Part 2 out of 5
see that I was stronger than she.
How many ways does the heart take, how many reasons does it
invent for itself, in order to arrive at what it wants!
I could not remain in the corridor, and I returned to my place in
the stalls, looking hastily around to see what box she was in.
She was in a ground-floor box, quite alone. She had changed, as I
have told you, and no longer wore an indifferent smile on her
lips. She had suffered; she was still suffering. Though it was
April, she was still wearing a winter costume, all wrapped up in
I gazed at her so fixedly that my eyes attracted hers. She looked
at me for a few seconds, put up her opera-glass to see me better,
and seemed to think she recognised me, without being quite sure
who I was, for when she put down her glasses, a smile, that
charming, feminine salutation, flitted across her lips, as if to
answer the bow which she seemed to expect; but I did not respond,
so as to have an advantage over her, as if I had forgotten, while
she remembered. Supposing herself mistaken,, she looked away.
The curtain went up. I have often seen Marguerite at the theatre.
I never saw her pay the slightest attention to what was being
acted. As for me, the performance interested me equally little,
and I paid no attention to anything but her, though doing my
utmost to keep her from noticing it.
Presently I saw her glancing across at the person who was in the
opposite box; on looking, I saw a woman with whom I was quite
familiar. She had once been a kept woman, and had tried to go on
the stage, had failed, and, relying on her acquaintance with
fashionable people in Paris, had gone into business and taken a
milliner's shop. I saw in her a means of meeting with Marguerite,
and profited by a moment in which she looked my way to wave my
hand to her. As I expected, she beckoned to me to come to her
Prudence Duvernoy (that was the milliner's auspicious name) was
one of those fat women of forty with whom one requires very
little diplomacy to make them understand what one wants to know,
especially when what one wants to know is as simple as what I had
to ask of her.
I took advantage of a moment when she was smiling across at
Marguerite to ask her, "Whom are you looking at?"
"You know her?"
"Yes, I am her milliner, and she is a neighbour of mine."
"Do you live in the Rue d'Antin?"
"No. 7. The window of her dressing-room looks on to the window of
"They say she is a charming girl."
"Don't you know her?"
"No, but I should like to."
"Shall I ask her to come over to our box?"
"No, I would rather for you to introduce me to her."
"At her own house?"
"That is more difficult."
"Because she is under the protection of a jealous old duke."
"'Protection' is charming."
"Yes, protection," replied Prudence. "Poor old man, he would be
greatly embarrassed to offer her anything else."
Prudence then told me how Marguerite had made the acquaintance of
the duke at Bagneres.
"That, then," I continued, "is why she is alone here?"
"But who will see her home?"
"He will come for her?"
"In a moment."
"And you, who is seeing you home?"
"May I offer myself?"
"But you are with a friend, are you not?"
"May we offer, then?"
"Who is your friend?"
"A charming fellow, very amusing. He will be delighted to make
"Well, all right; we will go after this piece is over, for I know
the last piece."
"With pleasure; I will go and tell my friend."
"Go, then. Ah," added Prudence, as I was going, "there is the
duke just coming into Marguerite's box."
I looked at him. A man of about seventy had sat down behind her,
and was giving her a bag of sweets, into which she dipped at
once, smiling. Then she held it out toward Prudence, with a
gesture which seemed to say, "Will you have some?"
"No," signalled Prudence.
Marguerite drew back the bag, and, turning, began to talk with
It may sound childish to tell you all these details, but
everything relating to Marguerite is so fresh in my memory that I
can not help recalling them now.
I went back to Gaston and told him of the arrangement I had made
for him and for me. He agreed, and we left our stalls to go round
to Mme. Duvernoy's box. We had scarcely opened the door leading
into the stalls when we had to stand aside to allow Marguerite
and the duke to pass. I would have given ten years of my life to
have been in the old man's place.
When they were on the street he handed her into a phaeton, which
he drove himself, and they were whirled away by two superb
We returned to Prudence's box, and when the play was over we took
a cab and drove to 7, Rue d'Antin. At the door, Prudence asked us
to come up and see her showrooms, which we had never seen, and of
which she seemed very proud. You can imagine how eagerly I
accepted. It seemed to me as if I was coming nearer and nearer to
Marguerite. I soon turned the conversation in her direction.
"The old duke is at your neighbours," I said to Prudence.
"Oh, no; she is probably alone."
"But she must be dreadfully bored," said Gaston.
"We spend most of our evening together, or she calls to me when
she comes in. She never goes to bed before two in the morning.
She can't sleep before that."
"Because she suffers in the chest, and is almost always
"Hasn't she any lovers?" I asked.
"I never see any one remain after I leave; I don't say no one
ever comes when I am gone. Often in the evening I meet there a
certain Comte de N., who thinks he is making some headway by
calling on her at eleven in the evening, and by sending her
jewels to any extent; but she can't stand him. She makes a
mistake; he is very rich. It is in vain that I say to her from
time to time, 'My dear child, there's the man for you.' She, who
generally listens to me, turns her back and replies that he is
too stupid. Stupid, indeed, he is; but it would be a position for
her, while this old duke might die any day. Old men are egoists;
his family are always reproaching him for his affection for
Marguerite; there are two reasons why he is likely to leave her
nothing. I give her good advice, and she only says it will be
plenty of time to take on the count when the duke is dead. It
isn't all fun," continued Prudence, "to live like that. I know
very well it wouldn't suit me, and I should soon send the old man
about his business. He is so dull; he calls her his daughter;
looks after her like a child; and is always in the way. I am sure
at this very moment one of his servants is prowling about in the
street to see who comes out, and especially who goes in."
"Ah, poor Marguerite!" said Gaston, sitting down to the piano and
playing a waltz. "I hadn't a notion of it, but I did notice she
hasn't been looking so gay lately."
"Hush," said Prudence, listening. Gaston stopped.
"She is calling me, I think."
We listened. A voice was calling, "Prudence!"
"Come, now, you must go," said Mme. Duvernoy.
"Ah, that is your idea of hospitality," said Gaston, laughing;
"we won't go till we please."
"Why should we go?"
"I am going over to Marguerite's."
"We will wait here."
"Then we will go with you."
"That still less."
"I know Marguerite," said Gaston; I can very well pay her a
"But Armand doesn't know her."
"I will introduce him."
We again heard Marguerite's voice calling to Prudence, who rushed
to her dressing-room window. I followed with Gaston as she opened
the window. We hid ourselves so as not to be seen from outside.
"I have been calling you for ten minutes," said Marguerite from
her window, in almost an imperious tone of voice.
"What do you want?"
"I want you to come over at once."
"Because the Comte de N. is still here, and he is boring me to
"I can't now."
"What is hindering you?"
"There are two young fellows here who won't go."
"Tell them that you must go out."
"I have told them."
"Well, then, leave them in the house. They will soon go when they
see you have gone."
"They will turn everything upside down."
"But what do they want?"
"They want to see you."
"What are they called?"
"You know one, M. Gaston R."
"Ah, yes, I know him. And the other?"
"M. Armand Duval; and you don't know him."
"No, but bring them along. Anything is better than the count. I
expect you. Come at once."
Marguerite closed her window and Prudence hers. Marguerite, who
had remembered my face for a moment, did not remember my name. I
would rather have been remembered to my disadvantage than thus
"I knew," said Gaston, "that she would be delighted to see us."
