A MAN OF BUSINESS
By Honore De Balzac
Translated by Clara Bell and Others
To Monsieur le Baron James de Rothschild, Banker and
Austrian Consul-General at Paris.
A MAN OF BUSINESS
The word lorette is a euphemism invented to describe the status of
a personage, or a personage of a status, of which it is awkward to speak;
the French Academie, in its modesty, having omitted to supply a definition
out of regard for the age of its forty members. Whenever a new word comes
to supply the place of an unwieldy circumlocution, its fortune is assured;
the word lorette has passed into the language of every class of
society, even where the lorette herself will never gain an entrance. It
was only invented in 1840, and derived beyond a doubt from the
agglomeration of such swallows' nests about the Church of Our Lady of
Loretto. This information is for etymoligists only. Those gentlemen would
not be so often in a quandary if mediaeval writers had only taken such
pains with details of contemporary manners as we take in these days of
analysis and description.
Mlle. Turquet, or Malaga, for she is better known by her pseudonym (See La
fausse Maitresse.), was one of the earliest parishioners of that
charming church. At the time to which this story belongs, that
lighthearted and lively damsel gladdened the existence of a notary with a
wife somewhat too bigoted, rigid, and frigid for domestic happiness.
Now, it so fell out that one Carnival evening Maitre Cardot was
entertaining guests at Mlle. Turquet's house—Desroches the attorney,
Bixiou of the caricatures, Lousteau the journalist, Nathan, and others; it
is quite unnecessary to give any further description of these personages,
all bearers of illustrious names in the Comedie Humaine. Young La
Palferine, in spite of his title of Count and his great descent, which,
alas! means a great descent in fortune likewise, had honored the notary's
little establishment with his presence.
At dinner, in such a house, one does not expect to meet the patriarchal
beef, the skinny fowl and salad of domestic and family life, nor is there
any attempt at the hypocritical conversation of drawing-rooms furnished
with highly respectable matrons. When, alas! will respectability be
charming? When will the women in good society vouchsafe to show rather
less of their shoulders and rather more wit or geniality? Marguerite
Turquet, the Aspasia of the Cirque-Olympique, is one of those frank, very
living personalities to whom all is forgiven, such unconscious sinners are
they, such intelligent penitents; of such as Malaga one might ask, like
Cardot—a witty man enough, albeit a notary—to be well
"deceived." And yet you must not think that any enormities were committed.
Desroches and Cardot were good fellows grown too gray in the profession
not to feel at ease with Bixiou, Lousteau, Nathan, and young La Palferine.
And they on their side had too often had recourse to their legal advisers,
and knew them too well to try to "draw them out," in lorette language.
Conversation, perfumed with seven cigars, at first was as fantastic as a
kid let loose, but finally it settled down upon the strategy of the
constant war waged in Paris between creditors and debtors.
Now, if you will be so good as to recall the history and antecedents of
the guests, you will know that in all Paris, you could scarcely find a
group of men with more experience in this matter; the professional men on
one hand, and the artists on the other, were something in the position of
magistrates and criminals hobnobbing together. A set of Bixiou's drawings
to illustrate life in the debtors' prison, led the conversation to take
this particular turn; and from debtors' prisons they went to debts.
It was midnight. They had broken up into little knots round the table and
before the fire, and gave themselves up to the burlesque fun which is only
possible or comprehensible in Paris and in that particular region which is
bounded by the Faubourg Montmartre, the Rue Chaussee d'Antin, the upper
end of the Rue de Navarin and the line of the boulevards.
In ten minutes' time they had come to an end of all the deep reflections,
all the moralizings, small and great, all the bad puns made on a subject
already exhausted by Rabelais three hundred and fifty years ago. It was
not a little to their credit that the pyrotechnic display was cut short
with a final squib from Malaga.
"It all goes to the shoemakers," she said. "I left a milliner because she
failed twice with my hats. The vixen has been here twenty-seven times to
ask for twenty francs. She did not know that we never have twenty francs.
One has a thousand francs, or one sends to one's notary for five hundred;
but twenty francs I have never had in my life. My cook and my maid may,
perhaps, have so much between them; but for my own part, I have nothing
but credit, and I should lose that if I took to borrowing small sums. If I
were to ask for twenty francs, I should have nothing to distinguish me
from my colleagues that walk the boulevard."
"Is the milliner paid?" asked La Palferine.
"Oh, come now, are you turning stupid?" said she, with a wink. "She came
this morning for the twenty-seventh time, that is how I came to mention
"What did you do?" asked Desroches.
