Claude-Joseph Pillerault, formerly an iron-monger at the sign of the Cloche d'Or, had one of those faces whose beauty shines from the inner to the outer; about him all things harmonized,—dress and manners, mind and heart, thought and speech, words and acts. He was the sole relation of Madame Birotteau, and had centred all his affections upon her and upon Cesarine, having lost, in the course of his commercial career, his wife and son, and also an adopted child, the son of his house-keeper. These heavy losses had driven the good man into a kind of Christian stoicism,—a noble doctrine, which gave life to his existence, and colored his latter days with the warm, and at the same time chilling, tones which gild the sunsets of winter. His head, thin and hollowed and swarthy, with ochre and bistre tints harmoniously blended, offered a striking likeness to that which artists bestow on Time, though it vulgarized it; for the habits of commercial life lowered the stern and monumental character which painters, sculptors, and clock-makers exaggerate. Of medium height, Pillerault was more thick-set than stout; Nature had built him for hard work and long life; his broad shoulders showed a strong frame; he was dry by temperament, and his skin had, as it were, no emotions, though it was not insensible. Little demonstrative, as was shown by his composed face and quiet attitude, the old man had an inward calm not expressed in phrases nor by emphasis. His eye, the pupil of which was green, mingled with black lines, was remarkable for its unalterable clearness. His forehead, wrinkled in straight lines and yellowed by time, was small and narrow, hard, and crowned with silver-gray hair cut so short that it looked like felt. His delicate mouth showed prudence, but not avarice. The vivacity of his eye showed the purity of his life. Integrity, a sense of duty, and true modesty made, as it were, a halo round his head, bringing his face into the relief of a sound and healthful existence.
For sixty years he had led the hard and sober life of a determined worker. His history was like Cesar's, except in happiness. A clerk till thirty years of age, his property was all in his business at the time when Cesar put his savings into the Funds; he had suffered, like others, under the Maximum, and the pickaxes and other implements of his trade had been requisitioned. His reserved and judicious nature, his forethought and mathematical reflection, were seen in his methods of work. The greater part of his business was conducted by word of mouth, and he seldom encountered difficulties. Like all thoughtful people he was a great observer; he let people talk, and then studied them. He often refused advantageous bargains on which his neighbors pounced; later, when they regretted them, they declared that Pillerault had "a nose for swindlers." He preferred small and certain gains to bold strokes which put large sums of money in jeopardy. He dealt in cast-iron chimney backs, gridirons, coarse fire-dogs, kettles and boilers in cast or wrought iron, hoes, and all the agricultural implements of the peasantry. This line, which was sufficiently unremunerative, required an immense mechanical toil. The gains were not in proportion to the labor; the profits on such heavy articles, difficult to move and expensive to store, were small. He himself had nailed up many a case, packed and unpacked many a bale, unloaded many a wagon. No fortune was ever more nobly won, more legitimate or more honorable, than his. He had never overcharged or sought to force a bargain. In his latter business days he might be seen smoking his pipe before the door of his shop looking at the passers-by, and watching his clerks as they worked. In 1814, the period at which he retired from business, his fortune consisted, in the first place, of seventy thousand francs, which he placed in the public Funds, and from which he derived an income of five thousand and some odd hundred francs a year; next of forty thousand francs, the value of his business, which he had sold to one of his clerks; this sum was to be paid in full at the end of five years, without interest. Engaged for thirty years in a business which amounted to a hundred thousand francs a year, he had made about seven per cent profit on the amount, and his living had absorbed one half of that profit. Such was his record. His neighbors, little envious of such mediocrity, praised his excellence without understanding it.
