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Honore De Balzac - Eugenie Grandet (1834)

( Originally Published Early 1900's )



Perhaps because this story touches the mark more closely than any of the rest of Balzac's books, it has been more enthusiastically admired and widely read than those others, with the single exception of Pere Goriot. It appeared first in Volume I of the Scenes of Provincial Life, although the first of its seven chapters had been published during the previous year in L'Europe Litteraire. A second edition followed in 1839, and in 1843 the novel took its place, with chapter divisions suppressed, in the Comedy. The characters, with a few trivial exceptions, do not reappear in succeeding novels.

IN 1789 Monsieur Grandet, called by some Pere Grandet, was a master cooper in Saumur, able to read, write, and cipher. When the French Republic offered for sale the Church property in the arrondissement of Saumur, the cooper, then forty years of age, had just married the daughter of a rich wood-merchant. With his own ready money and his wife's dot, he obtained for a song, legally if not legitimately, one of the finest vineyards in the district, an old abbey, and several farms. Under the Consulate Grandet became mayor, governed wisely, and harvested still better pickings. Under the Empire he was called Monsieur Grandet. When Napoleon, who did not like Republicans, superseded him, he quitted office without regret.

In 1806 M. Grandet inherited three fortunes—that of Madame de la Gaudiniere, born De la Bertelliere, the mother of Madame Grandet; that of old Monsieur de la Bertelliere, her grandfather; and, lastly, that of Madame Gentillet, her grandmother on the mother's side: three inheritances, whose amount was not known to anyone. M. Grandet thus be-came the most imposing person in the arrondissement. He worked a hundred acres of vineyard, owned thirteen farms, an old abbey, a hundred and twenty-seven acres of meadow-land, and the house in which he lived. Such was his visible estate; as to his other property, only two persons could give even a vague guess at its value : Monsieur Cruchot, a notary employed in Grandet's usurious investments, and Monsieur des Grassins, the richest banker in Saumur, in whose profits Grandet had a certain secret share.

Financially speaking, M. Grandet was something between a tiger and a boa-constrictor. He could crouch and lie low, watch his prey a. long while, spring upon it with open jaws, swallow a mass of louis, and then rest tranquilly like a snake in process of digestion, impassible, methodical, and cold. No one saw him pass without a feeling of admiration mingled with respect and fear, for every man in Saumur had felt the rending of those polished steel claws. Few days passed without public mention of his name. To some his fortune was an object of patriotic pride: they would say to strangers: "We have two or three millionaire establishments, but as for Monsieur Grandet, he does not himself know how much he is worth."

So large a fortune covered with a golden mantle all the actions of this man. If in early days some peculiarities of his life gave occasion for laughter or ridicule, laughter and ridicule had long ago died away. His speech, his clothing, his gestures, the blinking of his eyes, were law to the countryside, where everyone had come to understand the deep, mute wisdom of his slightest actions.

M. Grandet's manners were very simple. He spoke little. If people talked to him he listened coldly, and four sentences sufficed him usually in the solution of all matters of business: "I don't know; I cannot; I will not; I will see about it." He never said yes or no, and never committed himself to writing. His wife, whom he had reduced to a state of helpless slavery, was a useful screen to him in business, he often saying: "I can decide nothing without consulting my wife." He went no-where among friends; he neither gave nor accepted dinners; he made no stir or noise, seeming to economize in everything. He kept but one servant, La Grande Nanon, so called on account of her height, who did all the work of the household. In short, M. Grandet was a cold-blooded, calculating miser, who counted every penny of expenditure and gloated in secret over his fast-accumulating hoard. He concentrated every feeling upon the enjoyments of avarice and upon the only human being who was anything whatever to him—his daughter and sole heiress, Eugenie.

Only six individuals had a right of entrance to M. Grandees house. The most important of the first three was a nephew of M. Cruchot, who, since his appointment as President of the Civil Courts of Saumur, had signed himself C. de Bonfons. He was thirty-three years old, possessed the estate of Bonfons, worth seven thousand francs a year, and had expectations from an uncle, the Abbe Cruchot, as well as his uncle the notary, both of whom were thought to be very rich. These three Cruchots, allied to twenty families in the town, formed a party, like the Medici in Florence. Opposed to them were the party of the Des Grassins, consisting of the banker and Madame des Grassins, their son Adolphe, twenty-three years of age, and their cousins and allies. The object of the ambition of each of these parties was to obtain the hand of the rich heiress, the one for Monsieur le president, the other for Adolphe.

