When I reached home I began to cry like a child. There is no man to whom a woman has not been unfaithful, once at least, and who will not know what I suffered.
I said to myself, under the weight of these feverish resolutions which one always feels as if one had the force to carry out, that I must break with my amour at once, and I waited impatiently for daylight in order to set out forthwith to rejoin my father and my sister, of whose love at least I was certain, and certain that that love would never be betrayed.
However, I did not wish to go away without letting Marguerite know why I went. Only a man who really cares no more for his mistress leaves her without writing to her. I made and remade twenty letters in my head. I had had to do with a woman like all other women of the kind. I had been poetizing too much. She had treated me like a school-boy, she had used in deceiving me a trick which was insultingly simple. My self-esteem got the upper hand. I must leave this woman without giving her the satisfaction of knowing that she had made me suffer, and this is what I wrote to her in my most elegant handwriting and with tears of rage and sorrow in my eyes:
"MY DEAR MARGUERITE: I hope that your indisposition yesterday was not serious. I came, at eleven at night, to ask after you, and was told that you had not come in. M. de G. was more fortunate, for he presented himself shortly afterward, and at four in the morning he had not left."Forgive me for the few tedious hours that I have given you, and be assured that I shall never forget the happy moments which I owe to you. "I should have called to-day to ask after you, but I intend going back to my father's.
"Good-bye, my dear Marguerite. I am not rich enough to love you as I would nor poor enough to love you as you would. Let us then forget, you a name which must be indifferent enough to you, I a happiness which has become impossible."I send back your key, which I have never used, and which might be useful to you, if you are often ill as you were yesterday."
As you will see, I was unable to end my letter without a touch of impertinent irony, which proved how much in love I still was.
I read and reread this letter ten times over; then the thought of the pain it would give to Marguerite calmed me a little. I tried to persuade myself of the feelings which it professed; and when my servant came to my room at eight o'clock, I gave it to him and told him to take it at once.
I buoyed myself up with the hope that she would reply. Poor, feeble creatures that we are! All the time that my servant was away I was in a state of extreme agitation. At one moment I would recall how Marguerite had given herself to me, and ask myself by what right I wrote her an impertinent letter, when she could reply that it was not M. de G. who supplanted me, but I who had supplanted M. de G.: a mode of reasoning which permits many women to have many lovers. At another moment I would recall her promises, and endeavour to convince myself that my letter was only too gentle, and that there were not expressions forcible enough to punish a woman who laughed at a love like mine. Then I said to myself that I should have done better not to have written to her, but to have gone to see her, and that then I should have had the pleasure of seeing the tears that she would shed. Finally, I asked myself what she would reply to me; already prepared to believe whatever excuse she made.Joseph returned. "Well?" I said to him. "Sir," said he, "madame was not up, and still asleep, but as soon as she rings the letter will be taken to her, and if there is any reply it will be sent." She was asleep!
Twenty times I was on the point of sending to get the letter back, but every time I said to myself: "Perhaps she will have got it already, and it would look as if I have repented of sending it."
As the hour at which it seemed likely that she would reply came nearer, I regretted more and more that I had written. The clock struck, ten, eleven, twelve. At twelve I was on the point of keeping the appointment as if nothing had happened. In the end I could see no way out of the circle of fire which closed upon me.
Then I began to believe, with the superstition which people have when they are waiting, that if I went out for a little while, I should find an answer when I got back. I went out under the pretext of going to lunch.
Instead of lunching at the Cafe Foy, at the corner of the Boulevard, as I usually did, I preferred to go to the Palais Royal and so pass through the Rue d'Antin. Every time that I saw a woman at a distance, I fancied it was Nanine bringing me an answer. I passed through the Rue d'Antin without even coming across a commissionaire. I went to Very's in the Palais Royal. The waiter gave me something to eat, or rather served up to me whatever he liked, for I ate nothing. In spite of myself, my eyes were constantly fixed on the clock. I returned home, certain that I should find a letter from Marguerite.
Then I began to regret the terms of my letter; I should have said absolutely nothing, and that would undoubtedly have aroused her suspicions, for, finding that I did not keep my appointment, she would have inquired the reason of my absence, and only then I should have given it to her. Thus, she would have had to exculpate herself, and what I wanted was for her to exculpate herself. I already realized that I should have believed whatever reasons she had given me, and anything was better than not to see her again.At last I began to believe that she would come to see me herself; but hour followed hour, and she did not come. Decidedly Marguerite was not like other women, for there are few who would have received such a letter as I had just written without answering it at all. At five, I hastened to the Champs-Elysees. "If I meet her," I thought, "I will put on an indifferent air, and she will be convinced that I no longer think about her."
As I turned the corner of the Rue Royale, I saw her pass in her carriage. The meeting was so sudden that I turned pale. I do not know if she saw my emotion; as for me, I was so agitated that I saw nothing but the carriage.
I did not go any farther in the direction of the Champs-Elysees. I looked at the advertisements of the theatres, for I had still a chance of seeing her. There was a first night at the Palais Royal. Marguerite was sure to be there. I was at the theatre by seven. The boxes filled one after another, but Marguerite was not there. I left the Palais Royal and went to all the theatres where she was most often to be seen: to the Vaudeville, the Varietes, the Opera Comique. She was nowhere.
Either my letter had troubled her too much for her to care to go to the theatre, or she feared to come across me, and so wished to avoid an explanation. So my vanity was whispering to me on the boulevards, when I met Gaston, who asked me where I had been."At the Palais Royal." "And I at the Opera," said he; "I expected to see you there." "Why?" "Because Marguerite was there." "Ah, she was there?" "Yes. "Alone?" "No; with another woman." "That all?"
"The Comte de G. came to her box for an instant; but she went off with the duke. I expected to see you every moment, for there was a stall at my side which remained empty the whole evening, and I was sure you had taken it.""But why should I go where Marguerite goes?" "Because you are her lover, surely!" "Who told you that?"
"Prudence, whom I met yesterday. I give you my congratulations, my dear fellow; she is a charming mistress, and it isn't everybody who has the chance. Stick to her; she will do you credit."
These simple reflections of Gaston showed me how absurd had been my susceptibilities. If I had only met him the night before and he had spoken to me like that, I should certainly not have written the foolish letter which I had written.
I was on the point of calling on Prudence, and of sending her to tell Marguerite that I wanted to speak to her; but I feared that she would revenge herself on me by saying that she could not see me, and I returned home, after passing through the Rue d'Antin. Again I asked my porter if there was a letter for me. Nothing! She is waiting to see if I shall take some fresh step, and if I retract my letter of today, I said to myself as I went to bed; but, seeing that I do not write, she will write to me to-morrow.
That night, more than ever, I reproached myself for what I had done. I was alone, unable to sleep, devoured by restlessness and jealousy, when by simply letting things take their natural course I should have been with Marguerite, hearing the delicious words which I had heard only twice, and which made my ears burn in my solitude.
The most frightful part of the situation was that my judgment was against me; as a matter of fact, everything went to prove that Marguerite loved me. First, her proposal to spend the summer with me in the country, then the certainty that there was no reason why she should be my mistress, since my income was insufficient for her needs and even for her caprices. There could not then have been on her part anything but the hope of finding in me a sincere affection, able to give her rest from the mercenary loves in whose midst she lived; and on the very second day I had destroyed this hope, and paid by impertinent irony for the love which I had accepted during two nights. What I had done was therefore not merely ridiculous, it was indelicate. I had not even paid the woman, that I might have some right to find fault with her; withdrawing after two days, was I not like a parasite of love, afraid of having to pay the bill of the banquet? What! I had only known Marguerite for thirty-six hours; I had been her lover for only twenty-four; and instead of being too happy that she should grant me all that she did, I wanted to have her all to myself, and to make her sever at one stroke all her past relations which were the revenue of her future. What had I to reproach in her? Nothing. She had written to say she was unwell, when she might have said to me quite crudely, with the hideous frankness of certain women, that she had to see a lover; and, instead of believing her letter, instead of going to any street in Paris except the Rue d'Antin, instead of spending the evening with my friends, and presenting myself next day at the appointed hour, I was acting the Othello, spying upon her, and thinking to punish her by seeing her no more. But, on the contrary, she ought to be enchanted at this separation. She ought to find me supremely foolish, and her silence was not even that of rancour; it was contempt.
I might have made Marguerite a present which would leave no doubt as to my generosity and permit me to feel properly quits of her, as of a kept woman, but I should have felt that I was offending by the least appearance of trafficking, if not the love which she had for me, at all events the love which I had for her, and since this love was so pure that it could admit no division, it could not pay by a present, however generous, the happiness that it had received, however short that happiness had been.
That is what I said to myself all night long, and what I was every moment prepared to go and say to Marguerite. When the day dawned I was still sleepless. I was in a fever. I could think of nothing but Marguerite.
As you can imagine, it was time to take a decided step, and finish either with the woman or with one's scruples, if, that is, she would still be willing to see me. But you know well, one is always slow in taking a decided step; so, unable to remain within doors and not daring to call on Marguerite, I made one attempt in her direction, an attempt that I could always look upon as a mere chance if it succeeded.
It was nine o'clock, and I went at once to call upon Prudence, who asked to what she owed this early visit. I dared not tell her frankly what brought me. I replied that I had gone out early in order to reserve a place in the diligence for C., where my father lived."You are fortunate," she said, "in being able to get away from Paris in this fine weather." I looked at Prudence, asking myself whether she was laughing at me, but her face was quite serious. "Shall you go and say good-bye to Marguerite?" she continued, as seriously as before. "No." "You are quite right." "You think so?" "Naturally. Since you have broken with her, why should you see her again?" "You know it is broken off?" "She showed me your letter." "What did she say about it?" "She said: 'My dear Prudence, your protege is not polite; one thinks such letters, one does not write them."' "In what tone did she say that?" "Laughingly, and she added: "He has had supper with me twice, and hasn't even called."' That, then, was the effect produced by my letter and my jealousy. I was cruelly humiliated in the vanity of my affection. "What did she do last night?" "She went to the opera." "I know. And afterward?" "She had supper at home." "Alone?" "With the Comte de G., I believe."
So my breaking with her had not changed one of her habits. It is for such reasons as this that certain people say to you: Don't have anything more to do with the woman; she cares nothing about you."Well, I am very glad to find that Marguerite does not put herself out for me," I said with a forced smile.
"She has very good reason not to. You have done what you were bound to do. You have been more reasonable than she, for she was really in love with you; she did nothing but talk of you. I don't know what she would not have been capable of doing.""Why hasn't she answered me, if she was in love with me?"
"Because she realizes she was mistaken in letting herself love you. Women sometimes allow you to be unfaithful to their love; they never allow you to wound their self-esteem; and one always wounds the self-esteem of a woman when, two days after one has become her lover, one leaves her, no matter for what reason. I know Marguerite; she would die sooner than reply.""What can I do, then?" "Nothing. She will forget you, you will forget her, and neither will have any reproach to make against the other." "But if I write and ask her forgiveness?" "Don't do that, for she would forgive you." I could have flung my arms round Prudence's neck. A quarter of an hour later I was once more in my own quarters, and I wrote to Marguerite:
"Some one, who repents of a letter that he wrote yesterday and who will leave Paris to-morrow if you do not forgive him, wishes to know at what hour he might lay his repentance at your feet.
"When can he find you alone? for, you know, confessions must be made without witnesses."
I only went out to have a hasty dinner, and at eleven in the evening no reply had come. I made up my mind to endure it no longer, and to set out next day. In consequence of this resolution, and convinced that I should not sleep if I went to bed, I began to pack up my things.
I came out of my room. Prudence was standing looking around the place; Marguerite, seated on the sofa, was meditating. I went to her, knelt down, took her two hands, and, deeply moved, said to her, "Pardon."She kissed me on the forehead, and said: "This is the third time that I have forgiven you." "I should have gone away to-morrow."
"How can my visit change your plans? I have not come to hinder you from leaving Paris. I have come because I had no time to answer you during the day, and I did not wish to let you think that I was angry with you. Prudence didn't want me to come; she said that I might be in the way.""You in the way, Marguerite! But how?" "Well, you might have had a woman here," said Prudence, "and it would hardly have been amusing for her to see two more arrive." During this remark Marguerite looked at me attentively. "My dear Prudence," I answered, "you do not know what you are saying." "What a nice place you've got!" Prudence went on. "May we see the bedroom?" "Yes." Prudence went into the bedroom, not so much to see it as to make up for the foolish thing which she had just said, and to leave Marguerite and me alone. "Why did you bring Prudence?" I asked her. "Because she was at the theatre with me, and because when I leave here I want to have some one to see me home." "Could not I do?"
"Yes, but, besides not wishing to put you out, I was sure that if you came as far as my door you would want to come up, and as I could not let you, I did not wish to let you go away blaming me for saying 'No.'""And why could you not let me come up?" "Because I am watched, and the least suspicion might do me the greatest harm." "Is that really the only reason?" "If there were any other, I would tell you; for we are not to have any secrets from one another now." "Come, Marguerite, I am not going to take a roundabout way of saying what I really want to say. Honestly, do you care for me a little?" "A great deal." "Then why did you deceive me?"
"My friend, if I were the Duchess So and So, if I had two hundred thousand francs a year, and if I were your mistress and had another lover, you would have the right to ask me; but I am Mlle. Marguerite Gautier, I am forty thousand francs in debt, I have not a penny of my own, and I spend a hundred thousand francs a year. Your question becomes unnecessary and my answer useless.""You are right," I said, letting my head sink on her knees; "but I love you madly."
"Well, my friend, you must either love me a little less or understand me a little better. Your letter gave me a great deal of pain. If I had been free, first of all I would not have seen the count the day before yesterday, or, if I had, I should have come and asked your forgiveness as you ask me now, and in future I should have had no other lover but you. I fancied for a moment that I might give myself that happiness for six months; you would not have it; you insisted on knowing the means. Well, good heavens, the means were easy enough to guess! In employing them I was making a greater sacrifice for you than you imagine. I might have said to you, 'I want twenty thousand francs'; you were in love with me and you would have found them, at the risk of reproaching me for it later on. I preferred to owe you nothing; you did not understand the scruple, for such it was. Those of us who are like me, when we have any heart at all, we give a meaning and a development to words and things unknown to other women; I repeat, then, that on the part of Marguerite Gautier the means which she used to pay her debts without asking you for the money necessary for it, was a scruple by which you ought to profit, without saying anything. If you had only met me to-day, you would be too delighted with what I promised you, and you would not question me as to what I did the day before yesterday. We are sometimes obliged to buy the satisfaction of our souls at the expense of our bodies, and we suffer still more, when, afterward, that satisfaction is denied us."
I listened, and I gazed at Marguerite with admiration. When I thought that this marvellous creature, whose feet I had once longed to kiss, was willing to let me take my place in her thoughts, my part in her life, and that I was not yet content with what she gave me, I asked if man's desire has indeed limits when, satisfied as promptly as mine had been, it reached after something further.
"Truly," she continued, "we poor creatures of chance have fantastic desires and inconceivable loves. We give ourselves now for one thing, now for another. There are men who ruin themselves without obtaining the least thing from us; there are others who obtain us for a bouquet of flowers. Our hearts have their caprices; it is their one distraction and their one excuse. I gave myself to you sooner than I ever did to any man, I swear to you; and do you know why? Because when you saw me spitting blood you took my hand; because you wept; because you are the only human being who has ever pitied me. I am going to say a mad thing to you: I once had a little dog who looked at me with a sad look when I coughed; that is the only creature I ever loved. When he died I cried more than when my mother died. It is true that for twelve years of her life she used to beat me. Well, I loved you all at once, as much as my dog. If men knew what they can have for a tear, they would be better loved and we should be less ruinous to them.
"Your letter undeceived me; it showed me that you lacked the intelligence of the heart; it did you more harm with me than anything you could possibly have done. It was jealousy certainly, but ironical and impertinent jealousy. I was already feeling sad when I received your letter. I was looking forward to seeing you at twelve, to having lunch with you, and wiping out, by seeing you, a thought which was with me incessantly, and which, before I knew you, I had no difficulty in tolerating.
"Then," continued Marguerite, "you were the only person before whom it seemed to me, from the first, that I could think and speak freely. All those who come about women like me have an interest in calculating their slightest words, in thinking of the consequences of their most insignificant actions. Naturally we have no friends. We have selfish lovers who spend their fortunes, riot on us, as they say, but on their own vanity. For these people we have to be merry when they are merry, well when they want to sup, sceptics like themselves. We are not allowed to have hearts, under penalty of being hooted down and of ruining our credit.