At the corner of the Rue de la Monnaie and the Rue Saint-Honore is the cafe David, where a few old merchants, like Pillerault, take their coffee in the evenings. There, the adoption of the son of his cook had been the subject of a few jests, such as might be addressed to a man much respected, for the iron-monger inspired respectful esteem, though he never sought it; his inward self-respect sufficed him. So when he lost the young man, two hundred friends followed the body to the cemetery. In those days he was heroic. His sorrow, restrained like that of all men who are strong without assumption, increased the sympathy felt in his neighborhood for the "worthy man,"—a term applied to Pillerault in a tone which broadened its meaning and ennobled it. The sobriety of Claude Pillerault, long become a habit, did not yield before the pleasures of an idle life when, on quitting his business, he sought the rest which drags down so many of the Parisian bourgeoisie. He kept up his former ways of life, and enlivened his old age by convictions and interests, which belonged, we must admit, to the extreme Left. Pillerault belonged to that working-men's party which the Revolution had fused with the bourgeoisie. The only blot upon his character was the importance he attached to the triumph of that party; he held to all the rights, to the liberty, and to the fruits of the Revolution; he believed that his peace of mind and his political stability were endangered by the Jesuits, whose secret power was proclaimed aloud by the Liberals, and menaced by the principles with which the "Constitutionnel" endowed Monsieur. He was quite consistent in his life and ideas; there was nothing narrow about his politics; he never insulted his adversaries, he dreaded courtiers and believed in republican virtues; he thought Manuel a pure man, General Foy a great one, Casimir Perier without ambition, Lafayette a political prophet, and Courier a worthy fellow. He had indeed some noble chimeras. The fine old man lived a family life; he went about among the Ragons, his niece Birotteau, the judge Popinot, Joseph Lebas, and his friend Matifat. Fifteen hundred francs a year sufficed for all his personal wants. As to the rest of his income he spent it on good deeds, and in presents to his great-niece; he gave a dinner four times a year to his friends, at Roland's, Rue du Hasard, and took them afterwards to the theatre. He played the part of those old bachelors on whom married women draw at sight for their amusements,—a country jaunt, the opera, the Montagnes-Beaujon, et caetera. Pillerault was made happy by the pleasure he gave; his joys were in the hearts of others. Though he had sold his business, he did not wish to leave the neighborhood to which all his habits tied him; and he took a small appartement of three rooms in the Rue des Bourdonnais on the fourth floor of an old house.
Just as the moral nature of Molineux could be seen in his strange interior, the pure and simple life of Pillerault was revealed by the arrangements of his modest home, consisting of an antechamber, a sitting-room, and a bed-room. Judged by dimensions, it was the cell of a Trappist. The antechamber, with a red-tiled floor, had only one window, screened by a cambric curtain with a red border; mahogany chairs, covered with reddish sheep's leather put on with gilt nails, walls hung with an olive-green paper, and otherwise decorated with the American Declaration of Independence, a portrait of Bonaparte as First Consul, and a representation of the battle of Austerlitz. The salon, decorated undoubtedly by an upholsterer, had a set of furniture with arched tops covered in yellow, a carpet, chimney ornaments of bronze without gilding, a painted chimney-board, a console bearing a vase of flowers under a glass case, a round table covered with a cloth, on which stood a liqueur-stand. The newness of this room proclaimed a sacrifice made by the old man to the conventions of the world; for he seldom received any one at home. In his bedroom, as plain as that of a monk or an old soldier (the two men best able to estimate life), a crucifix with a basin of holy-water first caught the eye. This profession of faith in a stoical old republican was strangely moving to the heart of a spectator.
An old woman came to do his household work; but his respect for women was so great that he would not let her black his boots, and he subscribed to a boot-black for that service. His dress was simple, and invariably the same. He wore a coat and trousers of dark-blue cloth, a waistcoat of some printed cotton fabric, a white cravat, high shoes, and on gala days he put on a coat with brass buttons. His habits of rising, breakfasting, going out, dining, his evening resorts, and his returning hours were all stamped with the strictest punctuality; for regular habits are the secret of long life and sound health. Politics never came to the surface in his intercourse with Cesar, the Ragons, or the Abbe Loraux; for the good people of that circle knew each other too well to care to enter the region of proselytism. Like his nephew and like the Ragons, he put implicit confidence in Roguin. To his mind the notary was a being worthy of veneration,—the living image of probity. In the affair of the lands about the Madeleine, Pillerault had undertaken a private examination, which was the real cause of the boldness with which Cesar had combated his wife's presentiments.
The perfumer went up the seventy-eight stairs which led to the little brown door of his uncle's appartement, thinking as he went that the old man must be very hale to mount them daily without complaining. He found a frock-coat and pair of trousers hanging on the hat-stand outside the door. Madame Vaillant brushed and cleaned them while this genuine philosopher, wrapped in a gray woollen garment, breakfasted in his chimney-corner and read the parliamentary debates in the "Constitutionnel" or the "Journal du Commerce."
"Uncle," said Cesar, "the matter is settled; they are drawing up their deeds; but you have any fears or regrets, there is still time to give it up."
"Why should I give it up? The thing is good; though it may be a long time before we realize anything, like all safe investments. My fifty thousand francs are in the bank. I received yesterday the last instalment, five thousand francs, from my business. As for the Ragons, they have put their whole fortune into the affair."
"How do they contrive to life?"
"Never mind how; they do live."
"Uncle, I understand!" said Birotteau, deeply moved, pressing the hand of the austere old man.
"How is the affair arranged?" asked Pillerault, brusquely.
"I am in for three eighths, you and the Ragons for one eighth. I shall credit you for that on my books until the question of registration is decided."
