Part 4 out of 5
everything from me, and that is what a man of honour can not do;
while now you have eight or ten thousand francs a year, on which
we should be able to live. I will sell the rest of what I do not
want, and with this alone I will make two thousand francs a year.
We will take a nice little flat in which we can both live. In the
summer we will go into the country, not to a house like this, but
to a house just big enough for two people. You are independent, I
am free, we are young; in heaven's name, Armand, do not drive me
back into the life I had to lead once!"
I could not answer. Tears of gratitude and love filled my eyes,
and I flung myself into Marguerite's arms.
"I wanted," she continued, "to arrange everything without telling
you, pay all my debts, and take a new flat. In October we should
have been back in Paris, and all would have come out; but since
Prudence has told you all, you will have to agree beforehand,
instead of agreeing afterward. Do you love me enough for that?"
It was impossible to resist such devotion. I kissed her hands
ardently, and said:
"I will do whatever you wish."
It was agreed that we should do as she had planned. Thereupon,
she went wild with delight; danced, sang, amused herself with
calling up pictures of her new flat in all its simplicity, and
began to consult me as to its position and arrangement. I saw how
happy and proud she was of this resolution, which seemed as if it
would bring us into closer and closer relationship, and I
resolved to do my own share. In an instant I decided the whole
course of my life. I put my affairs in order, and made over to
Marguerite the income which had come to me from my mother, and
which seemed little enough in return for the sacrifice which I
was accepting. There remained the five thousand francs a year
from my father; and, whatever happened, I had always enough to
live on. I did not tell Marguerite what I had done, certain as I
was that she would refuse the gift. This income came from a
mortgage of sixty thousand francs on a house that I had never
even seen. All that I knew was that every three months my
father's solicitor, an old friend of the family, handed over to
me seven hundred and fifty francs in return for my receipt.
The day when Marguerite and I came to Paris to look for a flat, I
went to this solicitor and asked him what had to be done in order
to make over this income to another person. The good man imagined
I was ruined, and questioned me as to the cause of my decision.
As I knew that I should be obliged, sooner or later, to say in
whose favour I made this transfer, I thought it best to tell him
the truth at once. He made none of the objections that his
position as friend and solicitor authorized him to make, and
assured me that he would arrange the whole affair in the best way
possible. Naturally, I begged him to employ the greatest
discretion in regard to my father, and on leaving him I rejoined
Marguerite, who was waiting for me at Julie Duprat's, where she
had gone in preference to going to listen to the moralizings of
We began to look out for flats. All those that we saw seemed to
Marguerite too dear, and to me too simple. However, we finally
found, in one of the quietest parts of Paris, a little house,
isolated from the main part of the building. Behind this little
house was a charming garden, surrounded by walls high enough to
screen us from our neighbours, and low enough not to shut off our
own view. It was better than our expectations.
While I went to give notice at my own flat, Marguerite went to
see a business agent, who, she told me, had already done for one
of her friends exactly what she wanted him to do for her. She
came on to the Rue de Provence in a state of great delight. The
man had promised to pay all her debts, to give her a receipt for
the amount, and to hand over to her twenty thousand francs, in
return for the whole of her furniture. You have seen by the
amount taken at the sale that this honest man would have gained
thirty thousand francs out of his client.
We went back joyously to Bougival, talking over our projects for
the future, which, thanks to our heedlessness, and especially to
our love, we saw in the rosiest light.
A week later, as we were having lunch, Nanine came to tell us
that my servant was asking for me. "Let him come in," I said.
"Sir," said he, "your father has arrived in Paris, and begs you
to return at once to your rooms, where he is waiting for you."
This piece of news was the most natural thing in the world, yet,
as we heard it, Marguerite and I looked at one another. We
foresaw trouble. Before she had spoken a word, I replied to her
thought, and, taking her hand, I said, "Fear nothing."
"Come back as soon as possible," whispered Marguerite, embracing
me; "I will wait for you at the window."
I sent on Joseph to tell my father that I was on my way. Two
hours later I was at the Rue de Provence.
My father was seated in my room in his dressing-gown; he was
writing, and I saw at once, by the way in which he raised his
eyes to me when I came in, that there was going to be a serious
discussion. I went up to him, all the same, as if I had seen
nothing in his face, embraced him, and said:
"When did you come, father?"
"Did you come straight here, as usual?"
"I am very sorry not to have been here to receive you."
I expected that the sermon which my father's cold face threatened
would begin at once; but he said nothing, sealed the letter which
he had just written, and gave it to Joseph to post.
When we were alone, my father rose, and leaning against the
mantel-piece, said to me:
"My dear Armand, we have serious matters to discuss."
"I am listening, father."
"You promise me to be frank?"
"Am I not accustomed to be so?"
"Is it not true that you are living with a woman called
"Do you know what this woman was?"
"A kept woman."
"And it is for her that you have forgotten to come and see your
sister and me this year?"
"Yes, father, I admit it."
"You are very much in love with this woman?"
"You see it, father, since she has made me fail in duty toward
you, for which I humbly ask your forgiveness to-day."
My father, no doubt, was not expecting such categorical answers,
for he seemed to reflect a moment, and then said to me:
"You have, of course, realized that you can not always live like
"I fear so, father, but I have not realized it."
"But you must realize," continued my father, in a dryer tone,
"that I, at all events, should not permit it."
"I have said to myself that as long as I did nothing contrary to
the respect which I owe to the traditional probity of the family
I could live as I am living, and this has reassured me somewhat
in regard to the fears I have had."
Passions are formidable enemies to sentiment. I was prepared for
every struggle, even with my father, in order that I might keep
"Then, the moment is come when you must live otherwise."
"Because you are doing things which outrage the respect that you
imagine you have for your family."
"I don't follow your meaning."
"I will explain it to you. Have a mistress if you will; pay her
as a man of honour is bound to pay the woman whom he keeps, by
all means; but that you should come to forget the most sacred
things for her, that you should let the report of your scandalous
life reach my quiet countryside, and set a blot on the honourable
name that I have given you, it can not, it shall not be."
"Permit me to tell you, father, that those who have given you
information about me have been ill-informed. I am the lover of
Mlle. Gautier; I live with her; it is the most natural thing in
the world. I do not give Mlle. Gautier the name you have given
me; I spend on her account what my means allow me to spend; I
have no debts; and, in short, I am not in a position which
authorizes a father to say to his son what you have just said to
"A father is always authorized to rescue his son out of evil
paths. You have not done any harm yet, but you will do it."
"Sir, I know more of life than you do. There are no entirely pure
sentiments except in perfectly chaste women. Every Manon can have
her own Des Grieux, and times are changed. It would be useless
for the world to grow older if it did not correct its ways. You
will leave your mistress."
"I am very sorry to disobey you, father, but it is impossible."
"I will compel you to do so."
"Unfortunately, father, there no longer exists a Sainte
Marguerite to which courtesans can be sent, and, even if there
were, I would follow Mlle. Gautier if you succeeded in having her
sent there. What would you have? Perhaps am in the wrong, but I
can only be happy as long as I am the lover of this woman."
"Come, Armand, open your eyes. Recognise that it is your father
who speaks to you, your father who has always loved you, and who
only desires your happiness. Is it honourable for you to live
like husband and wife with a woman whom everybody has had?"
