This is the state of man: today he puts forth
The tender leaves of hope; tomorrow blossoms,
And bears his blushing honours thick upon him;
The third day comes a frost, a killing frost; . . .
And then he falls — see his character.
KING HENRY VIII, Act III.
[The last three words are added by Beyle. The source is cited in all the editions as King Henry III. — C. K. S. M.]
Early on the following morning Madame de Malivert proceeded to Paris to lay the plan of Octave’s marriage before her husband. All day long he held out against it; “not that you are to suppose,” said the Marquis, “that I have not long been expecting this stupid proposal. I cannot pretend to be surprised. Mademoiselle de Zohiloff is not absolutely penniless, I agree; her Russian uncles have died at a very opportune moment for her. But her fortune is no greater than what we might find elsewhere, and — what is of the greatest importance to my son — there is no family connexion in this alliance; I can see nothing m it but a deplorable similarity of character. Octave has not enough relatives in society, and his reserved manner makes him no friends. He will be a Peer when his cousin and I are gone, that is all, and, as you know very well, my dear, in France, the value of a title depends on the man who bears it. I belong to the older generation, as these insolent fellows say; I shall soon pass away, and with me all the ties that can connect my son with society; for he is an instrument in the hands of our dear Marquise de Bonnivet, rather than an object of her pursuit. We ought, in seeking a wife for Octave, to put social support above fortune even. I grant him, if you like, the sort of exceptional merit which succeeds by itself. I have always observed that these sublime beings require to have their virtues preached, and my son, so far from flattering the people who make or mar reputations, seems to take a malicious pleasure in defying them to their faces. That is not the way to achieve success. With a numerous connexion, well established, he would have passed in society as a worthy candidate for ministerial office; he has no one to sing his praises, he will be regarded as merely an original.”
Madame de Malivert protested volublv against this expression. She could see that some one had been buttonholing her husband.
His eloquence increased: “Yes, my dear, I would not swear that the readiness to take offence which Octave shews, and his passion for what are called principles, now that the Jacobins have changed all our customs including our language, may not lead him one day into the worst excess of folly, into what you call the opposition. The one outstanding man whom your opposition could boast, the Comte de Mirabeau, ended by selling himself; that is an ugly ending, and one that I should not care to see my son make.” “Nor need you have any fear of his doing so,” Madame de Malivert parried him boldly. “No, it is over the other precipice that my son’s fortunes will be engulfed. This marriage will only make him a bumpkin, buried in the heart of the country, within the four walls of his manor. His sombre nature makes him too much inclined as it is to that sort of life. Our dear Armance has an odd way of looking at things; so far from attempting to alter what I find reprehensible in Octave, she will encourage him in his plebeian habits, and by this marriage you will destroy our family.” “Octave will one day be summoned to the House of Peers, he will be a noble representative of the youth of France, and will win personal consideration by his eloquence.” “There is too much competition. All these young Peers lay claim to eloquence. Why, good lord, they will be in their Chamber what they are in society, perfectly well mannered, highly educated, and that is all. All these young representatives of the youth of France will be the most bitter enemies of Octave, who has at least a point of view of his own.”
Madame de Malivert returned late in the day to Andilly, with a charming letter for Armance, in which M. de Malivert besought her hand for his son.
Tired as she was by the exertions of the day, Madame de Malivert hastened to find Madame de Bonnivet, who must learn of the marriage from her lips alone. She let her see M. de Malivert’s letter to Armance; she was only too glad to take this precaution against the people who might make her husband change his mind. This action was, moreover, necessary, the Marquise being in a sense Armance’s guardian. This position sealed her lips. Madame de Malivert was grateful for the affection which Madame de Bonnivet shewed for Octave without at all seeming to approve personally of the marriage. The Marquise took refuge in enthusiastic praise of Mademoiselle de Zohiloff’s character. Madame de Malivert did not forget to mention the overtures that she had made to Armance some months earlier, and the noble refusal made by the young orphan, who was then still penniless.
“Ah, it is not about Armance’s noble qualities that my affection for Octave needs to be reassured,” said the Marquise. “Any that she may have come from us. These family marriages are suitable only among the rich and powerful bankers; as their principal object is money, they are certain of finding it without trouble.”
