Melmoth Reconciled





There is a special variety of human nature obtained in the Social

Kingdom by a process analogous to that of the gardener's craft in the

Vegetable Kingdom, to wit, by the forcing-house--a species of hybrid

which can be raised neither from seed nor from slips. This product is

known as the Cashier, an anthropomorphous growth, watered by religious

doctrine, trained up in fear of the guillotine, pruned by vice, to

flourish on a third floor with an estimable wife by his side and an

uninteresting family. The number of cashiers in Paris must always be a

problem for the physiologist. Has anyone as yet been able to state

correctly the terms of the proportion sum wherein the cashier figures

as the unknown _x_? Where will you find the man who shall live with

wealth, like a cat with a caged mouse? This man, for further

qualification, shall be capable of sitting boxed in behind an iron

grating for seven or eight hours a day during seven-eighths of the

year, perched upon a cane-seated chair in a space as narrow as a

lieutenant's cabin on board a man-of-war. Such a man must be able to

defy anchylosis of the knee and thigh joints; he must have a soul above

meanness, in order to live meanly; must lose all relish for money by

dint of handling it. Demand this peculiar specimen of any creed,

educational system, school, or institution you please, and select

Paris, that city of fiery ordeals and branch establishment of hell, as

the soil in which to plant the said cashier. So be it. Creeds, schools,

institutions, and moral systems, all human rules and regulations, great

and small, will, one after another, present much the same face that an

intimate friend turns upon you when you ask him to lend you a thousand

francs. With a dolorous dropping of the jaw, they indicate the

guillotine, much as your friend aforesaid will furnish you with the

address of the money lender, pointing you to one of the hundred gates

by which a man comes to the last refuge of the destitute.



[1] For the narrative "Melmoth the Wanderer," and a description of

Balzac's debt to its author, see Volume III, page 161.--EDITOR.



Yet Nature has her freaks in the making of a man's mind; she indulges

herself and makes a few honest folk now and again, and now and then a

cashier.



Wherefore, that race of corsairs whom we dignify with the title of

bankers, the gentry who take out a license for which they pay a

thousand crowns, as the privateer takes out his letters of marque, hold

these rare products of the incubations of virtue in such esteem that

they confine them in cages in their counting-houses, much as

governments procure and maintain specimens of strange beasts at their

own charges.



If the cashier is possessed of an imagination or of a fervid

temperament; if, as will sometimes happen to the most complete cashier,

he loves his wife, and that wife grows tired of her lot, has ambitions,

or merely some vanity in her composition, the cashier is undone. Search

the chronicles of the counting-house. You will not find a single

instance of a cashier attaining _a position_, as it is called. They are

sent to the hulks; they go to foreign parts; they vegetate on a second

floor in the Rue Saint-Louis among the market gardens of the Marais.

Some day, when the cashiers of Paris come to a sense of their real

value, a cashier will be hardly obtainable for money. Still, certain it

is that there are people who are fit for nothing but to be cashiers,

just as the bent of a certain order of mind inevitably makes for

rascality. But, oh marvel of our civilization! Society rewards virtue

with an income of a hundred louis in old age, a dwelling on a second

floor, bread sufficient, occasional new bandana handkerchiefs, an

elderly wife and her offspring.



So much for virtue. But for the opposite course, a little boldness, a

faculty for keeping on the windward side of the law, as Turenne

outflanked Montecuculli, and Society will sanction the theft of

millions, shower ribbons upon the thief, cram him with honors, and

smother him with consideration.



Government, moreover, works harmoniously with this profoundly illogical

reasoner--Society. Government levies a conscription on the young

intelligence of the kingdom at the age of seventeen or eighteen, a

conscription of precocious power. Great ability is prematurely

exhausted by excessive brain work before it is sent up to be submitted

to a process of selection. Nurserymen sort and select seeds in much the

same way. To this process the Government brings professional appraisers

of talent, men who can assay brains as experts assay gold at the Mint.

Five hundred such heads, set afire with hope, are sent up annually by

the most progressive portion of the population; and of these the

Government takes one third, puts them in sacks called the Ecoles, and

shakes them up together for three years. Though every one of these

young plants represents vast productive power, they are made, as one

may say, into cashiers. They receive appointments; the rank and file of

engineers is made up of them; they are employed as captains of

artillery; there is no (subaltern) grade to which they may not aspire.

Finally, when these men, the pick of the youth of the nation, fattened

on mathematics and stuffed with knowledge, have attained the age of

fifty years, they have their reward, and receive as the price of their

services the third-floor lodging, the wife and family, and all the

comforts that sweeten life for mediocrity. If from among this race of

dupes there should escape some five or six men of genius who climb the

highest heights, is it not miraculous?



This is an exact statement of the relations between Talent and Probity

on the one hand, and Government and Society on the other, in an age

that considers itself to be progressive. Without this prefatory

explanation a recent occurrence in Paris would seem improbable; but

preceded by this summing up of the situation, it will perhaps receive

some thoughtful attention from minds capable oL recognizing the real

plague spots of our civilization, a civilization which since 1815 has

been moved by the spirit of gain rather than by principles of honor.



* * * * *



About five o'clock, on a dull autumn afternoon, the cashier of one of

the largest banks in Paris was still at his desk, working by the light

of a lamp that had been lit for some time. In accordance with the use

and wont of commerce, the counting-house was in the darkest corner of

the low-ceiled and far from spacious mezzanine floor, and at the very

end of a passage lighted only by borrowed lights. The office doors

along this corridor, each with its label, gave the place the look of a

bath-house. At four o'clock the stolid porter had proclaimed, according

to his orders, "The bank is closed." And by this time the departments

were deserted, the letters dispatched, the clerks had taken their

leave. The wives of the partners in the firm were expecting their

lovers; the two bankers dining with their mistresses. Everything was in

order.



The place where the strong boxes had been bedded in sheet iron was just

behind the little sanctum, where the cashier was busy. Doubtless he was

balancing his books. The open front gave a glimpse of a safe of

hammered iron, so enormously heavy (thanks to the science of the modern

inventor) that burglars could not carry it away. The door only opened

at the pleasure of those who knew its password. The letter-lock was a

warden who kept its own secret and could not be bribed; the mysterious

word was an ingenious realization of the "Open sesame!" in the _Arabian

Nights_. But even this was as nothing. A man might discover the

password; but unless he knew the lock's final secret, the _ultima

ratio_ of this gold-guarding dragon of mechanical science, it

discharged a blunderbuss at his head.



The door of the room, the walls of the room, the shutters of the

windows in the room, the whole place, in fact, was lined with sheet

iron a third of an inch in thickness, concealed behind the thin wooden

paneling. The shutters had been closed, the door had been shut. If ever

man could feel confident that he was absolutely alone, and that there

was no remote possibility of being watched by prying eyes, that man was

the cashier of the house of Nucingen and Company in the Rue

Saint-Lazare.



