Home  »  The World’s Wit and Humor  »  Useful Stuttering

The World’s Wit and Humor: An Encyclopedia in 15 Volumes. 1906.

Honoré de Balzac (1799–1850)

Useful Stuttering

From “Eugénie Grandet”

THE STUTTER which for years the old miser had assumed when it suited him, together with the deafness he sometimes complained of in rainy weather, was thought in Saumur to be a natural defect. Perhaps it may be as well to give the history of this impediment to the speech and hearing of M. Grandet. No one in Anjou heard better, or could pronounce more crisply the French language (with an Angevin accent) than the wily old cooper. Some years earlier, in spite of his shrewdness, he had been taken in by an Israelite, who in the course of the discussion held his hand behind his ear to catch sounds, and mangled his meaning so thoroughly in trying to utter his words that Grandet fell a victim to his humanity and was compelled to prompt the wily Jew with the words and ideas he seemed to seek himself to complete the arguments of the said Jew, to say what that cursed Jew ought to have said for himself; in short, to be the Jew instead of being Grandet. When the cooper came out of this curious encounter he had concluded the only bargain of which in the course of a long commercial life he ever had occasion to complain. But if he lost at the time pecuniarily, he gained morally a valuable lesson; later, he gathered its fruits. Indeed, the good man ended by blessing that Jew for having taught him the art of irritating his commercial antagonist and leading him to forget his own thoughts in his impatience to suggest those over which his tormentor was stuttering. No affair had ever needed the assistance of deafness, impediments of speech, and all the incomprehensible circumlocutions with which Grandet enveloped his ideas, as much as the affair now in hand. In the first place, he did not mean to shoulder the responsibility of his own scheme. In the next, he was determined to remain master of the conversation and leave his real intentions in doubt.

“M-m-monsieur de B-B-Bonfons, you-ou said th-th-that b-b-bankruptcy c-c-could, in some c-c-cases, b-be p-p-prevented b-b-by——”

“By the courts of commerce themselves. It is done constantly,” said de Bonfons, bestriding Grandet’s meaning, or thinking he guessed it, and kindly wishing to help him out with it. “Listen!”

“Y-yes,” said Grandet humbly, with the mischievous expression of a boy who is inwardly laughing at his teacher while he pays him the greatest attention.

“When a man is respected and important, as, for example, your late brother——”

“M-my b-b-brother, yes.”

“——is threatened with insolvency——”

“They c-c-call it in-ins-s-solvency?”

“Yes; when his failure is imminent, the court of commerce to which he is amenable—please follow me attentively—has the power, by a decree, to appoint a receiver. Liquidation, you understand, is not the same as failure. When a man fails, he is dishonored; but when he merely liquidates, he remains an honest man.”

“T-t-that’s very d-d-different, if it d-doesn’t c-c-cost m-m-more,” said Grandet.

“But a liquidation can be managed without having recourse to the courts at all. For,” said the magistrate, sniffing a pinch of snuff, “don’t you know how failures are declared?”

“N-n-no, I n-n-never t-t-thought,” answered Grandet.

“In the first place,” resumed the magistrate, “by filing the schedule in the record office of the court, which the merchant may do himself, or his representative for him, with a power of attorney duly certified. In the second place, the failure may be declared under compulsion from the creditors. Now if the merchant does not file his schedule, and if no creditor appears before the courts to obtain a decree of insolvency against the merchant, what happens?”

“W-w-what h-h-happens?”

“Why, the family of the deceased, his representatives, his heirs, or the merchant himself, if he is not dead, or his friends, if he is only hiding, liquidate his business. Perhaps you would like to liquidate your brother’s affairs.”

“Ah! Grandet,” said the notary, “that would be the right thing to do. There is honor down here in the provinces. If you save your name—for it is your name—you will be a man——”

“A noble man!” cried the magistrate, interrupting his uncle.

“Certainly,” answered the old man, “my b-b-brother’s name was G-G-Grandet, like m-m-mine. Th-that’s c-c-certain; I d-d-don’t d-d-deny it. And th-th-this l-l-liquidation might be, in m-m-many ways, v-v-very advan-t-t-tageous t-t-to the interests of m-m-my n-n-nephew, whom I l-l-love. But I must consider. I don’t k-k-know the t-t-tricks of P-P-Paris. I b-b-belong to Sau-m-mur, d-d-don’t you see? M-m-my vines, my d-d-drains—in short, I’ve my own b-b-business. I never g-g-give b-b-bills. What are b-b-bills? I t-t-take a good m-m-many, but I have never s-s-signed one. I d-d-don’t understand such things. I have h-h-heard say that b-b-bills c-c-can be b-b-bought up.”

“Of course,” said the magistrate. “Bills can be bought in the market, less so much per cent. Don’t you understand?”

Grandet made an ear-trumpet of his hand, and the magistrate repeated his words.