"I took pity upon her, and—ordered a little hat that I have just
invented, a quite new shape. If Mlle. Amanda succeeds with it, she will
say no more about the money, her fortune is made."
"In my opinion," put in Desroches, "the finest things that I have seen in
a duel of this kind give those who know Paris a far better picture of the
city than all the fancy portraits that they paint. Some of you think that
you know a thing or two," he continued, glancing round at Nathan, Bixiou,
La Palferine, and Lousteau, "but the king of the ground is a certain
Count, now busy ranging himself. In his time, he was supposed to be the
cleverest, adroitest, canniest, boldest, stoutest, most subtle and
experienced of all the pirates, who, equipped with fine manners, yellow
kid gloves, and cabs, have ever sailed or ever will sail upon the stormy
seas of Paris. He fears neither God nor man. He applies in private life
the principles that guide the English Cabinet. Up to the time of his
marriage, his life was one continual war, like—Lousteau's, for
instance. I was, and am still his solicitor."
"And the first letter of his name is Maxime de Trailles," said La
"For that matter, he has paid every one, and injured no one," continued
Desroches. "But as your friend Bixiou was saying just now, it is a
violation of the liberty of the subject to be made to pay in March when
you have no mind to pay till October. By virtue of this article of his
particular code, Maxime regarded a creditor's scheme for making him pay at
once as a swindler's trick. It was a long time since he had grasped the
significance of the bill of exchange in all its bearings, direct and
remote. A young man once, in my place, called a bill of exchange the
'asses' bridge' in his hearing. 'No,' said he, 'it is the Bridge of Sighs;
it is the shortest way to an execution.' Indeed, his knowledge of
commercial law was so complete, that a professional could not have taught
him anything. At that time he had nothing, as you know. His carriage and
horses were jobbed; he lived in his valet's house; and, by the way, he
will be a hero to his valet to the end of the chapter, even after the
marriage that he proposes to make. He belonged to three clubs, and dined
at one of them whenever he did not dine out. As a rule, he was to be found
very seldom at his own address—"
"He once said to me," interrupted La Palferine, "'My one affectation is
the pretence that I make of living in the Rue Pigalle.'"
"Well," resumed Desroches, "he was one of the combatants; and now for the
other. You have heard more or less talk of one Claparon?"
"Had hair like this!" cried Bixiou, ruffling his locks till they stood on
end. Gifted with the same talent for mimicking absurdities which Chopin
the pianist possesses to so high a degree, he proceeded forthwith to
represent the character with startling truth.
"He rolls his head like this when he speaks; he was once a commercial
traveler; he has been all sorts of things—"
"Well, he was born to travel, for at this minute, as I speak, he is on the
sea on his way to America," said Desroches. "It is his only chance, for in
all probability he will be condemned by default as a fraudulent bankrupt
"Very much at sea!" exclaimed Malaga.
"For six or seven years this Claparon acted as man of straw, cat's paw,
and scapegoat to two friends of ours, du Tillet and Nucingen; but in 1829
his part was so well known that—"
"Our friends dropped him," put in Bixiou.
"They left him to his fate at last, and he wallowed in the mire,"
continued Desroches. "In 1833 he went into partnership with one Cerizet—"
"What! he that promoted a joint-stock company so nicely that the Sixth
Chamber cut short his career with a couple of years in jail?" asked the
"The same. Under the Restoration, between 1823 and 1827, Cerizet's
occupation consisted in first putting his name intrepidly to various
paragraphs, on which the public prosecutor fastened with avidity, and
subsequently marching off to prison. A man could make a name for himself
with small expense in those days. The Liberal party called their
provincial champion 'the courageous Cerizet,' and towards 1828 so much
zeal received its reward in 'general interest.'
"'General interest' is a kind of civic crown bestowed on the deserving by
the daily press. Cerizet tried to discount the 'general interest' taken in
him. He came to Paris, and, with some help from capitalists in the
Opposition, started as a broker, and conducted financial operations to
some extent, the capital being found by a man in hiding, a skilful gambler
who overreached himself, and in consequence, in July 1830, his capital
foundered in the shipwreck of the Government."
"Oh! it was he whom we used to call the System," cried Bixiou.