Accordingly the deepest silence prevailed in that iron cave. The fire

had died out in the stove, but the room was full of that tepid warmth

which produces the dull heavy-headedness and nauseous queasiness of a

morning after an orgy. The stove is a mesmerist that plays no small

part in the reduction of bank clerks and porters to a state of idiocy.



A room with a stove in it is a retort in which the power of strong men

is evaporated, where their vitality is exhausted, and their wills

enfeebled. Government offices are part of a great scheme for the

manufacture of the mediocrity necessary for the maintenance of a Feudal

System on a pecuniary basis--and money is the foundation of the Social

Contract. (See _Les Employes_.) The mephitic vapors in the atmosphere

of a crowded room contribute in no small degree to bring about a

gradual deterioration of intelligences, the brain that gives off the

largest quantity of nitrogen asphyxiates the others, in the long run.



The cashier was a man of five and forty or thereabouts. As he sat at

the table, the light from a moderator lamp shining full on his bald

head and glistening fringe of iron-gray hair that surrounded it--this

baldness and the round outlines of his face made his head look very

like a ball. His complexion was brick-red, a few wrinkles had gathered

about his eyes, but he had the smooth, plump hands of a stout man. His

blue cloth coat, a little rubbed and worn, and the creases and

shininess of his trousers, traces of hard wear that the clothes-brush

fails to remove, would impress a superficial observer with the idea

that here was a thrifty and upright human being, sufficient of the

philosopher or of the aristocrat to wear shabby clothes. But,

unluckily, it is easy to find penny-wise people who will prove weak,

wasteful, or incompetent in the capital things of life.



The cashier wore the ribbon of the Legion of Honor at his buttonhole,

for he had been a major of dragoons in the time of the Emperor. M. de

Nucingen, who had been a contractor before he became a banker, had had

reason in those days to know the honorable disposition of his cashier,

who then occupied a high position. Reverses of fortune had befallen the

major, and the banker out of regard for him paid him five hundred

francs a month. The soldier had become a cashier in the year 1813,

after his recovery from a wound received at Studzianka during the

Retreat from Moscow, followed by six months of enforced idleness at

Strasbourg, whither several officers had been transported by order of

the Emperor, that they might receive skilled attention. This particular

officer, Castanier by name, retired with the honorary grade of colonel,

and a pension of two thousand four hundred francs.



In ten years' time the cashier had completely effaced the soldier, and

Castanier inspired the banker with such trust in him, that he was

associated in the transactions that went on in the private office

behind his little counting-house. The baron himself had access to it by

means of a secret staircase. There, matters of business were decided.

It was the bolting room where proposals were sifted; the privy council

chamber where the reports of the money market were analyzed; circular

notes issued thence; and finally, the private ledger and the journal

which summarized the work of all the departments were kept there.



Castanier had gone himself to shut the door which opened on to a

staircase that led to the parlor occupied by the two bankers on the

first floor of their hotel. This done, he had sat down at his desk

again, and for a moment he gazed at a little collection of letters of

credit drawn on the firm of Watschildine of London. Then he had taken

up the pen and imitated the banker's signature upon each. _Nucingen_ he

wrote, and eyed the forged signatures critically to see which seemed

the most perfect copy.



Suddenly he looked up as if a needle had pricked him. "You are not

alone!" a boding voice seemed to cry in his heart; and indeed the

forger saw a man standing at the little grated window of the

counting-house, a man whose breathing was so noiseless that he did not

seem to breathe at all. Castanier looked, and saw that the door at the

end of the passage was wide open; the stranger must have entered by

that way.



For the first time in his life the old soldier felt a sensation of

dread that made him stare open-mouthed and wide-eyed at the man before

him; and for that matter, the appearance of the apparition was

sufficiently alarming even if unaccompanied by the mysterious

circumstances of so sudden an entry. The rounded forehead, the harsh

coloring of the long oval face, indicated quite as plainly as the cut

of his clothes that the man was an Englishman, reeking of his native

isles. You had only to look at the collar of his overcoat, at the

voluminous cravat which smothered the crushed frills of a shirt front

so white that it brought out the changeless leaden hue of an impassive

face, and the thin red line of the lips that seemed made to suck the

blood of corpses; and you could guess at once at the black gaiters

buttoned up to the knee, and the half-puritanical costume of a wealthy

Englishman dressed for a walking excursion. The intolerable glitter of

the stranger's eyes produced a vivid and unpleasant impression, which

was only deepened by the rigid outlines of his features. The dried-up,

emaciated creature seemed to carry within him some gnawing thought that

consumed him and could not be appeased.



He must have digested his food so rapidly that he could doubtless eat

continually without bringing any trace of color into his face or

features. A tun of Tokay _vin de succession_ would not have caused any

faltering in that piercing glance that read men's inmost thoughts, nor

dethroned the merciless reasoning faculty that always seemed to go to

the bottom of things. There was something of the fell and tranquil

majesty of a tiger about him.



"I have come to cash this bill of exchange, sir," he said. Castanier

felt the tones of his voice thrill through every nerve with a violent

shock similar to that given by a discharge of electricity.



"The safe is closed," said Castanier.



"It is open," said the Englishman, looking round the counting-house.

"To-morrow is Sunday, and I cannot wait. The amount is for five hundred

thousand francs. You have the money there, and I must have it."



"But how did you come in, sir?"



The Englishman smiled. That smile frightened Castanier. No words could

have replied more fully nor more peremptorily than that scornful and

imperial curl of the stranger's lips. Castanier turned away, took up

fifty packets, each containing ten thousand francs in bank notes, and

held them out to the stranger, receiving in exchange for them a bill

accepted by the Baron de Nucingen. A sort of convulsive tremor ran

through him as he saw a red gleam in the stranger's eyes when they fell

on the forged signature on the letter of credit.



"It ... it wants your signature ..." stammered Castanier, handing back

the bill.



"Hand me your pen," answered the Englishman.



Castanier handed him the pen with which he had just committed forgery.

The stranger wrote _John Melmoth_, then he returned the slip of paper

and the pen to the cashier. Castanier looked at the handwriting,

noticing that it sloped from right to left in the Eastern fashion, and

Melmoth disappeared so noiselessly that when Castanier looked up again

an exclamation broke from him, partly because the man was no longer

there, partly because he felt a strange painful sensation such as our

imagination might take for an effect of poison.



The pen that Melmoth had handled sent the same sickening heat through

him that an emetic produces. But it seemed impossible to Castanier that

the Englishman should have guessed his crime. His inward qualms he

attributed to the palpitation of the heart that, according to received

ideas, was sure to follow at once on such a "turn" as the stranger had

given him.



"The devil take it; I am very stupid. Providence is watching over me;

for if that brute had come round to see my gentlemen to-morrow, my

goose would have been cooked!" said Castanier, and he burned the

unsuccessful attempts at forgery in the stove.



