When M. Gillenormand lived in the Rue Servandoni, he had frequented many very good and very aristocratic salons. Although a bourgeois, M. Gillenormand was received in society. As he had a double measure of wit, in the first place, that which was born with him, and secondly, that which was attributed to him, he was even sought out and made much of. He never went anywhere except on condition of being the chief person there. There are people who will have influence at any price, and who will have other people busy themselves over them; when they cannot be oracles, they turn wags. M. Gillenormand was not of this nature; his domination in the Royalist salons which he frequented cost his self-respect nothing. He was an oracle everywhere. It had happened to him to hold his own against M. de Bonald, and even against M. Bengy–Puy-Vallee.
About 1817, he invariably passed two afternoons a week in a house in his own neighborhood, in the Rue Ferou, with Madame la Baronne de T., a worthy and respectable person, whose husband had been Ambassador of France to Berlin under Louis XVI. Baron de T., who, during his lifetime, had gone very passionately into ecstasies and magnetic visions, had died bankrupt, during the emigration, leaving, as his entire fortune, some very curious Memoirs about Mesmer and his tub, in ten manuscript volumes, bound in red morocco and gilded on the edges. Madame de T. had not published the memoirs, out of pride, and maintained herself on a meagre income which had survived no one knew how.
Madame de T. lived far from the Court; “a very mixed society,” as she said, in a noble isolation, proud and poor. A few friends assembled twice a week about her widowed hearth, and these constituted a purely Royalist salon. They sipped tea there, and uttered groans or cries of horror at the century, the charter, the Bonapartists, the prostitution of the blue ribbon, or the Jacobinism of Louis XVIII., according as the wind veered towards elegy or dithyrambs; and they spoke in low tones of the hopes which were presented by Monsieur, afterwards Charles X.
The songs of the fishwomen, in which Napoleon was called Nicolas, were received there with transports of joy. Duchesses, the most delicate and charming women in the world, went into ecstasies over couplets like the following, addressed to “the federates”:—
Refoncez dans vos culottes20
Le bout d’ chemis’ qui vous pend.
Qu’on n’ dis’ pas qu’ les patriotes
Ont arbore l’ drapeau blanc?
20 Tuck into your trousers the shirt-tail that is hanging out. Let it not be said that patriots have hoisted the white flag.
There they amused themselves with puns which were considered terrible, with innocent plays upon words which they supposed to be venomous, with quatrains, with distiches even; thus, upon the Dessolles ministry, a moderate cabinet, of which MM. Decazes and Deserre were members:—
Pour raffermir le trone ebranle sur sa base,21
Il faut changer de sol, et de serre et de case.
21 In order to re-establish the shaken throne firmly on its base, soil (Des solles), greenhouse and house (Decazes) must be changed.
Or they drew up a list of the chamber of peers, “an abominably Jacobin chamber,” and from this list they combined alliances of names, in such a manner as to form, for example, phrases like the following: Damas. Sabran. Gouvion–Saint-Cyr. — All this was done merrily. In that society, they parodied the Revolution. They used I know not what desires to give point to the same wrath in inverse sense. They sang their little Ca ira:—
Ah! ca ira ca ira ca ira!
Les Bonapartistes a la lanterne!
Songs are like the guillotine; they chop away indifferently, today this head, tomorrow that. It is only a variation.
In the Fualdes affair, which belongs to this epoch, 1816, they took part for Bastide and Jausion, because Fualdes was “a Buonapartist.” They designated the liberals as friends and brothers; this constituted the most deadly insult.
Like certain church towers, Madame de T.‘s salon had two cocks. One of them was M. Gillenormand, the other was Comte de Lamothe–Valois, of whom it was whispered about, with a sort of respect: “Do you know? That is the Lamothe of the affair of the necklace.” These singular amnesties do occur in parties.
Let us add the following: in the bourgeoisie, honored situations decay through too easy relations; one must beware whom one admits; in the same way that there is a loss of caloric in the vicinity of those who are cold, there is a diminution of consideration in the approach of despised persons. The ancient society of the upper classes held themselves above this law, as above every other. Marigny, the brother of the Pompadour, had his entry with M. le Prince de Soubise. In spite of? No, because. Du Barry, the god-father of the Vaubernier, was very welcome at the house of M. le Marechal de Richelieu. This society is Olympus. Mercury and the Prince de Guemenee are at home there. A thief is admitted there, provided he be a god.
The Comte de Lamothe, who, in 1815, was an old man seventy-five years of age, had nothing remarkable about him except his silent and sententious air, his cold and angular face, his perfectly polished manners, his coat buttoned up to his cravat, and his long legs always crossed in long, flabby trousers of the hue of burnt sienna. His face was the same color as his trousers.
This M. de Lamothe was “held in consideration” in this salon on account of his “celebrity” and, strange to say, though true, because of his name of Valois.
As for M. Gillenormand, his consideration was of absolutely first-rate quality. He had, in spite of his levity, and without its interfering in any way with his dignity, a certain manner about him which was imposing, dignified, honest, and lofty, in a bourgeois fashion; and his great age added to it. One is not a century with impunity. The years finally produce around a head a venerable dishevelment.
In addition to this, he said things which had the genuine sparkle of the old rock. Thus, when the King of Prussia, after having restored Louis XVIII., came to pay the latter a visit under the name of the Count de Ruppin, he was received by the descendant of Louis XIV. somewhat as though he had been the Marquis de Brandebourg, and with the most delicate impertinence. M. Gillenormand approved: “All kings who are not the King of France,” said he, “are provincial kings.” One day, the following question was put and the following answer returned in his presence: “To what was the editor of the Courrier Francais condemned?” “To be suspended.” “Sus is superfluous,” observed M. Gillenormand.22 Remarks of this nature found a situation.
22 Suspendu, suspended; pendu, hung.
At the Te Deum on the anniversary of the return of the Bourbons, he said, on seeing M. de Talleyrand pass by: “There goes his Excellency the Evil One.”
M. Gillenormand was always accompanied by his daughter, that tall mademoiselle, who was over forty and looked fifty, and by a handsome little boy of seven years, white, rosy, fresh, with happy and trusting eyes, who never appeared in that salon without hearing voices murmur around him: “How handsome he is! What a pity! Poor child!” This child was the one of whom we dropped a word a while ago. He was called “poor child,” because he had for a father “a brigand of the Loire.”
This brigand of the Loire was M. Gillenormand’s son-inlaw, who has already been mentioned, and whom M. Gillenormand called “the disgrace of his family.”
Any one who had chanced to pass through the little town of Vernon at this epoch, and who had happened to walk across that fine monumental bridge, which will soon be succeeded, let us hope, by some hideous iron cable bridge, might have observed, had he dropped his eyes over the parapet, a man about fifty years of age wearing a leather cap, and trousers and a waistcoat of coarse gray cloth, to which something yellow which had been a red ribbon, was sewn, shod with wooden sabots, tanned by the sun, his face nearly black and his hair nearly white, a large scar on his forehead which ran down upon his cheek, bowed, bent, prematurely aged, who walked nearly every day, hoe and sickle in hand, in one of those compartments surrounded by walls which abut on the bridge, and border the left bank of the Seine like a chain of terraces, charming enclosures full of flowers of which one could say, were they much larger: “these are gardens,” and were they a little smaller: “these are bouquets.” All these enclosures abut upon the river at one end, and on a house at the other. The man in the waistcoat and the wooden shoes of whom we have just spoken, inhabited the smallest of these enclosures and the most humble of these houses about 1817. He lived there alone and solitary, silently and poorly, with a woman who was neither young nor old, neither homely nor pretty, neither a peasant nor a bourgeoise, who served him. The plot of earth which he called his garden was celebrated in the town for the beauty of the flowers which he cultivated there. These flowers were his occupation.
By dint of labor, of perseverance, of attention, and of buckets of water, he had succeeded in creating after the Creator, and he had invented certain tulips and certain dahlias which seemed to have been forgotten by nature. He was ingenious; he had forestalled Soulange Bodin in the formation of little clumps of earth of heath mould, for the cultivation of rare and precious shrubs from America and China. He was in his alleys from the break of day, in summer, planting, cutting, hoeing, watering, walking amid his flowers with an air of kindness, sadness, and sweetness, sometimes standing motionless and thoughtful for hours, listening to the song of a bird in the trees, the babble of a child in a house, or with his eyes fixed on a drop of dew at the tip of a spear of grass, of which the sun made a carbuncle. His table was very plain, and he drank more milk than wine. A child could make him give way, and his servant scolded him. He was so timid that he seemed shy, he rarely went out, and he saw no one but the poor people who tapped at his pane and his cure, the Abbe Mabeuf, a good old man. Nevertheless, if the inhabitants of the town, or strangers, or any chance comers, curious to see his tulips, rang at his little cottage, he opened his door with a smile. He was the “brigand of the Loire.”