"Delighted isn't the word," replied Prudence, as she put on her
hat and shawl. "She will see you in order to get rid of the
count. Try to be more agreeable than he is, or (I know
Marguerite) she will put it all down to me."
We followed Prudence downstairs. I trembled; it seemed to me that
this visit was to have a great influence on my life. I was still
more agitated than on the evening when I was introduced in the
box at the Opera Comique. As we reached the door that you know,
my heart beat so violently that I was hardly able to think.
We heard the sound of a piano. Prudence rang. The piano was
silent. A woman who looked more like a companion than a servant
opened the door. We went into the drawing-room, and from that to
the boudoir, which was then just as you have seen it since. A
young man was leaning against the mantel-piece. Marguerite,
seated at the piano, let her fingers wander over the notes,
beginning scraps of music without finishing them. The whole scene
breathed boredom, the man embarrassed by the consciousness of his
nullity, the woman tired of her dismal visitor. At the voice of
Prudence, Marguerite rose, and coming toward us with a look of
gratitude to Mme. Duvernoy, said:
"Come in, and welcome."
"Good-evening, my dear Gaston," said Marguerite to my companion.
"I am very glad to see you. Why didn't you come to see me in my
box at the Varietes?"
"I was afraid it would be indiscreet."
"Friends," and Marguerite lingered over the word, as if to
intimate to those who were present that in spite of the familiar
way in which she greeted him, Gaston was not and never had been
anything more than a friend, "friends are always welcome."
"Then, will you permit me to introduce M. Armand Duval?"
"I had already authorized Prudence to do so."
"As far as that goes, madame," I said, bowing, and succeeding in
getting more or less intelligible sounds out of my throat, "I
have already had the honour of being introduced to you."
Marguerite's beautiful eyes seemed to be looking back in memory,
but she could not, or seemed not to, remember.
"Madame," I continued, "I am grateful to you for having forgotten
the occasion of my first introduction, for I was very absurd and
must have seemed to you very tiresome. It was at the Opera
Comique, two years ago; I was with Ernest de --."
"Ah, I remember," said Marguerite, with a smile. "It was not you
who were absurd; it was I who was mischievous, as I still am, but
somewhat less. You have forgiven me?"
And she held out her hand, which I kissed.
"It is true," she went on; "you know I have the bad habit of
trying to embarrass people the first time I meet them. It is very
stupid. My doctor says it is because I am nervous and always ill;
believe my doctor."
"But you seem quite well."
"Oh! I have been very ill."
"Who told you?"
"Every one knew it; I often came to inquire after you, and I was
happy to hear of your convalescence."
"They never gave me your card."
"I did not leave it."
"Was it you, then, who called every day while I was ill, and
would never leave your name?"
"Yes, it was I."
"Then you are more than indulgent, you are generous. You, count,
wouldn't have done that," said she, turning toward M. de N.,
after giving me one of those looks in which women sum up their
opinion of a man.
"I have only known you for two months," replied the count.
"And this gentleman only for five minutes. You always say
Women are pitiless toward those whom they do not care for. The
count reddened and bit his lips.
I was sorry for him, for he seemed, like myself, to be in love,
and the bitter frankness of Marguerite must have made him very
unhappy, especially in the presence of two strangers.
"You were playing the piano when we came in," I said, in order to
change the conversation. "Won't you be so good as to treat me as
an old acquaintance and go on?"
"Oh," said she, flinging herself on the sofa and motioning to us
to sit down, "Gaston knows what my music is like. It is all very
well when I am alone with the count, but I won't inflict such a
punishment on you."
"You show me that preference?" said M. de N., with a smile which
he tried to render delicately ironical.
"Don't reproach me for it. It is the only one." It was fated that
the poor man was not to say a single word. He cast a really
supplicating glance at Marguerite.
"Well, Prudence," she went on, "have you done what I asked you to
"All right. You will tell me about it later. We must talk over
it; don't go before I can speak with you."
"We are doubtless intruders," I said, "and now that we, or rather
I, have had a second introduction, to blot out the first, it is
time for Gaston and me to be going."
"Not in the least. I didn't mean that for you. I want you to
The count took a very elegant watch out of his pocket and looked
at the time. "I must be going to my club," he said. Marguerite
did not answer. The count thereupon left his position by the
fireplace and going up to her, said: "Adieu, madame."
Marguerite rose. "Adieu, my dear count. Are you going already?"
"Yes, I fear I am boring you."
"You are not boring me to-day more than any other day. When shall
I be seeing you?"
"When you permit me."
It was cruel, you will admit. Fortunately, the count had
excellent manners and was very good-tempered. He merely kissed
Marguerite's hand, which she held out to him carelessly enough,
and, bowing to us, went out.
As he crossed the threshold, he cast a glance at Prudence. She
shrugged her shoulders, as much as to say:
"What do you expect? I have done all I could."
"Nanine!" cried Marguerite. "Light M. le Comte to the door."
We heard the door open and shut.
"At last," cried Marguerite, coming back, "he has gone! That man
gets frightfully on my nerves!"
"My dear child," said Prudence, "you really treat him too badly,
and he is so good and kind to you. Look at this watch on the
mantel-piece, that he gave you: it must have cost him at least
three thousand francs, I am sure."
And Mme. Duvernoy began to turn it over, as it lay on the
mantel-piece, looking at it with covetous eyes.
"My dear," said Marguerite, sitting down to the piano, "when I
put on one side what he gives me and on the other what he says to
me, it seems to me that he buys his visits very cheap."
"The poor fellow is in love with you."
"If I had to listen to everybody who was in love with me, I
shouldn't have time for my dinner."
And she began to run her fingers over the piano, and then,
turning to us, she said:
"What will you take? I think I should like a little punch."
"And I could eat a little chicken," said Prudence. "Suppose we
"That's it, let's go and have supper," said Gaston.
"No, we will have supper here."
She rang, and Nanine appeared.
"Send for some supper."
"What must I get?"
"Whatever you like, but at once, at once."
Nanine went out.
"That's it," said Marguerite, jumping like a child, "we'll have
supper. How tiresome that idiot of a count is!"
The more I saw her, the more she enchanted me. She was
exquisitely beautiful. Her slenderness was a charm. I was lost in
What was passing in my mind I should have some difficulty in
explaining. I was full of indulgence for her life, full of
admiration for her beauty. The proof of disinterestedness that
she gave in not accepting a rich and fashionable young man, ready
to waste all his money upon her, excused her in my eyes for all
her faults in the past.
There was a kind of candour in this woman. You could see she was
still in the virginity of vice. Her firm walk, her supple figure,
her rosy, open nostrils, her large eyes, slightly tinged with
blue, indicated one of those ardent natures which sbed around
them a sort of voluptuous perfume, like Eastern vials, which,
close them as tightly as you will, still let some of their
perfume escape. Finally, whether it was simple nature or a breath
of fever, there passed from time to time in the eyes of this
woman a glimmer of desire, giving promise of a very heaven for
one whom she should love. But those who had loved Marguerite were
not to be counted, nor those whom she had loved.
In this girl there was at once the virgin whom a mere nothing had
turned into a courtesan, and the courtesan whom a mere nothing
would have turned into the most loving and the purest of virgins.