He put the bill that he meant to take with him in an envelope, and

helped himself to five hundred thousand francs in French and English

bank notes from the safe, which he locked. Then he put everything in

order, lit a candle, blew out the lamp, took up his hat and umbrella,

and went out sedately, as usual, to leave one of the two keys of the

strong room with Madame de Nucingen, in the absence of her husband the

baron.



"You are in luck, M. Castanier," said the banker's wife as he entered

her room; "we have a holiday on Monday; you can go into the country, or

to Soizy."



"Madame, will you be so good as to tell your husband that the bill of

exchange on Watschildine, which was behind time, has just been

presented? The five hundred thousand francs have been paid; so I shall

not come back till noon on Tuesday."



"Good-by, monsieur; I hope you will have a pleasant time."



"The same to you, madame," replied the old dragoon as he went out. He

glanced as he spoke at a young man well known in fashionable society at

that time, a M. de Rastignac, who was regarded as Madame de Nucingen's

lover.



"Madame," remarked this latter, "the old boy looks to me as if he meant

to play you some ill turn."



"Pshaw! impossible; he is too stupid."



"Piquoizeau," said the cashier, walking into the porter's room, "what

made you let anybody come up after four o'clock?"



"I have been smoking a pipe here in the doorway ever since four

o'clock," said the man, "and nobody has gone into the bank. Nobody has

come out either except the gentlemen--"



"Are you quite sure?"



"Yes, upon my word and honor. Stay, though, at four o'clock M.

Werbrust's friend came, a young fellow from Messrs. du Tillet & Co., in

the Rue Joubert."



"All right," said Castanier, and he hurried away.



The sickening sensation of heat that he had felt when he took back the

pen returned in greater intensity. "_Mille diables!_" thought he, as he

threaded his way along the Boulevard de Gand, "haven't I taken proper

precautions? Let me think! Two clear days, Sunday and Monday, then a

day of uncertainty before they begin to look for me; altogether, three

days and four nights' respite. I have a couple of passports and two

different disguises; is not that enough to throw the cleverest

detective off the scent? On Tuesday morning I shall draw a million

francs in London before the slightest suspicion has been aroused. My

debts I am leaving behind for the benefit of my creditors, who will put

a 'P' on the bills, and I shall live comfortably in Italy for the

rest of my days as the Conte Ferraro. I was alone with him when he

died, poor fellow, in the marsh of Zembin, and I shall slip into his

skin.... _Mille diables!_ the woman who is to follow after me might

give them a clew! Think of an old campaigner like me infatuated enough

to tie myself to a petticoat tail!... Why take her? I must leave her

behind. Yes, I could make up my mind to it; but--I know myself--I

should be ass enough to go back for her. Still, nobody knows Aquilina.

Shall I take her or leave her?"







"You will not take her!" cried a voice that filled Castanier with

sickening dread. He turned sharply, and saw the Englishman.



"The devil is in it!" cried the cashier aloud.



Melmoth had passed his victim by this time; and if Castanier's first

impulse had been to fasten a quarrel on a man who read his own

thoughts, he was so much torn by opposing feelings that the immediate

result was a temporary paralysis. When he resumed his walk he fell once

more into that fever of irresolution which besets those who are so

carried away by passion that they are ready to commit a crime, but have

not sufficient strength of character to keep it to themselves without

suffering terribly in the process. So, although Castanier had made up

his mind to reap the fruits of a crime which was already half executed,

he hesitated to carry out his designs. For him, as for many men of

mixed character in whom weakness and strength are equally blended, the

least trifling consideration determines whether they shall continue to

lead blameless lives or become actively criminal. In the vast masses of

men enrolled in Napoleon's armies there were many who, like Castanier,

possessed the purely physical courage demanded on the battlefield, yet

lacked the moral courage which makes a man as great in crime as he

could have been in virtue.



The letter of credit was drafted in such terms that immediately on his

arrival he might draw twenty-five thousand pounds on the firm of

Watschildine, the London correspondents of the house of Nucingen. The

London house had been already advised of the draft about to be made

upon them; he had written to them himself. He had instructed an agent

(chosen at random) to take his passage in a vessel which was to leave

Portsmouth with a wealthy English family on board, who were going to

Italy, and the passage money had been paid in the name of the Conte

Ferraro. The smallest details of the scheme had been thought out. He

had arranged matters so as to divert the search that would be made for

him into Belgium and Switzerland, while he himself was at sea in the

English vessel. Then, by the time that Nucingen might flatter himself

that he was on the track of his late cashier, the said cashier, as the

Conte Ferraro, hoped to be safe in Naples. He had determined to

disfigure his face in order to disguise himself the more completely,

and by means of an acid to imitate the scars of smallpox. Yet, in spite

of all these precautions, which surely seemed as if they must secure

him complete immunity, his conscience tormented him; he was afraid. The

even and peaceful life that he had led for so long had modified the

morality of the camp. His life was stainless as yet; he could not sully

it without a pang. So for the last time he abandoned himself to all the

influences of the better self that strenuously resisted.



"Pshaw!" he said at last, at the corner of the Boulevard and the Rue

Montmartre, "I will take a cab after the play this evening and go out

to Versailles. A post-chaise will be ready for me at my old

quartermaster's place. He would keep my secret even if a dozen men were

standing ready to shoot him down. The chances are all in my favor, so

far as I see; so I shall take my little Naqui with me, and I will go."



"You will not go!" exclaimed the Englishman, and the strange tones of

his voice drove all the cashier's blood back to his heart.



Melmoth stepped into a tilbury which was waiting for him, and was

whirled away so quickly, that when Castanier looked up he saw his foe

some hundred paces away from him, and before it even crossed his mind

to cut off the man's retreat the tilbury was far on its way up the

Boulevard Montmartre.



"Well, upon my word, there is something supernatural about this!" said

he to himself. "If I were fool enough to believe in God, I should think

that He had set Saint Michael on my tracks. Suppose that the devil and

the police should let me go on as I please, so as to nab me in the nick

of time? Did anyone ever see the like! But there, this is folly...."



Castanier went along the Rue du Faubourg-Montmartre, slackening his

pace as he neared the Rue Richer. There, on the second floor of a block

of buildings which looked out upon some gardens, lived the unconscious

cause of Castanier's crime--a young woman known in the quarter as Mme.

de la Garde. A concise history of certain events in the cashier's past

life must be given in order to explain these facts, and to give a

complete presentment of the crisis when he yielded to temptation.



