THE LESSER BOURGEOISIE (The Middle Classes)
By Honore De Balzac
Translated by Katharine Prescott Wormeley
Here, madame, is one of those books which come into the mind, whence no one knows, giving pleasure to the author before he can foresee what reception the public, our great present judge, will accord to it. Feeling almost certain of your sympathy in my pleasure, I dedicate the book to you. Ought it not to belong to you as the tithe formerly belonged to the Church in memory of God, who makes all things bud and fruit in the fields and in the intellect?
A few lumps of clay, left by Moliere at the feet of his colossal statue of Tartuffe, have here been kneaded by a hand more daring than able; but, at whatever distance I may be from the greatest of comic writers, I shall still be glad to have used these crumbs in showing the modern Hypocrite in action. The chief encouragement that I have had in this difficult undertaking was in finding it apart from all religious questions,—questions which ought to be kept out of it for the sake of one so pious as yourself; and also because of what a great writer has lately called our present "indifference in matters of religion."
May the double signification of your names be for my book a prophecy! Deign to find here the respectful gratitude of him who ventures to call himself the most devoted of your servants.
THE LESSER BOURGEOISIE
(The Middle Classes)
PART I. THE LESSER BOURGEOIS OF PARIS
CHAPTER I. DEPARTING PARIS
The tourniquet Saint-Jean, the narrow passage entered through a turnstile, a description of which was said to be so wearisome in the study entitled "A Double Life" (Scenes from Private Life), that naive relic of old Paris, has at the present moment no existence except in our said typography. The building of the Hotel-de-Ville, such as we now see it, swept away a whole section of the city.
In 1830, passers along the street could still see the turnstile painted on the sign of a wine-merchant, but even that house, its last asylum, has been demolished. Alas! old Paris is disappearing with frightful rapidity. Here and there, in the course of this history of Parisian life, will be found preserved, sometimes the type of the dwellings of the middle ages, like that described in "Fame and Sorrow" (Scenes from Private Life), one or two specimens of which exist to the present day; sometimes a house like that of Judge Popinot, rue du Fouarre, a specimen of the former bourgeoisie; here, the remains of Fulbert's house; there, the old dock of the Seine as it was under Charles IX. Why should not the historian of French society, a new Old Mortality, endeavor to save these curious expressions of the past, as Walter Scott's old man rubbed up the tombstones? Certainly, for the last ten years the outcries of literature in this direction have not been superfluous; art is beginning to disguise beneath its floriated ornaments those ignoble facades of what are called in Paris "houses of product," which one of our poets has jocosely compared to chests of drawers.
Let us remark here, that the creation of the municipal commission "del ornamento" which superintends at Milan the architecture of street facades, and to which every house owner is compelled to subject his plan, dates from the seventeenth century. Consequently, we see in that charming capital the effects of this public spirit on the part of nobles and burghers, while we admire their buildings so full of character and originality. Hideous, unrestrained speculation which, year after year, changes the uniform level of storeys, compresses a whole apartment into the space of what used to be a salon, and wages war upon gardens, will infallibly react on Parisian manners and morals. We shall soon be forced to live more without than within. Our sacred private life, the freedom and liberty of home, where will they be?—reserved for those who can muster fifty thousand francs a year! In fact, few millionaires now allow themselves the luxury of a house to themselves, guarded by a courtyard on a street and protected from public curiosity by a shady garden at the back.
By levelling fortunes, that section of the Code which regulates testamentary bequests, has produced these huge stone phalansteries, in which thirty families are often lodged, returning a rental of a hundred thousand francs a year. Fifty years hence we shall be able to count on our fingers the few remaining houses which resemble that occupied, at the moment our narrative begins, by the Thuillier family,—a really curious house which deserves the honor of an exact description, if only to compare the life of the bourgeoisie of former times with that of to-day.
The situation and the aspect of this house, the frame of our present Scene of manners and morals, has, moreover, a flavor, a perfume of the lesser bourgeoisie, which may attract or repel attention according to the taste of each reader.
In the first place, the Thuillier house did not belong to either Monsieur or Madame Thuillier, but to Mademoiselle Thuillier, the sister of Monsieur Thuillier.
This house, bought during the first six months which followed the revolution of July by Mademoiselle Marie-Jeanne-Brigitte Thuillier, a spinster of full age, stands about the middle of the rue Saint-Dominique d'Enfer, to the right as you enter by the rue d'Enfer, so that the main building occupied by Monsieur Thuillier faces south.
The progressive movement which is carrying the Parisian population to the heights along the right bank of the Seine had long injured the sale of property in what is called the "Latin quarter," when reasons, which will be given when we come to treat of the character and habits of Monsieur Thuillier, determined his sister to the purchase of real estate. She obtained this property for the small sum of forty-six thousand francs; certain extras amounted to six thousand more; in all, the price paid was fifty-two thousand francs. A description of the property given in the style of an advertisement, and the results obtained by Monsieur Thuillier's exertions, will explain by what means so many fortunes increased enormously after July, 1830, while so many others sank.
Toward the street the house presents a facade of rough stone covered with plaster, cracked by weather and lined by the mason's instrument into a semblance of blocks of cut stone. This frontage is so common in Paris and so ugly that the city ought to offer premiums to house-owners who would build their facades of cut-stone blocks. Seven windows lighted the gray front of this house which was raised three storeys, ending in a mansard roof covered with slate. The porte-cochere, heavy and solid, showed by its workmanship and style that the front building on the street had been erected in the days of the Empire, to utilize a part of the courtyard of the vast old mansion, built at an epoch when the quarter d'Enfer enjoyed a certain vogue.
On one side was the porter's lodge; on the other the staircase of the front building. Two wings, built against the adjoining houses, had formerly served as stables, coach-house, kitchen and offices to the rear dwelling; but since 1830, they had been converted into warerooms. The one on the right was let to a certain M. Metivier, jr., wholesale dealer in paper; that on the left to a bookseller named Barbet. The offices of each were above the warerooms; the bookseller occupying the first storey, and the paper-dealer the second storey of the house on the street. Metivier, jr., who was more of a commission merchant in paper than a regular dealer, and Barbet, much more of a money lender and discounter than a bookseller, kept these vast warerooms for the purpose of storing,—one, his stacks of paper, bought of needy manufacturers, the other, editions of books given as security for loans.
The shark of bookselling and the pike of paper-dealing lived on the best of terms, and their mutual operations, exempt from the turmoil of retail business, brought so few carriages into that tranquil courtyard that the concierge was obliged to pull up the grass between the paving stones. Messrs. Barbet and Metivier paid a few rare visits to their landlords, and the punctuality with which they paid their rent classed them as good tenants; in fact, they were looked upon as very honest men by the Thuillier circle.
As for the third floor on the street, it was made into two apartments; one of which was occupied by M. Dutocq, clerk of the justice of peace, a retired government employee, and a frequenter of the Thuillier salon; the other by the hero of this Scene, about whom we must content ourselves at the present moment by fixing the amount of his rent,—namely, seven hundred francs a year,—and the location he had chosen in the heart of this well-filled building, exactly three years before the curtain rises on the present domestic drama.
The clerk, a bachelor of fifty, occupied the larger of the two apartments on the third floor. He kept a cook, and the rent of the rooms was a thousand francs a year. Within two years of the time of her purchase, Mademoiselle Thuillier was receiving seven thousand two hundred francs in rentals, for a house which the late proprietor had supplied with outside blinds, renovated within, and adorned with mirrors, without being able to sell or let it. Moreover, the Thuilliers themselves, nobly lodged, as we shall see, enjoyed also a fine garden,—one of the finest in that quarter,—the trees of which shaded the lonely little street named the rue Neuve-Saint-Catherine.
Standing between the courtyard and the garden, the main building, which they inhabited, seems to have been the caprice of some enriched bourgeois in the reign of Louis XIV.; the dwelling, perhaps, of a president of the parliament, or that of a tranquil savant. Its noble free-stone blocks, damaged by time, have a certain air of Louis-the-Fourteenth grandeur; the courses of the facade define the storeys; panels of red brick recall the appearance of the stables at Versailles; the windows have masks carved as ornaments in the centre of their arches and below their sills. The door, of small panels in the upper half and plain below, through which, when open, the garden can be seen, is of that honest, unassuming style which was often employed in former days for the porter's lodges of the royal chateaux.
This building, with five windows to each course, rises two storeys above the ground-floor, and is particularly noticeable for a roof of four sides ending in a weather-vane, and broken here and there by tall, handsome chimneys, and oval windows. Perhaps this structure is the remains of some great mansion; but after examining all the existing old maps of Paris, we find nothing which bears out this conjecture. Moreover, the title-deeds of property under Louis XIV. was Petitot, the celebrated painter in miniature, who obtained it originally from President Lecamus. We may therefore believe that Lecamus lived in this building while he was erecting his more famous mansion in the rue de Thorigny.