Marguerite had still pride and independence, two sentiments
which, if they are wounded, can be the equivalent of a sense of
shame. I did not speak a word; my soul seemed to have passed into
my heart and my heart into my eyes.
"So," said she all at once, "it was you who came to inquire after
me when I was ill?"
"Do you know, it was quite splendid of you! How can I thank you
"By allowing me to come and see you from time to time."
"As often as you like, from five to six, and from eleven to
twelve. Now, Gaston, play the Invitation A la Valse."
"To please me, first of all, and then because I never can manage
to play it myself."
"What part do you find difficult?"
"The third part, the part in sharps."
Gaston rose and went to the piano, and began to play the
wonderful melody of Weber, the music of which stood open before
Marguerite, resting one hand on the piano, followed every note on
the music, accompanying it in a low voice, and when Gaston had
come to the passage which she had mentioned to him, she sang out,
running her fingers along the top of the piano:
"Do, re, mi, do, re, fa, mi, re; that is what I can not do. Over
Gaston began over again, after which Marguerite said:
"Now, let me try."
She took her place and began to play; but her rebellious fingers
always came to grief over one of the notes.
"Isn't it incredible," she said, exactly like a child, "that I
can not succeed in playing that passage? Would you believe that I
sometimes spend two hours of the morning over it? And when I
think that that idiot of a count plays it without his music, and
beautifully, I really believe it is that that makes me so furious
with him." And she began again, always with the same result.
"The devil take Weber, music, and pianos!" she cried, throwing
the music to the other end of the room. "How can I play eight
sharps one after another?" She folded her arms and looked at us,
stamping her foot. The blood flew to her cheeks, and her lips
half opened in a slight cough.
"Come, come," said Prudence, who had taken off her hat and was
smoothing her hair before the glass, "you will work yourself into
a rage and do yourself harm. Better come and have supper; for my
part, I am dying of hunger."
Marguerite rang the bell, sat down to the piano again, and began
to hum over a very risky song, which she accompanied without
difficulty. Gaston knew the song, and they gave a sort of duet.
"Don't sing those beastly things," I said to Marguerite,
"Oh, how proper you are!" she said, smiling and giving me her
hand. "It is not for myself, but for you."
Marguerite made a gesture as if to say, "Oh, it is long since
that I have done with propriety!" At that moment Nanine appeared.
"Is supper ready?" asked Marguerite. "Yes, madame, in one
"Apropos," said Prudence to me, "you have not looked round; come,
and I will show you." As you know, the drawing-room was a marvel.
Marguerite went with us for a moment; then she called Gaston and
went into the dining-room with him to see if supper was ready.
"Ah," said Prudence, catching sight of a little Saxe figure on a
side-table, "I never knew you had this little gentleman."
"A little shepherd holding a bird-cage."
"Take it, if you like it."
"I won't deprive you of it."
"I was going to give it to my maid. I think it hideous; but if
you like it, take it."
Prudence only saw the present, not the way in which it was given.
She put the little figure on one side, and took me into the
dressing-room, where she showed me two miniatures hanging side by
side, and said:
"That is the Comte de G., who was very much in love with
Marguerite; it was he who brought her out. Do you know him?"
"No. And this one?" I inquired, pointing to the other miniature.
"That is the little Vicomte de L. He was obliged to disappear."
"Because he was all but ruined. That's one, if you like, who
"And she loved him, too, no doubt?"
"She is such a queer girl, one never knows. The night he went
away she went to the theatre as usual, and yet she had cried when
he said good-bye to her."
Just then Nanine appeared, to tell us that supper was served.
When we entered the dining-room, Marguerite was leaning against
the wall, and Gaston, holding her hands, was speaking to her in a
"You are mad," replied Marguerite. "You know quite well that I
don't want you. It is no good at the end of two years to make
love to a woman like me. With us, it is at once, or never. Come,
And, slipping away from Gaston, Marguerite made him sit on her
right at table, me on her left, then called to Nanine:
"Before you sit down, tell them in the kitchen not to open to
anybody if there is a ring."
This order was given at one o'clock in the morning.
We laughed, drank, and ate freely at this supper. In a short
while mirth had reached its last limit, and the words that seem
funny to a certain class of people, words that degrade the mouth
that utters them, were heard from time to time, amidst the
applause of Nanine, of Prudence, and of Marguerite. Gaston was
thoroughly amused; he was a very good sort of fellow, but
somewhat spoiled by the habits of his youth. For a moment I tried
to forget myself, to force my heart and my thoughts to become
indifferent to the sight before me, and to take my share of that
gaiety which seemed like one of the courses of the meal. But
little by little I withdrew from the noise; my glass remained
full, and I felt almost sad as I saw this beautiful creature of
twenty drinking, talking like a porter, and laughing the more
loudly the more scandalous was the joke.
Nevertheless, this hilarity, this way of talking and drinking,
which seemed to me in the others the mere results of bad company
or of bad habits, seemed in Marguerite a necessity of forgetting,
a fever, a nervous irritability. At every glass of champagne her
cheeks would flush with a feverish colour, and a cough, hardly
perceptible at the beginning of supper, became at last so violent
that she was obliged to lean her head on the back of her chair
and hold her chest in her hands every time that she coughed. I
suffered at the thought of the injury to so frail a constitution
which must come from daily excesses like this. At length,
something which I had feared and foreseen happened. Toward the
end of supper Marguerite was seized by a more violent fit of
coughing than any she had had while I was there. It seemed as if
her chest were being torn in two. The poor girl turned crimson,
closed her eyes under the pain, and put her napkin to her lips.
It was stained with a drop of blood. She rose and ran into her
"What is the matter with Marguerite?" asked Gaston.
"She has been laughing too much, and she is spitting blood. Oh,
it is nothing; it happens to her every day. She will be back in a
minute. Leave her alone. She prefers it."
I could not stay still; and, to the consternation of Prudence and
Nanine, who called to me to come back, I followed Marguerite."
The room to which she had fled was lit only by a single candle.
She lay back on a great sofa, her dress undone, holding one hand
on her heart, and letting the other hang by her side. On the
table was a basin half full of water, and the water was stained
with streaks of blood.
Very pale, her mouth half open, Marguerite tried to recover
breath. Now and again her bosom was raised by a long sigh, which
seemed to relieve her a little, and for a few seconds she would
seem to be quite comfortable.
I went up to her; she made no movement, and I sat down and took
the hand which was lying on the sofa.
"Ah! it is you," she said, with a smile.
I must have looked greatly agitated, for she added:
"Are you unwell, too?"
"No, but you: do you still suffer?"
"Very little;" and she wiped off with her handkerchief the tears
which the coughing had brought to her eyes; "I am used to it
"You are killing yourself, madame," I said to her in a moved
voice. "I wish I were a friend, a relation of yours, that I might
keep you from doing yourself harm like this."
"Ah! it is really not worth your while to alarm yourself," she
replied in a somewhat bitter tone; "see how much notice the
others take of me! They know too well that there is nothing to be
Thereupon she got up, and, taking the candle, put it on the
mantel-piece and looked at herself in the glass.
"How pale I am!" she said, as she fastened her dress and passed
her fingers over her loosened hair. "Come, let us go back to
supper. Are you coming?"
I sat still and did not move.