Mme. de la Garde said that she was a Piedmontese. No one, not even

Castanier, knew her real name. She was one of those young girls who are

driven by dire misery, by inability to earn a living, or by fear of

starvation, to have recourse to a trade which most of them loathe, many

regard with indifference, and some few follow in obedience to the laws

of their constitution. But on the brink of the gulf of prostitution in

Paris, the young girl of sixteen, beautiful and pure as the Madonna,

had met with Castanier. The old dragoon was too rough and homely to

make his way in society, and he was tired of tramping the boulevard at

night and of the kind of conquests made there by gold. For some time

past he had desired to bring a certain regularity into an irregular

life. He was struck by the beauty of the poor child who had drifted by

chance into his arms, and his determination to rescue her from the life

of the streets was half benevolent, half selfish, as some of the

thoughts of the best of men are apt to be. Social conditions mingle

elements of evil with the promptings of natural goodness of heart, and

the mixture of motives underlying a man's intentions should be

leniently judged. Castanier had just cleverness enough to be very

shrewd where his own interests were concerned. So he concluded to be a

philanthropist on either count, and at first made her his mistress.



"Hey! hey!" he said to himself, in his soldierly fashion, "I am an old

wolf, and a sheep shall not make a fool of me. Castanier, old man,

before you set up housekeeping, reconnoiter the girl's character for a

bit, and see if she is a steady sort."



This irregular union gave the Piedmontese a status the most nearly

approaching respectability among those which the world declines to

recognize. During the first year she took the _nom de guerre_ of

Aquilina, one of the characters in _Venice Preserved_ which she had

chanced to read. She fancied that she resembled the courtesan in face

and general appearance, and in a certain precocity of heart and brain

of which she was conscious. When Castanier found that her life was as

well regulated and virtuous as was possible for a social outlaw, he

manifested a desire that they should live as husband and wife. So she

took the name of Mme. de la Garde, in order to approach, as closely as

Parisian usages permit, the conditions of a real marriage. As a matter

of fact, many of these unfortunate girls have one fixed idea, to be

looked upon as respectable middle-class women, who lead humdrum lives

of faithfulness to their husbands; women who would make excellent

mothers, keepers of household accounts, and menders of household linen.

This longing springs from a sentiment so laudable that society should

take it into consideration. But society, incorrigible as ever, will

assuredly persist in regarding the married woman as a corvette duly

authorized by her flag and papers to go on her own course, while the

woman who is a wife in all but name is a pirate and an outlaw for lack

of a document. A day came when Mme. de la Garde would fain have signed

herself "Mme. Castanier." The cashier was put out by this.



"So you do not love me well enough to marry me?" she said.



Castanier did not answer; he was absorbed by his thoughts. The poor

girl resigned herself to her fate. The ex-dragoon was in despair.

Naqui's heart softened toward him at the sight of his trouble; she

tried to soothe him, but what could she do when she did not know what

ailed him? When Naqui made up her mind to know the secret, although she

never asked him a question, the cashier dolefully confessed to the

existence of a Mme. Castanier. This lawful wife, a thousand times

accursed, was living in a humble way in Strasbourg on a small property

there; he wrote to her twice a year, and kept the secret of her

existence so well, that no one suspected that he was married. The

reason of this reticence? If it is familiar to many military men who

may chance to be in a like predicament, it is perhaps worth while to

give the story.



Your genuine trooper (if it is allowable here to employ the word which

in the army signifies a man who is destined to die as a captain) is a

sort of serf, a part and parcel of his regiment, an essentially simple

creature, and Castanier was marked out by nature as a victim to the

wiles of mothers with grown-up daughters left too long on their hands.

It was at Nancy, during one of those brief intervals of repose when the

Imperial armies were not on active service abroad, that Castanier was

so unlucky as to pay some attention to a young lady with whom he danced

at a _ridotto_, the provincial name for the entertainments often given

by the military to the townsfolk, or _vice versa_, in garrison towns. A

scheme for inveigling the gallant captain into matrimony was

immediately set on foot, one of those schemes by which mothers secure

accomplices in a human heart by touching all its motive springs, while

they convert all their friends into fellow-conspirators. Like all

people possessed by one idea, these ladies press everything into the

service of their great project, slowly elaborating their toils, much as

the ant-lion excavates its funnel in the sand and lies in wait at the

bottom for its victim. Suppose that no one strays, after all, into that

carefully constructed labyrinth? Suppose that the ant-lion dies of

hunger and thirst in her pit? Such things may be, but if any heedless

creature once enters in, it never comes out. All the wires which could

be pulled to induce action on the captain's part were tried; appeals

were made to the secret interested motives that always come into play

in such cases; they worked on Castanier's hopes and on the weaknesses

and vanity of human nature. Unluckily, he had praised the daughter to

her mother when he brought her back after a waltz, a little chat

followed, and then an invitation in the most natural way in the world.

Once introduced into the house, the dragoon was dazzled by the

hospitality of a family who appeared to conceal their real wealth

beneath a show of careful economy. He was skillfully flattered on all

sides, and everyone extolled for his benefit the various treasures

there displayed. A neatly timed dinner, served on plate lent by an

uncle, the attention shown to him by the only daughter of the house,

the gossip of the town, a well-to-do sub-lieutenant who seemed likely

to cut the ground from under his feet--all the innumerable snares, in

short, of the provincial ant-lion were set for him, and to such good

purpose, that Castanier said five years later, "To this day I do not

know how it came about!"



The dragoon received fifteen thousand francs with the lady, who, after

two years of marriage, became the ugliest and consequently the most

peevish woman on earth. Luckily they had no children. The fair

complexion (maintained by a Spartan regimen), the fresh, bright color

in her face, which spoke of an engaging modesty, became overspread with

blotches and pimples; her figure, which had seemed so straight, grew

crooked, the angel became a suspicious and shrewish creature who drove

Castanier frantic. Then the fortune took to itself wings. At length the

dragoon, no longer recognizing the woman whom he had wedded, left her

to live on a little property at Strasbourg, until the time when it

should please God to remove her to adorn Paradise. She was one of those

virtuous women who, for want of other occupation, would weary the life

out of an angel with complainings, who pray till (if their prayers are

heard in heaven) they must exhaust the patience of the Almighty, and

say everything that is bad of their husbands in dove-like murmurs over

a game of boston with their neighbors. When Aquilina learned all these

troubles she clung still more affectionately to Castanier, and made him

so happy, varying with woman's ingenuity the pleasures with which she

filled his life, that all unwittingly she was the cause of the

cashier's downfall.



Like many women who seem by nature destined to sound all the depths of

love, Mme. de la Garde was disinterested. She asked neither for gold

nor for jewelry, gave no thought to the future, lived entirely for the

present and for the pleasures of the present. She accepted expensive

ornaments and dresses, the carriage so eagerly coveted by women of her

class, as one harmony the more in the picture of life. There was

absolutely no vanity in her desire not to appear at a better advantage

but to look the fairer, and, moreover, no woman could live without

luxuries more cheerfully. When a man of generous nature (and military

men are mostly of this stamp) meets with such a woman, he feels a sort

of exasperation at finding himself her debtor in generosity. He feels

that he could stop a mail coach to obtain money for her if he has not

sufficient for her whims. He will commit a crime if so he may be great

and noble in the eyes of some woman or of his special public; such is

the nature of the man. Such a lover is like a gambler who would be

dishonored in his own eyes if he did not repay the sum he borrowed from

a waiter in a gaming house; but will shrink from no crime, will leave

his wife and children without a penny, and rob and murder, if so he may

come to the gaming table with a full purse, and his honor remain

untarnished among the frequenters of that fatal abode. So it was with

Castanier.



