There is only one true nobility left; namely, the title of Duke; Marquis is absurd, at the word Duke one turns one’s head.
The Edinburgh Review
[Trans. footnote: I have translated this motto, which is quoted in French by Stendahl, but have not been able to find the original passage in the Edinburgh Review. C. K. S. M.]
The Marquis de La Mole received the abbe Pirard without any of those little mannerisms of a great gentleman, outwardly so polite, but so impertinent to him who understands them. It would have been a waste of time, and the Marquis was so far immersed in public business as to have no time to waste.
For six months he had been intriguing to make both King and nation accept a certain Ministry, which, as a mark of gratitude, would make him a Duke.
The Marquis had appealed in vain, year after year, to his lawyer at Besancon for a clear and definite report on his lawsuits in the Franche–Comte. How was the eminent lawyer to explain them to him, if he did not understand them himself?
The little slip of paper which the abbe gave him explained everything.
‘My dear abbe,’ said the Marquis, after polishing off in less than five minutes all the polite formulas and personal inquiries, ‘my dear abbe, in the midst of my supposed prosperity, I lack the time to occupy myself seriously with two little matters which nevertheless are of considerable importance: my family and my affairs. I take the greatest interest in the fortunes of my house, I may carry it far; I look after my pleasures, and that is what must come before everything else, at least in my eyes,’ he went on, noticing the astonishment in the eyes of the abbe Pirard. Although a man of sense, the abbe was amazed to see an old man talking so openly of his pleasures.
‘Work does no doubt exist in Paris,’ the great nobleman continued, ‘but perched in the attics; and as soon as I come in contact with a man, he takes an apartment on the second floor, and his wife starts a day; consequently, no more work, no effort except to be or to appear to be a man of fashion. That is their sole interest once they are provided with bread.
‘For my lawsuits, to be strictly accurate, and also for each lawsuit separately, I have lawyers who work themselves to death; one of them died of consumption, the day before yesterday. But, for my affairs in general, would you believe, Sir, that for the last three years I have given up hope of finding a man who, while he is writing for me, will deign to think a little seriously of what he is doing. However, all this is only a preamble.
‘I respect you, and, I would venture to add, although we meet for the first time, I like you. Will you be my secretary, with a salary of eight thousand francs, or indeed twice that sum? I shall gain even more, I assure you; and I shall make it my business to keep your fine living for you, for the day on which we cease to agree.’
The abbe declined, but towards the end of the conversation, the sight of the Marquis’s genuine embarrassment suggested an idea to him.
‘I have left down in my Seminary a poor young man who, if I be not mistaken, is going to be brutally persecuted. If he were only a simple monk he would be already in pace.
‘At present this young man knows only Latin and the Holy Scriptures; but it is by no means impossible that one day he may display great talent, either for preaching or for the guidance of souls. I do not know what he will do; but he has the sacred fire, he may go far. I intended to give him to our Bishop, should one ever be sent to us who had something of your way of looking at men and affairs.’
‘What is your young man’s origin?’ said the Marquis.
‘He is said to be the son of a carpenter in our mountains, but I am inclined to believe that he is the natural son of some rich man. I have seen him receive an anonymous or pseudonymous letter containing a bill of exchange for five hundred francs.’
‘Ah! It is Julien Sorel,’ said the Marquis.
‘How do you know his name?’ asked the astonished abbe; and, as he was blushing at his own question:
‘That is what I am not going to tell you,’ replied the Marquis.
‘Very well!’ the abbe went on, ‘you might try making him your secretary, he has energy, and judgment; in short, it is an experiment worth trying.’
‘Why not?’ said the Marquis; ‘but would he be the sort of man to let his palm be greased by the Prefect of Police or by anyone else, to play the spy on me? That is my only objection.’
Receiving favourable assurances from the abbe Pirard, the Marquis produced a note for one thousand francs:
‘Send this to Julien Sorel for his journey; tell him to come to me.’
‘One can see,’ said the abbe Pirard, ‘that you live in Paris! You are unaware of the tyranny that weighs upon us poor provincials, and especially upon priests who are not on good terms with the Jesuits. They will never allow Julien Sorel to leave, they will manage to cover themselves with the cleverest excuses, they will reply that he is ill, letters will have gone astray in the post,’ etc., etc.
‘One of these days I shall procure a letter from the Minister to the Bishop,’ said the Marquis.