So Art and the legal robe have passed this way in turn. How many instigations of needs and pleasures have led to the interior arrangement of the dwelling! To right, as we enter a square hall forming a closed vestibule, rises a stone staircase with two windows looking on the garden. Beneath the staircase opens a door to the cellar. From this vestibule we enter the dining-room, lighted from the courtyard, and the dining-room communicates at its side with the kitchen, which forms a continuation of the wing in which are the warerooms of Metivier and Barbet. Behind the staircase extends, on the garden side, a fine study or office with two large windows. The first and second floor form two complete apartments, and the servants' quarters are shown by the oval windows in the four-sided roof.
A large porcelain stove heats the square vestibule, the two glass doors of which, placed opposite to each other, light it. This room, paved in black and white marble, is especially noticeable for a ceiling of beams formerly painted and gilt, but which had since received, probably under the Empire, a coat of plain white paint. The three doors of the study, salon and dining-room, surmounted by oval panels, are awaiting a restoration that is more than needed. The wood-work is heavy, but the ornamentation is not without merit. The salon, panelled throughout, recalls the great century by its tall mantelpiece of Languedoc marble, its ceiling decorated at the corners, and by the style of its windows, which still retain their little panes. The dining-room, communicating with the salon by a double door, is floored with stone; the wood-work is oak, unpainted, and an atrocious modern wall-paper has been substituted for the tapestries of the olden time. The ceiling is of chestnut; and the study, modernized by Thuillier, adds its quota to these discordances.
The white and gold mouldings of the salon are so effaced that nothing remains of the gilding but reddish lines, while the white enamelling is yellow, cracked, and peeling off. Never did the Latin saying "Otium cum dignitate" have a greater commentary to the mind of a poet than in this noble building. The iron-work of the staircase baluster is worthy of the artist and the magistrate; but to find other traces of their taste to-day in this majestic relic, the eyes of an artistic observer are needed.
The Thuilliers and their predecessors have frequently degraded this jewel of the upper bourgeoisie by the habits and inventions of the lesser bourgeoisie. Look at those walnut chairs covered with horse-hair, that mahogany table with its oilcloth cover, that sideboard, also of mahogany, that carpet, bought at a bargain, beneath the table, those metal lamps, that wretched paper with its red border, those execrable engravings, and the calico curtains with red fringes, in a dining-room, where the friends of Petitot once feasted! Do you notice the effect produced in the salon by those portraits of Monsieur and Madame and Mademoiselle Thuillier by Pierre Grassou, the artist par excellence of the modern bourgeoisie. Have you remarked the card-tables and the consoles of the Empire, the tea-table supported by a lyre, and that species of sofa, of gnarled mahogany, covered in painted velvet of a chocolate tone? On the chimney-piece, with the clock (representing the Bellona of the Empire), are candelabra with fluted columns. Curtains of woollen damask, with under-curtains of embroidered muslin held back by stamped brass holders, drape the windows. On the floor a cheap carpet. The handsome vestibule has wooden benches, covered with velvet, and the panelled walls with their fine carvings are mostly hidden by wardrobes, brought there from time to time from the bedrooms occupied by the Thuilliers. Fear, that hideous divinity, has caused the family to add sheet-iron doors on the garden side and on the courtyard side, which are folded back against the walls in the daytime, and are closed at night.
It is easy to explain the deplorable profanation practised on this monument of the private life of the bourgeoisie of the seventeenth century, by the private life of the bourgeoisie of the nineteenth. At the beginning of the Consulate, let us say, some master-mason having bought the ancient building, took the idea of turning to account the ground which lay between it and the street. He probably pulled down the fine porte-cochere or entrance gate, flanked by little lodges which guarded the charming "sejour" (to use a word of the olden time), and proceeded, with the industry of a Parisian proprietor, to impress his withering mark on the elegance of the old building. What a curious study might be made of the successive title-deeds of property in Paris! A private lunatic asylum performs its functions in the rue des Batailles in the former dwelling of the Chevalier Pierre Bayard du Terrail, once without fear and without reproach; a street has now been built by the present bourgeois administration through the site of the hotel Necker. Old Paris is departing, following its kings who abandoned it. For one masterpiece of architecture saved from destruction by a Polish princess (the hotel Lambert, Ile Saint-Louis, bought and occupied by the Princess Czartoriska) how many little palaces have fallen, like this dwelling of Petitot, into the hands of such as Thuillier.
Here follows the causes which made Mademoiselle Thuillier the owner of the house.
CHAPTER II. THE HISTORY OF A TYRANNY
At the fall of the Villele ministry, Monsieur Louis-Jerome Thuillier, who had then seen twenty-six years' service as a clerk in the ministry of finance, became sub-director of a department thereof; but scarcely had he enjoyed the subaltern authority of a position formerly his lowest hope, when the events of July, 1830, forced him to resign it. He calculated, shrewdly enough, that his pension would be honorably and readily given by the new-comers, glad to have another office at their disposal. He was right; for a pension of seventeen hundred francs was paid to him immediately.
When the prudent sub-director first talked of resigning, his sister, who was far more the companion of his life than his wife, trembled for his future.
"What will become of Thuillier?" was a question which Madame and Mademoiselle Thuillier put to each other with mutual terror in their little lodging on a third floor of the rue d'Argenteuil.
"Securing his pension will occupy him for a time," Mademoiselle Thuillier said one day; "but I am thinking of investing my savings in a way that will cut out work for him. Yes; it will be something like administrating the finances to manage a piece of property."
"Oh, sister! you will save his life," cried Madame Thuillier.
"I have always looked for a crisis of this kind in Jerome's life," replied the old maid, with a protecting air.
Mademoiselle Thuillier had too often heard her brother remark: "Such a one is dead; he only survived his retirement two years"; she had too often heard Colleville, her brother's intimate friend, a government employee like himself, say, jesting on this climacteric of bureaucrats, "We shall all come to it, ourselves," not to appreciate the danger her brother was running. The change from activity to leisure is, in truth, the critical period for government employees of all kinds.
Those of them who know not how to substitute, or perhaps cannot substitute other occupations for the work to which they have been accustomed, change in a singular manner; some die outright; others take to fishing, the vacancy of that amusement resembling that of their late employment under government; others, who are smarter men, dabble in stocks, lose their savings, and are thankful to obtain a place in some enterprise that is likely to succeed, after a first disaster and liquidation, in the hands of an abler management. The late clerk then rubs his hands, now empty, and says to himself, "I always did foresee the success of the business." But nearly all these retired bureaucrats have to fight against their former habits.
"Some," Colleville used to say, "are victims to a sort of 'spleen' peculiar to the government clerk; they die of a checked circulation; a red-tapeworm is in their vitals. That little Poiret couldn't see the well-known white carton without changing color at the beloved sight; he used to turn from green to yellow."
Mademoiselle Thuillier was considered the moving spirit of her brother's household; she was not without decision and force of character, as the following history will show. This superiority over those who immediately surrounded her enabled her to judge her brother, although she adored him. After witnessing the failure of the hopes she had set upon her idol, she had too much real maternity in her feeling for him to let herself be mistaken as to his social value.
Thuillier and his sister were children of the head porter at the ministry of finance. Jerome had escaped, thanks to his near-sightedness, all drafts and conscriptions. The father's ambition was to make his son a government clerk. At the beginning of this century the army presented too many posts not to leave various vacancies in the government offices. A deficiency of minor officials enabled old Pere Thuillier to hoist his son upon the lowest step of the bureaucratic hierarchy. The old man died in 1814, leaving Jerome on the point of becoming sub-director, but with no other fortune than that prospect. The worthy Thuillier and his wife (who died in 1810) had retired from active service in 1806, with a pension as their only means of support; having spent what property they had in giving Jerome the education required in these days, and in supporting both him and his sister.
The influence of the Restoration on the bureaucracy is well known. From the forty and one suppressed departments a crowd of honorable employees returned to Paris with nothing to do, and clamorous for places inferior to those they had lately occupied. To these acquired rights were added those of exiled families ruined by the Revolution. Pressed between the two floods, Jerome thought himself lucky not to have been dismissed under some frivolous pretext. He trembled until the day when, becoming by mere chance sub-director, he saw himself secure of a retiring pension. This cursory view of matters will serve to explain Monsieur Thuillier's very limited scope and knowledge. He had learned the Latin, mathematics, history, and geography that are taught in schools, but he never got beyond what is called the second class; his father having preferred to take advantage of a sudden opportunity to place him at the ministry. So, while the young Thuillier was making his first records on the Grand-Livre, he ought to have been studying his rhetoric and philosophy.
While grinding the ministerial machine, he had no leisure to cultivate letters, still less the arts; but he acquired a routine knowledge of his business, and when he had an opportunity to rise, under the Empire, to the sphere of superior employees, he assumed a superficial air of competence which concealed the son of a porter, though none of it rubbed into his mind. His ignorance, however, taught him to keep silence, and silence served him well. He accustomed himself to practise, under the imperial regime, a passive obedience which pleased his superiors; and it was to this quality that he owed at a later period his promotion to the rank of sub-director. His routine habits then became great experience; his manners and his silence concealed his lack of education, and his absolute nullity was a recommendation, for a cipher was needed. The government was afraid of displeasing both parties in the Chamber by selecting a man from either side; it therefore got out of the difficulty by resorting to the rule of seniority. That is how Thuillier became sub-director. Mademoiselle Thuillier, knowing that her brother abhorred reading, and could substitute no business for the bustle of a public office, had wisely resolved to plunge him into the cares of property, into the culture of a garden, in short, into all the infinitely petty concerns and neighborhood intrigues which make up the life of the bourgeoisie.