He had begun by installing Aquilina in a modest fourth-floor dwelling,

the furniture being of the simplest kind. But when he saw the girl's

beauty and great qualities, when he had known inexpressible and

unlooked-for happiness with her, he began to dote upon her, and longed

to adorn his idol. Then Aquilina's toilet was so comically out of

keeping with her poor abode, that for both their sakes it was clearly

incumbent on him to move. The change swallowed up almost all

Castanier's savings, for he furnished his domestic paradise with all

the prodigality that is lavished on a kept mistress. A pretty woman

must have everything pretty about her; the unity of charm in the woman

and her surroundings singles her out from among her sex. This sentiment

of homogeneity indeed, though it has frequently escaped the attention

of observers, is instinctive in human nature; and the same prompting

leads elderly spinsters to surround themselves with dreary relies of

the past. But the lovely Piedmontese must have the newest and latest

fashions, and all that was daintiest and prettiest in stuffs for

hangings, in silks or jewelry, in fine china and other brittle and

fragile wares. She asked for nothing; but when she was called upon to

make a choice, when Castanier asked her, "Which do you like?" she would

answer, "Why, this is the nicest!" Love never counts the cost, and

Castanier therefore always took the "nicest."



When once the standard had been set up, there was nothing for it but

everything in the household must be in conformity, from the linen,

plate, and crystal through a thousand and one items of expenditure down

to the pots and pans in the kitchen. Castanier had meant to "do things

simply," as the saying goes, but he gradually found himself more and

more in debt. One expense entailed another. The clock called for candle

sconces. Fires must be lighted in the ornamental grates, but the

curtains and hangings were too fresh and delicate to be soiled by

smuts, so they must be replaced by patent and elaborate fireplaces,

warranted to give out no smoke, recent inventions of the people who are

clever at drawing up a prospectus. Then Aquilina found it so nice to

run about barefooted on the carpet in her room that Castanier must have

soft carpets laid everywhere for the pleasure of playing with Naqui. A

bathroom, too, was built for her, everything to the end that she might

be more comfortable.



Shopkeepers, workmen, and manufacturers in Paris have a mysterious

knack of enlarging a hole in a man's purse. They cannot give the price

of anything upon inquiry; and as the paroxysm of longing cannot abide

delay, orders are given by the feeble light of an approximate estimate

of cost. The same people never send in the bills at once, but ply the

purchaser with furniture till his head spins. Everything is so pretty,

so charming; and everyone is satisfied.



A few months later the obliging furniture dealers are metamorphosed,

and reappear in the shape of alarming totals on invoices that fill the

soul with their horrid clamor; they are in urgent want of the money;

they are, as you may say, on the brink of bankruptcy, their tears flow,

it is heartrending to hear them! And then--the gulf yawns and gives up

serried columns of figures marching four deep; when as a matter of fact

they should have issued innocently three by three.



Before Castanier had any idea of how much he had spent, he had arranged

for Aquilina to have a carriage from a livery stable when she went out,

instead of a cab. Castanier was a gourmand; he engaged an excellent

cook; and Aquilina, to please him, had herself made the purchases of

early fruit and vegetables, rare delicacies, and exquisite wines. But,

as Aquilina had nothing of her own, these gifts of hers, so precious by

reason of the thought and tact and graciousness that prompted them,

were no less a drain upon Castanier's purse; he did not like his Naqui

to be without money, and Naqui could not keep money in her pocket. So

the table was a heavy item of expenditure for a man with Castanier's

income. The ex-dragoon was compelled to resort to various shifts for

obtaining money, for he could not bring himself to renounce this

delightful life. He loved the woman too well to cross the freaks of the

mistress. He was one of those men who, through self-love or through

weakness of character, can refuse nothing to a woman; false shame

overpowers them, and they rather face ruin than make the admissions: "I

cannot--" "My means will not permit--" "I cannot afford--"



When, therefore, Castanier saw that if he meant to emerge from the

abyss of debt into which he had plunged, he must part with Aquilina and

live upon bread and water, he was so unable to do without her or to

change his habits of life, that daily he put off his plans of reform

until the morrow. The debts were pressing, and he began by borrowing

money. His position and previous character inspired confidence, and of

this he took advantage to devise a system of borrowing money as he

required it. Then, as the total amount of debt rapidly increased, he

had recourse to those commercial inventions known as _accommodation

bills_. This form of bill does not represent goods or other value

received, and the first indorser pays the amount named for the obliging

person who accepts it. This species of fraud is tolerated because it is

impossible to detect it, and, moreover, it is an imaginary fraud which

only becomes real if payment is ultimately refused.



When at length it was evidently impossible to borrow any longer,

whether because the amount of the debt was now so greatly increased, or

because Castanier was unable to pay the large amount of interest on the

aforesaid sums of money, the cashier saw bankruptcy before him. On

making this discovery, he decided for a fraudulent bankruptcy rather

than an ordinary failure, and preferred a crime to a misdemeanor. He

determined, after the fashion of the celebrated cashier of the Royal

Treasury, to abuse the trust deservedly won, and to increase the number

of his creditors by making a final loan of the sum sufficient to keep

him in comfort in a foreign country for the rest of his days. All this,

as has been seen, he had prepared to do.



Aquilina knew nothing of the irksome cares of this life; she enjoyed

her existence, as many a woman does, making no inquiry as to where the

money came from, even as sundry other folk will eat their buttered

rolls untroubled by any restless spirit of curiosity as to the culture

and growth of wheat; but as the labor and miscalculations of

agriculture lie on the other side of the baker's oven, so, beneath the

unappreciated luxury of many a Parisian household lie intolerable

anxieties and exorbitant toil.



While Castanier was enduring the torture of the strain, and his

thoughts were full of the deed that should change his whole life,

Aquilina was lying luxuriously back in a great armchair by the

fireside, beguiling the time by chatting with her waiting-maid. As

frequently happens in such cases, the maid had become the mistress's

confidante, Jenny having first assured herself that her mistress's

ascendancy over Castanier was complete.



What are we to do this evening? Leon seems determined to come," Mme. de

la Garde was saying, as she read a passionate epistle indicted upon a

faint gray note paper.



"Here is the master!" said Jenny.



Castanier came in. Aquilina, nowise disconcerted, crumpled up the

letter, took it with the tongs, and held it in the flames.