"Say no harm of him, poor fellow," protested Malaga. "D'Estourny was a
"You can imagine the part that a ruined man was sure to play in 1830 when
his name in politics was 'the courageous Cerizet.' He was sent off into a
very snug little sub-prefecture. Unluckily for him, it is one thing to be
in opposition—any missile is good enough to throw, so long as the
flight lasts; but quite another to be in office. Three months later, he
was obliged to send in his resignation. Had he not taken it into his head
to attempt to win popularity? Still, as he had done nothing as yet to
imperil his title of 'courageous Cerizet,' the Government proposed by way
of compensation that he should manage a newspaper; nominally an Opposition
newspaper, but Ministerialist in petto. So the fall of this noble
nature was really due to the Government. To Cerizet, as manager of the
paper, it was rather too evident that he was as a bird perched on a rotten
bough; and then it was that he promoted that nice little joint-stock
company, and thereby secured a couple of years in prison; he was caught,
while more ingenious swindlers succeeded in catching the public."
"We are acquainted with the more ingenious," said Bixiou; "let us say no
ill of the poor fellow; he was nabbed; Couture allowed them to squeeze his
cash-box; who would ever have thought it of him?"
"At all events, Cerizet was a low sort of fellow, a good deal damaged by
low debauchery. Now for the duel I spoke about. Never did two tradesmen of
the worst type, with the worst manners, the lowest pair of villains
imaginable, go into partnership in a dirtier business. Their
stock-in-trade consisted of the peculiar idiom of the man about town, the
audacity of poverty, the cunning that comes of experience, and a special
knowledge of Parisian capitalists, their origin, connections,
acquaintances, and intrinsic value. This partnership of two 'dabblers'
(let the Stock Exchange term pass, for it is the only word which describes
them), this partnership of dabblers did not last very long. They fought
like famished curs over every bit of garbage.
"The earlier speculations of the firm of Cerizet and Claparon were,
however, well planned. The two scamps joined forces with Barbet,
Chaboisseau, Samanon, and usurers of that stamp, and bought up hopelessly
"Claparon's place of business at that time was a cramped entresol in the
Rue Chabannais—five rooms at a rent of seven hundred francs at most.
Each partner slept in a little closet, so carefully closed from prudence,
that my head-clerk could never get inside. The furniture of the other
three rooms—an ante-chamber, a waiting-room, and a private office—would
not have fetched three hundred francs altogether at a distress-warrant
sale. You know enough of Paris to know the look of it; the stuffed
horsehair-covered chairs, a table covered with a green cloth, a trumpery
clock between a couple of candle sconces, growing tarnished under glass
shades, the small gilt-framed mirror over the chimney-piece, and in the
grate a charred stick or two of firewood which had lasted them for two
winters, as my head-clerk put it. As for the office, you can guess what it
was like—more letter-files than business letters, a set of common
pigeon-holes for either partner, a cylinder desk, empty as the cash-box,
in the middle of the room, and a couple of armchairs on either side of a
coal fire. The carpet on the floor was bought cheap at second-hand (like
the bills and bad debts). In short, it was the mahogany furniture of
furnished apartments which usually descends from one occupant of chambers
to another during fifty years of service. Now you know the pair of
"During the first three months of a partnership dissolved four months
later in a bout of fisticuffs, Cerizet and Claparon bought up two thousand
francs' worth of bills bearing Maxime's signature (since Maxime was his
name), and filled a couple of letters to bursting with judgments, appeals,
orders of the court, distress-warrants, application for stay of
proceedings, and all the rest of it; to put it briefly, they had bills for
three thousand two hundred francs odd centimes, for which they had given
five hundred francs; the transfer being made under private seal, with
special power of attorney, to save the expense of registration. Now it so
happened at this juncture, Maxime, being of ripe age, was seized with one
of the fancies peculiar to the man of fifty—"
"Antonia!" exclaimed La Palferine. "That Antonia whose fortune I made by
writing to ask for a toothbrush!"
"Her real name is Chocardelle," said Malaga, not over well pleased by the
"The same," continued Desroches.
"It was the only mistake Maxime ever made in his life. But what would you
have, no vice is absolutely perfect?" put in Bixiou.
"Maxime had still to learn what sort of a life a man may be led into by a
girl of eighteen when she is minded to take a header from her honest
garret into a sumptuous carriage; it is a lesson that all statesmen should
take to heart. At this time, de Marsay had just been employing his friend,
our friend de Trailles, in the high comedy of politics. Maxime had looked
high for his conquests; he had no experience of untitled women; and at
fifty years he felt that he had a right to take a bite of the so-called
wild fruit, much as a sportsman will halt under a peasant's apple-tree. So
the Count found a reading-room for Mlle. Chocardelle, a rather smart
little place to be had cheap, as usual—"
"Pooh!" said Nathan. "She did not stay in it six months. She was too
handsome to keep a reading-room."
"Perhaps you are the father of her child?" suggested the lorette.
