The Red and the Black, by Stendhal

Chapter 7

An Attack of Gout

And I received promotion, not on my own merits, but because my master had the gout.

BERTOLOTTI

The reader is perhaps surprised at this free and almost friendly tone; we have forgotten to say that for six weeks the Marquis had been confined to the house by an attack of gout.

Mademoiselle de La Mole and her mother were at Hyeres, with the Marquise’s mother. Comte Norbert saw his father only for brief moments; they were on the best of terms, but had nothing to say to one another. M. de La Mole, reduced to Julien’s company, was astonished to find him endowed with ideas. He made him read the newspapers aloud. Soon the young secretary was able to select the interesting passages. There was a new paper which the Marquis abhorred; he had vowed that he would never read it, and spoke of it every day. Julien laughed. The Marquis, out of patience with the times, made Julien read him Livy; the translation improvised from the Latin text amused him.

One day the Marquis said, with that tone of over-elaborate politeness, which often tried Julien’s patience:

‘Allow me, my dear Sorel, to make you the present of a blue coat: when it suits you to put it on and to pay me a visit, you will be, in my eyes, the younger brother of the Comte de Chaulnes, that is to say, the son of my old friend the Duke.’

Julien was somewhat in the dark as to what was happening; that evening he ventured to pay a visit in his blue coat. The Marquis treated him as an equal. Julien had a heart capable of appreciating true politeness, but he had no idea of the finer shades. He would have sworn, before this caprice of the Marquis, that it would be impossible to be received by him with greater deference. ‘What a marvellous talent!’ Julien said to himself; when he rose to go, the Marquis apologised for not being able to see him to the door on account of his gout.

Julien was obsessed by this strange idea: ‘Can he be laughing at me?’ he wondered. He went to seek the advice of the abbe Pirard, who, less courteous than the Marquis, answered him only with a whistle and changed the subject. The following morning Julien appeared before the Marquis, in a black coat, with his portfolio and the letters to be signed. He was received in the old manner. That evening, in his blue coat, it was with an entirely different tone and one in every way as polite as the evening before.

‘Since you appear to find some interest in the visits which you are so kind as to pay to a poor, suffering old man,’ the Marquis said to him, ‘you must speak to him of all the little incidents in your life, but openly, and without thinking of anything but how to relate them clearly and in an amusing fashion. For one must have amusement,’ the Marquis went on; ‘that is the only real thing in life. A man cannot save my life on a battle-field every day, nor can he make me every day the present of a million; but if I had Rivarol here, by my couch, every day, he would relieve me of an hour of pain and boredom. I saw a great deal of him at Hamburg, during the Emigration.’

And the Marquis told Julien stories of Rivarol among the Hamburgers, who would club together in fours to elucidate the point of a witty saying.

M. de La Mole, reduced to the society of this young cleric, sought to enliven him. He stung Julien’s pride. Since he was asked for the truth, Julien determined to tell his whole story; but with the suppression of two things: his fanatical admiration for a name which made the Marquis furious, and his entire unbelief, which hardly became a future cure. His little affair with the Chevalier de Beauvoisis arrived most opportunely. The Marquis laughed till he cried at the scene in the cafe in the Rue Saint–Honore, with the coachman who covered him with foul abuse. It was a period of perfect frankness in the relations between employer and protege.

M. de La Mole became interested in this singular character. At first, he played with Julien’s absurdities, for his own entertainment; soon he found it more interesting to correct, in the gentlest manner, the young man’s mistaken view of life. ‘Most provincials who come to Paris admire everything,’ thought the Marquis; ‘this fellow hates everything. They have too much sentiment, he has not enough, and fools take him for a fool.’

The attack of gout was prolonged by the wintry weather and lasted for some months.

‘One becomes attached to a fine spaniel,’ the Marquis told himself; ‘why am I so ashamed of becoming attached to this young cleric? He is original. I treat him like a son; well, what harm is there in that! This fancy, if it lasts, will cost me a diamond worth five hundred louis in my will.’

Once the Marquis had realised the firm character of his protege, he entrusted him with some fresh piece of business every day.

Julien noticed with alarm that this great nobleman would occasionally give him contradictory instructions with regard to the same matter.

This was liable to land him in serious trouble. Julien, when he came to work with the Marquis, invariably brought a diary in which he wrote down his instructions, and the Marquis initialled them. Julien had engaged a clerk who copied out the instructions relative to each piece of business in a special book. In this book were kept also copies of all letters.

This idea seemed at first the most ridiculous and tiresome thing imaginable. But, in less than two months, the Marquis realised its advantages. Julien suggested engaging a clerk from a bank, who should keep an account by double entry of all the revenue from and expenditure on the estates of which he himself had charge.