The transplanting of the Thuillier household from the rue d'Argenteuil to the rue Saint-Dominique d'Enfer, the business of making the purchase, of finding a suitable porter, and then of obtaining tenants occupied Thuillier from 1831 to 1832. When the phenomenon of the change was accomplished, and the sister saw that Jerome had borne it fairly well, she found him other cares and occupations (about which we shall hear later), all based upon the character of the man himself, as to which it will now be useful to give information.
Though the son of a ministerial porter, Thuillier was what is called a fine man, slender in figure, above middle height, and possessing a face that was rather agreeable if wearing his spectacles, but frightful without them; which is frequently the case with near-sighted persons; for the habit of looking through glasses has covered the pupils of his eyes with a sort of film.
Between the ages of eighteen and thirty, young Thuillier had much success among women, in a sphere which began with the lesser bourgeois and ended in that of the heads of departments. Under the Empire, war left Parisian society rather denuded of men of energy, who were mostly on the battlefield; and perhaps, as a great physician has suggested, this may account for the flabbiness of the generation which occupies the middle of the nineteenth century.
Thuillier, forced to make himself noticeable by other charms than those of mind, learned to dance and to waltz in a way to be cited; he was called "that handsome Thuillier"; he played billiards to perfection; he knew how to cut out likenesses in black paper, and his friend Colleville coached him so well that he was able to sing all the ballads of the day. These various small accomplishments resulted in that appearance of success which deceives youth and befogs it about the future. Mademoiselle Thuillier, from 1806 to 1814, believed in her brother as Mademoiselle d'Orleans believed in Louis-Philippe. She was proud of Jerome; she expected to see him the director-general of his department of the ministry, thanks to his successes in certain salons, where, undoubtedly, he would never have been admitted but for the circumstances which made society under the Empire a medley.
But the successes of "that handsome Thuillier" were usually of short duration; women did not care to keep his devotion any more than he desired to make his devotion eternal. He was really an unwilling Don Juan; the career of a "beau" wearied him to the point of aging him; his face, covered with lines like that of an old coquette, looked a dozen years older than the registers made him. There remained to him of all his successes in gallantry, a habit of looking at himself in mirrors, of buttoning his coat to define his waist, and of posing in various dancing attitudes; all of which prolonged, beyond the period of enjoying his advantages, the sort of lease that he held on his cognomen, "that handsome Thuillier."
The truth of 1806 has, however, become a fable, in 1826. He retains a few vestiges of the former costume of the beaux of the Empire, which are not unbecoming to the dignity of a former sub-director. He still wears the white cravat with innumerable folds, wherein his chin is buried, and the coquettish bow, formerly tied by the hands of beauty, the two ends of which threaten danger to the passers to right and left. He follows the fashions of former days, adapting them to his present needs; he tips his hat on the back of his head, and wears shoes and thread stockings in summer; his long-tailed coats remind one of the well-known "surtouts" of the Empire; he has not yet abandoned his frilled shirts and his white waistcoats; he still plays with his Empire switch, and holds himself so erect that his back bends in. No one, seeing Thuillier promenading on the boulevards, would take him for the son of a man who cooked the breakfasts of the clerks at a ministry and wore the livery of Louis XVI.; he resembles an imperial diplomatist or a sub-prefect. Now, not only did Mademoiselle Thuillier very innocently work upon her brother's weak spot by encouraging in him an excessive care of his person, which, in her, was simply a continuation of her worship, but she also provided him with family joys, by transplanting to their midst a household which had hitherto been quasi-collateral to them.
It was that of Monsieur Colleville, an intimate friend of Thuillier. But before we proceed to describe Pylades let us finish with Orestes, and explain why Thuillier—that handsome Thuillier—was left without a family of his own—for the family, be it said, is non-existent without children. Herein appears one of those deep mysteries which lie buried in the arena of private life, a few shreds of which rise to the surface at moments when the pain of a concealed situation grows poignant. This concerns the life of Madame and Mademoiselle Thuillier; so far, we have seen only the life (and we may call it the public life) of Jerome Thuillier.
Marie-Jeanne-Brigitte Thuillier, four years older than her brother, had been utterly sacrificed to him; it was easier to give a career to one than a "dot" to the other. Misfortune to some natures is a pharos, which illumines to their eyes the dark low corners of social existence. Superior to her brother both in mind and energy, Brigitte had one of those natures which, under the hammer of persecution, gather themselves together, become compact and powerfully resistant, not to say inflexible. Jealous of her independence, she kept aloof from the life of the household; choosing to make herself the sole arbiter of her own fate. At fourteen years of age, she went to live alone in a garret, not far from the ministry of finance, which was then in the rue Vivienne, and also not far from the Bank of France, then, and now, in the rue de la Vrilliere. There she bravely gave herself up to a form of industry little known and the perquisite of a few persons, which she obtained, thanks to the patrons of her father. It consisted in making bags to hold coin for the Bank, the Treasury, and the great financial houses. At the end of three years she employed two workwomen. By investing her savings on the Grand-Livre, she found herself, in 1814, the mistress of three thousand six hundred francs a year, earned in fifteen years. As she spent little, and dined with her father as long as he lived, and, as government securities were very low during the last convulsions of the Empire, this result, which seems at first sight exaggerated, explains itself.
On the death of their father, Brigitte and Jerome, the former being twenty-seven, the latter twenty-three, united their existence. Brother and sister were bound together by an extreme affection. If Jerome, then at the height of his success, was pinched for money, his sister, clothed in serge, and her fingers roughened by the coarse thread with which she sewed her bags, would give him a few louis. In Brigitte's eyes Jerome was the handsomest and most charming man in the whole French Empire. To keep house for this cherished brother, to be initiated into the secrets of Lindor and Don Juan, to be his handmaiden, his spaniel, was Brigitte's dream. She immolated herself lovingly to an idol whose selfishness, always great, was enormously increased by her self-sacrifice. She sold her business to her fore-woman for fifteen thousand francs and came to live with Thuillier in the rue d'Argenteuil, where she made herself the mother, protectress, and servant of this spoiled child of women. Brigitte, with the natural caution of a girl who owed everything to her own discretion and her own labor, concealed the amount of her savings from Jerome,—fearing, no doubt, the extravagance of a man of gallantry. She merely paid a quota of six hundred francs a year to the expenses of the household, and this, with her brother's eighteen hundred, enabled her to make both ends meet at the end of the year.
From the first days of their coming together, Thuillier listened to his sister as to an oracle; he consulted her in his trifling affairs, kept none of his secrets from her, and thus made her taste the fruit of despotism which was, in truth, the one little sin of her nature. But the sister had sacrificed everything to the brother; she had staked her all upon his heart; she lived by him only. Brigitte's ascendancy over Jerome was singularly proved by the marriage which she procured for him about the year 1814.
Seeing the tendency to enforced reduction which the new-comers to power under the Restoration were beginning to bring about in the government offices, and particularly since the return of the old society which sought to ride over the bourgeoisie, Brigitte understood, far better than her brother could explain it to her, the social crisis which presently extinguished their common hopes. No more successes for that handsome Thuillier in the salons of the nobles who now succeeded the plebeians of the Empire!
Thuillier was not enough of a person to take up a politic opinion and choose a party; he felt, as his sister did for him, the necessity of profiting by the remains of his youth to make a settlement. In such a situation, a sister as jealous of her power as Brigitte naturally would, and ought, to marry her brother, to suit herself as well as to suit him; for she alone could make him really happy, Madame Thuillier being only an indispensable accessory to the obtaining of two or three children. If Brigitte did not have an intellect quite the equal of her will, at least she had the instinct of her despotism; without, it is true, education, she marched straight before her, with the headstrong determination of a nature accustomed to succeed. She had the genius of housekeeping, a faculty for economy, a thorough understanding of how to live, and a love for work. She saw plainly that she could never succeed in marrying Jerome into a sphere above their own, where parents might inquire into their domestic life and feel uneasy at finding a mistress already reigning in the home. She therefore sought in a lower grade for persons to dazzle, and found, almost beside her, a suitable match.
The oldest usher at the Bank, a man named Lemprun, had an only daughter, called Celeste. Mademoiselle Celeste Lemprun would inherit the fortune of her mother, the only daughter of a rich farmer. This fortune consisted of some acres of land in the environs of Paris, which the old father still worked; besides this, she would have the property of Lemprun himself, a man who had left the firms of Thelusson and of Keller to enter the service of the Bank of France. Lemprun, now the head of that service, enjoyed the respect and consideration of the governors and auditors.