"Good! My boy, you must be getting rich to put three hundred thousand francs into it. It seems to me you are risking a good deal outside of your business. Won't the business suffer? However, that is your affair. If you get a set-back, why the Funds are at eighty, and I could sell two thousand francs worth of my consolidated stock. But take care, my lad; for if you have to come upon me, it will be your daughter's fortune that you will take."
"Ah! my uncle, how simply you say things! You touch my heart."
"General Foy was touching mine in quite another fashion just now. Well, go on; settle the business; lands can't fly away. We are getting them at half price. Suppose we do have to wait six years, there will always be some returns; there are wood-yards which will bring in a rent. We can't really lose anything. There is but one chance against us. Roguin might run off with the money."
"My wife told me so this very night. She fears—"
"That Roguin will carry off our funds?" said Pillerault, laughing. "Pray, why?"
"She says there is too much in his nose; and like men who can't have women, he is furious to—"
With a smile of incredulity, Pillerault tore a strip from a little book, wrote down an amount, and signed the paper.
"There," said he, "there's a cheque on the Bank of France for a hundred thousand francs for the Ragons and for me. Those poor folks have just sold to your scoundrel of a du Tillet their fifteen shares in the mines at Wortschin to make up the amount. Worthy people in trouble,—it wrings my heart; and such good, noble souls, the very flower of the old bourgeoisie! Their brother, Popinot, the judge, knows nothing about it; they hid it from him so that he may not feel obliged to give up his other works of charity. People who have worked, like me, for forty years!"
"God grant that the Oil of Comagene may triumph!" cried Birotteau. "I shall be doubly happy. Adieu; come and dine on Sunday with the Ragons, Roguin, and Monsieur Claparon. We shall sign the papers the day after to-morrow, for to-morrow is Friday, you know, and I shouldn't like—"
"You don't surely give in to such superstitions?"
"Uncle, I shall never believe that the day on which the Son of God was put to death by man can be a fortunate day. Why, we ourselves stop all business on the twenty-first of January."
"On Sunday, then," said Pillerault brusquely.
"If it were not for his political opinions," thought Birotteau as he went down stairs, "I don't believe he would have his equal here below. What are politics to him? He would be just as well off if he never thought of them. His obstinacy in that direction only shows that there can't be a perfect man."
"Three o'clock already!" cried Cesar, as he got back to "The Queen of Roses."
"Monsieur, do you mean to take these securities?" asked Celestin, showing him the notes of the umbrella-maker.
"Yes; at six per cent, without commission. Wife, get my dressing things all ready; I am going to see Monsieur Vauquelin,—you know why. A white cravat, of course."
Birotteau gave a few orders to the clerks. Not seeing Popinot, he concluded that his future partner had gone to dress; and he went gaily up to his room, where the Dresden Madonna, magnificently framed according to his orders, awaited him.
"Hey! that's pretty," he said to his daughter.
"Papa, you must say beautiful, or people will laugh at you."
"Upon my word! a daughter who scolds her father! Well, well! To my taste I like Hero and Leander quite as much. The Virgin is a religious subject, suitable for a chapel; but Hero and Leander, ah! I shall buy it, for that flask of oil gave me an idea—"
"Papa, I don't know what you are talking about."
"Virginie! a hackney-coach!" cried Cesar, in stentorian tones, as soon as he had trimmed his beard and seen little Popinot appear, who was dragging his foot timidly because Cesarine was there.
The lover had never yet perceived that his infirmity no longer existed in the eyes of his mistress. Delicious sign of love!—which they on whom chance has inflicted a bodily imperfection can alone obtain.
"Monsieur," he said, "the press will be ready to work to-morrow."
"Why, what's the matter, Popinot?" asked Cesar, as he saw Anselme blush.
"Monsieur, it is the joy of having found a shop, a back-shop, kitchen, chambers above them, and store-rooms,—all for twelve hundred francs a year, in the Rue des Cinq-Diamants."
"We must take a lease of eighteen years," said Birotteau. "But let us start for Monsieur Vauquelin's. We can talk as we go."
Cesar and Popinot got into the hackney-coach before the eyes of the astonished clerks, who did not know what to make of these gorgeous toilets and the abnormal coach, ignorant as they were of the great project revolving in the mind of the master of "The Queen of Roses."
"We are going to hear the truth about nuts," said Cesar, half to himself.
"Nuts?" said Popinot.