"Since the firm bought up Maxime's debts, Cerizet's likeness to a
bailiff's officer grew more and more striking, and one morning after seven
fruitless attempts he succeeded in penetrating into the Count's presence.
Suzon, the old man-servant, albeit he was by no means in his novitiate, at
last mistook the visitor for a petitioner, come to propose a thousand
crowns if Maxime would obtain a license to sell postage stamps for a young
lady. Suzon, without the slightest suspicion of the little scamp, a
thoroughbred Paris street-boy into whom prudence had been rubbed by
repeated personal experience of the police-courts, induced his master to
receive him. Can you see the man of business, with an uneasy eye, a bald
forehead, and scarcely any hair on his head, standing in his threadbare
jacket and muddy boots—"
"What a picture of a Dun!" cried Lousteau.
"—standing before the Count, that image of flaunting Debt, in his
blue flannel dressing-gown, slippers worked by some Marquise or other,
trousers of white woolen stuff, and a dazzling shirt? There he stood, with
a gorgeous cap on his black dyed hair, playing with the tassels at his
"'Tis a bit of genre for anybody who knows what the pretty little morning
room, hung with silk and full of valuable paintings, where Maxime
breakfasts," said Nathan. "You tread on a Smyrna carpet, you admire the
sideboards filled with curiosities and rarities fit to make a King of
"Now for the scene itself," said Desroches, and the deepest silence
"'Monsieur le Comte,' began Cerizet, 'I have come from a M. Charles
Claparon, who used to be a banker—'
"'Ah! poor devil, and what does he want with me?'
"'Well, he is at present your creditor for a matter of three thousand two
hundred francs, seventy-five centimes, principal, interest, and costs—'
"'Coutelier's business?' put in Maxime, who knew his affairs as a pilot
knows his coast.
"'Yes, Monsieur le Comte,' said Cerizet with a bow. 'I have come to ask
"'I shall only pay when the fancy takes me,' returned Maxime, and he rang
for Suzon. 'It was very rash of Claparon to buy up bills of mine without
speaking to me beforehand. I am sorry for him, for he did so very well for
such a long time as a man of straw for friends of mine. I always said that
a man must really be weak in his intellect to work for men that stuff
themselves with millions, and to serve them so faithfully for such low
wages. And now here he gives me another proof of his stupidity! Yes, men
deserve what they get. It is your own doing whether you get a crown on
your forehead or a bullet through your head; whether you are a millionaire
or a porter, justice is always done you. I cannot help it, my dear fellow;
I myself am not a king, I stick to my principles. I have no pity for those
that put me to expense or do not know their business as creditors.—Suzon!
my tea! Do you see this gentleman?' he continued when the man came in.
'Well, you have allowed yourself to be taken in, poor old boy. This
gentleman is a creditor; you ought to have known him by his boots. No
friend nor foe of mine, nor those that are neither and want something of
me, come to see me on foot.—My dear M. Cerizet, do you understand?
You will not wipe your boots on my carpet again' (looking as he spoke at
the mud that whitened the enemy's soles). 'Convey my compliments and
sympathy to Claparon, poor buffer, for I shall file this business under
the letter Z.'
"All this with an easy good-humor fit to give a virtuous citizen the
"'You are wrong, Monsieur le Comte,' retorted Cerizet, in a slightly
peremptory tone. 'We will be paid in full, and that in a way which you may
not like. That is why I came to you first in a friendly spirit, as is
right and fit between gentlemen—'
"'Oh! so that is how you understand it?' began Maxime, enraged by this
last piece of presumption. There was something of Talleyrand's wit in the
insolent retort, if you have quite grasped the contrast between the two
men and their costumes. Maxime scowled and looked full at the intruder;
Cerizet not merely endured the glare of cold fury, but even returned it,
with an icy, cat-like malignance and fixity of gaze.
"'Very good, sir, go out—'
"'Very well, good-day, Monsieur le Comte. We shall be quits before six
months are out.'
"'If you can steal the amount of your bill, which is legally due I own, I
shall be indebted to you, sir,' replied Maxime. 'You will have taught me a
new precaution to take. I am very much your servant.'
"'Monsieur le Comte,' said Cerizet, 'it is I, on the contrary, who am
"Here was an explicit, forcible, confident declaration on either side. A
couple of tigers confabulating, with the prey before them, and a fight
impending, would have been no finer and no shrewder than this pair; the
insolent fine gentleman as great a blackguard as the other in his soiled
and mud-stained clothes.
"Which will you lay your money on?" asked Desroches, looking round at an
audience, surprised to find how deeply it was interested.
"A pretty story!" cried Malaga. "My dear boy, go on, I beg of you. This
goes to one's heart."
