The Middle Classes/Part I/Chapter III

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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.