"What does it matter, father, if no one will any more? What does
it matter, if this woman loves me, if her whole life is changed
through the love which she has for me and the love which I have
for her? What does it matter, if she has become a different
"Do you think, then, sir, that the mission of a man of honour is
to go about converting lost women? Do you think that God has
given such a grotesque aim to life, and that the heart should
have any room for enthusiasm of that kind? What will be the end
of this marvellous cure, and what will you think of what you are
saying to-day by the time you are forty? You will laugh at this
love of yours, if you can still laugh, and if it has not left too
serious a trace in your past. What would you be now if your
father had had your ideas and had given up his life to every
impulse of this kind, instead of rooting himself firmly in
convictions of honour and steadfastness? Think it over, Armand,
and do not talk any more such absurdities. Come, leave this
woman; your father entreats you."
I answered nothing.
"Armand," continued my father, "in the name of your sainted
mother, abandon this life, which you will forget more easily than
you think. You are tied to it by an impossible theory. You are
twenty-four; think of the future. You can not always love this
woman, who also can not always love you. You both exaggerate your
love. You put an end to your whole career. One step further, and
you will no longer be able to leave the path you have chosen, and
you will suffer all your life for what you have done in your
youth. Leave Paris. Come and stay for a month or two with your
sister and me. Rest in our quiet family affection will soon heal
you of this fever, for it is nothing else. Meanwhile, your
mistress will console herself; she will take another lover; and
when you see what it is for which you have all but broken with
your father, and all but lost his love, you will tell me that I
have done well to come and seek you out, and you will thank me
for it. Come, you will go with me, Armand, will you not?" I felt
that my father would be right if it had been any other woman, but
I was convinced that he was wrong with regard to Marguerite.
Nevertheless, the tone in which he said these last words was so
kind, so appealing, that I dared not answer.
"Well?" said he in a trembling voice.
"Well, father, I can promise nothing," I said at last; "what you
ask of me is beyond my power. Believe me," I continued, seeing
him make an impatient movement, "you exaggerate the effects of
this liaison. Marguerite is a different kind of a woman from what
you think. This love, far from leading me astray, is capable, on
the contrary, of setting me in the right direction. Love always
makes a man better, no matter what woman inspires it. If you knew
Marguerite, you would understand that I am in no danger. She is
as noble as the noblest of women. There is as much
disinterestedness in her as there is cupidity in others."
"All of which does not prevent her from accepting the whole of
your fortune, for the sixty thousand francs which come to you
from your mother, and which you are giving her, are, understand
me well, your whole fortune."
My father had probably kept this peroration and this threat for
the last stroke. I was firmer before these threats than before
"Who told you that I was handing this sum to her?" I asked.
"My solicitor. Could an honest man carry out such a procedure
without warning me? Well, it is to prevent you from ruining
yourself for a prostitute that I am now in Paris. Your mother,
when she died, left you enough to live on respectably, and not to
squander on your mistresses."
"I swear to you, father, that Marguerite knew nothing of this
"Why, then, do you make it?"
"Because Marguerite, the woman you calumniate, and whom you wish
me to abandon, is sacrificing all that she possesses in order to
live with me."
"And you accept this sacrifice? What sort of a man are you, sir,
to allow Mlle. Gautier to sacrifice anything for you? Come,
enough of this. You will leave this woman. Just now I begged you;
now I command you. I will have no such scandalous doings in my
family. Pack up your things and get ready to come with me."
"Pardon me, father," I said, "but I shall not come."
"Because I am at an age when no one any longer obeys a command."
My father turned pale at my answer.
"Very well, sir," he said, "I know what remains to be done."
He rang and Joseph appeared.
"Have my things taken to the Hotel de Paris," he said to my
servant. And thereupon he went to his room and finished dressing.
When he returned, I went up to him.
"Promise me, father," I said, "that you will do nothing to give
My father stopped, looked at me disdainfully, and contented
himself with saying, "I believe you are mad." After this he went
out, shutting the door violently after him.
I went downstairs, took a cab, and returned to Bougival.
Marguerite was waiting for me at the window.
"At last you have come," she said, throwing her arms round my
neck. "But how pale you are!"
I told her of the scene with my father.
"My God! I was afraid of it," she said. "When Joseph came to tell
you of your father's arrival I trembled as if he had brought news
of some misfortune. My poor friend, I am the cause of all your
distress. You will be better off, perhaps, if you leave me and do
not quarrel with your father on my account. He knows that you are
sure to have a mistress, and he ought to be thankful that it is
I, since I love you and do not want more of you than your
position allows. Did you tell him how we had arranged our
"Yes; that is what annoyed him the most, for he saw how much we
really love one another."
"What are we to do, then?"
"Hold together, my good Marguerite, and let the storm pass over."
"Will it pass?"
"It will have to."
"But your father will not stop there."
"What do you suppose he can do?"
"How do I know? Everything that a father can do to make his son
obey him. He will remind you of my past life, and will perhaps do
me the honour of inventing some new story, so that you may give
"You know that I love you."
"Yes, but what I know, too, is that, sooner or later, you will
have to obey your father, and perhaps you will end by believing
"No, Marguerite. It is I who will make him believe me. Some of
his friends have been telling him tales which have made him
angry; but he is good and just, he will change his first
impression; and then, after all, what does it matter to me?"
"Do not say that, Armand. I would rather anything should happen
than that you should quarrel with your family; wait till after
to-day, and to-morrow go back to Paris. Your father, too, will
have thought it over on his side, and perhaps you will both come
to a better understanding. Do not go against his principles,
pretend to make some concessions to what he wants; seem not to
care so very much about me, and he will let things remain as they
are. Hope, my friend, and be sure of one thing, that whatever
happens, Marguerite will always be yours."
"You swear it?"
"Do I need to swear it?"
How sweet it is to let oneself be persuaded by the voice that one
loves! Marguerite and I spent the whole day in talking over our
projects for the future, as if we felt the need of realizing them
as quickly as possible. At every moment we awaited some event,
but the day passed without bringing us any new tidings.
Next day I left at ten o'clock, and reached the hotel about
twelve. My father had gone out.
I went to my own rooms, hoping that he had perhaps gone there. No
one had called. I went to the solicitor's. No one was there. I
went back to the hotel, and waited till six. M. Duval did not
return, and I went back to Bougival.
I found Marguerite not waiting for me, as she had been the day
before, but sitting by the fire, which the weather still made
necessary. She was so absorbed in her thoughts that I came close
to her chair without her hearing me. When I put my lips to her
forehead she started as if the kiss had suddenly awakened her.
"You frightened me," she said. "And your father?"
"I have not seen him. I do not know what it means. He was not at
his hotel, nor anywhere where there was a chance of my finding
"Well, you must try again to-morrow."
"I am very much inclined to wait till he sends for me. I think I
have done all that can be expected of me."
"No, my friend, it is not enough; you must call on your father
again, and you must call to-morrow."
"Why to-morrow rather than any other day?"
"Because," said Marguerite, and it seemed to me that she blushed
slightly at this question, "because it will show that you are the
more keen about it, and he will forgive us the sooner."