She saw how deeply I had been affected by the whole scene, and,
coming up to me, held out her hand, saying:
"Come now, let us go."
I took her hand, raised it to my lips, and in spite of myself two
tears fell upon it.
"Why, what a child you are!" she said, sitting down by my side
again. "You are crying! What is the matter?"
"I must seem very silly to you, but I am frightfully troubled by
what I have just seen."
"You are very good! What would you have of me? I can not sleep. I
must amuse myself a little. And then, girls like me, what does it
matter, one more or less? The doctors tell me that the blood I
spit up comes from my throat; I pretend to believe them; it is
all I can do for them."
"Listen, Marguerite," I said, unable to contain myself any
longer; "I do not know what influence you are going to have over
my life, but at this present moment there is no one, not even my
sister, in whom I feel the interest which I feel in you. It has
been just the same ever since I saw you. Well, for Heaven's sake,
take care of yourself, and do not live as you are living now."
"If I took care of myself I should die. All that supports me is
the feverish life I lead. Then, as for taking care of oneself,
that is all very well for women with families and friends; as for
us, from the moment we can no longer serve the vanity or the
pleasure of our lovers, they leave us, and long nights follow
long days. I know it. I was in bed for two months, and after
three weeks no one came to see me."
"It is true I am nothing to you," I went on, "but if you will let
me, I will look after you like a brother, I will never leave your
side, and I will cure you. Then, when you are strong again, you
can go back to the life you are leading, if you choose; but I am
sure you will come to prefer a quiet life, which will make you
happier and keep your beauty unspoiled."
"You think like that to-night because the wine has made you sad,
but you would never have the patience that you pretend to."
"Permit me to say, Marguerite, that you were ill for two months,
and that for two months I came to ask after you every day."
"It is true, but why did you not come up?"
"Because I did not know you then."
"Need you have been so particular with a girl like me?"
"One must always be particular with a woman; it is what I feel,
"So you would look after me?"
"You would stay by me all day?"
"And even all night?"
"As long as I did not weary you."
"And what do you call that?"
"And what does this devotion come from?"
"The irresistible sympathy which I have for you."
"So you are in love with me? Say it straight out, it is much more
"It is possible; but if I am to say it to you one day, it is not
"You will do better never to say it."
"Because only one of two things can come of it."
"Either I shall not accept: then you will have a grudge against
me; or I shall accept: then you will have a sorry mistress; a
woman who is nervous, ill, sad, or gay with a gaiety sadder than
grief, a woman who spits blood and spends a hundred thousand
francs a year. That is all very well for a rich old man like the
duke, but it is very bad for a young man like you, and the proof
of it is that all the young lovers I have had have very soon left
me." I did not answer; I listened. This frankness, which was
almost a kind of confession, the sad life, of which I caught some
glimpse through the golden veil which covered it, and whose
reality the poor girl sought to escape in dissipation, drink, and
wakefulness, impressed me so deeply that I could not utter a
"Come," continued Marguerite, "we are talking mere childishness.
Give me your arm and let us go back to the dining-room. They
won't know what we mean by our absence."
"Go in, if you like, but allow me to stay here."
"Because your mirth hurts me."
"Well, I will be sad."
"Marguerite, let me say to you something which you have no doubt
often heard, so often that the habit of hearing it has made you
believe it no longer, but which is none the less real, and which
I will never repeat."
"And that is . . . ?" she said, with the smile of a young mother
listening to some foolish notion of her child.
"It is this, that ever since I have seen you, I know not why, you
have taken a place in my life; that, if I drive the thought of
you out of my mind, it always comes back; that when I met you
to-day, after not having seen you for two years, you made a
deeper impression on my heart and mind than ever; that, now that
you have let me come to see you, now that I know you, now that I
know all that is strange in you, you have become a necessity of
my life, and you will drive me mad, not only if you will not love
me, but if you will not let me love you."
"But, foolish creature that you are, I shall say to you, like
Mme. D., 'You must be very rich, then!' Why, you don't know that
I spend six or seven thousand francs a month, and that I could
not live without it; you don't know, my poor friend, that I
should ruin you in no time, and that your family would cast you
off if you were to live with a woman like me. Let us be friends,
good friends, but no more. Come and see me, we will laugh and
talk, but don't exaggerate what I am worth, for I am worth very
little. You have a good heart, you want some one to love you, you
are too young and too sensitive to live in a world like mine.
Take a married woman. You see, I speak to you frankly, like a
"But what the devil are you doing there?" cried Prudence, who had
come in without our bearing her, and who now stood just inside
the door, with her hair half coming down and her dress undone. I
recognised the hand of Gaston.
"We are talking sense," said Marguerite; "leave us alone; we will
be back soon."
"Good, good! Talk, my children," said Prudence, going out and
closing the door behind her, as if to further empbasize the tone
in which she had said these words.
"Well, it is agreed," continued Marguerite, when we were alone,
"you won't fall in love with me?"
"I will go away."
"So much as that?"
I had gone too far to draw back; and I was really carried away.
This mingling of gaiety, sadness, candour, prostitution, her very
malady, which no doubt developed in her a sensitiveness to
impressions, as well as an irritability of nerves, all this made
it clear to me that if from the very beginning I did not
completely dominate her light and forgetful nature, she was lost
"Come, now, do you seriously mean what you say?" she said.
"But why didn't you say it to me sooner?"
"When could I have said it?"
"The day after you had been introduced to me at the Opera
"I thought you would have received me very badly if I had come to
"Because I had behaved so stupidly."
"That's true. And yet you were already in love with me."
"And that didn't hinder you from going to bed and sleeping quite
comfortably. One knows what that sort of love means."
"There you are mistaken. Do you know what I did that evening,
after the Opera Comique?"
"I waited for you at the door of the Cafe Anglais. I followed the
carriage in which you and your three friends were, and when I saw
you were the only one to get down, and that you went in alone, I
was very happy."
Marguerite began to laugh.
"What are you laughing at?"
"Tell me, I beg of you, or I shall think you are still laughing
"You won't be cross?"
"What right have I to be cross?"
"Well, there was a sufficient reason why I went in alone."
"Some one was waiting for me here."
If she had thrust a knife into me she would not have hurt me
more. I rose, and holding out my hand, "Goodbye," said I.
"I knew you would be cross," she said; "men are frantic to know
what is certain to give them pain."
"But I assure you," I added coldly, as if wishing to prove how
completely I was cured of my passion, "I assure you that I am not
cross. It was quite natural that some one should be waiting for
you, just as it is quite natural that I should go from here at
three in the morning."
"Have you, too, some one waiting for you?"
"No, but I must go."
"You send me away?"
"Not the least in the world."
"Why are you so unkind to me?"
"How have I been unkind to you?"
"In telling me that some one was waiting for you."
"I could not help laughing at the idea that you had been so happy
to see me come in alone when there was such a good reason for
"One finds pleasure in childish enough things, and it is too bad
to destroy such a pleasure when, by simply leaving it alone, one
can make somebody so happy."
"But what do you think I am? I am neither maid nor duchess. I
didn't know you till to-day, and I am not responsible to you for
my actions. Supposing one day I should become your mistress, you
are bound to know that I have had other lovers besides you. If
you make scenes of jealousy like this before, what will it be
after, if that after should ever exist? I never met any one like
"That is because no one has ever loved you as I love you."