This secret warfare between the Cruchots and the Des Grassins kept the various social circles of Saumur in violent agitation; but some of the oldest inhabitants, wiser than their fellows, declared that the Grandets would never let the property go out of the family, but would marry Mademoiselle Eugenie to the son of M. Grandet of Paris, a wealthy wholesale wine-merchant. To this the Cruchotines and Grassinists replied: "The two brothers have seen each other but twice in thirty years, and Monsieur Grandet of Paris has ambitious designs for his son. He is mayor of an arrondissement, colonel of the National Guard, judge in the commercial courts; he disowns the Grandets of Saumur, and means to ally himself with some noble family."

In 1811 the Cruchotines won a signal advantage over the Grassinists. Maitre Cruchot, the president, aided by the abbe, succeeded in procuring for M. Grandet the estate of the Marquis de Froidfond, remarkable for its park, its mansion, its farms and forests, and worth about three millions.

La Grande Nanon had lived with Grandet ever since she was twenty-two years old, now about thirty-five years. She was tall and ugly, with a complexion that would have done credit to a grenadier, and with sinewy arms and the hands of a cartman. Grandet, a good judge of corporeal strength, engaged her when she was rejected from door to door, and the poor girl never forgot it. She attached herself in all sincerity to her master, who ruled her and worked her with feudal authority. She cooked and washed; she got up early and went to bed late; she protected the property of her master like a faithful dog, and obeyed without a murmur his most absurd exactions. From her yearly wages of sixty francs she had been enabled to invest four thousand francs in an annuity with Maitre Cruchot, and every servant in town was jealous of her.

A single tallow candle usually sufficed the Grandet family for the evening, and no fire was ever lighted in the living-room before Eugenie's birthday fete in the middle of November. On this day her father always went to her bedside in the morning and solemnly presented her with a gold piece, while Madame Grandet gave her daughter a winter and a summer dress. In the evening the Cruchotines and the Grassinists came after the dinner was over and endeavored to surpass each other in tokens of respect.

One evening, in the year 1819, the two factions were gathered in the great room, illuminated by two tallow candles in honor of the occasion, to congratulate Eugenie on her twenty-third birthday. The old cooper, with inward self-conceit, looked over the company, and said to himself:

"They are all after my money. Hey! neither the one nor the other shall have my daughter; but they are useful—useful as harpoons to fish with."

Just as Madame Grandet had won a pool of sixteen sous at loto, the largest ever pooled in that house, the knocker on the house-door resounded with such a noise that the women all jumped in their chairs.

"Who the devil is that?" cried Grandet.

Nanon took one of the candles and went to open the door, followed by her master.

" Grandet ! Grandet!" cried his wife, running to the door, moved by a sudden impulse of fear.

" Go back to your loto!" he shouted, pulling the door to. The noise of the porter, carrying heavy luggage up the staircase, was heard, and soon after Grandet returned, followed by a young man who saluted the company gracefully.

"Sit down near the fire," said Grandet.

"You are cold, no doubt, Monsieur," said Madame Grandet.

" Just like all women," growled Grandet, looking up from a letter he was reading. "Do let Monsieur rest himself."

"But, father, perhaps Monsieur would like to take some-thing," said Eugenie.

"He has got a tongue," said the old man sternly.

Monsieur Charles Grandet, of Paris, a handsome young man of twenty-two, presented a singular contrast to the worthy provincials who, disgusted at his aristocratic bearing, were all studying him with sarcastic intent. In this, his first visit to the provinces, he took a fancy to make his appearance with the superiority of a man of fashion, and to make his visit an epoch. He therefore brought with him a great number of costumes, including his whole collection of waistcoats and every variety of collar and cravat known at the time. He brought too all his dandy knickknacks, and his pretty gold toilet-set—a present from his mother; in short, as complete a cargo of Parisian frivolities as it was possible for him to get together.

The loto game soon came to an end, for Grandet had taken from the table the candle to read his letter. When he had finished he turned to his nephew with a humble, timid air, and asked, "Have you warmed yourself?"

"Thoroughly, my dear uncle."

"Is the room all ready?" he asked of his wife.

The company arose at these words and took their departure. When they were left alone, Grandet said to his nephew:

"It is too late to talk of the matters which have brought you here; to-morrow we will take a suitable moment. We breakfast at eight o'clock."

Charles did not appear at breakfast.

"He's sleeping like a cherub," said Nanon. "I went in and I called him: no answer."

"Let him sleep," said Grandet. "He'll wake soon enough to hear ill-tidings. His father has blown his brains out."

"My uncle?" cried Eugenie.

"Poor young man!" exclaimed Madame Grandet.

"Poor indeed!" said Grandet; "he isn't worth a sou!"

Eugenie stopped eating. Her heart was wrung, as the young heart is wrung when pity overflows the whole being of a woman. The poor girl wept.

