The Red and the Black

Contents:
Author: Stendhal  | Date: 1830

CHAPTER 24

A Capital

Such noise, such busy people!

So many ideas for the future

in a twenty-year-old head!

Such a distraction for love!

BARNAVE

EVENTUALLY he saw the white walls beyond the distant mountain; it was the citadel of Besancon.

"What a difference," he said, sighing, "if I could come into this fine city as a sub-lieutenant of one of these regiments of the post."

Besancon is not only one of the prettiest cities in France, but it abounds in brave and intelligent men. Julien, however, was only a little peasant, without any means of approaching distinguished personages. He had received from Fouque a bourgeois suit, and in that costume he crossed the drawbridge. Having studied the history of the siege of 1674, he wished, before settling himself in the seminary, to see the ramparts of the citadel. Two or three times he came very near being arrested by the sentinels; he was walking in the part prohibited from trespassing by the military authorities, because it produced hay to the value of some twelve or fifteen francs a year. The height of the walls, the depth of the ditches, the formidable looking cannon made a great impression on him. Then walking on the boulevard he passed a cafe. He stopped, filled with admiration. In vain he read the word "Cafe" in large characters over the two immense doors; he could not believe his eyes. Making a final effort to overcome his timidity, he entered. The room was thirty or forty feet long, with a ceiling at least twenty feet high. The day was one of enchantment for him. Two games of billiards were going on, the waiters calling out the points. The players were running around the billiard table, pushing away the spectators, tobacco smoke enveloping all in a blue haze. The great stature of the men, their broad shoulders, their heavy walk, their immense long whiskers and their long coats, all attracted Julien’s attention. These noble sons of ancient Byzantium never talked, but shouted. They affected, too, military air, and Julien was lost in admiration. He was thinking of the attractiveness and magnificence of such a great capital as Besancon. He could not summon enough courage to ask for coffee of one of those proud-looking gentlemen who were calling off the points. But the young lady at the cash drawer had remarked the charming face of the young country boy, who, three feet away from the stove, with his little bundle under his arm, was looking at the white plaster bust of the King. This tall, well-formed young woman, dressed suitably for a cafe, had already asked twice in a very soft voice, so that it could not be heard by anybody but Julien:

"Monsieur? monsieur?"

Julien encountered large, soft, blue eyes, and saw that it was to him they were directed.

He approached the pretty girl’s desk as promptly as if he were marching against an enemy. In his quick movement his parcel fell down. What pity this young provincial would inspire in the young collegians in Paris, who, at fifteen years of age, know so well how to enter a cafe! But these young men, so self-possessed at fifteen, are blase at eighteen. The shyness that is to be found in the provinces disappears sometimes, too; and then it is exchanged for most ardent desire. In approaching this pretty young girl, who had deigned to speak to him, he would have to tell her the truth, Julien thought. He was becoming bolder in proportion as his timidity decreased.

"Madame, I am here in Besancon for the first time in my life; I should like to have, and I will pay for them, some coffee and rolls."

The girl smiled a little and then blushed. She was afraid for this handsome little fellow when the chaffing attention of the billiard players would be attracted to him; he would then be frightened and never return.

"Come here near me," she said, showing him a marble-topped table almost hidden by the large mahogany desk that projected into the hall.

The young lady leaned over the desk, displaying a superb figure. Julien noticed it, his ideas rapidly undergoing a change. The pretty girl then brought him a cup, some sugar, and a roll. She did not wish to call a waiter for the coffee, knowing that on the waiter’s arrival her little tete-a-tete with Julien would be at an end.

Julien thought of this lively, blond beauty, and silently communed with the memories of a former time. The passion of which he had then been the object banished all his timidity now. The pretty girl in an instant read it in Julien’s face.

"The smoke makes you cough; come here at eight o’clock to-morrow for breakfast, then I shall be entirely alone."

"What is your name?" asked Julien, with a winning smile.

"Amanda Binet."

"Can I send you in an hour a little package just like this?"

The pretty Amanda reflected a minute. "I am watched. What you ask might compromise me; but I will write my address on a card which you can place on your bundle, and then you can send it to me all right."

"I am called Julien Sorel," said the young man; "I have neither relatives nor friends in Besancon."

"Ah! I see," she replied, gayly. "Are you going to attend the Law School?"

"No," answered Julien; "they have sent me to the seminary."

The greatest disappointment was betrayed in Amanda’s face; she called a waiter, having evidently regained her courage. The waiter poured the coffee out for Julien without looking at him.

Amanda was busy for a while at the counter; Julien feeling proud of having talked to her. Some dispute arose at the billiard table, and the cries and shouts of the players echoing through the vast hall were quite astonishing to Julien. Amanda was seemingly lost in reverie.

"If you wish, mademoiselle," he said to her, boldly, "I can say I am your cousin." His confident air pleased Amanda.

"Oh, he can’t be a ninny," she thought. She quickly agreed to his proposal without looking at him, for she saw someone approaching the counter.

"I am from Genlis, near Dijon; say that you are also from Genlis, and my mother’s cousin."

"I’ll not forget," he answered.

"Every Thursday in summer, at five o’clock, the seminarians pass this cafe."

"If you are thinking of me when I should pass, hold some violets in your hand, will you?"

Amanda looked at him with eyes wide open. Julien was no longer brave, but rash. However, he blushed considerably when he said:

"I feel that I love you passionately."

"Talk lower," she said, looking frightened.

