The Red and the Black, by Stendhal

Chapter 10

A Large Heart and a Small Fortune

But passion most dissembles, yet betrays, Even by its darkness; as the blackest sky Foretells the heaviest tempest.

Don Juan, I. 73

M. de Renal, who was visiting every room in the house, reappeared in the children’s room with the servants who brought back the palliasses refilled. The sudden entry of this man was the last straw to Julien.

Paler, more sombre than usual, he advanced towards him. M. de Renal stood still and looked at his servants.

‘Sir,’ Julien began, ‘do you suppose that with any other tutor your children would have made the same progress that they have made with me? If your answer is no,’ he went on without giving M. de Renal time to speak, ‘how dare you presume to reproach me with neglecting them?’

M. de Renal, who had barely recovered from his alarm, concluded from the strange tone which he saw this young peasant adopt that he had in his pocket some more attractive offer and was going to leave him. Julien’s anger increasing as he spoke:

‘I can live without you, Sir,’ he concluded.

‘I am extremely sorry to see you so agitated,’ replied M. de Renal, stammering a little. The servants were a few feet away, and were occupied in making the beds.

‘That is not enough for me, Sir,’ Julien went on, beside himself with rage; ‘think of the abominable things you said to me, and in the presence of ladies, too!’

M. de Renal was only too well aware of what Julien was asking, and conflicting passions did battle in his heart. It so happened that Julien, now really mad with rage, exclaimed: ‘I know where to go, Sir, when I leave your house.’

On hearing these words, M. de Renal had a vision of Julien established in M. Valenod’s household.

‘Very well, Sir,’ he said at length with a sigh, and the air of a man calling in a surgeon to perform the most painful operation, ‘I agree to your request. From the day after tomorrow, which is the first of the month, I shall give you fifty francs monthly.’

Julien wanted to laugh and remained speechless: his anger had completely vanished.

‘I did not despise the animal enough,’ he said to himself. ‘This, no doubt, is the most ample apology so base a nature is capable of making.’

The children, who had listened to this scene open-mouthed, ran to the garden to tell their mother that M. Julien was in a great rage, but that he was to have fifty francs a month.

Julien went after them from force of habit, without so much as a glance at M. de Renal, whom he left in a state of intense annoyance.

‘That’s a hundred and sixty-eight francs,’ the Mayor said to himself, ‘that M. Valenod has cost me. I must really say a few firm words to him about his contract to supply the foundlings.’

A moment later, Julien again stood before him.

‘I have a matter of conscience to discuss with M. Chelan. I have the honour to inform you that I shall be absent for some hours.’

‘Ah, my dear Julien,’ said M. de Renal, laughing in the most insincere manner, ‘the whole day, if you wish, the whole of tomorrow, my worthy friend. Take the gardener’s horse to go to Verrieres.’

‘There,’ M. de Renal said to himself, ‘he’s going with an answer to Valenod; he’s given me no promise, but we must let the young hothead cool down.’

Julien made a speedy escape and climbed up among the big woods through which one can go from Vergy to Verrieres. He was in no hurry to reach M. Chelan’s. So far from desiring to involve himself in a fresh display of hypocrisy, he needed time to see clearly into his own heart, and to give audience to the swarm of conflicting feelings that disturbed it.

‘I have won a battle,’ he said to himself as soon as he found himself in the shelter of the woods and out of sight of anyone, ‘I have really won a battle!’

The last word painted his whole position for him in glowing colours, and restored some degree of tranquillity to his heart.

‘Here I am with a salary of fifty francs a month; M. de Renal must be in a fine fright. But of what?’

His meditation as to what could have frightened the prosperous and powerful man against whom, an hour earlier, he had been seething with rage completely restored Julien’s serenity. He was almost conscious, for a moment, of the exquisite beauty of the woods through which he was walking. Enormous fragments of bare rock had in times past fallen into the heart of the forest from the side of the mountain. Tall beeches rose almost as high as these rocks whose shadow provided a delicious coolness within a few yards of places where the heat of the sun’s rays would have made it impossible to stop.

Julien paused for a breathing-space in the shadow of these great rocks, then went on climbing. Presently, by following a narrow path, barely visible and used only by goatherds, he found himself standing upon an immense rock, where he could be certain of his complete isolation from his fellow-men. This natural position made him smile, it suggested to him the position to which he was burning to attain in the moral sphere. The pure air of these lofty mountains breathed serenity and even joy into his soul. The Mayor of Verrieres might still, in his eyes, be typical of all the rich and insolent denizens of the earth, but Julien felt that the hatred which had convulsed him that afternoon contained, notwithstanding its violence, no element of personal ill-feeling. Should he cease to see M. de Renal, within a week he would have forgotten him, the man himself, his house, his dogs, his children and all that was his. ‘I have forced him, I do not know how, to make the greatest of sacrifices. What, more than fifty crowns a year? A moment earlier I had just escaped from the greatest danger. That makes two victories in one day; the second contains no merit, I must try to discover the reason. But we can leave such arduous research for tomorrow.’

Julien, erect upon his mighty rock, gazed at the sky, kindled to flame by an August sun. The grasshoppers were chirping in the patch of meadow beneath the rock; when they ceased everything around him was silence. Twenty leagues of country lay at his feet. From time to time a hawk, risen from the bare cliffs above his head, caught his eye as it wheeled silently in its vast circles. Julien’s eye followed mechanically the bird of prey. Its calm, powerful motion impressed him, he envied such strength, he envied such isolation.

It was the destiny of Napoleon, was it one day to be his own?

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