‘I was forgetting one thing,’ said the abbe: ‘this young man, although of quite humble birth, has a proud heart, he will be of no use to you if his pride is offended; you will only make him stupid.’
‘I like that,’ said the Marquis, ‘I shall make him my son’s companion, will that do?’
Some time after this, Julien received a letter in an unknown hand and bearing the postmark of Chalons, and found a draft upon a merchant in Besancon and instructions to proceed to Paris without delay. The letter was signed with an assumed name, but as he opened it Julien trembled: a leaf from a tree had fallen out at his feet; it was the signal arranged between him and the abbe Pirard.
Within an hour, Julien was summoned to the Bishop’s Palace, where he found himself greeted with a wholly fatherly welcome. Interspersed with quotations from Horace, Monseigneur paid him, with regard to the exalted destiny that awaited him in Paris, a number of very neat compliments, which required an explanation if he were to express his thanks. Julien could say nothing, chiefly because he knew nothing, and Monseigneur showed a high regard for him. One of the minor clergy of the Palace wrote to the Mayor who made haste to appear in person bringing a passport already signed, but with a blank space for the name of the traveller.
Before midnight, Julien was with Fouque, whose sober mind was more astonished than delighted by the future which seemed to be in store for his friend.
‘The end of it will be,’ said this Liberal elector, ‘a post under Government, which will oblige you to take some action that will be pilloried in the newspapers. It will be through your disgrace that I shall have news of you. Remember that, even financially speaking, it is better to earn one hundred louis in an honest trade in timber, where you are your own master, than to receive four thousand francs from a Government, were it that of King Solomon himself.’
Julien saw no more in this than the pettiness of a rustic mind. He was at last going to appear on the stage of great events. The good fortune of going to Paris, which he peopled in his imagination with men of intelligence, great intriguers, great hypocrites, but as courteous as the Bishop of Besancon and the Bishop of Agde, eclipsed everything else in his eyes. He represented himself to his friend as deprived of his free will by the abbe Pirard’s letter.
Towards noon on the following day he arrived in Verrieres the happiest of men, he reckoned upon seeing Madame de Renal again. He went first of all to his original protector, the good abbe Chelan. He met with a stern reception.
‘Do you consider that you are under any obligation to me?’ said M. Chelan, without acknowledging his greeting. ‘You will take luncheon with me, meanwhile another horse will be hired for you, and you will leave Verrieres, without seeing anyone.’
‘To hear is to obey,’ replied Julien, with the prim face of a seminarist; and there was no further discussion save of theology and Latin scholarship.
He mounted his horse, rode a league, after which, coming upon a wood, with no one to see him enter it, he hid himself there. At sunset he sent the horse back. Later on, he entered the house of a peasant, who agreed to sell him a ladder, and to go with him, carrying the ladder, to the little wood that overhung the Cours de la Fidelite, in Verrieres.
‘We are a poor conscript deserting — or a smuggler,’ said the peasant, as he took leave of him, ‘but what do I care? My ladder is well paid for, and I myself have had to pass some awkward moments in my life.’
The night was very dark. About one o’clock in the morning, Julien, carrying his ladder, made his way into Verrieres. He climbed down as soon as he could into the bed of the torrent, which ran through M. de Renal’s magnificent gardens at a depth of ten feet, and confined between walls. Julien climbed up easily by his ladder. ‘What sort of greeting will the watch-dogs give me?’ he wondered. ‘That is the whole question.’ The dogs barked, and rushed towards him; but he whistled softly, and they came and fawned upon him.
Then climbing from terrace to terrace, although all the gates were shut, he had no difficulty in arriving immediately beneath the window of Madame de Renal’s bedroom, which, on the garden side, was no more than nine or ten feet above the ground.
There was in the shutters a small opening in the shape of a heart, which Julien knew well. To his great dismay, this little opening was not lighted by the glimmer of a nightlight within.
‘Great God!’ he said to himself; ‘tonight, of all nights, this room is not occupied by Madame de Renal! Where can she be sleeping? The family are at Verrieres, since I found the dogs here; but I may in this room, without a light, come upon M. de Renal himself or a stranger, and then what a scandal!’
The most prudent course was to retire; but the idea filled Julien with horror. ‘If it is a stranger, I shall make off as fast as my legs will carry me, leaving my ladder behind; but if it is she, what sort of welcome awaits me? She is steeped in repentance and the most extreme piety, I may be sure of that; but after all, she has still some memory of me, since she has just written to me.’ With this argument he made up his mind.
