Armance, by Stendhal

CHAPTER TWELVE

Estamas, linda Ignez, posta em socego

De teus annos colhendo doce fruto

Naquelle engano da alma ledo e cego

Que a fortuna; naô deixa durar muito.

  OS LUSIADAS, III.

“But, dear Mama,” said Armance, after a long pause, and when they were once more able to talk seriously, “Octave has never told me that he was attached to me as it seems to me that a husband ought to be to his wife.” “If I had not to rise from my chair to take you in front of a mirror,” replied Madame de Malivert, “I should let you see how your eyes are sparkling with joy at this moment, and should ask you to repeat to me that you are not sure of Octave’s heart. I am quite sure of it myself, though I am only his mother. However, I am under no illusion as to the faults that my son may have, and I do not ask for your answer before at least a week has passed.” I cannot say whether it was to the Slavonic blood that flowed in her veins, or to her early experience of misfortune that Armance owed her faculty of perceiving in a flash all the consequences that a sudden change in her life might involve. And whether this new state of things were deciding her own fate or that of some one to whom she was indifferent, she saw the outcome with the same clarity of vision. This strength of character or of mind entitled her at once to the daily confidences and to the reprimands of Madame de Bonnivet.

The Marquise consulted her readily as to her own most private arrangements; and at other times would say to her: “A mind like yours is never becoming in a girl.”

After the first moment of happiness and profound gratitude, Armance decided that she ought not to say anything to Madame de Malivert of the untrue statement she had made to Octave with regard to a proposal of marriage. “Madame de Malivert has not consulted her son,” she thought, “or else he has concealed from her the obstacle in the way of his plan.” This second possibility made Armance extremely sombre.

She wished to believe that Octave felt no love for her; every day she had need of this certainty to justify in her own eyes any number of attentions which her tender affection allowed her to pay him, and yet this terrible proof of her cousin’s indifference, which came to her thus suddenly, crushed her heart under an enormous weight, and deprived her of the power of speech.

With what sacrifices would not Armance have paid at that moment for the right to weep freely! “If my cousin surprises a tear in my eyes,” she said to herself, “what decisive conclusion will she not feel herself entitled to draw from it? For all I can tell, in her eagerness for this marriage, she may mention my tears to her son, as a proof of my response to his supposed affection.” Madame de Malivert was not at all surprised at the air of profound abstraction which dominated Armance at the end of this day.

The ladies returned together to the Hôtel de Bonnivet, and although Armance had not set eyes on her cousin all day, even his presence, when she caught sight of him in the drawing-room, was powerless to wrest her from her black melancholy. She could barely answer him; she had not the strength to speak. Her preoccupation was plain to Octave, no less than her indifference towards him; he said to her sadly: “To-day you have not time to remember that I am your friend.”

Armance’s only answer was to gaze at him fixedly, and her eyes assumed, unconsciously, that serious and profound expression which had earned her such fine moral lectures from her aunt.

These words from Octave pierced her to the heart. “So he knows nothing of his mother’s intervention, or rather he took no interest in it, and wished only to be a friend.” When, after seeing the guests depart and receiving Madame de Bonnivet’s confidences as to the state of all her various plans, Armance was at length able to seek the solitude of her little room, she found herself a prey to the most sombre grief. Never had she felt so wretched; never had the act of living so hurt her. With what bitterness did she reproach herself for the novels among whose pages she sometimes allowed her imagination to stray! In those happy moments, she ventured to say to herself: “If I had been born to a fortune, and Octave could have chosen me as his companion in life; according to what I know of his character, he would have found greater happiness with me than with any other woman in the world.”

She was paying dearly now for these dangerous suppositions. Armance’s profound grief did not grow any less in the days that followed; she could not abandon herself for a moment to meditation, without arriving at the most entire disgust with everything, and she had the misfortune to feel her state keenly. The external obstacles in the way of a marriage to which, upon any assumption, she would never have consented, seemed to be smoothed away; but Octave’s heart alone was not on her side.