“We are coming to a time,” replied Madame de Malivert, “when favour at Court, unless he chooses to purchase it by incessant personal services, will be merely a secondary object for a man of high birth, a Peer of France with a great fortune. Look at our friend Lord N———; his immense influence in his own country springs from the fact that he nominates eleven Members of the House of Commons. He never even sees his King.”
It was in similar terms that Madame de Malivert met the objections raised by her brother, whose opposition was far stronger. Furious at the last night’s scene and fully determined not to let the opportunity pass of making a great show of indignation, he wished, when he should allow his wrath to be appeased, to place his nephew under a burden of undying gratitude.
Octave, by himself, he would have forgiven, for after all he must either forgive him or abandon those dreams of wealth which had been occupying his thoughts, to the exclusion of all else, for the last year. As for the midnight scene, his vanity would have had the consolation, among his intimate friends, of Octave’s well-known mania for throwing his mother’s footmen out of windows.
But the thought of Armance reigning with absolute power over the heart of a husband who loved her to madness drove M. de Soubirane to declare that never again would he shew his face at Andilly. They were all very happy at Andilly, they took him more or less at his word, and, after offering him all sorts of apologies and invitations, proceeded to forget him.
Since he had seen his position strengthened by the arrival of the Chevalier de Bonnivet, who furnished him with good arguments and, at a pinch, with ready-made phrases, his antipathy towards Mademoiselle de Zo-hiloff had turned to hatred. He could not forgive her allusions to Russian bravery as displayed beneath the walls of Ismailoff, while the Knights of Malta, sworn enemies of the Turks, sat idly upon their rock. The Commander might have forgotten an epigram provoked by himself; but the fact is that there was money at the bottom of all this anger with Armance. The Commander’s head, never at any time too strong, was absolutely turned by the idea of making a vast fortune on ‘Change. As is universal among commonplace natures, about the age of fifty, the interest that he used to take in the things of this world had died away, and boredom had made its appearance; as might also be expected, the Commander had aspired successively to be a man of letters, a political intriguer and a patron of the Italian opera. Only some mischance had prevented his being a lay Jesuit.
Finally, the sport of gambling on ‘Change haa appeared and had proved a sovereign remedy for a vast boredom. And to gamble on ‘Change he had all the requirements save only funds and credit. The indemnity had turned up at a most opportune moment, and the Commander had vowed that he would have no difficulty in controlling his nephew, who was a mere philosopher. He fully intended to invest on ‘Change a good share of the sum that Octave would receive from his mother’s indemnity.
At the height of his passion for millions, Armance had presented herself as an insuperable obstacle in the Commander’s path. Now her adoption into the family destroyed forever his hold over his nephew and with it all his castles in the air crumbled. The Commander did not waste any time in Paris, but went about fulminating against his nephew’s marriage in the houses of Madame la Duchesse de C—— — the head of the family, Madame la Duchesse d’Ancre, Madame de la Ronze, Madame de Claix, whom he visited daily. All these friends of the family soon decided that the marriage was most unsuitable.
In less than a week the young Vicomte’s intended marriage was common knowledge and was no less commonly deplored. The great ladies who had marriageable daughters were furious.
“Madame de Malivert,” said the Comtesse de Claix, “has the cruelty to force that poor Octave into marrying her companion, evidently to save the salary she would have to pay the girl; it’s a shame.”
In the midst of all this the Commander felt that he was forgotten in Paris, where he was bored to death. The general outcry against Octave’s marriage could be no more permanent than anything else. He must take advantage of this universal storm while it still lasted. A marriage once arranged can be broken off only by prompt action.
Finally all these sound arguments and, more than they, his own boredom brought it to pass that one fine morning the Commander was seen to arrive at Andilly, where he resumed his old room and his ordinary life as though nothing had occurred.
Every one was most polite to the newcomer, who did not fail to make the most cordial overtures to his niece to be. “Friendship has its illusions no less than love,” he said to Armance, “and if I found fault at first with certain proposals, it was because I too am passionately devoted to Octave.”
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:00