"So that is what you do with your love letters, is it?" asked

Castanier.



"Oh, goodness, yes," said Aquilina; "is it not the best way of keeping

them safe? Besides, fire should go to the fire, as water makes for the

river."



"You are talking as if it were a real love letter, Naqui--"



"Well, am I not handsome enough to receive them?" she said, holding up

her forehead for a kiss. There was a carelessness in her manner that

would have told any man less blind than Castanier that it was only a

piece of conjugal duty, as it were, to give this joy to the cashier;

but use and wont had brought Castanier to the point where

clear-sightedness is no longer possible for love.



"I have taken a box at the Gymnase this evening," he said; "let us have

dinner early, and then we need not dine in a hurry."



"Go and take Jenny. I am tired of plays. I do not know what is the

matter with me this evening; I would rather stay here by the fire."



"Come, all the same though, Naqui; I shall not be here to bore you much

longer. Yes, Quiqui, I am going to start to-night, and it will be some

time before I come back again. I am leaving everything in your charge.

Will you keep your heart for me too?"



"Neither my heart nor anything else," she said; "but when you come back

again, Naqui will still be Naqui for you."



"Well, this is frankness. So you would not follow me?"



"No."



"Why not?"



"Eh! why, how can I leave the lover who writes me such sweet little

notes?" she asked, pointing to the blackened scrap of paper with a

mocking smile.



"Is there any truth in it?" asked Castanier. "Have you really a lover?"



"Really!" cried Aquilina; "and have you never given it a serious

thought, dear? To begin with, you are fifty years old. Then you have

just the sort of face to put on a fruit stall; if the woman tried to

sell you for a pumpkin, no one would contradict her. You puff and blow

like a seal when you come upstairs; your paunch rises and falls like

the diamond on a woman's forehead! It is pretty plain that you served

in the dragoons; you are a very ugly-looking old man. Fiddle-de-dee. If

you have any mind to keep my respect, I recommend you not to add

imbecility to these qualities by imagining that such a girl as I am

will be content with your asthmatic love, and not look for youth and

good looks and pleasure by way of variety--"



"Aquilina! you are laughing, of course?"



"Oh, very well; and are you not laughing too? Do you take me for a

fool, telling me that you are going away? 'I am going to start

to-night!'" she said, mimicking his tones. "Stuff and nonsense! Would

you talk like that if you were really going away from your Naqui? You

would cry, like the booby that you are!"



"After all, if I go, will you follow?" he asked.



"Tell me first whether this journey of yours is a bad joke or not."



"Yes, seriously, I am going."



"Well, then, seriously, I shall stay. A pleasant journey to you, my

boy! I will wait till you come back. I would sooner take leave of life

than take leave of my dear, cozy Paris--"



"Will you not come to Italy, to Naples, and lead a pleasant life

there--a delicious, luxurious life, with this stout old fogey of yours,

who puffs and blows like a seal?"



"No."



"Ungrateful girl!"



"Ungrateful?" she cried, rising to her feet. "I might leave this house

this moment and take nothing out of it but myself. I shall have given

you all the treasures a young girl can give, and something that not

every drop in your veins and mine can ever give me back. If, by any

means whatever, by selling my hopes of eternity, for instance, I could

recover my past self, body as soul (for I have, perhaps, redeemed my

soul), and be pure as a lily for my lover I would not hesitate a

moment! What sort of devotion has rewarded mine? You have housed and

fed me, just as you give a dog food and a kennel because he is a

protection to the house, and he may take kicks when we are out of

humor, and lick our hands as soon as we are pleased to call to him. And

which of us two will have been the more generous?"



"Oh! dear child, do you not see that I am joking?" returned Castanier.

"I am going on a short journey; I shall not be away for very long. But

come with me to the Gymnase; I shall start just before midnight, after

I have had time to say good-by to you."



"Poor pet! so you are really going, are you?" she said. She put her

arms round his neck, and drew down his head against her bodice.



"You are smothering me!" cried Castanier, with his face buried in

Aquilina's breast. That damsel turned to say in Jenny's ear, "Go to

Leon, and tell him not to come till one o'clock. If you do not find

him, and he comes here during the leave-taking, keep him in your

room.--Well," she went on, setting free Castanier, and giving a tweak

to the tip of his nose, "never mind, handsomest of seals that you are.

I will go to the theater with you this evening. But all in good time;

let us have dinner! There is a nice little dinner for you--just what

you like."



"It is very hard to part from such a woman as you!" exclaimed

Castanier.



"Very well then, why do you go?" asked she.



"Ah! why? why? If I were to begin to explain the reasons why, I must

tell you things that would prove to you that I love you almost to

madness. Ah! if you have sacrificed your honor for me, I have sold mine

for you; we are quits. Is that love?"



"What is all this about?" said she. "Come, now, promise me that if I

had a lover you would still love me as a father; that would be love!

Come, now, promise it at once, and give us your fist upon it."



"I should kill you," and Castanier smiled as he spoke.



They sat down to the dinner table, and went thence to the Gymnase. When

the first part of the performance was over, it occurred to Castanier to

show himself to some of his acquaintances in the house, so as to turn

away any suspicion of his departure. He left Mme. de la Garde in the

corner box where she was seated, according to her modest wont, and went

to walk up and down in the lobby. He had not gone many paces before he

saw the Englishman, and with a sudden return of the sickening sensation

of heat that once before had vibrated through him, and of the terror

that he had felt already, he stood face to face with Melmoth.



"Forger!"



At the word, Castanier glanced round at the people who were moving

about them. He fancied that he could see astonishment and curiosity in

their eyes, and wishing to be rid of this Englishman at once, he raised

his hand to strike him--and felt his arm paralyzed by some invisible

power that sapped his strength and nailed him to the spot. He allowed

the stranger to take him by the arm, and they walked together to the

greenroom like two friends.



"Who is strong enough to resist me?" said the Englishman, addressing

him. "Do you not know that everything here on earth must obey me, that

it is in my power to do everything? I read men's thoughts, I see the

future, and I know the past. I am here, and I can be elsewhere also.

Time and space and distance are nothing to me. The whole world is at my

beck and call. I have the power of continual enjoyment and of giving

joy. I can see through walls, discover hidden treasures, and fill my

hands with them. Palaces arise at my nod, and my architect makes no

mistakes. I can make all lands break forth into blossom, heap up their

gold and precious stones, and surround myself with fair women and ever

new faces; everything is yielded up to my will. I could gamble on the

Stock Exchange, and my speculations would be infallible; but a man who

can find the hoards that misers have hidden in the earth need not

trouble himself about stocks. Feel the strength of the hand that grasps

you; poor wretch, doomed to shame! Try to bend the arm of iron! try to

soften the adamantine heart! Fly from me if you dare! You would hear my

voice in the depths of the caves that lie under the Seine; you might

hide in the Catacombs, but would you not see me there? My voice could

be heard through the sound of the thunder, my eyes shine as brightly as

the sun, for I am the peer of Lucifer!"