His heart trembling, but determined nevertheless to see her or to perish, he flung a handful of gravel against the shutter; no reply. He placed his ladder against the wall by the side of the window and tapped himself on the shutter, softly at first then more loudly. ‘Dark as it is, they may fire a gun at me,’ thought Julien. This thought reduced his mad undertaking to a question of physical courage.
‘This room is unoccupied tonight,’ he thought, ‘or else whoever it is that is sleeping here is awake by this time. So there is no need for any further precaution here; all I need think of is not making myself heard by the people who are sleeping in the other rooms.’
He stepped down, placed his ladder against one of the shutters, climbed up again and passing his hand through the heart-shaped opening, was fortunate in finding almost at once the wire fastened to the latch that closed the shutter. He pulled this wire; it was with an unspeakable joy that he felt that the shutter was no longer closed and was yielding to his efforts. ‘I must open it little by little and let her recognise my voice.’ He opened the shutter sufficiently to pass his head through the gap, repeating in a whisper: ‘It is a friend.’
He made certain, by applying his ear, that nothing broke the profound silence in the room. But decidedly, there was no nightlight, even half extinguished, on the hearth; this was indeed a bad sign.
‘Beware of a gunshot!’ He thought for a moment; then, with one finger, ventured to tap the pane: no response; he tapped more loudly. ‘Even if I break the glass, I must settle this business.’ As he was knocking hard, he thought he could just make out, in the pitch darkness, something like a white phantom coming across the room. In a moment, there was no doubt about it, he did see a phantom which seemed to be advancing with extreme slowness. Suddenly he saw a cheek pressed to the pane to which his eye was applied.
He shuddered, and recoiled slightly. But the night was so dark that, even at this close range, he could not make out whether it was Madame de Renal. He feared an instinctive cry of alarm; he could hear the dogs prowling with muttered growls round the foot of his ladder. ‘It is I,’ he repeated, quite loudly, ‘a friend.’ No answer; the white phantom had vanished. ‘For pity’s sake, open the window. I must speak to you, I am too wretched!’ and he knocked until the window nearly broke.
A little sharp sound was heard; the catch of the window gave way; he pushed it open and sprang lightly into the room.
The white phantom moved away; he seized it by the arms; it was a woman. All his ideas of courage melted. ‘If it is she, what will she say to me?’ What was his state when he realised from a faint cry that it was Madame de Renal.
He gathered her in his arms; she trembled, and had barely the strength to repulse him.
‘Wretch! What are you doing?’
Scarcely could her tremulous voice articulate the words. Julien saw that she was genuinely angry.
‘I have come to see you after fourteen months of a cruel parting.’
‘Go, leave me this instant. Ah! M. Chelan, why did you forbid me to write to him? I should have prevented this horror.’ She thrust him from her with a force that was indeed extraordinary. ‘I repent of my crime; heaven has deigned to enlighten me,’ she repeated in a stifled voice. ‘Go! Fly!’
‘After fourteen months of misery, I shall certainly not leave you until I have spoken to you. I wish to know all that you have been doing. Ah! I have loved you well enough to deserve this confidence . . . I wish to know all.’
In spite of herself Madame de Renal felt this tone of authority exert its influence over her heart.
Julien, who was holding her in a passionate embrace, and resisting her efforts to liberate herself, ceased to press her in his arms. This relaxation helped to reassure Madame de Renal.
‘I am going to draw up the ladder,’ he said, ‘so that it may not compromise us if one of the servants, awakened by the noise, goes the rounds.’
‘Ah! Leave me, leave me rather,’ the answer came with unfeigned anger. ‘What do men matter to me? It is God that sees the terrible wrong you are doing me, and will punish me for it. You are taking a cowardly advantage of the regard that I once felt for you, but no longer feel. Do you hear, Master Julien?’
He drew up the ladder very slowly, so as not to make any noise.
‘Is your husband in town?’ he asked, not to defy her, but from force of habit.
‘Do not speak to me so, for pity’s sake, or I shall call my husband. I am all too guilty already of not having sent you away, at any cost. I pity you,’ she told him, seeking to wound his pride which she knew to be so irritable.
Her refusal to use the tu form, that abrupt method of breaking so tender a bond, and one upon which he still reckoned, roused Julien’s amorous transport to a frenzy.
‘What! Is it possible that you no longer love me!’ he said to her, in those accents of the heart to which it is so difficult to listen unmoved.
