Armance, by Stendhal

CHAPTER TWENTY-ONE

Durate, et vosmet rebus servate secundis.

  VlRGIL.

[This line, taken from the Aeneid (I, 207), is inadvertently ascribed by Beyle to Horace. — C. K. S. M.]

Octave entered the Théâtre-Italien; there he-did indeed find Madame d’Aumale and in her box a certain Marquis de Crêveroche; he was one of the fops who especially besieged that charming woman; but being less intelligent or more self-satisfied than the rest, he fancied himself to enjoy some distinction. As soon as Octave appeared, Madame d’Aumale had no eyes for any one else, and the Marquis de Crêveroche, mad with jealousy, left the box without their so much as noticing his departure.

Octave took his place in the front of the box, and, from force of habit, for, this evening, he was far from seeking any sort of affectation, began to talk to Madame d’Aumale in a voice which sometimes drowned those of the singers. We must confess that he slightly exceeded the amount of impertinence which is tolerated, and, if the audience in the stalls of the Théâtre-Italien had been such as is to be found in the other playhouses, he would have had the distraction of a public scene.

In the middle of the second act of Otetto, the boy messenger who sells the libretti of the opera, and proclaims them in nasal accents, came to him with a note couched as follows:

“I am, Sir, naturally contemptuous of all affectations; one comes upon so many in society, that I take notice of them only when they annoy me. You are annoying me by the racket you are making with the little d’Aumale. Hold your tongue.

“I have the honour to be, etc.,

“Le marquis de Crêveroche.

“Rue de Verneuil, no. 54.”

Octave was profoundly astonished by this note which recalled him to the sordid concerns of life; he was at first like a man who has been drawn up for a moment from hell. His first thought was to feign the joy which soon flooded his heart. He decided that M. de Crêveroche’s opera-glass must be directed at Madame d’Aumale’s box, and that this would give his rival an advantage, if she appeared to be less amused after the delivery of his note.

This word rival which he employed in his unspoken thoughts made him laugh aloud; there was a strange look in his eyes. “Why, what is the matter?” asked Madame d’Aumale. “I am thinking of my rivals. Can there be anywhere in the world a man who tries to do more to win your favour than I?” This touching reflexion was more precious to the young Comtesse than the most impassioned notes of the sublime Pasta.

Late that night, after escorting home Madame d’Aumale, who wished to sup, Octave, once more master of himself, was calm and cheerful. What a difference from the state in which he had been since the night he spent in the forest!

It was by no means easy for him to find a second. His manner created such a barrier and he had so few friends that he was greatly afraid of being indiscreet should he ask one of his boon companions to accompany him to M. de Crêveroche’s. At last he remembered a M. Dolier, an officer on half-pay, whom he saw but seldom, but who was his cousin.

At three o’clock in the morning he sent a note to M. Dolier’s porter; at half-past five he called in person, and shortly afterwards the two presented themselves at the house of M. de Creveroche, who received them with a politeness that was somewhat mannered but adhered strictly to the forms. “I have been expecting you, gentlemen,” he said to them in a careless tone; “I was in hopes that you would be so kind as to do me the honour of taking tea with my friend, M. de Meylan, whom I have the honour to present to you, and myself.”

They drank tea. As they rose from table, M. de Crêveroche mentioned the forest of Meudon.

“This gentleman’s affected politeness is beginning to make me lose my temper, too,” said the officer of the old army as he stepped into Octave’s cabriolet. “Let me drive, you must not tire your wrist. How long is it since you were last in a fencing school?” “Three or four years,” said Octave, “as far as I can remember.” “When did you last fire a pistol?” “Six months ago, perhaps, but I never dreamed of fighting with pistols.” “The devil!” said M. Dolier, “six months! This is beginning to be serious. Hold out your arm. You are trembling like a leaf.” “That is a weakness I have always had,” said Octave.

