The revolution of 1830 was not a success; the armed rabble were victorious in the fighting, but afterward the rich bourgeoisie came to power. Although the king had lost much of his authority, France was not yet a true republic. The absolute monarchists remained loyal to the vanished power of the Bourbons, the people still hoped for a democratic rule, and the middle class steered a cautious, unsatisfactory path between the two extremes.
Lucien, son of a rich banker, had mild republican leanings. For daring to air his views, he was expelled from the Ecole Polytechnique, and for a time, he remained idle at home. His indulgent, wealthy father tried to induce him to work in the family bank, and his mother presented him to the polite, carefree society of her Parisian salon. Lucien, however, was dull and preoccupied. In despair, his father filled his pockets with money and bade him entertain the light ladies at the opera.
As a way out, Lucien took a commission as second lieutenant in a regiment of lancers going to maintain order in Nancy. Lucien liked his uniform with the magenta stripes, but he found his fellow officers insufferable. His lieutenant-colonel, especially, was a man of honorable reputation, but a bore. Only the soldiers in the ranks seemed genuine and unaffected.
The regiment was depressed on entering the town of Nancy. The land was flat, sewage ditches ran down the narrow, crooked streets, and the houses were mean. Lucien felt that he made an unsoldierly appearance because his mount, furnished by the regiment, was a mean-looking nag. As they passed a more pretentious house, a woman standing at an upstairs window seemed interested in Lucien, but as luck would have it, he was thrown from his horse just as he was trying to see her more clearly.
Lucien soon bought a good horse and rented a comfortable apartment, once occupied by a lieutenant-colonel who had left the regiment. In spite of his servants, his wine, and his stable, he was quite unhappy. His commanding officer, resenting his wealth, made his life miserable; the other officers had little to do with him. The townspeople held aloof from the military. One faction consisted of the aristocrats who were opposed to the moderate monarchy, and the other faction was the republican majority who smarted under any kingly rule. None of the officers was received in society; few of the enlisted men made friends with people of the suspicious working class.
Backed by his father’s money and his own Parisian graces, Lucien set out determinedly to be accepted by the nobility. He cultivated the wily Dr. du Poirier, the leader of the monarchist set. Little by little Lucien was welcomed to the various salons. Only his military life irked him now. Government spies even reported that he had gone into a republican reading room; to quiet rumors of political unreliability, Lucien fought and won two duels.
Several of the salons were presided over by beautiful, highborn women who accepted Lucien on friendly terms. The most beautiful of all, however, was Madame de Chasteller; and it was a long time before Lucien met her. He heard of her in some detail, however, a rich widow dominated by a miserly father. She had had only one lover, so the gossips said, the lieutenant-colonel whose apartment Lucien had rented. When he finally met her, Lucien was smitten. Bathilde de Chasteller was lonely, proud, and shy.
Bathilde was an aristocrat, Lucien a commoner. As their love grew, they were both troubled. Bathilde felt that a marriage was impossible, and Lucien hesitated to try to make her his mistress. Unhappy much of the time, they were together so much that gossip soon spread. At a dinner at a country tavern, The Green Huntsman, they came to an open confession of their love.
The aristocratic young men were displeased. They were afraid that Lucien, a commoner, would marry the rich Bathilde and take her away. Some of the...
(The entire section contains 1200 words.)
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