Armance, by Stendhal


He unworthy you say?

’Tis impossible.

It would Be more easy to die.


[This motto and that prefixed to Chapter XXII are quoted by Beyle in English, which makes it seem probable that by Deckar he meant the voluminous writer Thomas Dekker, the “Mr. Dickers” of Henslowe’s Diary, the author of Satiromastix and The Honest Whore and the Gull’s Horn-book and the Witch of Edmonton; but this quotation, which the French editors religiously print in three lines, imagining it to be a specimen of English poetry, bears the marks of Beyle’s composition. — C. K. S. M.]

Octave thought he observed that Mademoiselle de Zohiloff looked at him now and again quite calmly. In spite of his peculiar sense of honour, which formally forbade him to dwell upon relations that no longer existed, he could not help thinking that this was the first time that he had seen her since his admission to himself that he loved her; that morning, in the garden, he had been disturbed by the need for action. “So this,” he told himself, “is the impression a man feels at the sight of a woman whom he loves. But it is possible that Armance feels no more than friendship for me. Last night it was only a piece of presumption on my part that made me think otherwise.”

Throughout this distressing meal, not a word was uttered on the subject that was filling every heart. While Octave was with his father, Madame de Malivert had sent for Armance to inform her of this strange plan of foreign travel. The poor girl felt a need of sincerity; she could not help saying to Madame de Malivert: “Ah, well, Mama, you see now what foundation there was for your ideas!”

These two charming women were plunged in the bitterest grief. “What is the reason for this sudden departure?” Madame de Malivert repeated, “for it cannot be an insane freak; you have cured him of that.” It was agreed that they should not say a word to any one of Octave’s travels, not even to Madame de Bonnivet. It would never do to bind him to his plan, “and perhaps,” said Madame de Malivert, “we may still be allowed to hope. He will abandon an intention so suddenly conceived. It is the reaction from some distressing occurrence.”

This conversation made Armance’s grief more acute, were that possible, than before; ever loyal to the eternal secrecy which she felt to be due to the sentiment that existed between her cousin and herself, she paid the penalty of her discretion. The words uttered by Madame de Malivert, so prudent a friend and one who loved her so tenderly, since they related to facts of which she was but imperfectly aware, offered no consolation to Armance.

And yet, how sorely she needed the counsels of a woman friend as to the several reasons, any one of which, it seemed to her, might equally well have led to this strange conduct on her cousin’s part! But nothing in the world, not even the intense grief that was lacerating her heart, could make her forget the respect that a woman owes to herself. She would have died of shame rather than repeat the words which the man of her choice had addressed to her that morning. “If I made such a disclosure,” she told herself, “and Octave were to hear of it, he would cease to respect me.”

After luncheon, Octave made hasty preparations to start for Paris. He acted precipitately; he had ceased to account to himself for his movements. He was beginning to feel all the bitterness of his plan of departure and was in dread of the danger of finding himself alone with Armance. If her angelic goodness was not irritated by the frightful harshness of his conduct, if she deigned to speak to him, could he promise himself that he would not be swayed by emotion in bidding farewell to so beautiful, so perfect a cousin?

She would see that he loved her; he must nevertheless leave immediately after, and with the undying remorse of not having done his duty even in that supreme moment. Were not his most sacred duties towards the creature who was dearer to him than any one in the world, and whose tranquillity he had perhaps endangered?

Octave drove out of the courtyard with the feelings of a man going to his death; and in truth he would have been glad to feel no more than the grief of a man who is being led to execution. He had dreaded the loneliness of the journey, he was scarcely conscious of it; he was amazed at this momentary respite which he owed to misery.

He had just received a lesson in modesty too severe for him to attribute this tranquillity to that vain philosophy which had been his pride in the past. In this respect misery had made a new man of him. His strength was exhausted by so many violent efforts and feelings; he was no longer capable of feeling. Scarcely had he come down from Andilly upon the plain before he fell into a lethargic slumber, and he was astonished, on reaching Paris, to find himself being driven by the servant who, when they started, had been at the back of his cabriolet.

Armance, hidden in the attic of the house, behind the shutters, had watched every incident of his departure. When Octave’s cabriolet had passed out of sight behind the trees, standing motionless at her post, she had said to herself: “All is over, he will not return.”

Towards evening, after a long spell of weeping, a question that occurred to her caused her some distraction from her grief. “How in the world could Octave, who is so distinguished for his exquisite manners, and was so attentive, so devoted, perhaps even so tender a friend,” she added with a blush, “last night, when we were strolling together, adopt a tone that was so harsh, so insulting, so out of keeping with his character, at an interval of a few hours? Certainly he can have heard nothing about me that could offend him.”

Armance sought to recall every detail of her own conduct, with the secret desire to come upon some fault which might justify the odd tone that Octave had adopted towards her. She could find nothing that was reprehensible; she was in despair at not seeing herself in the wrong, when suddenly an old idea came to her mind.

Might not Octave have felt a recurrence of that frenzy which in the past had led him to commit many strange acts of violence? This memory, albeit painful at first, shed a ray of light in her mind. Armance was so wretched that every argument which she was capable of advancing very soon proved to her that this explanation was the most probable. The conviction that Octave had not been unfair, whatever excuse he might have, was to her an extreme consolation.

As for his madness, if he was mad, it only made her love him more passionately. “He will need all my devotion, and never shall that devotion fail him,” she added with tears in her eyes, and her heart throbbed with generous courage. “Perhaps at this moment Octave exaggerates the obligation that compels a young gentleman who has done nothing hitherto to go to the aid of Greece. Was not his father anxious, some years ago, to make him assume the Cross of Malta? Several members of his family have been Knights of Malta. Perhaps, since he inherits their fame, he thinks himself obliged to keep the vows which they took to fight the Turks?”

Armance recalled that Octave had said to her on the day on which the news came of the fall of Missolonghi: “I cannot understand the calm tranquillity of my uncle the Commander, he who has taken vows, and, before the Revolution, enjoyed the stipend of a considerable Commandery. And we hope to be respected by the Industrial Party!”

By dint of pondering this comforting way of accounting for her cousin’s conduct, Armance said to herself: “Perhaps some personal motive came to reinforce this general obligation by which it is quite possible that Octave’s noble soul believes itself to be bound?

“The idea of becoming a priest which he once held, before the success of one section of the clergy, has perhaps been responsible for some recent criticism of him. Perhaps he thinks it more worthy of his name to go to Greece and to shew there that he is no degenerate scion of his ancestors than to seek in Paris some obscure quarrel the grounds of which would always be difficult to explain and might leave a stain?

“He has not told me, because things of that sort are not mentioned to a woman. He is afraid that his habit of confiding in me may lead him to confess it; that accounts for the harshness of his words. He did not wish to be led on to confide in me something that was not proper. . . . ”

Thus it was that Armance’s imagination strayed among suppositions that were consoling, since they portrayed an Octave innocent and generous. “It is only from excess of virtue,” she told herself, with tears in her eyes, “that so generous a being can have the appearance of being in the wrong.”

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