She made no reply; as for him, he was weeping bitter tears.
Really, he had no longer the strength to speak.
‘And so I am completely forgotten by the one person who has ever loved me! What use to live any longer?’ All his courage had left him as soon as he no longer had to fear the danger of encountering a man; everything had vanished from his heart, save love.
He wept for a long time in silence. He took her hand, she tried to withdraw it; and yet, after a few almost convulsive movements, she let him keep it. The darkness was intense; they found themselves both seated upon Madame de Renal’s bed.
‘What a difference from the state of things fourteen months ago!’ thought Julien, and his flow of tears increased. ‘So absence unfailingly destroys all human feelings!
‘Be so kind as to tell me what has happened to you,’ Julien said at length, embarrassed by his silence and in a voice almost stifled by tears.
‘There can be no doubt,’ replied Madame de Renal in a harsh voice, the tone of which offered a cutting reproach to Julien, ‘my misdeeds were known in the town, at the time of your departure. You were so imprudent in your behaviour. Some time later, when I was in despair, the respectable M. Chelan came to see me. It was in vain that, for a long time, he sought to obtain a confession. One day, the idea occurred to him to take me into that church at Dijon in which I made my first Communion. There, he ventured to broach the subject . . . ’ Madame de Renal’s speech was interrupted by her tears. ‘What a shameful moment! I confessed all. That worthy man was kind enough not to heap on me the weight of his indignation: he shared my distress. At that time I was writing you day after day letters which I dared not send you; I concealed them carefully, and when I was too wretched used to shut myself up in my room and read over my own letters.
‘At length, M. Chelan persuaded me to hand them over to him . . . Some of them, written with a little more prudence than the rest, had been sent to you; never once did you answer me.’
‘Never, I swear to you, did I receive any letter from you at the Seminary.’
‘Great God! who can have intercepted them?’
‘Imagine my grief; until the day when I saw you in the Cathedral, I did not know whether you were still alive.’
‘God in His mercy made me understand how greatly I was sinning against Him, against my children, against my husband,’ replied Madame de Renal. ‘He has never loved me as I believed then that you loved me . . . ’
Julien flung himself into her arms, without any definite intention but with entire lack of self-control. But Madame de Renal thrust him from her, and continued quite firmly:
‘My respectable friend M. Chelan made me realise that, in marrying M. de Renal, I had pledged all my affections to him, even those of which I was still ignorant, which I had never felt before a certain fatal intimacy . . . Since the great sacrifice of those letters, which were so precious to me, my life has flowed on, if not happily, at any rate quietly enough. Do not disturb it any more; be a friend to me . . . the best of friends.’ Julien covered her hands with kisses; she could feel that he was still crying. ‘Do not cry, you distress me so . . . Tell me, it is your turn now, all that you have been doing.’ Julien was unable to speak. ‘I wish to know what sort of life you led at the Seminary,’ she repeated, ‘then you shall go.’
Without a thought of what he was telling her, Julien spoke of the endless intrigues and jealousies which he had encountered at first, then of his more peaceful life after he was appointed tutor.
‘It was then,’ he added, ‘that after a long silence, which was doubtless intended to make me understand what I see only too clearly now, that you no longer love me, and that I had become as nothing to you . . . ’
Madame de Renal gripped his hands. ‘It was then that you sent me a sum of five hundred francs.’
‘Never,’ said Madame de Renal.
‘It was a letter postmarked Paris and signed Paul Sorel, to avoid all suspicion.’
A short discussion followed as to the possible source of this letter. The atmosphere began to change. Unconsciously, Madame de Renal and Julien had departed from their solemn tone; they had returned to that of a tender intimacy. They could not see each other, so intense was the darkness, but the sound of their voices told all. Julien slipped his arm round the waist of his mistress; this movement was highly dangerous. She tried to remove Julien’s arm, whereupon he, with a certain adroitness, distracted her attention by an interesting point in his narrative.
The arm was then forgotten, and remained in the position that it had occupied.
After abundant conjectures as to the source of the letter with the five hundred francs, Julien had resumed his narrative; he became rather more his own master in speaking of his past life which, in comparison with what was happening to him at that moment, interested him so little. His attention was wholly concentrated on the manner in which his visit was to end. ‘You must leave me,’ she kept on telling him, in a curt tone.