"Nothing commonplace could happen between two fighting-cocks of that
calibre," added La Palferine.
"Pooh!" cried Malaga. "I will wager my cabinet-maker's invoice (the fellow
is dunning me) that the little toad was too many for Maxime."
"I bet on Maxime," said Cardot. "Nobody ever caught him napping."
Desroches drank off a glass that Malaga handed to him.
"Mlle. Chocardelle's reading-room," he continued, after a pause, "was in
the Rue Coquenard, just a step or two from the Rue Pigalle where Maxime
was living. The said Mlle. Chocardelle lived at the back on the garden
side of the house, beyond a big dark place where the books were kept.
Antonia left her aunt to look after the business—"
"Had she an aunt even then?" exclaimed Malaga. "Hang it all, Maxime did
"Alas! it was a real aunt," said Desroches; "her name was—let me see——"
"Ida Bonamy," said Bixiou.
"So as Antonia's aunt took a good deal of the work off her hands, she went
to bed late and lay late of a morning, never showing her face at the desk
until the afternoon, some time between two and four. From the very first
her appearance was enough to draw custom. Several elderly men in the
quarter used to come, among them a retired coach-builder, one Croizeau.
Beholding this miracle of female loveliness through the window-panes, he
took it into his head to read the newspapers in the beauty's reading-room;
and a sometime custom-house officer, named Denisart, with a ribbon in his
button-hole, followed the example. Croizeau chose to look upon Denisart as
a rival. 'Monsieur,' he said afterwards, 'I did not know what to
buy for you!'
"That speech should give you an idea of the man. The Sieur Croizeau
happens to belong to a particular class of old man which should be known
as 'Coquerels' since Henri Monnier's time; so well did Monnier render the
piping voice, the little mannerisms, little queue, little sprinkling of
powder, little movements of the head, prim little manner, and tripping
gait in the part of Coquerel in La Famille Improvisee. This
Croizeau used to hand over his halfpence with a flourish and a 'There,
"Mme. Ida Bonamy the aunt was not long in finding out through a servant
that Croizeau, by popular report of the neighborhood of the Rue de
Buffault, where he lived, was a man of exceeding stinginess, possessed of
forty thousand francs per annum. A week after the instalment of the
charming librarian he was delivered of a pun:
"'You lend me books (livres), but I give you plenty of francs in return,'
"A few days later he put on a knowing little air, as much as to say, 'I
know you are engaged, but my turn will come one day; I am a widower.'
"He always came arrayed in fine linen, a cornflower blue coat, a paduasoy
waistcoat, black trousers, and black ribbon bows on the double soled shoes
that creaked like an abbe's; he always held a fourteen franc silk hat in
"'I am old and I have no children,' he took occasion to confide to the
young lady some few days after Cerizet's visit to Maxime. 'I hold my
relations in horror. They are peasants born to work in the fields. Just
imagine it, I came up from the country with six francs in my pocket, and
made my fortune here. I am not proud. A pretty woman is my equal. Now
would it not be nicer to be Mme. Croizeau for some years to come than to
do a Count's pleasure for a twelvemonth? He will go off and leave you some
time or other; and when that day comes, you will think of me... your
servant, my pretty lady!'
"All this was simmering below the surface. The slightest approach at
love-making was made quite on the sly. Not a soul suspected that the trim
little old fogy was smitten with Antonia; and so prudent was the elderly
lover, that no rival could have guessed anything from his behavior in the
reading-room. For a couple of months Croizeau watched the retired
custom-house official; but before the third month was out he had good
reason to believe that his suspicions were groundless. He exerted his
ingenuity to scrape an acquaintance with Denisart, came up with him in the
street, and at length seized his opportunity to remark, 'It is a fine day,
"Whereupon the retired official responded with, 'Austerlitz weather, sir.
I was there myself—I was wounded indeed, I won my Cross on that
"And so from one thing to another the two drifted wrecks of the Empire
struck up an acquaintance. Little Croizeau was attached to the Empire
through his connection with Napoleon's sisters. He had been their
coach-builder, and had frequently dunned them for money; so he gave out
that he 'had had relations with the Imperial family.' Maxime, duly
informed by Antonia of the 'nice old man's' proposals (for so the aunt
called Croizeau), wished to see him. Cerizet's declaration of war had so
far taken effect that he of the yellow kid gloves was studying the
position of every piece, however insignificant, upon the board; and it so
happened that at the mention of that 'nice old man,' an ominous tinkling
sounded in his ears. One evening, therefore, Maxime seated himself among
the book-shelves in the dimly lighted back room, reconnoitred the seven or
eight customers through the chink between the green curtains, and took the
little coach-builder's measure. He gauged the man's infatuation, and was
very well satisfied to find that the varnished doors of a tolerably
sumptuous future were ready to turn at a word from Antonia so soon as his
own fancy had passed off.
