The Red and the Black Chapter 31


So this is the fine miracle of your civilisation! You have turned love into an ordinary matter.


Julien hurried to Madame de La Mole’s box. His eyes met first the tearful eyes of Mathilde; she was weeping without restraint, there was no one present but people of minor importance, the friend who had lent them the box and some men of her acquaintance. Mathilde laid her hand upon Julien’s; she seemed to have forgotten all fear of her mother. Almost stifled by her sobs, she said nothing to him but the single word: ‘Guarantees!’

‘Whatever I do, I must not speak to her,’ thought Julien, greatly moved himself, and covering his eyes as best he could with his hand, ostensibly to avoid the lustre that was blazing into the boxes on the third tier. ‘If I speak, she can no longer doubt the intensity of my emotion, the sound of my voice will betray me, all may be lost once more.’

His struggles were far more painful than in the morning, his spirit had had time to grow disturbed. He was afraid of seeing Mathilde’s vanity wounded. Frantic with love and passion, he pledged himself not to speak to her.

This is, to my mind, one of the finest traits of his character; a person capable of such an effort to control himself may go far, si fata sinant.

Mademoiselle de La Mole insisted upon taking Julien home. Fortunately it was raining in torrents. But the Marquise made him sit facing herself, talked to him continuously, and prevented his saying a word to her daughter. One would have thought that the Marquise was concerned for Julien’s happiness; no longer afraid of destroying everything by the intensity of his emotion, he abandoned himself to it with frenzy.

Dare I say that on entering his own room Julien threw himself on his knees and covered with kisses the love letters given him by Prince Korasoff?

‘Oh, you great man! What do I not owe to you?’ he cried in his frenzy.

Gradually a little coolness returned to him. He compared himself to a general who had just won the first half of a great battle. ‘The advantage is certain, immense,’ he said to himself; ‘but what is going to happen tomorrow? An instant may ruin everything.’

He opened with a passionate impulse the Memoirs dictated at Saint Helena by Napoleon, and for two solid hours forced himself to read them; his eyes alone read the words, no matter, he forced himself to the task. During this strange occupation, his head and heart, rising to the level of everything that is most great, were at work without his knowledge. ‘This is a very different heart from Madame de Renal’s,’ he said to himself, but he went no farther.

‘Make her afraid,’ he cried of a sudden, flinging the book from him. ‘The enemy will obey me only so long as I make him fear me, then he will not dare to despise me.’

He paced up and down his little room, wild with joy. To be frank, this happiness was due to pride rather than love.

‘Make her afraid!’ he repeated proudly to himself, and he had reason to be proud. ‘Even in her happiest moments, Madame de Renal always doubted whether my love were equal to hers. Here, it is a demon that I am conquering, I must therefore conquer.’

He knew well that next morning, by eight o’clock, Mathilde would be in the library; he did not appear there until nine, burning with love, but his head controlled his heart. Not a single minute passed, perhaps, without his repeating to himself: ‘Always keep her mind occupied with the great uncertainty: “Does he love me?” Her privileged position, the flattery she receives from all who speak to her make her a little too much inclined to self-assurance.’

He found her pale, calm, seated upon the divan, but incapable, apparently, of making any movement. She offered him her hand.

‘Dear, I have offended you, it is true; you are perhaps vexed with me?’

Julien was not expecting so simple a tone. He was on the point of betraying himself.

‘You wish for guarantees, dear,’ she went on after a silence which she had hoped to see broken; ‘that is only fair. Carry me off, let us start for London. I shall be ruined for ever, disgraced …’ She found the courage to withdraw her hand from Julien so as to hide her eyes with it. All the sentiments of modesty and feminine virtue had returned to her heart … ‘Very well! Disgrace me,’ she said at length with a sigh, ‘it is a guarantee.’

‘Yesterday I was happy, because I had the courage to be severe with myself,’ thought Julien. After a brief interval of silence, he gained sufficient mastery over his heart to say in an icy tone:

‘Once we are on the road to London, once you are disgraced, to use your own words, who can promise me that you will love me? That my company in the post-chaise will not seem to you an annoyance? I am not a monster, to have ruined your reputation will be to me only an additional grief. It is not your position in society that is the obstacle, it is unfortunately your own nature. Can you promise yourself that you will love me for a week?