"There you have my secret," said the perfumer. "I've let loose the word nuts,—all is there. The oil of nuts is the only oil that has any real effect upon hair. No perfumer has ever dreamed of it. I saw an engraving of Hero and Leander, and I said to myself, If the ancients used all that oil on their heads they had some reason for it; for the ancients are the ancients, in spite of all the moderns may say; I stand by Boileau about the ancients. I took my departure from that point and got the oil of nuts, thanks to your relation, little Bianchon the medical student; he told me that at school his comrades used nut oil to promote the growth of their whiskers and mustachios. All we need is the approval of Monsieur Vauquelin; enlightened by his science, we shall mislead the public. I was in the markets just now, talking to a seller of nuts, so as to get hold of the raw material, and now I am about to meet one of the greatest scientific men in France, to get at the quintessence of that commodity. Proverbs are no fools; extremes meet. Now see, my boy, commerce is the intermediary between the productions of the vegetable kingdom and science. Angelique Madou gathers, Monsieur Vauquelin extracts, we sell an essence. Nuts are worth five sous a pound, Monsieur Vauquelin will increase their value one hundredfold, and we shall, perhaps, do a service to humanity; for if vanity is the cause of the greatest torments of mankind, a good cosmetic becomes a benefaction."
The religious admiration with which Popinot listened to the father of Cesarine stimulated Birotteau's eloquence, who allowed himself to expatiate in phrases which certainly were extremely wild for a bourgeois.
"Be respectful, Anselme," he said, as they reached the street where Monsieur Vauquelin lived, "we are about to enter the sanctuary of science. Put the Virgin in full sight, but not ostentatiously, in the dining-room, on a chair. Pray heaven, I may not get mixed up in what I have to say!" cried Cesar, naively. "Popinot, this man has a chemical effect upon me; his voice heats my stomach, and even gives me a slight colic. He is my benefactor, and in a few moments he will be yours."
These words struck Popinot with a cold chill, and he began to step as if he were walking on eggs, looking nervously at the wall. Monsieur Vauquelin was in his study when Birotteau was announced. The academician knew that the perfumer and deputy-mayor was high in favor, and he admitted him.
"You do not forget me in the midst of your distinctions," he said, "there is only a hand's-breadth, however, between a chemist and a perfumer."
"Ah, monsieur! between your genius and the plainness of a man like me there is infinity. I owe to you what you call my distinctions: I shall never forget it in this world, nor in the next."
"Oh! in the next they say we shall be all alike, kings and cobblers."
"Provided kings and cobblers lead a holy life here below," said Birotteau.
"Is that your son?" asked Vauquelin, looking at little Popinot, who was amazed at not seeing anything extraordinary in the sanctum, where he expected to find monstrosities, gigantic engines, flying-machines, and material substances all alive.
"No, monsieur, but a young man whom I love, and who comes to ask a kindness equal to your genius,—and that is infinite," said Cesar with shrewd courtesy. "We have come to consult you, a second time, on an important matter, about which I am ignorant as a perfumer can be."
"Let me hear what it is."
"I know that hair has lately occupied all your vigils, and that you have given yourself up to analyzing it; while you have thought of glory, I have thought of commerce."
"Dear Monsieur Birotteau, what is it you want of me,—the analysis of hair?" He took up a little paper. "I am about to read before the Academy of Sciences a monograph on that subject. Hair is composed of a rather large quantity of mucus, a small quantity of white oil, a great deal of greenish oil, iron, a few atoms of oxide of manganese, some phosphate of lime, a tiny quantity of carbonate of lime, a little silica, and a good deal of sulphur. The differing proportions of these component parts cause the differences in the color of the hair. Red hair, for instance, has more greenish oil than any other."
Cesar and Popinot opened their eyes to a laughable extent.
"Nine things!" cried Birotteau. "What! are there metals and oils in hair? Unless I heard it from you, a man I venerate, I could not believe it. How amazing! God is great, Monsieur Vauquelin."
"Hair is produced by a follicular organ," resumed the great chemist,—"a species of pocket, or sack, open at both extremities. By one end it is fastened to the nerves and the blood vessels; from the other springs the hair itself. According to some of our scientific brotherhood, among them Monsieur Blainville, the hair is really a dead matter expelled from that pouch, or crypt, which is filled with a species of pulp."
"Then hair is what you might call threads of sweat!" cried Popinot, to whom Cesar promptly administered a little kick on his heels.
Vauquelin smiled at Popinot's idea.
"He knows something, doesn't he?" said Cesar, looking at Popinot. "But, monsieur, if the hair is still-born, it is impossible to give it life, and I am lost! my prospectus will be ridiculous. You don't know how queer the public is; you can't go and tell it—"
"That it has got manure upon its head," said Popinot, wishing to make Vauquelin laugh again.
"Cephalic catacombs," said Vauquelin, continuing the joke.
