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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Firm Of Nucingen - Part 7
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The Firm Of Nucingen - Part 7 Post by :McKinley Category :Long Stories Author :Honore De Balzac Date :May 2012 Read :3100

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The Firm Of Nucingen - Part 7

"In a corner of the Bourse he came upon poor Matifat, who had three hundred thousand francs in Nucingen's bank. Matifat, ghastly and haggard, beheld the terrible Gigonnet, the bill-discounter of his old quarter, coming up to worry him. He shuddered in spite of himself.

"'Things are looking bad. There is a crisis on hand. Nucingen is compounding with his creditors. But this does not interest you, Daddy Matifat; you are out of business.'

"'Oh, well, you are mistaken, Gigonnet; I am in for three hundred thousand francs. I meant to speculate in Spanish bonds.'

"'Then you have saved your money. Spanish bonds would have swept everything away; whereas I am prepared to offer you something like fifty per cent for your account with Nucingen.'

"'You are very keen about it, it seems to me,' said Matifat. 'I never knew a banker yet that paid less than fifty per cent. Ah, if it were only a matter of ten per cent of loss--' added the retired man of drugs.

"'Well, will you take fifteen?' asked Gigonnet.

"'You are very keen about it, it seems to me,' said Matifat.

"'Good-night.'

"'Will you take twelve?'

"'Done,' said Gigonnet.

"Before night two millions had been bought up in the names of the three chance-united confederates, and posted by du Tillet to the debit side of Nucingen's account. Next day they drew their premium.

"The dainty little old Baroness d'Aldrigger was at breakfast with her two daughters and Godefroid, when Rastignac came in with a diplomatic air to steer the conversation on the financial crisis. The Baron de Nucingen felt a lively regard for the d'Aldrigger family; he was prepared, if things went amiss, to cover the Baroness' account with his best securities, to wit, some shares in the argentiferous lead-mines, but the application must come from the lady.

"'Poor Nucingen!' said the Baroness. 'What can have become of him?'

"'He is in Belgium. His wife is petitioning for a separation of her property; but he had gone to see if he can arrange with some bankers to see him through.'

"'Dear me! That reminds me of my poor husband! Dear M. de Rastignac, how you must feel this, so attached as you are to the house!'

"'If all the indifferent are covered, his personal friends will be rewarded later on. He will pull through; he is a clever man.'

"'An honest man, above all things,' said the Baroness.

"A month later, Nucingen met all his liabilities, with no formalities beyond the letters by which creditors signified the investments which they preferred to take in exchange for their capital; and with no action on the part of other banks beyond registering the transfer of Nucingen's paper for the investments in favor.

"While du Tillet, Werbrust, Claparon, Gigonnet, and others that thought themselves clever were fetching in Nucingen's paper from abroad with a premium of one per cent--for it was still worth their while to exchange it for securities in a rising market--there was all the more talk on the Bourse, because there was nothing now to fear. They babbled over Nucingen; he was discussed and judged; they even slandered him. His luxurious life, his enterprises! When a man has so much on his hands, he overreaches himself, and so forth, and so forth.

"The talk was at its height, when several people were greatly astonished to receive letters from Geneva, Basel, Milan, Naples, Genoa, Marseilles, and London, in which their correspondents, previously advised of the failure, informed them that somebody was offering one per cent for Nucingen's paper! 'There is something up,' said the lynxes of the Bourse.

"The Court meanwhile had granted the application for Mme. de Nucingen's separation as to her estate, and the question became still more complicated. The newspapers announced the return of M. le Baron de Nucingen from a journey to Belgium; he had been arranging, it was said, with a well-known Belgian firm to resume the working of some coal-pits in the Bois de Bossut. The Baron himself appeared on the Bourse, and never even took the trouble to contradict the slanders circulating against him. He scorned to reply through the press; he simply bought a splendid estate just outside Paris for two millions of francs. Six weeks afterwards, the Bordeaux shipping intelligence announced that two vessels with cargoes of bullion to the amount of seven millions, consigned to the firm of Nucingen, were lying in the river.