The Bank council, on hearing of the probable marriage of Celeste to an honorable employee at the ministry of finance, promised a wedding present of six thousand francs. This gift, added to twelve thousand given by Pere Lemprun, and twelve thousand more from the maternal grandfather, Sieur Galard, market-gardener at Auteuil, brought up the dowry to thirty thousand francs. Old Galard and Monsieur and Madame Lemprun were delighted with the marriage. Lemprun himself knew Mademoiselle Thuillier, and considered her one of the worthiest and most conscientious women in Paris. Brigitte then, for the first time, allowed her investments on the Grand-Livre to shine forth, assuring Lemprun that she should never marry; consequently, neither he nor his wife, persons devoted to the main chance, would ever allow themselves to find fault with Brigitte. Above all, they were greatly struck by the splendid prospects of the handsome Thuillier, and the marriage took place, as the conventional saying is, to the general satisfaction.
The governor of the Bank and the secretary were the bride's witnesses; Monsieur de la Billardiere, director of Thuillier's department, and Monsieur Rabourdin, head of the office, being those of the groom. Six days after the marriage old Lemprun was the victim of a daring robbery which made a great noise in the newspapers of the day, though it was quickly forgotten during the events of 1815. The guilty parties having escaped detection, Lemprun wished to make up the loss; but the Bank agreed to carry the deficit to its profit and loss account; nevertheless, the poor old man actually died of the grief this affair had caused him. He regarded it as an attack upon his aged honor.
Madame Lemprun then resigned all her property to her daughter, Madame Thuillier, and went to live with her father at Auteuil until he died from an accident in 1817. Alarmed at the prospect of having to manage or lease the market-garden and the farm of her father, Madame Lemprun entreated Brigitte, whose honesty and capacity astonished her, to wind up old Galard's affairs, and to settle the property in such a way that her daughter should take possession of everything, securing to her mother fifteen hundred francs a year and the house at Auteuil. The landed property of the old farmer was sold in lots, and brought in thirty thousand francs. Lemprun's estate had given as much more, so that Madame Thuillier's fortune, including her "dot," amounted in 1818 to ninety thousand francs. Joining the revenue of this property to that of the brother and sister, the Thuillier household had an income, in 1818, amounting to eleven thousand francs, managed by Brigitte alone on her sole responsibility. It is necessary to begin by stating this financial position, not only to prevent objections but to rid the drama of difficulties.
Brigitte began, from the first, by allowing her brother five hundred francs a month, and by sailing the household boat at the rate of five thousand francs a year. She granted to her sister-in-law fifty francs a month, explaining to her carefully that she herself was satisfied with forty. To strengthen her despotism by the power of money, Brigitte laid by the surplus of her own funds. She made, so it was said in business offices, usurious loans by means of her brother, who appeared as a money-lender. If, between the years 1813 and 1830, Brigitte had capitalized sixty thousand francs, that sum can be explained by the rise in the Funds, and there is no need to have recourse to accusations more or less well founded, which have nothing to do with our present history.
From the first days of the marriage, Brigitte subdued the unfortunate Madame Thuillier with a touch of the spur and a jerk of the bit, both of which she made her feel severely. A further display of tyranny was useless; the victim resigned herself at once. Celeste, thoroughly understood by Brigitte, a girl without mind or education, accustomed to a sedentary life and a tranquil atmosphere, was extremely gentle by nature; she was pious in the fullest acceptation of the word; she would willingly have expiated by the hardest punishments the involuntary wrong of giving pain to her neighbor. She was utterly ignorant of life; accustomed to be waited on by her mother, who did the whole service of the house, for Celeste was unable to make much exertion, owing to a lymphatic constitution which the least toil wearied. She was truly a daughter of the people of Paris, where children, seldom handsome, and of no vigor, the product of poverty and toil, of homes without fresh air, without freedom of action, without any of the conveniences of life, meet us at every turn.
At the time of the marriage, Celeste was seen to be a little woman, fair and faded almost to sickliness, fat, slow, and silly in the countenance. Her forehead, much too large and too prominent, suggested water on the brain, and beneath that waxen cupola her face, noticeably too small and ending in a point like the nose of a mouse, made some people fear she would become, sooner or later, imbecile. Her eyes, which were light blue, and her lips, always fixed in a smile, did not contradict that idea. On the solemn occasion of her marriage she had the manner, air, and attitude of a person condemned to death, whose only desire is that it might all be over speedily.
"She is rather round," said Colleville to Thuillier.
Brigitte was just the knife to cut into such a nature, to which her own formed the strongest contrast. Mademoiselle Thuillier was remarkable for her regular and correct beauty, but a beauty injured by toil which, from her very childhood, had bent her down to painful, thankless tasks, and by the secret privations she imposed upon herself in order to amass her little property. Her complexion, early discolored, had something the tint of steel. Her brown eyes were framed in brown; on the upper lip was a brown floss like a sort of smoke. Her lips were thin, and her imperious forehead was surmounted by hair once black, now turning to chinchilla. She held herself as straight as the fairest beauty; but all things else about her showed the hardiness of her life, the deadening of her natural fire, the cost of what she was!
To Brigitte, Celeste was simply a fortune to lay hold of, a future mother to rule, one more subject in her empire. She soon reproached her for being weak, a constant word in her vocabulary, and the jealous old maid, who would strongly have resented any signs of activity in her sister-in-law, now took a savage pleasure in prodding the languid inertness of the feeble creature. Celeste, ashamed to see her sister-in-law displaying such energy in household work, endeavored to help her, and fell ill in consequence. Instantly, Brigitte was devoted to her, nursed her like a beloved sister, and would say, in presence of Thuillier: "You haven't any strength, my child; you must never do anything again." She showed up Celeste's incapacity by that display of sympathy with which strength, seeming to pity weakness, finds means to boast of its own powers.
But, as all despotic natures liking to exercise their strength are full of tenderness for physical sufferings, Brigitte took such real care of her sister-in-law as to satisfy Celeste's mother when she came to see her daughter. After Madame Thuillier recovered, however, she called her, in Celeste's hearing, "a helpless creature, good for nothing!" which sent the poor thing crying to her room. When Thuillier found her there, drying her eyes, he excused her sister, saying:—
"She is an excellent woman, but rather hasty; she loves you in her own way; she behaves just so with me."
Celeste, remembering the maternal care of her sister-in-law during her illness, forgave the wound. Brigitte always treated her brother as the king of the family; she exalted him to Celeste, and made him out an autocrat, a Ladislas, an infallible pope. Madame Thuillier having lost her father and grandfather, and being well-nigh deserted by her mother, who came to see her on Thursdays only (she herself spending Sundays at Auteuil in summer), had no one left to love except her husband, and she did love him,—in the first place, because he was her husband, and secondly, because he still remained to her "that handsome Thuillier." Besides, he sometimes treated her like a wife, and all these reasons together made her adore him. He seemed to her all the more perfect because he often took up her defence and scolded his sister, not from any real interest in his wife, but for pure selfishness, and in order to have peace in the household during the very few moments that he stayed there.
In fact, that handsome Thuillier was never at home except at dinner, after which meal he went out, returning very late at night. He went to balls and other social festivities by himself, precisely as if he were still a bachelor. Thus the two women were always alone together. Celeste insensibly fell into a passive attitude, and became what Brigitte wanted her,—a helot. The Queen Elizabeth of the household then passed from despotism to a sort of pity for the poor victim who was always sacrificed. She ended by softening her haughty ways, her cutting speech, her contemptuous tones, as soon as she was certain that her sister-in-law was completely under the yoke. When she saw the wounds it made on the neck of her victim, she took care of her as a thing of her own, and Celeste entered upon happier days. Comparing the end with the beginning, she even felt a sort of love for her torturer. To gain some power of self-defence, to become something less a cipher in the household, supported, unknown to herself, by her own means, the poor helot had but a single chance, and that chance never came to her.
Celeste had no child. This barrenness, which, from month to month, brought floods of tears from her eyes, was long the cause of Brigitte's scorn; she reproached the poor woman bitterly for being fit for nothing, not even to bear children. The old maid, who had longed to love her brother's child as if it were her own, was unable, for years, to reconcile herself to this irremediable sterility.
At the time when our history begins, namely, in 1840, Celeste, then forty-six years old, had ceased to weep; she now had the certainty of never being a mother. And here is a strange thing. After twenty-five years of this life, in which victory had ended by first dulling and then breaking its own knife, Brigitte loved Celeste as much as Celeste loved Brigitte. Time, ease, and the perpetual rubbing of domestic life, had worn off the angles and smoothed the asperities; Celeste's resignation and lamb-like gentleness had brought, at last, a serene and peaceful autumn. The two women were still further united by the one sentiment that lay within them, namely, their adoration for the lucky and selfish Thuillier.
Moreover, these two women, both childless, had each, like all women who have vainly desired children, fallen in love with a child. This fictitious motherhood, equal in strength to a real motherhood, needs an explanation which will carry us to the very heart of our drama, and will show the reason of the new occupation which Mademoiselle Thuillier provided for her brother.