"My nuts are bought!" cried Birotteau, alive to the commercial loss. "If this is so why do they sell—"
"Don't be frightened," said Vauquelin, smiling, "I see it is a question of some secret about making the hair grow or keeping it from turning gray. Listen! this is my opinion on the subject, as the result of my studies."
Here Popinot pricked up his ears like a frightened hare.
"The discoloration of this substance, be it living or dead, is, in my judgment, produced by a check to the secretion of the coloring matter; which explains why in certain cold climates the fur of animals loses all color and turns white in winter."
"It is evident," resumed Vauquelin, "that alterations in the color of the hair come from changes in the circumjacent atmosphere—"
"Circumjacent, Popinot! recollect, hold fast to that," cried Cesar.
"Yes," said Vauquelin, "from hot and cold changes, or from internal phenomena which produce the same effect. Probably headaches and other cephalagic affections absorb, dissipate, or displace the generating fluids. However, the interior of the head concerns physicians. As for the exterior, bring on your cosmetics."
"Monsieur," said Birotteau, "you restore me to life! I have thought of selling an oil of nuts, believing that the ancients made use of that oil for their hair; and the ancients are the ancients, as you know: I agree with Boileau. Why did the gladiators oil themselves—"
"Olive oil is quite as good as nut oil," said Vauquelin, who was not listening to Birotteau. "All oil is good to preserve the bulb from receiving injury to the substances working within it, or, as we should say in chemistry, in liquefaction. Perhaps you are right; Dupuytren told me the oil of nuts had a stimulating property. I will look into the differences between the various oils, beech-nut, colza, olive, and hazel, etc."
"Then I am not mistaken," cried Birotteau, triumphantly. "I have coincided with a great man. Macassar is overthrown! Macassar, monsieur, is a cosmetic given—that is, sold, and sold dear—to make the hair grow."
"My dear Monsieur Birotteau," said Vauquelin, "there are not two ounces of Macassar oil in all Europe. Macassar oil has not the slightest action upon the hair; but the Malays buy it up for its weight in gold, thinking that it preserves the hair: they don't know that whale-oil is just as good. No power, chemical, or divine—"
"Divine! oh, don't say that, Monsieur Vauquelin."
"But, my dear monsieur, the first law of God is to be consistent with Himself; without unity, no power—"
"Ah! in that light—"
"No power, as I say, can make the hair grow on bald heads; just as you can never dye, without serious danger, red or white hair. But in advertising the benefits of oil you commit no mistake, you tell no falsehood, and I think that those who use it will probably preserve their hair."
"Do you think that the royal Academy of Sciences would approve of—"
"Oh! there is no discovery in all that," said Vauquelin. "Besides, charlatans have so abused the name of the Academy that it would not help you much. My conscience will not allow me to think the oil of nuts a prodigy."
"What would be the best way to extract it; by pressure, or decoction?" asked Birotteau.
"Pressure between two hot slabs will cause the oil to flow more abundantly; but if obtained by pressure between cold slabs it will be of better quality. It should be applied to the skin itself," added Vauquelin, kindly, "and not to the hair; otherwise the effect might be lost."
"Recollect all that, Popinot," said Birotteau, with an enthusiasm that sent a glow into his face. "You see before you, monsieur, a young man who will count this day among the finest in his life. He knew you, he venerated you, without ever having seen you. We often talk of you in our home: a name that is in the heart is often on the lips. We pray for you every day, my wife and daughter and I, as we ought to pray for our benefactor."
"Too much for so little," said Vauquelin, rather bored by the voluble gratitude of the perfumer.
"Ta, ta, ta!" exclaimed Birotteau, "you can't prevent our loving you, you who will take nothing from us. You are like the sun; you give light, and those whom you illuminate can give you nothing in return."
The man of science smiled and rose; the perfumer and Popinot rose also.
"Anselme, look well at this room. You permit it, monsieur? Your time is precious, I know, but he will never have another opportunity."
"Well, have you got all you wanted?" said Vauquelin to Birotteau. "After all, we are both commercial men."
"Pretty nearly, monsieur," said Birotteau, retreating towards the dining-room, Vauquelin following. "But to launch our Comagene Essence we need a good foundation—"
"'Comagene' and 'Essence' are two words that clash. Call your cosmetic 'Oil of Birotteau'; or, if you don't want to give your name to the world, find some other. Why, there's the Dresden Madonna! Ah, Monsieur Birotteau, do you mean that we shall quarrel?"