"'And that other one yonder?' asked he, pointing out the stout
fine-looking elderly man with the Cross of the Legion of Honor. 'Who is
"'A retired custom-house officer.'
"'The cut of his countenance is not reassuring,' said Maxime, beholding
the Sieur Denisart.
"And indeed the old soldier held himself upright as a steeple. His head
was remarkable for the amount of powder and pomatum bestowed upon it; he
looked almost like a postilion at a fancy ball. Underneath that felted
covering, moulded to the top of the wearer's cranium, appeared an elderly
profile, half-official, half-soldierly, with a comical admixture of
arrogance,—altogether something like caricatures of the Constitutionnel.
The sometime official finding that age, and hair-powder, and the
conformation of his spine made it impossible to read a word without
spectacles, sat displaying a very creditable expanse of chest with all the
pride of an old man with a mistress. Like old General Montcornet, that
pillar of the Vaudeville, he wore earrings. Denisart was partial to blue;
his roomy trousers and well-worn greatcoat were both of blue cloth.
"'How long is it since that old fogy came here?' inquired Maxime, thinking
that he saw danger in the spectacles.
"'Oh, from the beginning,' returned Antonia, 'pretty nearly two months ago
"'Good," said Maxime to himself, 'Cerizet only came to me a month ago.—Just
get him to talk,' he added in Antonia's ear; 'I want to hear his voice.'
"'Pshaw,' said she, 'that is not so easy. He never says a word to me.'
"'Then why does he come here?' demanded Maxime.
"'For a queer reason,' returned the fair Antonia. 'In the first place,
although he is sixty-nine, he has a fancy; and because he is sixty-nine,
he is as methodical as a clock face. Every day at five o'clock the old
gentleman goes to dine with her in the Rue de la Victoire. (I am
sorry for her.) Then at six o'clock, he comes here, reads steadily at the
papers for four hours, and goes back at ten o'clock. Daddy Croizeau says
that he knows M. Denisart's motives, and approves his conduct; and in his
place, he would do the same. So I know exactly what to expect. If ever I
am Mme. Croizeau, I shall have four hours to myself between six and ten
"Maxime looked through the directory, and found the following reassuring
"DENISART,* retired custom-house officer, Rue de la Victoire.
"His uneasiness vanished.
"Gradually the Sieur Denisart and the Sieur Croizeau began to exchange
confidences. Nothing so binds two men together as a similarity of views in
the matter of womankind. Daddy Croizeau went to dine with 'M. Denisart's
fair lady,' as he called her. And here I must make a somewhat important
"The reading-room had been paid for half in cash, half in bills signed by
the said Mlle. Chocardelle. The quart d'heure de Rabelais arrived;
the Count had no money. So the first bill of three thousand francs was met
by the amiable coach-builder; that old scoundrel Denisart having
recommended him to secure himself with a mortgage on the reading-room.
"'For my own part,' said Denisart, 'I have seen pretty doings from pretty
women. So in all cases, even when I have lost my head, I am always on my
guard with a woman. There is this creature, for instance; I am madly in
love with her; but this is not her furniture; no, it belongs to me. The
lease is taken out in my name.'
"You know Maxime! He thought the coach-builder uncommonly green. Croizeau
might pay all three bills, and get nothing for a long while; for Maxime
felt more infatuated with Antonia than ever."
"I can well believe it," said La Palferine. "She is the bella Imperia
of our day."
"With her rough skin!" exclaimed Malaga; "so rough, that she ruins herself
in bran baths!"
"Croizeau spoke with a coach-builder's admiration of the sumptuous
furniture provided by the amorous Denisart as a setting for his fair one,
describing it all in detail with diabolical complacency for Antonia's
benefit," continued Desroches. "The ebony chests inlaid with
mother-of-pearl and gold wire, the Brussels carpets, a mediaeval bedstead
worth three thousand francs, a Boule clock, candelabra in the four corners
of the dining-room, silk curtains, on which Chinese patience had wrought
pictures of birds, and hangings over the doors, worth more than the
portress that opened them.
"'And that is what you ought to have, my pretty lady.—And
that is what I should like to offer you,' he would conclude. 'I am quite
aware that you scarcely care a bit about me; but, at my age, we cannot
expect too much. Judge how much I love you; I have lent you a thousand
francs. I must confess that, in all my born days, I have not lent anybody
"He held out his penny as he spoke, with the important air of a man that
gives a learned demonstration.