"Then it was plain to Palma, Werbrust, and du Tillet that the trick had been played. Nobody else was any the wiser. The three scholars studied the means by which the great bubble had been created, saw that it had been preparing for eleven months, and pronounced Nucingen the greatest financier in Europe.

"Rastignac understood nothing of all this, but he had the four hundred thousand francs which Nucingen had allowed him to shear from the Parisian sheep, and he portioned his sisters. D'Aiglemont, at a hint from his cousin Beaudenord, besought Rastignac to accept ten per cent upon his million if he would undertake to convert it into shares in a canal which is still to make, for Nucingen worked things with the Government to such purpose that the concessionaires find it to their interest not to finish their scheme. Charles Grandet implored Delphine's lover to use his interest to secure shares for him in exchange for his cash. And altogether Rastignac played the part of Law for ten days; he had the prettiest duchesses in France praying to him to allot shares to them, and to-day the young man very likely has an income of forty thousand livres, derived in the first instance from the argentiferous lead-mines."

"If every one was better off, who can have lost?" asked Finot.

"Hear the conclusion," rejoined Bixiou. "The Marquis d'Aiglemont and Beaudenord (I put them forward as two examples out of many) kept their allotted shares, enticed by the so-called dividend that fell due a few months afterwards. They had another three per cent on their capital, they sang Nucingen's praises, and took his part at a time when everybody suspected that he was going bankrupt. Godefroid married his beloved Isaure and took shares in the mines to the value of a hundred thousand francs. The Nucingens gave a ball even more splendid than people expected of them on the occasion of the wedding; Delphine's present to the bride was a charming set of rubies. Isaure danced, a happy wife, a girl no longer. The little Baroness was more than ever a Shepherdess of the Alps. The ball was at its height when Malvina, the _Andalouse of Musset's poem, heard du Tillet's voice drily advising her to take Desroches. Desroches, warmed to the right degree by Rastignac and Nucingen, tried to come to an understanding financially; but at the first hint of shares in the mines for the bride's portion, he broke off and went back to the Matifat's in the Rue du Cherche-Midi, only to find the accursed canal shares which Gigonnet had foisted on Matifat in lieu of cash.

"They had not long to wait for the crash. The firm of Claparon did business on too large a scale, the capital was locked up, the concern ceased to serve its purposes, or to pay dividends, though the speculations were sound. These misfortunes coincided with the events of 1827. In 1829 it was too well known that Claparon was a man of straw set up by the two giants; he fell from his pedestal. Shares that had fetched twelve hundred and fifty francs fell to four hundred, though intrinsically they were worth six. Nucingen, knowing their value, bought them up at four.

"Meanwhile the little Baroness d'Aldrigger had sold out of the mines that paid no dividends, and Godefroid had reinvested the money belonging to his wife and her mother in Claparon's concern. Debts compelled them to realize when the shares were at their lowest, so that of seven hundred thousand francs only two hundred thousand remained. They made a clearance, and all that was left was prudently invested in the three per cents at seventy-five. Godefroid, the sometime gay and careless bachelor who had lived without taking thought all his life long, found himself saddled with a little goose of a wife totally unfitted to bear adversity (indeed, before six months were over, he had witnessed the anserine transformation of his beloved) to say nothing of a mother-in-law whose mind ran on pretty dresses while she had not bread to eat. The two families must live together to live at all. It was only by stirring up all his considerably chilled interest that Godefroid got a post in the audit department. His friends?--They were out of town. His relatives?--All astonishment and promises. 'What! my dear boy! Oh! count upon me! Poor fellow!' and Beaudenord was clean forgotten fifteen minutes afterwards. He owed his place to Nucingen and de Vandenesse.