M. Dolier, greatly annoyed, said not another word. The silent hour that they spent in driving from Paris to Meudon was to Octave the pleasantest moment he had known since his disaster. He had in no way provoked this duel. He meant to defend himself keenly; still, should he be killed, he would be in no way to blame. Situated as he then was, death was for him the greatest good fortune possible.

They arrived at a secluded spot in the forest of Meudon; but M. de Crêveroche, more affected and more of a dandy than ever, offered absurd objections to two or three places. M. Dolier could barely contain himself; Octave had the greatest difficulty in controlling him. “Let me at least talk to the second,” said M. Dolier; “I intend to let him know what I think of the pair of them.” “Let them wait till tomorrow,” Octave checked him in a severe tone; “bear in mind that today you have had the privilege of promising to do me a service.”

M. de Crêveroche’s second chose pistols without making any mention of swords. Octave thought this in bad taste and made a sign to M. Dolier who at once agreed. Finally; it was time to fire. M. de Crêveroche, a skilled marksman, scored the first hit; Octave was wounded in the thigh; his blood flowed in streams. “I have the right to fire,” he said coolly; and M. de Crêveroche received a graze on the leg. “Bandage my thigh with my handkerchief and your own,” Octave said to his servant; “the blood must not flow for some minutes.” “Why, what is your idea?” said M. Dolier. “To continue,” Octave replied. “I do not feel at all weak, I am just as strong as when we came here; I should carry through any other business, why not make an end of this?” “But it seems to me to be more than finished,” said M. Dolier. “And your anger of ten minutes ago, what is become of that?” “The man had no thought of insulting us,” replied M. Dolier; “he is merely a fool.” The seconds met in conference; both were emphatically opposed to a continuation of the duel. Octave had observed that M. de Crêveroche’s second was an inferior creature whom his valour had perhaps thrust into social prominence, but who at heart lived in a state of perpetual adoration of the Marquis; he addressed a few stinging words to the latter. M. de Meylan was reduced to silence by a firm rebuke from his friend, and Octave’s second could not in decency open his lips. As he spoke, Octave was perhaps happier than he had ever been in his life. I cannot say what vague and criminal hope he was founding upon a wound that would keep him prisoner for some days in his mother’s house, and at no great distance, therefore, from Armance. Finally, M. de Crêveroche, purple with rage, and Octave the happiest of men, succeeded after a quarter of an hour in making their seconds reload their pistols.

M. de Crêveroche, made furious by the fear of not being able to dance for some weeks, owing to the graze on his leg, suggested in vain their firing at one another point blank; the seconds threatened to leave their principals on the ground with their servants and to take the pistols from them if they moved one pace nearer. Luck was once again with M. de Crêveroche; he took a careful aim and wounded Octave severely in the right arm. “Sir,” Octave called to him, “you are bound to await my fire, allow me to have my arm bandaged.” This operation having been rapidly performed, and Octave’s servant, an old soldier, having soaked the handkerchief in brandy which made it cling tightly to the arm; “I feel quite strong,” Octave told M. Dolier. He fired, M. de Crêveroche fell, and a minute or two later, died.

Octave, leaning upon his servant’s arm, walked back to his cabriolet, into which he climbed without uttering a single word. M. Dolier could not help expressing his pity for the handsome young fellow who lay dying, and whose limbs they could see growing rigid only a few yards away. “It only means one fop the less,” said Octave calmly.

Twenty minutes later, although the cabriolet was going at a walking pace, “My arm is hurting me badly,” Octave said to M. Dolier, “the handkerchief is too tight,” and all of a sudden he fainted. He recovered consciousness only an hour later, in the cottage of a gardener, a kind-hearted fellow whom M. Dolier had taken the precaution of paying liberally as soon as he entered the cottage.