"That evening at the Varietes, Antonia spoke to the Count.
"'A reading-room is very dull, all the same,' said she; 'I feel that I
have no sort of taste for that kind of life, and I see no future in it. It
is only fit for a widow that wishes to keep body and soul together, or for
some hideously ugly thing that fancies she can catch a husband with a
"'It was your own choice,' returned the Count. Just at that moment, in
came Nucingen, of whom Maxime, king of lions (the 'yellow kid gloves' were
the lions of that day) had won three thousand francs the evening before.
Nucingen had come to pay his gaming debt.
"'Ein writ of attachment haf shoost peen served on me by der order of dot
teufel Glabaron,' he said, seeing Maxime's astonishment.
"'Oh, so that is how they are going to work, is it?' cried Maxime. 'They
are not up to much, that pair—'
"'It makes not,' said the banker, 'bay dem, for dey may apply demselfs to
oders pesides, und do you harm. I dake dees bretty voman to vitness dot I
haf baid you dees morning, long pefore dat writ vas serfed.'"
"Queen of the boards," smiled La Palferine, looking at Malaga, "thou art
about to lose thy bet."
"Once, a long time ago, in a similar case," resumed Desroches, "a too
honest debtor took fright at the idea of a solemn declaration in a court
of law, and declined to pay Maxime after notice was given. That time we
made it hot for the creditor by piling on writs of attachment, so as to
absorb the whole amount in costs—"
"Oh, what is that?" cried Malaga; "it all sounds like gibberish to me. As
you thought the sturgeon so excellent at dinner, let me take out the value
of the sauce in lessons in chicanery."
"Very well," said Desroches. "Suppose that a man owes you money, and your
creditors serve a writ of attachment upon him; there is nothing to prevent
all your other creditors from doing the same thing. And now what does the
court do when all the creditors make application for orders to pay? The
court divides the whole sum attached, proportionately among them all.
That division, made under the eye of a magistrate, is what we call a contribution.
If you owe ten thousand francs, and your creditors issue writs of
attachment on a debt due to you of a thousand francs, each one of them
gets so much per cent, 'so much in the pound,' in legal phrase; so much
(that means) in proportion to the amounts severally claimed by the
creditors. But—the creditors cannot touch the money without a
special order from the clerk of the court. Do you guess what all this work
drawn up by a judge and prepared by attorneys must mean? It means a
quantity of stamped paper full of diffuse lines and blanks, the figures
almost lost in vast spaces of completely empty ruled columns. The first
proceeding is to deduct the costs. Now, as the costs are precisely the
same whether the amount attached is one thousand or one million francs, it
is not difficult to eat up three thousand francs (for instance) in costs,
especially if you can manage to raise counter applications."
"And an attorney always manages to do it," said Cardot. "How many a time
one of you has come to me with, 'What is there to be got out of the
"It is particularly easy to manage it if the debtor eggs you on to run up
costs till they eat up the amount. And, as a rule, the Count's creditors
took nothing by that move, and were out of pocket in law and personal
expenses. To get money out of so experienced a debtor as the Count, a
creditor should really be in a position uncommonly difficult to reach; it
is a question of being creditor and debtor both, for then you are legally
entitled to work the confusion of rights, in law language—"
"To the confusion of the debtor?" asked Malaga, lending an attentive ear
to this discourse.
"No, the confusion of rights of debtor and creditor, and pay yourself
through your own hands. So Claparon's innocence in merely issuing writs of
attachment eased the Count's mind. As he came back from the Varietes with
Antonia, he was so much the more taken with the idea of selling the
reading-room to pay off the last two thousand francs of the
purchase-money, because he did not care to have his name made public as a
partner in such a concern. So he adopted Antonia's plan. Antonia wished to
reach the higher ranks of her calling, with splendid rooms, a maid, and a
carriage; in short, she wanted to rival our charming hostess, for instance—"
"She was not woman enough for that," cried the famous beauty of the
Circus; "still, she ruined young d'Esgrignon very neatly."
"Ten days afterwards, little Croizeau, perched on his dignity, said almost
exactly the same thing, for the fair Antonia's benefit," continued
"'Child,' said he, 'your reading-room is a hole of a place. You will lose
your complexion; the gas will ruin your eyesight. You ought to come out of
it; and, look here, let us take advantage of an opportunity. I have found
a young lady for you that asks no better than to buy your reading-room.