"And to-day these so estimable and unfortunate people are living on a third floor (not counting the entresol) in the Rue du Mont Thabor. Malvina, the Adolphus' pearl of a granddaughter, has not a farthing. She gives music-lessons, not to be a burden upon her brother-in-law. You may see a tall, dark, thin, withered woman, like a mummy escaped from Passalacqua's about afoot through the streets of Paris. In 1830 Beaudenord lost his situation just as his wife presented him with a fourth child. A family of eight and two servants (Wirth and his wife) and an income of eight thousand livres. And at this moment the mines are paying so well, that an original share of a thousand francs brings in a dividend of cent per cent.

"Rastignac and Mme. de Nucingen bought the shares sold by the Baroness and Godefroid. The Revolution made a peer of France of Nucingen and a Grand Officer of the Legion of Honor. He has not stopped payment since 1830, but still I hear that he has something like seventeen millions. He put faith in the Ordinances of July, sold out of all his investments, and boldly put his money into the funds when the three per cents stood at forty-five. He persuaded the Tuileries that this was done out of devotion, and about the same time he and du Tillet between them swallowed down three millions belonging to that great scamp Philippe Bridau.

"Quite lately our Baron was walking along the Rue de Rivoli on his way to the Bois when he met the Baroness d'Aldrigger under the colonnade. The little old lady wore a tiny green bonnet with a rose-colored lining, a flowered gown, and a mantilla; altogether, she was more than ever the Shepherdess of the Alps. She could no more be made to understand the causes of her poverty than the sources of her wealth. As she went along, leaning upon poor Malvina, that model of heroic devotion, she seemed to be the young girl and Malvina the old mother. Wirth followed them, carrying an umbrella.

"'Dere are beoples whose vordune I vound it imbossible to make,' said the Baron, addressing his companion (M. Cointet, a cabinet minister). 'Now dot de baroxysm off brincibles haf bassed off, chust reinshtate dot boor Peautenord.'

"So Beaudenord went back to his desk, thanks to Nucingen's good offices; and the d'Aldriggers extol Nucingen as a hero of friendship, for he always sends the little Shepherdess of the Alps and her daughters invitations to his balls. No creature whatsoever can be made to understand that the Baron yonder three times did his best to plunder the public without breaking the letter of the law, and enriched people in spite of himself. No one has a word to say against him. If anybody should suggest that a big capitalist often is another word for a cut-throat, it would be a most egregious calumny. If stocks rise and fall, if property improves and depreciates, the fluctuations of the market are caused by a common movement, a something in the air, a tide in the affairs of men subject like other tides to lunar influences. The great Arago is much to blame for giving us no scientific theory to account for this important phenomenon. The only outcome of all this is an axiom which I have never seen anywhere in print----"

"And that is?"

"The debtor is more than a match for the creditor."

"Oh!" said Blondet. "For my own part, all that we have been saying seems to me to be a paraphrase of the epigram in which Montesquieu summed up _l'Esprit des Lois_."

"What?" said Finot.

"Laws are like spiders' webs; the big flies get through, while the little ones are caught."

"Then, what are you for?" asked Finot.

"For absolute government, the only kind of government under which enterprises against the spirit of the law can be put down. Yes. Arbitrary rule is the salvation of a country when it comes to the support of justice, for the right of mercy is strictly one-sided. The king can pardon a fraudulent bankrupt; he cannot do anything for the victims. The letter of the law is fatal to modern society."

"Just get that into the electors' heads!" said Bixiou.

"Some one has undertaken to do it."

"Who?"

"Time. As the Bishop of Leon said, 'Liberty is ancient, but kingship is eternal; any nation in its right mind returns to monarchical government in one form or another.'"

"I say, there was somebody next door," said Finot, hearing us rise to go.

"There always is somebody next door," retorted Bixiou. "But he must have been drunk."

PARIS, November 1837.


ADDENDUM

The following personages appear in other stories of the Human Comedy.


