Eugénie Grandet, by Honore de Balzac

X

Two months went by. This domestic life, once so monotonous, was now quickened with the intense interest of a secret that bound these women intimately together. For them Charles lived and moved beneath the grim gray rafters of the hall. Night and morning Eugenie opened the dressing-case and gazed at the portrait of her aunt. One Sunday morning her mother surprised her as she stood absorbed in finding her cousin’s features in his mother’s face. Madame Grandet was then for the first time admitted into the terrible secret of the exchange made by Charles against her daughter’s treasure.

“You gave him all!” cried the poor mother, terrified. “What will you say to your father on New Year’s Day when he asks to see your gold?”

Eugenie’s eyes grew fixed, and the two women lived through mortal terror for more than half the morning. They were so troubled in mind that they missed high Mass, and only went to the military service. In three days the year 1819 would come to an end. In three days a terrible drama would begin, a bourgeois tragedy, without poison, or dagger, or the spilling of blood; but — as regards the actors in it — more cruel than all the fabled horrors in the family of the Atrides.

“What will become of us?” said Madame Grandet to her daughter, letting her knitting fall upon her knees.

The poor mother had gone through such anxiety for the past two months that the woollen sleeves which she needed for the coming winter were not yet finished. This domestic fact, insignificant as it seems, bore sad results. For want of those sleeves, a chill seized her in the midst of a sweat caused by a terrible explosion of anger on the part of her husband.

“I have been thinking, my poor child, that if you had confided your secret to me we should have had time to write to Monsieur des Grassins in Paris. He might have sent us gold pieces like yours; though Grandet knows them all, perhaps —”

“Where could we have got the money?”

“I would have pledged my own property. Besides, Monsieur des Grassins would have —”

“It is too late,” said Eugenie in a broken, hollow voice. “To-morrow morning we must go and wish him a happy New Year in his chamber.”

“But, my daughter, why should I not consult the Cruchots?”

“No, no; it would be delivering me up to them, and putting ourselves in their power. Besides, I have chosen my course. I have done right, I repent of nothing. God will protect me. His will be done! Ah! mother, if you had read his letter, you, too, would have thought only of him.”

The next morning, January 1, 1820, the horrible fear to which mother and daughter were a prey suggested to their minds a natural excuse by which to escape the solemn entrance into Grandet’s chamber. The winter of 1819–1820 was one of the coldest of that epoch. The snow encumbered the roofs.

Madame Grandet called to her husband as soon as she heard him stirring in his chamber, and said —

“Grandet, will you let Nanon light a fire here for me? The cold is so sharp that I am freezing under the bedclothes. At my age I need some comforts. Besides,” she added, after a slight pause, “Eugenie shall come and dress here; the poor child might get an illness from dressing in her cold room in such weather. Then we will go and wish you a happy New Year beside the fire in the hall.”

“Ta, ta, ta, ta, what a tongue! a pretty way to begin the new year, Madame Grandet! You never talked so much before; but you haven’t been sopping your bread in wine, I know that.”

There was a moment’s silence.

“Well,” resumed the goodman, who no doubt had some reason of his own for agreeing to his wife’s request, “I’ll do what you ask, Madame Grandet. You are a good woman, and I don’t want any harm to happen to you at your time of life — though as a general thing the Bertellieres are as sound as a roach. Hein! isn’t that so?” he added after a pause. “Well, I forgive them; we got their property in the end.” And he coughed.

“You are very gay this morning, monsieur,” said the poor woman gravely.

“I’m always gay —

“‘Gai, gai, gai, le tonnelier, Raccommodez votre cuvier!’”

he answered, entering his wife’s room fully dressed. “Yes, on my word, it is cold enough to freeze you solid. We shall have a fine breakfast, wife. Des Grassins has sent me a pate-defoie-gras truffled! I am going now to get it at the coach-office. There’ll be a double napoleon for Eugenie in the package,” he whispered in Madame Grandet’s ear. “I have no gold left, wife. I had a few stray pieces — I don’t mind telling you that — but I had to let them go in business.”

Then, by way of celebrating the new year, he kissed her on the forehead.

“Eugenie,” cried the mother, when Grandet was fairly gone, “I don’t know which side of the bed your father got out of, but he is good-tempered this morning. Perhaps we shall come out safe after all?”