"Monsieur Vauquelin," said the perfumer, taking the chemist's hand. "This treasure has no value except the time that I have spent in finding it. We had to ransack all Germany to find it on China paper before lettering. I knew that you wished for it and that your occupations did not leave you time to search for it; I have been your commercial traveller, that is all. Accept therefore, not a paltry engraving, but efforts, anxieties, despatches to and fro, which are the evidence of my complete devotion. Would that you had wished for something growing on the sides of precipices, that I might have sought it and said to you, 'Here it is!' Do not refuse my gift. We have so much reason to be forgotten; allow me therefore to place myself, my wife, my daughter, and the son-in-law I expect to have, beneath your eyes. You must say when you look at the Virgin, 'There are some people in the world who are thinking of me.'"
"I accept," said Vauquelin.
Popinot and Birotteau wiped their eyes, so affected were they by the kindly tone in which the academician uttered the words.
"Will you crown your goodness?" said the perfumer.
"What's that?" exclaimed Vauquelin.
"I assemble my friends"—he rose from his heels, taking, nevertheless, a modest air—"as much to celebrate the emancipation of our territory as to commemorate my promotion to the order of the Legion of honor—"
"Ah!" exclaimed Vauquelin, surprised.
"Possibly I showed myself worthy of that signal and royal favor, by my services on the Bench of commerce, and by fighting for the Bourbons upon the steps of Saint-Roch, on the 13th Vendemiaire, where I was wounded by Napoleon. My wife gives a ball, three weeks from Sunday; pray come to it, monsieur. Do us the honor to dine with us on that day. Your presence would double the happiness with which I receive my cross. I will write you beforehand."
"Well, yes," said Vauquelin.
"My heart swells with joy!" cried the perfumer, when he got into the street. "He comes to my house! I am afraid I've forgotten what he said about hair: do you remember it, Popinot!"
"Yes, monsieur; and twenty years hence I shall remember it still."
"What a great man! what a glance, what penetration!" said Birotteau. "Ah! he made no bones about it; he guessed our thoughts at the first word; he has given us the means of annihilating Macassar oil. Yes! nothing can make the hair grow; Macassar, you lie! Popinot, our fortune is made. We'll go to the manufactory to-morrow morning at seven o'clock; the nuts will be there, and we will press out some oil. It is all very well for him to say that any oil is good; if the public knew that, we should be lost. If we didn't put some scent and the name of nuts into the oil, how could we sell it for three or four francs the four ounces?"
"You are about to be decorated, monsieur?" said Popinot, "what glory for—"
"Commerce; that is true, my boy."
Cesar's triumphant air, as if certain of fortune, was observed by the clerks, who made signs at each other; for the trip in the hackney-coach, and the full dress of the cashier and his master had thrown them all into the wildest regions of romance. The mutual satisfaction of Cesar and Anselme, betrayed by looks diplomatically exchanged, the glance full of hope which Popinot cast now and then at Cesarine, proclaimed some great event and gave color to the conjectures of the clerks. In their busy and half cloistral life the smallest events have the interest which a prisoner feels in those of his prison. The bearing of Madame Cesar, who replied to the Olympian looks of her lord with an air of distrust, seemed to point to some new enterprise; for in ordinary times Madame Cesar, delighted with the smallest routine success, would have shared his contentment. It happened, accidentally, that the receipts for the day amounted to more than six thousand francs; for several outstanding bills chanced to be paid.
The dining-room and the kitchen, lighted from a little court, and separated from the dining-room by a passage, from which the staircase, taken out of a corner of the backshop, opened up, was on the entresol where in former days Cesar and Constance had their appartement; in fact, the dining-room, where the honey-moon had been passed, still wore the look of a little salon. During dinner Raguet, the trusty boy of all work, took charge of the shop; but the clerks came down when the dessert was put on table, leaving Cesar, his wife and daughter to finish their dinner alone by the chimney corner. This habit was derived from the Ragons, who kept up the old-fashioned usages and customs of former commercial days, which placed an enormous distance between the masters and the apprentices. Cesarine or Constance then prepared for Birotteau his cup of coffee, which he took sitting on a sofa by the corner of the fire. At this hour he told his wife all the little events of the day, and related what he had seen in the streets, what was going on in the Faubourg du Temple, and the difficulties he had met with in the manufactory, et caetera.
"Wife," he said, when the clerks had gone down, "this is certainly one of the most important days in our life! The nuts are bought, the hydraulic press is ready to go to work, the land affair is settled. Here, lock up that cheque on the Bank of France," he added, handing her Pillerault's paper. "The improvements in the house are ordered, the dignity of our appartement is about to be increased. Bless me! I saw, down in the Cour Batave, a very singular man,"—and he told the tale of Monsieur Molineux.