For the remainder of the day Marguerite was sad and preoccupied.
I had to repeat twice over everything I said to her to obtain an
answer. She ascribed this preoccupation to her anxiety in regard
to the events which had happened during the last two days. I
spent the night in reassuring her, and she sent me away in the
morning with an insistent disquietude that I could not explain to
Again my father was absent, but he had left this letter for me:
"If you call again to-day, wait for me till four. If I am not in
by four, come and dine with me to-morrow. I must see you."
I waited till the hour he had named, but he did not appear. I
returned to Bougival.
The night before I had found Marguerite sad; that night I found
her feverish and agitated. On seeing me, she flung her arms
around my neck, but she cried for a long time in my arms. I
questioned her as to this sudden distress, which alarmed me by
its violence. She gave me no positive reason, but put me off with
those evasions which a woman resorts to when she will not tell
When she was a little calmed down, I told her the result of my
visit, and I showed her my father's letter, from which, I said,
we might augur well. At the sight of the letter and on hearing my
comment, her tears began to flow so copiously that I feared an
attack of nerves, and, calling Nanine, I put her to bed, where
she wept without a word, but held my hands and kissed them every
I asked Nanine if, during my absence, her mistress had received
any letter or visit which could account for the state in which I
found her, but Nanine replied that no one had called and nothing
had been sent.
Something, however, had occurred since the day before, something
which troubled me the more because Marguerite concealed it from
In the evening she seemed a little calmer, and, making me sit at
the foot of the bed, she told me many times how much she loved
me. She smiled at me, but with an effort, for in spite of herself
her eyes were veiled with tears.
I used every means to make her confess the real cause of her
distress, but she persisted in giving me nothing but vague
reasons, as I have told you. At last she fell asleep in my arms,
but it was the sleep which tires rather than rests the body. From
time to time she uttered a cry, started up, and, after assuring
herself that I was beside her, made me swear that I would always
I could make nothing of these intermittent paroxysms of distress,
which went on till morning. Then Marguerite fell into a kind of
stupor. She had not slept for two nights.
Her rest was of short duration, for toward eleven she awoke, and,
seeing that I was up, she looked about her, crying:
"Are you going already?"
"No," said I, holding her hands; "but I wanted to let you sleep
on. It is still early."
"What time are you going to Paris?"
"So soon? But you will stay with me till then?"
"Of course. Do I not always?"
"I am so glad! Shall we have lunch?" she went on absentmindedly.
"If you like."
"And then you will be nice to me till the very moment you go?"
"Yes; and I will come back as soon as I can."
"You will come back?" she said, looking at me with haggard eyes.
"Oh, yes, you will come back to-night. I shall wait for you, as I
always do, and you will love me, and we shall be happy, as we
have been ever since we have known each other."
All these words were said in such a strained voice, they seemed
to hide so persistent and so sorrowful a thought, that I trembled
every moment lest Marguerite should become delirious.
"Listen," I said. "You are ill. I can not leave you like this. I
will write and tell my father not to expect me."
"No, no," she cried hastily, "don't do that. Your father will
accuse me of hindering you again from going to see him when he
wants to see you; no, no, you must go, you must! Besides, I am
not ill. I am quite well. I had a bad dream and am not yet fully
From that moment Marguerite tried to seem more cheerful. There
were no more tears.
When the hour came for me to go, I embraced her and asked her if
she would come with me as far as the train; I hoped that the walk
would distract her and that the air would do her good. I wanted
especially to be with her as long as possible.
She agreed, put on her cloak and took Nanine with her, so as not
to return alone. Twenty times I was on the point of not going.
But the hope of a speedy return, and the fear of offending my
father still more, sustained me, and I took my place in the
"Till this evening!" I said to Marguerite, as I left her. She did
Once already she had not replied to the same words, and the Comte
de G., you will remember, had spent the night with her; but that
time was so far away that it seemed to have been effaced from my
memory, and if I had any fear, it was certainly not of Marguerite
being unfaithful to me. Reaching Paris, I hastened off to see
Prudence, intending to ask her to go and keep Marguerite company,
in the hope that her mirth and liveliness would distract her. I
entered without being announced, and found Prudence at her
"Ah!" she said, anxiously; "is Marguerite with you?"
"How is she?"
"She is not well."
"Is she not coming?"
"Did you expect her?"
Madame Duvernoy reddened, and replied, with a certain constraint:
"I only meant that since you are at Paris, is she not coming to
I looked at Prudence; she cast down her eyes, and I read in her
face the fear of seeing my visit prolonged.
"I even came to ask you, my dear Prudence, if you have nothing to
do this evening, to go and see Marguerite; you will be company
for her, and you can stay the night. I never saw her as she was
to-day, and I am afraid she is going to be ill."
"I am dining in town," replied Prudence, "and I can't go and see
Marguerite this evening. I will see her tomorrow."
I took leave of Mme. Duvernoy, who seemed almost as preoccupied
as Marguerite, and went on to my father's; his first glance
seemed to study me attentively. He held out his hand.
"Your two visits have given me pleasure, Armand," he said; "they
make me hope that you have thought over things on your side as I
have on mine."
"May I ask you, father, what was the result of your reflection?"
"The result, my dear boy, is that I have exaggerated the
importance of the reports that had been made to me, and that I
have made up my mind to be less severe with you."
"What are you saying, father?" I cried joyously.
"I say, my dear child, that every young man must have his
mistress, and that, from the fresh information I have had, I
would rather see you the lover of Mlle. Gautier than of any one
"My dear father, how happy you make me!"
We talked in this manner for some moments, and then sat down to
table. My father was charming all dinner time.
I was in a hurry to get back to Bougival to tell Marguerite about
this fortunate change, and I looked at the clock every moment.
"You are watching the time," said my father, "and you are
impatient to leave me. O young people, how you always sacrifice
sincere to doubtful affections!"
"Do not say that, father; Marguerite loves me, I am sure of it."
My father did not answer; he seemed to say neither yes nor no.
He was very insistent that I should spend the whole evening with
him and not go till the morning; but Marguerite had not been well
when I left her. I told him of it, and begged his permission to
go back to her early, promising to come again on the morrow.
The weather was fine; he walked with me as far as the station.
Never had I been so happy. The future appeared as I had long
desired to see it. I had never loved my father as I loved him at
Just as I was leaving him, he once more begged me to stay. I
"You are really very much in love with her?" he asked.
"Go, then," and he passed his hand across his forehead as if to
chase a thought, then opened his mouth as if to say something;
but he only pressed my hand, and left me hurriedly, saying:
"Till to-morrow, then!"
It seemed to me as if the train did not move. I reached Bougival
Not a window in the house was lighted up, and when I rang no one
answered the bell. It was the first time that such a thing had
occurred to me. At last the gardener came. I entered. Nanine met
me with a light. I went to Marguerite's room.
"Where is madame?"
"Gone to Paris," replied Nanine.
"An hour after you."
"She left no word for me?"
Nanine left me.
