Armance, by Stendhal


Armance, in despair, saw herself at once disgraced for ever and betrayed by her lover. She sat down for a moment on the landing of the stair. She decided to go and knock at the door of Madame de Malivert’s maid. The girl was asleep and did not answer. Madame de Malivert, with a vague fear that her son might be ill, took her nightlight and came to the door of her own room; she was alarmed by the expression on Armance’s face. “What has happened to Octave?” cried Madame de Malivert. “Nothing, Madame, nothing at all to Octave, it is only I who am in distress and miserable at having disturbed your sleep. My idea was to speak to Madame Dérien and to ask for you only if I was told that you were still awake.” “My child, you increase my alarm with all these Madames. Something strange has happened. Is Octave ill?” “No, Mama,” said Armance and burst into tears, “it is only that I am a ruined girl.”

Madame de Malivert took her into her bedroom, and there Armance told her what had just happened to her, concealing nothing and passing nothing over in silence, not even her own jealousy. Her heart, crushed by all her miseries, had not the strength to keep anything back.

Madame de Malivert was appalled. Suddenly she exclaimed: “There is no time to be lost, give me my pelisse, my poor child, my dear child,” and she kissed her again and again with all the passion of a mother. “Light my candle, and do you stay here.” Madame de Malivert ran to her son’s room; fortunately the door was not locked; she entered quietly, awoke Octave and told him what had occurred. “My brother may ruin us,” said Madame de Malivert, “and, to judge by appearances, he will not miss the opportunity. Rise, go to his room, tell him that I have had a sort of seizure in your room. Can you think of anything better?” “Yes, Mama, to marry Armance tomorrow, if that angel will still have me.”

This unexpected speech was a fulfilment of Madame de Malivert’s dearest wish; she embraced her son, but added, on second thoughts: “Your uncle does not like Armance, he may talk; he will promise to keep silence, but he has his servant who will talk by his order, and whom he will then dismiss for having talked. I stick to my idea of a seizure. This make-believe will keep us painfully busy for three days, but your wife’s honour is more precious than anything else. Remember to appear greatly alarmed. As soon as you have told the Commander, go down to my room, tell Armance of our plan. When the Commander passed her on the stair, I was in your room, and she was going to fetch Madame Dérien.” Octave hastened to tell his uncle, whom he found wide awake. The Commander looked at him with a derisive expression which turned all his emotion to anger. Octave left M. de Soubirane to fly to his mother’s room: “Is it possible,” he said to Armance, “that you have not been in love with the Chevalier de Bonnivet, and that he is not the mysterious husband of whom you spoke to me once, long ago?” “I have a horror of the Chevalier. But you, Octave, are not you in love with Madame d’Aumale?” “Never as long as I live will I see her again or give her another thought,” said Octave. “Dear Armance, deign to say that you accept me as a husband. Heaven is punishing me for having kept you in the dark as to my shooting expeditions, I was whistling for the keeper, who did not answer.” Octave’s protestations had all the warmth but not all the delicacy of true passion; Armance thought she could make out that he was performing a duty while his thoughts were elsewhere. “You are not in love with me just now,” she said to him. “I love you with all my heart and soul, but I am mad with rage at that ignoble Commander, vile man, upon whose silence we cannot count.” Octave renewed his solicitations. “Are you sure that it is love that is speaking,” Armance said to him, “perhaps it is only generosity, and you are in love with Madame d’Aumale. You used to have a horror of marriage, this sudden conversion seems to me suspicious.” “In heaven’s name, dear Armance, do not let us waste any more time; all the rest of my life shall answer to you for my love.” He was so far convinced of the truth of what he was saying that he ended by convincing her also. He hastened upstairs and found the Commander with his mother, whom her joy at the prospect of Octave’s marriage had given the courage to play her part admirably. Nevertheless, the Commander did not seem to be at all convinced of his sister’s seizure. He ventured upon a pleasantry with regard to Armance’s nocturnal roamings. “Sir, I have still one sound arm,” cried Octave, springing to his feet and throwing himself upon him; “if you say one word more, I shall fling you out of that window.” Octave’s restrained fury made the Commander blench, he remembered in time his nephew’s mad outbursts and saw that he was worked up to the pitch of committing a crime.

Armance appeared at that moment, but Octave could think of nothing to say to her. He could not even look lovingly at her, this calm after the storm left him powerless. The Commander, to make the best of a bad business, having tried to say something light and pleasant, Octave was afraid of his wounding Mademoiselle de Zohiloff’s feelings. “Sir,” he said to him, gripping his arm tightly. “I must ask you to withdraw at once to your own room.” As the Commander hesitated, Octave seized him by the arm, carried him off to his room, flung him inside, locked the door, and put the key in his pocket.

When he rejoined the ladies he was furious. “If I do not kill that base and mercenary creature,” he cried, as though talking to himself, “he will dare to speak evil of my wife. A curse upon him!”

“As far as I am concerned, I like M. de Soubirane,” said Armance in her alarm, seeing the distress that Octave was causing his mother. “I like M. de Soubirane, and if you go on being furious I may think that you arc cross because of a certain rather sudden engagement which we have just announced to him.”

“You do not believe it,” Octave interrupted her, “I am sure of that. But you are right, as you always are. When all is said and done, I ought to be thankful to that base creature;” and gradually his wrath subsided. Madame de Malivert had herself carried to her room, keeping up admirably the pretence of a seizure. She sent to Paris for her own Doctor.

The rest of the night passed charmingly. The gaiety of this happy mother infected Octave and his mistress. Led on by Madame de Malivert’s merry speeches, Armance, who was still greatly upset and had lost all self-control, ventured to let Octave see how dear he was to her. She had the intense pleasure of seeing him jealous of the Chevalier de Bonnivet. It was this fortunate sentiment which accounted in a manner so gratifying to her for his apparent indifference during the last few days. Mesdames d’Aumale and de Bonnivet, who had been awakened in spite of Madame de Malivert’s orders to the contrary, did not appear until the night was far spent, and the whole party retired to bed as dawn was breaking.

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