MoboReader > Literature > Monsieur, Madame, and Bebe -- C

   Chapter 10 MADAME’S IMPRESSIONS

Monsieur, Madame, and Bebe -- C By Gustave Droz Characters: 15692

Updated: 2017-11-29 00:02


The marriage ceremony at the Town Hall has, no doubt, a tolerable importance; but is it really possible for a well-bred person to regard this importance seriously? I have been through it; I have undergone like every one else this painful formality, and I can not look back on it without feeling a kind of humiliation. On alighting from the carriage I descried a muddy staircase; walls placarded with bills of every color, and in front of one of them a man in a snuff-colored coat, bare-headed, a pen behind his ear, and papers under his arm, who was rolling a cigarette between his inky fingers. To the left a door opened and I caught a glimpse of a low dark room in which a dozen fellows belonging to the National Guard were smoking black pipes. My first thought on entering this barrack-room was that I had done wisely in not putting on my gray dress. We ascended the staircase and I saw a long, dirty, dim passage, with a number of half-glass doors, on which I read: "Burials. Turn the handle," "Expropriations," "Deaths. Knock loudly," "Inquiries," "Births," "Public Health," etc., and at length "Marriages."

We entered in company with a small lad who was carrying a bottle of ink; the atmosphere was thick, heavy, and hot, and made one feel ill. Happily, an attendant in a blue livery, resembling in appearance the soldiers I had seen below, stepped forward to ask us to excuse him for not having at once ushered us into the Mayor's drawing-room, which is no other than the first-class waiting-room. I darted into it as one jumps into a cab when it begins to rain suddenly. Almost immediately two serious persons, one of whom greatly resembled the old cashier at the Petit-Saint-Thomas, brought in two registers, and, opening them, wrote for some time; only stopping occasionally to ask the name, age, and baptismal names of both of us, then, saying to themselves, "Semi-colon... between the aforesaid... fresh paragraph, etc., etc."

When he had done, the one like the man cashier at the Petit-Saint-Thomas read aloud, through his nose, that which he had put down, and of which I could understand nothing, except that my name was several times repeated as well as that of the other "aforesaid." A pen was handed to us and we signed. Voila.

"Is it over?" said I to Georges, who to my great surprise was very pale.

"Not yet, dear," said he; "we must now go into the hall, where the marriage ceremony takes place."

We entered a large, empty hall with bare walls; a bust of the Emperor was at the farther end over a raised platform, some armchairs, and some benches behind them, and dust upon everything. I must have been in a wrong mood, for it seemed to me I was entering the waiting-room at a railway-station; nor could I help looking at my aunts, who were very merry, over the empty chairs. The gentlemen, who no doubt affected not to think as we did, were, on the contrary, all very serious, and I could discern very well that Georges was actually trembling. At length the Mayor came in by a little door and appeared before us, awkward and podgy in his dress-coat, which was too large for him, and which his scarf caused to rise up. He was a very respectable man who had amassed a decent fortune from the sale of iron bedsteads; yet how could I bring myself to think that this embarrassed-looking, ill-dressed, timid little creature could, with a word hesitatingly uttered, unite me in eternal bonds? Moreover, he had a fatal likeness to my piano-tuner.

The Mayor, after bowing to us, as a man bows when without his hat, and in a white cravat, that is to say, clumsily, blew his nose, to the great relief of his two arms which he did not know what to do with, and briskly began the little ceremony. He hurriedly mumbled over several passages of the Code, giving the numbers of the paragraphs; and I was given confusedly to understand that I was threatened with the police if I did not blindly obey all the orders and crotchets of my husband, and if I did not follow wherever he might choose to take me, even if it should be to a sixth floor in the Rue-Saint-Victor. A score of times I was on the point of interrupting the Mayor, and saying, "Excuse me, Monsieur, but those remarks are hardly polite as regards myself, and you yourself must know that they are devoid of meaning."

But I restrained myself for fear I might frighten the magistrate, who seemed to me to be in a hurry to finish. He added, however, a few words on the mutual duties of husband and wife-copartnership-paternity, etc., etc.; but all these things, which would perhaps have made me weep anywhere else, seemed grotesque to me, and I could not forget that dozen of soldiers playing piquet round the stove, and that row of doors on which I had read "Public Health," "Burials," "Deaths," "Expropriations," etc. I should have been aggrieved at this dealer in iron bedsteads touching on my cherished dreams if the comic side of the situation had not absorbed my whole attention, and if a mad wish to laugh outright had not seized me.