"Frankly, then, you really love me?"
"As much as it is possible to love, I think."
"And that has lasted since--?"
"Since the day I saw you go into Susse's, three years ago.
"Do you know, that is tremendously fine? Well, what am to do in
"Love me a little," I said, my heart beating so that I could
hardly speak; for, in spite of the half-mocking smiles with which
she had accompanied the whole conversation, it seemed to me that
Marguerite began to share my agitation, and that the hour so long
awaited was drawing near.
"Well, but the duke?"
"My jealous old duke."
"He will know nothing."
"And if he should?"
"He would forgive you."
"Ah, no, he would leave me, and what would become of me?"
"You risk that for some one else."
"How do you know?" "By the order you gave not to admit any one
to-night." "It is true; but that is a serious friend."
"For whom you care nothing, as you have shut your door against
him at such an hour."
"It is not for you to reproach me, since it was in order to
receive you, you and your friend."
Little by little I had drawn nearer to Marguerite. I had put my
arms about her waist, and I felt her supple body weigh lightly on
my clasped hands.
"If you knew how much I love you!" I said in a low voice. "Really
"I swear it."
"Well, if you will promise to do everything I tell you, without a
word, without an opinion, without a question, perhaps I will say
"I will do everything that you wish!"
"But I forewarn you I must be free to do as I please, without
giving you the slightest details what I do. I have long wished
for a young lover, who should be young and not self-willed,
loving without distrust, loved without claiming the right to it.
I have never found one. Men, instead of being satisfied in
obtaining for a long time what they scarcely hoped to obtain
once, exact from their mistresses a full account of the present,
the past, and even the future. As they get accustomed to her,
they want to rule her, and the more one gives them the more
exacting they become. If I decide now on taking a new lover, he
must have three very rare qualities: he must be confiding,
submissive, and discreet."
"Well, I will be all that you wish."
"We shall see."
"When shall we see?"
"Because," said Marguerite, releasing herself from my arms, and,
taking from a great bunch of red camellias a single camellia, she
placed it in my buttonhole, "because one can not always carry out
agreements the day they are signed."
"And when shall I see you again?" I said, clasping her in my
"When this camellia changes colour."
"When will it change colour?"
"To-morrow night between eleven and twelve. Are you satisfied?"
"Need you ask me?"
"Not a word of this either to your friend or to Prudence, or to
"Now, kiss me, and we will go back to the dining-room."
She held up her lips to me, smoothed her hair again, and we went
out of the room, she singing, and I almost beside myself.
In the next room she stopped for a moment and said to me in a low
"It must seem strange to you that I am ready to take you at a
moment's notice. Shall I tell you why? It is," she continued,
taking my hand and placing it against her heart so that I could
feel how rapidly and violently it palpitated; "it is because I
shall not live as long as others, and I have promised myself to
live more quickly."
"Don't speak to me like that, I entreat you."
"Oh, make yourself easy," she continued, laughing; "however short
a time I have to live, I shall live longer than you will love
And she went singing into the dining-room.
"Where is Nanine?" she said, seeing Gaston and Prudence alone.
"She is asleep in your room, waiting till you are ready to go to
bed," replied Prudence.
"Poor thing, I am killing her! And now gentlemen, it is time to
Ten minutes after, Gaston and I left the house. Marguerite shook
hands with me and said good-bye. Prudence remained behind.
"Well," said Gaston, when we were in the street, "what do you
think of Marguerite?"
"She is an angel, and I am madly in love with her." "So I
guessed; did you tell her so?"
"And did she promise to believe you?"
"She is not like Prudence."
"Did she promise to?"
"Better still, my dear fellow. You wouldn't think it; but she is
still not half bad, poor old Duvernoy!"
At this point Armand stopped.
"Would you close the window for me?" he said. "I am beginning to
feel cold. Meanwhile, I will get into bed."
I closed the window. Armand, who was still very weak, took off
his dressing-gown and lay down in bed, resting his head for a few
moments on the pillow, like a man who is tired by much talking or
disturbed by painful memories.
"Perhaps you have been talking too much," I said to him. "Would
you rather for me to go and leave you to sleep? You can tell me
the rest of the story another day."
"Are you tired of listening to it?"
"Quite the contrary."
"Then I will go on. If you left me alone, I should not sleep."
When I returned home (he continued, without needing to pause and
recollect himself, so fresh were all the details in his mind), I
did not go to bed, but began to reflect over the day's adventure.
The meeting, the introduction, the promise of Marguerite, had
followed one another so rapidly, and so unexpectedly, that there
were moments when it seemed to me I had been dreaming.
Nevertheless, it was not the first time that a girl like
Marguerite had promised herself to a man on the morrow of the day
on which he had asked for the promise.
Though, indeed, I made this reflection, the first impression
produced on me by my future mistress was so strong that it still
persisted. I refused obstinately to see in her a woman like other
women, and, with the vanity so common to all men, I was ready to
believe that she could not but share the attraction which drew me
Yet, I had before me plenty of instances to the contrary, and I
had often heard that the affection of Marguerite was a thing to
be had more or less dear, according to the season.
But, on the other hand, how was I to reconcile this reputation
with her constant refusal of the young count whom we had found at
her house? You may say that he was unattractive to her, and that,
as she was splendidly kept by the duke, she would be more likely
to choose a man who was attractive to her, if she were to take
another lover. If so, why did she not choose Gaston, who was
rich, witty, and charming, and why did she care for me, whom she
had thought so ridiculous the first time she had seen me?
It is true that there are events of a moment which tell more than
the courtship of a year. Of those who were at the supper, I was
the only one who had been concerned at her leaving the table. I
had followed her, I had been so affected as to be unable to hide
it from her, I had wept as I kissed her hand. This circumstance,
added to my daily visits during the two months of her illness,
might have shown her that I was somewhat different from the other
men she knew, and perhaps she had said to herself that for a love
which could thus manifest itself she might well do what she had
done so often that it had no more consequence for her.
All these suppositions, as you may see, were improbable enough;
but whatever might have been the reason of her consent, one thing
was certain, she had consented.
Now, I was in love with Marguerite. I had nothing more to ask of
her. Nevertheless, though she was only a kept woman, I had so
anticipated for myself, perhaps to poetize it a little, a
hopeless love, that the nearer the moment approached when I
should have nothing more to hope, the more I doubted. I did not
close my eyes all night.
I scarcely knew myself. I was half demented. Now, I seemed to
myself not handsome or rich or elegant enough to possess such a
woman, now I was filled with vanity at the thought of it; then I
began to fear lest Marguerite had no more than a few days'
caprice for me, and I said to myself that since we should soon
have to part, it would be better not to keep her appointment, but
to write and tell her my fears and leave her. From that I went on
to unlimited hope, unbounded confidence. I dreamed incredible
dreams of the future; I said to myself that she should owe to me
her moral and physical recovery, that I should spend my whole
life with her, and that her love should make me happier than all
the maidenly loves in the world.
But I can not repeat to you the thousand thoughts that rose from
my heart to my head, and that only faded away with the sleep that
came to me at daybreak.