Perhaps she had some suspicion or other, I thought, and went to
Paris to make sure that my visit to my father was not an excuse
for a day off. Perhaps Prudence wrote to her about something
important. I said to myself when I was alone; but I saw Prudence;
she said nothing to make me suppose that she had written to
All at once I remembered Mme. Duvernoy's question, "Isn't she
coming to-day?" when I had said that Marguerite was ill. I
remembered at the same time how embarrassed Prudence had appeared
when I looked at her after this remark, which seemed to indicate
an appointment. I remembered, too, Marguerite's tears all day
long, which my father's kind reception had rather put out of my
mind. From this moment all the incidents grouped themselves about
my first suspicion, and fixed it so firmly in my mind that
everything served to confirm it, even my father's kindness.
Marguerite had almost insisted on my going to Paris; she had
pretended to be calmer when I had proposed staying with her. Had
I fallen into some trap? Was Marguerite deceiving me? Had she
counted on being back in time for me not to perceive her absence,
and had she been detained by chance? Why had she said nothing to
Nanine, or why had she not written? What was the meaning of those
tears, this absence, this mystery?
That is what I asked myself in affright, as I stood in the vacant
room, gazing at the clock, which pointed to midnight, and seemed
to say to me that it was too late to hope for my mistress's
return. Yet, after all the arrangements we had just made, after
the sacrifices that had been offered and accepted, was it likely
that she was deceiving me? No. I tried to get rid of my first
Probably she had found a purchaser for her furniture, and she had
gone to Paris to conclude the bargain. She did not wish to tell
me beforehand, for she knew that, though I had consented to it,
the sale, so necessary to our future happiness, was painful to
me, and she feared to wound my self-respect in speaking to me
about it. She would rather not see me till the whole thing was
done, and that was evidently why Prudence was expecting her when
she let out the secret. Marguerite could not finish the whole
business to-day, and was staying the night with Prudence, or
perhaps she would come even now, for she must know bow anxious I
should be, and would not wish to leave me in that condition. But,
if so, why those tears? No doubt, despite her love for me, the
poor girl could not make up her mind to give up all the luxury in
which she had lived until now, and for which she had been so
envied, without crying over it. I was quite ready to forgive her
for such regrets. I waited for her impatiently, that I might say
to her, as I covered her with kisses, that I had guessed the
reason of her mysterious absence.
Nevertheless, the night went on, and Marguerite did not return.
My anxiety tightened its circle little by little, and began to
oppress my head and heart. Perhaps something had happened to her.
Perhaps she was injured, ill, dead. Perhaps a messenger would
arrive with the news of some dreadful accident. Perhaps the
daylight would find me with the same uncertainty and with the
The idea that Marguerite was perhaps unfaithful to me at the very
moment when I waited for her in terror at her absence did not
return to my mind. There must be some cause, independent of her
will, to keep her away from me, and the more I thought, the more
convinced I was that this cause could only be some mishap or
other. O vanity of man, coming back to us in every form!
One o'clock struck. I said to myself that I would wait another
hour, but that at two o'clock, if Marguerite had not returned, I
would set out for Paris. Meanwhile I looked about for a book, for
I dared not think. Manon Lescaut was open on the table. It seemed
to me that here and there the pages were wet as if with tears. I
turned the leaves over and then closed the book, for the letters
seemed to me void of meaning through the veil of my doubts.
Time went slowly. The sky was covered with clouds. An autumn rain
lashed the windows. The empty bed seemed at moments to assume the
aspect of a tomb. I was afraid.
I opened the door. I listened, and heard nothing but the voice of
the wind in the trees. Not a vehicle was to be seen on the road.
The half hour sounded sadly from the church tower.
I began to fear lest some one should enter. It seemed to me that
only a disaster could come at that hour and under that sombre
Two o'clock struck. I still waited a little. Only the sound of
the bell troubled the silence with its monotonous and rhythmical
At last I left the room, where every object had assumed that
melancholy aspect which the restless solitude of the heart gives
to all its surroundings.
In the next room I found Nanine sleeping over her work. At the
sound of the door, she awoke and asked if her mistress had come
"No; but if she comes in, tell her that I was so anxious that I
had to go to Paris."
"At this hour?"
"But how? You won't find a carriage."
"I will walk."
"But it is raining."
"But madame will be coming back, or if she doesn't come it will
be time enough in the morning to go and see what has kept her.
You will be murdered on the way."
"There is no danger, my dear Nanine; I will see you to-morrow."
The good girl went and got me a cloak, put it over my shoulders,
and offered to wake up Mme. Arnould to see if a vehicle could be
obtained; but I would hear of nothing, convinced as I was that I
should lose, in a perhaps fruitless inquiry, more time than I
should take to cover half the road. Besides, I felt the need of
air and physical fatigue in order to cool down the over-
excitement which possessed me.
I took the key of the flat in the Rue d'Antin, and after saying
good-bye to Nanine, who came with me as far as the gate, I set
At first I began to run, but the earth was muddy with rain, and I
fatigued myself doubly. At the end of half an hour I was obliged
to stop, and I was drenched with sweat. I recovered my breath and
went on. The night was so dark that at every step I feared to
dash myself against one of the trees on the roadside, which rose
up sharply before me like great phantoms rushing upon me.
I overtook one or two wagons, which I soon left behind. A
carriage was going at full gallop toward Bougival. As it passed
me the hope came to me that Marguerite was in it. I stopped and
cried out, "Marguerite! Marguerite!" But no one answered and the
carriage continued its course. I watched it fade away in the
distance, and then started on my way again. I took two hours to
reach the Barriere de l'Etoile. The sight of Paris restored my
strength, and I ran the whole length of the alley I had so often
That night no one was passing; it was like going through the
midst of a dead city. The dawn began to break. When I reached the
Rue d'Antin the great city stirred a little before quite
awakening. Five o'clock struck at the church of Saint Roch at the
moment when I entered Marguerite's house. I called out my name to
the porter, who had had from me enough twenty-franc pieces to
know that I had the right to call on Mlle. Gautier at five in the
morning. I passed without difficulty. I might have asked if
Marguerite was at home, but he might have said "No," and I
preferred to remain in doubt two minutes longer, for, as long as
I doubted, there was still hope.
I listened at the door, trying to discover a sound, a movement.
Nothing. The silence of the country seemed to be continued here.
I opened the door and entered. All the curtains were hermetically
closed. I drew those of the dining-room and went toward the
bed-room and pushed open the door. I sprang at the curtain cord
and drew it violently. The curtain opened, a faint light made its
way in. I rushed to the bed. It was empty.
I opened the doors one after another. I visited every room. No
one. It was enough to drive one mad.
I went into the dressing-room, opened the window, and called
Prudence several times. Mme. Duvernoy's window remained closed.
I went downstairs to the porter and asked him if Mlle. Gautier
had come home during the day.
"Yes," answered the man; "with Mme. Duvernoy."
"She left no word for me?"
"Do you know what they did afterward?"
"They went away in a carriage."
"What sort of a carriage?"
"A private carriage."
What could it all mean?
I rang at the next door.
"Where are you going, sir?" asked the porter, when he had opened
"To Mme. Duvernoy's."
"She has not come back."
"You are sure?"
"Yes, sir; here's a letter even, which was brought for her last
night and which I have not yet given her."
And the porter showed me a letter which I glanced at
mechanically. I recognised Marguerite's writing. I took the
letter. It was addressed, "To Mme. Duvernoy, to forward to M.