She is a ruined woman with nothing before her but a plunge into the river;
but she had four thousand francs in cash, and the best thing to do is to
turn them to account, so as to feed and educate a couple of children.'
"'Very well. It is kind of you, Daddy Croizeau,' said Antonia.
"'Oh, I shall be much kinder before I have done. Just imagine it, poor M.
Denisart has been worried into the jaundice! Yes, it has gone to the
liver, as it usually does with susceptible old men. It is a pity he feels
things so. I told him so myself; I said, "Be passionate, there is no harm
in that, but as for taking things to heart—draw the line at that! It
is the way to kill yourself."—Really, I would not have expected him
to take on so about it; a man that has sense enough and experience enough
to keep away as he does while he digests his dinner—'
"'But what is the matter?' inquired Mlle. Chocardelle.
"'That little baggage with whom I dined has cleared out and left him! ...
Yes. Gave him the slip without any warning but a letter, in which the
spelling was all to seek.'
"'There, Daddy Croizeau, you see what comes of boring a woman—'
"'It is indeed a lesson, my pretty lady,' said the guileful Croizeau.
'Meanwhile, I have never seen a man in such a state. Our friend Denisart
cannot tell his left hand from his right; he will not go back to look at
the "scene of his happiness," as he calls it. He has so thoroughly lost
his wits, that he proposes that I should buy all Hortense's furniture
(Hortense was her name) for four thousand francs.'
"'A pretty name,' said Antonia.
"'Yes. Napoleon's stepdaughter was called Hortense. I built carriages for
her, as you know.'
"'Very well, I will see,' said cunning Antonia; 'begin by sending this
young woman to me.'
"Antonia hurried off to see the furniture, and came back fascinated. She
brought Maxime under the spell of antiquarian enthusiasm. That very
evening the Count agreed to the sale of the reading-room. The
establishment, you see, nominally belonged to Mlle. Chocardelle. Maxime
burst out laughing at the idea of little Croizeau's finding him a buyer.
The firm of Maxime and Chocardelle was losing two thousand francs, it is
true, but what was the loss compared with four glorious thousand-franc
notes in hand? 'Four thousand francs of live coin!—there are moments
in one's life when one would sign bills for eight thousand to get them,'
as the Count said to me.
"Two days later the Count must see the furniture himself, and took the
four thousand francs upon him. The sale had been arranged; thanks to
little Croizeau's diligence, he pushed matters on; he had 'come round' the
widow, as he expressed it. It was Maxime's intention to have all the
furniture removed at once to a lodging in a new house in the Rue Tronchet,
taken in the name of Mme. Ida Bonamy; he did not trouble himself much
about the nice old man that was about to lose his thousand francs. But he
had sent beforehand for several big furniture vans.
"Once again he was fascinated by the beautiful furniture which a wholesale
dealer would have valued at six thousand francs. By the fireside sat the
wretched owner, yellow with jaundice, his head tied up in a couple of
printed handkerchiefs, and a cotton night-cap on top of them; he was
huddled up in wrappings like a chandelier, exhausted, unable to speak, and
altogether so knocked to pieces that the Count was obliged to transact his
business with the man-servant. When he had paid down the four thousand
francs, and the servant had taken the money to his master for a receipt,
Maxime turned to tell the man to call up the vans to the door; but even as
he spoke, a voice like a rattle sounded in his ears.
"'It is not worth while, Monsieur le Comte. You and I are quits; I have
six hundred and thirty francs fifteen centimes to give you!'
"To his utter consternation, he saw Cerizet, emerged from his wrappings
like a butterfly from the chrysalis, holding out the accursed bundle of
"'When I was down on my luck, I learned to act on the stage,' added
Cerizet. 'I am as good as Bouffe at old men.'
"'I have fallen among thieves!' shouted Maxime.
"'No, Monsieur le Comte, you are in Mlle. Hortense's house. She is a
friend of old Lord Dudley's; he keeps her hidden away here; but she has
the bad taste to like your humble servant.'
"'If ever I longed to kill a man,' so the Count told me afterwards, 'it
was at that moment; but what could one do? Hortense showed her pretty
face, one had to laugh. To keep my dignity, I flung her the six hundred
francs. "There's for the girl," said I.'"
"That is Maxime all over!" cried La Palferine.
"More especially as it was little Croizeau's money," added Cardot the
"Maxime scored a triumph," continued Desroches, "for Hortense exclaimed,
'Oh, if I had only known that it was you!'"
"A pretty 'confusion' indeed!" put in Malaga. "You have lost, milord," she
added turning to the notary.
And in this way the cabinetmaker, to whom Malaga owed a hundred crowns,