Part 3 out of 5
are waiting here. All that, it seems to me, is quite natural.
Besides, you don't mind the duke."
"Yes; but he is an old man, and I am sure that Marguerite is not
his mistress. Then, it is all very well to accept one liaison,
but not two. Such easiness in the matter is very like
calculation, and puts the man who consents to it, even out of
love, very much in the category of those who, in a lower stage of
society, make a trade of their connivance, and a profit of their
"Ah, my dear fellow, how old-fashioned you are! How many of the
richest and most fashionable men of the best families I have seen
quite ready to do what I advise you to do, and without an effort,
without shame, without remorse, Why, one sees it every day. How
do you suppose the kept women in Paris could live in the style
they do, if they had not three or four lovers at once? No single
fortune, however large, could suffice for the expenses of a woman
like Marguerite. A fortune of five hundred thousand francs a year
is, in France, an enormous fortune; well, my dear friend, five
hundred thousand francs a year would still be too little, and for
this reason: a man with such an income has a large house, horses,
servants, carriages; he shoots, has friends, often he is married,
he has children, he races, gambles, travels, and what not. All
these habits are so much a part of his position that he can not
forego them without appearing to have lost all his money, and
without causing scandal. Taking it all round, with five hundred
thousand francs a year he can not give a woman more than forty or
fifty thousand francs in the year, and that is already a good
deal. Well, other lovers make up for the rest of her expenses.
With Marguerite, it is still more convenient; she has chanced by
a miracle on an old man worth ten millions, whose wife and
daughter are dead; who has only some nephews, themselves rich,
and who gives her all she wants without asking anything in
return. But she can not ask him for more than seventy thousand
francs a year; and I am sure that if she did ask for more,
despite his health and the affection he has for her he would not
give it to her.
"All the young men of twenty or thirty thousand francs a year at
Paris, that is to say, men who have only just enough to live on
in the society in which they mix, know perfectly well, when they
are the lovers of a woman like Marguerite, that she could not so
much as pay for the rooms she lives in and the servants who wait
upon her with what they give her. They do not say to her that
they know it; they pretend not to see anything, and when they
have had enough of it they go their way. If they have the vanity
to wish to pay for everything they get ruined, like the fools
they are, and go and get killed in Africa, after leaving a
hundred thousand francs of debt in Paris. Do you think a woman is
grateful to them for it? Far from it. She declares that she has
sacrificed her position for them, and that while she was with
them she was losing money. These details seem to you shocking?
Well, they are true. You are a very nice fellow; I like you very
much. I have lived with these women for twenty years; I know what
they are worth, and I don't want to see you take the caprice that
a pretty girl has for you too seriously.
"Then, besides that," continued Prudence; "admit that Marguerite
loves you enough to give up the count or the duke, in case one of
them were to discover your liaison and to tell her to choose
between him and you, the sacrifice that she would make for you
would be enormous, you can not deny it. What equal sacrifice
could you make for her, on your part, and when you had got tired
of her, what could you do to make up for what you had taken from
her? Nothing. You would have cut her off from the world in which
her fortune and her future were to be found; she would have given
you her best years, and she would be forgotten. Either you would
be an ordinary man, and, casting her past in her teeth, you would
leave her, telling her that you were only doing like her other
lovers, and you would abandon her to certain misery; or you would
be an honest man, and, feeling bound to keep her by you, you
would bring inevitable trouble upon yourself, for a liaison which
is excusable in a young man, is no longer excusable in a man of
middle age. It becomes an obstacle to every thing; it allows
neither family nor ambition, man's second and last loves. Believe
me, then, my friend, take things for what they are worth, and do
not give a kept woman the right to call herself your creditor, no
matter in what."
It was well argued, with a logic of which I should have thought
Prudence incapable. I had nothing to reply, except that she was
right; I took her hand and thanked her for her counsels.
"Come, come," said she, "put these foolish theories to flight,
and laugh over them. Life is pleasant, my dear fellow; it all
depends on the colour of the glass through which one sees it. Ask
your friend Gaston; there's a man who seems to me to understand
love as I understand it. All that you need think of, unless you
are quite a fool, is that close by there is a beautiful girl who
is waiting impatiently for the man who is with her to go,
thinking of you, keeping the whole night for you, and who loves
you, I am certain. Now, come to the window with me, and let us
watch for the count to go; he won't be long in leaving the coast
Prudence opened the window, and we leaned side by side over the
balcony. She watched the few passers, I reflected. All that she
had said buzzed in my head, and I could not help feeling that she
was right; but the genuine love which I had for Marguerite had
some difficulty in accommodating itself to such a belief. I
sighed from time to time, at which Prudence turned, and shrugged
her shoulders like a physician who has given up his patient.