“You know, my dear cousin,” Octave said to him, “my mother’s delicate health; leave me, go to the Rue Saint–Dominique; if you do not find my mother in Paris, be so extremely kind as to go out to Andilly; tell her, with every possible precaution, that I have had a fall from my horse and have broken a bone in my right arm. Not a word about duels or bullets. I have reason to hope that certain circumstances, about which I shall tell you later, may prevent my mother from being distressed by this slight wound; say nothing about a duel unless to the police, if necessary, and send me a surgeon. If you go on to the mansion house of Andilly, which is five minutes’ walk from the village, ask for Mademoiselle Armance de Zohiloff, she will prepare my mother for the story you have to tell her.”

The sound of Armance’s name revolutionised Octave’s situation. So he dared to utter that name, a luxury he had so often forbidden himself! He would not be parted from her for another month, perhaps. It was an exquisite moment.

While the duel was in progress, the thought of Armance had many times occurred to Octave, but he banished it sternly. After mentioning her name, he ventured to think of her for a moment; a little later, he felt very weak. “Ah! If I were to die,” he said to himself with joy, and allowed himself to think of Armance as in the days before the fatal discovery of his love for her. Octave observed that the peasants who stood round him appeared greatly alarmed; their evident anxiety diminished his remorse for the liberty he was allowing himself in thinking of his cousin. “If my wounds prove serious,” he said to himself, “I shall be allowed to write to her; I have treated her most cruelly.”

No sooner had the idea of writing to Armance occurred to him than it took entire possession of Octave’s mind. “If I feel better,” he said to himself at length, to hush the reproachful voice of conscience, “I shall still be at liberty to burn my letter.” Octave was in great pain; his head had begun to ache violently. “I may die at any moment,” he told himself cheerfully, making an effort to recall a few scraps of anatomical science. “Ah, surely I am entitled to write!”

In the end he was weak enough to call for pen, paper and ink. There was no difficulty in providing him with a sheet of coarse essay paper and a bad pen; but there was no ink in the house. Dare we confess it? Octave was so childish as to write with his own blood, which continued to ooze from the bandage on his right arm. He wrote with his left hand, and found this less difficult than he had supposed:

“My DEAR COUSIN:

“I have just received two wounds, each of which may confine me to the house for a fortnight. As you are, next to my mother, the person whom I venerate most m the world, I write these lines to give you the above information. Were I in any danger, I should tell you. You have made me accustomed to the proofs of your tender affection; would you be so kind as to pay a call, as though by chance, upon my mother, whom M. Dolier is going to inform of a mere fall from my horse and a fracture of my right arm. Are you aware, my dear Armance, that we have two bones in the part of the arm next to the hand? It is one of those bones that is broken. Of all the injuries that confine one to the house for a month, it is the simplest that I can think of. I do not know whether it will be proper for you to come and see me during my illness; I am afraid not. I intend to do something rash: because of the narrow stair to my room, they will perhaps suggest placing my bed in the sitting-room through which one has to pass to reach my mother’s bedroom, and I shall agree. I beg you to burn this letter. . . . I have just fainted, it is the natural and in no way dangerous effect of a haemorrhage; you see, I am already using scientific terms. You were my last thought as I lost consciousness, my first upon coming to myself. If you think it quite proper, come to Paris before my mother; in the transport of a wounded man, even when it is merely a flesh-wound, there is always something sinister which she must be spared. One of your misfortunes, dear Armance, is that you have lost your parents; if I by any chance (though it is most improbable) die, you will be parted from one who loved you more dearly than a father loves his daughter. I pray to God that He will grant you the happiness that you deserve. That is saying a great, great deal.

“OCTAVE.”

“P.S. Forgive my harsh words, which were necessary at the time.”

The idea of death having come to Octave, he asked for a second sheet of paper, upon which, in the middle, he wrote:

“I bequeath absolutely everything that I now possess to Mademoiselle Armance de Zohiloff, my cousin, as a trifling token of my gratitude for the care which I am sure that she will take of my mother when I am no longer here.

“Signed at Clamart, the. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .. 182..

“OCTAVE DE MALJVERT.”

And he made two witnesses attest, the nature of his ink leaving him in some doubt as to the validity of the deed.

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