These measures so enlightened the Marquis as to his own financial position that he was able to give himself the pleasure of embarking on two or three fresh speculations without the assistance of his broker, who had been robbing him.

‘Take three thousand francs for yourself,’ he said, one day to his young minister.

‘But, Sir, my conduct may be criticised.’

‘What do you want, then?’ replied the Marquis, with irritation.

‘I want you to be so kind as to make a formal agreement, and to write it down yourself in the book; the agreement will award me a sum of three thousand francs. Besides, it was M. l’abbe Pirard who first thought of all this book-keeping.’ The Marquis, with the bored expression of the Marquis de Moncade, listening to M. Poisson, his steward, reading his accounts, wrote out his instructions.

In the evening, when Julien appeared in his blue coat, there was never any talk of business. The Marquis’s kindness was so flattering to our hero’s easily wounded vanity that presently, in spite of himself, he felt a sort of attachment to this genial old man. Not that Julien was sensitive, as the word is understood in Paris; but he was not a monster, and no one, since the death of the old Surgeon–Major, had spoken to him so kindly. He remarked with astonishment that the Marquis showed a polite consideration for his self-esteem which he had never received from the old surgeon. Finally he realised that the surgeon had been prouder of his Cross than the Marquis was of his Blue Riband. The Marquis was the son of a great nobleman.

One day, at the end of a morning interview, in his black coat, and for the discussion of business, Julien amused the Marquis, who kept him for a couple of hours, and positively insisted upon giving him a handful of bank notes which his broker had just brought him from the Bourse.

‘I hope, Monsieur le Marquis, not to be wanting in the profound respect which I owe you if I ask you to allow me to say something.’

‘Speak, my friend.’

‘Will Monsieur le Marquis be graciously pleased to let me decline this gift. It is not to the man in black that it is offered, and it would at once put an end to the liberties which he is so kind as to tolerate from the man in blue.’ He bowed most respectfully, and left the room without looking round.

This attitude amused the Marquis, who reported it that evening to the abbe Pirard.

‘There is something that I must at last confess to you, my dear abbe. I know the truth about Julien’s birth, and I authorise you not to keep this confidence secret.

‘His behaviour this morning was noble,’ thought the Marquis, ‘and I shall ennoble him.’

Some time after this, the Marquis was at length able to leave his room.

‘Go and spend a couple of months in London,’ he told Julien. ‘The special couriers and other messengers will bring you the letters I receive, with my notes. You will write the replies and send them to me, enclosing each letter with its reply. I have calculated that the delay will not amount to more than five days.’

As he travelled post along the road to Calais, Julien thought with amazement of the futility of the alleged business on which he was being sent.

We shall not describe the feeling of horror, almost of hatred, with which he set foot on English soil. The reader is aware of his insane passion for Bonaparte. He saw in every officer a Sir Hudson Lowe, in every nobleman a Lord Bathurst, ordering the atrocities of Saint Helena, and receiving his reward in ten years of office.

In London he at last made acquaintance with the extremes of fatuity. He made friends with some young Russian gentlemen who initiated him.

‘You are predestined, my dear Sorel,’ they told him, ‘you are endowed by nature with that cold expression a thousand leagues from the sensation of the moment, which we try so hard to assume.’

‘You have not understood our age,’ Prince Korasoff said to him; ‘always do the opposite to what people expect of you. That, upon my honour, is the only religion of the day. Do not be either foolish or affected, for then people will expect foolishness and affectations, and you will not be obeying the rule.’

Julien covered himself with glory one day in the drawing-room of the Duke of Fitz–Fulke, who had invited him to dine, with Prince Korasoff. The party were kept waiting for an hour. The way in which Julien comported himself amid the score of persons who stood waiting is still quoted by the young Secretaries of Embassy in London. His expression was inimitable.

He was anxious to meet, notwithstanding his friends the dandies, the celebrated Philip Vane, the one philosopher that England has produced since Locke. He found him completing his seventh year in prison. ‘The aristocracy does not take things lightly in this country,’ thought Julien; ‘in addition to all this, Vane is disgraced, abused,’ etc.

Julien found him good company; the fury of the aristocracy kept him amused. ‘There,’ Julien said to himself, as he left the prison, ‘is the one cheerful man that I have met in England.’

‘The idea of most use to tyrants is that of God,’ Vane had said to him.

We suppress the rest of the philosopher’s system as being cynical.

On his return: ‘What amusing idea have you brought me from England?’ M. de La Mole asked him. He remained silent. ‘What idea have you brought, amusing or not?’ the Marquis went on, sharply.