Any one who had, at the same time, read military memoirs, biographies, the Moniteur, and the bulletins of the grand army, would have been struck by a name which occurs there with tolerable frequency, the name of Georges Pontmercy. When very young, this Georges Pontmercy had been a soldier in Saintonge’s regiment. The revolution broke out. Saintonge’s regiment formed a part of the army of the Rhine; for the old regiments of the monarchy preserved their names of provinces even after the fall of the monarchy, and were only divided into brigades in 1794. Pontmercy fought at Spire, at Worms, at Neustadt, at Turkheim, at Alzey, at Mayence, where he was one of the two hundred who formed Houchard’s rearguard. It was the twelfth to hold its ground against the corps of the Prince of Hesse, behind the old rampart of Andernach, and only rejoined the main body of the army when the enemy’s cannon had opened a breach from the cord of the parapet to the foot of the glacis. He was under Kleber at Marchiennes and at the battle of Mont–Palissel, where a ball from a biscaien broke his arm. Then he passed to the frontier of Italy, and was one of the thirty grenadiers who defended the Col de Tende with Joubert. Joubert was appointed its adjutant-general, and Pontmercy sub-lieutenant. Pontmercy was by Berthier’s side in the midst of the grape-shot of that day at Lodi which caused Bonaparte to say: “Berthier has been cannoneer, cavalier, and grenadier.” He beheld his old general, Joubert, fall at Novi, at the moment when, with uplifted sabre, he was shouting: “Forward!” Having been embarked with his company in the exigencies of the campaign, on board a pinnace which was proceeding from Genoa to some obscure port on the coast, he fell into a wasps’-nest of seven or eight English vessels. The Genoese commander wanted to throw his cannon into the sea, to hide the soldiers between decks, and to slip along in the dark as a merchant vessel. Pontmercy had the colors hoisted to the peak, and sailed proudly past under the guns of the British frigates. Twenty leagues further on, his audacity having increased, he attacked with his pinnace, and captured a large English transport which was carrying troops to Sicily, and which was so loaded down with men and horses that the vessel was sunk to the level of the sea. In 1805 he was in that Malher division which took Gunzberg from the Archduke Ferdinand. At Weltingen he received into his arms, beneath a storm of bullets, Colonel Maupetit, mortally wounded at the head of the 9th Dragoons. He distinguished himself at Austerlitz in that admirable march in echelons effected under the enemy’s fire. When the cavalry of the Imperial Russian Guard crushed a battalion of the 4th of the line, Pontmercy was one of those who took their revenge and overthrew the Guard. The Emperor gave him the cross. Pontmercy saw Wurmser at Mantua, Melas, and Alexandria, Mack at Ulm, made prisoners in succession. He formed a part of the eighth corps of the grand army which Mortier commanded, and which captured Hamburg. Then he was transferred to the 55th of the line, which was the old regiment of Flanders. At Eylau he was in the cemetery where, for the space of two hours, the heroic Captain Louis Hugo, the uncle of the author of this book, sustained alone with his company of eighty-three men every effort of the hostile army. Pontmercy was one of the three who emerged alive from that cemetery. He was at Friedland. Then he saw Moscow. Then La Beresina, then Lutzen, Bautzen, Dresden, Wachau, Leipzig, and the defiles of Gelenhausen; then Montmirail, Chateau–Thierry, Craon, the banks of the Marne, the banks of the Aisne, and the redoubtable position of Laon. At Arnay–Le-Duc, being then a captain, he put ten Cossacks to the sword, and saved, not his general, but his corporal. He was well slashed up on this occasion, and twenty-seven splinters were extracted from his left arm alone. Eight days before the capitulation of Paris he had just exchanged with a comrade and entered the cavalry. He had what was called under the old regime, the double hand, that is to say, an equal aptitude for handling the sabre or the musket as a soldier, or a squadron or a battalion as an officer. It is from this aptitude, perfected by a military education, which certain special branches of the service arise, the dragoons, for example, who are both cavalry-men and infantry at one and the same time. He accompanied Napoleon to the Island of Elba. At Waterloo, he was chief of a squadron of cuirassiers, in Dubois’ brigade. It was he who captured the standard of the Lunenburg battalion. He came and cast the flag at the Emperor’s feet. He was covered with blood. While tearing down the banner he had received a sword-cut across his face. The Emperor, greatly pleased, shouted to him: “You are a colonel, you are a baron, you are an officer of the Legion of Honor!” Pontmercy replied: “Sire, I thank you for my widow.” An hour later, he fell in the ravine of Ohain. Now, who was this Georges Pontmercy? He was this same “brigand of the Loire.”
We have already seen something of his history. After Waterloo, Pontmercy, who had been pulled out of the hollow road of Ohain, as it will be remembered, had succeeded in joining the army, and had dragged himself from ambulance to ambulance as far as the cantonments of the Loire.
The Restoration had placed him on half-pay, then had sent him into residence, that is to say, under surveillance, at Vernon. King Louis XVIII., regarding all that which had taken place during the Hundred Days as not having occurred at all, did not recognize his quality as an officer of the Legion of Honor, nor his grade of colonel, nor his title of baron. He, on his side, neglected no occasion of signing himself “Colonel Baron Pontmercy.” He had only an old blue coat, and he never went out without fastening to it his rosette as an officer of the Legion of Honor. The Attorney for the Crown had him warned that the authorities would prosecute him for “illegal” wearing of this decoration. When this notice was conveyed to him through an officious intermediary, Pontmercy retorted with a bitter smile: “I do not know whether I no longer understand French, or whether you no longer speak it; but the fact is that I do not understand.” Then he went out for eight successive days with his rosette. They dared not interfere with him. Two or three times the Minister of War and the general in command of the department wrote to him with the following address: “A Monsieur le Commandant Pontmercy.” He sent back the letters with the seals unbroken. At the same moment, Napoleon at Saint Helena was treating in the same fashion the missives of Sir Hudson Lowe addressed to General Bonaparte. Pontmercy had ended, may we be pardoned the expression, by having in his mouth the same saliva as his Emperor.
In the same way, there were at Rome Carthaginian prisoners who refused to salute Flaminius, and who had a little of Hannibal’s spirit.
One day he encountered the district-attorney in one of the streets of Vernon, stepped up to him, and said: “Mr. Crown Attorney, am I permitted to wear my scar?”
He had nothing save his meagre half-pay as chief of squadron. He had hired the smallest house which he could find at Vernon. He lived there alone, we have just seen how. Under the Empire, between two wars, he had found time to marry Mademoiselle Gillenormand. The old bourgeois, thoroughly indignant at bottom, had given his consent with a sigh, saying: “The greatest families are forced into it.” In 1815, Madame Pontmercy, an admirable woman in every sense, by the way, lofty in sentiment and rare, and worthy of her husband, died, leaving a child. This child had been the colonel’s joy in his solitude; but the grandfather had imperatively claimed his grandson, declaring that if the child were not given to him he would disinherit him. The father had yielded in the little one’s interest, and had transferred his love to flowers.
Moreover, he had renounced everything, and neither stirred up mischief nor conspired. He shared his thoughts between the innocent things which he was then doing and the great things which he had done. He passed his time in expecting a pink or in recalling Austerlitz.
M. Gillenormand kept up no relations with his son-inlaw. The colonel was “a bandit” to him. M. Gillenormand never mentioned the colonel, except when he occasionally made mocking allusions to “his Baronship.” It had been expressly agreed that Pontmercy should never attempt to see his son nor to speak to him, under penalty of having the latter handed over to him disowned and disinherited. For the Gillenormands, Pontmercy was a man afflicted with the plague. They intended to bring up the child in their own way. Perhaps the colonel was wrong to accept these conditions, but he submitted to them, thinking that he was doing right and sacrificing no one but himself.
The inheritance of Father Gillenormand did not amount to much; but the inheritance of Mademoiselle Gillenormand the elder was considerable. This aunt, who had remained unmarried, was very rich on the maternal side, and her sister’s son was her natural heir. The boy, whose name was Marius, knew that he had a father, but nothing more. No one opened his mouth to him about it. Nevertheless, in the society into which his grandfather took him, whispers, innuendoes, and winks, had eventually enlightened the little boy’s mind; he had finally understood something of the case, and as he naturally took in the ideas and opinions which were, so to speak, the air he breathed, by a sort of infiltration and slow penetration, he gradually came to think of his father only with shame and with a pain at his heart.
While he was growing up in this fashion, the colonel slipped away every two or three months, came to Paris on the sly, like a criminal breaking his ban, and went and posted himself at Saint–Sulpice, at the hour when Aunt Gillenormand led Marius to the mass. There, trembling lest the aunt should turn round, concealed behind a pillar, motionless, not daring to breathe, he gazed at his child. The scarred veteran was afraid of that old spinster.
From this had arisen his connection with the cure of Vernon, M. l’Abbe Mabeuf.