When I awoke it was two o'clock. The weather was superb. I don't
think life ever seemed to me so beautiful and so full of
possibilities. The memories of the night before came to me
without shadow or hindrance, escorted gaily by the hopes of the
night to come. From time to time my heart leaped with love and
joy in my breast. A sweet fever thrilled me. I thought no more of
the reasons which had filled my mind before I slept. I saw only
the result, I thought only of the hour when I was to see
It was impossible to stay indoors. My room seemed too small to
contain my happiness. I needed the whole of nature to unbosom
I went out. Passing by the Rue d'Antin, I saw Marguerite's coupe'
waiting for her at the door. I went toward the Champs-Elysees. I
loved all the people whom I met. Love gives one a kind of
After I had been walking for an hour from the Marly horses to the
Rond-Point, I saw Marguerite's carriage in the distance; I
divined rather than recognised it. As it was turning the corner
of the Champs-Elysees it stopped, and a tall young man left a
group of people with whom he was talking and came up to her. They
talked for a few moments; the young man returned to his friends,
the horses set out again, and as I came near the group I
recognised the one who had spoken to Marguerite as the Comte de
G., whose portrait I had seen and whom Prudence had indicated to
me as the man to whom Marguerite owed her position. It was to him
that she had closed her doors the night before; I imagined that
she had stopped her carriage in order to explain to him why she
had done so, and I hoped that at the same time she had found some
new pretext for not receiving him on the following night.
How I spent the rest of the day I do not know; I walked, smoked,
talked, but what I said, whom I met, I had utterly forgotten by
ten o'clock in the evening.
All I remember is that when I returned home, I spent three hours
over my toilet, and I looked at my watch and my clock a hundred
times, which unfortunately both pointed to the same hour.
When it struck half past ten, I said to myself that it was time
I lived at that time in the Rue de Provence; I followed the Rue
du Mont-Blanc, crossed the Boulevard, went up the Rue
Louis-le-Grand, the Rue de Port-Mahon, and the Rue d'Antin. I
looked up at Marguerite's windows. There was a light. I rang. I
asked the porter if Mlle. Gautier was at home. He replied that
she never came in before eleven or a quarter past eleven. I
looked at my watch. I intended to come quite slowly, and I had
come in five minutes from the Rue de Provence to the Rue d'Antin.
I walked to and fro in the street; there are no shops, and at
that hour it is quite deserted. In half an hour's time
Marguerite arrived. She looked around her as she got down from
her coupe', as if she were looking for some one. The carriage
drove off; the stables were not at the house. Just as Marguerite
was going to ring, I went up to her and said, "Good-evening."
"Ah, it is you," she said, in a tone that by no means reassured
me as to her pleasure in seeing me.
"Did you not promise me that I might come and see you to-day?"
"Quite right. I had forgotten."
This word upset all the reflections I had had during the day.
Nevertheless, I was beginning to get used to her ways, and I did
not leave her, as I should certainly have done once. We entered.
Nanine had already opened the door.
"Has Prudence come?" said Marguerite.
"Say that she is to be admitted as soon as she comes. But first
put out the lamp in the drawing-room, and if any one comes, say
that I have not come back and shall not be coming back."
She was like a woman who is preoccupied with something, and
perhaps annoyed by an unwelcome guest. I did not know what to do
or say. Marguerite went toward her bedroom; I remained where I
"Come," she said.
She took off her hat and her velvet cloak and threw them on the
bed, then let herself drop into a great armchair beside the fire,
which she kept till the very beginning of summer, and said to me
as she fingered her watch-chain:
"Well, what news have you got for me?"
"None, except that I ought not to have come to-night."
"Because you seem vexed, and no doubt I am boring you."
"You are not boring me; only I am not well; I have been suffering
all day. I could not sleep, and I have a frightful headache."
"Shall I go away and let you go to bed?"
"Oh, you can stay. If I want to go to bed I don't mind your being
At that moment there was a ring.
"Who is coming now?" she said, with an impatient movement.
A few minutes after there was another ring.
"Isn't there any one to go to the door? I shall have to go." She
got up and said to me, "Wait here."
She went through the rooms, and I heard her open the outer door.
The person whom she had admitted did not come farther than the
dining-room. At the first word I recognised the voice of the
young Comte de N.
"How are you this evening?" he said.
"Not well," replied Marguerite drily.
"Am I disturbing you?"
"How you receive me! What have I done, my dear Marguerite?"
"My dear friend, you have done nothing. I am ill; I must go to
bed, so you will be good enough to go. It is sickening not to be
able to return at night without your making your appearance five
minutes afterward. What is it you want? For me to be your
mistress? Well, I have already told you a hundred times, No; you
simply worry me, and you might as well go somewhere else. I
repeat to you to-day, for the last time, I don't want to have
anything to do with you; that's settled. Good-bye. Here's Nanine
coming in; she can light you to the door. Good-night."
Without adding another word, or listening to what the young man
stammered out, Marguerite returned to the room and slammed the
door. Nanine entered a moment after.
"Now understand," said Marguerite, "you are always to say to that
idiot that I am not in, or that I will not see him. I am tired
out with seeing people who always want the same thing; who pay me
for it, and then think they are quit of me. If those who are
going to go in for our hateful business only knew what it really
was they would sooner be chambermaids. But no, vanity, the desire
of having dresses and carriages and diamonds carries us away; one
believes what one hears, for here, as elsewhere, there is such a
thing as belief, and one uses up one's heart, one's body, one's
beauty, little by little; one is feared like a beast of prey,
scorned like a pariah, surrounded by people who always take more
than they give; and one fine day one dies like a dog in a ditch,
after having ruined others and ruined one's self."
"Come, come, madame, be calm," said Nanine; "your nerves are a
bit upset to-night."
"This dress worries me," continued Marguerite, unhooking her
bodice; "give me a dressing-gown. Well, and Prudence?"
"She has not come yet, but I will send her to you, madame, the
moment she comes."
"There's one, now," Marguerite went on, as she took off her dress
and put on a white dressing-gown, "there's one who knows very
well how to find me when she is in want of me, and yet she can't
do me a service decently. She knows I am waiting for an answer.
She knows how anxious I am, and I am sure she is going about on
her own account, without giving a thought to me."
"Perhaps she had to wait."
"Let us have some punch."
"It will do you no good, madame," said Nanine.
"So much the better. Bring some fruit, too, and a pate or a wing
of chicken; something or other, at once. I am hungry."
Need I tell you the impression which this scene made upon me, or
can you not imagine it?
"You are going to have supper with me," she said to me;
"meanwhile, take a book. I am going into my dressing-room for a
She lit the candles of a candelabra, opened a door at the foot of
the bed, and disappeared.
I began to think over this poor girl's life, and my love for her
was mingled with a great pity. I walked to and fro in the room,
thinking over things, when Prudence entered.
"Ah, you here?"' she said, "where is Marguerite?"
"In her dressing-room."
"I will wait. By the way, do you know she thinks you charming?"
"She hasn't told you?"
"Not at all."
"How are you here?"
"I have come to pay her a visit."
"She has received me, as a matter of fact, very badly."
"She will receive you better by and bye."
"Do you think so?"
"I have some good news for her."
"No harm in that. So she has spoken to you about me?"
"Last night, or rather to-night, when you and your friend went.
By the way, what is your friend called? Gaston R., his name is,
"Yes," said I, not without smiling, as I thought of what Gaston
had confided to me, and saw that Prudence scarcely even knew his
"He is quite nice, that fellow; what does he do?"