‘(Ah! Let her love me for a week, for a week only,’ Julien murmured to himself, ‘and I shall die of joy. What do I care for the future, what do I care for life itself? And this divine happiness may begin at this moment if I choose, it depends entirely upon myself!)’

Mathilde saw him turn pensive.

‘So I am altogether unworthy of you,’ she said, clasping his hand.

Julien embraced her, but at once the iron hand of duty gripped his heart. ‘If she sees how I adore her, then I lose her.’ And, before withdrawing himself from her arms, he had resumed all the dignity that befits a man.

On that day and the days that followed, he managed to conceal the intensity of his bliss; there were moments in which he denied himself even the pleasure of clasping her in his arms.

At other moments, the frenzy of happiness swept aside all the counsels of prudence.

It was beside a bower of honeysuckle arranged so as to hide the ladder, in the garden, that he was accustomed to take his stand in order to gaze at the distant shutters of Mathilde’s window and lament her inconstancy. An oak of great size stood close by, and the trunk of this tree prevented him from being seen by indiscreet persons.

As he passed with Mathilde by this spot which recalled to him so vividly the intensity of his grief, the contrast between past despair and present bliss was too strong for him; tears flooded his eyes, and, carrying to his lips the hand of his mistress: ‘Here I lived while I thought of you; from here I gazed at that shutter, I awaited for hours on end the fortunate moment when I should see this hand open it …’

He gave way completely. He portrayed to her, in those true colours which one does not invent, the intensity of his despair at that time. In spasmodic utterances he spoke of his present happiness which had put an end to that cruel suffering …

‘What am I doing, Great God!’ said Julien, coming suddenly to his senses. ‘I am destroying everything.’

In the height of his alarm he thought he already saw less love in the eyes of Mademoiselle de La Mole. This was an illusion; but Julien’s face changed rapidly and was flooded with a deathly pallor. His eyes grew dull for a moment, and an expression of arrogance not devoid of malice succeeded that of the most sincere, the most whole-hearted love.

‘Why, what is the matter with you, dear?’ Mathilde tenderly, anxiously inquired.

‘I am lying,’ said Julien savagely, ‘and I am lying to you. I reproach myself for it, and yet God knows that I respect you sufficiently not to lie. You love me, you are devoted to me, and I have no need to make fine speeches in order to please you.’

‘Great God! They were only fine speeches, all the exquisite things you have been saying to me for the last ten minutes?’

‘And I reproach myself for them strongly, dear friend. I made them up long ago for a woman who loved me and used to bore me … That is the weak spot in my character, I denounce myself to you, forgive me.’

Bitter tears streamed down Mathilde’s cheeks.

‘Whenever some trifle that has shocked me sets me dreaming for a moment,’ Julien went on, ‘my execrable memory, which I could curse at this moment, offers me a way of escape, and I abuse it.’

‘So I have unconsciously done something that has displeased you?’ said Mathilde with a charming simplicity.

‘One day, I remember, as you passed by these honeysuckles, you plucked a flower, M. de Luz took it from you, and you let him keep it. I was close beside you.’

‘M. de Luz? It is impossible,’ replied Mathilde with the dignity that came so naturally to her: ‘I never behave like that.’

‘I am certain of it,’ Julien at once rejoined.

‘Ah, well! Then it must be true, dear,’ said Mathilde, lowering her eyes sadly. She was positive that for many months past she had never allowed M. de Luz to take any such liberty.

Julien gazed at her with an inexpressible tenderness:

‘No,’ he said to himself, ‘she does not love me any the less.’

She rebuked him that evening, with a laugh, for his fondness for Madame de Fervaques: a bourgeois in love with a parvenue. ‘Hearts of that class are perhaps the only ones that my Julien cannot inflame. She has turned you into a regular dandy,’ she said, playing with his hair.

During the period in which he supposed himself to be scorned by Mathilde, Julien had become one of the best-dressed men in Paris. But he had an additional advantage over the other men of this sort; once his toilet was performed, he never gave it another thought.

One thing still vexed Mathilde. Julien continued to copy out the Russian letters, and to send them to the Marechale.