That worthy priest was the brother of a warden of Saint–Sulpice, who had often observed this man gazing at his child, and the scar on his cheek, and the large tears in his eyes. That man, who had so manly an air, yet who was weeping like a woman, had struck the warden. That face had clung to his mind. One day, having gone to Vernon to see his brother, he had encountered Colonel Pontmercy on the bridge, and had recognized the man of Saint–Sulpice. The warden had mentioned the circumstance to the cure, and both had paid the colonel a visit, on some pretext or other. This visit led to others. The colonel, who had been extremely reserved at first, ended by opening his heart, and the cure and the warden finally came to know the whole history, and how Pontmercy was sacrificing his happiness to his child’s future. This caused the cure to regard him with veneration and tenderness, and the colonel, on his side, became fond of the cure. And moreover, when both are sincere and good, no men so penetrate each other, and so amalgamate with each other, as an old priest and an old soldier. At bottom, the man is the same. The one has devoted his life to his country here below, the other to his country on high; that is the only difference.
Twice a year, on the first of January and on St. George’s day, Marius wrote duty letters to his father, which were dictated by his aunt, and which one would have pronounced to be copied from some formula; this was all that M. Gillenormand tolerated; and the father answered them with very tender letters which the grandfather thrust into his pocket unread.
Madame de T.‘s salon was all that Marius Pontmercy knew of the world. It was the only opening through which he could get a glimpse of life. This opening was sombre, and more cold than warmth, more night than day, came to him through this skylight. This child, who had been all joy and light on entering this strange world, soon became melancholy, and, what is still more contrary to his age, grave. Surrounded by all those singular and imposing personages, he gazed about him with serious amazement. Everything conspired to increase this astonishment in him. There were in Madame de T.‘s salon some very noble ladies named Mathan, Noe, Levis — which was pronounced Levi — Cambis, pronounced Cambyse. These antique visages and these Biblical names mingled in the child’s mind with the Old Testament which he was learning by heart, and when they were all there, seated in a circle around a dying fire, sparely lighted by a lamp shaded with green, with their severe profiles, their gray or white hair, their long gowns of another age, whose lugubrious colors could not be distinguished, dropping, at rare intervals, words which were both majestic and severe, little Marius stared at them with frightened eyes, in the conviction that he beheld not women, but patriarchs and magi, not real beings, but phantoms.
With these phantoms, priests were sometimes mingled, frequenters of this ancient salon, and some gentlemen; the Marquis de Sass***, private secretary to Madame de Berry, the Vicomte de Val**, who published, under the pseudonyme of Charles–Antoine, monorhymed odes, the Prince de Beauff******, who, though very young, had a gray head and a pretty and witty wife, whose very low-necked toilettes of scarlet velvet with gold torsades alarmed these shadows, the Marquis de C***d’E*****, the man in all France who best understood “proportioned politeness,” the Comte d’Am****, the kindly man with the amiable chin, and the Chevalier de Port-deGuy, a pillar of the library of the Louvre, called the King’s cabinet, M. de Port-deGuy, bald, and rather aged than old, was wont to relate that in 1793, at the age of sixteen, he had been put in the galleys as refractory and chained with an octogenarian, the Bishop of Mirepoix, also refractory, but as a priest, while he was so in the capacity of a soldier. This was at Toulon. Their business was to go at night and gather up on the scaffold the heads and bodies of the persons who had been guillotined during the day; they bore away on their backs these dripping corpses, and their red galley-slave blouses had a clot of blood at the back of the neck, which was dry in the morning and wet at night. These tragic tales abounded in Madame de T.‘s salon, and by dint of cursing Marat, they applauded Trestaillon. Some deputies of the undiscoverable variety played their whist there; M. Thibord du Chalard, M. Lemarchant de Gomicourt, and the celebrated scoffer of the right, M. Cornet–Dincourt. The bailiff de Ferrette, with his short breeches and his thin legs, sometimes traversed this salon on his way to M. de Talleyrand. He had been M. le Comte d’Artois’ companion in pleasures and unlike Aristotle crouching under Campaspe, he had made the Guimard crawl on all fours, and in that way he had exhibited to the ages a philosopher avenged by a bailiff. As for the priests, there was the Abbe Halma, the same to whom M. Larose, his collaborator on la Foudre, said: “Bah! Who is there who is not fifty years old? a few greenhorns perhaps?” The Abbe Letourneur, preacher to the King, the Abbe Frayssinous, who was not, as yet, either count, or bishop, or minister, or peer, and who wore an old cassock whose buttons were missing, and the Abbe Keravenant, Cure of Saint–Germain-des-Pres; also the Pope’s Nuncio, then Monsignor Macchi, Archbishop of Nisibi, later on Cardinal, remarkable for his long, pensive nose, and another Monsignor, entitled thus: Abbate Palmieri, domestic prelate, one of the seven participant prothonotaries of the Holy See, Canon of the illustrious Liberian basilica, Advocate of the saints, Postulatore dei Santi, which refers to matters of canonization, and signifies very nearly: Master of Requests of the section of Paradise. Lastly, two cardinals, M. de la Luzerne, and M. de Cl***** T******. The Cardinal of Luzerne was a writer and was destined to have, a few years later, the honor of signing in the Conservateur articles side by side with Chateaubriand; M. de Cl***** T****** was Archbishop of Toul***, and often made trips to Paris, to his nephew, the Marquis de T******, who was Minister of Marine and War. The Cardinal of Cl***** T****** was a merry little man, who displayed his red stockings beneath his tucked-up cassock; his specialty was a hatred of the Encyclopaedia, and his desperate play at billiards, and persons who, at that epoch, passed through the Rue M**** on summer evenings, where the hotel de Cl***** T****** then stood, halted to listen to the shock of the balls and the piercing voice of the Cardinal shouting to his conclavist, Monseigneur Cotiret, Bishop in partibus of Caryste: “Mark, Abbe, I make a cannon.” The Cardinal de Cl***** T****** had been brought to Madame de T.‘s by his most intimate friend, M. de Roquelaure, former Bishop of Senlis, and one of the Forty. M. de Roquelaure was notable for his lofty figure and his assiduity at the Academy; through the glass door of the neighboring hall of the library where the French Academy then held its meetings, the curious could, on every Tuesday, contemplate the Ex–Bishop of Senlis, usually standing erect, freshly powdered, in violet hose, with his back turned to the door, apparently for the purpose of allowing a better view of his little collar. All these ecclesiastics, though for the most part as much courtiers as churchmen, added to the gravity of the T. salon, whose seigniorial aspect was accentuated by five peers of France, the Marquis de Vib***, the Marquis de Tal**, the Marquis de Herb******, the Vicomte Damb**, and the Duc de Val*******. This Duc de Val*******, although Prince de Mon**, that is to say a reigning prince abroad, had so high an idea of France and its peerage, that he viewed everything through their medium. It was he who said: “The Cardinals are the peers of France of Rome; the lords are the peers of France of England.” Moreover, as it is indispensable that the Revolution should be everywhere in this century, this feudal salon was, as we have said, dominated by a bourgeois. M. Gillenormand reigned there.
There lay the essence and quintessence of the Parisian white society. There reputations, even Royalist reputations, were held in quarantine. There is always a trace of anarchy in renown. Chateaubriand, had he entered there, would have produced the effect of Pere Duchene. Some of the scoffed-at did, nevertheless, penetrate thither on sufferance. Comte Beug** was received there, subject to correction.
The “noble” salons of the present day no longer resemble those salons. The Faubourg Saint–Germain reeks of the fagot even now. The Royalists of today are demagogues, let us record it to their credit.
At Madame de T.‘s the society was superior, taste was exquisite and haughty, under the cover of a great show of politeness. Manners there admitted of all sorts of involuntary refinements which were the old regime itself, buried but still alive. Some of these habits, especially in the matter of language, seem eccentric. Persons but superficially acquainted with them would have taken for provincial that which was only antique. A woman was called Madame la Generale. Madame la Colonelle was not entirely disused. The charming Madame de Leon, in memory, no doubt, of the Duchesses de Longueville and de Chevreuse, preferred this appellation to her title of Princesse. The Marquise de Crequy was also called Madame la Colonelle.
It was this little high society which invented at the Tuileries the refinement of speaking to the King in private as the King, in the third person, and never as Your Majesty, the designation of Your Majesty having been “soiled by the usurper.”
Men and deeds were brought to judgment there. They jeered at the age, which released them from the necessity of understanding it. They abetted each other in amazement. They communicated to each other that modicum of light which they possessed. Methuselah bestowed information on Epimenides. The deaf man made the blind man acquainted with the course of things. They declared that the time which had elasped since Coblentz had not existed. In the same manner that Louis XVIII. was by the grace of God, in the five and twentieth year of his reign, the emigrants were, by rights, in the five and twentieth year of their adolescence.