"We no longer belong to ourselves. We are no longer beings, but things. We stand first in their self-esteem, last in their esteem. We have women who call themselves our friends, but they are friends like Prudence, women who were once kept and who have still the costly tastes that their age does not allow them to gratify. Then they become our friends, or rather our guests at table. Their friendship is carried to the point of servility, never to that of disinterestedness. Never do they give you advice which is not lucrative. It means little enough to them that we should have ten lovers extra, as long as they get dresses or a bracelet out of them, and that they can drive in our carriage from time to time or come to our box at the theatre. They have our last night's bouquets, and they borrow our shawls. They never render us a service, however slight, without seeing that they are paid twice its value. You yourself saw when Prudence brought me the six thousand francs that I had asked her to get from the duke, how she borrowed five hundred francs, which she will never pay me back, or which she will pay me in hats, which will never be taken out of their boxes.
"We can not, then, have, or rather I can not have more than one possible kind of happiness, and this is, sad as I sometimes am, suffering as I always am, to find a man superior enough not to ask questions about my life, and to be the lover of my impressions rather than of my body. Such a man I found in the duke; but the duke is old, and old age neither protects nor consoles. I thought I could accept the life which he offered me; but what would you have? I was dying of ennui, and if one is bound to be consumed, it is as well to throw oneself into the flames as to be asphyxiated with charcoal.
"Then I met you, young, ardent, happy, and I tried to make you the man I had longed for in my noisy solitude. What I loved in you was not the man who was, but the man who was going to be. You do not accept the position, you reject it as unworthy of you; you are an ordinary lover. Do like the others; pay me, and say no more about it."
Marguerite, tired out with this long confession, threw herself back on the sofa, and to stifle a slight cough put up her handkerchief to her lips, and from that to her eyes.
"Pardon, pardon," I murmured. "I understood it all, but I wanted to have it from your own lips, my beloved Marguerite. Forget the rest and remember only one thing: that we belong to one another, that we are young, and that we love. Marguerite, do with me as you will; I am your slave, your dog, but in the name of heaven tear up the letter which I wrote to you and do not make me leave you tomorrow; it would kill me."
Marguerite drew the letter from her bosom, and handing it to me with a smile of infinite sweetness, said:
"I think that you are two children who haven't an atom of sense between you; but I also think that I am very hungry, and that the sooner you consent the sooner we shall have supper.""Come," said Marguerite, "there is room for the three of us in my carriage." "By the way," she added, turning to me, "Nanine will be gone to bed. You must open the door; take my key, and try not to lose it again." I embraced Marguerite until she was almost stifled. Thereupon Joseph entered. "Sir," he said, with the air of a man who is very well satisfied with himself, "the luggage is packed." "All of it?" "Yes, sir." "Well, then, unpack it again; I am not going."
I might have told you of the beginning of this liaison in a few lines, but I wanted you to see every step by which we came, I to agree to whatever Marguerite wished, Marguerite to be unable to live apart from me.It was the day after the evening when she came to see me that I sent her Manon Lescaut.
From that time, seeing that I could not change my mistress's life, I changed my own. I wished above all not to leave myself time to think over the position I had accepted, for, in spite of myself, it was a great distress to me. Thus my life, generally so calm, assumed all at once an appearance of noise and disorder. Never believe, however disinterested the love of a kept woman may be, that it will cost one nothing. Nothing is so expensive as their caprices, flowers, boxes at the theatre, suppers, days in the country, which one can never refuse to one's mistress.
As I have told you, I had little money. My father was, and still is, receveur general at C. He has a great reputation there for loyalty, thanks to which he was able to find the security which he needed in order to attain this position.
It is worth forty thousand francs a year, and during the ten years that he has had it, he has paid off the security and put aside a dowry for my sister. My father is the most honourable man in the world. When my mother died, she left six thousand francs a year, which he divided between my sister and myself on the very day when he received his appointment; then, when I was twenty-one, he added to this little income an annual allowance of five thousand francs, assuring me that with eight thousand francs a year I might live very happily at Paris, if, in addition to this, I would make a position for myself either in law or medicine. I came to Paris, studied law, was called to the bar, and, like many other young men, put my diploma in my pocket, and let myself drift, as one so easily does in Paris.
My expenses were very moderate; only I used up my year's income in eight months, and spent the four summer months with my father, which practically gave me twelve thousand francs a year, and, in addition, the reputation of a good son. For the rest, not a penny of debt.
This, then, was my position when I made the acquaintance of Marguerite. You can well understand that, in spite of myself, my expenses soon increased. Marguerite's nature was very capricious, and, like so many women, she never regarded as a serious expense those thousand and one distractions which made up her life. So, wishing to spend as much time with me as possible, she would write to me in the morning that she would dine with me, not at home, but at some restaurant in Paris or in the country. I would call for her, and we would dine and go on to the theatre, often having supper as well; and by the end of the evening I had spent four or five louis, which came to two or three thousand francs a month, which reduced my year to three months and a half, and made it necessary for me either to go into debt or to leave Marguerite. I would have consented to anything except the latter.
Forgive me if I give you all these details, but you will see that they were the cause of what was to follow. What I tell you is a true and simple story, and I leave to it all the naivete of its details and all the simplicity of its developments.
I realized then that as nothing in the world would make me forget my mistress, it was needful for me to find some way of meeting the expenses into which she drew me. Then, too, my love for her had so disturbing an influence upon me that every moment I spent away from Marguerite was like a year, and that I felt the need of consuming these moments in the fire of some sort of passion, and of living them so swiftly as not to know that I was living them.
I began by borrowing five or six thousand francs on my little capital, and with this I took to gambling. Since gambling houses were destroyed gambling goes on everywhere. Formerly, when one went to Frascati, one had the chance of making a fortune; one played against money, and if one lost, there was always the consolation of saying that one might have gained; whereas now, except in the clubs, where there is still a certain rigour in regard to payments, one is almost certain, the moment one gains a considerable sum, not to receive it. You will readily understand why. Gambling is only likely to be carried on by young people very much in need of money and not possessing the fortune necessary for supporting the life they lead; they gamble, then, and with this result; or else they gain, and then those who lose serve to pay for their horses and mistresses, which is very disagreeable. Debts are contracted, acquaintances begun about a green table end by quarrels in which life or honour comes to grief; and though one may be an honest man, one finds oneself ruined by very honest men, whose only defect is that they have not two hundred thousand francs a year.I need not tell you of those who cheat at play, and of how one hears one fine day of their hasty disappearance and tardy condemnation.
I flung myself into this rapid, noisy, and volcanic life, which had formerly terrified me when I thought of it, and which. had become for me the necessary complement of my love for Marguerite. What else could I have done?
The nights that I did not spend in the Rue d'Antin, if I had spent them alone in my own room, I could not have slept. Jealousy would have kept me awake, and inflamed my blood and my thoughts; while gambling gave a new turn to the fever which would otherwise have preyed upon my heart, and fixed it upon a passion which laid hold on me in spite of myself, until the hour struck when I might go to my mistress. Then, and by this I knew the violence of my love, I left the table without a moment's hesitation, whether I was winning or losing, pitying those whom I left behind because they would not, like me, find their real happiness in leaving it. For the most of them, gambling was a necessity; for me, it was a remedy. Free of Marguerite, I should have been free of gambling.
Thus, in the midst of all that, I preserved a considerable amount of selfpossession; I lost only what I was able to pay, and gained only what I should have been able to lose.
For the rest, chance was on my side. I made no debts, and I spent three times as much money as when I did not gamble. It was impossible to resist an existence which gave me an easy means of satisfying the thousand caprices of Marguerite. As for her, she continued to love me as much, or even more than ever.
As I told you, I began by being allowed to stay only from midnight to six o'clock, then I was asked sometimes to a box in the theatre, then she sometimes came to dine with me. One morning I did not go till eight, and there came a day when I did not go till twelve.
But, sooner than the moral metamorphosis, a physical metamorphosis came about in Marguerite. I had taken her cure in hand, and the poor girl, seeing my aim, obeyed me in order to prove her gratitude. I had succeeded without effort or trouble in almost isolating her from her former habits. My doctor, whom I had made her meet, had told me that only rest and calm could preserve her health, so that in place of supper and sleepless nights, I succeeded in substituting a hygienic regime and regular sleep. In spite of herself, Marguerite got accustomed to this new existence, whose salutary effects she already realized. She began to spend some of her evenings at home, or, if the weather was fine, she wrapped herself in a shawl, put on a veil, and we went on foot, like two children, in the dim alleys of the Champs-Elysees. She would come in tired, take a light supper, and go to bed after a little music or reading, which she had never been used to do. The cough, which every time that I heard it seemed to go through my chest, had almost completely disappeared.
At the end of six weeks the count was entirely given up, and only the duke obliged me to conceal my liaison with Marguerite, and even he was sent away when I was there, under the pretext that she was asleep and had given orders that she was not to be awakened.
The habit or the need of seeing me which Marguerite had now contracted had this good result: that it forced me to leave the gaming-table just at the moment when an adroit gambler would have left it. Settling one thing against another, I found myself in possession of some ten thousand francs, which seemed to me an inexhaustible capital.
The time of the year when I was accustomed to join my father and sister had now arrived, and I did not go; both of them wrote to me frequently, begging me to come. To these letters I replied as best I could, always repeating that I was quite well and that I was not in need of money, two things which, I thought, would console my father for my delay in paying him my annual visit.
Just then, one fine day in summer, Marguerite was awakened by the sunlight pouring into her room, and, jumping out of bed, asked me if I would take her into the country for the whole day.
We sent for Prudence, and all three set off, after Marguerite had given Nanine orders to tell the duke that she had taken advantage of the fine day to go into the country with Mme. Duvernoy.
Besides the presence of Mme. Duvernoy being needful on account of the old duke, Prudence was one of those women who seem made on purpose for days in the country. With her unchanging good-humour and her eternal appetite, she never left a dull moment to those whom she was with, and was perfectly happy in ordering eggs, cherries, milk, stewed rabbit, and all the rest of the traditional lunch in the country.We had now only to decide where we should go. It was once more Prudence who settled the difficulty. "Do you want to go to the real country?" she asked. "Yes." "Well, let us go to Bougival, at the Point du Jour, at Widow Arnould's. Armand, order an open carriage." An hour and a half later we were at Widow Arnould's.
Perhaps you know the inn, which is a hotel on week days and a tea garden on Sundays. There is a magnificent view from the garden, which is at the height of an ordinary first floor. On the left the Aqueduct of Marly closes in the horizon, on the right one looks across bill after hill; the river, almost without current at that spot, unrolls itself like a large white watered ribbon between the plain of the Gabillons and the island of Croissy, lulled eternally by the trembling of its high poplars and the murmur of its willows. Beyond, distinct in the sunlight, rise little white houses, with red roofs, and manufactories, which, at that distance, put an admirable finish to the landscape. Beyond that, Paris in the mist! As Prudence had told us, it was the real country, and, I must add, it was a real lunch.
It is not only out of gratitude for the happiness I owe it, but Bougival, in spite of its horrible name, is one of the prettiest places that it is possible to imagine. I have travelled a good deal, and seen much grander things, but none more charming than this little village gaily seated at the foot of the hill which protects it.Mme. Arnould asked us if we would take a boat, and Marguerite and Prudence accepted joyously.
People have always associated the country with love, and they have done well; nothing affords so fine a frame for the woman whom one loves as the blue sky, the odours, the flowers, the breeze, the shining solitude of fields, or woods. However much one loves a woman, whatever confidence one may have in her, whatever certainty her past may offer us as to her future, one is always more or less jealous. If you have been in love, you must have felt the need of isolating from this world the being in whom you would live wholly. It seems as if, however indifferent she may be to her surroundings, the woman whom one loves loses something of her perfume and of her unity at the contact of men and things. As for me, I experienced that more than most. Mine was not an ordinary love; I was as much in love as an ordinary creature could be, but with Marguerite Gautier; that is to say, that at Paris, at every step, I might elbow the man who had already been her lover or who was about to, while in the country, surrounded by people whom we had never seen and who had no concern with us, alone with nature in the spring-time of the year, that annual pardon, and shut off from the noise of the city, I could hide my love, and love without shame or fear.
The courtesan disappeared little by little. I had by me a young and beautiful woman, whom I loved, and who loved me, and who was called Marguerite; the past had no more reality and the future no more clouds. The sun shone upon my mistress as it might have shone upon the purest bride. We walked together in those charming spots which seemed to have been made on purpose to recall the verses of Lamartine or to sing the melodies of Scudo. Marguerite was dressed in white, she leaned on my arm, saying over to me again under the starry sky the words she had said to me the day before, and far off the world went on its way, without darkening with its shadow the radiant picture of our youth and love.
That was the dream that the hot sun brought to me that day through the leaves of the trees, as, lying on the grass of the island on which we had landed, I let my thought wander, free from the human links that had bound it, gathering to itself every hope that came in its way.
Add to this that from the place where I was I could see on the shore a charming little house of two stories, with a semicircular railing; through the railing, in front of the house, a green lawn, smooth as velvet, and behind the house a little wood full of mysterious retreats, where the moss must efface each morning the pathway that had been made the day before. Climbing flowers clung about the doorway of this uninhabited house, mounting as high as the first story. I looked at the house so long that I began by thinking of it as mine, so perfectly did it embody the dream that I was dreaming; I saw Marguerite and myself there, by day in the little wood that covered the hillside, in the evening seated on the grass, and I asked myself if earthly creatures had ever been so happy as we should be."What a pretty house!" Marguerite said to me, as she followed the direction of my gaze and perhaps of my thought. "Where?" asked Prudence. "Yonder," and Marguerite pointed to the house in question. "Ah, delicious!" replied Prudence. "Do you like it?" "Very much." "Well, tell the duke to take it for you; he would do so, I am sure. I'll see about it if you like."
Marguerite looked at me, as if to ask me what I thought. My dream vanished at the last words of Prudence, and brought me back to reality so brutally that I was still stunned with the fall."Yes, yes, an excellent idea," I stammered, not knowing what I was saying. "Well, I will arrange that," said Marguerite, freeing my hand, and interpreting my words according to her own desire. "Let us go and see if it is to let." The house was empty, and to let for two thousand francs. "Would you be happy here?" she said to me. "Am I sure of coming here?" "And for whom else should I bury myself here, if not for you?" "Well, then, Marguerite, let me take it myself."
"You are mad; not only is it unnecessary, but it would be dangerous. You know perfectly well that I have no right to accept it save from one man. Let me alone, big baby, and say nothing."
"That means," said Prudence, "that when I have two days free I will come and spend them with you."
We left the house, and started on our return to Paris, talking over the new plan. I held Marguerite in my arms, and as I got down from the carriage, I had already begun to look upon her arrangement with less critical eyes.
Next day Marguerite sent me away very early, saying that the duke was coming at an early hour, and promising to write to me the moment he went, and to make an appointment for the evening. In the course of the day I received this note:"I am going to Bougival with the duke; be at Prudence's to-night at eight."
At the appointed hour Marguerite came to me at Mme. Duvernoy's. "Well, it is all settled," she said, as she entered. "The house is taken?" asked Prudence. "Yes; he agreed at once."I did not know the duke, but I felt ashamed of deceiving him. "But that is not all," continued Marguerite. "What else is there?" "I have been seeing about a place for Armand to stay." "In the same house?" asked Prudence, laughing.
"No, at Point du Jour, where we had dinner, the duke and I. While he was admiring the view, I asked Mme. Arnould (she is called Mme. Arnould, isn't she?) if there were any suitable rooms, and she showed me just the very thing: salon, anteroom, and bed-room, at sixty francs a month; the whole place furnished in a way to divert a hypochondriac. I took it. Was I right?" I flung my arms around her neck and kissed her.
"It will be charming," she continued. "You have the key of the little door, and I have promised the duke the key of the front door, which he will not take, because he will come during the day when he comes. I think, between ourselves, that he is enchanted with a caprice which will keep me out of Paris for a time, and so silence the objections of his family. However, he has asked me how I, loving Paris as I do, could make up my mind to bury myself in the country. I told him that I was ill, and that I wanted rest. He seemed to have some difficulty in believing me. The poor old man is always on the watch. We must take every precaution, my dear Armand, for he will have me watched while I am there; and it isn't only the question of his taking a house for me, but he has my debts to pay, and unluckily I have plenty. Does all that suit you?"
"Yes," I answered, trying to quiet the scruples which this way of living awoke in me from time to time.
"We went all over the house, and we shall have everything perfect. The duke is going to look after every single thing. Ah, my dear," she added, kissing me, "you're in luck; it's a millionaire who makes your bed for you."
Then began an existence which I shall have some difficulty in describing to you. At first Marguerite could not break entirely with her former habits, and, as the house was always en fete, all the women whom she knew came to see her. For a whole month there was not a day when Marguerite had not eight or ten people to meals. Prudence, on her side, brought down all the people she knew, and did the honours of the house as if the house belonged to her.