"How one realizes the shortness of life," I said to myself, "by
the rapidity of sensations! I have only known Marguerite for two
days, she has only been my mistress since yesterday, and she has
already so completely absorbed my thoughts, my heart, and my life
that the visit of the Comte de G. is a misfortune for me."
At last the count came out, got into his carriage and
disappeared. Prudence closed the window. At the same instant
Marguerite called to us:
"Come at once," she said; "they are laying the table, and we'll
When I entered, Marguerite ran to me, threw her arms around my
neck and kissed me with all her might.
"Are we still sulky?" she said to me.
"No, it is all over," replied Prudence. "I have given him a
talking to, and he has promised to be reasonable."
"Well and good."
In spite of myself I glanced at the bed; it was not unmade. As
for Marguerite, she was already in her white dressing-gown. We
sat down to table.
Charm, sweetness, spontaneity, Marguerite had them all, and I was
forced from time to time to admit that I had no right to ask of
her anything else; that many people would be very happy to be in
my place; and that, like Virgil's shepherd, I had only to enjoy
the pleasures that a god, or rather a goddess, set before me.
I tried to put in practice the theories of Prudence, and to be as
gay as my two companions; but what was natural in them was on my
part an effort, and the nervous laughter, whose source they did
not detect, was nearer to tears than to mirth.
At last the supper was over and I was alone with Marguerite. She
sat down as usual on the hearthrug before the fire and gazed
sadly into the flames. What was she thinking of? I know not. As
for me, I looked at her with a mingling of love and terror, as I
thought of all that I was ready to suffer for her sake.
"Do you know what I am thinking of?"
"Of a plan that has come into my head."
"And what is this plan?"
"I can't tell you yet, but I can tell you what the result would
be. The result would be that in a month I should be free, I
should have no more debts, and we could go and spend the summer
in the country."
"And you can't tell me by what means?"
"No, only love me as I love you, and all will succeed."
"And have you made this plan all by yourself?"
"Yes. "And you will carry it out all by yourself?"
"I alone shall have the trouble of it," said Marguerite, with a
smile which I shall never forget, "but we shall both partake its
I could not help flushing at the word benefits; I thought of
Manon Lescaut squandering with Desgrieux the money of M. de B.
I replied in a hard voice, rising from my seat:
"You must permit me, my dear Marguerite, to share only the
benefits of those enterprises which I have conceived and carried
"What does that mean?"
"It means that I have a strong suspicion that M. de G. is to be
your associate in this pretty plan, of which I can accept neither
the cost nor the benefits
"What a child you are! I thought you loved me. I was mistaken;
She rose, opened the piano and began to play the Invitation a la
Valse, as far as the famous passage in the major which always
stopped her. Was it through force of habit, or was it to remind
me of the day when we first met? All I know is that the melody
brought back that recollection, and, coming up to her, I took her
head between my hands and kissed her. "You forgive me?" I said.
"You see I do," she answered; "but observe that we are only at
our second day, and already I have had to forgive you something.
Is this how you keep your promise of blind obedience?"
"What can I do, Marguerite? I love you too much and I am jealous
of the least of your thoughts. What you proposed to me just now
made me frantic with delight, but the mystery in its carrying out
hurts me dreadfully."
"Come, let us reason it out," she said, taking both my hands and
looking at me with a charming smile which it was impossible to
resist, "You love me, do you not? and you would gladly spend two
or three months alone with me in the country? I too should be
glad of this solitude a deux, and not only glad of it, but my
health requires it. I can not leave Paris for such a length of
time without putting my affairs in order, and the affairs of a
woman like me are always in great confusion; well, I have found a
way to reconcile everything, my money affairs and my love for
you; yes, for you, don't laugh; I am silly enough to love you!
And here you are taking lordly airs and talking big words. Child,
thrice child, only remember that I love you, and don't let
anything disturb you. Now, is it agreed?"
"I agree to all you wish, as you know."
"Then, in less than a month's time we shall be in some village,
walking by the river side, and drinking milk. Does it seem
strange that Marguerite Gautier should speak to you like that?
The fact is, my friend, that when this Paris life, which seems to
make me so happy, doesn't burn me, it wearies me, and then I have
sudden aspirations toward a calmer existence which might recall
my childhood. One has always had a childhood, whatever one
becomes. Don't be alarmed; I am not going to tell you that I am
the daughter of a colonel on half-pay, and that I was brought up
at Saint-Denis. I am a poor country girl, and six years ago I
could not write my own name. You are relieved, aren't you? Why is
it you are the first whom I have ever asked to share the joy of
this desire of mine? I suppose because I feel that you love me
for myself and not for yourself, while all the others have only
loved me for themselves.
"I have often been in the country, but never as I should like to
go there. I count on you for this easy happiness; do not be
unkind, let me have it. Say this to yourself: 'She will never
live to be old, and I should some day be sorry for not having
done for her the first thing she asked of me, such an easy thing
What could I reply to such words, especially with the memory of a
first night of love, and in the expectation of a second?