CHAPTER III. COLLEVILLE
Thuillier had entered the ministry of finance as supernumerary at the same time as Colleville, who has been mentioned already as his intimate friend. In opposition to the well-regulated, gloomy household of Thuillier, social nature had provided that of Colleville; and if it is impossible not to remark that this fortuitous contrast was scarcely moral, we must add that, before deciding that point, it would be well to wait for the end of this drama, unfortunately too true, for which the present historian is not responsible.
Colleville was the only son of a talented musician, formerly first violin at the Opera under Francoeur and Rebel, who related, at least six times a month during his lifetime, anecdotes concerning the representations of the "Village Seer"; and mimicked Jean-Jacques Rousseau, taking him off to perfection. Colleville and Thuillier were inseparable friends; they had no secrets from each other, and their friendship, begun at fifteen years of age, had never known a cloud up to the year 1839. The former was one of those employees who are called, in the government offices, pluralists. These clerks are remarkable for their industry. Colleville, a good musician, owed to the name and influence of his father a situation as first clarionet at the Opera-Comique, and so long as he was a bachelor, Colleville, who was rather richer than Thuillier, shared his means with his friend. But, unlike Thuillier, Colleville married for love a Mademoiselle Flavie, the natural daughter of a celebrated danseuse at the Opera; her reputed father being a certain du Bourguier, one of the richest contractors of the day. In style and origin, Flavie was apparently destined for a melancholy career, when Colleville, often sent to her mother's apartments, fell in love with her and married her. Prince Galathionne, who at that time was "protecting" the danseuse, then approaching the end of her brilliant career, gave Flavie a "dot" of twenty thousand francs, to which her mother added a magnificent trousseau. Other friends and opera-comrades sent jewels and silver-ware, so that the Colleville household was far richer in superfluities than in capital. Flavie, brought up in opulence, began her married life in a charming apartment, furnished by her mother's upholsterer, where the young wife, who was full of taste for art and for artists, and possessed a certain elegance, ruled, a queen.
Madame Colleville was pretty and piquant, clever, gay, and graceful; to express her in one sentence,—a charming creature. Her mother, the danseuse, now forty-three years old, retired from the stage and went to live in the country,—thus depriving her daughter of the resources derived from her wasteful extravagance. Madame Colleville kept a very agreeable but extremely free and easy household. From 1816 to 1826 she had five children. Colleville, a musician in the evening, kept the books of a merchant from seven to nine in the morning, and by ten o'clock he was at his ministry. Thus, by blowing into a bit of wood by night, and writing double-entry accounts in the early morning, he managed to eke out his earnings to seven or eight thousand francs a year.
Madame Colleville played the part of a "comme il faut" woman; she received on Wednesdays, gave a concert once a month and a dinner every fortnight. She never saw Colleville except at dinner and at night, when he returned about twelve o'clock, at which hour she was frequently not at home herself. She went to the theatres, where boxes were sometimes given to her; and she would send word to Colleville to come and fetch her from such or such a house, where she was supping and dancing. At her own house, guests found excellent cheer, and her society, though rather mixed, was very amusing; she received and welcomed actresses, artists, men of letters, and a few rich men. Madame Colleville's elegance was on a par with that of Tullia, the leading prima-donna, with whom she was intimate; but though the Collevilles encroached on their capital and were often in difficulty by the end of the month, Flavie was never in debt.
Colleville was very happy; he still loved his wife, and he made himself her best friend. Always received by her with affectionate smiles and sympathetic pleasure, he yielded readily to the irresistible grace of her manners. The vehement activity with which he pursued his three avocations was a part of his natural character and temperament. He was a fine stout man, ruddy, jovial, extravagant, and full of ideas. In ten years there was never a quarrel in his household. Among business men he was looked upon, in common with all artists, as a scatter-brained fellow; and superficial persons thought that the constant hurry of this hard worker was only the restless coming and going of a busybody.
Colleville had the sense to seem stupid; he boasted of his family happiness, and gave himself unheard-of trouble in making anagrams, in order at times to seem absorbed in that passion. The government clerks of his division at the ministry, the office directors, and even the heads of divisions came to his concerts; now and then he quietly bestowed upon them opera tickets, when he needed some extra indulgence on account of his frequent absence. Rehearsals took half the time that he ought to have been at his desk; but the musical knowledge his father had bequeathed to him was sufficiently genuine and well-grounded to excuse him from all but final rehearsals. Thanks to Madame Colleville's intimacies, both the theatre and the ministry lent themselves kindly to the needs of this industrious pluralist, who, moreover, was bringing up, with great care, a youth, warmly recommended to him by his wife, a future great musician, who sometimes took his place in the orchestra with a promise of eventually succeeding him. In fact, about the year 1827 this young man became the first clarionet when Colleville resigned his position.
The usual comment on Flavie was, "That little slip of a coquette, Madame Colleville." The eldest of the Colleville children, born in 1816, was the living image of Colleville himself. In 1818, Madame Colleville held the cavalry in high estimation, above even art; and she distinguished more particularly a sub-lieutenant in the dragoons of Saint-Chamans, the young and rich Charles de Gondreville, who afterwards died in the Spanish campaign. By that time Flavie had had a second son, whom she henceforth dedicated to a military career. In 1820 she considered banking the nursing mother of trade, the supporter of Nations, and she made the great Keller, that famous banker and orator, her idol. She then had another son, whom she named Francois, resolving to make him a merchant,—feeling sure that Keller's influence would never fail him. About the close of the year 1820, Thuillier, the intimate friend of Monsieur and Madame Colleville, felt the need of pouring his sorrows into the bosom of this excellent woman, and to her he related his conjugal miseries. For six years he had longed to have children, but God did not bless him; although that poor Madame Thuillier had made novenas, and had even gone, uselessly, to Notra-Dame de Liesse! He depicted Celeste in various lights, which brought the words "Poor Thuillier!" from Flavie's lips. She herself was rather sad, having at the moment no dominant opinion. She poured her own griefs into Thuillier's bosom. The great Keller, that hero of the Left, was, in reality, extremely petty; she had learned to know the other side of public fame, the follies of banking, the emptiness of eloquence! The orator only spoke for show; to her he had behaved extremely ill. Thuillier was indignant. "None but stupid fellows know how to love," he said; "take me!" That handsome Thuillier was henceforth supposed to be paying court to Madame Colleville, and was rated as one of her "attentives,"—a word in vogue during the Empire.
"Ha! you are after my wife," said Colleville, laughing. "Take care; she'll leave you in the lurch, like all the rest."
A rather clever speech, by which Colleville saved his marital dignity. From 1820 to 1821, Thuillier, in virtue of his title as friend of the family, helped Colleville, who had formerly helped him; so much so, that in eighteen months he had lent nearly ten thousand francs to the Colleville establishment, with no intention of ever claiming them. In the spring of 1821, Madame Colleville gave birth to a charming little girl, to whom Monsieur and Madame Thuillier were godfather and godmother. The child was baptized Celeste-Louise-Caroline-Brigitte; Mademoiselle Thuillier wishing that her name should be given among others to the little angel. The name of Caroline was a graceful attention paid to Colleville. Old mother Lemprun assumed the care of putting the baby to nurse under her own eyes at Auteuil, where Celeste and her sister-in-law Brigitte, paid it regularly a semi-weekly visit.
As soon as Madame Colleville recovered she said to Thuillier, frankly, in a very serious tone:—
"My dear friend, if we are all to remain good friends, you must be our friend only. Colleville is attached to you; well, that's enough for you in this household."
"Explain to me," said the handsome Thuillier to Tullia after this remark, "why women are never attached to me. I am not the Apollo Belvidere, but for all that I'm not a Vulcan; I am passably good-looking, I have sense, I am faithful—"
"Do you want me to tell you the truth?" replied Tullia.
"Yes," said Thuillier.
"Well, though we can, sometimes, love a stupid fellow, we never love a silly one."
Those words killed Thuillier; he never got over them; henceforth he was a prey to melancholy and accused all women of caprice.
The secretary-general of the ministry, des Lupeaulx, whose influence Madame Colleville thought greater than it was, and of whom she said, later, "That was one of my mistakes," became for a time the great man of the Colleville salon; but as Flavie found he had no power to promote Colleville into the upper division, she had the good sense to resent des Lupeaulx's attentions to Madame Rabourdin (whom she called a minx), to whose house she had never been invited, and who had twice had the impertinence not to come to the Colleville concerts.
Madame Colleville was deeply affected by the death of young Gondreville; she felt, she said, the finger of God. In 1824 she turned over a new leaf, talked of economy, stopped her receptions, busied herself with her children, determined to become a good mother of a family; no favorite friend was seen at her house. She went to church, reformed her dress, wore gray, and talked Catholicism, mysticism, and so forth. All this produced, in 1825, another little son, whom she named Theodore. Soon after, in 1826, Colleville was appointed sub-director of the Clergeot division, and later, in 1828, collector of taxes in a Paris arrondissement. He also received the cross of the Legion of honor, to enable him to put his daughter at the royal school of Saint-Denis. The half-scholarship obtained by Keller for the eldest boy, Charles, was transferred to the second in 1830, when Charles entered the school of Saint-Louis on a full scholarship. The third son, taken under the protection of Madame la Dauphine, was provided with a three-quarter scholarship in the Henri IV. school.