All was harmonious; nothing was too much alive; speech hardly amounted to a breath; the newspapers, agreeing with the salons, seemed a papyrus. There were some young people, but they were rather dead. The liveries in the antechamber were antiquated. These utterly obsolete personages were served by domestics of the same stamp.
They all had the air of having lived a long time ago, and of obstinately resisting the sepulchre. Nearly the whole dictionary consisted of Conserver, Conservation, Conservateur; to be in good odor — that was the point. There are, in fact, aromatics in the opinions of these venerable groups, and their ideas smelled of it. It was a mummified society. The masters were embalmed, the servants were stuffed with straw.
A worthy old marquise, an emigree and ruined, who had but a solitary maid, continued to say: “My people.”
What did they do in Madame de T.‘s salon? They were ultra.
To be ultra; this word, although what it represents may not have disappeared, has no longer any meaning at the present day. Let us explain it.
To be ultra is to go beyond. It is to attack the sceptre in the name of the throne, and the mitre in the name of the attar; it is to ill-treat the thing which one is dragging, it is to kick over the traces; it is to cavil at the fagot on the score of the amount of cooking received by heretics; it is to reproach the idol with its small amount of idolatry; it is to insult through excess of respect; it is to discover that the Pope is not sufficiently papish, that the King is not sufficiently royal, and that the night has too much light; it is to be discontented with alabaster, with snow, with the swan and the lily in the name of whiteness; it is to be a partisan of things to the point of becoming their enemy; it is to be so strongly for, as to be against.
The ultra spirit especially characterizes the first phase of the Restoration.
Nothing in history resembles that quarter of an hour which begins in 1814 and terminates about 1820, with the advent of M. de Villele, the practical man of the Right. These six years were an extraordinary moment; at one and the same time brilliant and gloomy, smiling and sombre, illuminated as by the radiance of dawn and entirely covered, at the same time, with the shadows of the great catastrophes which still filled the horizon and were slowly sinking into the past. There existed in that light and that shadow, a complete little new and old world, comic and sad, juvenile and senile, which was rubbing its eyes; nothing resembles an awakening like a return; a group which regarded France with ill-temper, and which France regarded with irony; good old owls of marquises by the streetful, who had returned, and of ghosts, the “former” subjects of amazement at everything, brave and noble gentlemen who smiled at being in France but wept also, delighted to behold their country once more, in despair at not finding their monarchy; the nobility of the Crusades treating the nobility of the Empire, that is to say, the nobility of the sword, with scorn; historic races who had lost the sense of history; the sons of the companions of Charlemagne disdaining the companions of Napoleon. The swords, as we have just remarked, returned the insult; the sword of Fontenoy was laughable and nothing but a scrap of rusty iron; the sword of Marengo was odious and was only a sabre. Former days did not recognize Yesterday. People no longer had the feeling for what was grand. There was some one who called Bonaparte Scapin. This Society no longer exists. Nothing of it, we repeat, exists today. When we select from it some one figure at random, and attempt to make it live again in thought, it seems as strange to us as the world before the Deluge. It is because it, too, as a matter of fact, has been engulfed in a deluge. It has disappeared beneath two Revolutions. What billows are ideas! How quickly they cover all that it is their mission to destroy and to bury, and how promptly they create frightful gulfs!
Such was the physiognomy of the salons of those distant and candid times when M. Martainville had more wit than Voltaire.
These salons had a literature and politics of their own. They believed in Fievee. M. Agier laid down the law in them. They commentated M. Colnet, the old bookseller and publicist of the Quay Malaquais. Napoleon was to them thoroughly the Corsican Ogre. Later on the introduction into history of M. le Marquis de Bonaparte, Lieutenant–General of the King’s armies, was a concession to the spirit of the age.
These salons did not long preserve their purity. Beginning with 1818, doctrinarians began to spring up in them, a disturbing shade. Their way was to be Royalists and to excuse themselves for being so. Where the ultras were very proud, the doctrinarians were rather ashamed. They had wit; they had silence; their political dogma was suitably impregnated with arrogance; they should have succeeded. They indulged, and usefully too, in excesses in the matter of white neckties and tightly buttoned coats. The mistake or the misfortune of the doctrinarian party was to create aged youth. They assumed the poses of wise men. They dreamed of engrafting a temperate power on the absolute and excessive principle. They opposed, and sometimes with rare intelligence, conservative liberalism to the liberalism which demolishes. They were heard to say: “Thanks for Royalism! It has rendered more than one service. It has brought back tradition, worship, religion, respect. It is faithful, brave, chivalric, loving, devoted. It has mingled, though with regret, the secular grandeurs of the monarchy with the new grandeurs of the nation. Its mistake is not to understand the Revolution, the Empire, glory, liberty, young ideas, young generations, the age. But this mistake which it makes with regard to us — have we not sometimes been guilty of it towards them? The Revolution, whose heirs we are, ought to be intelligent on all points. To attack Royalism is a misconstruction of liberalism. What an error! And what blindness! Revolutionary France is wanting in respect towards historic France, that is to say, towards its mother, that is to say, towards itself. After the 5th of September, the nobility of the monarchy is treated as the nobility of the Empire was treated after the 5th of July. They were unjust to the eagle, we are unjust to the fleur-delys. It seems that we must always have something to proscribe! Does it serve any purpose to ungild the crown of Louis XIV., to scrape the coat of arms of Henry IV.? We scoff at M. de Vaublanc for erasing the N’s from the bridge of Jena! What was it that he did? What are we doing? Bouvines belongs to us as well as Marengo. The fleurs-delys are ours as well as the N’s. That is our patrimony. To what purpose shall we diminish it? We must not deny our country in the past any more than in the present. Why not accept the whole of history? Why not love the whole of France?”
It is thus that doctrinarians criticised and protected Royalism, which was displeased at criticism and furious at protection.
The ultras marked the first epoch of Royalism, congregation characterized the second. Skill follows ardor. Let us confine ourselves here to this sketch.
In the course of this narrative, the author of this book has encountered in his path this curious moment of contemporary history; he has been forced to cast a passing glance upon it, and to trace once more some of the singular features of this society which is unknown today. But he does it rapidly and without any bitter or derisive idea. Souvenirs both respectful and affectionate, for they touch his mother, attach him to this past. Moreover, let us remark, this same petty world had a grandeur of its own. One may smile at it, but one can neither despise nor hate it. It was the France of former days.
Marius Pontmercy pursued some studies, as all children do. When he emerged from the hands of Aunt Gillenormand, his grandfather confided him to a worthy professor of the most purely classic innocence. This young soul which was expanding passed from a prude to a vulgar pedant.
Marius went through his years of college, then he entered the law school. He was a Royalist, fanatical and severe. He did not love his grandfather much, as the latter’s gayety and cynicism repelled him, and his feelings towards his father were gloomy.
He was, on the whole, a cold and ardent, noble, generous, proud, religious, enthusiastic lad; dignified to harshness, pure to shyness.
The conclusion of Marius’ classical studies coincided with M. Gillenormand’s departure from society. The old man bade farewell to the Faubourg Saint–Germain and to Madame de T.‘s salon, and established himself in the Mardis, in his house of the Rue des Filles-du-Calvaire. There he had for servants, in addition to the porter, that chambermaid, Nicolette, who had succeeded to Magnon, and that short-breathed and pursy Basque, who have been mentioned above.
In 1827, Marius had just attained his seventeenth year. One evening, on his return home, he saw his grandfather holding a letter in his hand.
“Marius,” said M. Gillenormand, “you will set out for Vernon tomorrow.”
“Why?” said Marius.
“To see your father.”
Marius was seized with a trembling fit. He had thought of everything except this — that he should one day be called upon to see his father. Nothing could be more unexpected, more surprising, and, let us admit it, more disagreeable to him. It was forcing estrangement into reconciliation. It was not an affliction, but it was an unpleasant duty.
Marius, in addition to his motives of political antipathy, was convinced that his father, the slasher, as M. Gillenormand called him on his amiable days, did not love him; this was evident, since he had abandoned him to others. Feeling that he was not beloved, he did not love. “Nothing is more simple,” he said to himself.
He was so astounded that he did not question M. Gillenormand. The grandfather resumed:—
“It appears that he is ill. He demands your presence.”
And after a pause, he added:—
“Set out tomorrow morning. I think there is a coach which leaves the Cour des Fontaines at six o’clock, and which arrives in the evening. Take it. He says that here is haste.”
Then he crushed the letter in his hand and thrust it into his pocket. Marius might have set out that very evening and have been with his father on the following morning. A diligence from the Rue du Bouloi took the trip to Rouen by night at that date, and passed through Vernon. Neither Marius nor M.Gillenormand thought of making inquiries about it.
The next day, at twilight, Marius reached Vernon. People were just beginning to light their candles. He asked the first person whom he met for “M. Pontmercy’s house.” For in his own mind, he agreed with the Restoration, and like it, did not recognize his father’s claim to the title of either colonel or baron.