Castanier heard the terrible words, and felt no protest nor

contradiction within himself. He walked side by side with the

Englishman, and had no power to leave him.



"You are mine; you have just committed a crime. I have found at last

the mate whom I have sought. Have you a mind to learn your destiny?

Aha! you came here to see a play, and you shall see a play--nay, two.

Come. Present me to Mme. de la Garde as one of your best friends. Am I

not your last hope of escape?"



Castanier, followed by the stranger, returned to his box; and in

accordance with the order he had just received, he hastened to

introduce Melmoth to Mme. de la Garde. Aquilina seemed to be not in the

least surprised. The Englishman declined to take a seat in front, and

Castanier was once more beside his mistress; the man's slightest wish

must be obeyed. The last piece was about to begin, for, at that time,

small theaters only gave three pieces. One of the actors had made the

Gymnase the fashion, and that evening Perlet (the actor in question)

was to play in a vaudeville called _Le Comedien d'Etampes_, in which he

filled four different parts.



When the curtain rose, the stranger stretched out his hand over the

crowded house. Castanier's cry of terror died away, for the walls of

his throat seemed glued together as Melmoth pointed to the stage, and

the cashier knew that the play had been changed at the Englishman's

desire.



He saw the strong room at the bank; he saw the Baron de Nucingen in

conference with a police officer from the prefecture, who was informing

him of Castanier's conduct, explaining that the cashier had absconded

with money taken from the safe, giving the history of the forged

signature. The information was put in writing; the document signed and

duly dispatched to the public prosecutor.



"Are we in time, do you think?" asked Nucingen.



"Yes," said the agent of police; "he is at the Gymnase, and has no

suspicion of anything."



Castanier fidgeted on his chair, and made as if he would leave the

theater, but Melmoth's hand lay on his shoulder, and he was obliged to

sit and watch; the hideous power of the man produced an effect like

that of nightmare, and he could not move a limb. Nay, the man himself

was the nightmare; his presence weighed heavily on his victim like a

poisoned atmosphere. When the wretched cashier turned to implore the

Englishman's mercy, he met those blazing eyes that discharged electric

currents, which pierced through him and transfixed him like darts of

steel.



"What have I done to you?" he said, in his prostrate helplessness, and

he breathed hard like a stag at the water's edge. "What do you want of

me?"



"Look!" cried Melmoth.



Castanier looked at the stage. The scene had been changed. The play

seemed to be over, and Castanier beheld himself stepping from the

carriage with Aquilina; but as he entered the courtyard of the house in

the Rue Richer, the scene again was suddenly changed, and he saw his

own house. Jenny was chatting by the fire in her mistress's room with a

subaltern officer of a line regiment then stationed at Paris.



"He is going, is he?" said the sergeant, who seemed to belong to a

family in easy circumstances; "I can be happy at my ease! I love

Aquilina too well to allow her to belong to that old toad! I, myself,

am going to marry Mme. de la Garde!" cried the sergeant.



"Old toad!" Castanier murmured piteously.



"Here come the master and mistress; hide yourself! Stay, get in here,

Monsieur Leon," said Jenny. "The master won't stay here for very long."



Castanier watched the sergeant hide himself among Aquilina's gowns in

her dressing room. Almost immediately he himself appeared upon the

scene, and took leave of his mistress, who made fun of him in "asides"

to Jenny, while she uttered the sweetest and tenderest words in his

ears. She wept with one side of her face, and laughed with the other.

The audience called for an encore.



"Accursed creature!" cried Castanier from his box.



Aquilina was laughing till the tears came into her eyes.



"Goodness!" she cried, "how funny Perlet is as the Englishwoman!... Why

don't you laugh? Everyone else in the house is laughing. Laugh, dear!"

she said to Castanier.



Melmoth burst out laughing, and the unhappy cashier shuddered. The

Englishman's laughter wrung his heart and tortured his brain; it was as

if a surgeon had bored his skull with a red-hot iron.



"Laughing! are they laughing?" stammered Castanier.



He did not see the prim English lady whom Perlet was acting with such

ludicrous effect, nor hear the English-French that had filled the house

with roars of laughter; instead of all this, he beheld himself hurrying

from the Rue Richer, hailing a cab on the Boulevard, bargaining with

the man to take him to Versailles. Then once more the scene changed. He

recognized the sorry inn at the corner of the Rue de l'Orangerie and

the Rue des Recollets, which was kept by his old quartermaster. It was

two o'clock in the morning, the most perfect stillness prevailed, no

one was there to watch his movements. The post-horses were put into the

carriage (it came from a house in the Avenue de Paris in which an

Englishman lived, and had been ordered in the foreigner's name to avoid

raising suspicion). Castanier saw that he had his bills and his

passports, stepped into the carriage, and set out. But at the barrier

he saw two gendarmes lying in wait for the carriage. A cry of horror

burst from him, but Melmoth gave him a glance, and again the sound died

in his throat.



"Keep your eyes on the stage, and be quiet!" said the Englishman.



In another moment Castanier saw himself flung into prison at the

Conciergerie; and in the fifth act of the drama, entitled _The

Cashier_, he saw himself, in three months' time, condemned to twenty

years of penal servitude. Again a cry broke from him. He was exposed

upon the Place du Palais-de-Justice, and the executioner branded him

with a red-hot iron. Then came the last scene of all; among some sixty

convicts in the prison yard of the Bicetre, he was awaiting his turn to

have the irons riveted on his limbs.



"Dear me! I cannot laugh any more!..." said Aquilina. "You are very

solemn, dear boy; what can be the matter? The gentleman has gone."



"A word with you, Castanier," said Melmoth when the piece was at an

end, and the attendant was fastening Mme. de la Garde's cloak.



The corridor was crowded, and escape impossible.



"Very well, what is it?"



"No human power can hinder you from taking Aquilina home, and going

next to Versailles, there to be arrested."



"How so?"



"Because you are in a hand that will never relax its grasp," returned

the Englishman.



Castanier longed for the power to utter some word that should blot him

out from among living men and hide him in the lowest depths of hell.



"Suppose that the devil were to make a bid for your soul, would you not

give it to him now in exchange for the power of God? One single word,

and those five hundred thousand francs shall be back in the Baron de

Nucingen's safe; then you can tear up your letter of credit, and all

traces of your crime will be obliterated. Moreover, you would have gold

in torrents. You hardly believe in anything perhaps? Well, if all this

comes to pass, you will believe at least in the devil."



"If it were only possible!" said Castanier joyfully.



"The man who can do it all gives you his word that it is possible,"

answered the Englishman.