“What’s happened to the master?” said Nanon, entering her mistress’s room to light the fire. “First place, he said, ‘Good-morning; happy New Year, you big fool! Go and light my wife’s fire, she’s cold’; and then, didn’t I feel silly when he held out his hand and gave me a six-franc piece, which isn’t worn one bit? Just look at it, madame! Oh, the kind man! He is a good man, that’s a fact. There are some people who the older they get the harder they grow; but he — why he’s getting soft and improving with time, like your ratafia! He is a good, good man —”

The secret of Grandet’s joy lay in the complete success of his speculation. Monsieur des Grassins, after deducting the amount which the old cooper owed him for the discount on a hundred and fifty thousand francs in Dutch notes, and for the surplus which he had advanced to make up the sum required for the investment in the Funds which was to produce a hundred thousand francs a year, had now sent him, by the diligence, thirty thousand francs in silver coin, the remainder of his first half-year’s interest, informing him at the same time that the Funds had already gone up in value. They were then quoted at eighty-nine; the shrewdest capitalists bought in, towards the last of January, at ninety-three. Grandet had thus gained in two months twelve per cent on his capital; he had simplified his accounts, and would in future receive fifty thousand francs interest every six months, without incurring any taxes or costs for repairs. He understood at last what it was to invest money in the public securities — a system for which provincials have always shown a marked repugnance — and at the end of five years he found himself master of a capital of six millions, which increased without much effort of his own, and which, joined to the value and proceeds of his territorial possessions, gave him a fortune that was absolutely colossal. The six francs bestowed on Nanon were perhaps the reward of some great service which the poor servant had rendered to her master unawares.

“Oh! oh! where’s Pere Grandet going? He has been scurrying about since sunrise as if to a fire,” said the tradespeople to each other as they opened their shops for the day.

When they saw him coming back from the wharf, followed by a porter from the coach-office wheeling a barrow which was laden with sacks, they all had their comments to make:—

“Water flows to the river; the old fellow was running after his gold,” said one.

“He gets it from Paris and Froidfond and Holland,” said another.

“He’ll end by buying up Saumur,” cried a third.

“He doesn’t mind the cold, he’s so wrapped up in his gains,” said a wife to her husband.

“Hey! hey! Monsieur Grandet, if that’s too heavy for you,” said a cloth-dealer, his nearest neighbor, “I’ll take it off your hands.”

“Heavy?” said the cooper, “I should think so; it’s all sous!”

“Silver sous,” said the porter in a low voice.

“If you want me to take care of you, keep your tongue between your teeth,” said the goodman to the porter as they reached the door.

“The old fox! I thought he was deaf; seems he can hear fast enough in frosty weather.”

“Here’s twenty sous for your New Year, and mum!” said Grandet. “Be off with you! Nanon shall take back your barrow. Nanon, are the linnets at church?”

“Yes, monsieur.”

“Then lend a hand! go to work!” he cried, piling the sacks upon her. In a few moments all were carried up to his inner room, where he shut himself in with them. “When breakfast is ready, knock on the wall,” he said as he disappeared. “Take the barrow back to the coach-office.”

The family did not breakfast that day until ten o’clock.

“Your father will not ask to see your gold downstairs,” said Madame Grandet as they got back from Mass. “You must pretend to be very chilly. We may have time to replace the treasure before your fete-day.”

Grandet came down the staircase thinking of his splendid speculation in government securities, and wondering how he could metamorphose his Parisian silver into solid gold; he was making up his mind to invest in this way everything he could lay hands on until the Funds should reach a par value. Fatal reverie for Eugenie! As soon as he came in, the two women wished him a happy New Year — his daughter by putting her arms round his neck and caressing him; Madame Grandet gravely and with dignity.

“Ha! ha! my child,” he said, kissing his daughter on both cheeks. “I work for you, don’t you see? I think of your happiness. Must have money to be happy. Without money there’s not a particle of happiness. Here! there’s a new napoleon for you. I sent to Paris for it. On my word of honor, it’s all the gold I have; you are the only one that has got any gold. I want to see your gold, little one.”

“Oh! it is too cold; let us have breakfast,” answered Eugenie.

“Well, after breakfast, then; it will help the digestion. That fat des Grassins sent me the pate. Eat as much as you like, my children, it costs nothing. Des Grassins is getting along very well. I am satisfied with him. The old fish is doing Charles a good service, and gratis too. He is making a very good settlement of that poor deceased Grandet’s business. Hoo! hoo!” he muttered, with his mouth full, after a pause, “how good it is! Eat some, wife; that will feed you for at least two days.”

“I am not hungry. I am very poorly; you know that.”