The duke's money paid for all that, as you may imagine; but from time to time Prudence came to me, asking for a note for a thousand francs, professedly on behalf of Marguerite. You know I had won some money at gambling; I therefore immediately handed over to Prudence what she asked for Marguerite, and fearing lest she should require more than I possessed, I borrowed at Paris a sum equal to that which I had already borrowed and paid back. I was then once more in possession of some ten thousand francs, without reckoning my allowance. However, Marguerite's pleasure in seeing her friends was a little moderated when she saw the expense which that pleasure entailed, and especially the necessity she was sometimes in of asking me for money. The duke, who had taken the house in order that Marguerite might rest there, no longer visited it, fearing to find himself in the midst of a large and merry company, by whom he did not wish to be seen. This came about through his having once arrived to dine tete-a-tete with Marguerite, and having fallen upon a party of fifteen, who were still at lunch at an hour when he was prepared to sit down to dinner. He had unsuspectingly opened the dining-room door, and had been greeted by a burst of laughter, and had had to retire precipitately before the impertinent mirth of the women who were assembled there.
Marguerite rose from table, and joined the duke in the next room, where she tried, as far as possible, to induce him to forget the incident, but the old man, wounded in his dignity, bore her a grudge for it, and could not forgive her. He said to her, somewhat cruelly, that he was tired of paying for the follies of a woman who could not even have him treated with respect under his own roof, and he went away in great indignation.Since that day he had never been heard of.
In vain Marguerite dismissed her guests, changed her way of life; the duke was not to be heard of. I was the gainer in so, far that my mistress now belonged to me more completely, and my dream was at length realized. Marguerite could not be without me. Not caring what the result might be, she publicly proclaimed our liaison, and I had come to live entirely at her house. The servants addressed me officially as their master.
Prudence had strictly sermonized Marguerite in regard to her new manner of life; but she had replied that she loved me, that she could not live without me, and that, happen what might, she would not sacrifice the pleasure of having me constantly with her, adding that those who were not satisfied with this arrangement were free to stay away. So much I had heard one day when Prudence had said to Marguerite that she had something very important to tell her, and I had listened at the door of the room into which they had shut themselves.
Not long after, Prudence returned again. I was at the other end of the garden when she arrived, and she did not see me. I had no doubt, from the way in which Marguerite came to meet her, that another similar conversation was going to take place, and I was anxious to hear what it was about. The two women shut themselves into a boudoir, and I put myself within hearing."Well?" said Marguerite. "Well, I have seen the duke." "What did he say?"
"That he would gladly forgive you in regard to the scene which took place, but that he has learned that you are publicly living with M. Armand Duval, and that he will never forgive that. 'Let Marguerite leave the young man,' he said to me, 'and, as in the past, I will give her all that she requires; if not, let her ask nothing more from me.'""And you replied?"
"That I would report his decision to you, and I promised him that I would bring you into a more reasonable frame of mind. Only think, my dear child, of the position that you are losing, and that Armand can never give you. He loves you with all his soul, but he has no fortune capable of supplying your needs, and he will be bound to leave you one day, when it will be too late and when the duke will refuse to do any more for you. Would you like me to speak to Armand?"Marguerite seemed to be thinking, for she answered nothing. My heart beat violently while I waited for her reply.
"No," she answered, "I will not leave Armand, and I will not conceal the fact that I am living with him. It is folly no doubt, but I love him. What would you have me do? And then, now that he has got accustomed to be always with me, he would suffer too cruelly if he had to leave me so much as an hour a day. Besides, I have not such a long time to live that I need make myself miserable in order to please an old man whose very sight makes me feel old. Let him keep his money; I will do without it.""But what will you do?" "I don't in the least know."
Prudence was no doubt going to make some reply, but I entered suddenly and flung myself at Marguerite's feet, covering her hands with tears in my joy at being thus loved.
"My life is yours, Marguerite; you need this man no longer. Am I not here? Shall I ever leave you, and can I ever repay you for the happiness that you give me? No more barriers, my Marguerite; we love; what matters all the rest?"
"Oh yes, I love you, my Armand," she murmured, putting her two arms around my neck. "I love you as I never thought I should ever love. We will be happy; we will live quietly, and I will say good-bye forever to the life for which I now blush. You won't ever reproach me for the past? Tell me!"Tears choked my voice. I could only reply by clasping Marguerite to my heart.
"Well," said she, turning to Prudence, and speaking in a broken voice, "you can report this scene to the duke, and you can add that we have no longer need of him."
From that day forth the duke was never referred to. Marguerite was no longer the same woman that I had known. She avoided everything that might recall to me the life which she had been leading when I first met her. Never did wife or sister surround husband or brother with such loving care as she had for me. Her nature was morbidly open to all impressions and accessible to all sentiments. She had broken equally with her friends and with her ways, with her words and with her extravagances. Any one who had seen us leaving the house to go on the river in the charming little boat which I had bought would never have believed that the woman dressed in white, wearing a straw hat, and carrying on her arm a little silk pelisse to protect her against the damp of the river, was that Marguerite Gautier who, only four months ago, had been the talk of the town for the luxury and scandal of her existence.Alas, we made haste to be happy, as if we knew that we were not to be happy long.
For two months we had not even been to Paris. No one came to see us, except Prudence and Julie Duprat, of whom I have spoken to you, and to whom Marguerite was afterward to give the touching narrative that I have there.
I passed whole days at the feet of my mistress. We opened the windows upon the garden, and, as we watched the summer ripening in its flowers and under the shadow of the trees, we breathed together that true life which neither Marguerite nor I had ever known before.
Her delight in the smallest things was like that of a child. There were days when she ran in the garden, like a child of ten, after a butterfly or a dragon-fly. This courtesan who had cost more money in bouquets than would have kept a whole family in comfort, would sometimes sit on the grass for an hour, examining the simple flower whose name she bore.
It was at this time that she read Manon Lescaut, over and over again. I found her several times making notes in the book, and she always declared that when a woman loves, she can not do as Manon did.
The duke wrote to her two or three times. She recognised the writing and gave me the letters without reading them. Sometimes the terms of these letters brought tears to my eyes. He had imagined that by closing his purse to Marguerite, he would bring her back to him; but when he had perceived the uselessness of these means, he could hold out no longer; he wrote and asked that he might see her again, as before, no matter on what conditions.
I read these urgent and repeated letters, and tore them in pieces, without telling Marguerite what they contained and without advising her to see the old man again, though I was half inclined to, so much did I pity him, but I was afraid lest, if I so advised her she should think that I wished the duke, not merely to come and see her again, but to take over the expenses of the house; I feared, above all, that she might think me capable of shirking the responsibilities of every consequence to which her love for me might lead her.It thus came about that the duke, receiving no reply, ceased to write, and that Marguerite and I continued to live together without giving a thought to the future.
It would be difficult to give you all the details of our new life. It was made up of a series of little childish events, charming for us but insignificant to any one else. You know what it is to be in love with a woman, you know how it cuts short the days, and with what loving listlessness one drifts into the morrow. You know that forgetfulness of everything which comes of a violent confident, reciprocated love. Every being who is not the beloved one seems a useless being in creation. One regrets having cast scraps of one's heart to other women, and one can not believe in the possibility of ever pressing another hand than that which one holds between one's hands. The mind admits neither work nor remembrance; nothing, in short, which can distract it from the one thought in which it is ceaselessly absorbed. Every day one discovers in one's mistress a new charm and unknown delights. Existence itself is but the unceasing accomplishment of an unchanging desire; the soul is but the vestal charged to feed the sacred fire of love.
We often went at night-time to sit in the little wood above the house; there we listened to the cheerful harmonies of evening, both of us thinking of the coming hours which should leave us to one another till the dawn of day. At other times we did not get up all day; we did not even let the sunlight enter our room.
The curtains were hermetically closed, and for a moment the external world did not exist for us. Nanine alone had the right to open our door, but only to bring in our meals and even these we took without getting up, interrupting them with laughter and gaiety. To that succeeded a brief sleep, for, disappearing into the depths of our love, we were like two divers who only come to the surface to take breath.Nevertheless, I surprised moments of sadness, even tears, in Marguerite; I asked her the cause of her trouble, and she answered:
"Our love is not like other loves, my Armand. You love me as if I had never belonged to another, and I tremble lest later on, repenting of your love, and accusing me of my past, you should let me fall back into that life from which you have taken me. I think that now that I have tasted of another life, I should die if I went back to the old one. Tell me that you will never leave me!""I swear it!"
At these words she looked at me as if to read in my eyes whether my oath was sincere; then flung herself into my arms, and, hiding her head in my bosom, said to me: "You don't know how much I love you!"
One evening, seated on the balcony outside the window, we looked at the moon which seemed to rise with difficulty out of its bed of clouds, and we listened to the wind violently rustling the trees; we held each other's hands, and for a whole quarter of an hour we had not spoken, when Marguerite said to me:"Winter is at hand. Would you like for us to go abroad?" "Where?" "To Italy." "You are tired of here?" "I am afraid of the winter; I am particularly afraid of your return to Paris." "Why?" "For many reasons." And she went on abruptly, without giving me her reasons for fears: "Will you go abroad? I will sell all that I have; we will go and live there, and there will be nothing left of what I was; no one will know who I am. Will you?"
"By all means, if you like, Marguerite, let us travel," I said. "But where is the necessity of selling things which you will be glad of when we return? I have not a large enough fortune to accept such a sacrifice; but I have enough for us to be able to travel splendidly for five or six months, if that will amuse you the least in the world."
"After all, no," she said, leaving the window and going to sit down on the sofa at the other end of the room. "Why should we spend money abroad? I cost you enough already, here.""You reproach me, Marguerite; it isn't generous." "Forgive me, my friend," she said, giving me her hand. "This thunder weather gets on my nerves; I do not say what I intend to say." And after embracing me she fell into a long reverie.
Scenes of this kind often took place, and though I could not discover their cause, I could not fail to see in Marguerite signs of disquietude in regard to the future. She could not doubt my love, which increased day by day, and yet I often found her sad, without being able to get any explanation of the reason, except some physical cause. Fearing that so monotonous a life was beginning to weary her, I proposed returning to Paris; but she always refused, assuring me that she could not be so happy anywhere as in the country.
Prudence now came but rarely; but she often wrote letters which I never asked to see, though, every time they came, they seemed to preoccupy Marguerite deeply. I did not know what to think.
I had a horror of anything that might look like suspicion, and I answered that I had no desire to know what she was writing; and yet I was certain that letter would have explained to me the cause of her sadness.
Next day the weather was splendid.' Marguerite proposed to me to take the boat and go as far as the island of Croissy. She seemed very cheerful; when we got back it was five o'clock."Mme. Duvernoy has been here," said Nanine, as she saw us enter. "She has gone again?" asked Marguerite. "Yes, madame, in the carriage; she said it was arranged." "Quite right," said Marguerite sharply. "Serve the dinner."
Two days afterward there came a letter from Prudence, and for a fortnight Marguerite seemed to have got rid of her mysterious gloom, for which she constantly asked my forgiveness, now that it no longer existed. Still, the carriage did not return."How is it that Prudence does not send you back your carriage?" I asked one day.
"One of the horses is ill, and there are some repairs to be done. It is better to have that done while we are here, and don't need a carriage, than to wait till we get back to Paris."
Prudence came two days afterward, and confirmed what Marguerite had said. The two women went for a walk in the garden, and when I joined them they changed the conversation. That night, as she was going, Prudence complained of the cold and asked Marguerite to lend her a shawl.
So a month passed, and all the time Marguerite was more joyous and more affectionate than she ever had been. Nevertheless, the carriage did not return, the shawl had not been sent back, and I began to be anxious in spite of myself, and as I knew in which drawer Marguerite put Prudence's letters, I took advantage of a moment when she was at the other end of the garden, went to the drawer, and tried to open it; in vain, for it was locked. When I opened the drawer in which the trinkets and diamonds were usually kept, these opened without resistance, but the jewel cases had disappeared, along with their contents no doubt.A sharp fear penetrated my heart. I might indeed ask Marguerite for the truth in regard to these disappearances, but it was certain that she would not confess it.
"My good Marguerite," I said to her, "I am going to ask your permission to go to Paris. They do not know my address, and I expect there are letters from my father waiting for me. I have no doubt he is concerned; I ought to answer him.""Go, my friend," she said; "but be back early." I went straight to Prudence. "Come," said I, without beating about the bush, "tell me frankly, where are Marguerite's horses?" "Sold." "The shawl?" "Sold." "The diamonds?" "Pawned." "And who has sold and pawned them?" "Why did you not tell me?" "Because Marguerite made me promise not to." "And why did you not ask me for money?" "Because she wouldn't let me." "And where has this money gone?" "In payments." "Is she much in debt?"
"Thirty thousand francs, or thereabouts. Ah, my dear fellow, didn't I tell you? You wouldn't believe me; now you are convinced. The upholsterer whom the duke had agreed to settle with was shown out of the house when he presented himself, and the duke wrote next day to say that he would answer for nothing in regard to Mlle. Gautier. This man wanted his money; he was given part payment out of the few thousand francs that I got from you; then some kind souls warned him that his debtor had been abandoned by the duke and was living with a penniless young man; the other creditors were told the same; they asked for their money, and seized some of the goods. Marguerite wanted to sell everything, but it was too late, and besides I should have opposed it. But it was necessary to pay, and in order not to ask you for money, she sold her horses and her shawls, and pawned her jewels. Would you like to see the receipts and the pawn tickets?"And Prudence opened the drawer and showed me the papers.
"Ah, you think," she continued, with the insistence of a woman who can say, I was right after all, "ah, you think it is enough to be in love, and to go into the country and lead a dreamy, pastoral life. No, my friend, no. By the side of that ideal life, there is a material life, and the purest resolutions are held to earth by threads which seem slight enough, but which are of iron, not easily to be broken. If Marguerite has not been unfaithful to you twenty times, it is because she has an exceptional nature. It is not my fault for not advising her to, for I couldn't bear to see the poor girl stripping herself of everything. She wouldn't; she replied that she loved you, and she wouldn't be unfaithful to you for anything in the world. All that is very pretty, very poetical, but one can't pay one's creditors in that coin, and now she can't free herself from debt, unless she can raise thirty thousand francs.""All right, I will provide that amount." "You will borrow it?" "Good heavens! Why, yes!"
"A fine thing that will be to do; you will fall out with your father, cripple your resources, and one doesn't find thirty thousand francs from one day to another. Believe me, my dear Armand, I know women better than you do; do not commit this folly; you will be sorry for it one day. Be reasonable. I don't advise you to leave Marguerite, but live with her as you did at the beginning. Let her find the means to get out of this difficulty. The duke will come back in a little while. The Comte de N., if she would take him, he told me yesterday even, would pay all her debts, and give her four or five thousand francs a month. He has two hundred thousand a year. It would be a position for her, while you will certainly be obliged to leave her. Don't wait till you are ruined, especially as the Comte de N. is a fool, and nothing would prevent your still being Marguerite's lover. She would cry a little at the beginning, but she would come to accustom herself to it, and you would thank me one day for what you had done. Imagine that Marguerite is married, and deceive the husband; that is all. I have already told you all this once, only at that time it was merely advice, and now it is almost a necessity." What Prudence said was cruelly true.
"This is how it is," she went on, putting away the papers she had just shown me; "women like Marguerite always foresee that some one will love them, never that they will love; otherwise they would put aside money, and at thirty they could afford the luxury of having a lover for nothing. If I had only known once what I know now! In short, say nothing to Marguerite, and bring her back to Paris. You have lived with her alone for four or five months; that is quite enough. Shut your eyes now; that is all that any one asks of you. At the end of a fortnight she will take the Comte de N., and she will save up during the winter, and next summer you will begin over again. That is how things are done, my dear fellow!"And Prudence appeared to be enchanted with her advice, which I refused indignantly. Not only my love and my dignity would not let me act thus, but I was certain that, feeling as she did now, Marguerite would die rather than accept another lover. "Enough joking," I said to Prudence; "tell me exactly how much Marguerite is in need of." "I have told you: thirty thousand francs." "And when does she require this sum?" "Before the end of two months." "She shall have it." Prudence shrugged her shoulders. "I will give it to you," I continued, "but you must swear to me that you will not tell Marguerite that I have given it to you." "Don't be afraid." "And if she sends you anything else to sell or pawn, let me know." "There is no danger. She has nothing left." I went straight to my own house to see if there were any letters from my father. There were four.
In his first three letters my father inquired the cause of my silence; in the last he allowed me to see that he had heard of my change of life, and informed me that he was about to come and see me.