"This letter is for me," I said to the porter, as I showed him
"You are M. Duval?" he replied.
"Ah! I remember. You often came to see Mme. Duvernoy."
When I was in the street I broke the seal of the letter. If a
thunder-bolt had fallen at my feet I should have been less
startled than I was by what I read.
"By the time you read this letter, Armand, I shall be the
mistress of another man. All is over between us.
"Go back to your father, my friend, and to your sister, and
there, by the side of a pure young girl, ignorant of all our
miseries, you will soon forget what you would have suffered
through that lost creature who is called Marguerite Gautier, whom
you have loved for an instant, and who owes to you the only happy
moments of a life which, she hopes, will not be very long now."
When I had read the last word, I thought I should have gone mad.
For a moment I was really afraid of falling in the street. A
cloud passed before my eyes and my blood beat in my temples. At
last I came to myself a little. I looked about me, and was
astonished to see the life of others continue without pausing at
I was not strong enough to endure the blow alone. Then I
remembered that my father was in the same city, that I might be
with him in ten minutes, and that, whatever might be the cause of
my sorrow, he would share it.
I ran like a madman, like a thief, to the Hotel de Paris; I found
the key in the door of my father's room; I entered. He was
reading. He showed so little astonishment at seeing me, that it
was as if he was expecting me. I flung myself into his arms
without saying a word. I gave him Marguerite's letter, and,
falling on my knees beside his bed, I wept hot tears.
When the current of life had resumed its course, I could not
believe that the day which I saw dawning would not be like those
which had preceded it. There were moments when I fancied that
some circumstance, which I could not recollect, had obliged me to
spend the night away from Marguerite, but that, if I returned to
Bougival, I should find her again as anxious as I had been, and
that she would ask me what had detained me away from her so long.
When one's existence has contracted a habit, such as that of this
love, it seems impossible that the habit should be broken without
at the same time breaking all the other springs of life. I was
forced from time to time to reread Marguerite's letter, in order
to convince myself that I had not been dreaming.
My body, succumbing to the moral shock, was incapable of
movement. Anxiety, the night walk, and the morning's news had
prostrated me. My father profited by this total prostration of
all my faculties to demand of me a formal promise to accompany
him. I promised all that he asked, for I was incapable of
sustaining a discussion, and I needed some affection to help me
to live, after what had happened. I was too thankful that my
father was willing to console me under such a calamity.
All that I remember is that on that day, about five o'clock, he
took me with him in a post-chaise. Without a word to me, he had
had my luggage packed and put up behind the chaise with his own,
and so he carried me off. I did not realize what I was doing
until the town had disappeared and the solitude of the road
recalled to me the emptiness of my heart. Then my tears again
began to flow.
My father had realized that words, even from him, would do
nothing to console me, and he let me weep without saying a word,
only sometimes pressing my hand, as if to remind me that I had a
friend at my side.
At night I slept a little. I dreamed of Marguerite.
I woke with a start, not recalling why I was in the carriage.
Then the truth came back upon me, and I let my head sink on my
breast. I dared not say anything to my father. I was afraid he
would say, "You see I was right when I declared that this woman
did not love you." But he did not use his advantage, and we
reached C. without his having said anything to me except to speak
of matters quite apart from the event which had occasioned my
When I embraced my sister, I remembered what Marguerite had said
about her in her letter, and I saw at once how little my sister,
good as she was, would be able to make me forget my mistress.
Shooting had begun, and my father thought that it would be a
distraction for me. He got up shooting parties with friends and
neighbours. I went without either reluctance or enthusiasm, with
that sort of apathy into which I had sunk since my departure.
We were beating about for game and I was given my post. I put
down my unloaded gun at my side, and meditated. I watched the
clouds pass. I let my thought wander over the solitary plains,
and from time to time I heard some one call to me and point to a
hare not ten paces off. None of these details escaped my father,
and he was not deceived by my exterior calm. He was well aware
that, broken as I now was, I should some day experience a
terrible reaction, which might be dangerous, and, without seeming
to make any effort to console me, he did his utmost to distract
My sister, naturally, knew nothing of what had happened, and she
could not understand how it was that I, who had formerly been so
lighthearted, had suddenly become so sad and dreamy.
Sometimes, surprising in the midst of my sadness my father's
anxious scrutiny, I pressed his hand as if to ask him tacitly to
forgive me for the pain which, in spite of myself, I was giving
Thus a month passed, but at the end of that time I could endure
it no longer. The memory of Marguerite pursued me unceasingly. I
had loved, I still loved this woman so much that I could not
suddenly become indifferent to her. I had to love or to hate her.
Above all, whatever I felt for her, I had to see her again, and
at once. This desire possessed my mind, and with all the violence
of a will which had begun to reassert itself in a body so long
It was not enough for me to see Marguerite in a month, a week. I
had to see her the very next day after the day when the thought
had occurred to me; and I went to my father and told him that I
had been called to Paris on business, but that I should return
promptly. No doubt he guessed the reason of my departure, for he
insisted that I should stay, but, seeing that if I did not carry
out my intention the consequences, in the state in which I was,
might be fatal, he embraced me, and begged me, almost, with
tears, to return without delay.
I did not sleep on the way to Paris. Once there, what was I going
to do? I did not know; I only knew that it must be something
connected with Marguerite. I went to my rooms to change my
clothes, and, as the weather was fine and it was still early, I
made my way to the Champs-Elysees. At the end of half an hour I
saw Marguerite's carriage, at some distance, coming from the
Rond-Point to the Place de la Concorde. She had repurchased her
horses, for the carriage was just as I was accustomed to see it,
but she was not in it. Scarcely had I noticed this fact, when
looking around me, I saw Marguerite on foot, accompanied by a
woman whom I had never seen.
As she passed me she turned pale, and a nervous smile tightened
about her lips. For my part, my heart beat violently in my
breast; but I succeeded in giving a cold expression to my face,
as I bowed coldly to my former mistress, who just then reached
her carriage, into which she got with her friend.
I knew Marguerite: this unexpected meeting must certainly have
upset her. No doubt she had heard that I had gone away, and had
thus been reassured as to the consequences of our rupture; but,
seeing me again in Paris, finding herself face to face with me,
pale as I was, she must have realized that I had not returned
without purpose, and she must have asked herself what that
If I had seen Marguerite unhappy, if, in revenging myself upon
her, I could have come to her aid, I should perhaps have forgiven
her, and certainly I should have never dreamt of doing her an
injury. But I found her apparently happy, some one else had
restored to her the luxury which I could not give her; her
breaking with me seemed to assume a character of the basest
self-interest; I was lowered in my own esteem as well as in my
love. I resolved that she should pay for what I had suffered.
I could not be indifferent to what she did, consequently what
would hurt her the most would be my indifference; it was,
therefore, this sentiment which I must affect, not only in her
eyes, but in the eyes of others.
I tried to put on a smiling countenance, and I went to call on
Prudence. The maid announced me, and I had to wait a few minutes
in the drawing-room. At last Mme. Duvernoy appeared and asked me
into her boudoir; as I seated myself I heard the drawing-room
door open, a light footstep made the floor creak and the front
door was closed violently.