"I see," said his wife, interrupting him in the middle of a tirade, "that you have gone in debt two hundred thousand francs."
"That is true, wife," said Cesar, with mock humility, "Good God, how shall we pay them? It counts for nothing that the lands about the Madeleine will some day become the finest quarter of Paris."
"Some day, Cesar!"
"Alas!" he said, going on with his joke, "my three eighths will only be worth a million in six years. How shall I ever pay that two hundred thousand francs?" said Cesar, with a gesture of alarm. "Well, we shall be reduced to pay them with that," he added, pulling from his pocket a nut, which he had taken from Madame Madou and carefully preserved.
He showed the nut between his fingers to Constance and Cesarine. His wife was silent, but Cesarine, much puzzled, said to her father, as she gave him his coffee, "What do you mean, papa,—are you joking?"
The perfumer, as well as the clerks, had detected during dinner the glances which Popinot had cast at Cesarine, and he resolved to clear up his suspicions.
"Well, my little daughter," he said, "this nut will revolutionize our home. From this day forth there will be one person the less under my roof."
Cesarine looked at her father with an eye which seemed to say, "What is that to me?"
"Popinot is going away."
Though Cesar was a poor observer, and had, moreover, prepared his phrase as much to herald the creation of the house of A. Popinot and Company, as to set a trap for his daughter, yet his paternal tenderness made him guess the confused feelings which rose in Cesarine's heart, blossomed in roses on her cheek, suffused her forehead and even her eyes as she lowered them. Cesar thought that words must have passed between Cesarine and Popinot. He was mistaken; the two children comprehended each other, like all timid lovers, without a word.
Some moralists hold that love is an involuntary passion, the most disinterested, the least calculating, of all the passions, except maternal love. This opinion carries with it a vulgar error. Though the majority of men may be ignorant of the causes of love, it is none the less true that all sympathy, moral or physical, is based upon calculations made either by the mind, or by sentiment or brutality. Love is an essentially selfish passion. Self means deep calculation. To every mind which looks only at results, it will seem at first sight singular and unlikely that a beautiful girl like Cesarine should love a poor lame fellow with red hair. Yet this phenomenon is completely in harmony with the arithmetic of middle-class sentiments. To explain it, would be to give the reason of marriages which are constantly looked upon with surprise,—marriages between tall and beautiful women and puny men, or between ugly little creatures and handsome men. Every man who is cursed with some bodily infirmity, no matter what it is,—club-feet, a halting-gait, a humped-back, excessive ugliness, claret stains upon the cheek, Roguin's species of deformity, and other monstrosities the result of causes beyond the control of the sufferer,—has but two courses open to him: either he must make himself feared, or he must practise the virtues of exquisite loving-kindness; he is not permitted to float in the middle currents of average conduct which are habitual to other men. If he takes the first course he probably has talent, genius, or strength of will; a man inspires terror only by the power of evil, respect by genius, fear through force of mind. If he chooses the second course, he makes himself adored; he submits to feminine tyranny, and knows better how to love than men of irreproachable bodily condition.
Anselme, brought up by virtuous people, by the Ragons, models of the honorable bourgeoisie, and by his uncle the judge, had been led, through his ingenuous nature and his deep religious sentiments, to redeem the slight deformity of his person by the perfection of his character. Constance and Cesar, struck by these tendencies, so attractive in youth, had repeatedly sung his praises before Cesarine. Petty as they might be in many ways, husband and wife were noble by nature, and understood the deep things of the heart. Their praises found an echo in the mind of the young girl, who, despite her innocence, had read in Anselme's pure eyes the violent feeling, which is always flattering whatever be the lover's age, or rank, or personal appearance. Little Popinot had far more reason to adore a woman than a handsome man could ever have. If she were beautiful, he would love her madly to her dying day; his fondness would inspire him with ambition; he would sacrifice his own life that his wife's might be happy; he would make her mistress of their home, and be himself the first to accept her sway. Thus thought Cesarine, involuntarily perhaps, yet not altogether crudely; she gave a bird's-eye glance at the harvest of love in her own home, and reasoned by induction; the happiness of her mother was before her eyes,—she wished for no better fate; her instinct told her that Anselme was another Cesar, improved by his education, as she had been improved by hers. She dreamed of Popinot as mayor of an arrondissement, and liked to picture herself taking up the collections in their parish church as her mother did at Saint-Roch. She had reached the point of no longer perceiving the difference between the left leg and the right leg of her lover, and was even capable of saying, in all sincerity, "Does he limp?" She loved those liquid eyes, and liked to watch the effect her own glance had upon them, as they lighted up for a moment with a chaste flame, and then fell, sadly.