"He has twenty-five thousand francs a year."
"Ah, indeed! Well, to return to you. Marguerite asked me all
about you: who you were, what you did, what mistresses you had
had; in short, everything that one could ask about a man of your
age. I told her all I knew, and added that you were a charming
young man. That's all."
"Thanks. Now tell me what it was she wanted to say to you last
"Nothing at all. It was only to get rid of the count; but I have
really something to see her about to-day, and I am bringing her
an answer now."
At this moment Marguerite reappeared from her dressing-room,
wearing a coquettish little nightcap with bunches of yellow
ribbons, technically known as "cabbages." She looked ravishing.
She had satin slippers on her bare feet, and was in the act of
polishing her nails.
"Well," she said, seeing Prudence, "have you seen the duke?"
"And what did he say to you?"
"He gave me--"
"Have you got it?"
"Did he seem put out?"
This "Poor man!" was said in a tone impossible to render.
Marguerite took the six notes of a thousand francs.
"It was quite time," she said. "My dear Prudence, are you in want
of any money?"
"You know, my child, it is the 15th in a couple of days, so if
you could lend me three or four hundred francs, you would do me a
"Send over to-morrow; it is too late to get change now."
"No fear. Will you have supper with us?"
"No, Charles is waiting for me."
"You are still devoted to him?"
"Crazy, my dear! I will see you to-morrow. Good-bye, Armand."
Mme. Duvernoy went out.
Marguerite opened the drawer of a side-table and threw the
bank-notes into it.
"Will you permit me to get into bed?" she said with a smile, as
she moved toward the bed.
"Not only permit, but I beg of you."
She turned back the covering and got into bed.
"Now," said she, "come and sit down by me, and let's have a
Prudence was right: the answer that she had brought to Marguerite
had put her into a good humour.
"Will you forgive me for my bad temper tonight?" she said, taking
"I am ready to forgive you as often as you like."
"And you love me?"
"In spite of my bad disposition?"
"In spite of all."
"You swear it?"
"Yes," I said in a whisper.
Nanine entered, carrying plates, a cold chicken, a bottle of
claret, and some strawberries.
"I haven't had any punch made," said Nanine; "claret is better
for you. Isn't it, sir?"
"Certainly," I replied, still under the excitement of
Marguerite's last words, my eyes fixed ardently upon her.
"Good," said she; "put it all on the little table, and draw it up
to the bed; we will help ourselves. This is the third night you
have sat up, and you must be in want of sleep. Go to bed. I don't
want anything more."
"Shall I lock the door?"
"I should think so! And above all, tell them not to admit anybody
At five o'clock in the morning, as the light began to appear
through the curtains, Marguerite said to me: "Forgive me if I
send you away; but I must. The duke comes every morning; they
will tell him, when he comes, that I am asleep, and perhaps he
will wait until I wake."
I took Marguerite's head in my hands; her loosened hair streamed
about her; I gave her a last kiss, saying: "When shall I see you
"Listen," she said; "take the little gilt key on the mantelpiece,
open that door; bring me back the key and go. In the course of
the day you shall have a letter, and my orders, for you know you
are to obey blindly."
"Yes; but if I should already ask for something?"
"Let me have that key."
"What you ask is a thing I have never done for any one."
"Well, do it for me, for I swear to you that I don't love you as
the others have loved you."
"Well, keep it; but it only depends on me to make it useless to
you, after all."
"There are bolts on the door."
"I will have them taken off."
"You love, then, a little?"
"I don't know how it is, but it seems to me as if I do! Now, go;
I can't keep my eyes open."
I held her in my arms for a few seconds and then went.
The streets were empty, the great city was still asleep, a sweet
freshness circulated in the streets that a few hours later would
be filled with the noise of men. It seemed to me as if this
sleeping city belonged to me; I searched my memory for the names
of those whose happiness I had once envied; and I could not
recall one without finding myself the happier.
To be loved by a pure young girl, to be the first to reveal to
her the strange mystery of love, is indeed a great happiness, but
it is the simplest thing in the world. To take captive a heart
which has had no experience of attack, is to enter an unfortified
and ungarrisoned city. Education, family feeling, the sense of
duty, the family, are strong sentinels, but there are no
sentinels so vigilant as not to be deceived by a girl of sixteen
to whom nature, by the voice of the man she loves, gives the
first counsels of love, all the more ardent because they seem so
The more a girl believes in goodness, the more easily will she
give way, if not to her lover, at least to love, for being
without mistrust she is without force, and to win her love is a
triumph that can be gained by any young man of five-and-twenty.
See how young girls are watched and guarded! The walls of
convents are not high enough, mothers have no locks strong
enough, religion has no duties constant enough, to shut these
charming birds in their cages, cages not even strewn with
flowers. Then how surely must they desire the world which is
hidden from them, how surely must they find it tempting, how
surely must they listen to the first voice which comes to tell
its secrets through their bars, and bless the hand which is the
first to raise a corner of the mysterious veil!
But to be really loved by a courtesan: that is a victory of
infinitely greater difficulty. With them the body has worn out
the soul, the senses have burned up the heart, dissipation has
blunted the feelings. They have long known the words that we say
to them, the means we use; they have sold the love that they
inspire. They love by profession, and not by instinct. They are
guarded better by their calculations than a virgin by her mother
and her convent; and they have invented the word caprice for that
unbartered love which they allow themselves from time to time,
for a rest, for an excuse, for a consolation, like usurers, who
cheat a thousand, and think they have bought their own redemption
by once lending a sovereign to a poor devil who is dying of
hunger without asking for interest or a receipt.
Then, when God allows love to a courtesan, that love, which at
first seems like a pardon, becomes for her almost without
penitence. When a creature who has all her past to reproach
herself with is taken all at once by a profound, sincere,
irresistible love, of which she had never felt herself capable;
when she has confessed her love, how absolutely the man whom she
loves dominates her! How strong he feels with his cruel right to
say: You do no more for love than you have done for money. They
know not what proof to give. A child, says the fable, having
often amused himself by crying "Help! a wolf!" in order to
disturb the labourers in the field, was one day devoured by a
Wolf, because those whom he had so often deceived no longer
believed in his cries for help. It is the same with these unhappy
women when they love seriously. They have lied so often that no
one will believe them, and in the midst of their remorse they are
devoured by their love.
Hence those great devotions, those austere retreats from the
world, of which some of them have given an example.
But when the man who inspires this redeeming love is great enough
in soul to receive it without remembering the past, when he gives
himself up to it, when, in short, he loves as he is loved, this
man drains at one draught all earthly emotions, and after such a
love his heart will be closed to every other.
I did not make these reflections on the morning when I returned
home. They could but have been the presentiment of what was to
happen to me, and, despite my love for Marguerite, I did not
foresee such consequences. I make these reflections to-day. Now
that all is irrevocably ended, they a rise naturally out of what
has taken place.
But to return to the first day of my liaison. When I reached home
I was in a state of mad gaiety. As I thought of how the barriers
which my imagination had placed between Marguerite and myself had
disappeared, of how she was now mine; of the place I now had in
her thoughts, of the key to her room which I had in my pocket,
and of my right to use this key, I was satisfied with life, proud
of myself, and I loved God because he had let such things be.