"I am disturbing you," I said to Prudence.
"Not in the least. Marguerite was there. When she heard you
announced, she made her escape; it was she who has just gone
"Is she afraid of me now?"
"No. but she is afraid that you would not wish to see her."
"But why?" I said, drawing my breath with difficulty, for I was
choked with emotion. "The poor girl left me for her carriage, her
furniture, and her diamonds; she did quite right, and I don't
bear her any grudge. I met her to-day," I continued carelessly.
"Where?" asked Prudence, looking at me and seeming to ask herself
if this was the same man whom she had known so madly in love.
"In the Champs-Elysees. She was with another woman, very pretty.
Who is she?"
"What was she like?"
"Blonde, slender, with side curls; blue eyes; very elegant."
"Ali! It was Olympe; she is really very pretty."
"Whom does she live with?"
"With nobody; with anybody."
"Where does she live?"
"Rue Troncliet, No.--. Do you want to make love to her?"
"One never knows."
"I should hardly tell you the truth if I said I think no more
about her; but I am one of those with whom everything depends on
the way in which one breaks with them. Now Marguerite ended with
me so lightly that I realize I was a great fool to have been as
much in love with her as I was, for I was really very much in
love with that girl."
You can imagine the way in which I said that; the sweat broke out
on my forehead.
"She was very fond of you, you know, and she still is; the proof
is, that after meeting you to-day, she came straight to tell me
about it. When she got here she was all of a tremble; I thought
she was going to faint."
"Well, what did she say?"
"She said, 'He is sure to come here,' and she begged me to ask
you to forgive her."
"I have forgiven her, you may tell her. She was a good girl; but,
after all, like the others, and I ought to have expected what
happened. I am even grateful to her, for I see now what would
have happened if I had lived with her altogether. It was
"She will be very glad to find that you take it so well. It was
quite time she left you, my dear fellow. The rascal of an agent
to whom she had offered to sell her furniture went around to her
creditors to find out how much she owed; they took fright, and in
two days she would have been sold up."
"And now it is all paid?"
"More or less."
"And who has supplied the money?"
"The Comte de N. Ah, my dear friend, there are men made on
purpose for such occasions. To cut a long story short he gave her
twenty thousand francs, but he has had his way at last. He knows
quite well that Marguerite is not in love with him; but he is
very nice with her all the same. As you have seen, he has
repurchased her horses, he has taken her jewels out of pawn, and
he gives her as much money as the duke used to give her; if she
likes to live quietly, he will stay with her a long time."
"And what is she doing? Is she living in Paris altogether?"
"She would never go back to Bougival after you went. I had to go
myself and see after all her things, and yours, too. I made a
package of them and you can send here for them. You will find
everything, except a little case with your initials. Marguerite
wanted to keep it. If you really want it, I will ask her for it."
"Let her keep it," I stammered, for I felt the tears rise from my
heart to my eyes at the recollection of the village where I had
been so happy, and at the thought that Marguerite cared to keep
something which had belonged to me and would recall me to her. If
she had entered at that moment my thoughts of vengeance would
have disappeared, and I should have fallen at her feet.
"For the rest," continued Prudence, "I never saw her as she is
now; she hardly takes any sleep, she goes to all the balls, she
goes to suppers, she even drinks. The other day, after a supper,
she had to stay in bed for a week; and when the doctor let her
get up, she began again at the risk of her life. Shall you go and
"What is the good? I came to see you, because you have always
been charming to me, and I knew you before I ever knew
Marguerite. I owe it to you that I have been her lover, and also,
don't I, that I am her lover no longer?"
"Well, I did all I could to get her away from you, and I believe
you will be thankful to me later on."
I owe you a double gratitude," I added, rising, for I was
disgusted with the woman, seeing her take every word I said to
her as if it were serious.
"You are going?"
I had learned enough.
"When shall I be seeing you?"
Prudence saw me to the door, and I went back to my own rooms with
tears of rage in my eyes and a desire for vengeance in my heart.
So Marguerite was no different from the others; so the steadfast
love that she had had for me could not resist the desire of
returning to her former life, and the need of having a carriage
and plunging into dissipation. So I said to myself, as I lay
awake at night though if I had reflected as calmly as I professed
to I should have seen in this new and turbulent life of
Marguerite the attempt to silence a constant thought, a ceaseless
memory. Unfortunately, evil passion had the upper hand, and I
only sought for some means of avenging myself on the poor
creature. Oh, how petty and vile is man when he is wounded in one
of his narrow passions!
This Olympe whom I had seen was, if not a friend of Marguerite,
at all events the woman with whom she was most often seen since
her return to Paris. She was going to give a ball, and, as I took
it for granted that Marguerite would be there, I tried to get an
invitation and succeeded.
When, full of my sorrowful emotions, I arrived at the ball, it
was already very animated. They were dancing, shouting even, and
in one of the quadrilles I perceived Marguerite dancing with the
Comte de N., who seemed proud of showing her off, as if he said
to everybody: "This woman is mine."
I leaned against the mantel-piece just opposite Marguerite and
watched her dancing. Her face changed the moment she caught sight
of me. I saluted her casually with a glance of the eyes and a
wave of the hand.
When I reflected that after the ball she would go home, not with
me but with that rich fool, when I thought of what would follow
their return, the blood rose to my face, and I felt the need of
doing something to trouble their relations.
After the contredanse I went up to the mistress of the house, who
displayed for the benefit of her guests a dazzling bosom and
magnificent shoulders. She was beautiful, and, from the point of
view of figure, more beautiful than Marguerite. I realized this
fact still more clearly from certain glances which Marguerite
bestowed upon her while I was talking with her. The man who was
the lover of such a woman might well be as proud as M. de N., and
she was beautiful enough to inspire a passion not less great than
that which Marguerite had inspired in me. At that moment she had
no lover. It would not be difficult to become so; it depended
only on showing enough money to attract her attention.
I made up my mind. That woman should be my mistress. I began by
dancing with her. Half an hour afterward, Marguerite, pale as
death, put on her pelisse and left the ball.
It was something already, but it was not enough. I saw the hold
which I had upon this woman, and I took a cowardly advantage of
When I think that she is dead now, I ask myself if God will ever
forgive me for the wrong I did her.
After the supper, which was noisy as could be, there was
gambling. I sat by the side of Olympe and put down my money so
recklessly that she could not but notice me. In an instant I had
gained one hundred and fifty or two hundred louis, which I spread
out before me on the table, and on which she fastened her eyes
I was the only one not completely absorbed by the game, and able
to pay her some attention. All the rest of the night I gained,
and it was I who gave her money to play, for she had lost all she
had before her and probably all she had in the house.
At five in the morning, the guests departed. I had gained three
All the players were already on their way downstairs; I was the
only one who had remained behind, and as I did not know any of
them, no one noticed it. Olympe herself was lighting the way, and
I was going to follow the others, when, turning back, I said to
"I must speak to you."
"To-morrow," she said.
"What have you to say?"
"You will see."
And I went back into the room.
"You have lost," I said.
"All that you had in the house?"
"Well, it is true."
"I have won three hundred louis. Here they are, if you will let
me stay here to-night."