"You will say nothing to him about it, Madame Grandet, till I return," said the old man. "I shall be back at noon. As for you, Mademoiselle Eugenie, if it is for that dandy you are crying, that's enough, child. He is going off like a shot to the Indies. You will never see him again."

When Grandet finally broke to Charles the news of his father's failure and suicide, of which he had no suspicion, the young man utterly collapsed and kept his room for several days. His sobs aroused Eugenie's pity, and she shuddered to hear her father's remarks on his grief. When she and her mother suggested something for the young man's comfort, the old man said : "Charles is nothing at all to us ; he hasn't a farthing, his father has failed for four millions. When this dandy has cried his fill, off he goes from here. I won't have him revolutionizing my household. He is going to the West Indies at his father's request, and he will try to make his fortune there."

Eugenie trembled at her father's comments, and from that hour she began to judge him. Madame Grandet, troubled by her daughter's sweet, persuasive tones as she sympathized with her cousin's grief, said, "Take care, you will love him!"

In the meantime Grandet had consulted M. de Bonfons in relation to his brother's affairs. The president informed him that bankruptcy, which was attended with dishonor, could be prevented by liquidation, that is, by the appointment of a receiver for the property. "When a man fails, he is dishonored," said the president; "but when he merely liquidates, he remains an honest man."

The result of the conference was that Grandet, to save the honor of the family name, agreed to liquidate his brother's business. The president said that in a few months the debts might be bought up for a certain sum, and then paid in full by an agreement.

Grandet employed Des Grassins to call a meeting of the creditors, who elected the banker, together with another banker of Paris, as liquidators, with full power to protect both the honor of the family and the interests of the claimants. Every creditor acceded, each saying confidently, "Grandet of Saumur will pay."

Charles, though but twenty-one years old, was a true child of Paris and too much a man of the world to be possessed of noble sentiments. But Eugenie was too inexperienced to know that, and her sympathy for him soon turned to love. She pitied his poverty—not worth a sou, as her father said—and pressed upon him her little hoard of gold, a purse of rare coins of the value of about six thousand francs. In return he entrusted her with a leather-covered dressing-case with his gold toilet-articles, showing her a secret spring which opened a hidden drawer and disclosed two portraits in gold frames set with pearls. "My father and my mother," he said. "If I die and your little fortune is lost, this gold and these pearls will repay you. To you alone could I leave these portraits. Let them pass into no other hands."

She turned upon him a tender look, her first glance of loving womanhood.

"Angel of purity!" he continued, taking her hand and kissing it, "between us two money is nothing. Feeling, sentiment, must be all henceforth."

When the eve of Charles's departure came, Eugenie had no courage to forbid the kisses he pressed upon her lips.

"Are we not married?" he said. "I have thy promise—then take mine."

"Thine; I am thine forever!" each said, repeating the words twice over.

On the next morning the whole family set out to escort Charles to the diligence for Nantes.

"Nephew," said Grandet, kissing Charles on both cheeks, "depart poor, return rich; you will find the honor of your father safe. I answer for that myself, I—Grandet."

Nine months later the two liquidators of the Grandet estate in Paris distributed forty-seven per cent. to each creditor on his claim. The amount was obtained by the sale of the securities,

property, and possessions of all kinds belonging to the late Guillaume Grandet, and was paid over with scrupulous fidelity, which elicited praise from all. After a certain length of time, the creditors asked for the rest of their money. It became necessary to write a collective letter to Grandet of Saumur.

"Patience, my good friends," said the old man, as he threw the letter into the fire.

Months passed, and Eugenie's birthday came around again. According to his custom, Grandet went to his daughter's room with his gold piece and asked to see her collection.

Eugenie hesitated, then made a few steps toward the door, turned abruptly, and said :

"I have not got my gold."

"Not got your gold!" cried Grandet. "You are mistaken, Eugenie."

"No."

He swore a terrible oath. "What have you done with it?" "Grandet, your anger will kill me," said poor Madame Grandet, who had been ailing for some time.

"Nonsense; you never die in your family. Eugenie, what have you done with your gold?" he cried, rushing upon her.

"Monsieur," said the daughter, "my mother is ill. Look at her; do not kill her."

"Nanon, help me to bed," said the poor woman in a feeble voice; "I am dying -"

"Eugenie, when your mother is in bed, come down," said Grandet, leaving the room.

When Eugenie went down and still declined to tell her father what she had done with her gold, Grandet said: "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 your bread and water. You hear me—go!"

After several months of suffering, during which she did not have a physician until near the end, Madame Grandet died. "My child," she said, as she expired, "there is no happiness except in heaven; you will know it some day."

Five years passed with nothing to relieve the monotony of Eugenie's sad existence. In all that time no word ever came from Charles. Toward the close of 1827 her father, then eighty-two, was stricken with paralysis. Eugenie devoted all her care and attention to him. His last words to her were, "Take care of it all," meaning his gold. "You will render me an account yonder!"