“Well, then,” replied the old man, “there’s s-s-something to be g-g-got out of it? I kn-know n-nothing at my age about such th-th-things. I l-l-live here and l-l-look after the v-v-vines. The vines g-g-grow, and it’s the w-w-wine that p-p-pays. L-l-look after the v-v-vintage, t-t-that’s my r-r-rule. My c-c-chief interests are at Froidfont. I c-c-can’t l-l-leave my h-h-house to m-m-muddle myself with a d-d-devilish b-b-business I kn-know n-n-nothing about. You say I ought to l-l-liquidate my b-b-brother’s af-f-fairs, to p-p-prevent the f-f-failure. I c-c-can’t be in two p-p-places at once, unless I were a little b-b-bird, and——”

“I understand,” cried the notary. “Well, my old friend, you have friends, old friends, capable of devoting themselves to your interests.”

“All right!” thought Grandet; “make haste and come to the point!”

“Suppose one of them went to Paris and saw your brother Guillaume’s chief creditor, and said to him——”

“One m-m-moment,” interrupted the good man; “said wh-wh-what? Something l-l-like th-this: ‘Grandet of Saumur this, Grandet of Saumur that. He l-l-loves his b-b-brother, he loves his n-nephew—Grandet is a g-g-good uncle; he m-m-means well. He has sold his v-v-vintage. D-d-don’t declare a f-f-failure; c-c-call a meeting; l-l-liquidate; and then G-G-Grandet will see what he c-c-can do. B-b-better liquidate than l-let the l-l-law st-st-stick its n-n-nose in.’ Eh, isn’t it so?”

“Exactly so,” said the magistrate.

“B-because, don’t you see, M-m-monsieur de B-Bonfons, a man must l-l-look b-b-before he l-leaps. If you c-c-can’t, you c-c-can’t. M-m-must know all about the m-m-matter, all the resources and the debts, if you d-d-don’t want to be r-r-ruined. Eh, isn’t it so?”

“Certainly,” said the magistrate; “I’m of opinion that in a few months the debts might be bought up for a certain sum, and then paid in full by an agreement. Ha! ha! you can coax a dog a long way if you show him a bit of lard. If there has been no declaration of failure, and you hold a lien on the debts, you come out of the business as white as the driven snow.”

“Sn-n-now,” said Grandet, putting his hand to his ear, “wh-wh-what about s-now?”

“But,” cried the magistrate, “do pray attend to what I am saying.”

“I am at-t-tending.”

“A bill is merchandise—an article of barter which rises and falls in price. This is a deduction from Jeremy Bentham’s theory about usury. That writer has proved that the prejudice which condemned usurers to reprobation was mere folly.”

“When?” ejaculated the good man.

“Allowing that money, according to Bentham, is an article of merchandise,” resumed the magistrate; “allowing also that it is notorious that the commercial bill bearing this or that signature is liable to the fluctuation of all commercial values, rises or falls in the market, is dear at one moment, and is worth nothing at another, the courts decide—ah! how stupid I am, I beg your pardon. I am inclined to think you could buy up your brother’s debts for twenty-five per cent.”

“D-d-did you c-c-call him Je-Je-Jeremy B-Ben——?”

“Bentham, an Englishman.”

“That’s a Jeremy who might save us a lot of lamentations in business,” said the notary, laughing.

“Those Englishmen s-sometimes t-t-talk sense,” said Grandet. “So, ac-c-cording to Ben-Bentham, if my b-b-brother’s n-notes are worth n-n-nothing; is Je-Je— I’m c-c-correct, am I not? That seems c-c-clear to my m-m-mind—the c-c-creditors would be—no, would not be; I understand.”

“Let me explain it all,” said the magistrate. “Legally, if you acquire a title to all the debts of the Maison Grandet, your brother or his heirs will owe nothing to any one. Very good.”

“Very g-good,” repeated Grandet.

“In equity, if your brother’s bills are negotiated—negotiated, do you clearly understand the term?—negotiated in the market at a reduction of so much per cent in value, and if one of your friends happening to be present should buy them in, the creditors having sold them of their own free-will without constraint, the estate of the late Grandet is honorably released.”

“That’s t-true; b-b-business is b-business,” said the cooper. “B-b-but st-still, you know, it is d-d-difficult. I h-have no m-money and n-no t-t-time.”

“Yes, but you need not undertake it. I am quite ready to go to Paris; you may pay my expenses, they will only be a trifle. I will see the creditors and talk with them, and get an extension of time, and everything can be arranged if you add something to the assets so as to buy up all title to the debts.”

“We-we’ll see about th-that. I c-c-can’t and I w-w-won’t b-b-bind myself without— He who c-c-can’t, can’t; don’t you see?”

“That’s very true.”

“I’m all p-p-put ab-b-bout by what you’ve t-t-told me. This is the f-first t-t-time in my life I have b-been obliged to th-th-think.”