Aiglemont, General, Marquis Victor d'
At the Sign of the Cat and Racket
A Woman of Thirty

Beaudenord, Godefroid de
A Distinguished Provincial at Paris
The Ball at Sceaux

Bidault (known as Gigonnet)
The Government Clerks
Gobseck
The Vendetta
Cesar Birotteau
A Daughter of Eve

Bixiou, Jean-Jacques
The Purse
A Bachelor's Establishment
The Government Clerks
Modeste Mignon
Scenes from a Courtesan's Life
The Muse of the Department
Cousin Betty
The Member for Arcis
Beatrix
A Man of Business
Gaudissart II.
The Unconscious Humorists
Cousin Pons

Blondet, Emile
Jealousies of a Country Town
A Distinguished Provincial at Paris
Scenes from a Courtesan's Life
Modeste Mignon
Another Study of Woman
The Secrets of a Princess
A Daughter of Eve
The Peasantry

Claparon, Charles
A Bachelor's Establishment
Cesar Birotteau
Melmoth Reconciled
A Man of Business
The Middle Classes

Cochin, Emile-Louis-Lucien-Emmanuel
Cesar Birotteau
The Government Clerks
The Middle Classes

Cochin, Adolphe
Cesar Birotteau

Cointet, Boniface
Lost Illusions
The Member for Arcis

Couture
Beatrix
The Middle Classes

Desroches (son)
A Bachelor's Establishment
Colonel Chabert
A Start in Life
A Woman of Thirty
The Commission in Lunacy
The Government Clerks
A Distinguished Provincial at Paris
Scenes from a Courtesan's Life
A Man of Business
The Middle Classes

Falleix, Martin
The Government Clerks

Finot, Andoche
Cesar Birotteau
A Bachelor's Establishment
A Distinguished Provincial at Paris
Scenes from a Courtesan's Life
The Government Clerks
A Start in Life
Gaudissart the Great

Gobseck, Esther Van
Gobseck
A Bachelor's Establishment
Scenes from a Courtesan's Life

Grandet, Victor-Ange-Guillaume
Eugenie Grandet

Grandet, Charles
Eugenie Grandet

Matifat (wealthy druggist)
Cesar Birotteau
A Bachelor's Establishment
Lost Illusions
A Distinguished Provincial at Paris
Cousin Pons

Matifat, Madame
Cesar Birotteau

Matifat, Mademoiselle
Pierrette

Minard, Auguste-Jean-Francois
The Government Clerks
The Middle Classes

Nucingen, Baron Frederic de
Father Goriot
Pierrette
Cesar Birotteau
Lost Illusions
A Distinguished Provincial at Paris
Scenes from a Courtesan's Life
Another Study of Woman
The Secrets of a Princess
A Man of Business
Cousin Betty
The Muse of the Department
The Unconscious Humorists

Nucingen, Baronne Delphine de
Father Goriot
The Thirteen
Eugenie Grandet
Cesar Birotteau
Melmoth Reconciled
Lost Illusions
A Distinguished Provincial at Paris
The Commission in Lunacy
Scenes from a Courtesan's Life
Modeste Mignon
Another Study of Woman
A Daughter of Eve
The Member for Arcis

Palma (banker)
Cesar Birotteau
Gobseck
Lost Illusions
A Distinguished Provincial at Paris
The Ball at Sceaux

Rastignac, Eugene de
Father Goriot
A Distinguished Provincial at Paris
Scenes from a Courtesan's Life
The Ball at Sceaux
The Interdiction
A Study of Woman
Another Study of Woman
The Magic Skin
The Secrets of a Princess
A Daughter of Eve
The Gondreville Mystery
Cousin Betty
The Member for Arcis
The Unconscious Humorists

Taillefer, Jean-Frederic
Father Goriot
The Magic Skin
The Red Inn

Tillet, Ferdinand du
Cesar Birotteau
The Middle Classes
A Bachelor's Establishment
Pierrette
Melmoth Reconciled
A Distinguished Provincial at Paris
The Secrets of a Princess
A Daughter of Eve
The Member for Arcis
Cousin Betty
The Unconscious Humorists

Toby (Joby, Paddy)
The Secrets of a Princess

Werbrust
Cesar Birotteau


(THE END)
Honore de Balzac's Novel: Firm of Nucingen

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