In 1830 Colleville, who had the good fortune not to lose a child, was obliged, owing to his well-known attachment to the fallen royal family, to send in his resignation; but he was clever enough to make a bargain for it,—obtaining in exchange a pension of two thousand four hundred francs, based on his period of service, and ten thousand francs indemnity paid by his successor; he also received the rank of officer of the Legion of honor. Nevertheless, he found himself in rather a cramped condition when Mademoiselle Thuillier, in 1832, advised him to come and live near them; pointing out to him the possibility of obtaining some position in the mayor's office, which, in fact, he did obtain a few weeks later, at a salary of three thousand francs. Thus Thuillier and Colleville were destined to end their days together. In 1833 Madame Colleville, then thirty-five years old, settled herself in the rue d'Enfer, at the corner of the rue des Deux-Eglises with Celeste and little Theodore, the other boys being at their several schools. Colleville was equidistant between the mayor's office and the rue Saint-Dominique d'Enfer. Thus the household, after a brilliant, gay, headlong, reformed, and calmed existence, subsided finally into bourgeois obscurity with five thousand four hundred francs a year for its sole dependence.
Celeste was by this time twelve years of age, and she promised to be pretty. She needed masters, and her education ought to cost not less than two thousand francs a year. The mother felt the necessity of keeping her under the eye of her godfather and godmother. She therefore very willingly adopted the proposal of Mademoiselle Thuillier, who, without committing herself to any engagement, allowed Madame Colleville to understand that the fortunes of her brother, his wife, and herself would go, ultimately, to the little Celeste. The child had been left at Auteuil until she was seven years of age, adored by the good old Madame Lemprun, who died in 1829, leaving twenty thousand francs, and a house which was sold for the enormous sum of twenty-eight thousand. The lively little girl had seen very little of her mother, but very much of Mademoiselle and Madame Thuillier when she first returned to the paternal mansion in 1829; but in 1833 she fell under the dominion of Flavie, who was then, as we have said, endeavoring to do her duty, which, like other women instigated by remorse, she exaggerated. Without being an unkind mother, Flavie was very stern with her daughter. She remembered her own bringing-up, and swore within herself to make Celeste a virtuous woman. She took her to mass, and had her prepared for her first communion by a rector who has since become a bishop. Celeste was all the more readily pious, because her godmother, Madame Thuillier, was a saint, and the child adored her; she felt that the poor neglected woman loved her better than her own mother.
From 1833 to 1840 she received a brilliant education according to the ideas of the bourgeoisie. The best music-masters made her a fair musician; she could paint a water-color properly; she danced extremely well; and she had studied the French language, history, geography, English, Italian,—in short, all that constitutes the education of a well-brought-up young lady. Of medium height, rather plump, unfortunately near-sighted, she was neither plain nor pretty; not without delicacy or even brilliancy of complexion, it is true, but totally devoid of all distinction of manner. She had a great fund of reserved sensibility, and her godfather and godmother, Mademoiselle Thuillier and Colleville, were unanimous on one point,—the great resource of mothers—namely, that Celeste was capable of attachment. One of her beauties was a magnificent head of very fine blond hair; but her hands and feet showed her bourgeois origin.
Celeste endeared herself by precious qualities; she was kind, simple, without gall of any kind; she loved her father and mother, and would willingly sacrifice herself for their sake. Brought up to the deepest admiration for her godfather by Brigitte (who taught her to say "Aunt Brigitte"), and by Madame Thuillier and her own mother, Celeste imbibed the highest idea of the ex-beau of the Empire. The house in the rue Saint-Dominique d'Enfer produced upon her very much the effect of the Chateau des Tuileries on a courtier of the new dynasty.
Thuillier had not escaped the action of the administrative rolling-pin which thins the mind as it spreads it out. Exhausted by irksome toil, as much as by his life of gallantry, the ex-sub-director had well-nigh lost all his faculties by the time he came to live in the rue Saint-Dominique. But his weary face, on which there still reigned an air of imperial haughtiness, mingled with a certain contentment, the conceit of an upper official, made a deep impression upon Celeste. She alone adored that haggard face. The girl, moreover, felt herself to be the happiness of the Thuillier household.
CHAPTER IV. THE CIRCLE OF MONSIEUR AND MADAME THUILLIER
The Collevilles and their children became, naturally, the nucleus of the circle which Mademoiselle Thuillier had the ambition to group around her brother. A former clerk in the Billardiere division of the ministry, named Phellion, had lived for the last thirty years in their present quarter. He was promptly greeted by Colleville and Thuillier at the first review. Phellion proved to be one of the most respected men in the arrondissement. He had one daughter, now married to a school-teacher in the rue Saint-Hyacinthe, a Monsieur Barniol. Phellion's eldest son was a professor of mathematics in a royal college; he gave lectures and private lessons, being devoted, so his father was wont to say, to pure mathematics. A second son was in the government School of Engineering. Phellion had a pension of nine hundred francs, and he possessed a little property of nine thousand and a few odd hundred francs; the fruit of his economy and that of his wife during thirty years of toil and privation. He was, moreover, the owner of a little house and garden where he lived in the "impasse" des Feuillantines,—in thirty years he had never used the old-fashioned word "cul-de-sac"!
Dutocq, the clerk of the justice of peace, was also a former employee at the ministry of finance. Sacrificed, in former days, to one of those necessities which are always met with in representative government, he had accepted the position of scapegoat, receiving, privately, a round sum of money and the opportunity to buy his present post of clerk in the arrondissement. This man, not very honorable, and known to be a spy in the government offices, was never welcomed as he thought he ought to be by the Thuilliers; but the coldness of his landlords only made him the more persistent in going to see them. He was a bachelor and had various vices; he therefore concealed his life carefully, knowing well how to maintain his position by flattering his superiors. The justice of peace was much attached to Dutocq. This man, base as he was, managed, in the end, to make himself tolerated by the Thuilliers, chiefly by coarse and cringing adulation. He knew the facts of Thuillier's whole life, his relations with Colleville, and, above all, with Madame Colleville. One and all they feared his tongue, and the Thuilliers, without admitting him to any intimacy, endured his visits.
The family which became the flower of the Thuillier salon was that of a former ministerial clerk, once an object of pity in the government offices, who, driven by poverty, left the public service, in 1827, to fling himself into a business enterprise, having, as he thought, an idea. Minard (that was his name) foresaw a fortune in one of those wicked conceptions which reflect such discredit on French commerce, but which, in the year 1827, had not yet been exposed and blasted by publicity. Minard bought tea and mixed it with tea-leaves already used; also he adulterated the elements of chocolate in a manner which enabled him to sell the chocolate itself very cheaply. This trade in colonial products, begun in the quartier Saint-Marcel, made a merchant of Minard. He started a factory, and through these early connections he was able to reach the sources of raw material. He then did honorably, and on a large scale, a business begun in the first instance dishonorably. He became a distiller, worked upon untold quantities of products, and, by the year 1835, was considered the richest merchant in the region of the Place Maubert. By that time he had bought a handsome house in the rue des Macons-Sorbonne; he had been assistant mayor, and in 1839 became mayor of his arrondissement and judge in the Court of Commerce. He kept a carriage, had a country-place near Lagny; his wife wore diamonds at the court balls, and he prided himself on the rosette of an officer of the Legion of honor in his buttonhole.
Minard and his wife were exceedingly benevolent. Perhaps he wished to return in retail to the poor the sums he had mulcted from the public by the wholesale. Phellion, Colleville, and Thuillier met their old comrade, Minard, at election, and an intimacy followed; all the closer with the Thuilliers and Collevilles because Madame Minard seemed enchanted to make an acquaintance for her daughter in Celeste Colleville. It was at a grand ball given by the Minards that Celeste made her first appearance in society (being at that time sixteen and a half years old), dressed as her Christian named demanded, which seemed to be prophetic of her coming life. Delighted to be friendly with Mademoiselle Minard, her elder by four years, she persuaded her father and godfather to cultivate the Minard establishment, with its gilded salons and great opulence, where many political celebrities of the "juste milieu" were wont to congregate, such as Monsieur Popinot, who became, after a time, minister of commerce; Cochin, since made Baron Cochin, a former employee at the ministry of finance, who, having a large interest in the drug business, was now the oracle of the Lombard and Bourdonnais quarters, conjointly with Monsieur Anselme Popinot. Minard's eldest son, a lawyer, aiming to succeed those barristers who were turned down from the Palais for political reasons in 1830, was the genius of the household, and his mother, even more than his father, aspired to marry him well. Zelie Minard, formerly a flower-maker, felt an ardent passion for the upper social spheres, and desired to enter them through the marriages of her son and daughter; whereas Minard, wiser than she, and imbued with the vigor of the middle classes, which the revolution of July had infiltrated into the fibres of government, thought only of wealth and fortune.