“Ah, bah! you can stuff yourself as full as you please without danger, you’re a Bertelliere; they are all hearty. You are a bit yellow, that’s true; but I like yellow, myself.”

The expectation of ignominious and public death is perhaps less horrible to a condemned criminal than the anticipation of what was coming after breakfast to Madame Grandet and Eugenie. The more gleefully the old man talked and ate, the more their hearts shrank within them. The daughter, however, had an inward prop at this crisis, — she gathered strength through love.

“For him! for him!” she cried within her, “I would die a thousand deaths.”

At this thought, she shot a glance at her mother which flamed with courage.

“Clear away,” said Grandet to Nanon when, about eleven o’clock, breakfast was over, “but leave the table. We can spread your little treasure upon it,” he said, looking at Eugenie. “Little? Faith! no; it isn’t little. You possess, in actual value, five thousand nine hundred and fifty-nine francs and the forty I gave you just now. That makes six thousand francs, less one. Well, now see here, little one! I’ll give you that one franc to make up the round number. Hey! what are you listening for, Nanon? Mind your own business; go and do your work.”

Nanon disappeared.

“Now listen, Eugenie; you must give me back your gold. You won’t refuse your father, my little girl, hein?”

The two women were dumb.

“I have no gold myself. I had some, but it is all gone. I’ll give you in return six thousand francs in livres, and you are to put them just where I tell you. You mustn’t think anything more about your ‘dozen.’ When I marry you (which will be soon) I shall get you a husband who can give you the finest ‘dozen’ ever seen in the provinces. Now attend to me, little girl. There’s a fine chance for you; you can put your six thousand francs into government funds, and you will receive every six months nearly two hundred francs interest, without taxes, or repairs, or frost, or hail, or floods, or anything else to swallow up the money. Perhaps you don’t like to part with your gold, hey, my girl? Never mind, bring it to me all the same. I’ll get you some more like it — like those Dutch coins and the portugaises, the rupees of Mogul, and the genovines — I’ll give you some more on your fete-days, and in three years you’ll have got back half your little treasure. What’s that you say? Look up, now. Come, go and get it, the precious metal. You ought to kiss me on the eyelids for telling you the secrets and the mysteries of the life and death of money. Yes, silver and gold live and swarm like men; they come, and go, and sweat, and multiply —”

Eugenie rose; but after making a few steps towards the door she turned abruptly, looked her father in the face, and said —

“I have not got my gold.”

“You have not got your gold!” cried Grandet, starting up erect, like a horse that hears a cannon fired beside him.

“No, I have not got it.”

“You are mistaken, Eugenie.”

“No.”

“By the shears of my father!”

Whenever the old man swore that oath the rafters trembled.

“Holy Virgin! Madame is turning pale,” cried Nanon.

“Grandet, your anger will kill me,” said the poor mother.

“Ta, ta, ta, ta! nonsense; you never die in your family! Eugenie, what have you done with your gold?” he cried, rushing upon her.

“Monsieur,” said the daughter, falling at Madame Grandet’s knees, “my mother is ill. Look at her; do not kill her.”

Grandet was frightened by the pallor which overspread his wife’s face, usually so yellow.

“Nanon, help me to bed,” said the poor woman in a feeble voice; “I am dying —”

Nanon gave her mistress an arm, Eugenie gave her another; but it was only with infinite difficulty that they could get her upstairs, she fell with exhaustion at every step. Grandet remained alone. However, in a few moments he went up six or eight stairs and called out —

“Eugenie, when your mother is in bed, come down.”

“Yes, father.”

She soon came, after reassuring her mother.

“My daughter,” said Grandet, “you will now tell me what you have done with your gold.”

“My father, if you make me presents of which I am not the sole mistress, take them back,” she answered coldly, picking up the napoleon from the chimney-piece and offering it to him.

Grandet seized the coin and slipped it into his breeches’ pocket.

“I shall certainly never give you anything again. Not so much as that!” he said, clicking his thumb-nail against a front tooth. “Do you dare to despise your father? have you no confidence in him? Don’t you know what a father is? If he is nothing for you, he is nothing at all. Where is your gold?”

“Father, I love and respect you, in spite of your anger; but I humbly ask you to remember that I am twenty-three years old. You have told me often that I have attained my majority, and I do not forget it. I have used my money as I chose to use it, and you may be sure that it was put to a good use —”

“What use?”

“That is an inviolable secret,” she answered. “Have you no secrets?”

