Armance, by Stendhal


Ay! que ya siento en mi cuidoso pecho

Labrarme poco a poco un vivo fuego

Y desde alli con movimiento blando

Ir par venas y huesos penetrando.


The extreme happiness that shone in Armance’s eyes consoled Madame de Malivert, who was beginning to feel some remorse at having introduced a tiny falsehood into so serious a negotiation. “After all,” she said to herself, “what harm can there be in hastening the marriage of two charming but rather proud children, who feel a passion for each other such as we rarely see in this world? To preserve my son’s reason, is not that my paramount duty?”

The singular course which Madame de Malivert had decided to adopt had delivered Armance from the most profound grief that she had ever felt in her life. A little while since, she had longed for death; and now these words, which she supposed to have been uttered by Octave, placed her on a pinnacle of happiness. She was quite determined never to accept her cousin’s hand; but this charming speech allowed her once again to nope for many years of happiness. “I shall be able to love him in secret,” she told herself, “during the six years that must pass before he marries; and I shall be fully as happy, and perhaps far happier than if I were his partner. Is it not said that marriage is the grave of love; that there may be agreeable marriages but never one that is really delightful? I should be terrified of marrying my cousin; if I did not see that he was the happiest of men, I should myself be in the depths of despair. If, on the other hand, we continue to live in our pure and holy friendship, none of the petty concerns of life can ever reach the high level of our feelings to wound them.”

Armance weighed in her mind with all the calm of happiness the reasons which she had given herself in the past for never accepting Octave’s hand. “I should be regarded in society as a paid companion who had seduced the son of the house. I can hear Madame la Duchesse d’Ancre saying so, and indeed the most honourable women, such as the Marquise de Seyssins, who looks on Octave as a husband for one of her daughters.

“The loss of my reputation would be all the more rapid, from my having lived in the companv of several of the most unimpeachable women in Paris. They can say anything they like about me; their word will be believed. Heavens! Into what an abyss of shame they can hurl me! And Octave might at any time withdraw his esteem from me; for I have no means of defence. What drawing-room is there in which I could make my voice heard? Where are my friends? And besides, after the evident baseness of such an action, what justification would be possible? Even if I had a family, a brother, a father, would they ever believe that, if Octave was in my position and I extremely rich, I should be as devoted to him as I am at this moment?”

Armance had a reason for feeling keenly the kind of indelicacy which money involves. Only a few days earlier, Octave had said to her, speaking of a certain majority vote which had made a stir: “I hope, when I have taken my place in public life, that I shall not allow myself to be bought like those gentlemen. I can live upon five francs a day; and, under an assumed name, it is open to me to earn twice that amount in any part of the world, as a chemist employed in some factory.”

Armance was so happy that she did not shrink from examining any objection, however perilous it might be to discuss it. “If Octave preferred me to a fortune and to the support which he is entitled to expect from the family of a wife of his own rank, we might go and live somewhere in retirement. Why not spend ten months of every year on that charming estate Malivert, in Dauphiné, of which he often speaks? The world would very soon forget us. — Yes; but I myself, I should not forget that there was a place on earth where I was despised, and despised by the noblest souls.

“To see love perish in the heart of a husband whom she adores is the greatest of all misfortunes for a young person born to wealth; well, that terrible misfortune fould be as nothing to me. Even if he continued to cherish me, every day would be poisoned by the fear that Octave might come to think that I had chosen him because of the difference in our fortunes. That idea will not come to him spontaneously, I am sure; anonymous letters, like those that are sent to Madame de Bonnivet, will bring it to his notice. I shall tremble at every mail that he receives. No, whatever happens, I must never accept Octave’s hand; and the course that honour prescribes is also the most certain to assure our happiness.”

On the morrow of the day that made Armance so happy, Mesdames de Malivert and de Bonnivet went to stay in the charming house that the Marquise owned near Andilly. Madame de Malivert’s doctors had recommended exercise on horseback and on foot; and on the morning after her arrival she decided to try a pair of charming little ponies which she had procured from Scotland for Armance and herself. Octave accompanied the ladies on their first ride. They had scarcely gone a quarter of a league before he thought he noticed a slight increase of reserve in his cousin’s attitude towards himself, and especially a marked tendency to gaiety.