He frequented the Thuillier salon to gain information as to Celeste's probable inheritance. He knew, like Dutocq and Phellion, the reports occasioned by Thuillier's former intimacy with Flavie, and he saw at a glance the idolatry of the Thuilliers for their godchild. Dutocq, to gain admittance to Minard's house, fawned upon him grossly. When Minard, the Rothschild of the arrondissement, appeared at the Thuilliers', he compared him cleverly to Napoleon, finding him stout, fat, and blooming, having left him at the ministry thin, pale, and puny.
"You looked, in the division Billardiere," he said, "like Napoleon before the 18th Brumaire, and I behold you now the Napoleon of the Empire."
Notwithstanding which flattery, Minard received Dutocq very coldly and did not invite him to his house; consequently, he made a mortal enemy of the former clerk.
Monsieur and Madame Phellion, worthy as they were, could not keep themselves from making calculations and cherishing hopes; they thought that Celeste would be the very wife for their son the professor; therefore, to have, as it were, a watcher in the Thuillier salon, they introduced their son-in-law, Monsieur Barniol, a man much respected in the faubourg Saint-Jacques, and also an old employee at the mayor's office, an intimate friend of theirs, named Laudigeois. Thus the Phellions formed a phalanx of seven persons; the Collevilles were not less numerous; so that on Sundays it often appeared that thirty persons were assembled in the Thuillier salon. Thuillier renewed acquaintance with the Saillards, Baudoyers, and Falleixs,—all persons of respectability in the quarter of the Palais-Royal, whom they often invited to dinner.
Madame Colleville was, as a woman, the most distinguished member of this society, just as Minard junior and Professor Phellion were superior among the men. All the others, without ideas or education, and issuing from the lower ranks, presented the types and the absurdities of the lesser bourgeoisie. Though all success, especially if won from distant sources, seems to presuppose some genuine merit, Minard was really an inflated balloon. Expressing himself in empty phrases, mistaking sycophancy for politeness, and wordiness for wit, he uttered his commonplaces with a brisk assurance that passed for eloquence. Certain words which said nothing but answered all things,—progress, steam, bitumen, National guard, order, democratic element, spirit of association, legality, movement, resistance,—seemed, as each political phase developed, to have been actually made for Minard, whose talk was a paraphrase on the ideas of his newspaper. Julien Minard, the young lawyer, suffered from his father as much as his father suffered from his wife. Zelie had grown pretentious with wealth, without, at the same time, learning to speak French. She was now very fat, and gave the idea, in her rich surroundings, of a cook married to her master.
Phellion, that type and model of the petty bourgeois, exhibited as many virtues as he did absurdities. Accustomed to subordination during his bureaucratic life, he respected all social superiority. He was therefore silent before Minard. During the critical period of retirement from office, he had held his own admirably, for the following reason. Never until now had that worthy and excellent man been able to indulge his own tastes. He loved the city of Paris; he was interested in its embellishment, in the laying out of its streets; he was capable of standing for hours to watch the demolition of houses. He might now have been observed, stolidly planted on his legs, his nose in the air, watching for the fall of a stone which some mason was loosening at the top of a wall, and never moving till the stone fell; when it had fallen he went away as happy as an academician at the fall of a romantic drama. Veritable supernumeraries of the social comedy, Phellion, Laudigeois, and their kind, fulfilled the functions of the antique chorus. They wept when weeping was in order, laughed when they should laugh, and sang in parts the public joys and sorrows; they triumphed in their corner with the triumphs of Algiers, of Constantine, of Lisbon, of Sainte-Jean d'Ulloa; they deplored the death of Napoleon and the fatal catastrophes of the Saint-Merri and the rue Transnonnain, grieving over celebrated men who were utterly unknown to them. Phellion alone presents a double side: he divides himself conscientiously between the reasons of the opposition and those of the government. When fighting went on in the streets, Phellion had the courage to declare himself before his neighbors; he went to the Place Saint-Michel, the place where his battalion assembled; he felt for the government and did his duty. Before and during the riot, he supported the dynasty, the product of July; but, as soon as the political trials began, he stood by the accused. This innocent "weather-cockism" prevails in his political opinions; he produces, in reply to all arguments, the "colossus of the North." England is, to his thinking, as to that of the old "Constitutionnel," a crone with two faces,—Machiavellian Albion, and the model nation: Machiavellian, when the interests of France and of Napoleon are concerned; the model nation when the faults of the government are in question. He admits, with his chosen paper, the democratic element, but refuses in conversation all compact with the republican spirit. The republican spirit to him means 1793, rioting, the Terror, and agrarian law. The democratic element is the development of the lesser bourgeoisie, the reign of Phellions.
The worthy old man is always dignified; dignity serves to explain his life. He has brought up his children with dignity; he has kept himself a father in their eyes; he insists on being honored in his home, just as he himself honors power and his superiors. He has never made debts. As a juryman his conscience obliges him to sweat blood and water in the effort to follow the debates of a trial; he never laughs, not even if the judge, and audience, and all the officials laugh. Eminently useful, he gives his services, his time, everything—except his money. Felix Phellion, his son, the professor, is his idol; he thinks him capable of attaining to the Academy of Sciences. Thuillier, between the audacious nullity of Minard, and the solid silliness of Phellion, was a neutral substance, but connected with both through his dismal experience. He managed to conceal the emptiness of his brain by commonplace talk, just as he covered the yellow skin of his bald pate with thready locks of his gray hair, brought from the back of his head with infinite art by the comb of his hairdresser.
"In any other career," he was wont to say, speaking of the government employ, "I should have made a very different fortune."
He had seen the right, which is possible in theory and impossible in practice,—results proving contrary to premises,—and he related the intrigues and the injustices of the Rabourdin affair.
"After that, one can believe all, and believe nothing," he would say. "Ah! it is a queer thing, government! I'm very glad not to have a son, and never to see him in the career of a place-hunter."
Colleville, ever gay, rotund, and good-humored, a sayer of "quodlibets," a maker of anagrams, always busy, represented the capable and bantering bourgeois, with faculty without success, obstinate toil without result; he was also the embodiment of jovial resignation, mind without object, art with usefulness, for, excellent musician that he was, he never played now except for his daughter.
The Thuillier salon was in some sort a provincial salon, lighted, however, by continual flashes from the Parisian conflagration; its mediocrity and its platitudes followed the current of the times. The popular saying and thing (for in Paris the thing and its saying are like the horse and its rider) ricochetted, so to speak, to this company. Monsieur Minard was always impatiently expected, for he was certain to know the truth of important circumstances. The women of the Thuillier salon held by the Jesuits; the men defended the University; and, as a general thing, the women listened. A man of intelligence (could he have borne the dulness of these evenings) would have laughed, as he would at a comedy of Moliere, on hearing, amid endless discussion, such remarks as the following:—
"How could the Revolution of 1789 have been avoided? The loans of Louis XIV. prepared the way for it. Louis XV., an egotist, a man of narrow mind (didn't he say, 'If I were lieutenant of police I would suppress cabriolets'?), that dissolute king—you remember his Parc aux Cerfs?—did much to open the abyss of revolution. Monsieur de Necker, an evil-minded Genovese, set the thing a-going. Foreigners have always tried to injure France. The maximum did great harm to the Revolution. Legally Louis XVI. should never have been condemned; a jury would have acquitted him. Why did Charles X. fall? Napoleon was a great man, and the facts that prove his genius are anecdotal: he took five pinches of snuff a minute out of a pocket lined with leather made in his waistcoat. He looked into all his tradesmen's accounts; he went to Saint-Denis to judge for himself the prices of things. Talma was his friend; Talma taught him his gestures; nevertheless, he always refused to give Talma the Legion of honor! The emperor mounted guard for a sentinel who went to sleep, to save him from being shot. Those were the things that made his soldiers adore him. Louis XVIII., who certainly had some sense, was very unjust in calling him Monsieur de Buonaparte. The defect of the present government is in letting itself be led instead of leading. It holds itself too low. It is afraid of men of energy. It ought to have torn up all the treaties of 1815 and demanded the Rhine. They keep the same men too long in the ministry"; etc., etc.
"Come, you've exerted your minds long enough," said Mademoiselle Thuillier, interrupting one of these luminous talks; "the altar is dressed; begin your little game."
If these anterior facts and all these generalities were not placed here as the frame of the present Scene, to give an idea of the spirit of this society, the following drama would certainly have suffered greatly. Moreover, this sketch is historically faithful; it shows a social stratum of importance in any portrayal of manners and morals, especially when we reflect that the political system of the Younger branch rests almost wholly upon it.
The winter of the year 1839 was, it may be said, the period when the Thuillier salon was in its greatest glory. The Minards came nearly every Sunday, and began their evening by spending an hour there, if they had other engagements elsewhere. Often Minard would leave his wife at the Thuilliers and take his son and daughter to other houses. This assiduity on the part of the Minards was brought about by a somewhat tardy meeting between Messieurs Metivier, Barbet, and Minard on an evening when the two former, being tenants of Mademoiselle Thuillier, remained rather longer than usual in discussing business with her. From Barbet, Minard learned that the old maid had money transactions with himself and Metivier to the amount of sixty thousand francs, besides having a large deposit in the Bank.