‘First of all,’ said Julien, ‘the wisest man in England is mad for an hour daily; he is visited by the demon of suicide, who is the national deity.

‘Secondly, intelligence and genius forfeit twenty-five per cent of their value on landing in England.

‘Thirdly, nothing in the world is so beautiful, admirable, moving as the English countryside.’

‘Now, it is my turn,’ said the Marquis.

‘First of all, what made you say, at the ball at the Russian Embassy, that there are in France three hundred thousand young men of five and twenty who are passionately anxious for war? Do you think that that is quite polite to the Crowned Heads?’

‘One never knows what to say in speaking to our great diplomats,’ said Julien. They have a mania for starting serious discussions. If one confines oneself to the commonplaces of the newspapers, one is reckoned a fool. If one allows oneself to say something true and novel, they are astonished, they do not know how to answer, and next morning, at seven o’clock they send word to one by the First Secretary, that one has been impolite.’

‘Not bad,’ said the Marquis, with a laugh. ‘I wager, however, Master Philosopher, that you have not discovered what you went to England to do.’

‘Pardon me,’ replied Julien; ‘I went there to dine once a week with His Majesty’s Ambassador, who is the most courteous of men.’

‘You went to secure the Cross which is lying there’ the Marquis told him. ‘I do not wish to make you lay aside your black coat, and I have grown accustomed to the more amusing tone which I have adopted with the man in blue. Until further orders, understand this: when I see this Cross, you are the younger son of my friend the Duc de Chaulnes, who, without knowing it, has been for the last six months employed in diplomacy. Observe,’ added the Marquis, with a highly serious air, cutting short Julien’s expressions of gratitude, ‘that I do not on any account wish you to rise above your station. That is always a mistake, and a misfortune both for patron and for protege. When my lawsuits bore you, or when you no longer suit me I shall ask for a good living for you, like that of our friend the abbe Pirard, and nothing more,’ the Marquis added, in the driest of tones.

This Cross set Julien’s pride at rest; he began to talk far more freely. He felt himself less frequently insulted and made a butt by those remarks, susceptible of some scarcely polite interpretation, which, in the course of an animated conversation, may fall from the lips of anyone.

His Cross was the cause of an unexpected visit; this was from M. le Baron de Valenod, who came to Paris to thank the Minister for his Barony and to come to an understanding with him. He was going to be appointed Mayor of Verrieres in the place of M. de Renal.

Julien was consumed with silent laughter when M. de Valenod gave him to understand that it had just been discovered that M de Renal was a Jacobin. The fact was that, in a new election which was in preparation, the new Baron was the ministerial candidate, and in the combined constituency of the Department, which in reality was strongly Ultra, it was M. de Renal who was being put forward by the Liberals.

It was in vain that Julien tried to learn something of Madame de Renal; the Baron appeared to remember their former rivalry, and was impenetrable. He ended by asking Julien for his father’s vote at the coming election. Julien promised to write.

‘You ought, Monsieur le Chevalier, to introduce me to M. le Marquis de La Mole.’

‘Indeed, so I ought,’ thought Julien; ‘but a rascal like this!’

‘To be frank,’ he replied, ‘I am too humble a person in the Hotel de La Mole to take it upon me to introduce anyone.’

Julien told the Marquis everything: that evening he informed him of Valenod’s pretension, and gave an account of his life and actions since 1814.

‘Not only,’ M. de La Mole replied, with a serious air, ‘will you introduce the new Baron to me tomorrow, but I shall invite him to dine the day after. He will be one of our new Prefects.’

‘In that case,’ retorted Julien coldly, ‘I request the post of Governor of the Poorhouse for my father.’

‘Excellent,’ said the Marquis, recovering his gaiety; ‘granted; I was expecting a sermon. You are growing up.’

M. de Valenod informed Julien that the keeper of the lottery office at Verrieres had just died; Julien thought it amusing to bestow this place upon M. de Cholin, the old imbecile whose petition he had picked up in the room occupied there by M. de La Mole. The Marquis laughed heartily at the petition which Julien recited as he made him sign the letter applying for this post to the Minister of Finance.

No sooner had M. de Cholin been appointed than Julien learned that this post had been requested by the Deputies of the Department for M. Gros, the celebrated geometrician: this noble-hearted man had an income of only fourteen hundred francs, and every year had been lending six hundred francs to the late holder of the post, to help him to bring up his family.

Julien was astonished at the effect of what he had done. ‘It is nothing,’ he told himself; ‘I must be prepared for many other acts of injustice, if I am to succeed, and, what is more, must know how to conceal them, under a cloak of fine sentimental words: poor M, Gros! It is he that deserved the Cross, it is I that have it, and I must act according to the wishes of the Government that has given it to me.’

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