I have always had a great respect and a sincere affection for my father. I replied that I had been travelling for a short time, and begged him to let me know beforehand what day he would arrive, so that I could be there to meet him.I gave my servant my address in the country, telling him to bring me the first letter that came with the postmark of C., then I returned to Bougival. Marguerite was waiting for me at the garden gate. She looked at me anxiously. Throwing her arms round my neck, she said to me: "Have you seen Prudence?" "No." "You were a long time in Paris." "I found letters from my father to which I had to reply."
A few minutes afterward Nanine entered, all out of breath. Marguerite rose and talked with her in whispers. When Nanine had gone out Marguerite sat down by me again and said, taking my hand:"Why did you deceive me? You went to see Prudence." "Who told you?" "Nanine." "And how did she know?" "She followed you." "You told her to follow me?"
"Yes. I thought that you must have had a very strong motive for going to Paris, after not leaving me for four months. I was afraid that something might happen to you, or that you were perhaps going to see another woman."
"Child!" "Now I am relieved. I know what you have done, but I don't yet know what you have been told."I showed Marguerite my father's letters. "That is not what I am asking you about. What I want to know is why you went to see Prudence." "To see her." "That's a lie, my friend." "Well, I went to ask her if the horse was any better, and if she wanted your shawl and your jewels any longer." Marguerite blushed, but did not answer. "And," I continued, "I learned what you had done with your horses, shawls, and jewels." "And you are vexed?" "I am vexed that it never occurred to you to ask me for what you were in want of."
"In a liaison like ours, if the woman has any sense of dignity at all, she ought to make every possible sacrifice rather than ask her lover for money and so give a venal character to her love. You love me, I am sure, but you do not know on how slight a thread depends the love one has for a woman like me. Who knows? Perhaps some day when you were bored or worried you would fancy you saw a carefully concerted plan in our liaison. Prudence is a chatterbox. What need had I of the horses? It was an economy to sell them. I don't use them and I don't spend anything on their keep; if you love me, I ask nothing more, and you will love me just as much without horses, or shawls, or diamonds."All that was said so naturally that the tears came to my eyes as I listened.
"But, my good Marguerite," I replied, pressing her hands lovingly, "you knew that one day I should discover the sacrifice you had made, and that the moment I discovered it I should allow it no longer.""But why?"
"Because, my dear child, I can not allow your affection for me to deprive you of even a trinket. I too should not like you to be able, in a moment when you were bored or worried, to think that if you were living with somebody else those moments would not exist; and to repent, if only for a minute, of living with me. In a few days your horses, your diamonds, and your shawls shall be returned to you. They are as necessary to you as air is to life, and it may be absurd, but I like you better showy than simple.""Then you no longer love me." "Foolish creature!"
"If you loved me, you would let me love you my own way; on the contrary, you persist in only seeing in me a woman to whom luxury is indispensable, and whom you think you are always obliged to pay. You are ashamed to accept the proof of my love. In spite of yourself, you think of leaving me some day, and you want to put your disinterestedness beyond risk of suspicion. You are right, my friend, but I had better hopes."And Marguerite made a motion to rise; I held her, and said to her: "I want you to be happy and to have nothing to reproach me for, that is all." "And we are going to be separated!" "Why, Marguerite, who can separate us?" I cried.
"You, who will not let me take you on your own level, but insist on taking me on mine; you, who wish me to keep the luxury in the midst of which I have lived, and so keep the moral distance which separates us; you, who do not believe that my affection is sufficiently disinterested to share with me what you have, though we could live happily enough on it together, and would rather ruin yourself, because you are still bound by a foolish prejudice. Do you really think that I could compare a carriage and diamonds with your love? Do you think that my real happiness lies in the trifles that mean so much when one has nothing to love, but which become trifling indeed when one has? You will pay my debts, realize your estate, and then keep me? How long will that last? Two or three months, and then it will be too late to live the life I propose, for then you will have to take everything from me, and that is what a man of honour can not do; while now you have eight or ten thousand francs a year, on which we should be able to live. I will sell the rest of what I do not want, and with this alone I will make two thousand francs a year. We will take a nice little flat in which we can both live. In the summer we will go into the country, not to a house like this, but to a house just big enough for two people. You are independent, I am free, we are young; in heaven's name, Armand, do not drive me back into the life I had to lead once!"
I could not answer. Tears of gratitude and love filled my eyes, and I flung myself into Marguerite's arms.
"I wanted," she continued, "to arrange everything without telling you, pay all my debts, and take a new flat. In October we should have been back in Paris, and all would have come out; but since Prudence has told you all, you will have to agree beforehand, instead of agreeing afterward. Do you love me enough for that?"
It was agreed that we should do as she had planned. Thereupon, she went wild with delight; danced, sang, amused herself with calling up pictures of her new flat in all its simplicity, and began to consult me as to its position and arrangement. I saw how happy and proud she was of this resolution, which seemed as if it would bring us into closer and closer relationship, and I resolved to do my own share. In an instant I decided the whole course of my life. I put my affairs in order, and made over to Marguerite the income which had come to me from my mother, and which seemed little enough in return for the sacrifice which I was accepting. There remained the five thousand francs a year from my father; and, whatever happened, I had always enough to live on. I did not tell Marguerite what I had done, certain as I was that she would refuse the gift. This income came from a mortgage of sixty thousand francs on a house that I had never even seen. All that I knew was that every three months my father's solicitor, an old friend of the family, handed over to me seven hundred and fifty francs in return for my receipt.
The day when Marguerite and I came to Paris to look for a flat, I went to this solicitor and asked him what had to be done in order to make over this income to another person. The good man imagined I was ruined, and questioned me as to the cause of my decision. As I knew that I should be obliged, sooner or later, to say in whose favour I made this transfer, I thought it best to tell him the truth at once. He made none of the objections that his position as friend and solicitor authorized him to make, and assured me that he would arrange the whole affair in the best way possible. Naturally, I begged him to employ the greatest discretion in regard to my father, and on leaving him I rejoined Marguerite, who was waiting for me at Julie Duprat's, where she had gone in preference to going to listen to the moralizings of Prudence.
We began to look out for flats. All those that we saw seemed to Marguerite too dear, and to me too simple. However, we finally found, in one of the quietest parts of Paris, a little house, isolated from the main part of the building. Behind this little house was a charming garden, surrounded by walls high enough to screen us from our neighbours, and low enough not to shut off our own view. It was better than our expectations.
While I went to give notice at my own flat, Marguerite went to see a business agent, who, she told me, had already done for one of her friends exactly what she wanted him to do for her. She came on to the Rue de Provence in a state of great delight. The man had promised to pay all her debts, to give her a receipt for the amount, and to hand over to her twenty thousand francs, in return for the whole of her furniture. You have seen by the amount taken at the sale that this honest man would have gained thirty thousand francs out of his client.
We went back joyously to Bougival, talking over our projects for the future, which, thanks to our heedlessness, and especially to our love, we saw in the rosiest light.A week later, as we were having lunch, Nanine came to tell us that my servant was asking for me. "Let him come in," I said. "Sir," said he, "your father has arrived in Paris, and begs you to return at once to your rooms, where he is waiting for you."
This piece of news was the most natural thing in the world, yet, as we heard it, Marguerite and I looked at one another. We foresaw trouble. Before she had spoken a word, I replied to her thought, and, taking her hand, I said, "Fear nothing.""Come back as soon as possible," whispered Marguerite, embracing me; "I will wait for you at the window." I sent on Joseph to tell my father that I was on my way. Two hours later I was at the Rue de Provence.
My father was seated in my room in his dressing-gown; he was writing, and I saw at once, by the way in which he raised his eyes to me when I came in, that there was going to be a serious discussion. I went up to him, all the same, as if I had seen nothing in his face, embraced him, and said:"When did you come, father?" "Last night." "Did you come straight here, as usual?" "Yes." "I am very sorry not to have been here to receive you."
I expected that the sermon which my father's cold face threatened would begin at once; but he said nothing, sealed the letter which he had just written, and gave it to Joseph to post.When we were alone, my father rose, and leaning against the mantel-piece, said to me: "My dear Armand, we have serious matters to discuss." "I am listening, father." "You promise me to be frank?" "Am I not accustomed to be so?" "Is it not true that you are living with a woman called Marguerite Gautier?" "Yes." "Do you know what this woman was?" "A kept woman." "And it is for her that you have forgotten to come and see your sister and me this year?" "Yes, father, I admit it." "You are very much in love with this woman?" "You see it, father, since she has made me fail in duty toward you, for which I humbly ask your forgiveness to-day." My father, no doubt, was not expecting such categorical answers, for he seemed to reflect a moment, and then said to me: "You have, of course, realized that you can not always live like that?" "I fear so, father, but I have not realized it." "But you must realize," continued my father, in a dryer tone, "that I, at all events, should not permit it."
"I have said to myself that as long as I did nothing contrary to the respect which I owe to the traditional probity of the family I could live as I am living, and this has reassured me somewhat in regard to the fears I have had."Passions are formidable enemies to sentiment. I was prepared for every struggle, even with my father, in order that I might keep Marguerite. "Then, the moment is come when you must live otherwise." "Why, father?" "Because you are doing things which outrage the respect that you imagine you have for your family." "I don't follow your meaning."
"I will explain it to you. Have a mistress if you will; pay her as a man of honour is bound to pay the woman whom he keeps, by all means; but that you should come to forget the most sacred things for her, that you should let the report of your scandalous life reach my quiet countryside, and set a blot on the honourable name that I have given you, it can not, it shall not be."
"Permit me to tell you, father, that those who have given you information about me have been ill-informed. I am the lover of Mlle. Gautier; I live with her; it is the most natural thing in the world. I do not give Mlle. Gautier the name you have given me; I spend on her account what my means allow me to spend; I have no debts; and, in short, I am not in a position which authorizes a father to say to his son what you have just said to me.""A father is always authorized to rescue his son out of evil paths. You have not done any harm yet, but you will do it." "Father!"
"Sir, I know more of life than you do. There are no entirely pure sentiments except in perfectly chaste women. Every Manon can have her own Des Grieux, and times are changed. It would be useless for the world to grow older if it did not correct its ways. You will leave your mistress.""I am very sorry to disobey you, father, but it is impossible." "I will compel you to do so."
"Unfortunately, father, there no longer exists a Sainte Marguerite to which courtesans can be sent, and, even if there were, I would follow Mlle. Gautier if you succeeded in having her sent there. What would you have? Perhaps am in the wrong, but I can only be happy as long as I am the lover of this woman."
"Come, Armand, open your eyes. Recognise that it is your father who speaks to you, your father who has always loved you, and who only desires your happiness. Is it honourable for you to live like husband and wife with a woman whom everybody has had?"
"What does it matter, father, if no one will any more? What does it matter, if this woman loves me, if her whole life is changed through the love which she has for me and the love which I have for her? What does it matter, if she has become a different woman?"
"Do you think, then, sir, that the mission of a man of honour is to go about converting lost women? Do you think that God has given such a grotesque aim to life, and that the heart should have any room for enthusiasm of that kind? What will be the end of this marvellous cure, and what will you think of what you are saying to-day by the time you are forty? You will laugh at this love of yours, if you can still laugh, and if it has not left too serious a trace in your past. What would you be now if your father had had your ideas and had given up his life to every impulse of this kind, instead of rooting himself firmly in convictions of honour and steadfastness? Think it over, Armand, and do not talk any more such absurdities. Come, leave this woman; your father entreats you."I answered nothing.
"Armand," continued my father, "in the name of your sainted mother, abandon this life, which you will forget more easily than you think. You are tied to it by an impossible theory. You are twenty-four; think of the future. You can not always love this woman, who also can not always love you. You both exaggerate your love. You put an end to your whole career. One step further, and you will no longer be able to leave the path you have chosen, and you will suffer all your life for what you have done in your youth. Leave Paris. Come and stay for a month or two with your sister and me. Rest in our quiet family affection will soon heal you of this fever, for it is nothing else. Meanwhile, your mistress will console herself; she will take another lover; and when you see what it is for which you have all but broken with your father, and all but lost his love, you will tell me that I have done well to come and seek you out, and you will thank me for it. Come, you will go with me, Armand, will you not?" I felt that my father would be right if it had been any other woman, but I was convinced that he was wrong with regard to Marguerite. Nevertheless, the tone in which he said these last words was so kind, so appealing, that I dared not answer."Well?" said he in a trembling voice.
"Well, father, I can promise nothing," I said at last; "what you ask of me is beyond my power. Believe me," I continued, seeing him make an impatient movement, "you exaggerate the effects of this liaison. Marguerite is a different kind of a woman from what you think. This love, far from leading me astray, is capable, on the contrary, of setting me in the right direction. Love always makes a man better, no matter what woman inspires it. If you knew Marguerite, you would understand that I am in no danger. She is as noble as the noblest of women. There is as much disinterestedness in her as there is cupidity in others."
"All of which does not prevent her from accepting the whole of your fortune, for the sixty thousand francs which come to you from your mother, and which you are giving her, are, understand me well, your whole fortune."My father had probably kept this peroration and this threat for the last stroke. I was firmer before these threats than before his entreaties. "Who told you that I was handing this sum to her?" I asked.
"My solicitor. Could an honest man carry out such a procedure without warning me? Well, it is to prevent you from ruining yourself for a prostitute that I am now in Paris. Your mother, when she died, left you enough to live on respectably, and not to squander on your mistresses.""I swear to you, father, that Marguerite knew nothing of this transfer." "Why, then, do you make it?" "Because Marguerite, the woman you calumniate, and whom you wish me to abandon, is sacrificing all that she possesses in order to live with me."
"And you accept this sacrifice? What sort of a man are you, sir, to allow Mlle. Gautier to sacrifice anything for you? Come, enough of this. You will leave this woman. Just now I begged you; now I command you. I will have no such scandalous doings in my family. Pack up your things and get ready to come with me.""Pardon me, father," I said, "but I shall not come." "And why?" "Because I am at an age when no one any longer obeys a command." My father turned pale at my answer. "Very well, sir," he said, "I know what remains to be done." He rang and Joseph appeared.
"Have my things taken to the Hotel de Paris," he said to my servant. And thereupon he went to his room and finished dressing. When he returned, I went up to him."Promise me, father," I said, "that you will do nothing to give Marguerite pain?"
My father stopped, looked at me disdainfully, and contented himself with saying, "I believe you are mad." After this he went out, shutting the door violently after him.I went downstairs, took a cab, and returned to Bougival. Marguerite was waiting for me at the window.
"My God! I was afraid of it," she said. "When Joseph came to tell you of your father's arrival I trembled as if he had brought news of some misfortune. My poor friend, I am the cause of all your distress. You will be better off, perhaps, if you leave me and do not quarrel with your father on my account. He knows that you are sure to have a mistress, and he ought to be thankful that it is I, since I love you and do not want more of you than your position allows. Did you tell him how we had arranged our future?""Yes; that is what annoyed him the most, for he saw how much we really love one another." "What are we to do, then?" "Hold together, my good Marguerite, and let the storm pass over." "Will it pass?" "It will have to." "But your father will not stop there." "What do you suppose he can do?"
"How do I know? Everything that a father can do to make his son obey him. He will remind you of my past life, and will perhaps do me the honour of inventing some new story, so that you may give me up.""You know that I love you." "Yes, but what I know, too, is that, sooner or later, you will have to obey your father, and perhaps you will end by believing him."
"No, Marguerite. It is I who will make him believe me. Some of his friends have been telling him tales which have made him angry; but he is good and just, he will change his first impression; and then, after all, what does it matter to me?" "Do not say that, Armand. I would rather anything should happen than that you should quarrel with your family; wait till after to-day, and to-morrow go back to Paris. Your father, too, will have thought it over on his side, and perhaps you will both come to a better understanding. Do not go against his principles, pretend to make some concessions to what he wants; seem not to care so very much about me, and he will let things remain as they are. Hope, my friend, and be sure of one thing, that whatever happens, Marguerite will always be yours.""You swear it?" "Do I need to swear it?"
How sweet it is to let oneself be persuaded by the voice that one loves! Marguerite and I spent the whole day in talking over our projects for the future, as if we felt the need of realizing them as quickly as possible. At every moment we awaited some event, but the day passed without bringing us any new tidings.Next day I left at ten o'clock, and reached the hotel about twelve. My father had gone out.
I went to my own rooms, hoping that he had perhaps gone there. No one had called. I went to the solicitor's. No one was there. I went back to the hotel, and waited till six. M. Duval did not return, and I went back to Bougival.
I found Marguerite not waiting for me, as she had been the day before, but sitting by the fire, which the weather still made necessary. She was so absorbed in her thoughts that I came close to her chair without her hearing me. When I put my lips to her forehead she started as if the kiss had suddenly awakened her."You frightened me," she said. "And your father?" "I have not seen him. I do not know what it means. He was not at his hotel, nor anywhere where there was a chance of my finding him." "Well, you must try again to-morrow." "I am very much inclined to wait till he sends for me. I think I have done all that can be expected of me." "No, my friend, it is not enough; you must call on your father again, and you must call to-morrow."