An hour later I held Marguerite in my arms, and, if she had asked
me to commit a crime, I would have obeyed her.
At six in the morning I left her, and before leaving her I said:
"Till to-night!" She kissed me more warmly than ever, but said
During the day I received a note containing these words:
"DEAR CHILD: I am not very well, and the doctor has ordered
quiet. I shall go to bed early to-night and shall not see you.
But, to make up, I shall expect you to-morrow at twelve. I love
My first thought was: She is deceiving me!
A cold sweat broke out on my forehead, for I already loved this
woman too much not to be overwhelmed by the suspicion. And yet, I
was bound to expect such a thing almost any day with Marguerite,
and it had happened to me often enough with my other mistresses,
without my taking much notice of it. What was the meaning of the
hold which this woman had taken upon my life?
Then it occurred to me, since I had the key, to go and see her as
usual. In this way I should soon know the truth, and if I found a
man there I would strike him in the face.
Meanwhile I went to the Champs-Elysees. I waited there four
hours. She did not appear. At night I went into all the theatres
where she was accustomed to go. She was in none of them.
At eleven o'clock I went to the Rue d'Antin. There was no light
in Marguerite's windows. All the same, I rang. The porter asked
me where I was going.
"To Mlle. Gautier's," I said.
"She has not come in."
"I will go up and wait for her."
"There is no one there."
Evidently I could get in, since I had the key, but, fearing
foolish scandal, I went away. Only I did not return home; I could
not leave the street, and I never took my eyes off Marguerite's
house. It seemed to me that there was still something to be found
out, or at least that my suspicions were about to be confirmed.
About midnight a carriage that I knew well stopped before No. 9.
The Comte de G. got down and entered the house, after sending
away the carriage. For a moment I hoped that the same answer
would be given to him as to me, and that I should see him come
out; but at four o'clock in the morning I was still awaiting him.
I have suffered deeply during these last three weeks, but that is
nothing, I think, in comparison with what I suffered that night.
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.
"Shall I wait for an answer?" asked Joseph (my servant, like all
servants, was called Joseph).
"If they ask whether there is a reply, you will say that you
don't know, and wait."
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.
"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
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.
The porter had received nothing, but I still hoped in my servant.
He had seen no one since I went out.
If Marguerite had been going to answer me she would have answered
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
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."
"Because Marguerite was there."
"Ah, she was there?"
"No; with another woman."
"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
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 to-day, 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
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
"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.
"You are quite right."
"You think so?"
"Naturally. Since you have broken with her, why should you see
"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."
"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
"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 folded this kind of madrigal in prose, and sent it by Joseph,
who handed it to Marguerite herself; she replied that she would
send the answer later.
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.
It was hardly an hour after Joseph and I had begun preparing for
my departure, when there was a violent ring at the door.
"Shall I go to the door?" said Joseph.
"Go," I said, asking myself who it could be at such an hour, and
not daring to believe that it was Marguerite.
"Sir," said Joseph coming back to me, "it is two ladies."
"It is we, Armand," cried a voice that I recognised as that of
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
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
"What a nice place you've got!" Prudence went on. "May we see the
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
"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
"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
"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
"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 to-morrow; it would kill me."
Marguerite drew the letter from her bosom, and handing it to me
with a smile of infinite sweetness, said:
"Here it is. I have brought it back."
I tore the letter into fragments and kissed with tears the hand
that gave it to me.
At this moment Prudence reappeared.
"Look here, Prudence; do you know what he wants?" said
"He wants you to forgive him."
"And you do?"
"One has to; but he wants more than that."
"He wants to have supper with us."
"And do you consent?"
"What do you think?"
"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
"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
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?"
"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
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
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 self-possession; 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
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
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
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.
"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
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
"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?"
"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
"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 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
"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."
"And when shall you move into the house?" inquired Prudence.
"As soon as possible."
"Will you take your horses and carriage?"
"I shall take the whole house, and you can look after my place
while I am away."
A week later Marguerite was settled in her country house, and I
was installed at Point du Jour.
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
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
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
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
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
"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
"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
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?"
"You are tired of here?"
"I am afraid of the winter; I am particularly afraid of your
return to Paris."
"For many reasons."
And she went on abruptly, without giving me her reasons for
"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
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.
One day Marguerite was in her room. I entered. She was writing.
"To whom are you writing?" I asked. "To Prudence. Do you want to
see what I am writing?"
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
"Come," said I, without beating about the bush, "tell me frankly,
where are Marguerite's horses?"
"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?"
"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
"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
And Prudence appeared to be enchanted with her advice, which I
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
"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
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?"
"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
"Why did you deceive me? You went to see Prudence."
"Who told you?"
"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."
"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
"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."
"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."
"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
"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