‘What a disgrace for me if I am shown the door! The remorse will be enough to poison my whole life,’ he said to himself, ‘she will never write to me. God knows when I shall return to this place!’ From that moment, all the element of heavenly bliss in Julien’s situation vanished rapidly from his heart. Seated by the side of a woman whom he adored, clasping her almost in his arms, in this room in which he had been so happy, plunged in a black darkness, perfectly well aware that for the last minute she had been crying, feeling, from the movement of her bosom, that she was convulsed with sobs, he unfortunately became a frigid politician, almost as calculating and as frigid as when, in the courtyard of the Seminary, he saw himself made the butt of some malicious joke by one of his companions stronger than himself. Julien spun out his story, and spoke of the wretched life he had led since leaving Verrieres. ‘And so,’ Madame de Renal said to herself, ‘after a year’s absence, almost without a single token of remembrance, while I was forgetting him, his mind was entirely taken up with the happy days he had enjoyed at Vergy.’ Her sobs increased in violence. Julien saw that his story had been successful. He realised that he must now try his last weapon: he came abruptly to the letter that he had just received from Paris.
‘I have taken leave of Monseigneur, the Bishop.’
‘What! You are not returning to Besancon! You are leaving us for ever?’
‘Yes,’ replied Julien, in a resolute tone; ‘yes, I am abandoning the place where I am forgotten even by her whom I have most dearly loved in all my life, and I am leaving it never to set eyes on it again. I am going to Paris . . . ’
‘You are going to Paris!’ Madame de Renal exclaimed quite aloud.
Her voice was almost stifled by her tears, and showed the intensity of her grief. Julien had need of this encouragement; he was going to attempt a course which might decide everything against him; and before this exclamation, seeing no light, he was absolutely ignorant of the effect that he was producing. He hesitated no longer; the fear of remorse gave him complete command of himself; he added coldly as he rose to his feet:
‘Yes, Madame, I leave you for ever, may you be happy; farewell.’
He took a few steps towards the window; he was already opening it. Madame de Renal sprang after him and flung herself into his arms.
Thus, after three hours of conversation, Julien obtained what he had so passionately desired during the first two. Had they come a little earlier, this return to tender sentiments, the eclipse of remorse in Madame de Renal would have been a divine happiness; obtained thus by artifice, they were no more than mere pleasure. Julien positively insisted, against the entreaties of his mistress, upon lighting the nightlight.
‘Do you then wish me,’ he asked her, ‘to retain no memory of having seen you? The love that is doubtless glowing in those charming eyes, shall it then be lost to me? Shall the whiteness of that lovely hand be invisible to me? Think that I am leaving you for a very long time perhaps!’
Madame de Renal could refuse nothing in the face of this idea which made her dissolve in tears. Dawn was beginning to paint in clear hues the outline of the fir trees on the mountain to the least of Verrieres. Instead of going away, Julien, intoxicated with pleasure, asked Madame de Renal to let him spend the whole day hidden in her room, and not to leave until the following night.
‘And why not?’ was her answer. ‘This fatal relapse destroys all my self-esteem, and dooms me to lifelong misery,’ and she pressed him to her heart. ‘My husband is no longer the same, he has suspicions; he believes that I have been fooling him throughout this affair, and is in the worst of tempers with me. If he hears the least sound I am lost, he will drive me from the house like the wretch that I am.’
‘Ah! There I can hear the voice of M. Chelan,’ said Julien; you would not have spoken to me like that before my cruel departure for the Seminary; you loved me then!’
Julien was rewarded for the coolness with which he had uttered this speech; he saw his mistress at once forget the danger in which the proximity of her husband involved her, to think of the far greater danger of seeing Julien doubtful of her love for him. The daylight was rapidly increasing and now flooded the room; Julien recovered all the exquisite sensations of pride when he was once more able to see in his arms and almost at his feet this charming woman, the only woman that he had ever loved, who, a few hours earlier, had been entirely wrapped up in the fear of a terrible God and in devotion to duty. Resolutions fortified by a year of constancy had not been able to hold out against his boldness.
Presently they heard a sound in the house; a consideration to which she had not given a thought now disturbed Madame de Renal.
‘That wicked Elisa will be coming into the room, what are we to do with that enormous ladder?’ she said to her lover; ‘where are we to hide it? I am going to take it up to the loft,’ she suddenly exclaimed, with a sort of playfulness.
‘But you will have to go through the servant’s room,’ said Julien with astonishment.
‘I shall leave the ladder in the corridor, call the man and send him on an errand.’