"Why to-morrow rather than any other day?" "Because," said Marguerite, and it seemed to me that she blushed slightly at this question, "because it will show that you are the more keen about it, and he will forgive us the sooner."
For the remainder of the day Marguerite was sad and preoccupied. I had to repeat twice over everything I said to her to obtain an answer. She ascribed this preoccupation to her anxiety in regard to the events which had happened during the last two days. I spent the night in reassuring her, and she sent me away in the morning with an insistent disquietude that I could not explain to myself.Again my father was absent, but he had left this letter for me: "If you call again to-day, wait for me till four. If I am not in by four, come and dine with me to-morrow. I must see you." I waited till the hour he had named, but he did not appear. I returned to Bougival.
The night before I had found Marguerite sad; that night I found her feverish and agitated. On seeing me, she flung her arms around my neck, but she cried for a long time in my arms. I questioned her as to this sudden distress, which alarmed me by its violence. She gave me no positive reason, but put me off with those evasions which a woman resorts to when she will not tell the truth.
When she was a little calmed down, I told her the result of my visit, and I showed her my father's letter, from which, I said, we might augur well. At the sight of the letter and on hearing my comment, her tears began to flow so copiously that I feared an attack of nerves, and, calling Nanine, I put her to bed, where she wept without a word, but held my hands and kissed them every moment.
I asked Nanine if, during my absence, her mistress had received any letter or visit which could account for the state in which I found her, but Nanine replied that no one had called and nothing had been sent.Something, however, had occurred since the day before, something which troubled me the more because Marguerite concealed it from me.
In the evening she seemed a little calmer, and, making me sit at the foot of the bed, she told me many times how much she loved me. She smiled at me, but with an effort, for in spite of herself her eyes were veiled with tears.
I used every means to make her confess the real cause of her distress, but she persisted in giving me nothing but vague reasons, as I have told you. At last she fell asleep in my arms, but it was the sleep which tires rather than rests the body. From time to time she uttered a cry, started up, and, after assuring herself that I was beside her, made me swear that I would always love her.
I could make nothing of these intermittent paroxysms of distress, which went on till morning. Then Marguerite fell into a kind of stupor. She had not slept for two nights.
"Oh, yes, you will come back to-night. I shall wait for you, as I always do, and you will love me, and we shall be happy, as we have been ever since we have known each other."
All these words were said in such a strained voice, they seemed to hide so persistent and so sorrowful a thought, that I trembled every moment lest Marguerite should become delirious."Listen," I said. "You are ill. I can not leave you like this. I will write and tell my father not to expect me."
"No, no," she cried hastily, "don't do that. Your father will accuse me of hindering you again from going to see him when he wants to see you; no, no, you must go, you must! Besides, I am not ill. I am quite well. I had a bad dream and am not yet fully awake."
From that moment Marguerite tried to seem more cheerful. There were no more tears.
When the hour came for me to go, I embraced her and asked her if she would come with me as far as the train; I hoped that the walk would distract her and that the air would do her good. I wanted especially to be with her as long as possible.
She agreed, put on her cloak and took Nanine with her, so as not to return alone. Twenty times I was on the point of not going. But the hope of a speedy return, and the fear of offending my father still more, sustained me, and I took my place in the train."Till this evening!" I said to Marguerite, as I left her. She did not reply.
Once already she had not replied to the same words, and the Comte de G., you will remember, had spent the night with her; but that time was so far away that it seemed to have been effaced from my memory, and if I had any fear, it was certainly not of Marguerite being unfaithful to me. Reaching Paris, I hastened off to see Prudence, intending to ask her to go and keep Marguerite company, in the hope that her mirth and liveliness would distract her. I entered without being announced, and found Prudence at her toilet."Ah!" she said, anxiously; "is Marguerite with you?" "No." "How is she?" "She is not well." "Is she not coming?" "Did you expect her?" Madame Duvernoy reddened, and replied, with a certain constraint: "I only meant that since you are at Paris, is she not coming to join you?" "No." I looked at Prudence; she cast down her eyes, and I read in her face the fear of seeing my visit prolonged.
"I even came to ask you, my dear Prudence, if you have nothing to do this evening, to go and see Marguerite; you will be company for her, and you can stay the night. I never saw her as she was to-day, and I am afraid she is going to be ill.""I am dining in town," replied Prudence, "and I can't go and see Marguerite this evening. I will see her tomorrow."
I took leave of Mme. Duvernoy, who seemed almost as preoccupied as Marguerite, and went on to my father's; his first glance seemed to study me attentively. He held out his hand."Your two visits have given me pleasure, Armand," he said; "they make me hope that you have thought over things on your side as I have on mine." "May I ask you, father, what was the result of your reflection?"
"The result, my dear boy, is that I have exaggerated the importance of the reports that had been made to me, and that I have made up my mind to be less severe with you.""What are you saying, father?" I cried joyously.
"I say, my dear child, that every young man must have his mistress, and that, from the fresh information I have had, I would rather see you the lover of Mlle. Gautier than of any one else.""My dear father, how happy you make me!" We talked in this manner for some moments, and then sat down to table. My father was charming all dinner time. I was in a hurry to get back to Bougival to tell Marguerite about this fortunate change, and I looked at the clock every moment. "You are watching the time," said my father, "and you are impatient to leave me. O young people, how you always sacrifice sincere to doubtful affections!" "Do not say that, father; Marguerite loves me, I am sure of it." My father did not answer; he seemed to say neither yes nor no.
He was very insistent that I should spend the whole evening with him and not go till the morning; but Marguerite had not been well when I left her. I told him of it, and begged his permission to go back to her early, promising to come again on the morrow.
The weather was fine; he walked with me as far as the station. Never had I been so happy. The future appeared as I had long desired to see it. I had never loved my father as I loved him at that moment.
"Go, then," and he passed his hand across his forehead as if to chase a thought, then opened his mouth as if to say something; but he only pressed my hand, and left me hurriedly, saying:"Till to-morrow, then!"
Not a window in the house was lighted up, and when I rang no one answered the bell. It was the first time that such a thing had occurred to me. At last the gardener came. I entered. Nanine met me with a light. I went to Marguerite's room."Where is madame?" "Gone to Paris," replied Nanine. "To Paris!" "Yes, sir." "When?" "An hour after you." "She left no word for me?" "Nothing." Nanine left me.
Perhaps she had some suspicion or other, I thought, and went to Paris to make sure that my visit to my father was not an excuse for a day off. Perhaps Prudence wrote to her about something important. I said to myself when I was alone; but I saw Prudence; she said nothing to make me suppose that she had written to Marguerite.
All at once I remembered Mme. Duvernoy's question, "Isn't she coming to-day?" when I had said that Marguerite was ill. I remembered at the same time how embarrassed Prudence had appeared when I looked at her after this remark, which seemed to indicate an appointment. I remembered, too, Marguerite's tears all day long, which my father's kind reception had rather put out of my mind. From this moment all the incidents grouped themselves about my first suspicion, and fixed it so firmly in my mind that everything served to confirm it, even my father's kindness.
Marguerite had almost insisted on my going to Paris; she had pretended to be calmer when I had proposed staying with her. Had I fallen into some trap? Was Marguerite deceiving me? Had she counted on being back in time for me not to perceive her absence, and had she been detained by chance? Why had she said nothing to Nanine, or why had she not written? What was the meaning of those tears, this absence, this mystery?
That is what I asked myself in affright, as I stood in the vacant room, gazing at the clock, which pointed to midnight, and seemed to say to me that it was too late to hope for my mistress's return. Yet, after all the arrangements we had just made, after the sacrifices that had been offered and accepted, was it likely that she was deceiving me? No. I tried to get rid of my first supposition.
Probably she had found a purchaser for her furniture, and she had gone to Paris to conclude the bargain. She did not wish to tell me beforehand, for she knew that, though I had consented to it, the sale, so necessary to our future happiness, was painful to me, and she feared to wound my self-respect in speaking to me about it. She would rather not see me till the whole thing was done, and that was evidently why Prudence was expecting her when she let out the secret. Marguerite could not finish the whole business to-day, and was staying the night with Prudence, or perhaps she would come even now, for she must know bow anxious I should be, and would not wish to leave me in that condition. But, if so, why those tears? No doubt, despite her love for me, the poor girl could not make up her mind to give up all the luxury in which she had lived until now, and for which she had been so envied, without crying over it. I was quite ready to forgive her for such regrets. I waited for her impatiently, that I might say to her, as I covered her with kisses, that I had guessed the reason of her mysterious absence.Nevertheless, the night went on, and Marguerite did not return.
My anxiety tightened its circle little by little, and began to oppress my head and heart. Perhaps something had happened to her. Perhaps she was injured, ill, dead. Perhaps a messenger would arrive with the news of some dreadful accident. Perhaps the daylight would find me with the same uncertainty and with the same fears.
The idea that Marguerite was perhaps unfaithful to me at the very moment when I waited for her in terror at her absence did not return to my mind. There must be some cause, independent of her will, to keep her away from me, and the more I thought, the more convinced I was that this cause could only be some mishap or other. O vanity of man, coming back to us in every form!
One o'clock struck. I said to myself that I would wait another hour, but that at two o'clock, if Marguerite had not returned, I would set out for Paris. Meanwhile I looked about for a book, for I dared not think. Manon Lescaut was open on the table. It seemed to me that here and there the pages were wet as if with tears. I turned the leaves over and then closed the book, for the letters seemed to me void of meaning through the veil of my doubts.
Time went slowly. The sky was covered with clouds. An autumn rain lashed the windows. The empty bed seemed at moments to assume the aspect of a tomb. I was afraid.
I opened the door. I listened, and heard nothing but the voice of the wind in the trees. Not a vehicle was to be seen on the road. The half hour sounded sadly from the church tower.I began to fear lest some one should enter. It seemed to me that only a disaster could come at that hour and under that sombre sky. Two o'clock struck. I still waited a little. Only the sound of the bell troubled the silence with its monotonous and rhythmical stroke. At last I left the room, where every object had assumed that melancholy aspect which the restless solitude of the heart gives to all its surroundings. In the next room I found Nanine sleeping over her work. At the sound of the door, she awoke and asked if her mistress had come in. "No; but if she comes in, tell her that I was so anxious that I had to go to Paris." "At this hour?" "Yes. "But how? You won't find a carriage." "I will walk." "But it is raining." "No matter." "But madame will be coming back, or if she doesn't come it will be time enough in the morning to go and see what has kept her. You will be murdered on the way." "There is no danger, my dear Nanine; I will see you to-morrow."
The good girl went and got me a cloak, put it over my shoulders, and offered to wake up Mme. Arnould to see if a vehicle could be obtained; but I would hear of nothing, convinced as I was that I should lose, in a perhaps fruitless inquiry, more time than I should take to cover half the road. Besides, I felt the need of air and physical fatigue in order to cool down the over- excitement which possessed me.I took the key of the flat in the Rue d'Antin, and after saying good-bye to Nanine, who came with me as far as the gate, I set out.
At first I began to run, but the earth was muddy with rain, and I fatigued myself doubly. At the end of half an hour I was obliged to stop, and I was drenched with sweat. I recovered my breath and went on. The night was so dark that at every step I feared to dash myself against one of the trees on the roadside, which rose up sharply before me like great phantoms rushing upon me.
I overtook one or two wagons, which I soon left behind. A carriage was going at full gallop toward Bougival. As it passed me the hope came to me that Marguerite was in it. I stopped and cried out, "Marguerite! Marguerite!" But no one answered and the carriage continued its course. I watched it fade away in the distance, and then started on my way again. I took two hours to reach the Barriere de l'Etoile. The sight of Paris restored my strength, and I ran the whole length of the alley I had so often walked.
That night no one was passing; it was like going through the midst of a dead city. The dawn began to break. When I reached the Rue d'Antin the great city stirred a little before quite awakening. Five o'clock struck at the church of Saint Roch at the moment when I entered Marguerite's house. I called out my name to the porter, who had had from me enough twenty-franc pieces to know that I had the right to call on Mlle. Gautier at five in the morning. I passed without difficulty. I might have asked if Marguerite was at home, but he might have said "No," and I preferred to remain in doubt two minutes longer, for, as long as I doubted, there was still hope.
I listened at the door, trying to discover a sound, a movement. Nothing. The silence of the country seemed to be continued here. I opened the door and entered. All the curtains were hermetically closed. I drew those of the diningroom and went toward the bed-room and pushed open the door. I sprang at the curtain cord and drew it violently. The curtain opened, a faint light made its way in. I rushed to the bed. It was empty.I opened the doors one after another. I visited every room. No one. It was enough to drive one mad. I went into the dressing-room, opened the window, and called Prudence several times. Mme. Duvernoy's window remained closed. I went downstairs to the porter and asked him if Mlle. Gautier had come home during the day. "Yes," answered the man; "with Mme. Duvernoy." "She left no word for me?" "No." "Do you know what they did afterward?" "They went away in a carriage." "What sort of a carriage?" "A private carriage." What could it all mean? I rang at the next door. "Where are you going, sir?" asked the porter, when he had opened to me. "To Mme. Duvernoy's." "She has not come back." "You are sure?" "Yes, sir; here's a letter even, which was brought for her last night and which I have not yet given her."
And the porter showed me a letter which I glanced at mechanically. I recognised Marguerite's writing. I took the letter. It was addressed, "To Mme. Duvernoy, to forward to M. Duval.""This letter is for me," I said to the porter, as I showed him the address. "You are M. Duval?" he replied. "Yes. "Ah! I remember. You often came to see Mme. Duvernoy." When I was in the street I broke the seal of the letter. If a thunder-bolt had fallen at my feet I should have been less startled than I was by what I read. "By the time you read this letter, Armand, I shall be the mistress of another man.
All is over between us.
"Go back to your father, my friend, and to your sister, and there, by the side of a pure young girl, ignorant of all our miseries, you will soon forget what you would have suffered through that lost creature who is called Marguerite Gautier, whom you have loved for an instant, and who owes to you the only happy moments of a life which, she hopes, will not be very long now."
When I had read the last word, I thought I should have gone mad. For a moment I was really afraid of falling in the street. A cloud passed before my eyes and my blood beat in my temples. At last I came to myself a little. I looked about me, and was astonished to see the life of others continue without pausing at my distress.
I was not strong enough to endure the blow alone. Then I remembered that my father was in the same city, that I might be with him in ten minutes, and that, whatever might be the cause of my sorrow, he would share it.
I ran like a madman, like a thief, to the Hotel de Paris; I found the key in the door of my father's room; I entered. He was reading. He showed so little astonishment at seeing me, that it was as if he was expecting me. I flung myself into his arms without saying a word. I gave him Marguerite's letter, and, falling on my knees beside his bed, I wept hot tears.
When the current of life had resumed its course, I could not believe that the day which I saw dawning would not be like those which had preceded it. There were moments when I fancied that some circumstance, which I could not recollect, had obliged me to spend the night away from Marguerite, but that, if I returned to Bougival, I should find her again as anxious as I had been, and that she would ask me what had detained me away from her so long.
When one's existence has contracted a habit, such as that of this love, it seems impossible that the habit should be broken without at the same time breaking all the other springs of life. I was forced from time to time to reread Marguerite's letter, in order to convince myself that I had not been dreaming.
My body, succumbing to the moral shock, was incapable of movement. Anxiety, the night walk, and the morning's news had prostrated me. My father profited by this total prostration of all my faculties to demand of me a formal promise to accompany him. I promised all that he asked, for I was incapable of sustaining a discussion, and I needed some affection to help me to live, after what had happened. I was too thankful that my father was willing to console me under such a calamity.
All that I remember is that on that day, about five o'clock, he took me with him in a post-chaise. Without a word to me, he had had my luggage packed and put up behind the chaise with his own, and so he carried me off. I did not realize what I was doing until the town had disappeared and the solitude of the road recalled to me the emptiness of my heart. Then my tears again began to flow.
My father had realized that words, even from him, would do nothing to console me, and he let me weep without saying a word, only sometimes pressing my hand, as if to remind me that I had a friend at my side.At night I slept a little. I dreamed of Marguerite.
I woke with a start, not recalling why I was in the carriage. Then the truth came back upon me, and I let my head sink on my breast. I dared not say anything to my father. I was afraid he would say, "You see I was right when I declared that this woman did not love you." But he did not use his advantage, and we reached C. without his having said anything to me except to speak of matters quite apart from the event which had occasioned my leaving Paris.
When I embraced my sister, I remembered what Marguerite had said about her in her letter, and I saw at once how little my sister, good as she was, would be able to make me forget my mistress.