One day a young man is passing in the street, he brushes against
a woman, looks at her, turns, goes on his way. He does not know
the woman, and she has pleasures, griefs, loves, in which he has
no part. He does not exist for her, and perhaps, if he spoke to
her, she would only laugh at him, as Marguerite had laughed at
me. Weeks, months, years pass, and all at once, when they have
each followed their fate along a different path, the logic of
chance brings them face to face. The woman becomes the man's
mistress and loves him. How? why? Their two existences are
henceforth one; they have scarcely begun to know one another when
it seems as if they had known one another always, and all that
had gone before is wiped out from the memory of the two lovers.
It is curious, one must admit.
As for me, I no longer remembered how I had lived before that
night. My whole being was exalted into joy at the memory of the
words we had exchanged during that first night. Either Marguerite
was very clever in deception, or she had conceived for me one of
those sudden passions which are revealed in the first kiss, and
which die, often enough, as suddenly as they were born.
The more I reflected the more I said to myself that Marguerite
had no reason for feigning a love which she did not feel, and I
said to myself also that women have two ways of loving, one of
which may arise from the other: they love with the heart or with
the senses. Often a woman takes a lover in obedience to the mere
will of the senses, and learns without expecting it the mystery
of immaterial love, and lives henceforth only through her heart;
often a girl who has sought in marriage only the union of two
pure affections receives the sudden revelation of physical love,
that energetic conclusion of the purest impressions of the soul.
In the midst of these thoughts I fell asleep; I was awakened by a
letter from Marguerite containing these words:
"Here are my orders: To-night at the Vaudeville.
"Come during the third entr'acte."
I put the letter into a drawer, so that I might always have it at
band in case I doubted its reality, as I did from time to time.
She did not tell me to come to see her during the day, and I
dared not go; but I had so great a desire to see her before the
evening that I went to the Champs-Elysees, where I again saw her
pass and repass, as I had on the previous day.
At seven o'clock I was at the Vaudeville. Never had I gone to a
theatre so early. The boxes filled one after another. Only one
remained empty, the stage box. At the beginning of the third act
I heard the door of the box, on which my eyes had been almost
constantly fixed, open, and Marguerite appeared. She came to the
front at once, looked around the stalls, saw me, and thanked me
with a look.
That night she was marvellously beautiful. Was I the cause of
this coquetry? Did she love me enough to believe that the more
beautiful she looked the happier I should be? I did not know, but
if that had been her intention she certainly succeeded, for when
she appeared all heads turned, and the actor who was then on the
stage looked to see who had produced such an effect on the
audience by her mere presence there.
And I had the key of this woman's room, and in three or four
hours she would again be mine!
People blame those who let themselves be ruined by actresses and
kept women; what astonishes me is that twenty times greater
follies are not committed for them. One must have lived that
life, as I have, to know how much the little vanities which they
afford their lovers every day help to fasten deeper into the
heart, since we have no other word for it, the love which he has
Prudence next took her place in the box, and a man, whom I
recognised as the Comte de G., seated himself at the back. As I
saw him, a cold shiver went through my heart.
Doubtless Marguerite perceived the impression made on me by the
presence of this man, for she smiled to me again, and, turning
her back to the count, appeared to be very attentive to the play.
At the third entr'acte she turned and said two words: the count
left the box, and Marguerite beckoned to me to come to her.
"Good-evening," she said as I entered, holding out her hand.
"Good-evening," I replied to both Marguerite and Prudence.
"But I am taking some one's place. Isn't the Comte de G. coming
"Yes; I sent him to fetch some sweets, so that we could talk by
ourselves for a moment. Mme. Duvernoy is in the secret."
"Yes, my children," said she; "have no fear. I shall say
"What is the matter with you to-night?" said Marguerite, rising
and coming to the back of the box and kissing me on the forehead.
"I am not very well."
"You should go to bed," she replied, with that ironical air which
went so well with her delicate and witty face.
"You know that I shouldn't be able to sleep there."
"Well, then, it won't do for you to come and be pettish here
because you have seen a man in my box."
"It is not for that reason."
"Yes, it is. I know; and you are wrong, so let us say no more
about it. You will go back with Prudence after the theatre, and
you will stay there till I call. Do you understand?"
How could I disobey?
"You still love me?"
"Can you ask?"
"You have thought of me?"
"All day long."
"Do you know that I am really afraid that I shall get very fond
of you? Ask Prudence."
"Ah," said she, "it is amazing!"
"Now, you must go back to your seat. The count will be coming
back, and there is nothing to be gained by his finding you here."
"Because you don't like seeing him."
"No; only if you had told me that you wanted to come to the
Vaudeville to-night I could have got this box for you as well as
"Unfortunately, he got it for me without my asking him, and he
asked me to go with him; you know well enough that I couldn't
refuse. All I could do was to write and tell you where I was
going, so that you could see me, and because I wanted to see you
myself; but since this is the way you thank me, I shall profit by
"I was wrong; forgive me."
"Well and good; and now go back nicely to your place, and, above
all, no more jealousy."
She kissed me again, and I left the box. In the passage I met the
count coming back. I returned to my seat.
After all, the presence of M. de G. in Marguerite's box was the
most natural thing in the world. He had been her lover, he sent
her a box, he accompanied her to the theatre; it was all quite
natural, and if I was to have a mistress like Marguerite I should
have to get used to her ways.
Nonetheless, I was very unhappy all the rest of the evening, and
went away very sadly after having seen Prudence, the count, and
Marguerite get into the carriage, which was waiting for them at
However, a quarter of an hour later I was at Prudence's. She had
only just got in.
"You have come almost as quickly as we," said Prudence.
"Yes," I answered mechanically. "Where is Marguerite?"
"With M. de G."
I walked to and fro in the room.
"Well, what is the matter?"
"Do you think it amuses me to wait here till M. de G. leaves
"How unreasonable you are! Don't you see that Marguerite can't
turn the count out of doors? M. de G. has been with her for a
long time; he has always given her a lot of money; he still does.
Marguerite spends more than a hundred thousand francs a year; she
has heaps of debts. The duke gives her all that she asks for, but
she does not always venture to ask him for all that she is in
want of. It would never do for her to quarrel with the count, who
is worth to her at least ten thousand francs a year. Marguerite
is very fond of you, my dear fellow, but your liaison with her,
in her interests and in yours, ought not to be serious. You with
your seven or eight thousand francs a year, what could you do
toward supplying all the luxuries which a girl like that is in
need of? It would not be enough to keep her carriage. Take
Marguerite for what she is, for a good, bright, pretty girl; be
her lover for a month, two months; give her flowers, sweets,
boxes at the theatre; but don't get any other ideas into your
head, and don't make absurd scenes of jealousy. You know whom you
have to do with; Marguerite isn't a saint. She likes you, you are
very fond of her; let the rest alone. You amaze me when I see you
so touchy; you have the most charming mistress in Paris. She
receives you in the greatest style, she is covered with diamonds,
she needn't cost you a penny, unless you like, and you are not
satisfied. My dear fellow, you ask too much!"
"You are right, but I can't help it; the idea that that man is
her lover hurts me horribly."
"In the first place," replied Prudence; "is he still her lover?
He is a man who is useful to her, nothing more. She has closed
her doors to him for two days; he came this morning--she could
not but accept the box and let him accompany her. He saw her
home; he has gone in for a moment, he is not staying, because you