Eugenie Grandet was now alone in the world in that gray house, with none but Nanon to whom she could turn with the certainty of being understood. She learned from Maitre Cruchot that she was the possessor, in real and personal property, besides interest to be collected, of about seventeen million francs.

"Where is my cousin?" was her one thought.

"If I knew where he was, the darling," said Nanon, "I'd go on foot to find him."

"The ocean is between us," Eugenie replied.

At that time Charles Grandet had just returned from the West Indies, bringing nineteen hundred thousand francs in gold dust, gathered by trading in all kinds of merchandise, lawful and unlawful, in selling slaves, and in practising usury. On the passage he met Monsieur d'Aubrion, a gentleman-inordinary to his Majesty Charles X, who had married a woman of fashion, once wealthy, but now reduced to an income of twenty thousand francs. They had an ugly daughter whom the mother wished to marry without a dot, and she promised Charles Grandet to obtain a royal ordinance from Charles X, which would authorize him to take the name and arms of D'Aubrion, and to succeed to the titles of Captal de Buch and Marquis d'Aubrion. Intoxicated with ambition, and believing his father's affairs to have been settled by his uncle, he imagined himself already settled down in the Faubourg Saint-Germain as the Comte d'Aubrion. Des Grassins, hearing of his return with a large fortune, called on him and inquired about the three hundred thousand francs still needed to settle his father's debts. Charles listened coldly and said: "My father's affairs are not mine."

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

"Monsieur, in a few days I shall be called the Comte d'Aubrion: you will understand, therefore, that what you threaten is of no consequence to me."

Eugenie was sitting one afternoon on a bench in the garden, when she received a letter from Charles informing her of his return and of his approaching marriage to Mademoiselle d'Aubrion, which would give him title and position. In a postscript, he said: "I enclose a check on the Des Grassins's bank for eight thousand francs to your order, payable in gold, which includes the capital and interest of the sum you were kind enough to lend me. . . . You can send my dressing-case by the diligence to the Hotel d'Aubrion, Rue Hillerin-Bertin."

"My mother was right," said Eugenie, weeping. "Suffer —and die!"

Madame des Grassins called with a letter she had received from her husband in Paris. It detailed his call on Charles Grandet and the latter's reply concerning his father's debts : "There are twelve hundred thousand francs legitimately owing to the creditors, and I shall at once declare his father a bankrupt. . . . Still, I have too much respect for Mademoiselle Eugenie to act in this matter before you have spoken to her about it."

Eugenie paused here, coldly said, "I thank you," and returned the letter.

That evening she entertained the usual company, hiding her misery behind a veil of courtesy, and when the party rose to leave and M. de Bonfons was about to take his cane, she said :

"Stay, Monsieur le President."

The President turned pale and resumed his seat.

When they were left alone, "Monsieur le President," said Eugenie with emotion, "I know what pleases you in me. Swear to leave me free during my whole life, to claim none of the rights which marriage will give you over me, and my hand is yours. Friendship is the only sentiment which I can give to a husband. But you can possess my hand and my fortune only at the cost of doing me an inestimable service. Here are fifteen hundred thousand francs. Go to Paris, find Monsieur des Grassins, learn the names of my uncle's creditors, pay them in full, with interest at five per cent., and get full and legal receipts. Take all these to my Cousin Grandet, and give them to him with this letter, On your return I will keep my word."

When the President heard the exclamation of Charles Grandet when he put the receipts and his cousin's letter into his hands, he could not repress a smile.

"We will announce our marriages at the same time," re-marked M. de Bonfons.

"Ah! you marry Eugene? Well, I am delighted. But—she must be rich!"

"She had," said the President, with a mischievous smile, "about nineteen millions four days ago; she has only seventeen to-day."

Charles looked at him thunderstruck.

"Seventeen mil

"Yes, Monsieur, we shall muster between us an income of seven hundred and fifty thousand francs."

Six months after the marriage of Eugenie and M. de Bonfons, he was appointed Councillor in the Cour Royale at Angers, then Judge in the Superior Courts, and finally President of them. He hoped to be returned to the Chamber of Deputies, and to secure a peerage, but he died eight days after his election as Deputy of Saumur. As he had drawn a careful contract in which husband and wife gave to each other, in case they should have no children, their entire property of every kind, all his possessions fell to Eugenie. God thus flung piles of gold upon this prisoner to whom gold was a matter of indifference, who longed for heaven, who lived, pious and good, in holy thoughts, succoring the unfortunate in secret, and never wearying of such deeds. But, in spite of her vast wealth, she always lived as the poor Eugenie Grandet once lived.



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