Julien was only recalling the phrases of a little book, "Nouvelle Heloise," he had found at Vergy. His memory did not fail him. For ten minutes he kept on reciting to the ravished Amanda from "Nouvelle Heloise." And he was glorying in his courage, when, all at once, the young woman gave him a look that nearly froze him.

One of her admirers had appeared at the door of the cafe, and was swaggeringly approaching the board, shoulders foremost. He gave Julien a long stare. At once the latter’s high-flown imagination was filled with the thought of a duel. He turned pale. Pushing away his cup, he assumed a bold look and gazed back at his rival in defiance. While the latter was familiarly pouring himself out a glass of whiskey, Amanda, with a look, ordered Julien to lower his eyes. He obeyed; and for two minutes he remained immovable in his seat, pale, resolute, thinking only of what was going to happen. He was, indeed, prepared for anything at that moment.

His rival was astonished at Julien’s eyes. Swallowing his glass of whiskey at one draught, he exchanged a word with Amanda, stuck both his hands in the pockets of his long overcoat, and walked towards the billiard table in a bullying fashion, all the time looking at Julien sideways. The latter was almost bursting with anger; but he did not know how to issue a challenge. He put down his little bundle, and, with a dandified air, walked toward the billiard table.

In vain prudence told him, "With a duel on your hands immediately on arriving at Besancon your ecclesiastical career is at an end."

"Oh, what is the difference?" he argued then. "It must never be said that I submitted to insult."

Amanda observed his courage, which was in such pleasing contrast with his unobtrusiveness, and in a trice she preferred him to the tall young man in the overcoat. She rose, and apparently seeing only what was passing in the street, walked to where Julien was standing, near the billiard table.

"Be careful how you look at that man; he is my brother-in-law."

"What do I care? He stared at me."

"You want to make me unhappy? Of course, he looked at you. I told him that you were a relative of my mother, and that you had just come from Genlis. He is from Franche-Comte and has never passed Dole, on the way to Burgogne. So you can say what you like; you need not be afraid of anything."

Julien still hesitated.

She added very quickly, the imagination of a cash girl helping her with an abundance of fiction:

"Of course, he stared at you; but it was just when he asked me who you were. He is a man that’s good natured with everybody; he didn’t mean to insult you."

Julien looked at this so-called brother-in-law. He saw him buy a cue and heard him shout fiercely:

"It’s my turn, now!"

He himself passed quickly in front of mademoiselle Amanda, towards the billiard table. Amanda seized him by the arm.

"You pay me first," she said to him.

"That’s so," thought Julien; "she was afraid I would go out without paying."

Amanda was so flustered that she became red in the face. She returned the money to him stealthily as soon as she could, saying to him in a low tone:

"Leave the cafe at once or I won’t love you!- but I do love you- there!"

Julien left, but very reluctantly.

"Is it not my duty," he was saying to himself, "to stare back at that tall fellow?"

This uncertainty kept him on the boulevard for more than an hour. He was watching for the man to leave, but, as he did not appear, Julien went away. He had been in Besancon only a few hours, and one scruple had already been overcome. The old surgeon, in spite of his gout, had given him a few lessons in fencing; that was all Julien could rely on in his present warlike mood. This fact, however, would not have disconcerted him if he had known of any other way of provoking a quarrel except by giving a blow. If it had come to fisticuffs, his rival, enormous man that he was, would have made short work of him.

"For a poor devil like me, without money or friends, there’s no great difference between a seminary and a jail; I must put my clothes in some hotel, where I can again put on my black suit. If I ever get to leave the seminary for a while, I could then see mademoiselle Amanda again in these clothes."

It was not bad reasoning; but Julien, though he passed many hotels, did not dare enter any. At last, as he passed the Hotel des Ambassadeurs, his restless eyes encountered those of a large, florid-complexioned young woman. He came near and told her his little tale.

"Certainly, my little abbe," said the hostess to him; "yes, I will keep your clothes for you, and I will even brush them sometimes. Just at this time of the year it is not good to leave clothes without attending to them." She took a key, conducting him herself to a room, and asked him to make a memorandum of the contents of his bundle.

"Good Lord! you have a mighty fine face, monsieur abbe Sorel," said the large woman to him, when they came down into the kitchen. "I am going to give you a good dinner, and," she added, in a low voice, "it will cost you only twenty sous instead of fifty, which everybody else pays, for you have to be economical with your little purse."

"I have ten louis," replied Julien, proudly.

"Oh, good Lord!" cried the kind hostess alarmed, "don’t talk so loud. There are lots of bad people in Besancon; they will steal it from you in less than a week; but be careful you don’t go into any of those cafes; they are a bad lot."

"Is that so?" asked Julien thoughtfully.

"Don’t you go to anybody but to me, I will give you your coffee. Sure, you’ll always find a friend here and a good dinner, and it will cost you only twenty sous. Sit down; I’m going wait on you myself."

"I can’t eat now," said Julien to her, "I am too nervous; I am going to the seminary after I leave you."

The kind woman did not let him go until she had filled his pockets with good things. Finally Julien walked toward the awful seminary, the hostess standing in the doorway to show him the way.

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Chicago: Stendhal, "Chapter 24," The Red and the Black, trans. Charles Tergie Original Sources, accessed January 22, 2020, http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=4KVELW9XABE4TUT.

MLA: Stendhal. "Chapter 24." The Red and the Black, translted by Charles Tergie, Original Sources. 22 Jan. 2020. www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=4KVELW9XABE4TUT.

Harvard: Stendhal, 'Chapter 24' in The Red and the Black, trans. . Original Sources, retrieved 22 January 2020, from http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=4KVELW9XABE4TUT.