“I am the head of the family; I have my own affairs.”

“And this is mine.”

“It must be something bad if you can’t tell it to your father, Mademoiselle Grandet.”

“It is good, and I cannot tell it to my father.”

“At least you can tell me when you parted with your gold?”

Eugenie made a negative motion with her head.

“You had it on your birthday, hein?”

She grew as crafty through love as her father was through avarice, and reiterated the negative sign.

“Was there ever such obstinacy! It’s a theft,” cried Grandet, his voice going up in a crescendo which gradually echoed through the house. “What! here, in my own home, under my very eyes, somebody has taken your gold! — the only gold we have! — and I’m not to know who has got it! Gold is a precious thing. Virtuous girls go wrong sometimes, and give — I don’t know what; they do it among the great people, and even among the bourgeoisie. But give their gold! — for you have given it to some one, hein? —”

Eugenie was silent and impassive.

“Was there ever such a daughter? Is it possible that I am your father? If you have invested it anywhere, you must have a receipt —”

“Was I free — yes or no — to do what I would with my own? Was it not mine?”

“You are a child.”

“Of age.”

Dumbfounded by his daughter’s logic, Grandet turned pale and stamped and swore. When at last he found words, he cried: “Serpent! Cursed girl! Ah, deceitful creature! You know I love you, and you take advantage of it. She’d cut her father’s throat! Good God! you’ve given our fortune to that ne’er-do-well — that dandy with morocco boots! By the shears of my father! I can’t disinherit you, but I curse you — you and your cousin and your children! Nothing good will come of it! Do you hear? If it was to Charles — but, no; it’s impossible. What! has that wretched fellow robbed me? —”

He looked at his daughter, who continued cold and silent.

“She won’t stir; she won’t flinch! She’s more Grandet than I’m Grandet! Ha! you have not given your gold for nothing? Come, speak the truth!”

Eugenie looked at her father with a sarcastic expression that stung him.

“Eugenie, you are here, in my house — in your father’s house. If you wish to stay here, you must submit yourself to me. The priests tell you to obey me.” Eugenie bowed her head. “You affront me in all I hold most dear. I will not see you again until you submit. Go to your chamber. You will stay there till I give you permission to leave it. Nanon will bring you bread and water. You hear me — go!”

Eugenie burst into tears and fled up to her mother. Grandet, after marching two or three times round the garden in the snow without heeding the cold, suddenly suspected that his daughter had gone to her mother; only too happy to find her disobedient to his orders, he climbed the stairs with the agility of a cat and appeared in Madame Grandet’s room just as she was stroking Eugenie’s hair, while the girl’s face was hidden in her motherly bosom.

“Be comforted, my poor child,” she was saying; “your father will get over it.”

“She has no father!” said the old man. “Can it be you and I, Madame Grandet, who have given birth to such a disobedient child? A fine education — religious, too! Well! why are you not in your chamber? Come, to prison, to prison, mademoiselle!”

“Would you deprive me of my daughter, monsieur?” said Madame Grandet, turning towards him a face that was now red with fever.

“If you want to keep her, carry her off! Clear out — out of my house, both of you! Thunder! where is the gold? what’s become of the gold?”

Eugenie rose, looked proudly at her father, and withdrew to her room. Grandet turned the key of the door.

“Nanon,” he cried, “put out the fire in the hall.”

Then he sat down in an armchair beside his wife’s fire and said to her —

“Undoubtedly she has given the gold to that miserable seducer, Charles, who only wanted our money.”

“I knew nothing about it,” she answered, turning to the other side of the bed, that she might escape the savage glances of her husband. “I suffer so much from your violence that I shall never leave this room, if I trust my own presentiments, till I am carried out of it in my coffin. You ought to have spared me this suffering, monsieur — you, to whom I have caused no pain; that is, I think so. Your daughter loves you. I believe her to be as innocent as the babe unborn. Do not make her wretched. Revoke your sentence. The cold is very severe; you may give her some serious illness.”

“I will not see her, neither will I speak to her. She shall stay in her room, on bread and water, until she submits to her father. What the devil! shouldn’t a father know where the gold in his house has gone to? She owned the only rupees in France, perhaps, and the Dutch ducats and the genovines —”

“Monsieur, Eugenie is our only child; and even if she had thrown them into the water —”

“Into the water!” cried her husband; “into the water! You are crazy, Madame Grandet! What I have said is said; you know that well enough. If you want peace in this household, make your daughter confess, pump it out of her. Women understand how to do that better than we do. Whatever she has done, I sha’n’t eat her. Is she afraid of me? Even if she has plastered Charles with gold from head to foot, he is on the high seas, and nobody can get at him, hein!”