The house was pointed out to him. He rang; a woman with a little lamp in her hand opened the door.
“M. Pontmercy?” said Marius.
The woman remained motionless.
“Is this his house?” demanded Marius.
The woman nodded affirmatively.
“Can I speak with him?”
The woman shook her head.
“But I am his son!” persisted Marius. “He is expecting me.”
“He no longer expects you,” said the woman.
Then he perceived that she was weeping.
She pointed to the door of a room on the ground-floor; he entered.
In that room, which was lighted by a tallow candle standing on the chimney-piece, there were three men, one standing erect, another kneeling, and one lying at full length, on the floor in his shirt. The one on the floor was the colonel.
The other two were the doctor, and the priest, who was engaged in prayer.
The colonel had been attacked by brain fever three days previously. As he had a foreboding of evil at the very beginning of his illness, he had written to M. Gillenormand to demand his son. The malady had grown worse. On the very evening of Marius’ arrival at Vernon, the colonel had had an attack of delirium; he had risen from his bed, in spite of the servant’s efforts to prevent him, crying: “My son is not coming! I shall go to meet him!” Then he ran out of his room and fell prostrate on the floor of the antechamber. He had just expired.
The doctor had been summoned, and the cure. The doctor had arrived too late. The son had also arrived too late.
By the dim light of the candle, a large tear could be distinguished on the pale and prostrate colonel’s cheek, where it had trickled from his dead eye. The eye was extinguished, but the tear was not yet dry. That tear was his son’s delay.
Marius gazed upon that man whom he beheld for the first time, on that venerable and manly face, on those open eyes which saw not, on those white locks, those robust limbs, on which, here and there, brown lines, marking sword-thrusts, and a sort of red stars, which indicated bullet-holes, were visible. He contemplated that gigantic sear which stamped heroism on that countenance upon which God had imprinted goodness. He reflected that this man was his father, and that this man was dead, and a chill ran over him.
The sorrow which he felt was the sorrow which he would have felt in the presence of any other man whom he had chanced to behold stretched out in death.
Anguish, poignant anguish, was in that chamber. The servant-woman was lamenting in a corner, the cure was praying, and his sobs were audible, the doctor was wiping his eyes; the corpse itself was weeping.
The doctor, the priest, and the woman gazed at Marius in the midst of their affliction without uttering a word; he was the stranger there. Marius, who was far too little affected, felt ashamed and embarrassed at his own attitude; he held his hat in his hand; and he dropped it on the floor, in order to produce the impression that grief had deprived him of the strength to hold it.
At the same time, he experienced remorse, and he despised himself for behaving in this manner. But was it his fault? He did not love his father? Why should he!
The colonel had left nothing. The sale of big furniture barely paid the expenses of his burial.
The servant found a scrap of paper, which she handed to Marius. It contained the following, in the colonel’s handwriting:—
“For my son. — The Emperor made me a Baron on the battle-field of Waterloo. Since the Restoration disputes my right to this title which I purchased with my blood, my son shall take it and bear it. That he will be worthy of it is a matter of course.” Below, the colonel had added: “At that same battle of Waterloo, a sergeant saved my life. The man’s name was Thenardier. I think that he has recently been keeping a little inn, in a village in the neighborhood of Paris, at Chelles or Montfermeil. If my son meets him, he will do all the good he can to Thenardier.”
Marius took this paper and preserved it, not out of duty to his father, but because of that vague respect for death which is always imperious in the heart of man.
Nothing remained of the colonel. M. Gillenormand had his sword and uniform sold to an old-clothes dealer. The neighbors devastated the garden and pillaged the rare flowers. The other plants turned to nettles and weeds, and died.
Marius remained only forty-eight hours at Vernon. After the interment he returned to Paris, and applied himself again to his law studies, with no more thought of his father than if the latter had never lived. In two days the colonel was buried, and in three forgotten.
Marius wore crape on his hat. That was all.
Marius had preserved the religious habits of his childhood. One Sunday, when he went to hear mass at Saint–Sulpice, at that same chapel of the Virgin whither his aunt had led him when a small lad, he placed himself behind a pillar, being more absent-minded and thoughtful than usual on that occasion, and knelt down, without paying any special heed, upon a chair of Utrecht velvet, on the back of which was inscribed this name: Monsieur Mabeuf, warden. Mass had hardly begun when an old man presented himself and said to Marius:—
“This is my place, sir.”
Marius stepped aside promptly, and the old man took possession of his chair.
The mass concluded, Marius still stood thoughtfully a few paces distant; the old man approached him again and said:—
“I beg your pardon, sir, for having disturbed you a while ago, and for again disturbing you at this moment; you must have thought me intrusive, and I will explain myself.”
“There is no need of that, Sir,” said Marius.
“Yes!” went on the old man, “I do not wish you to have a bad opinion of me. You see, I am attached to this place. It seems to me that the mass is better from here. Why? I will tell you. It is from this place, that I have watched a poor, brave father come regularly, every two or three months, for the last ten years, since he had no other opportunity and no other way of seeing his child, because he was prevented by family arrangements. He came at the hour when he knew that his son would be brought to mass. The little one never suspected that his father was there. Perhaps he did not even know that he had a father, poor innocent! The father kept behind a pillar, so that he might not be seen. He gazed at his child and he wept. He adored that little fellow, poor man! I could see that. This spot has become sanctified in my sight, and I have contracted a habit of coming hither to listen to the mass. I prefer it to the stall to which I have a right, in my capacity of warden. I knew that unhappy gentleman a little, too. He had a father-inlaw, a wealthy aunt, relatives, I don’t know exactly what all, who threatened to disinherit the child if he, the father, saw him. He sacrificed himself in order that his son might be rich and happy some day. He was separated from him because of political opinions. Certainly, I approve of political opinions, but there are people who do not know where to stop. Mon Dieu! a man is not a monster because he was at Waterloo; a father is not separated from his child for such a reason as that. He was one of Bonaparte’s colonels. He is dead, I believe. He lived at Vernon, where I have a brother who is a cure, and his name was something like Pontmarie or Montpercy. He had a fine sword-cut, on my honor.”
“Pontmercy,” suggested Marius, turning pale.
“Precisely, Pontmercy. Did you know him?”
“Sir,” said Marius, “he was my father.”
The old warden clasped his hands and exclaimed:—
“Ah! you are the child! Yes, that’s true, he must be a man by this time. Well! poor child, you may say that you had a father who loved you dearly!”
Marius offered his arm to the old man and conducted him to his lodgings.
On the following day, he said to M. Gillenormand:—
“I have arranged a hunting-party with some friends. Will you permit me to be absent for three days?”
“Four!” replied his grandfather. “Go and amuse yourself.”
And he said to his daughter in a low tone, and with a wink, “Some love affair!”
Where it was that Marius went will be disclosed a little further on.
Marius was absent for three days, then he returned to Paris, went straight to the library of the law-school and asked for the files of the Moniteur.
He read the Moniteur, he read all the histories of the Republic and the Empire, the Memorial de Sainte–Helene, all the memoirs, all the newspapers, the bulletins, the proclamations; he devoured everything. The first time that he came across his father’s name in the bulletins of the grand army, he had a fever for a week. He went to see the generals under whom Georges Pontmercy had served, among others, Comte H. Church-warden Mabeuf, whom he went to see again, told him about the life at Vernon, the colonel’s retreat, his flowers, his solitude. Marius came to a full knowledge of that rare, sweet, and sublime man, that species of lion-lamb who had been his father.
In the meanwhile, occupied as he was with this study which absorbed all his moments as well as his thoughts, he hardly saw the Gillenormands at all. He made his appearance at meals; then they searched for him, and he was not to be found. Father Gillenormand smiled. “Bah! bah! He is just of the age for the girls!” Sometimes the old man added: “The deuce! I thought it was only an affair of gallantry, It seems that it is an affair of passion!”
It was a passion, in fact. Marius was on the high road to adoring his father.
At the same time, his ideas underwent an extraordinary change. The phases of this change were numerous and successive. As this is the history of many minds of our day, we think it will prove useful to follow these phases step by step and to indicate them all.
That history upon which he had just cast his eyes appalled him.
The first effect was to dazzle him.
Up to that time, the Republic, the Empire, had been to him only monstrous words. The Republic, a guillotine in the twilight; the Empire, a sword in the night. He had just taken a look at it, and where he had expected to find only a chaos of shadows, he had beheld, with a sort of unprecedented surprise, mingled with fear and joy, stars sparkling, Mirabeau, Vergniaud, Saint–Just, Robespierre, Camille, Desmoulins, Danton, and a sun arise, Napoleon. He did not know where he stood. He recoiled, blinded by the brilliant lights. Little by little, when his astonishment had passed off, he grew accustomed to this radiance, he contemplated these deeds without dizziness, he examined these personages without terror; the Revolution and the Empire presented themselves luminously, in perspective, before his mind’s eye; he beheld each of these groups of events and of men summed up in two tremendous facts: the Republic in the sovereignty of civil right restored to the masses, the Empire in the sovereignty of the French idea imposed on Europe; he beheld the grand figure of the people emerge from the Revolution, and the grand figure of France spring forth from the Empire. He asserted in his conscience, that all this had been good. What his dazzled state neglected in this, his first far too synthetic estimation, we do not think it necessary to point out here. It is the state of a mind on the march that we are recording. Progress is not accomplished in one stage. That stated, once for all, in connection with what precedes as well as with what is to follow, we continue.
