Armance, by Stendhal

CHAPTER TWENTY-TWO

To the dull plodding man whose vulgar soul is awake only to the

gross and paltry interests of every-day life, the spectacle of a

noble being plunged in misfortune by the resistless force of

passion, serves only as an object of scorn and ridicule.

  DECKAR.

[Compare the motto prefixed to Chapter XIX. This, like the other, is presumably of Beyle’s composition.]

As the witnesses completed their attestation, he fainted again; the peasants, greatly concerned, had gone in search of their parish priest.

Finally two surgeons arrived from Paris and pronounced Octave’s condition to be serious. These gentlemen realised what a nuisance it would be for them to come every day to Clamart, and decided that the patient should be removed to Paris.

Octave had sent his letter to Armance by an obliging young peasant who engaged a horse from the post and promised to be, within two hours, at the mansion of Andilly. This letter outstripped M. Dolier, who had been kept for some time in Paris looking for surgeons. The young peasant succeeded admirably in having himself admitted to Mademoiselle de Zohiloff’s presence without making any stir in the house. She read the letter. She had barely the strength to ask a few questions. Her courage had completely deserted her.

The receipt of these dreadful tidings induced in her that tendency to discouragement which is the sequel to great sacrifices, made at the call of duty but with no immediate effect save tranquillity and inertia. She was trying to accustom herself to the thought that she would never see Octave any more, but the idea of his dying had never once occurred to her. This final blow of fortune took her unprepared.

As she listened to the highly alarming details which the young peasant was giving her, she began to sob convulsively, and Mesdames de Bonnivet and de Malivert were in the next room! Armance shuddered at the thought of their hearing her and of having to meet their gaze in the state in which she then was. Such a sight would have been the death of Madame de Malivert, and, in due course, Madame de Bonnivet would have worked it into a tragic and touching anecdote, extremely unpleasant for its heroine.

Mademoiselle de Zohiloff could not, in any case, allow an unhappy mother to see this letter written in the blood of her son. She settled upon the plan of going to Paris, accompanied by her maid. The woman encouraged her to take the young peasant in the carriage with her. I shall pass over the painful details that were repeated to her during the drive. They reached the Rue Saint–Dominique.

She shuddered as the carriage came in sight of the house in a bedroom in which Octave was perhaps drawing his last breath. As it happened, he had not yet arrived; Armance’s last doubt vanished, she was sure that he was lying dead in the peasant’s cottage at Clamart. Her despair made her incapable of giving the simplest orders; finally she was able to say that a bed must be made ready in the drawing-room. The astonished servants did not understand, but obeyed.

Armance had sent out for a hackney carriage, and her one thought was of how to find an excuse that would allow her to go to Clamart. Everything, it seemed to her, must give way to the obligation to succour Octave in his last moments if he still lived. “What is the world to me, or its vain judgments?” she asked herself. “I considered it only for his sake; besides, if people are reasonable, they must approve of my conduct.”

Just as she was about to start, she realised, from a clattering sound at the carriage entrance, that Octave was arriving. The exhaustion caused by the motion of the journey had made him relapse into a state of complete unconsciousness. Armance, drawing open a window that overlooked the court, saw, between the shoulders of the peasants who were carrying the litter, the pale face of Octave in a dead faint. The spectacle of that lifeless head, keeping time with the motion of the litter and swaying from side to side on its pillow, was too painful for Armance who sank upon the window-sill and lay there motionless.

When the surgeons, after a preliminary dressing of his injuries, came to report to her upon their patient’s condition, as to the one member of the family that was in the house, they found her speechless, staring fixedly at them, incapable of replying, and in a state which they judged to be bordering upon insanity.

She listened incredulously to all that they said to her; she believed what her own eyes had seen. This most rational young person had lost all her self-control. Choked by her sobs, she read Octave’s letter over and over again. Carried away by her grief, she dared, in the presence of a maid, to raise it to her lips. At last, as she re-read the letter, she saw the injunction to burn it.

Never was any sacrifice more painful; so she must part with all that remained to her of Octave; still, it was his wish. Notwithstanding her sobs, Armance set to work to copy the letter; she broke off at every line, to press it to her lips. Finally she had the courage to burn it on the marble top of her little table; she gathered up the ashes with loving care.

Octave’s servant, the faithful Voreppe, was sobbing by his master’s bedside; he remembered that he had a second letter written by his master: it was the will. This document reminded Armance that she was not the only sufferer. It was incumbent on her to return to Andilly, to carry news of Octave to his mother. She passed by the bed of the wounded man, whose extreme pallor and immobility seemed to indicate the approach of death; he was still breathing, however. To abandon him in this state to the care of the servants and of a humble surgeon of the neighbourhood, whom she had called in, was the most painful sacrifice of all.

On reaching Andilly, Armance found M. Dolier who had not yet seen Octave’s mother; Armance had forgotten that the whole party had gone off together that morning on an excursion to the Château d’Ecouen. They had a long time to wait before the ladies returned, and M. Dolier was able to relate what had occurred that morning: he did not know the motive of the quarrel with M. de Crèveroche.

Finally they heard the horses enter the courtyard. M. Dolier decided to withdraw and to appear only in in the event of M. de Malivert’s desiring his presence. Armance, trying to look as little alarmed as possible, announced to Madame de Malivert that her son had had a fall from his horse while out riding that morning and had broken a bone in his right arm. But her sobs, which after the first sentence she was incapable of controlling, gave the lie to every word of her story.

It would be superfluous to speak of Madame de Mali-vert’s despair; the poor Marquis was dumbfounded.

Madame de Bonnivet, deeply moved herself, and absolutely insisting upon going with them to Paris, failed completely to restore his courage. Madame d’Aumale had made off at the first word of Octave’s accident and went at a gallop along the road to the Clichy barrier; she reached the Rue Saint–Dominique long before the family, learned the whole truth from Octave’s servant and vanished when she heard Madame de Malivert’s carriage stop at the door.

The surgeons had said that in the state of extreme weakness in which their patient lay every strong emotion must be carefully avoided. Madame de Mali-vert took her stand behind her son’s bed so that she could watch him without his seeing her.

She sent in haste for her friend, the famous surgeon Duquerrel; on the first day, that able man pronounced favourably upon Octave’s injuries; the household began to hope. As for Armance, she had been convinced from the first moment, and was never under the slightest illusion. Octave, not being able to speak to her before so many witnesses, tried once to press her hand.

On the fifth day tetanus appeared. In a moment in which an increase of fever gave him strength, Octave begged M. Duquerrel very seriously to tell him the whole truth.

This surgeon, a man of true courage, who had himself been wounded more than once upon the field of battle by a Cossack lance, answered him: “Sir, I shall not conceal from you that there is danger, but I have seen more than one wounded man in your condition survive tetanus.” “In what proportion?” Octave went on.

“Since you are determined to end your life like a man,” said M. Duquerrel, “the odds are two to one that in three days you will have ceased to suffer; if you have to make your peace with heaven, now is your time.” Octave remained pensive after this announcement but presently his reflexions gave place to a feeling of joy and an emphatic smile. The excellent Duquerrel was alarmed by this joy, which he took to be the first signs of delirium.

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