‘Remember to have some excuse ready in case the man notices the ladder when he passes it in the passage.’
‘Yes, my angel,’ said Madame de Renal as she gave him a kiss. ‘And you, remember to hide yourself quickly under the bed if Elisa comes into the room while I am away.’
Julien was amazed at this sudden gaiety. ‘And so,’ he thought, ‘the approach of physical danger, so far from disturbing her, restores her gaiety because she forgets her remorse! Indeed a superior woman! Ah! There is a heart in which it is glorious to reign!’ Julien was in ecstasies.
Madame de Renal took the ladder; plainly it was too heavy for her. Julien went to her assistance; he was admiring that elegant figure, which suggested anything rather than strength, when suddenly, without help, she grasped the ladder and picked it up as she might have picked up a chair. She carried it swiftly to the corridor on the third storey, where she laid it down by the wall. She called the manservant, and, to give him time to put on his clothes, went up to the dovecote. Five minutes later, when she returned to the corridor, the ladder was no more to be seen. What had become of it? Had Julien been out of the house, the danger would have been nothing. But, at that moment, if her husband saw the ladder! The consequences might be appalling. Madame de Renal ran up and down the house. At last she discovered the ladder under the roof, where the man had taken it and in fact hidden it himself. This in itself was strange, and at another time would have alarmed her.
‘What does it matter to me,’ she thought, ‘what may happen in twenty-four hours from now, when Julien will have gone? Will not everything then be to me horror and remorse?’
She had a sort of vague idea that she ought to take her life, but what did that matter? After a parting which she had supposed to be for ever, he was restored to her, she saw him again, and what he had done in making his way to her gave proof of such a wealth of love!
In telling Julien of the incident of the ladder:
‘What shall I say to my husband,’ she asked him, ‘if the man tells him how he found the ladder?’ She meditated for a moment. ‘It will take them twenty-four hours to discover the peasant who sold it to you’; and flinging herself into Julien’s arms and clasping him in a convulsive embrace: ‘Ah! to die, to die like this!’ she cried as she covered him with kisses; ‘but I must not let you die of hunger,’ she added with a laugh.
‘Come; first of all, I am going to hide you in Madame Derville’s room, which is always kept locked.’ She kept watch at the end of the corridor and Julien slipped from door to door. ‘Remember not to answer, if anyone knocks,’ she reminded him as she turned the key outside; ‘anyhow, it would only be the children playing.’
‘Make them go into the garden, below the window,’ said Julien, ‘so that I may have the pleasure of seeing them, make them speak.’
‘Yes, yes,’ cried Madame de Renal as she left him.
She returned presently with oranges, biscuits, a bottle of Malaga; she had found it impossible to purloin any bread.
‘What is your husband doing?’ said Julien.
‘He is writing down notes of the deals he proposes to do with some peasants.’
But eight o’clock had struck, the house was full of noise. If Madame de Renal were not to be seen, people would begin searching everywhere for her; she was obliged to leave him. Presently she returned, in defiance of all the rules of prudence, to bring him a cup of coffee; she was afraid of his dying of hunger. After luncheon she managed to shepherd the children underneath the window of Madame Derville’s room. He found that they had grown considerably, but they had acquired a common air, or else his ideas had changed. Madame de Renal spoke to them of Julien. The eldest replied with affection and regret for his former tutor, but it appeared that the two younger had almost forgotten him.
M. de Renal did not leave the house that morning; he was incessantly going up and downstairs, engaged in striking bargains with certain peasants, to whom he was selling his potato crop. Until dinner time, Madame de Renal had not a moment to spare for her prisoner. When dinner was on the table, it occurred to her to steal a plateful of hot soup for him. As she silently approached the door of the room in which he was, carrying the plate carefully, she found herself face to face with the servant who had hidden the ladder that morning. At that moment, he too was coming silently along the corridor, as though listening. Probably Julien had forgotten to tread softly. The servant made off in some confusion. Madame de Renal went boldly into Julien’s room; her account of the incident made him shudder.
‘You are afraid’; she said to him; ‘and I, I would brave all the dangers in the world without a tremor. I fear one thing only, that is the moment when I shall be left alone after you have gone,’ and she ran from the room.
‘Ah!’ thought Julien, greatly excited, ‘remorse is the only danger that sublime soul dreads!’
Night came at last. M. de Renal went to the Casino.