This discovery gave him much food for thought; and what he observed during the rest of the ride confirmed his suspicions. Armance was no longer the same to him. It was clear that she was going to be married; he was going to lose the only friend that he had in the world. As he was helping Armance to dismount, he found an opportunity to say to her, without being overheard by Madame de Malivert: “I am sorely afraid that my fair cousin is soon going to change her name; that event will deprive me of the only person in the world who has been kind enough to shew me some friendship.” “NEVER,” said Armance, “will I cease to feel for you the most devoted and most exclusive friendship.” But while she was rapidly uttering these words, there was such a look of happiness in her eyes, that Octave, forewarned, saw in them the confirmation of all his fears.

The good nature, the air almost of intimacy with which Armance treated him during their ride on the following day, succeeded in robbing him of all peace of mind: “I see,” he said to himself, “a decided change in Mademoiselle de Zohiloff’s manner; she was extremely agitated a few days ago, now she is extremely happy. I am ignorant of the cause of this change; therefore it can only be to my disadvantage.

“Who was ever such a fool as to choose for his intimate friend of a girl of eighteen? She marries, and all is over. It is my cursed pride that makes me prepared to die a thousand deaths rather than venture to say to a man the things that I confide in Mademoiselle de Zohiloff.

“Work might offer some resource; but have I not abandoned every reasonable occupation? To tell the truth, for the last six months, has not the effort to make myself agreeable in the eyes of a stupid and selfish world been my only task?” So as to devote himself at any rate to this useful form of boredom, every day, after his mother’s outing, Octave left Andilly and went to pay calls in Paris. He sought new habits to fill the void that would be left in his life by this charming cousin when she withdrew from society to go with her husband; this idea put him in need of violent exercise.

The more his heart was wrung by misery, the more he spoke and sought to please; what he most feared, was finding himself left alone; and, above all, the prospect of the future. He repeated incessantly to himself: “It was childish of me to choose a girl as my friend.” This statement, by its self-evident truth, soon became a sort of proverb in his eyes, and prevented him from proceeding farther with his exploration of his own heart.

Armance, who saw his misery, was moved by it, and often reproached herself for the false admission she had made to him. Not a day passed but, as she saw him set off for Paris, she was tempted to tell him the truth. “But that falsehood is my one weapon against him,” she said to herself; “if I so much as admit to him that I am not engaged, he will implore me to yield to his mother’s wishes, and how am I to resist? And yet, never and upon no pretext must I consent; no, this pretended marriage with a stranger is my sole defence against a happiness that would destroy us both.”

To dissipate the sombre thoughts of this beloved cousin, Armance allowed herself to indulge in the little pleasantries of the most tender friendship. There was such charm, such an artless gaiety in the assurances of undying friendship given him by this girl, so natural in all her actions, that often Octave’s dark misanthropy was disarmed by them. He was happy in spite of himself; and at such moments nothing was wanting either to complete Armance’s happiness.

“How pleasant it is,” she said to herself, “to do one’s duty! If I were Octave’s wife, I, a penniless girl with no family, should I be as well pleased? A thousand cruel suspicions would assail me without ceasing.” But, after these moments in which she was satisfied with herself and with the rest of the world, Armance ended by treating Octave more kindly than she intended. She kept a careful watch over her speech; and never did her speech convey anything but the most holy friendship. But the tone in which certain words were uttered! The glance that sometimes accompanied them! Any one but Octave would have been able to read in them an expression of the warmest passion. He enjoyed without understanding them.

As soon as he had granted himself permission to think incessantly of his cousin, his thoughts no longer rested with passion upon anything else in the world. He became once more fair and even indulgent; and his happiness made him abandon his harsh judgments of many things: fools no longer seemed to him anything more than people who had been unlucky from birth.

“Is it a man’s fault if he has black hair?” he said to Armance. “But it rests with me carefully to avoid the man if the colour of his hair annoys me.”

Octave was considered malicious in certain sections of society, and fools had an instinctive fear of him; at this period they became reconciled with him. Often he took with him into society all the happiness that he owed to his cousin. He was less feared, his affability was felt to be more youthful. It must be admitted that in all his actions there was a trace of that intoxication which springs from that form of happiness which a man does not admit even to himself; life passed rapidly for him and delightfully. His criticisms of himself no longer bore the imprint of that inexorable, harsh logic, taking pleasure in its own harshness, which in his boyhood had controlled all his actions. Beginning often to speak without knowing how his sentence would end. he talked far better than before.

Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:00