Shooting had begun, and my father thought that it would be a distraction for me. He got up shooting parties with friends and neighbours. I went without either reluctance or enthusiasm, with that sort of apathy into which I had sunk since my departure.
We were beating about for game and I was given my post. I put down my unloaded gun at my side, and meditated. I watched the clouds pass. I let my thought wander over the solitary plains, and from time to time I heard some one call to me and point to a hare not ten paces off. None of these details escaped my father, and he was not deceived by my exterior calm. He was well aware that, broken as I now was, I should some day experience a terrible reaction, which might be dangerous, and, without seeming to make any effort to console me, he did his utmost to distract my thoughts.
My sister, naturally, knew nothing of what had happened, and she could not understand how it was that I, who had formerly been so lighthearted, had suddenly become so sad and dreamy.
Sometimes, surprising in the midst of my sadness my father's anxious scrutiny, I pressed his hand as if to ask him tacitly to forgive me for the pain which, in spite of myself, I was giving him.
Thus a month passed, but at the end of that time I could endure it no longer. The memory of Marguerite pursued me unceasingly. I had loved, I still loved this woman so much that I could not suddenly become indifferent to her. I had to love or to hate her. Above all, whatever I felt for her, I had to see her again, and at once. This desire possessed my mind, and with all the violence of a will which had begun to reassert itself in a body so long inert.
It was not enough for me to see Marguerite in a month, a week. I had to see her the very next day after the day when the thought had occurred to me; and I went to my father and told him that I had been called to Paris on business, but that I should return promptly. No doubt he guessed the reason of my departure, for he insisted that I should stay, but, seeing that if I did not carry out my intention the consequences, in the state in which I was, might be fatal, he embraced me, and begged me, almost, with tears, to return without delay.
I did not sleep on the way to Paris. Once there, what was I going to do? I did not know; I only knew that it must be something connected with Marguerite. I went to my rooms to change my clothes, and, as the weather was fine and it was still early, I made my way to the Champs-Elysees. At the end of half an hour I saw Marguerite's carriage, at some distance, coming from the Rond-Point to the Place de la Concorde. She had repurchased her horses, for the carriage was just as I was accustomed to see it, but she was not in it. Scarcely had I noticed this fact, when looking around me, I saw Marguerite on foot, accompanied by a woman whom I had never seen.
As she passed me she turned pale, and a nervous smile tightened about her lips. For my part, my heart beat violently in my breast; but I succeeded in giving a cold expression to my face, as I bowed coldly to my former mistress, who just then reached her carriage, into which she got with her friend.
I knew Marguerite: this unexpected meeting must certainly have upset her. No doubt she had heard that I had gone away, and had thus been reassured as to the consequences of our rupture; but, seeing me again in Paris, finding herself face to face with me, pale as I was, she must have realized that I had not returned without purpose, and she must have asked herself what that purpose was.
If I had seen Marguerite unhappy, if, in revenging myself upon her, I could have come to her aid, I should perhaps have forgiven her, and certainly I should have never dreamt of doing her an injury. But I found her apparently happy, some one else had restored to her the luxury which I could not give her; her breaking with me seemed to assume a character of the basest self-interest; I was lowered in my own esteem as well as in my love. I resolved that she should pay for what I had suffered.
I could not be indifferent to what she did, consequently what would hurt her the most would be my indifference; it was, therefore, this sentiment which I must affect, not only in her eyes, but in the eyes of others.
I tried to put on a smiling countenance, and I went to call on Prudence. The maid announced me, and I had to wait a few minutes in the drawing-room. At last Mme. Duvernoy appeared and asked me into her boudoir; as I seated myself I heard the drawing-room door open, a light footstep made the floor creak and the front door was closed violently."I am disturbing you," I said to Prudence. "Not in the least. Marguerite was there. When she heard you announced, she made her escape; it was she who has just gone out." "Is she afraid of me now?" "No. but she is afraid that you would not wish to see her."
"But why?" I said, drawing my breath with difficulty, for I was choked with emotion. "The poor girl left me for her carriage, her furniture, and her diamonds; she did quite right, and I don't bear her any grudge. I met her to-day," I continued carelessly."Where?" asked Prudence, looking at me and seeming to ask herself if this was the same man whom she had known so madly in love. "In the Champs-Elysees. She was with another woman, very pretty. Who is she?" "What was she like?" "Blonde, slender, with side curls; blue eyes; very elegant." "Ali! It was Olympe; she is really very pretty." "Whom does she live with?" "With nobody; with anybody." "Where does she live?" "Rue Troncliet, No.--. Do you want to make love to her?" "One never knows." "And Marguerite?"
"I should hardly tell you the truth if I said I think no more about her; but I am one of those with whom everything depends on the way in which one breaks with them. Now Marguerite ended with me so lightly that I realize I was a great fool to have been as much in love with her as I was, for I was really very much in love with that girl."You can imagine the way in which I said that; the sweat broke out on my forehead.
"She was very fond of you, you know, and she still is; the proof is, that after meeting you to-day, she came straight to tell me about it. When she got here she was all of a tremble; I thought she was going to faint.""Well, what did she say?" "She said, 'He is sure to come here,' and she begged me to ask you to forgive her."
"I have forgiven her, you may tell her. She was a good girl; but, after all, like the others, and I ought to have expected what happened. I am even grateful to her, for I see now what would have happened if I had lived with her altogether. It was ridiculous."
"She will be very glad to find that you take it so well. It was quite time she left you, my dear fellow. The rascal of an agent to whom she had offered to sell her furniture went around to her creditors to find out how much she owed; they took fright, and in two days she would have been sold up.""And now it is all paid?" "More or less." "And who has supplied the money?"
"The Comte de N. Ah, my dear friend, there are men made on purpose for such occasions. To cut a long story short he gave her twenty thousand francs, but he has had his way at last. He knows quite well that Marguerite is not in love with him; but he is very nice with her all the same. As you have seen, he has repurchased her horses, he has taken her jewels out of pawn, and he gives her as much money as the duke used to give her; if she likes to live quietly, he will stay with her a long time.""And what is she doing? Is she living in Paris altogether?"
"She would never go back to Bougival after you went. I had to go myself and see after all her things, and yours, too. I made a package of them and you can send here for them. You will find everything, except a little case with your initials. Marguerite wanted to keep it. If you really want it, I will ask her for it."
"Let her keep it," I stammered, for I felt the tears rise from my heart to my eyes at the recollection of the village where I had been so happy, and at the thought that Marguerite cared to keep something which had belonged to me and would recall me to her. If she had entered at that moment my thoughts of vengeance would have disappeared, and I should have fallen at her feet.
"For the rest," continued Prudence, "I never saw her as she is now; she hardly takes any sleep, she goes to all the balls, she goes to suppers, she even drinks. The other day, after a supper, she had to stay in bed for a week; and when the doctor let her get up, she began again at the risk of her life. Shall you go and see her?"
"What is the good? I came to see you, because you have always been charming to me, and I knew you before I ever knew Marguerite. I owe it to you that I have been her lover, and also, don't I, that I am her lover no longer?""Well, I did all I could to get her away from you, and I believe you will be thankful to me later on." I owe you a double gratitude," I added, rising, for I was disgusted with the woman, seeing her take every word I said to her as if it were serious. "You are going?" "Yes." I had learned enough. "When shall I be seeing you?" "Soon. Good-bye." "Good-bye." Prudence saw me to the door, and I went back to my own rooms with tears of rage in my eyes and a desire for vengeance in my heart.
So Marguerite was no different from the others; so the steadfast love that she had had for me could not resist the desire of returning to her former life, and the need of having a carriage and plunging into dissipation. So I said to myself, as I lay awake at night though if I had reflected as calmly as I professed to I should have seen in this new and turbulent life of Marguerite the attempt to silence a constant thought, a ceaseless memory. Unfortunately, evil passion had the upper hand, and I only sought for some means of avenging myself on the poor creature. Oh, how petty and vile is man when he is wounded in one of his narrow passions!
This Olympe whom I had seen was, if not a friend of Marguerite, at all events the woman with whom she was most often seen since her return to Paris. She was going to give a ball, and, as I took it for granted that Marguerite would be there, I tried to get an invitation and succeeded.
When, full of my sorrowful emotions, I arrived at the ball, it was already very animated. They were dancing, shouting even, and in one of the quadrilles I perceived Marguerite dancing with the Comte de N., who seemed proud of showing her off, as if he said to everybody: "This woman is mine."
I leaned against the mantel-piece just opposite Marguerite and watched her dancing. Her face changed the moment she caught sight of me. I saluted her casually with a glance of the eyes and a wave of the hand.
When I reflected that after the ball she would go home, not with me but with that rich fool, when I thought of what would follow their return, the blood rose to my face, and I felt the need of doing something to trouble their relations.
After the contredanse I went up to the mistress of the house, who displayed for the benefit of her guests a dazzling bosom and magnificent shoulders. She was beautiful, and, from the point of view of figure, more beautiful than Marguerite. I realized this fact still more clearly from certain glances which Marguerite bestowed upon her while I was talking with her. The man who was the lover of such a woman might well be as proud as M. de N., and she was beautiful enough to inspire a passion not less great than that which Marguerite had inspired in me. At that moment she had no lover. It would not be difficult to become so; it depended only on showing enough money to attract her attention.
I made up my mind. That woman should be my mistress. I began by dancing with her. Half an hour afterward, Marguerite, pale as death, put on her pelisse and left the ball.
After the supper, which was noisy as could be, there was gambling. I sat by the side of Olympe and put down my money so recklessly that she could not but notice me. In an instant I had gained one hundred and fifty or two hundred louis, which I spread out before me on the table, and on which she fastened her eyes greedily.
I was the only one not completely absorbed by the game, and able to pay her some attention. All the rest of the night I gained, and it was I who gave her money to play, for she had lost all she had before her and probably all she had in the house.At five in the morning, the guests departed. I had gained three hundred louis.
All the players were already on their way downstairs; I was the only one who had remained behind, and as I did not know any of them, no one noticed it. Olympe herself was lighting the way, and I was going to follow the others, when, turning back, I said to her:"I must speak to you." "To-morrow," she said. "No, now." "What have you to say?" "You will see." And I went back into the room. "You have lost," I said. "Yes. "All that you had in the house?" She hesitated. "Be frank." "Well, it is true." "I have won three hundred louis. Here they are, if you will let me stay here tonight." And I threw the gold on the table. "And why this proposition?" "Because I am in love with you, of course."
"No, but because you love Marguerite, and you want to have your revenge upon her by becoming my lover. You don't deceive a woman like me, my dear friend; unluckily, I am still too young and too good-looking to accept the part that you offer me.""So you refuse?" "Yes.
"Would you rather take me for nothing? It is I who wouldn't accept then. Think it over, my dear Olympe; if I had sent some one to offer you these three hundred louis on my behalf, on the conditions I attach to them, you would have accepted. I preferred to speak to you myself. Accept without inquiring into my reasons; say to yourself that you are beautiful, and that there is nothing surprising in my being in love with you."
Marguerite was a woman in the same position as Olympe, and yet I should never have dared say to her the first time I met her what I had said to the other woman. I loved Marguerite. I saw in her instincts which were lacking in the other, and at the very moment in which I made my bargain, I felt a disgust toward the woman with whom I was making it.
She accepted, of course, in the end, and at midday I left her house as her lover; but I quitted her without a recollection of the caresses and of the words of love which she had felt bound to shower upon me in return for the six thousand francs which I left with her. And yet there were men who had ruined themselves for that woman.
From that day I inflicted on Marguerite a continual persecution. Olympe and she gave up seeing one another, as you might imagine. I gave my new mistress a carriage and jewels. I gambled, I committed every extravagance which could be expected of a man in love with such a woman as Olympe. The report of my new infatuation was immediately spread abroad.
Prudence herself was taken in, and finally thought that I had completely forgotten Marguerite. Marguerite herself, whether she guessed my motive or was deceived like everybody else, preserved a perfect dignity in response to the insults which I heaped upon her daily. Only, she seemed to suffer, for whenever I met her she was more and more pale, more and more sad. My love for her, carried to the point at which it was transformed into hatred, rejoiced at the sight of her daily sorrow. Often, when my cruelty toward her became infamous, Marguerite lifted upon me such appealing eyes that I blushed for the part I was playing, and was ready to implore her forgiveness.
But my repentance was only of a moment's duration, and Olympe, who had finally put aside all self-respect, and discovered that by annoying Marguerite she could get from me whatever she wanted, constantly stirred up my resentment against her, and insulted her whenever she found an opportunity, with the cowardly persistence of a woman licensed by the authority of a man.
At last Marguerite gave up going to balls or theatres, for fear of meeting Olympe and me. Then direct impertinences gave way to anonymous letters, and there was not a shameful thing which I did not encourage my mistress to relate and which I did not myself relate in reference to Marguerite.
To reach such a point I must have been literally mad. I was like a man drunk upon bad wine, who falls into one of those nervous exaltations in which the hand is capable of committing a crime without the head knowing anything about it. In the midst of it all I endured a martyrdom. The not disdainful calm, the not contemptuous dignity with which Marguerite responded to all my attacks, and which raised her above me in my own eyes, enraged me still more against her.
One evening Olympe had gone somewhere or other, and had met Marguerite, who for once had not spared the foolish creature, so that she had had to retire in confusion. Olympe returned in a fury, and Marguerite fainted and had to be carried out. Olympe related to me what had happened, declared that Marguerite, seeing her alone, had revenged herself upon her because she was my mistress, and that I must write and tell her to respect the woman whom I loved, whether I was present or absent.
I need not tell you that I consented, and that I put into the letter which I sent to her address the same day, everything bitter, shameful, and cruel that I could think of.
This time the blow was more than the unhappy creature could endure without replying. I felt sure that an answer would come, and I resolved not to go out all day. About two there was a ring, and Prudence entered.
I tried to assume an indifferent air as I asked her what had brought her; but that day Mme. Duvernoy was not in a laughing humour, and in a really moved voice she said to me that since my return, that is to say for about three weeks, I had left no occasion untried which could give pain to Marguerite, that she was completely upset by it, and that the scene of last night and my angry letter of the morning had forced her to take to her bed. In short, without making any reproach, Marguerite sent to ask me for a little pity, since she had no longer the moral or physical strength to endure what I was making her suffer.
"That Mlle. Gautier," I said to Prudence, "should turn me out of her own house is quite reasonable, but that she should insult the woman whom I love, under the pretence that this woman is my mistress, is a thing I will never permit."
"My friend," said Prudence, "you are under the influence of a woman who has neither heart nor sense; you are in love with her, it is true, but that is not a reason for torturing a woman who can not defend herself.""Let Mlle. Gautier send me her Comte de N. and the sides will be equal."
"You know very well that she will not do that. So, my dear Armand, let her alone. If you saw her you would be ashamed of the way in which you are treating her. She is white, she coughs--she won't last long now."And Prudence held out her hand to me, adding: "Come and see her; it will make her very happy." "I have no desire to meet M. de N." "M. de N. is never there. She can not endure him." "If Marguerite wishes to see me, she knows where I live; let her come to see me, but, for my part, I will never put foot in the Rue d'Antin." "Will you receive her well?" "Certainly." "Well, I am sure that she will come." "Let her come." "Shall you be out to-day?" "I shall be at home all the evening." "I will tell her." And Prudence left me.
I did not even write to tell Olympe not to expect me. I never troubled much about her, scarcely going to see her one night a week. She consoled herself, I believe, with an actor from some theatre or other.I went out for dinner and came back almost immediately. I had a fire lit in my room and I told Joseph he could go out.
I can give you no idea of the different impressions which agitated me during the hour in which I waited; but when, toward nine o'clock, I heard a ring, they thronged together into one such emotion, that, as I opened the door, I was obliged to lean against the wall to keep myself from falling.Fortunately the anteroom was in half darkness, and the change in my countenance was less visible. Marguerite entered.
She was dressed in black and veiled. I could scarcely recognise her face through the veil. She went into the drawing-room and raised her veil. She was pale as marble."I am here, Armand," she said; "you wished to see me and I have come." And letting her head fall on her hands, she burst into tears. I went up to her. "What is the matter?" I said to her in a low voice. She pressed my hand without a word, for tears still veiled her voice. But after a few minutes, recovering herself a little, she said to me: "You have been very unkind to me, Armand, and I have done nothing to you." "Nothing?" I answered, with a bitter smile. "Nothing but what circumstances forced me to do." I do not know if you have ever in your life experienced, or if you will ever experience, what I felt at the sight of Marguerite.