And I threw the gold on the table.
"And why this proposition?"
"Because I am in love with you, of course."
"No, but because you love Marguerite, and you want to have your
revenge upon her by becoming my lover. You don't deceive a woman
like me, my dear friend; unluckily, I am still too young and too
good-looking to accept the part that you offer me."
"So you refuse?"
"Would you rather take me for nothing? It is I who wouldn't
accept then. Think it over, my dear Olympe; if I had sent some
one to offer you these three hundred louis on my behalf, on the
conditions I attach to them, you would have accepted. I preferred
to speak to you myself. Accept without inquiring into my reasons;
say to yourself that you are beautiful, and that there is nothing
surprising in my being in love with you."
Marguerite was a woman in the same position as Olympe, and yet I
should never have dared say to her the first time I met her what
I had said to the other woman. I loved Marguerite. I saw in her
instincts which were lacking in the other, and at the very moment
in which I made my bargain, I felt a disgust toward the woman
with whom I was making it.
She accepted, of course, in the end, and at midday I left her
house as her lover; but I quitted her without a recollection of
the caresses and of the words of love which she had felt bound to
shower upon me in return for the six thousand francs which I left
with her. And yet there were men who had ruined themselves for
From that day I inflicted on Marguerite a continual persecution.
Olympe and she gave up seeing one another, as you might imagine.
I gave my new mistress a carriage and jewels. I gambled, I
committed every extravagance which could be expected of a man in
love with such a woman as Olympe. The report of my new
infatuation was immediately spread abroad.
Prudence herself was taken in, and finally thought that I had
completely forgotten Marguerite. Marguerite herself, whether she
guessed my motive or was deceived like everybody else, preserved
a perfect dignity in response to the insults which I heaped upon
her daily. Only, she seemed to suffer, for whenever I met her she
was more and more pale, more and more sad. My love for her,
carried to the point at which it was transformed into hatred,
rejoiced at the sight of her daily sorrow. Often, when my cruelty
toward her became infamous, Marguerite lifted upon me such
appealing eyes that I blushed for the part I was playing, and was
ready to implore her forgiveness.
But my repentance was only of a moment's duration, and Olympe,
who had finally put aside all self-respect, and discovered that
by annoying Marguerite she could get from me whatever she wanted,
constantly stirred up my resentment against her, and insulted her
whenever she found an opportunity, with the cowardly persistence
of a woman licensed by the authority of a man.
At last Marguerite gave up going to balls or theatres, for fear
of meeting Olympe and me. Then direct impertinences gave way to
anonymous letters, and there was not a shameful thing which I did
not encourage my mistress to relate and which I did not myself
relate in reference to Marguerite.
To reach such a point I must have been literally mad. I was like
a man drunk upon bad wine, who falls into one of those nervous
exaltations in which the hand is capable of committing a crime
without the head knowing anything about it. In the midst of it
all I endured a martyrdom. The not disdainful calm, the not
contemptuous dignity with which Marguerite responded to all my
attacks, and which raised her above me in my own eyes, enraged me
still more against her.
One evening Olympe had gone somewhere or other, and had met
Marguerite, who for once had not spared the foolish creature, so
that she had had to retire in confusion. Olympe returned in a
fury, and Marguerite fainted and had to be carried out. Olympe
related to me what had happened, declared that Marguerite, seeing
her alone, had revenged herself upon her because she was my
mistress, and that I must write and tell her to respect the woman
whom I loved, whether I was present or absent.
I need not tell you that I consented, and that I put into the
letter which I sent to her address the same day, everything
bitter, shameful, and cruel that I could think of.
This time the blow was more than the unhappy creature could
endure without replying. I felt sure that an answer would come,
and I resolved not to go out all day. About two there was a ring,
and Prudence entered.
I tried to assume an indifferent air as I asked her what had
brought her; but that day Mme. Duvernoy was not in a laughing
humour, and in a really moved voice she said to me that since my
return, that is to say for about three weeks, I had left no
occasion untried which could give pain to Marguerite, that she
was completely upset by it, and that the scene of last night and
my angry letter of the morning had forced her to take to her bed.
In short, without making any reproach, Marguerite sent to ask me
for a little pity, since she had no longer the moral or physical
strength to endure what I was making her suffer.
"That Mlle. Gautier," I said to Prudence, "should turn me out of
her own house is quite reasonable, but that she should insult the
woman whom I love, under the pretence that this woman is my
mistress, is a thing I will never permit."
"My friend," said Prudence, "you are under the influence of a
woman who has neither heart nor sense; you are in love with her,
it is true, but that is not a reason for torturing a woman who
can not defend herself."
"Let Mlle. Gautier send me her Comte de N. and the sides will be
"You know very well that she will not do that. So, my dear
Armand, let her alone. If you saw her you would be ashamed of the
way in which you are treating her. She is white, she coughs--she
won't last long now."
And Prudence held out her hand to me, adding:
"Come and see her; it will make her very happy."
"I have no desire to meet M. de N."
"M. de N. is never there. She can not endure him."
"If Marguerite wishes to see me, she knows where I live; let her
come to see me, but, for my part, I will never put foot in the
"Will you receive her well?"
"Well, I am sure that she will come."
"Let her come."
"Shall you be out to-day?"
"I shall be at home all the evening."
"I will tell her."
And Prudence left me.
I did not even write to tell Olympe not to expect me. I never
troubled much about her, scarcely going to see her one night a
week. She consoled herself, I believe, with an actor from some
theatre or other.
I went out for dinner and came back almost immediately. I had a
fire lit in my room and I told Joseph he could go out.
I can give you no idea of the different impressions which
agitated me during the hour in which I waited; but when, toward
nine o'clock, I heard a ring, they thronged together into one
such emotion, that, as I opened the door, I was obliged to lean
against the wall to keep myself from falling.
Fortunately the anteroom was in half darkness, and the change in
my countenance was less visible. Marguerite entered.
She was dressed in black and veiled. I could scarcely recognise
her face through the veil. She went into the drawing-room and
raised her veil. She was pale as marble.
"I am here, Armand," she said; "you wished to see me and I have
And letting her head fall on her hands, she burst into tears.
I went up to her.
"What is the matter?" I said to her in a low voice.
She pressed my hand without a word, for tears still veiled her
voice. But after a few minutes, recovering herself a little, she
said to me:
"You have been very unkind to me, Armand, and I have done nothing
"Nothing?" I answered, with a bitter smile.
"Nothing but what circumstances forced me to do."
I do not know if you have ever in your life experienced, or if
you will ever experience, what I felt at the sight of Marguerite.
The last time she had come to see me she had sat in the same
place where she was now sitting; only, since then, she had been
the mistress of another man, other kisses than mine had touched
her lips, toward which, in spite of myself, my own reached out,
and yet I felt that I loved this woman as much, more perhaps,
than I had ever loved her.