"Has she an account at the Bank?" asked Minard.
"I believe so," replied Barbet. "I give her at least eighty thousand francs there."
Being on intimate terms with a governor of the Bank, Minard ascertained that Mademoiselle Thuillier had, in point of fact, an account of over two hundred thousand francs, the result of her quarterly deposits for many years. Besides this, she owned the house they lived in, which was not mortgaged, and was worth at least one hundred thousand francs, if not more.
"Why should Mademoiselle Thuillier work in this way?" said Minard to Metivier. "She'd be a good match for you," he added.
"I? oh, no," replied Metivier. "I shall do better by marrying a cousin; my uncle Metivier has given me the succession to his business; he has a hundred thousand francs a year and only two daughters."
However secretive Mademoiselle Thuillier might be,—and she said nothing of her investments to any one, not even to her brother, although a large amount of Madame Thuillier's fortune went to swell the amount of her own savings,—it was difficult to prevent some ray of light from gliding under the bushel which covered her treasure.
Dutocq, who frequented Barbet, with whom he had some resemblance in character and countenance, had appraised, even more correctly than Minard, the Thuillier finances. He knew that their savings amounted, in 1838, to one hundred and fifty thousand francs, and he followed their progress secretly, calculating profits by the help of that all-wise money-lender, Barbet.
"Celeste will have from my brother and myself two hundred thousand francs in ready money," the old maid had said to Barbet in confidence, "and Madame Thuillier wishes to secure to her by the marriage contract the ultimate possession of her own fortune. As for me, my will is made. My brother will have everything during his lifetime, and Celeste will be my heiress with that reservation. Monsieur Cardot, the notary, is my executor."
Mademoiselle Thuillier now instigated her brother to renew his former relations with the Saillards, Baudoyers, and others, who held a position similar to that of the Thuilliers in the quartier Saint-Antoine, of which Monsieur Saillard was mayor. Cardot, the notary, had produced his aspirant for Celeste's hand in the person of Monsieur Godeschal, attorney and successor to Derville; an able man, thirty-six years of age, who had paid one hundred thousand francs for his practice, which the two hundred thousand of the "dot" would doubly clear off. Minard, however, got rid of Godeschal by informing Mademoiselle Thuillier that Celeste's sister-in-law would be the famous Mariette of the Opera.
"She came from the stage," said Colleville, alluding to his wife, "and there's no need she should return to it."
"Besides, Monsieur Godeschal is too old for Celeste," remarked Brigitte.
"And ought we not," added Madame Thuillier, timidly, "to let her marry according to her own taste, so as to be happy?"
The poor woman had detected in Felix Phellion a true love for Celeste; the love that a woman crushed by Brigitte and wounded by her husband's indifference (for Thuillier cared less for his wife than he did for a servant) had dreamed that love might be,—bold in heart, timid externally, sure of itself, reserved, hidden from others, but expanding toward heaven. At twenty-three years of age, Felix Phellion was a gentle, pure-minded young man, like all true scholars who cultivate knowledge for knowledge's sake. He had been sacredly brought up by his father, who, viewing all things seriously, had given him none but good examples accompanied by trivial maxims. He was a young man of medium height, with light chestnut hair, gray eyes, and a skin full of freckles; gifted with a charming voice, a tranquil manner; making few gestures; thoughtful, saying little, and that little sensible; contradicting no one, and quite incapable of a sordid thought or a selfish calculation.
"That," thought Madame Thuillier, "is what I should have liked my husband to be."
One evening, in the month of February, 1840, the Thuillier salon contained the various personages whose silhouettes we have just traced out, together with some others. It was nearly the end of the month. Barbet and Metivier having business with mademoiselle Brigitte, were playing whist with Minard and Phellion. At another table were Julien the advocate (a nickname given by Colleville to young Minard), Madame Colleville, Monsieur Barniol, and Madame Phellion. "Bouillotte," at five sous a stake, occupied Madame Minard, who knew no other game, Colleville, old Monsieur Saillard, and Bandoze, his son-in-law. The substitutes were Laudigeois and Dutocq. Mesdames Falleix, Baudoyer, Barniol, and Mademoiselle Minard were playing boston, and Celeste was sitting beside Prudence Minard. Young Phellion was listening to Madame Thuillier and looking at Celeste.
At a corner of the fireplace sat enthroned on a sofa the Queen Elizabeth of the family, as simply dressed as she had been for the last thirty years; for no prosperity could have made her change her habits. She wore on her chinchilla hair a black gauze cap, adorned with the geranium called Charles X.; her gown, of plum-colored stuff, made with a yoke, cost fifteen francs, her embroidered collarette was worth six, and it ill disguised the deep wrinkle produced by the two muscles which fastened the head to the vertebral column. The actor, Monvel, playing Augustus Caesar in his old age, did not present a harder and sterner profile than that of this female autocrat, knitting socks for her brother. Before the fireplace stood Thuillier in an attitude, ready to go forward and meet the arriving guests; near him was a young man whose entrance had produced a great effect, when the porter (who on Sundays wore his best clothes and waited on the company) announced Monsieur Olivier Vinet.
A private communication made by Cardot to the celebrated "procureur-general," father of this young man, was the cause of his visit. Olivier Vinet had just been promoted from the court of Arcis-sur-Aube to that of the Seine, where he now held the post of substitute "procureur-de-roi." Cardot had already invited Thuillier and the elder Vinet, who was likely to become minister of justice, with his son, to dine with him. The notary estimated the fortunes which would eventually fall to Celeste at seven hundred thousand francs. Vinet junior appeared charmed to obtain the right to visit the Thuilliers on Sundays. Great dowries make men commit great and unbecoming follies without reserve or decency in these days.
Ten minutes later another young man, who had been talking with Thuillier before the arrival of Olivier Vinet, raised his voice eagerly, in a political discussion, and forced the young magistrate to follow his example in the vivacious argument which now ensued. The matter related to the vote by which the Chamber of Deputies had just overthrown the ministry of the 12th of May, refusing the allowance demanded for the Duc de Nemours.
"Assuredly," said the young man, "I am far from belonging to the dynastic party; I am very far from approving of the rise of the bourgeoisie to power. The bourgeoisie ought not, any more than the aristocracy of other days, to assume to be the whole nation. But the French bourgeoisie has now taken upon itself to create a new dynasty, a royalty of its own, and behold how it treats it! When the people allowed Napoleon to rise to power, it created with him a splendid and monumental state of things; it was proud of his grandeur; and it nobly gave its blood and sweat in building up the edifice of the Empire. Between the magnificence of the aristocratic throne and those of the imperial purple, between the great of the earth and the People, the bourgeoisie is proving itself petty; it degrades power to its own level instead of rising up to it. The saving of candle-ends it has so long practised behind its counters, it now seeks to impose on its princes. What may perhaps have been virtue in its shops is a blunder and a crime higher up. I myself have wanted many things for the people, but I never should have begun by lopping off ten millions of francs from the new civil list. In becoming, as it were, nearly the whole of France, the bourgeoisie owed to us the prosperity of the people, splendor without ostentation, grandeur without privilege."
The father of Olivier Vinet was just now sulking with the government. The robe of Keeper of the Seals, which had been his dream, was slow in coming to him. The young substitute did not, therefore, know exactly how to answer this speech; he thought it wise to enlarge on one of its side issues.
"You are right, monsieur," said Olivier Vinet. "But, before manifesting itself magnificently, the bourgeoisie has other duties to fulfil towards France. The luxury you speak of should come after duty. That which seems to you so blameable is the necessity of the moment. The Chamber is far from having its full share in public affairs; the ministers are less for France than they are for the crown, and parliament has determined that the administration shall have, as in England, a strength and power of its own, and not a mere borrowed power. The day on which the administration can act for itself, and represent the Chamber as the Chamber represents the country, parliament will be found very liberal toward the crown. The whole question is there. I state it without expressing my own opinion, for the duties of my post demand, in politics, a certain fealty to the crown."
"Setting aside the political question," replied the young man, whose voice and accent were those of a native of Provence, "it is certainly true that the bourgeoisie has ill understood its mission. We can see, any day, the great law officers, attorney-generals, peers of France in omnibuses, judges who live on their salaries, prefects without fortunes, ministers in debt! Whereas the bourgeoisie, who have seized upon those offices, ought to dignify them, as in the olden time when aristocracy dignified them, and not occupy such posts solely for the purpose of making their fortune, as scandalous disclosures have proved."
"Who is this young man?" thought Olivier Vinet. "Is he a relative? Cardot ought to have come with me on this first visit."
"Who is that little monsieur?" asked Minard of Barbet. "I have seen him here several times."
"He is a tenant," replied Metivier, shuffling the cards.
"A lawyer," added Barbet, in a low voice, "who occupies a small apartment on the third floor front. Oh! He doesn't amount to much; he has nothing."