The Red and the Black, by Stendhal

Chapter 18

Painful Moments

And she admits it to me! She goes into the minutest details! Her lovely eye fixed on mine reveals the love that she felt for another!

SCHILLER

Mademoiselle de La Mole, in an ecstasy, could think only of the felicity of having come within an inch of being killed. She went so far as to say to herself: ‘He is worthy to be my master, since he has been on the point of killing me. How many of the good-looking young men in society would one have to fuse together to arrive at such an impulse of passion?

‘One must admit that he did look handsome when he climbed on the chair, to replace the sword, precisely in the picturesque position which the decorator had chosen for it! After all, I was not such a fool to fall in love with him.’

At that moment, had any honourable way of renewing their relations presented itself, she would have seized it with pleasure. Julien, locked and double-locked in his room, was a prey to the most violent despair. In the height of his folly, he thought of flinging himself at her feet. If, instead of remaining hidden in a remote corner, he had wandered through the house and into the garden, so as to be within reach of any opportunity, he might perhaps in a single instant have converted his fearful misery into the keenest happiness.

But the adroitness with the want of which we are reproaching him would have debarred the sublime impulse of seizing the sword which, at that moment, made him appear so handsome in the eyes of Mademoiselle de La Mole. This caprice, which told in Julien’s favour, lasted for the rest of the day; Mathilde formed a charming impression of the brief moments during which she had loved him, and looked back on them with regret.

‘Actually,’ she said to herself, ‘my passion for that poor boy lasted, in his eyes, only from one o’clock in the morning, when I saw him arrive by his ladder, with all his pistols in the side pocket of his coat, until eight. It was at a quarter past eight, when hearing mass at Sainte–Valere, that it first occurred to me that he would imagine himself to be my master, and might try to make me obey him by force of terror.’

After dinner, Mademoiselle de La Mole, far from avoiding Julien, spoke to him, and almost ordered him to accompany her to the garden; he obeyed. This proved too much for her self-control. Mathilde yielded, almost unconsciously, to the love which she began to feel for him. She found an intense pleasure in strolling by his side, it was with curiosity that she gazed at his hands which that morning had seized the sword to kill her.

After such an action, after all that had passed, there could no longer be any question of their conversing on the same terms as before.

Gradually Mathilde began to talk to him with an intimate confidence of the state of her heart. She found a strange delight in this kind of conversation; she proceeded to tell him of the fleeting impulses of enthusiasm which she had felt for M. de Croisenois, for M. de Caylus . . .

‘What! For M. de Caylus as well!’ cried Julien; and all the bitter jealousy of a past jilted lover was made manifest in his words. Mathilde received them in that light, and was not offended.

She continued to torture Julien, detailing her past feelings in the most picturesque fashion, and in accents of the most absolute sincerity. He saw that she was describing what was present before her eyes. He had the grief of remarking that as she spoke she made fresh discoveries in her own heart.

The agony of jealousy can go no farther.

The suspicion that a rival is loved is painful enough already, but to have the love that he inspires in her confessed to one in detail by the woman whom one adores is without doubt the acme of suffering.

Oh, how she punished, at that moment, the impulse of pride which had led Julien to set himself above all the Caylus and Croisenois! With what an intense and heartfelt misery he now exaggerated their most trivial advantages! With what ardent sincerity he now despised himself!

Mathilde seemed adorable to him, language fails to express the intensity of his admiration. As he walked by her side, he cast furtive glances at her hands, her arms, her regal bearing. He was on the point of falling at her feet, crushed with love and misery, and crying: ‘Pity!’

‘And this creature who is so lovely, so superior to all the rest, who has once loved me, it is M. de Caylus whom, no doubt, she will presently be loving!’

Julien could not doubt Mademoiselle de La Mole’s sincerity; the accent of truth was all too evident in everything that she said. That absolutely nothing might be wanting to complete his misery, there were moments when, by dint of occupying her mind with the sentiments which she had at one time felt for M. de Caylus, Mathilde was led to speak of him as though she loved him still. Certainly there was love in her accents, Julien could see it plainly.

Had his bosom been flooded with a mass of molten lead, he would have suffered less. How, arrived at this extreme pitch of misery, was the poor boy to guess that it was because she was talking to him that Mademoiselle de La Mole found such pleasure in recalling all the niceties of love that she had felt in the past for M. de Caylus or M. de Luz?

No words could express Julien’s anguish. He was listening to the detailed confidences of the love felt for others in that same lime walk where, so few days since, he had waited for one o’clock to strike before making his way into her room. Human nature is incapable of enduring misery at a higher pitch than this.