"Monsieur Georges----, do you swear to take for your wife Mademoiselle------," said the Mayor, bending forward.

My husband bowed and answered "Yes" in a very low voice. He has since acknowledged to me that he never felt more emotion in his life than in uttering that "Yes."

"Mademoiselle Berthe----," continued the magistrate, turning to me, "do you swear to take for your husband------"

I bowed, with a smile, and said to myself: "Certainly; that is plain enough; I came here for that express purpose."

That was all. I was married!

My father and my husband shook hands like men who had not met for twenty years; the eyes of both were moist. As for myself, it was impossible for me to share their emotion. I was very hungry, and mamma and I had the carriage pulled up at the pastry-cook's before going on to the dressmaker's.

The next morning was the great event, and when I awoke it was hardly daylight. I opened the door leading into the drawing-room; there my dress was spread out on the sofa, the veil folded beside it, my shoes, my wreath in a large white box, nothing was lacking. I drank a glass of water. I was nervous, uneasy, happy, trembling. It seemed like the morning of a battle when one is sure of winning a medal. I thought of neither my past nor my future; I was wholly taken up with the idea of the ceremony, of that sacrament, the most solemn of all, of the oath I was about to take before God, and also by the thought of the crowd gathered expressly to see me pass.

We breakfasted early. My father was in his boots, his trousers, his white tie, and his dressing-gown. My mother also was half dressed. It seemed to me that the servants took greater pains in waiting on me and showed me more respect. I even remember that Marie said, "The hairdresser has come, Madame." Madame! Good girl, I have not forgotten it.

It was impossible for me to eat; my throat was parched and I experienced all over me shudders of impatience, something like the sensation one has when one is very-thirsty and is waiting for the sugar to melt. The tones of the organ seemed to haunt me, and the wedding of Emma and Louis recurred to my mind. I dressed; the hairdresser called me "Madame" too, and arranged my hair so nicely that I said, I remember, "Things are beginning well; this coiffure is a good omen." I stopped Marie, who wished to lace me tighter than usual. I know that white makes one look stouter and that Marie was right; but I was afraid lest it should send the blood to my head. I have always had a horror of brides who looked as if they had just got up from table. Religious emotions should be too profound to be expressed by anything save pallor. It is silly to blush under certain circumstances.

When I was dressed I entered the drawing-room to have a little more room and to

spread out my trailing skirts. My father and Georges were already there, talking busily.

"Have the carriages come?-yes-and about the 'Salutaris'?-very good, then, you will see to everything-and the marriage coin-certainly, I have the ring-Mon Dieu! where is my certificate of confession? Ah! good, I left it in the carriage."

They were saying all this hurriedly and gesticulating like people having great business on hand. When Georges caught sight of me he kissed my hand, and while the maids kneeling about me were settling the skirt, and the hairdresser was clipping the tulle of the veil, he said in a husky voice, "You look charming, dear."

He was not thinking in the least of what he was saying, and I answered mechanically:

"Do you think so? Not too short, the veil, Monsieur Silvani. Don't forget the bow on the bodice, Marie."

When one has to look after everything, one needs all one's wits. However, Georges' husky voice recurred to me, and I said to myself, "I am sure that he has caught a cold; it is plain that he has had his hair cut too short."

I soon got at the true state of the case.

"You have a cold, my dear fellow," said my father.

"Don't speak of it," he answered in a low voice. And still lower, and with a somewhat embarrassed smile: "Will you be so kind as to give me an extra pocket-handkerchief? I have but one-"

"Certainly, my dear boy."

"Thanks, very much."

It was a trifle, to be sure, but I felt vexed, and I remember that, when going downstairs with them holding up my train behind me, I said to myself, "I do hope that he does not sneeze at the altar."

I soon forgot all about it. We got into the carriage; I felt that every one was looking at me, and I caught sight of groups of spectators in the street beyond the carriage gates. What I felt is impossible to describe, but it was something delightful. The sound of the beadles' canes on the pavement will forever reecho in my heart. We halted for a moment on the red drugget. The great organ poured forth the full tones of a triumphal march; thousands of eager faces turned toward me, and there in the background, amidst an atmosphere of sunshine, incense, velvet, and gold, were two gilt armchairs for us to seat ourselves on before the altar.

I do not know why an old engraving in my father's study crossed my mind. It represents the entry of Alexander the Great into Babylon; he is on an elephant which is glittering with precious stones. You must know it. Only, Alexander was a heathen who had many things to reproach himself with, while I was not.