His wife had announced a severe headache, she retired to her room, made haste to dismiss Elisa, and speedily rose from her bed to open the door to Julien.
It so happened that he really was faint with hunger. Madame de Renal went to the pantry to look for bread. Julien heard a loud cry. She returned and told him that on entering the dark pantry, making her way to a cupboard in which the bread was kept, and stretching out her hand, she had touched a woman’s arm. It was Elisa who had uttered the cry which Julien had heard.
‘What was she doing there?’
‘She was stealing a few sweetmeats, or possibly spying on us,’ said Madame de Renal with complete indifference. ‘But fortunately I have found a pate and a big loaf.’
‘And what have you got there?’ said Julien, pointing to the pockets of her apron.
Madame de Renal had forgotten that, ever since dinner, they had been filled with bread.
Julien clasped her in his arms with the keenest passion; never had she seemed to him so beautiful. ‘Even in Paris,’ he told himself vaguely, ‘I shall not be able to find a nobler character.’ She had all the awkwardness of a woman little accustomed to attentions of this sort, and at the same time the true courage of a person who fears only dangers of another kind and far more terrible.
While Julien was devouring his supper with a keen appetite, and his mistress was playfully apologising for the simplicity of the repast, for she had a horror of serious speech, the door of the room was all at once shaken violently. It was M. de Renal.
‘Why have you locked yourself in?’ he shouted to her.
Julien had just time to slip beneath the sofa.
‘What! You are fully dressed,’ said M. de Renal, as he entered; ‘you are having supper, and you have locked your door?’
On any ordinary day, this question, put with all the brutality of a husband, would have troubled Madame de Renal, but she felt that her husband had only to lower his eyes a little to catch sight of Julien; for M. de Renal had flung himself upon the chair on which Julien had been sitting a moment earlier, facing the sofa.
Her headache served as an excuse for everything. While in his turn her husband was giving her a long and detailed account of the pool he had won in the billiard room of the Casino, ‘a pool of nineteen francs, begad!’ he added, she saw lying on a chair before their eyes, and within a few feet of them, Julien’s hat. Cooler than ever, she began to undress, and, choosing her moment, passed swiftly behind her husband and flung a garment over the chair with the hat on it.
At length M. de Renal left her. She begged Julien to begin over again the story of his life in the Seminary: ‘Yesterday I was not listening to you, I was thinking, while you were speaking, only of how I was to bring myself to send you away.’
She was the embodiment of imprudence. They spoke very loud; and it might have been two o’clock in the morning when they were interrupted by a violent blow on the door. It was M. de Renal again:
‘Let me in at once, there are burglars in the house!’ he said, ‘Saint–Jean found their ladder this morning.’
‘This is the end of everything,’ cried Madame de Renal, throwing herself into Julien’s arms. ‘He is going to kill us both, he does not believe in the burglars; I am going to die in your arms, more fortunate in my death than I have been in my life.’ She made no answer to her husband, who was waiting angrily outside, she was holding Julien in a passionate embrace.
‘Save Stanislas’s mother,’ he said to her with an air of command. ‘I am going to jump down into the courtyard from the window of the closet, and escape through the garden, the dogs know me. Make a bundle of my clothes and throw it down into the garden as soon as you can. Meanwhile, let him break the door in. And whatever you do, no confession, I forbid it, suspicion is better than certainty.’
‘You will kill yourself, jumping down,’ was her sole reply and her sole anxiety.
She went with him to the window of the closet; she then took such time as she required to conceal his garments. Finally she opened the door to her husband, who was boiling with rage. He searched the bedroom, the closet, without uttering a word, and then vanished. Julien’s clothes were thrown down to him, he caught them and ran quickly down the garden towards the Doubs.
As he ran, he heard a bullet whistle past him, and simultaneously the sound of a gun being fired.
‘That is not M. de Renal,’ he decided, ‘he is not a good enough shot.’ The dogs were running by his side in silence, a second shot apparently shattered the paw of one dog, for it began to emit lamentable howls. Julien jumped the wall of a terrace, proceeded fifty yards under cover, then continued his flight in a different direction. He heard voices calling, and could distinctly see the servant, his enemy, fire a gun; a farmer also came and shot at him from the other side of the garden, but by this time Julien had reached the bank of the Doubs, where he put on his clothes.
An hour later, he was a league from Verrieres, on the road to Geneva. ‘If there is any suspicion,’ thought Julien, ‘it is on the Paris road that they will look for me.’
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:00