Madame de Malivert, having seen the dawn of her son’s passion for Armance, had been alarmed by his assiduous courtship of the brilliant Comtesse d’Aumale. But she had only had to see them together to discern that this relation was a duty which her son’s odd nature had imposed on him; Madame de Malivert knew quite well that if she questioned him on the subject, he would tell her the truth; but she had carefully abstained from asking even the most indirect questions. Her rights did not seem to her to extend so far. Out of regard for what she thought due to the dignity of her sex, she had wished to speak of this marriage to Armance before opening the subject with her son, of whose passion she was sure.

Having disclosed her plan to Mademoiselle de Zohiloff, Madame de Malivert arranged her time so that she spent hours on end in Madame de Bonnivet’s drawing-room. She thought she could see that something strange was occurring between Armance and her son. Armance was evidently very unhappy. “Can it be possible,” Madame de Malivert asked herself, “that Octave, who adores her and sees her incessantly, has never told her that he is in love with her?”

The day upon which Mademoiselle de Zohiloff was to give her answer had arrived. Early in the morning Madame de Malivert sent round her carriage with a little note in which she invited her to come and spend an hour with her. Armance arrived with the face of a person who is recovering from a long illness; she would not have had the strength to come on foot. As soon as she was alone with Madame de Malivert, she said to her in the gentlest of tones, beneath which could be seen that firmness which comes of despair: “My cousin has a strain of originality in his character; his happiness requires, and perhaps mine also,” she added, blushing deeply, “that my darling Mama shall never speak to him of a plan which her extreme interest in myself has inspired in her.” Madame de Malivert affected to grant with great reluctance her consent to what was asked of her. “I may die Sooner than I think,” she said to Armance, “and then my son will never win the only woman in the world who can mitigate the despondency of his nature. I am sure that it is the thought of money that has led to your decision,” she said at other moments; “Octave, who has always something to confide in you, cannot have been such a fool as not to confess to you a thing of which I am certain, namely, that he loves you with all the passion of which he is capable, which is saying a great deal, my child. If certain moments of excitement, which become rarer every year, may furnish grounds for sundry objections to the character of the husband I offer you, you will have the comfort of being loved as few women are loved today. In the stormy times that may come upon us, firmness of character in a man will mean a great probability of happiness for his family.

“You yourself know, my Armance, that the external obstacles which crush down common men are nothing to Octave. If his soul is at peace, the whole world banded together against him would not give him a quarter of an hour of unhappiness. Well, I am certain that the peace of his soul hangs upon your consent. Judge for yourself of the ardour with which I ought to plead for him; on you depends my son’s happiness. For four years I thought day and night of how to assure it, I could find no way; at last he fell in love with you. As for myself, I shall be the victim of your exaggerated delicacy. You do not wish to incur the reproach of having married a husband far richer than yourself, and I shall die with the utmost anxiety as to Octave’s future, and without having seen my son united to the woman whom, in my whole life, I have most highly esteemed.”

These assurances of Octave’s love were excruciating to Armance. Madame de Malivert remarked, underlying her young relative’s answers, irritation and wounded pride. That evening, at Madame de Bonnivet’s, she observed that her son’s presence did not at all relieve Mademoisele de Zohiloff of that sort of misery which springs from the fear of not having shewn sufficient pride towards the person whom one loves, and of having perhaps thus lowered herself in his esteem. “Is a poor girl with no family,” Armance was saying to herself, “the person to be so forgetful?”

Madame de Malivert herself was extremely anxious. After many sleepless nights, she at length arrived at a curious idea, probable however in view of her son’s strange character, that really, just as Armance had said, he had never uttered a word to her of his love.

“Is it possible,” thought Madame de Malivert, “that Octave can be so timid as that? He is in love with his cousin; she is the one person in the world who can ensure him against those fits of melancholy which have made me tremble for him.”

After careful reflexion, she decided upon her course; one day she said to Armance in an indifferent tone: “I cannot think what you have done to my son, to discourage him; but while he admits to me that he has the most profound attachment to you, the most entire esteem, and that to win your hand would be in his eyes the greatest of blessings, he adds that you present an insuperable obstacle to his most cherished ambitions, and that certainly he would not be indebted for you to the persecutions to which we might subject you on his behalf.”

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Last updated Wednesday, March 5, 2014 at 22:30