He then perceived that, up to that moment, he had comprehended his country no more than he had comprehended his father. He had not known either the one or the other, and a sort of voluntary night had obscured his eyes. Now he saw, and on the one hand he admired, while on the other he adored.
He was filled with regret and remorse, and he reflected in despair that all he had in his soul could now be said only to the tomb. Oh! if his father had still been in existence, if he had still had him, if God, in his compassion and his goodness, had permitted his father to be still among the living, how he would have run, how he would have precipitated himself, how he would have cried to his father: “Father! Here I am! It is I! I have the same heart as thou! I am thy son!” How he would have embraced that white head, bathed his hair in tears, gazed upon his scar, pressed his hands, adored his garment, kissed his feet! Oh! Why had his father died so early, before his time, before the justice, the love of his son had come to him? Marius had a continual sob in his heart, which said to him every moment: “Alas!” At the same time, he became more truly serious, more truly grave, more sure of his thought and his faith. At each instant, gleams of the true came to complete his reason. An inward growth seemed to be in progress within him. He was conscious of a sort of natural enlargement, which gave him two things that were new to him — his father and his country.
As everything opens when one has a key, so he explained to himself that which he had hated, he penetrated that which he had abhorred; henceforth he plainly perceived the providential, divine and human sense of the great things which he had been taught to detest, and of the great men whom he had been instructed to curse. When he reflected on his former opinions, which were but those of yesterday, and which, nevertheless, seemed to him already so very ancient, he grew indignant, yet he smiled.
From the rehabilitation of his father, he naturally passed to the rehabilitation of Napoleon.
But the latter, we will confess, was not effected without labor.
From his infancy, he had been imbued with the judgments of the party of 1814, on Bonaparte. Now, all the prejudices of the Restoration, all its interests, all its instincts tended to disfigure Napoleon. It execrated him even more than it did Robespierre. It had very cleverly turned to sufficiently good account the fatigue of the nation, and the hatred of mothers. Bonaparte had become an almost fabulous monster, and in order to paint him to the imagination of the people, which, as we lately pointed out, resembles the imagination of children, the party of 1814 made him appear under all sorts of terrifying masks in succession, from that which is terrible though it remains grandiose to that which is terrible and becomes grotesque, from Tiberius to the bugaboo. Thus, in speaking of Bonaparte, one was free to sob or to puff up with laughter, provided that hatred lay at the bottom. Marius had never entertained — about that man, as he was called — any other ideas in his mind. They had combined with the tenacity which existed in his nature. There was in him a headstrong little man who hated Napoleon.
On reading history, on studying him, especially in the documents and materials for history, the veil which concealed Napoleon from the eyes of Marius was gradually rent. He caught a glimpse of something immense, and he suspected that he had been deceived up to that moment, on the score of Bonaparte as about all the rest; each day he saw more distinctly; and he set about mounting, slowly, step by step, almost regretfully in the beginning, then with intoxication and as though attracted by an irresistible fascination, first the sombre steps, then the vaguely illuminated steps, at last the luminous and splendid steps of enthusiasm.
One night, he was alone in his little chamber near the roof. His candle was burning; he was reading, with his elbows resting on his table close to the open window. All sorts of reveries reached him from space, and mingled with his thoughts. What a spectacle is the night! One hears dull sounds, without knowing whence they proceed; one beholds Jupiter, which is twelve hundred times larger than the earth, glowing like a firebrand, the azure is black, the stars shine; it is formidable.
He was perusing the bulletins of the grand army, those heroic strophes penned on the field of battle; there, at intervals, he beheld his father’s name, always the name of the Emperor; the whole of that great Empire presented itself to him; he felt a flood swelling and rising within him; it seemed to him at moments that his father passed close to him like a breath, and whispered in his ear; he gradually got into a singular state; he thought that he heard drums, cannon, trumpets, the measured tread of battalions, the dull and distant gallop of the cavalry; from time to time, his eyes were raised heavenward, and gazed upon the colossal constellations as they gleamed in the measureless depths of space, then they fell upon his book once more, and there they beheld other colossal things moving confusedly. His heart contracted within him. He was in a transport, trembling, panting. All at once, without himself knowing what was in him, and what impulse he was obeying, he sprang to his feet, stretched both arms out of the window, gazed intently into the gloom, the silence, the infinite darkness, the eternal immensity, and exclaimed: “Long live the Emperor!”
From that moment forth, all was over; the Ogre of Corsica — the usurper — the tyrant — the monster who was the lover of his own sisters — the actor who took lessons of Talma — the poisoner of Jaffa — the tiger — Buonaparte — all this vanished, and gave place in his mind to a vague and brilliant radiance in which shone, at an inaccessible height, the pale marble phantom of Caesar. The Emperor had been for his father only the well-beloved captain whom one admires, for whom one sacrifices one’s self; he was something more to Marius. He was the predestined constructor of the French group, succeeding the Roman group in the domination of the universe. He was a prodigious architect, of a destruction, the continuer of Charlemagne, of Louis XI., of Henry IV., of Richelieu, of Louis XIV., and of the Committee of Public Safety, having his spots, no doubt, his faults, his crimes even, being a man, that is to say; but august in his faults, brilliant in his spots, powerful in his crime.
He was the predestined man, who had forced all nations to say: “The great nation!” He was better than that, he was the very incarnation of France, conquering Europe by the sword which he grasped, and the world by the light which he shed. Marius saw in Bonaparte the dazzling spectre which will always rise upon the frontier, and which will guard the future. Despot but dictator; a despot resulting from a republic and summing up a revolution. Napoleon became for him the man-people as Jesus Christ is the man-God.
It will be perceived, that like all new converts to a religion, his conversion intoxicated him, he hurled himself headlong into adhesion and he went too far. His nature was so constructed; once on the downward slope, it was almost impossible for him to put on the drag. Fanaticism for the sword took possession of him, and complicated in his mind his enthusiasm for the idea. He did not perceive that, along with genius, and pell-mell, he was admitting force, that is to say, that he was installing in two compartments of his idolatry, on the one hand that which is divine, on the other that which is brutal. In many respects, he had set about deceiving himself otherwise. He admitted everything. There is a way of encountering error while on one’s way to the truth. He had a violent sort of good faith which took everything in the lump. In the new path which he had entered on, in judging the mistakes of the old regime, as in measuring the glory of Napoleon, he neglected the attenuating circumstances.
At all events, a tremendous step had been taken. Where he had formerly beheld the fall of the monarchy, he now saw the advent of France. His orientation had changed. What had been his East became the West. He had turned squarely round.
All these revolutions were accomplished within him, without his family obtaining an inkling of the case.
When, during this mysterious labor, he had entirely shed his old Bourbon and ultra skin, when he had cast off the aristocrat, the Jacobite and the Royalist, when he had become thoroughly a revolutionist, profoundly democratic and republican, he went to an engraver on the Quai des Orfevres and ordered a hundred cards bearing this name: Le Baron Marius Pontmercy.
This was only the strictly logical consequence of the change which had taken place in him, a change in which everything gravitated round his father.
Only, as he did not know any one and could not sow his cards with any porter, he put them in his pocket.
By another natural consequence, in proportion as he drew nearer to his father, to the latter’s memory, and to the things for which the colonel had fought five and twenty years before, he receded from his grandfather. We have long ago said, that M. Gillenormand’s temper did not please him. There already existed between them all the dissonances of the grave young man and the frivolous old man. The gayety of Geronte shocks and exasperates the melancholy of Werther. So long as the same political opinions and the same ideas had been common to them both, Marius had met M. Gillenormand there as on a bridge. When the bridge fell, an abyss was formed. And then, over and above all, Marius experienced unutterable impulses to revolt, when he reflected that it was M. Gillenormand who had, from stupid motives, torn him ruthlessly from the colonel, thus depriving the father of the child, and the child of the father.
By dint of pity for his father, Marius had nearly arrived at aversion for his grandfather.
Nothing of this sort, however, was betrayed on the exterior, as we have already said. Only he grew colder and colder; laconic at meals, and rare in the house. When his aunt scolded him for it, he was very gentle and alleged his studies, his lectures, the examinations, etc., as a pretext. His grandfather never departed from his infallible diagnosis: “In love! I know all about it.”
From time to time Marius absented himself.