Roguin's head-clerk, Alexandre Crottat, who was gifted with the precocious experience which comes from knowledge acquired in a lawyer's office, had an air and manner that was half cynical, half silly, which revolted Cesarine, already disgusted by the trite and commonplace character of his conversation. The silence of Popinot, on the other hand, revealed his gentle nature; she loved the smile, partly mournful, with which he listened to trivial vulgarities. The silly nonsense which made him smile filled her with repulsion; they were grave or gay in sympathy. This hidden vantage-ground did not hinder Anselme from plunging into his work, and his indefatigable ardor in it pleased Cesarine, for she guessed that when his comrades in the shop said, "Mademoiselle Cesarine will marry Roguin's head-clerk," the poor lame Anselme, with his red hair, did not despair of winning her himself. A high hope is the proof of a great love.
"Where is he going?" asked Cesarine of her father, trying to appear indifferent.
"He is to set up for himself in the Rue des Cinq-Diamants; and, my faith! by the grace of God!" cried Cesar, whose exclamations were not understood by his wife, nor by his daughter.
When Birotteau encountered a moral difficulty he did as the insects do when there is an obstacle in their way,—he turned either to the right or to the left. He therefore changed the conversation, resolving to talk over Cesarine with his wife.
"I told all your fears and fancies about Roguin to your uncle, and he laughed," he said to Constance.
"You should never tell what we say to each other!" cried Constance. "That poor Roguin may be the best man in the world; he is fifty-eight years old, and perhaps he thinks no longer of—"
She stopped short, seeing that Cesarine was listening attentively, and made a sign to Cesar.
"Then I have done right to agree to the affair," said Birotteau.
"You are the master," she answered.
Cesar took his wife by the hands and kissed her brow; that answer always conveyed her tacit assent to her husband's projects.
"Now, then," cried the perfumer, to his clerks, when he went back to them, "the shop will be closed at ten o'clock. Gentlemen, lend a hand! a great feat! We must move, during the night, all the furniture from the first floor to the second floor. We shall have, as they say, to put the little pots in the big pots, for my architect must have his elbows free to-morrow morning—Popinot has gone out without my permission," he cried, looking round and not seeing his cashier. "Ah, true, he does not sleep here any more, I forget that. He is gone," thought Cesar, "either to write down Monsieur Vauquelin's ideas, or else to hire the shop."
"We all know the cause of this household change," said Celestin, speaking in behalf of the two other clerks and Raguet, grouped behind him. "Is it allowable to congratulate monsieur upon an honor which reflects its light upon the whole establishment? Popinot has told us that monsieur—"
"Hey, hey! my children, it is all true. I have been decorated. I am about to assemble my friends, not only to celebrate the emancipation of our territory, but to commemorate my promotion to the order of the Legion of honor. I may, possibly, have shown myself worthy of that signal and royal favor by my services on the Bench of commerce, and by fighting for the royal cause; which I defended—at your age—upon the steps of Saint-Roch on the 13th Vendemiaire, and I give you my word that Napoleon, called emperor, wounded me himself! wounded me in the thigh; and Madame Ragon nursed me. Take courage! recompense comes to every man. Behold, my sons! misfortunes are never wasted."
"They will never fight in the streets again," said Celestin.
"Let us hope so," said Cesar, who thereupon went off into an harangue to the clerks, which he wound up by inviting them to the ball.
The vision of a ball inspired the three clerks, Raguet, and Virginie the cook with an ardor that gave them the strength of acrobats. They came and went up and down the stairs, carrying everything and breaking nothing. By two o'clock in the morning the removal was effected. Cesar and his wife slept on the second floor. Popinot's bedroom became that of Celestin and the second clerk. On the third floor the furniture was stored provisionally.
In the grasp of that magnetic ardor, produced by an influx of the nervous fluid, which lights a brazier in the midriff of ambitious men and lovers intent on high emprise, Popinot, so gentle and tranquil usually, pawed the earth like a thoroughbred before the race, when he came down into the shop after dinner.
"What's the matter with you?" asked Celestin.
"Oh, what a day! my dear fellow, what a day! I am set up in business, and Monsieur Cesar is decorated."
"You are very lucky if the master helps you," said Celestin.
Popinot did not answer; he disappeared, driven by a furious wind,—the wind of success.
"Lucky!" said one of the clerks, who was sorting gloves by the dozen, to another who was comparing prices on the tickets. "Lucky! the master has found out that Popinot is making eyes at Mademoiselle Cesarine, and, as the old fellow is pretty clever, he gets rid of Anselme; it would be difficult to refuse him point-blank, on account of his relations. Celestin thinks the trick is luck or generosity!"