God smiled on me, and with His paternal hand invited me to seat myself in His house, on His red drugget, in His gilt armchair. The heavens, full of joy, made music for me, and on high, through the glittering stained-glass windows, the archangels, full of kind feeling, whispered as they watched me. As I advanced, heads were bent as a wheat-field bends beneath the breeze. My friends, my relatives, my enemies, bowed to us, and I saw-for one sees everything in spite of one's self on these solemn occasions-that they did not think that I looked ugly. On reaching the gilt chair, I bent forward with restrained eagerness-my chignon was high, revealing my neck, which is passable-and thanked the Lord. The organ ceased its triumphal song and I could hear my poor mother bursting into tears beside me. Oh! I understand what a mother's heart must feel during such a ceremony. While watching with satisfaction the clergy who were solemnly advancing, I noticed Georges; he seemed irritated; he was stiff, upright, his nostrils dilated, and his lips set. I have always been rather vexed at him for not having been a little more sensible to what I was experiencing that day, but men do not understand this kind of poetry.

The discourse of his Reverence who married us was a masterpiece, and was delivered, moreover, with that unction, that dignity, that persuasive charm peculiar to him. He spoke of our two families "in which pious belief was hereditary, like honor." You could have heard a pin drop, such was the attention with which the prelate's voice was listened to. Then at one point he turned toward me, and gave me to understand with a thousand delicacies that I was wedding one of the noblest officers in the army. "Heaven smiles," said he, "on the warrior who places at the service of his country a sword blessed by God, and who, when he darts into the fray, can place his hand upon his heart and shout to the enemy that noble war-cry, 'I believe!'" How well that was turned! What grandeur in this holy eloquence! A thrill ran through the assembly. But that was not all. His Lordship then addressed Georges in a voice as soft and unctuous as it had before been ringing and enthusiastic.

"Monsieur, you are about to take as your companion a young girl"-I scarcely dare recall the graceful and delicate things that his Reverence said respecting me-"piously reared by a Christian mother who has been able to share with her, if I may say so, all the virtues of her heart, all the charms of her mind." (Mamma was sobbing.) "She will love her husband as she has loved her father, that father full of kindness, who, from the cradle, implanted in her the sentiments of nobility and disinterestedness which-" (Papa smiled despite himself.) "Her father, whose name is known to the poor, and who in the house of God has his place marked among the elect." (Since his retirement, papa has become churchwarden.) "And you, Monsieur, will respect, I feel certain, so much purity, such ineffable candor"-I felt my eyes grow moist-"and without forgetting the physical and perishable charms of this angel whom God bestows upon you, you will thank Heaven for those qualities a thousand times more precious and more lasting contained in her heart and her mind."

We were bidden to stand up, and stood face to face with one another like the divine spouses in the picture of Raphael. We exchanged the golden ring, and his Reverence, in a slow, grave voice, uttered some Latin words, the sense of which I did not understand, but which greatly moved me, for the prelate's hand, white, delicate, and transparent, seemed to be blessing me. The censer, with its bluish smoke, swung by the hands of children, shed in the air its holy perfume. What a day, great heavens! All that subsequently took place grows confused in my memory. I was dazzled, I was transported. I can remember, however, the bonnet with white roses in which Louise had decked herself out. Strange it is how some people are quite wanting in taste!

Going to the vestry, I leaned on the General's arm, and it was then that I saw the spectators' faces. All seemed touched.

Soon they thronged round to greet me. The vestry was full, they pushed and pressed round me, and I replied to all these smiles, to all these compliments, by a slight bow in which religious emotion peeped forth in spite of me. I felt conscious that something solemn had just taken place before God and man; I felt conscious of being linked in eternal bonds. I was married!

By a strange fancy I then fell to thinking of the pitiful ceremony of the day before. I compared-God forgive me for doing so!-the ex-dealer in iron bedsteads, ill at ease in his dress-coat, to the priest; the trivial and commonplace words of the mayor, with the eloquent outbursts of the venerable prelate. What a lesson! There earth, here heaven; there the coarse prose of the man of business, here celestial poesy.

Georges, to whom I lately spoke about this, said:

"But, my dear, perhaps you don't know that marriage at the Town Hall before the registrar is gratis, while-" I put my hand over his mouth to prevent him from finishing; it seemed to me that he was about to utter some impiety.

Gratis, gratis. That is exactly what I find so very unseemly.

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