“Where is it that he goes off like this?” said his aunt.
On one of these trips, which were always very brief, he went to Montfermeil, in order to obey the injunction which his father had left him, and he sought the old sergeant to Waterloo, the inn-keeper Thenardier. Thenardier had failed, the inn was closed, and no one knew what had become of him. Marius was away from the house for four days on this quest.
“He is getting decidedly wild,” said his grandfather.
They thought they had noticed that he wore something on his breast, under his shirt, which was attached to his neck by a black ribbon.
We have mentioned a lancer.
He was a great-grand-nephew of M. Gillenormand, on the paternal side, who led a garrison life, outside the family and far from the domestic hearth. Lieutenant Theodule Gillenormand fulfilled all the conditions required to make what is called a fine officer. He had “a lady’s waist,” a victorious manner of trailing his sword and of twirling his mustache in a hook. He visited Paris very rarely, and so rarely that Marius had never seen him. The cousins knew each other only by name. We think we have said that Theodule was the favorite of Aunt Gillenormand, who preferred him because she did not see him. Not seeing people permits one to attribute to them all possible perfections.
One morning, Mademoiselle Gillenormand the elder returned to her apartment as much disturbed as her placidity was capable of allowing. Marius had just asked his grandfather’s permission to take a little trip, adding that he meant to set out that very evening. “Go!” had been his grandfather’s reply, and M. Gillenormand had added in an aside, as he raised his eyebrows to the top of his forehead: “Here he is passing the night out again.” Mademoiselle Gillenormand had ascended to her chamber greatly puzzled, and on the staircase had dropped this exclamation: “This is too much!”— and this interrogation: “But where is it that he goes?” She espied some adventure of the heart, more or less illicit, a woman in the shadow, a rendezvous, a mystery, and she would not have been sorry to thrust her spectacles into the affair. Tasting a mystery resembles getting the first flavor of a scandal; sainted souls do not detest this. There is some curiosity about scandal in the secret compartments of bigotry.
So she was the prey of a vague appetite for learning a history.
In order to get rid of this curiosity which agitated her a little beyond her wont, she took refuge in her talents, and set about scalloping, with one layer of cotton after another, one of those embroideries of the Empire and the Restoration, in which there are numerous cart-wheels. The work was clumsy, the worker cross. She had been seated at this for several hours when the door opened. Mademoiselle Gillenormand raised her nose. Lieutenant Theodule stood before her, making the regulation salute. She uttered a cry of delight. One may be old, one may be a prude, one may be pious, one may be an aunt, but it is always agreeable to see a lancer enter one’s chamber.
“You here, Theodule!” she exclaimed.
“On my way through town, aunt.”
“Here goes!” said Theodule.
And he kissed her. Aunt Gillenormand went to her writing-desk and opened it.
“You will remain with us a week at least?”
“I leave this very evening, aunt.”
“It is not possible!”
“Remain, my little Theodule, I beseech you.”
“My heart says ‘yes,’ but my orders say ‘no.’ The matter is simple. They are changing our garrison; we have been at Melun, we are being transferred to Gaillon. It is necessary to pass through Paris in order to get from the old post to the new one. I said: ‘I am going to see my aunt.’”
“Here is something for your trouble.”
And she put ten louis into his hand.
“For my pleasure, you mean to say, my dear aunt.”
Theodule kissed her again, and she experienced the joy of having some of the skin scratched from her neck by the braidings on his uniform.
“Are you making the journey on horseback, with your regiment?” she asked him.
“No, aunt. I wanted to see you. I have special permission. My servant is taking my horse; I am travelling by diligence. And, by the way, I want to ask you something.”
“What is it?”
“Is my cousin Marius Pontmercy travelling so, too?”
“How do you know that?” said his aunt, suddenly pricked to the quick with a lively curiosity.
“On my arrival, I went to the diligence to engage my seat in the coupe.”
“A traveller had already come to engage a seat in the imperial. I saw his name on the card.”
“The wicked fellow!” exclaimed his aunt. “Ah! your cousin is not a steady lad like yourself. To think that he is to pass the night in a diligence!”
“Just as I am going to do.”
“But you — it is your duty; in his case, it is wildness.”
“Bosh!” said Theodule.
Here an event occurred to Mademoiselle Gillenormand the elder — an idea struck her. If she had been a man, she would have slapped her brow. She apostrophized Theodule:—
“Are you aware whether your cousin knows you?”
“No. I have seen him; but he has never deigned to notice me.”
“So you are going to travel together?”
“He in the imperial, I in the coupe.”
“Where does this diligence run?”
“Then that is where Marius is going?”
“Unless, like myself, he should stop on the way. I get down at Vernon, in order to take the branch coach for Gaillon. I know nothing of Marius’ plan of travel.”
“Marius! what an ugly name! what possessed them to name him Marius? While you, at least, are called Theodule.”
“I would rather be called Alfred,” said the officer.
“I am listening, aunt.”
“I am paying attention.”
“Well, Marius absents himself!”
“He spends the night out.”
“We should like to know what there is behind all this.”
Theodule replied with the composure of a man of bronze:—
“Some petticoat or other.”
And with that inward laugh which denotes certainty, he added:—
“That is evident,” exclaimed his aunt, who thought she heard M. Gillenormand speaking, and who felt her conviction become irresistible at that word fillette, accentuated in almost the very same fashion by the granduncle and the grandnephew. She resumed:—
“Do us a favor. Follow Marius a little. He does not know you, it will be easy. Since a lass there is, try to get a sight of her. You must write us the tale. It will amuse his grandfather.”
Theodule had no excessive taste for this sort of spying; but he was much touched by the ten louis, and he thought he saw a chance for a possible sequel. He accepted the commission and said: “As you please, aunt.”
And he added in an aside, to himself: “Here I am a duenna.”
Mademoiselle Gillenormand embraced him.
“You are not the man to play such pranks, Theodule. You obey discipline, you are the slave of orders, you are a man of scruples and duty, and you would not quit your family to go and see a creature.”
The lancer made the pleased grimace of Cartouche when praised for his probity.
Marius, on the evening following this dialogue, mounted the diligence without suspecting that he was watched. As for the watcher, the first thing he did was to fall asleep. His slumber was complete and conscientious. Argus snored all night long.
At daybreak, the conductor of the diligence shouted: “Vernon! relay of Vernon! Travellers for Vernon!” And Lieutenant Theodule woke.
“Good,” he growled, still half asleep, “this is where I get out.”
Then, as his memory cleared by degrees, the effect of waking, he recalled his aunt, the ten louis, and the account which he had undertaken to render of the deeds and proceedings of Marius. This set him to laughing.
“Perhaps he is no longer in the coach,” he thought, as he rebuttoned the waistcoat of his undress uniform. “He may have stopped at Poissy; he may have stopped at Triel; if he did not get out at Meulan, he may have got out at Mantes, unless he got out at Rolleboise, or if he did not go on as far as Pacy, with the choice of turning to the left at Evreus, or to the right at Laroche–Guyon. Run after him, aunty. What the devil am I to write to that good old soul?”
At that moment a pair of black trousers descending from the imperial, made its appearance at the window of the coupe.
“Can that be Marius?” said the lieutenant.
It was Marius.
A little peasant girl, all entangled with the horses and the postilions at the end of the vehicle, was offering flowers to the travellers. “Give your ladies flowers!” she cried.
Marius approached her and purchased the finest flowers in her flat basket.
“Come now,” said Theodule, leaping down from the coupe, “this piques my curiosity. Who the deuce is he going to carry those flowers to? She must be a splendidly handsome woman for so fine a bouquet. I want to see her.”
And no longer in pursuance of orders, but from personal curiosity, like dogs who hunt on their own account, he set out to follow Marius.
Marius paid no attention to Theodule. Elegant women descended from the diligence; he did not glance at them. He seemed to see nothing around him.
“He is pretty deeply in love!” thought Theodule.
Marius directed his steps towards the church.
“Capital,” said Theodule to himself. “Rendezvous seasoned with a bit of mass are the best sort. Nothing is so exquisite as an ogle which passes over the good God’s head.”
On arriving at the church, Marius did not enter it, but skirted the apse. He disappeared behind one of the angles of the apse.
“The rendezvous is appointed outside,” said Theodule. “Let’s have a look at the lass.”
And he advanced on the tips of his boots towards the corner which Marius had turned.
On arriving there, he halted in amazement.
Marius, with his forehead clasped in his hands, was kneeling upon the grass on a grave. He had strewn his bouquet there. At the extremity of the grave, on a little swelling which marked the head, there stood a cross of black wood with this name in white letters: COLONEL BARON PONTMERCY. Marius’ sobs were audible.
The “lass” was a grave.
It was hither that Marius had come on the first occasion of his absenting himself from Paris. It was hither that he had come every time that M. Gillenormand had said: “He is sleeping out.”
