appear with his
two luminous horns, and his coming would scarcely receive the honors of
a pun; the gentlemen whose business it is to write the Market Reports
would ignore his existence.
When Claparon had made his payments, fear seized upon him. There was no
mistake about his power. He went on 'Change again, and offered his
bargain to other men in embarrassed circumstances. The Devil's bond,
"together with the rights, easements, and privileges appertaining
thereunto,"--to use the expression of the notary who succeeded
Claparon, changed hands for the sum of seven hundred thousand francs.
The notary in his turn parted with the agreement with the Devil for
five hundred thousand francs to a building contractor in difficulties,
who likewise was rid of it to an iron merchant in consideration of a
hundred thousand crowns. In fact, by five o'clock people had ceased to
believe in the strange contract, and purchasers were lacking for want
At half-past five the holder of the bond was a house painter, who was
lounging by the door of the building in the Rue Feydeau, where at that
time stockbrokers temporarily congregated. The house painter, simple
fellow, could not think what was the matter with him. He "felt all
anyhow"; so he told his wife when he went home.
The Rue Feydeau, as idlers about town are aware, is a place of
pilgrimage for youths who for lack of a mistress bestow their ardent
affection upon the whole sex. On the first floor of the most rigidly
respectable domicile therein dwelt one of those exquisite creatures
whom it has pleased heaven to endow with the rarest and most surpassing
beauty. As it is impossible that they should all be duchesses or queens
(since there are many more pretty women in the world than titles and
thrones for them to adorn), they are content to make a stockbroker or a
banker happy at a fixed price. To this good-natured beauty, Euphrasia
by name, an unbounded ambition had led a notary's clerk to aspire. In
short, the second clerk in the office of Maître Crottat, notary, had
fallen in love with her, as youth at two and twenty can fall in love.
The scrivener would have murdered the Pope and run amuck through the
whole sacred college to procure the miserable sum of a hundred louis to
pay for a shawl which had turned Euphrasia's head, at which price her
waiting woman had promised that Euphrasia should be his. The infatuated
youth walked to and fro under Madame Euphrasia's windows, like the
polar bears in their cage at the Jardin des Plantes, with his right
hand thrust beneath his waistcoat in the region of the heart, which he
was fit to tear from his bosom, but as yet he had only wrenched at the
elastic of his braces.
"What can one do to raise ten thousand francs?" he asked himself.
"Shall I make off with the money that I must pay on the registration of
that conveyance? Good heavens! my loan would not ruin the purchaser, a
man with seven millions! And then next day I would fling myself at his
feet and say, 'I have taken ten thousand francs belonging to you, sir;
I am twenty-two years of age, and I am in love with Euphrasia--that is
my story. My father is rich, he will pay you back; do not ruin me! Have
not you yourself been twenty-two years old and madly in love?' But
these beggarly landowners have no souls! He would be quite likely to
give me up to the public prosecutor, instead of taking pity upon me.
Good God! if it were only possible to sell your soul to the Devil! But
there is neither a God nor a Devil; it is all nonsense out of nursery
tales and old wives' talk. What shall I do?"
"If you have a mind to sell your soul to the Devil, sir," said the
house painter, who had overheard something that the clerk let fall,
"you can have the ten thousand francs."
"And Euphrasia!" cried the clerk, as he struck a bargain with the devil
that inhabited the house painter.
The pact concluded, the frantic clerk went to find the shawl, and
mounted Madame Euphrasia's staircase; and as (literally) the devil was
in him, he did not come down for twelve days, drowning the thought of
hell and of his privileges in twelve days of love and riot and
forgetfulness, for which he had bartered away all his hopes of a
paradise to come.
And in this way the secret of the vast power discovered and acquired by
the Irishman, the offspring of Maturin's brain, was lost to mankind;
and the various Orientalists, Mystics, and Archaeologists who take an
interest in these matters were unable to hand down to posterity the
proper method of invoking the Devil, for the following sufficient
On the thirteenth day after these frenzied nuptials the wretched clerk
lay on a pallet bed in a garret in his master's house in the Rue
Saint-Honoré. Shame, the stupid goddess who dares not behold herself,
had taken possession of the young man. He had fallen ill; he would
nurse himself; misjudged the quantity of a remedy devised by the skill
of a practitioner well known on the walls of Paris, and succumbed to
the effects of an overdose of mercury. His corpse was as black as a
mole's back. A devil had left unmistakable traces of its passage there;
could it have been Ashtaroth?
* * * * *
"I am quite prepared to believe it," answered the Teuton.
"Yes, sir," returned the other. "The opinion you advance coincides
with the very words of Jacob Boehme. In the forty-eighth proposition
of _The Threefold Life of Man_ he says that 'if God hath brought all
things to pass with a LET THERE BE, the FIAT is the secret matrix which
comprehends and apprehends the nature which is formed by the spirit
born of Mercury and of God.'"
"What do you say, sir?"
The German delivered his quotation afresh.
"We do not know it," said the clerks.
"_Fiat?..._" said a clerk. "_Fiat lux!_"
"You can verify the citation for yourselves," said the German. "You
will find the passage in the _Treatise of the Threefold Life of Man_,
page 75; the edition was published by M. Migneret in 1809. It was
translated into French by a philosopher who had a great admiration for
the famous shoemaker."
"Oh! he was a shoemaker, was he?" said the head clerk.
"In Prussia," said the German.
"Did he work for the King of Prussia?" inquired a Boeotian of a second
"He must have vamped up his prose," said a third.
"That man is colossal!" cried the fourth, pointing to the Teuton.
That gentleman, though a demonologist of the first rank, did not know
the amount of devilry to be found in a notary's clerk. He went away
without the least idea that they were making game of him, and fully
under the impression that the young fellows regarded Boehme as a
"Education is making strides in France," said he to himself.