Melmoth, Castanier, and Mme. de la Garde were standing out in the

Boulevard when Melmoth raised his arm. A drizzling rain was falling,

the streets were muddy, the air was close, there was thick darkness

overhead; but in a moment, as the arm was outstretched, Paris was

filled with sunlight; it was high noon on a bright July day. The trees

were covered with leaves; a double stream of joyous holiday makers

strolled beneath them. Sellers of licorice water shouted their cool

drinks. Splendid carriages rolled past along the streets. A cry of

terror broke from the cashier, and at that cry rain and darkness once

more settled down upon the Boulevard.



Mme. de la Garde had stepped into the carriage. "Do be quick, dear!"

she cried; "either come in or stay out. Really, you are as dull as

ditch-water this evening--"



"What must I do?" Castanier asked of Melmoth.



"Would you like to take my place?" inquired the Englishman.



"Yes."



"Very well, then; I will be at your house in a few moments."



"By the bye, Castanier, you are rather off your balance," Aquilina

remarked. "There is some mischief brewing; you were quite melancholy

and thoughtful all through the play. Do you want anything that I can

give you, dear? Tell me."



"I am waiting till we are at home to know whether you love me."



"You need not wait till then," she said, throwing her arms round his

neck. "There!" she said, as she embraced him, passionately to all

appearance, and plied him with the coaxing caresses that are part of

the business of such a life as hers, like stage action for an actress.



"Where is the music?" asked Castanier.



"What next? Only think of your hearing music now!"



"Heavenly music!" he went on. "The sounds seem to come from above."



"What? You have always refused to give me a box at the Italiens because

you could not abide music, and are you turning music-mad at this time

of day? Mad--that you are! The music is inside your own noddle, old

addle-pate!" she went on, as she took his head in her hands and rocked

it to and fro on her shoulder. "Tell me now, old man; isn't it the

creaking of the wheels that sings in your ears?"



"Just listen, Naqui! If the angels make music for God Almighty, it must

be such music as this that I am drinking in at every pore, rather than

hearing. I do not know how to tell you about it; it is as sweet as

honey water!"



"Why, of course, they have music in heaven, for the angels in all the

pictures have harps in their hands. He is mad, upon my word!" she said

to herself, as she saw Castanier's attitude; he looked like an opium

eater in a blissful trance.



They reached the house. Castanier, absorbed by the thought of all that

he had just heard and seen, knew not whether to believe it or no; he

was like a drunken man, and utterly unable to think connectedly. He

came to himself in Aquilina's room, whither he had been supported by

the united efforts of his mistress, the porter, and Jenny; for he had

fainted as he stepped from the carriage.



"_He_ will be here directly! Oh, my friends, my friends!" he cried, and

he flung himself despairingly into the depths of a low chair beside the

fire.



Jenny heard the bell as he spoke, and admitted the Englishman. She

announced that "a gentleman had come who had made an appointment with

the master," when Melmoth suddenly appeared, and deep silence followed.

He looked at the porter--the porter went; he looked at Jenny--and Jenny

went likewise.



"Madame," said Melmoth, turning to Aquilina, "with your permission, we

will conclude a piece of urgent business."



He took Castanier's hand, and Castanier rose, and the two men went into

the drawing-room. There was no light in the room, but Melmoth's eyes

lit up the thickest darkness. The gaze of those strange eyes had left

Aquilina like one spellbound; she was helpless, unable to take any

thought for her lover; moreover, she believed him to be safe in Jenny's

room, whereas their early return had taken the waiting woman by

surprise, and she had hidden the officer in the dressing room. It had

all happened exactly as in the drama that Melmoth had displayed for his

victim. Presently the house door was slammed violently, and Castanier

reappeared.



"What ails you?" cried the horror-struck Aquilina.



There was a change in the cashier's appearance. A strange pallor

overspread his once rubicund countenance; it wore the peculiarly

sinister and stony look of the mysterious visitor. The sullen glare of

his eyes was intolerable, the fierce light in them seemed to scorch.

The man who had looked so good-humored and good-natured had suddenly

grown tyrannical and proud. The courtesan thought that Castanier had

grown thinner; there was a terrible majesty in his brow; it was as if a

dragon breathed forth a malignant influence that weighed upon the

others like a close, heavy atmosphere. For a moment Aquilina knew not

what to do.



"What passed between you and that diabolical-looking man in those few

minutes?" she asked at length.



"I have sold my soul to him. I feel it; I am no longer the same. He has

taken my _self_, and given me his soul in exchange."



"What?"



"You would not understand it at all.... Ah! he was right," Castanier

went on, "the fiend was right! I see everything and know all

things.--You have been deceiving me!"



Aquilina turned cold with terror. Castanier lighted a candle and went

into the dressing room. The unhappy girl followed him in dazed

bewilderment, and great was her astonishment when Castanier drew the

dresses that hung there aside and disclosed the sergeant.



"Come out, my boy," said the cashier; and, taking Leon by a button of

his overcoat, he drew the officer into his room.



The Piedmontese, haggard and desperate, had flung herself into her easy

chair. Castanier seated himself on a sofa by the fire, and left

Aquilina's lover in a standing position.



"You have been in the army," said Leon; "I am ready to give you

satisfaction."



"You are a fool," said Castanier dryly. "I have no occasion to fight. I

could kill you by a look if I had any mind to do it. I will tell you

what it is, youngster; why should I kill you? I can see a red line

round your neck--the guillotine is waiting for you. Yes, you will end

in the Place de Greve. You are the headsman's property! there is no

escape for you. You belong to a _vendita_ of the Carbonari. You are

plotting against the Government."



"You did not tell me that," cried the Piedmontese, turning to Leon.



"So you do not know that the Minister decided this morning to put down

your Society?" the cashier continued. "The Procureur-General has a list

of your names. You have been betrayed. They are busy drawing up the

indictment at this moment."



"Then was it you who betrayed him?" cried Aquilina, and with a hoarse

sound in her throat like the growl of a tigress she rose to her feet;

she seemed as if she would tear Castanier in pieces.



"You know me too well to believe it," Castanier retorted. Aquilina was

benumbed by his coolness.



"Then how did you know it?" she murmured.



"I did not know it until I went into the drawing-room; now I know

it--now I see and know all things, and can do all things."



The sergeant was overcome with amazement.



"Very well then, save him, save him, dear!" cried the girl, flinging

herself at Castanier's feet. "If nothing is impossible to you, save

him! I will love you, I will adore you, I will be your slave and not

your mistress. I will obey your wildest whims; you shall do as you will

with me. Yes, yes, I will give you more than love; you shall have a

daughter's devotion as well as ... Rodolphe! why will you not

understand! After all, however violent my passions may be, I shall be

yours forever! What should I say to persuade you? I will invent

pleasures ... I ... Great heavens! one moment! whatever you shall ask

of me--to fling myself from the window, for instance--you will need to

say but one word, 'Leon!' and I will plunge down into hell. I would





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