Lieutenant Theodule was absolutely put out of countenance by this unexpected encounter with a sepulchre; he experienced a singular and disagreeable sensation which he was incapable of analyzing, and which was composed of respect for the tomb, mingled with respect for the colonel. He retreated, leaving Marius alone in the cemetery, and there was discipline in this retreat. Death appeared to him with large epaulets, and he almost made the military salute to him. Not knowing what to write to his aunt, he decided not to write at all; and it is probable that nothing would have resulted from the discovery made by Theodule as to the love affairs of Marius, if, by one of those mysterious arrangements which are so frequent in chance, the scene at Vernon had not had an almost immediate counter-shock at Paris.
Marius returned from Vernon on the third day, in the middle of the morning, descended at his grandfather’s door, and, wearied by the two nights spent in the diligence, and feeling the need of repairing his loss of sleep by an hour at the swimming-school, he mounted rapidly to his chamber, took merely time enough to throw off his travelling-coat, and the black ribbon which he wore round his neck, and went off to the bath.
M. Gillenormand, who had risen betimes like all old men in good health, had heard his entrance, and had made haste to climb, as quickly as his old legs permitted, the stairs to the upper story where Marius lived, in order to embrace him, and to question him while so doing, and to find out where he had been.
But the youth had taken less time to descend than the old man had to ascend, and when Father Gillenormand entered the attic, Marius was no longer there.
The bed had not been disturbed, and on the bed lay, outspread, but not defiantly the great-coat and the black ribbon.
“I like this better,” said M. Gillenormand.
And a moment later, he made his entrance into the salon, where Mademoiselle Gillenormand was already seated, busily embroidering her cart-wheels.
The entrance was a triumphant one.
M. Gillenormand held in one hand the great-coat, and in the other the neck-ribbon, and exclaimed:—
“Victory! We are about to penetrate the mystery! We are going to learn the most minute details; we are going to lay our finger on the debaucheries of our sly friend! Here we have the romance itself. I have the portrait!”
In fact, a case of black shagreen, resembling a medallion portrait, was suspended from the ribbon.
The old man took this case and gazed at it for some time without opening it, with that air of enjoyment, rapture, and wrath, with which a poor hungry fellow beholds an admirable dinner which is not for him, pass under his very nose.
“For this evidently is a portrait. I know all about such things. That is worn tenderly on the heart. How stupid they are! Some abominable fright that will make us shudder, probably! Young men have such bad taste nowadays!”
“Let us see, father,” said the old spinster.
The case opened by the pressure of a spring. They found in it nothing but a carefully folded paper.
“From the same to the same,” said M. Gillenormand, bursting with laughter. “I know what it is. A billet-doux.”
“Ah! let us read it!” said the aunt.
And she put on her spectacles. They unfolded the paper and read as follows:—
“For my son. — The Emperor made me a Baron on the battlefield of Waterloo. Since the Restoration disputes my right to this title which I purchased with my blood, my son shall take it and bear it. That he will be worthy of it is a matter of course.”
The feelings of father and daughter cannot be described. They felt chilled as by the breath of a death’s-head. They did not exchange a word.
Only, M. Gillenormand said in a low voice and as though speaking to himself:—
“It is the slasher’s handwriting.”
The aunt examined the paper, turned it about in all directions, then put it back in its case.
At the same moment a little oblong packet, enveloped in blue paper, fell from one of the pockets of the great-coat. Mademoiselle Gillenormand picked it up and unfolded the blue paper.
It contained Marius’ hundred cards. She handed one of them to M. Gillenormand, who read: Le Baron Marius Pontmercy.
The old man rang the bell. Nicolette came. M. Gillenormand took the ribbon, the case, and the coat, flung them all on the floor in the middle of the room, and said:—
“Carry those duds away.”
A full hour passed in the most profound silence. The old man and the old spinster had seated themselves with their backs to each other, and were thinking, each on his own account, the same things, in all probability.
At the expiration of this hour, Aunt Gillenormand said:—“A pretty state of things!”
A few moments later, Marius made his appearance. He entered. Even before he had crossed the threshold, he saw his grandfather holding one of his own cards in his hand, and on catching sight of him, the latter exclaimed with his air of bourgeois and grinning superiority which was something crushing:—
“Well! well! well! well! well! so you are a baron now. I present you my compliments. What is the meaning of this?”
Marius reddened slightly and replied:—
“It means that I am the son of my father.”
M. Gillenormand ceased to laugh, and said harshly:—
“I am your father.”
“My father,” retorted Marius, with downcast eyes and a severe air, “was a humble and heroic man, who served the Republic and France gloriously, who was great in the greatest history that men have ever made, who lived in the bivouac for a quarter of a century, beneath grape-shot and bullets, in snow and mud by day, beneath rain at night, who captured two flags, who received twenty wounds, who died forgotten and abandoned, and who never committed but one mistake, which was to love too fondly two ingrates, his country and myself.”
This was more than M. Gillenormand could bear to hear. At the word republic, he rose, or, to speak more correctly, he sprang to his feet. Every word that Marius had just uttered produced on the visage of the old Royalist the effect of the puffs of air from a forge upon a blazing brand. From a dull hue he had turned red, from red, purple, and from purple, flame-colored.
“Marius!” he cried. “Abominable child! I do not know what your father was! I do not wish to know! I know nothing about that, and I do not know him! But what I do know is, that there never was anything but scoundrels among those men! They were all rascals, assassins, red-caps, thieves! I say all! I say all! I know not one! I say all! Do you hear me, Marius! See here, you are no more a baron than my slipper is! They were all bandits in the service of Robespierre! All who served B-u-o-naparte were brigands! They were all traitors who betrayed, betrayed, betrayed their legitimate king! All cowards who fled before the Prussians and the English at Waterloo! That is what I do know! Whether Monsieur your father comes in that category, I do not know! I am sorry for it, so much the worse, your humble servant!”
In his turn, it was Marius who was the firebrand and M. Gillenormand who was the bellows. Marius quivered in every limb, he did not know what would happen next, his brain was on fire. He was the priest who beholds all his sacred wafers cast to the winds, the fakir who beholds a passer-by spit upon his idol. It could not be that such things had been uttered in his presence. What was he to do? His father had just been trampled under foot and stamped upon in his presence, but by whom? By his grandfather. How was he to avenge the one without outraging the other? It was impossible for him to insult his grandfather and it was equally impossible for him to leave his father unavenged. On the one hand was a sacred grave, on the other hoary locks.
He stood there for several moments, staggering as though intoxicated, with all this whirlwind dashing through his head; then he raised his eyes, gazed fixedly at his grandfather, and cried in a voice of thunder:—
“Down with the Bourbons, and that great hog of a Louis XVIII.!”
Louis XVIII. had been dead for four years; but it was all the same to him.
The old man, who had been crimson, turned whiter than his hair. He wheeled round towards a bust of M. le Duc de Berry, which stood on the chimney-piece, and made a profound bow, with a sort of peculiar majesty. Then he paced twice, slowly and in silence, from the fireplace to the window and from the window to the fireplace, traversing the whole length of the room, and making the polished floor creak as though he had been a stone statue walking.
On his second turn, he bent over his daughter, who was watching this encounter with the stupefied air of an antiquated lamb, and said to her with a smile that was almost calm: “A baron like this gentleman, and a bourgeois like myself cannot remain under the same roof.”
And drawing himself up, all at once, pallid, trembling, terrible, with his brow rendered more lofty by the terrible radiance of wrath, he extended his arm towards Marius and shouted to him:—
Marius left the house.
On the following day, M. Gillenormand said to his daughter:
“You will send sixty pistoles every six months to that blood-drinker, and you will never mention his name to me.”
Having an immense reserve fund of wrath to get rid of, and not knowing what to do with it, he continued to address his daughter as you instead of thou for the next three months.
Marius, on his side, had gone forth in indignation. There was one circumstance which, it must be admitted, aggravated his exasperation. There are always petty fatalities of the sort which complicate domestic dramas. They augment the grievances in such cases, although, in reality, the wrongs are not increased by them. While carrying Marius’ “duds” precipitately to his chamber, at his grandfather’s command, Nicolette had, inadvertently, let fall, probably, on the attic staircase, which was dark, that medallion of black shagreen which contained the paper penned by the colonel. Neither paper nor case could afterwards be found. Marius was convinced that “Monsieur Gillenormand”— from that day forth he never alluded to him otherwise — had flung “his father’s testament” in the fire. He knew by heart the few lines which the colonel had written, and, consequently, nothing was lost. But the paper, the writing, that sacred relic — all that was his very heart. What had been done with it?
Marius had taken his departure without saying whither he was going, and without knowing where, with thirty francs, his watch, and a few clothes in a hand-bag. He had entered a hackney-coach, had engaged it by the hour, and had directed his course at hap-hazard towards the Latin quarter.
What was to become of Marius?
Last updated Monday, December 22, 2014 at 10:51