The last time she had come to see me she had sat in the same place where she was now sitting; only, since then, she had been the mistress of another man, other kisses than mine had touched her lips, toward which, in spite of myself, my own reached out, and yet I felt that I loved this woman as much, more perhaps, than I had ever loved her.It was difficult for me to begin the conversation on the subject which brought her. Marguerite no doubt realized it, for she went on:
"I have come to trouble you, Armand, for I have two things to ask: pardon for what I said yesterday to Mlle. Olympe, and pity for what you are perhaps still ready to do to me. Intentionally or not, since your return you have given me so much pain that I should be incapable now of enduring a fourth part of what I have endured till now. You will have pity on me, won't you? And you will understand that a man who is not heartless has other nobler things to do than to take his revenge upon a sick and sad woman like me. See, take my hand. I am in a fever. I left my bed to come to you, and ask, not for your friendship, but for your indifference."I took Marguerite's hand. It was burning, and the poor woman shivered under her fur cloak. I rolled the arm-chair in which she was sitting up to the fire.
"Do you think, then, that I did not suffer," said I, "on that night when, after waiting for you in the country, I came to look for you in Paris, and found nothing but the letter which nearly drove me mad? How could you have deceived me, Marguerite, when I loved you so much?
"Do not speak of that, Armand; I did not come to speak of that. I wanted to see you only not an enemy, and I wanted to take your hand once more. You have a mistress; she is young, pretty, you love her they say. Be happy with her and forget me.""And you. You are happy, no doubt?" "Have I the face of a happy woman, Armand? Do not mock my sorrow, you, who know better than any one what its cause and its depth are." "It only depended on you not to have been unhappy at all, if you are as you say."
"No, my friend; circumstances were stronger than my will. I obeyed, not the instincts of a light woman, as you seem to say, but a serious necessity, and reasons which you will know one day, and which will make you forgive me."
"Why do you not tell me those reasons to-day?" "Because they would not bring about an impossible reunion between us, and they would separate you perhaps from those from whom you must not be separated.""Who do you mean?" "I can not tell you." "Then you are lying to me."
Marguerite rose and went toward the door. I could not behold this silent and expressive sorrow without being touched, when I compared in my mind this pale and weeping woman with the madcap who had made fun of me at the Opera Comique."You shall not go," I said, putting myself in front of the door. "Why?" "Because, in spite of what you have done to me, I love you always, and I want you to stay here."
"To turn me out to-morrow? No; it is impossible. Our destinies are separate; do not try to reunite them. You will despise me perhaps, while now you can only hate me."
"No, Marguerite," I cried, feeling all my love and all my desire reawaken at the contact of this woman. "No, I will forget everything, and we will be happy as we promised one another that we would be."Marguerite shook her head doubtfully, and said: "Am I not your slave, your dog? Do with me what you will. Take me; I am yours."
And throwing off her cloak and hat, she flung them on the sofa, and began hurriedly to undo the front of her dress, for, by one of those reactions so frequent in her malady, the blood rushed to her head and stifled her. A hard, dry cough followed."Tell my coachman," she said, "to go back with the carriage."
I went down myself and sent him away. When I returned Marguerite was lying in front of the fire, and her teeth chattered with the cold.
I took her in my arms. I undressed her, without her making a movement, and carried her, icy cold, to the bed. Then I sat beside her and tried to warm her with my caresses. She did not speak a word, but smiled at me.
It was a strange night. All Marguerite's life seemed to have passed into the kisses with which she covered me, and I loved her so much that in my transports of feverish love I asked myself whether I should not kill her, so that she might never belong to another.A month of love like that, and there would have remained only the corpse of heart or body.
The dawn found us both awake. Marguerite was livid white. She did not speak a word. From time to time, big tears rolled from her eyes, and stayed upon her cheeks, shining like diamonds. Her thin arms opened, from time to time, to hold me fast, and fell back helplessly upon the bed.For a moment it seemed to me as if I could forget all that had passed since I had left Bougival, and I said to Marguerite: "Shall we go away and leave Paris?"
"No, no!" she said, almost with affright; "we should be too unhappy. I can do no more to make you happy, but while there is a breath of life in me, I will be the slave of your fancies. At whatever hour of the day or night you will, come, and I will be yours; but do not link your future any more with mine, you would be too unhappy and you would make me too unhappy. I shall still be pretty for a while; make the most of it, but ask nothing more."
When she had gone, I was frightened at the solitude in which she left me. Two hours afterward I was still sitting on the side of the bed, looking at the pillow which kept the imprint of her form, and asking myself what was to become of me, between my love and my jealousy.At five o'clock, without knowing what I was going to do, I went to the Rue d'Antin. Nanine opened to me. "Madame can not receive you," she said in an embarrassed way. "Why?" "Because M. le Comte de N. is there, and he has given orders to let no one in."
"Quite so," I stammered; "I forgot." I went home like a drunken man, and do you know what I did during the moment of jealous delirium which was long enough for the shameful thing I was going to do? I said to myself that the woman was laughing at me; I saw her alone with the count, saying over to him the same words that she had said to me in the night, and taking a five-hundred-franc note I sent it to her with these words:"You went away so suddenly that I forgot to pay you. Here is the price of your night." Then when the letter was sent I went out as if to free myself from the instantaneous remorse of this infamous action.
I went to see Olympe, whom I found trying on dresses, and when we were alone she sang obscene songs to amuse me. She was the very type of the shameless, heartless, senseless courtesan, for me at least, for perhaps some men might have dreamed of her as I dreamed of Marguerite. She asked me for money. I gave it to her, and, free then to go, I returned home.Marguerite had not answered.
I need not tell you in what state of agitation I spent the next day. At half past nine a messenger brought me an envelope containing my letter and the five-hundredfranc note, not a word more."Who gave you this?" I asked the man. "A lady who was starting with her maid in the next mail for Boulogne, and who told me not to take it until the coach was out of the courtyard." I rushed to the Rue d'Antin. "Madame left for England at six o'clock," said the porter.
There was nothing to hold me in Paris any longer, neither hate nor love. I was exhausted by this series of shocks. One of my friends was setting out on a tour in the East. I told my father I should like to accompany him; my father gave me drafts and letters of introduction, and eight or ten days afterward I embarked at Marseilles.It was at Alexandria that I learned from an attache at the embassy, whom I had sometimes seen at Marguerite's, that the poor girl was seriously ill. I then wrote her the letter which she answered in the way you know; I received it at Toulon.
I started at once, and you know the rest. Now you have only to read a few sheets which Julie Duprat gave me; they are the best commentary on what I have just told you.
Armand, tired by this long narrative, often interrupted by his tears, put his two hands over his forehead and closed his eyes to think, or to try to sleep, after giving me the pages written by the hand of Marguerite. A few minutes after, a more rapid breathing told me that Armand slept, but that light sleep which the least sound banishes.This is what I read; I copy it without adding or omitting a syllable:
To-day is the 15th December. I have been ill three or four days. This morning I stayed in bed. The weather is dark, I am sad; there is no one by me. I think of you, Armand. And you, where are you, while I write these lines? Far from Paris, far, far, they tell me, and perhaps you have already forgotten Marguerite. Well, be happy; I owe you the only happy moments in my life.
I can not help wanting to explain all my conduct to you, and I have written you a letter; but, written by a girl like me, such a letter might seem to be a lie, unless death had sanctified it by its authority, and, instead of a letter, it were a confession.
To-day I am ill; I may die of this illness, for I have always had the presentiment that I shall die young. My mother died of consumption, and the way I have always lived could but increase the only heritage she ever left me. But I do not want to die without clearing up for you everything about me; that is, if, when you come back, you will still trouble yourself about the poor girl whom you loved before you went away.This is what the letter contained; I shall like writing it over again, so as to give myself another proof of my own justification.
You remember, Armand, how the arrival of your father surprised us at Bougival; you remember the involuntary fright that his arrival caused me, and the scene which took place between you and him, which you told me of in the evening.Next day, when you were at Paris, waiting for your father, and he did not return, a man came to the door and handed in a letter from M. Duval.
His letter, which I inclose with this, begged me, in the most serious terms, to keep you away on the following day, on some excuse or other, and to see your father, who wished to speak to me, and asked me particularly not to say anything to you about it.
You know how I insisted on your returning to Paris next day. You had only been gone an hour when your father presented himself. I won't say what impression his severe face made upon me. Your father had the old theory that a courtesan is a being without heart or reason, a sort of machine for coining gold, always ready, like the machine, to bruise the hand that gives her everything, and to tear in pieces, without pity or discernment, those who set her in motion.
Your father had written me a very polite letter, in order that I might consent to see him; he did not present himself quite as he had written. His manner at first was so stiff, insolent, and even threatening, that I had to make him understand that I was in my own house, and that I had no need to render him an account of my life, except because of the sincere affection which I had for his son.
M. Duval calmed down a little, but still went on to say that he could not any longer allow his son to ruin himself over me; that I was beautiful, it was true, but, however beautiful I might be, I ought not to make use of my beauty to spoil the future of a young man by such expenditure as I was causing.
At that there was only one thing to do, to show him the proof that since I was your mistress I had spared no sacrifice to be faithful to you without asking for more money than you had to give me. I showed him the pawn tickets, the receipts of the people to whom I had sold what I could not pawn; I told him of my resolve to part with my furniture in order to pay my debts, and live with you without being a too heavy expense. I told him of our happiness, of how you had shown me the possibility of a quieter and happier life, and he ended by giving in to the evidence, offering me his hand, and asking pardon for the way in which he had at first approached me.Then he said to me:
"So, madame, it is not by remonstrances or by threats, but by entreaties, that I must endeavour to obtain from you a greater sacrifice than you have yet made for my son."I trembled at this beginning. Your father came over to me, took both my hands, and continued in an affectionate voice:
"My child, do not take what I have to say to you amiss; only remember that there are sometimes in life cruel necessities for the heart, but that they must be submitted to. You are good, your soul has generosity unknown to many women who perhaps despise you, and are less worthy than you. But remember that there is not only the mistress, but the family; that besides love there are duties; that to the age of passion succeeds the age when man, if he is to be respected, must plant himself solidly in a serious position. My son has no fortune, and yet he is ready to abandon to you the legacy of his mother. If he accepted from you the sacrifice which you are on the point of making, his honour and dignity would require him to give you, in exchange for it, this income, which would always put you out of danger of adversity. But he can not accept this sacrifice, because the world, which does not know you, would give a wrong interpretation to this acceptance, and such an interpretation must not tarnish the name which we bear. No one would consider whether Armand loves you, whether you love him, whether this mutual love means happiness to him and redemption to you; they would see only one thing, that Armand Duval allowed a kept woman (forgive me, my child, for what I am forced to say to you) to sell all she had for him. Then the day of reproaches and regrets would arrive, be sure, for you or for others, and you would both bear a chain that you could not sever. What would you do then? Your youth would be lost, my son's future destroyed; and I, his father, should receive from only one of my children the recompense that I look for from both.
"You are young, beautiful, life will console you; you are noble, and the memory of a good deed will redeem you from many past deeds. During the six months that he has known you Armand has forgotten me. I wrote to him four times, and he has never once replied. I might have died and he not known it!
"Whatever may be your resolution of living otherwise than as you have lived, Armand, who loves you, will never consent to the seclusion to which his modest fortune would condemn you, and to which your beauty does not entitle you. Who knows what he would do then! He has gambled, I know; without telling you of it, I know also, but, in a moment of madness, he might have lost part of what I have saved, during many years, for my daughter's portion, for him, and for the repose of my old age. What might have happened may yet happen.
"Are you sure, besides, that the life which you are giving up for him will never again come to attract you? Are you sure, you who have loved him, that you will never love another? Would you not-suffer on seeing the hindrances set by your love to your lover's life, hindrances for which you would be powerless to console him, if, with age, thoughts of ambition should succeed to dreams of love? Think over all that, madame. You love Armand; prove it to him by the sole means which remains to you of yet proving it to him, by sacrificing your love to his future. No misfortune has yet arrived, but one will arrive, and perhaps a greater one than those which I foresee. Armand might become jealous of a man who has loved you; he might provoke him, fight, be killed. Think, then, what you would suffer in the presence of a father who should call on you to render an account for the life of his son!
"Finally, my dear child, let me tell you all, for I have not yet told you all, let me tell you what has brought me to Paris. I have a daughter, as I have told you, young, beautiful, pure as an angel. She loves, and she, too, has made this love the dream of her life. I wrote all that to Armand, but, absorbed in you, he made no reply. Well, my daughter is about to marry. She is to marry the man whom she loves; she enters an honourable family, which requires that mine has to be no less honourable. The family of the man who is to become my son-in-law has learned what manner of life Armand is leading in Paris, and has declared to me that the marriage must be broken off if Armand continues this life. The future of a child who has done nothing against you, and who has the right of looking forward to a happy future, is in your hands. Have you the right, have you the strength, to shatter it? In the name of your love and of your repentance, Marguerite, grant me the happiness of my child."
I wept silently, my friend, at all these reflections which I had so often made, and which, in the mouth of your father, took a yet more serious reality. I said to myself all that your father dared not say to me, though it had come to his lips twenty times: that I was, after all, only a kept woman, and that whatever excuse I gave for our liaison, it would always look like calculation on my part; that my past life left me no right to dream of such a future, and that I was accepting responsibilities for which my habits and reputation were far from giving any guarantee. In short, I loved you, Armand.
The paternal way in which M. Duval had spoken to me; the pure memories that he awakened in me; the respect of this old man, which I would gain; yours, which I was sure of gaining later on: all that called up in my heart thoughts which raised me in my own eyes with a sort of holy pride, unknown till then. When I thought that one day this old man, who was now imploring me for the future of his son, would bid his daughter mingle my name with her prayers, as the name of a mysterious friend, I seemed to become transformed, and I felt a pride in myself.
The exaltation of the moment perhaps exaggerated the truth of these impressions, but that was what I felt, friend, and these new feelings silenced the memory of the happy days I had spent with you."Tell me, sir," I said to your father, wiping away my tears, "do you believe that I love your son?" "Yes," said M. Duval. "With a disinterested love?" "Yes. "Do you believe that I had made this love the hope, the dream, the forgiveness-of my life?" "Implicitly."
"Well, sir, embrace me once, as you would embrace your daughter, and I swear to you that that kiss, the only chaste kiss I have ever had, will make me strong against my love, and that within a week your son will be once more at your side, perhaps unhappy for a time, but cured forever."
"You are a noble child," replied your father, kissing me on the forehead, "and you are making an attempt for which God will reward you; but I greatly fear that you will have no influence upon my son.""Oh, be at rest, sir; he will hate me." I had to set up between us, as much for me as for you, an insurmountable barrier.
I wrote to Prudence to say that I accepted the proposition of the Comte de N., and that she was to tell him that I would sup with her and him. I sealed the letter, and, without telling him what it contained, asked your father to have it forwarded to its address on reaching Paris.He inquired of me what it contained. "Your son's welfare," I answered.
Your father embraced me once more. I felt two grateful tears on my forehead, like the baptism of my past faults, and at the moment when I consented to give myself up to another man I glowed with pride at the thought of what I was redeeming by this new fault.It was quite natural, Armand. You told me that your father was the most honest man in the world. M. Duval returned to his carriage, and set out for Paris. I was only a woman, and when I saw you again I could not help weeping, but I did not give way. Did I do right? That is what I ask myself to-day, as I lie ill in my bed, that I shall never leave, perhaps, until I am dead.
You are witness of what I felt as the hour of our separation approached; your father was no longer there to support me, and there was a moment when I was on the point of confessing everything to you, so terrified was I at the idea that you were going to bate and despise me.
One thing which you will not believe, perhaps, Armand, is that I prayed God to give me strength; and what proves that he accepted my sacrifice is that he gave me the strength for which I prayed.
At supper I still had need of aid, for I could not think of what I was going to do, so much did I fear that my courage would fail me. Who would ever have said that I, Marguerite Gautier, would have suffered so at the mere thought of a new lover? I drank for forgetfulness, and when I woke next day I was beside the count.
I heard that your father had taken you away with him, but I felt sure that you could not live away from me for long, and when I met you in the ChampsElysees, I was a little upset, but by no means surprised.
Then began that series of days; each of them brought me a fresh insult from you. I received them all with a kind of joy, for, besides proving to me that you still loved me, it seemed to me as if the more you persecuted me the more I should be raised in your eyes when you came to know the truth.Do not wonder at my joy in martyrdom, Armand; your love for me had opened my heart to noble enthusiasm. Still, I was not so strong as that quite at once.
Between the time of the sacrifice made for you and the time of your return a long while elapsed, during which I was obliged to have recourse to physical means in order not to go mad, and in order to be blinded and deafened in the whirl of life into which I flung myself. Prudence has told you (has she not?) how I went to all the fetes and balls and orgies. I had a sort of hope that I should kill myself by all these excesses, and I think it will not be long before this hope is realized. My health naturally got worse and worse, and when I sent Mme. Duvernoy to ask you for pity I was utterly worn out, body and soul.