This kind of cruel intimacy lasted for a whole week. Mathilde now appeared to seek, now did not shun opportunities of speaking to him; and the subject of conversation, to which they seemed both to return with a sort of torturing pleasure, was the recital of the sentiments that she had felt for others; she recounted to him the letters that she had written, told him the very words of them, repeated whole sentences. On the final days she seemed to be studying Julien with a sort of malignant delight. His sufferings were a source of keen enjoyment to her.

We can see that Julien had no experience of life, he had not even read any novels; if he had been a little less awkward, and had said with a certain coldness to this girl, whom he so adored and who made him such strange confidences: ‘Admit that though I am not the equal of all these gentlemen, it is still myself that you love . . . ’

Perhaps she would have been glad to have her secret guessed; at any rate his success would have depended entirely upon the grace with which Julien expressed this idea, and the moment that he chose. However that might be, he came out well, and yith advantage to himself, from a situation which was tending to become monotonous in Mathilde’s eyes.

‘And you no longer love me, me who adore you!’ Julien said |o her one day, desperate with love and misery. It was almost She worst blunder that he could have made.

This speech destroyed in an instant all the pleasure that lademoiselle de La Mole found in speaking to him of the state of her heart. She was beginning to feel astonished that after what had happened he did not take offence at her confidences, he was on the point of imagining, at the moment when he made this foolish speech, that perhaps he no longer loved her. ‘Pride has doubtless quenched his love,’ she said to herself. ‘He is not the man to see himself set with impunity beneath creatures like Caylus, de Luz, Croisenois, who he admits are so far his superiors. No, I shall never see him at my feet again!’

On the preceding days, in the artlessness of his misery, Julien had paid a heartfelt tribute to the brilliant qualities of these gentlemen; he went so far as to exaggerate them. This change of attitude had by no means escaped the notice of Mademoiselle de La Mole; it had surprised her, but she did not suspect the reason or it. Julien’s frenzied soul, in praising a rival whom he believed to be loved, sympathised with that rival in his good fortune.

This speech, so frank but so stupid, altered the whole situation an instant: Mathilde, certain of being loved, despised him completely.

She was strolling with him at the moment of this unfortunate utterance; she left him, and her final glance was expressive of the most bitter scorn. Returning to the drawing-room, for the rest of the evening she never looked at him again. Next day, this scorn of him had entire possession of her heart; there was no longer any question of the impulse which, for a whole week, had made her find such pleasure in treating Julien as her most intimate friend; the sight of him was repulsive to her. Mathilde’s feeling reached the point of disgust; no words could express the intensity of the scorn that she felt when her eyes happened to fall on him.

Julien had understood nothing of all that had been happening in Mathilde’s heart, but for the past week he discerned her scorn. He had the good sense to appear in her presence as rarely as possible, and never looked her in the face.

But it was not without a mortal anguish that he deprived himself to some extent of her company. He thought he could feel that his misery was thereby actually increased. ‘The courage of a man’s heart can go no farther,’ he told himself. He spent all his time at a little window in the attics of the house; the shutters were carefully closed, and from there, at least, he could catch a glimpse of Mademoiselle de La Mole when she appeared in the garden.

What were his feelings when, after dinner, he saw her strolling with M. de Caylus, M. de Luz or any of the others for whom she had avowed some slight amorous inclination in the past?

Julien had had no idea of such an intensity of misery; he was on the point of crying aloud; that resolute heart was at last reduced to utter helplessness.

Any thought that was not of Mademoiselle de La Mole had become odious to him; he was incapable of writing the most simple letters.

‘You are crazy,’ the Marquis said to him.

Julien, trembling with fear of a disclosure, pleaded illness and managed to make himself believed. Fortunately for him, the Marquis teased him at dinner over his coming journey: Mathilde gathered that it might be prolonged. For several days now Julien had been avoiding her, and the brilliant young men who had everything that was lacking in this creature so pale and sombre, once loved by her, had no longer the power to distract her from her dreams.

‘An ordinary girl,’ she said to herself, ‘would have sought for the man of her choice among the young fellows who attract every eye in a drawing-room; but one of the characteristics of genius is not to let its thoughts move in the rut traced by the common herd.

‘As the partner of such a man as Julien, who lacks nothing but the fortune which I possess, I shall continue to attract attention, I shall by no means pass unperceived through life. So far from incessantly dreading a Revolution like my cousins, who, in their fear of the people, dare not scold a postilion who drives them badly, I shall be certain of playing a part and a great part, for the man of my choice has character and an unbounded ambition. What does he lack? Friends? Money? I can give him all that.’ But in her thoughts she treated Julien rather as an inferior being who can be made to love one when one wills.

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