“But, monsieur —” Excited by the nervous crisis through which she had passed, and by the fate of her daughter, which brought forth all her tenderness and all her powers of mind, Madame Grandet suddenly observed a frightful movement of her husband’s wen, and, in the very act of replying, she changed her speech without changing the tones of her voice — “But, monsieur, I have not more influence over her than you have. She has said nothing to me; she takes after you.”

“Tut, tut! Your tongue is hung in the middle this morning. Ta, ta, ta, ta! You are setting me at defiance, I do believe. I daresay you are in league with her.”

He looked fixedly at his wife.

“Monsieur Grandet, if you wish to kill me, you have only to go on like this. I tell you, monsieur — and if it were to cost me my life, I would say it — you do wrong by your daughter; she is more in the right than you are. That money belonged to her; she is incapable of making any but a good use of it, and God alone has the right to know our good deeds. Monsieur, I implore you, take Eugenie back into favor; forgive her. If you will do this you will lessen the injury your anger has done me; perhaps you will save my life. My daughter! oh, monsieur, give me back my daughter!”

“I shall decamp,” he said; “the house is not habitable. A mother and daughter talking and arguing like that! Broooouh! Pouah! A fine New Year’s present you’ve made me, Eugenie,” he called out. “Yes, yes, cry away! What you’ve done will bring you remorse, do you hear? What’s the good of taking the sacrament six times every three months, if you give away your father’s gold secretly to an idle fellow who’ll eat your heart out when you’ve nothing else to give him? You’ll find out some day what your Charles is worth, with his morocco boots and supercilious airs. He has got neither heart nor soul if he dared to carry off a young girl’s treasure without the consent of her parents.”

When the street-door was shut, Eugenie came out of her room and went to her mother.

“What courage you have had for your daughter’s sake!” she said.

“Ah! my child, see where forbidden things may lead us. You forced me to tell a lie.”

“I will ask God to punish only me.”

“Is it true,” cried Nanon, rushing in alarmed, “that mademoiselle is to be kept on bread and water for the rest of her life?”

“What does that signify, Nanon?” said Eugenie tranquilly.

“Goodness! do you suppose I’ll eat frippe when the daughter of the house is eating dry bread? No, no!”

“Don’t say a word about all this, Nanon,” said Eugenie.

“I’ll be as mute as a fish; but you’ll see!”

* * * * *

Grandet dined alone for the first time in twenty-four years.

“So you’re a widower, monsieur,” said Nanon; “it must be disagreeable to be a widower with two women in the house.”

“I did not speak to you. Hold your jaw, or I’ll turn you off! What is that I hear boiling in your saucepan on the stove?”

“It is grease I’m trying out.”

“There will be some company to-night. Light the fire.”

The Cruchots, Madame des Grassins, and her son arrived at the usual hour of eight, and were surprised to see neither Madame Grandet nor her daughter.

“My wife is not very well, and Eugenie is with her,” said the old wine-grower, whose face betrayed no emotion.

At the end of an hour spent in idle conversation, Madame des Grassins, who had gone up to see Madame Grandet, came down, and every one inquired —

“How is Madame Grandet?”

“Not at all well,” she answered; “her condition seems to me really alarming. At her age you ought to take every precaution, Papa Grandet.”

“We’ll see about it,” said the old man in an absent way.

They all wished him good-night. When the Cruchots got into the street Madame des Grassins said to them —

“There is something going on at the Grandets. The mother is very ill without her knowing it. The girl’s eyes are red, as if she had been crying all day. Can they be trying to marry her against her will?”

* * * * *

When Grandet had gone to bed Nanon came softly to Eugenie’s room in her stockinged feet and showed her a pate baked in a saucepan.

“See, mademoiselle,” said the good soul, “Cornoiller gave me a hare. You eat so little that this pate will last you full a week; in such frosty weather it won’t spoil. You sha’n’t live on dry bread, I’m determined; it isn’t wholesome.”

“Poor Nanon!” said Eugenie, pressing her hand.

“I’ve made it downright good and dainty, and he never found it out. I bought the lard and the spices out of my six francs: I’m the mistress of my own money”; and she disappeared rapidly, fancying she heard Grandet.

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Last updated Wednesday, March 12, 2014 at 13:31