I will not remind you, Armand, of the return you made for the last proof of love that I gave you, and of the outrage by which you drove away a dying woman, who could not resist your voice when you asked her for a night of love, and who, like a fool, thought for one instant that she might again unite the past with the present. You had the right to do what you did, Armand; people have not always put so high a price on a night of mine!
I left everything after that. Olympe has taken my place with the Comte de N., and has told him, I hear, the reasons for my leaving him. The Comte de G. was at London. He is one of those men who give just enough importance to making love to women like me for it to be an agreeable pastime, and who are thus able to remain friends with women, not hating them because they have never been jealous of them, and he is, too, one of those grand seigneurs who open only a part of their hearts to us, but the whole of their purses. It was of him that I immediately thought. I joined him in London. He received me as kindly as possible, but he was the lover there of a woman in society, and he feared to compromise himself if he were seen with me. He introduced me to his friends, who gave a supper in my honour, after which one of them took me home with him.
What else was there for me to do, my friend? If I had killed myself it would have burdened your life, which ought to be happy, with a needless remorse; and then, what is the good of killing oneself when one is so near dying already?
I became a body without a soul, a thing without a thought; I lived for some time in that automatic way; then I returned to Paris, and asked after you; I heard then that you were gone on a long voyage. There was nothing left to hold me to life. My existence became what it had been two years before I knew you. I tried to win back the duke, but I had offended him too deeply. Old men are not patient, no doubt because they realize that they are not eternal. I got weaker every day. I was pale and sad and thinner than ever. Men who buy love examine the goods before taking them. At Paris there were women in better health, and not so thin as I was; I was rather forgotten. That is all the past up to yesterday.
Now I am seriously ill. I have written to the duke to ask him for money, for I have none, and the creditors have returned, and come to me with their bills with pitiless perseverance. Will the duke answer? Why are you not in Paris, Armand? You would come and see me, and your visits would do me good.December 20.
The weather is horrible; it is snowing, and I am alone. I have been in such a fever for the last three days that I could not write you a word. No news, my friend; every day I hope vaguely for a letter from you, but it does not come, and no doubt it will never come. Only men are strong enough not to forgive. The duke has not answered.Prudence is pawning my things again.
I have been spitting blood all the time. Oh, you would be sorry for me if you could see me. You are indeed happy to be under a warm sky, and not, like me, with a whole winter of ice on your chest. To-day I got up for a little while, and looked out through the curtains of my window, and watched the life of Paris passing below, the life with which I have now nothing more to do. I saw the faces of some people I knew, passing rapidly, joyous and careless. Not one lifted his eyes to my window. However, a few young men have come to inquire for me. Once before I was ill, and you, though you did not know me, though you had had nothing from me but an impertinence the day I met you first, you came to inquire after me every day. We spent six months together. I had all the love for you that a woman's heart can hold and give, and you are far away, you are cursing me, and there is not a word of consolation from you. But it is only chance that has made you leave me, I am sure, for if you were at Paris, you would not leave my bedside.December 25.
My doctor tells me I must not write every day. And indeed my memories only increase my fever, but yesterday I received a letter which did me good, more because of what it said than by the material help which it contained. I can write to you, then, to-day. This letter is from your father, and this is what it says:
"MADAME: I have just learned that you are ill. If I were at Paris I would come and ask after you myself; if my son were here I would send him; but I can not leave C., and Armand is six or seven hundred leagues from here; permit me, then, simply to write to you, madame, to tell you how pained I am to hear of your illness, and believe in my sincere wishes for your speedy recovery.
One of my good friends, M. H., will call on you; will you kindly receive him? I have intrusted him with a commission, the result of which I await impatiently. "Believe me, madame,"Yours most faithfully."
This is the letter he sent me. Your father has a noble heart; love him well, my friend, for there are few men so worthy of being loved. This paper signed by his name has done me more good than all the prescriptions of our great doctor.
This morning M. H. called. He seemed much embarrassed by the delicate mission which M. Duval had intrusted to him. As a matter of fact, he came to bring me three thousand francs from your father. I wanted to refuse at first, but M. H. told me that my refusal would annoy M. Duval, who had authorized him to give me this sum now, and later on whatever I might need. I accepted it, for, coming from your father, it could not be exactly taking alms. If I am dead when you come back, show your father what I have written for him, and tell him that in writing these lines the poor woman to whom he was kind enough to write so consoling a letter wept tears of gratitude and prayed God for him.January 4. I have passed some terrible days. I never knew the body could suffer so. Oh, my past life! I pay double for it now. There has been some one to watch by me every night; I can not breathe. What remains of my poor existence is shared between being delirious and coughing.
The dining-room is full of sweets and all sorts of presents that my friends have brought. Some of them, I dare say, are hoping that I shall be their mistress later on. If they could see what sickness has made of me, they would go away in terror.Prudence is giving her New Year's presents with those I have received. There is a thaw, and the doctor says that I may go out in a few days if the fine weather continues. January 8.
I went out yesterday in my carriage. The weather was lovely. The ChampsElysees was full of people. It was like the first smile of spring. Everything about me had a festal air. I never knew before that a ray of sunshine could contain so much joy, sweetness, and consolation.
I met almost all the people I knew, all happy, all absorbed in their pleasures. How many happy people don't even know that they are happy! Olympe passed me in an elegant carriage that M. de N. has given her. She tried to insult me by her look. She little knows how far I am from such things now. A nice fellow, whom I have known for a long time, asked me if I would have supper with him and one of his friends, who, he said, was very anxious to make my acquaintance. I smiled sadly and gave him my hand, burning with fever. I never saw such an astonished countenance.
I came in at four, and had quite an appetite for my dinner. Going out has done me good. If I were only going to get well! How the sight of the life and happiness of others gives a desire of life to those who, only the night before, in the solitude of their soul and in the shadow of their sick-room, only wanted to die soon!January 10.
The hope of getting better was only a dream. I am back in bed again, covered with plasters which burn me. If I were to offer the body that people paid so dear for once, how much would they give, I wonder, to-day?
We must have done something very wicked before we were born, or else we must be going to be very happy indeed when we are dead, for God to let this life have all the tortures of expiation and all the sorrows of an ordeal.January 12. I am always ill. The Comte de N. sent me some money yesterday. I did not keep it. I won't take anything from that man. It is through him that you are not here. Oh, that good time at Bougival! Where is it now? If I come out of this room alive I will make a pilgrimage to the house we lived in together, but I will never leave it until I am dead. Who knows if I shall write to you to-morrow? January 25.
I have not slept for eleven nights. I am suffocated. I imagine every moment that I am going to die. The doctor has forbidden me to touch a pen. Julie Duprat, who is looking after me, lets me write these few lines to you. Will you not come back before I die? Is it all over between us forever? It seems to me as if I should get well if you came. What would be the good of getting well?January 28.
This morning I was awakened by a great noise. Julie, who slept in my room, ran into the dining-room. I heard men's voices, and hers protesting against them in vain. She came back crying.
They had come to seize my things. I told her to let what they call justice have its way. The bailiff came into my room with his hat on. He opened the drawers, wrote down what he saw, and did not even seem to be aware that there was a dying woman in the bed that fortunately the charity of the law leaves me.
He said, indeed, before going, that I could appeal within nine days, but he left a man behind to keep watch. My God! what is to become of me? This scene has made me worse than I was before. Prudence wanted to go and ask your father's friend for money, but I would not let her.
I received your letter this morning. I was in need of it. Will my answer reach you in time? Will you ever see me again? This is a happy day, and it has made me forget all the days I have passed for the last six weeks. I seem as if I am better, in spite of the feeling of sadness under the impression of which I replied to you.After all, no one is unhappy always.
When I think that it may happen to me not to die, for you to come back, for me to see the spring again, for you still to love me, and for us to begin over again our last year's life!
Fool that I am! I can scarcely hold the pen with which I write to you of this wild dream of my heart.
Whatever happens, I loved you well, Armand, and I would have died long ago if I had not had the memory of your love to help me and a sort of vague hope of seeing you beside me again.
The Comte de G. has returned. His mistress has been unfaithful to him. He is very sad; he was very fond of her. He came to tell me all about it. The poor fellow is in rather a bad way as to money; all the same, he has paid my bailiff and sent away the man.I talked to him about you, and he promised to tell you about me. I forgot that I had been his mistress, and he tried to make me forget it, too. He is a good friend.
The duke sent yesterday to inquire after me, and this morning he came to see me. I do not know how the old man still keeps alive. He remained with me three hours and did not say twenty words. Two big tears fell from his eyes when he saw how pale I was. The memory of his daughter's death made him weep, no doubt. He will have seen her die twice. His back was bowed, his head bent toward the ground, his lips drooping, his eyes vacant. Age and sorrow weigh with a double weight on his worn-out body. He did not reproach me. It looked as if he rejoiced secretly to see the ravages that disease had made in me. He seemed proud of being still on his feet, while I, who am still young, was broken down by suffering.
The bad weather has returned. No one comes to see me. Julie watches by me as much as she can. Prudence, to whom I can no longer give as much as I used to, begins to make excuses for not coming.
Now that I am so near death, in spite of what the doctors tell me, for I have several, which proves that I am getting worse, I am almost sorry that I listened to your father; if I had known that I should only be taking a year of your future, I could not have resisted the longing to spend that year with you, and, at least, I should have died with a friend to hold my hand. It is true that if we had lived together this year, I should not have died so soon.God's will be done! February 5.
Oh, come, come, Armand! I suffer horribly; I am going to die, O God! I was so miserable yesterday that I wanted to spend the evening, which seemed as if it were going to be as long as the last, anywhere but at home. The duke came in the morning. It seems to me as if the sight of this old man, whom death has forgotten, makes me die faster.
Despite the burning fever which devoured me, I made them dress me and take me to the Vaudeville. Julie put on some rouge for me, without which I should have looked like a corpse. I had the box where I gave you our first rendezvous. All the time I had my eyes fixed on the stall where you sat that day, though a sort of country fellow sat there, laughing loudly at all the foolish things that the actors said. I was half dead when they brought me home. I coughed and spat blood all the night. To-day I can not speak, I can scarcely move my arm. My God! My God! I am going to die! I have been expecting it, but I can not get used to the thought of suffering more than I suffer now, and if--
Mme. Duvernoy is not behaving well. This woman, who thought she could get more money out of Marguerite, at whose expense she was living almost completely, has contracted liabilities which she can not meet, and seeing that her neighbour is no longer of use to her, she does not even come to see her. Everybody is abandoning her. M. de G., prosecuted for his debts, has had to return to London. On leaving, he sent us more money; he has done all he could, but they have returned to seize the things, and the creditors are only waiting for her to die in order to sell everything.
I wanted to use my last resources to put a stop to it, but the bailiff told me it was no use, and that there are other seizures to follow. Since she must die, it is better to let everything go than to save it for her family, whom she has never cared to see, and who have never cared for her. You can not conceive in the midst of what gilded misery the poor thing is dying. Yesterday we had absolutely no money. Plate, jewels, shawls, everything is in pawn; the rest is sold or seized. Marguerite is still conscious of what goes on around her, and she suffers in body, mind, and heart. Big tears trickle down her cheeks, so thin and pale that you would never recognise the face of her whom you loved so much, if you could see her. She has made me promise to write to you when she can no longer write, and I write before her. She turns her eyes toward me, but she no longer sees me; her eyes are already veiled by the coming of death; yet she smiles, and all her thoughts, all her soul are yours, I am sure.
Every time the door opens her eyes brighten, and she thinks you are going to come in; then, when she sees that it is not you, her face resumes its sorrowful expression, a cold sweat breaks out over it, and her cheek-bones flush.February 19, midnight.
What a sad day we have had to-day, poor M. Armand! This morning Marguerite was stifling; the doctor bled her, and her voice has returned to her a while. The doctor begged her to see a priest. She said "Yes," and he went himself to fetch an abbe' from Saint Roch.
Meanwhile Marguerite called me up to her bed, asked me to open a cupboard, and pointed out a cap and a long chemise covered with lace, and said in a feeble voice:"I shall die as soon as I have confessed. Then you will dress me in these things; it is the whim of a dying woman.? Then she embraced me with tears and added: "I can speak, but I am stifled when I speak; I am stifling. Air!"
I burst into tears, opened the window, and a few minutes afterward the priest entered. I went up to him; when he knew where he was, he seemed afraid of being badly received."Come in boldly, father," I said to him. He stayed a very short time in the room, and when he came out he said to me: "She lived a sinner, and she will die a Christian."
A few minutes afterward he returned with a choir boy bearing a crucifix, and a sacristan who went before them ringing the bell to announce that God was coming to the dying one.
They went all three into the bed-room where so many strange words have been said, but was now a sort of holy tabernacle.
I fell on my knees. I do not know how long the impression of what I saw will last, but I do not think that, till my turn comes, any human thing can make so deep an impression on me.
The priest anointed with holy oil the feet and hands and forehead of the dying woman, repeated a short prayer, and Marguerite was ready to set out for the heaven to which I doubt not she will go, if God has seen the ordeal of her life and the sanctity of her death.Since then she has not said a word or made a movement. Twenty times I should have thought her dead if I had not heard her breathing painfully. February 20, 5 P.M. All is over.
Marguerite fell into her last agony at about two o'clock. Never did a martyr suffer such torture, to judge by the cries she uttered. Two or three times she sat upright in the bed, as if she would hold on to her life, which was escaping toward God.Two or three times also she said your name; then all was silent, and she fell back on the bed exhausted. Silent tears flowed from her eyes, and she was dead. Then I went up to her; I called her, and as she did not answer I closed her eyes and kissed her on the forehead. Poor, dear Marguerite, I wish I were a holy woman that my kiss might recommend you to God. Then I dressed her as she had asked me to do. I went to find a priest at Saint Roch, I burned two candles for her, and I prayed in the church for an hour. I gave the money she left to the poor.
I do not know much about religion, but I think that God will know that my tears were genuine, my prayers fervent, my alms-giving sincere, and that he will have pity on her who, dying young and beautiful, has only had me to close her eyes and put her in her shroud.February 22.
The burial took place to-day. Many of Marguerite's friends came to the church. Some of them wept with sincerity. When the funeral started on the way to Montmartre only two men followed it: the Comte de G., who came from London on purpose, and the duke, who was supported by two footmen.
I write you these details from her house, in the midst of my tears and under the lamp which burns sadly beside a dinner which I can not touch, as you can imagine, but which Nanine has got for me, for I have eaten nothing for twentyfour hours.
My life can not retain these sad impressions for long, for my life is not my own any more than Marguerite's was hers; that is why I give you all these details on the very spot where they occurred, in the fear, if a long time elapsed between them and your return, that I might not be able to give them to you with all their melancholy exactitude.
Prudence had become bankrupt. She told us that Marguerite was the cause of it; that during her illness she had lent her a lot of money in the form of promissory notes, which she could not pay, Marguerite having died without having returned her the money, and without having given her a receipt with which she could present herself as a creditor.
By the help of this fable, which Mme. Duvernoy repeated everywhere in order to account for her money difficulties, she extracted a note for a thousand francs from Armand, who did not believe it, but who pretended to, out of respect for all those in whose company Marguerite had lived.Then we called on Julie Duprat, who told us the sad incident which she had witnessed, shedding real tears at the remembrance of her friend. Lastly, we went to Marguerite's grave, on which the first rays of the April sun were bringing the first leaves into bud. One duty remained to Armand--to return to his father. He wished me to accompany him. We arrived at C., where I saw M. Duval, such as I had imagined him from the portrait his son had made of him, tall, dignified, kindly.
He welcomed Armand with tears of joy, and clasped my hand affectionately. I was not long in seeing that the paternal sentiment was that which dominated all others in his mind.
His daughter, named Blanche, had that transparence of eyes, that serenity of the mouth, which indicates a soul that conceives only holy thoughts and lips that repeat only pious words. She welcomed her brother's return with smiles, not knowing, in the purity of her youth, that far away a courtesan had sacrificed her own happiness at the mere invocation of her name.I remained for some time in their happy family, full of indulgent care for one who brought them the convalescence of his heart. I returned to Paris, where I wrote this story just as it had been told me. It has only one merit, which will perhaps be denied it; that is, that it is true.
I do not draw from this story the conclusion that all women like Marguerite are capable of doing all that she did--far from it; but I have discovered that one of them experienced a serious love in the course of her life, that she suffered for it, and that she died of it. I have told the reader all that I learned. It was my duty.I am not the apostle of vice, but I would gladly be the echo of noble sorrow wherever I bear its voice in prayer. The story of Marguerite is an exception, I repeat; had it not been an exception, it would not have been worth the trouble of writing it.