The Brotherhood of Consolation


Reflect, too, my dear child, that for the last year even the Messieurs Mongenod find our accounts too heavy for them.Half your time would be taken up in merely keeping our books.We have to-day over two thousand debtors in Paris, and we must keep the record of their debts.Not that we ask for payment; we simply wait.We calculate that if half the money we expect is lost, the other half comes back to us, sometimes doubled.Now, suppose your Monsieur Bernard dies, the twelve thousand francs are probably lost.But if you cure his daughter, if his grandson is put in the way of succeeding, if he comes, some day, a magistrate, then, when the family is prosperous, they will remember the debt, and return the money of the poor with usury.Do you know that more than one family whom we have rescued from poverty, and put upon their feet on the road to prosperity by loans of money without interest, have laid aside a portion for the poor, and have returned to us the money loaned doubled, and sometimes tripled? Those are our only speculations.Moreover, reflect that what is now interesting you so deeply (and you ought to be interested in it), namely, the sale of this lawyer's book, depends on the value of the work.Have you read it? Besides, though the book may be an excellent one, how many excellent books remain one, two, three years without obtaining the success they deserve.Alas! how many crowns of fame are laid upon a grave! I know that publishers have ways of negotiating and realizing profits which make their business the most hazardous to do with, and the most difficult to unravel, of all the trades of Paris.Monsieur Joseph can tell you of these difficulties, inherent in the making of books.Thus, you see, we are sensible; we have experience of all miseries, also of all trades, for we have studied Paris for many years.The Mongenods have helped us in this; they have been like torches to us.It is through them that we know how the Bank of France holds the publishing business under constant suspicion; although it is one of the most profitable trades, it is unsound.As for the four thousand francs necessary to save this noble family from the horrors of penury,--for that poor boy and his grandfather must be fed and clothed properly,--I will give them to you at once.There are sufferings, miseries, wants, which we immediately relieve, without hesitation, without even asking whom we help; religion, honor, character, are all indifferent to us; but when it comes to lending money to the poor to assist them in any active form of industry or commerce, then we require guarantees, with all the sternness of usurers.So you must, my dear child, limit your enthusiasm for this unhappy family to finding for the father an honest publisher.This concerns Monsieur Joseph.He knows lawyers, professors, authors of works on jurisprudence; I will speak to him, and next Sunday he will be sure to have some good advice to give you.Don't feel uneasy; some way will certainly be found to solve the difficulty.Perhaps it would be well, however, if Monsieur Joseph were to read the lawyer's book.

If you think it can be done, you had better obtain the manuscript."Godefroid was amazed at the good sense of this woman, whom he had thought controlled by the spirit of charity only.He took her beautiful hand and kissed it, saying:--"You are good sense and judgment too!"

"We must be all that in our business," she replied, with the soft gaiety of a real saint.

There was a moment's silence, and then Godefroid exclaimed:--"Two thousand debtors! did you say that, madame? two thousand accounts to keep! why, it is immense!""Oh! I meant two thousand accounts which rely for liquidation, as Itold you, on the delicacy and good feeling of our debtors; but there are fully three thousand other families whom we help who make us no other return than thanks to God.This is why we feel, as I told you, the necessity of keeping books ourselves.If you prove to us your discretion and capacity you shall be, if you like, our accountant.We keep a day-book, a ledger, a book of current accounts, and a bank-book.We have many notes, but we lose a great deal of time in looking them up.Ah! here are the gentlemen," she added.

Godefroid, grave and thoughtful, took little part in the general conversation which now followed.He was stunned by the communication Madame de la Chanterie had just made to him, in a tone which implied that she wished to reward his ardor.

"Five thousand families assisted!" he kept repeating to himself."If they were to cost what I am to spend on Monsieur Bernard, we must have millions scattered through Paris."This thought was the last expiring movement of the spirit of the world, which had slowly and insensibly become extinguished in Godefroid.On reflection he saw that the united fortunes of Madame de la Chanterie, Messieurs Alain, Nicolas, Joseph, and that of Judge Popinot, the gifts obtained through the Abbe de Veze, and the assistance lent by the firm of Mongenod must produce a large capital;and that this capital, increased during the last dozen years by grateful returns from those assisted, must have grown like a snowball, inasmuch as the charitable stewards of it spent so little on themselves.Little by little he began to see clearly into this vast work, and his desire to co-operate in it increased.

Honore De Balzac