It was difficult for me to begin the conversation on the subject
which brought her. Marguerite no doubt realized it, for she went
"I have come to trouble you, Armand, for I have two things to
ask: pardon for what I said yesterday to Mlle. Olympe, and pity
for what you are perhaps still ready to do to me. Intentionally
or not, since your return you have given me so much pain that I
should be incapable now of enduring a fourth part of what I have
endured till now. You will have pity on me, won't you? And you
will understand that a man who is not heartless has other nobler
things to do than to take his revenge upon a sick and sad woman
like me. See, take my hand. I am in a fever. I left my bed to
come to you, and ask, not for your friendship, but for your
I took Marguerite's hand. It was burning, and the poor woman
shivered under her fur cloak.
I rolled the arm-chair in which she was sitting up to the fire.
"Do you think, then, that I did not suffer," said I, "on that
night when, after waiting for you in the country, I came to look
for you in Paris, and found nothing but the letter which nearly
drove me mad? How could you have deceived me, Marguerite, when I
loved you so much?
"Do not speak of that, Armand; I did not come to speak of that. I
wanted to see you only not an enemy, and I wanted to take your
hand once more. You have a mistress; she is young, pretty, you
love her they say. Be happy with her and forget me."
"And you. You are happy, no doubt?"
"Have I the face of a happy woman, Armand? Do not mock my sorrow,
you, who know better than any one what its cause and its depth
"It only depended on you not to have been unhappy at all, if you
are as you say."
"No, my friend; circumstances were stronger than my will. I
obeyed, not the instincts of a light woman, as you seem to say,
but a serious necessity, and reasons which you will know one day,
and which will make you forgive me."
"Why do you not tell me those reasons to-day?"
"Because they would not bring about an impossible reunion between
us, and they would separate you perhaps from those from whom you
must not be separated."
"Who do you mean?"
"I can not tell you."
"Then you are lying to me."
Marguerite rose and went toward the door. I could not behold this
silent and expressive sorrow without being touched, when I
compared in my mind this pale and weeping woman with the madcap
who had made fun of me at the Opera Comique.
"You shall not go," I said, putting myself in front of the door.
"Because, in spite of what you have done to me, I love you
always, and I want you to stay here."
"To turn me out to-morrow? No; it is impossible. Our destinies
are separate; do not try to reunite them. You will despise me
perhaps, while now you can only hate me."
"No, Marguerite," I cried, feeling all my love and all my desire
reawaken at the contact of this woman. "No, I will forget
everything, and we will be happy as we promised one another that
we would be."
Marguerite shook her head doubtfully, and said:
"Am I not your slave, your dog? Do with me what you will. Take
me; I am yours."
And throwing off her cloak and hat, she flung them on the sofa,
and began hurriedly to undo the front of her dress, for, by one
of those reactions so frequent in her malady, the blood rushed to
her head and stifled her. A hard, dry cough followed.
"Tell my coachman," she said, "to go back with the carriage."
I went down myself and sent him away. When I returned Marguerite
was lying in front of the fire, and her teeth chattered with the
I took her in my arms. I undressed her, without her making a
movement, and carried her, icy cold, to the bed. Then I sat
beside her and tried to warm her with my caresses. She did not
speak a word, but smiled at me.
It was a strange night. All Marguerite's life seemed to have
passed into the kisses with which she covered me, and I loved her
so much that in my transports of feverish love I asked myself
whether I should not kill her, so that she might never belong to
A month of love like that, and there would have remained only the
corpse of heart or body.
The dawn found us both awake. Marguerite was livid white. She did
not speak a word. From time to time, big tears rolled from her
eyes, and stayed upon her cheeks, shining like diamonds. Her thin
arms opened, from time to time, to hold me fast, and fell back
helplessly upon the bed.
For a moment it seemed to me as if I could forget all that had
passed since I had left Bougival, and I said to Marguerite:
"Shall we go away and leave Paris?"
"No, no!" she said, almost with affright; "we should be too
unhappy. I can do no more to make you happy, but while there is a
breath of life in me, I will be the slave of your fancies. At
whatever hour of the day or night you will, come, and I will be
yours; but do not link your future any more with mine, you would
be too unhappy and you would make me too unhappy. I shall still
be pretty for a while; make the most of it, but ask nothing
When she had gone, I was frightened at the solitude in which she
left me. Two hours afterward I was still sitting on the side of
the bed, looking at the pillow which kept the imprint of her
form, and asking myself what was to become of me, between my love
and my jealousy.
At five o'clock, without knowing what I was going to do, I went
to the Rue d'Antin.
Nanine opened to me.
"Madame can not receive you," she said in an embarrassed way.
"Because M. le Comte de N. is there, and he has given orders to
let no one in."
"Quite so," I stammered; "I forgot."
I went home like a drunken man, and do you know what I did during
the moment of jealous delirium which was long enough for the
shameful thing I was going to do? I said to myself that the woman
was laughing at me; I saw her alone with the count, saying over
to him the same words that she had said to me in the night, and
taking a five-hundred-franc note I sent it to her with these
"You went away so suddenly that I forgot to pay you. Here is the
price of your night."
Then when the letter was sent I went out as if to free myself
from the instantaneous remorse of this infamous action.
I went to see Olympe, whom I found trying on dresses, and when we
were alone she sang obscene songs to amuse me. She was the very
type of the shameless, heartless, senseless courtesan, for me at
least, for perhaps some men might have dreamed of her as I
dreamed of Marguerite. She asked me for money. I gave it to her,
and, free then to go, I returned home.
Marguerite had not answered.
I need not tell you in what state of agitation I spent the next
day. At half past nine a messenger brought me an envelope
containing my letter and the five-hundred-franc note, not a word
"Who gave you this?" I asked the man.
"A lady who was starting with her maid in the next mail for
Boulogne, and who told me not to take it until the coach was out
of the courtyard."
I rushed to the Rue d'Antin.
"Madame left for England at six o'clock," said the porter.
There was nothing to hold me in Paris any longer, neither hate
nor love. I was exhausted by this series of shocks. One of my
friends was setting out on a tour in the East. I told my father I
should like to accompany him; my father gave me drafts and
letters of introduction, and eight or ten days afterward I
embarked at Marseilles.
It was at Alexandria that I learned from an attache at the
embassy, whom I had sometimes seen at Marguerite's, that the poor
girl was seriously ill.
I then wrote her the letter which she answered in the way you
know; I received it at Toulon.
I started at once, and you know the rest.
Now you have only to read a few sheets which Julie Duprat gave
me; they are the best commentary on what I have just told you.
Armand, tired by this long narrative, often interrupted by his
tears, put his two hands over his forehead and closed his eyes to
think, or to try to sleep, after giving me the pages written by
the hand of Marguerite. A few minutes after, a more rapid
breathing told me that Armand slept, but that light sleep which
the least sound banishes.
This is what I read; I copy it without adding or omitting a
To-day is the 15th December. I have been ill three or four days.
This morning I stayed in bed. The weather is dark, I am sad;
there is no one by me. I think of you, Armand. And you, where are
you, while I write these lines? Far from Paris, far, far, they
tell me, and perhaps you have already forgotten Marguerite. Well,
be happy; I owe you the only happy moments in my life.
I can not help wanting to explain all my conduct to you, and I
have written you a letter; but, written by a girl like me, such a
letter might seem to be a lie, unless death had sanctified it by
its authority, and, instead of a letter, it were a confession.
To-day I am ill; I may die of this illness, for I have always had
the presentiment that I shall die young. My mother died of
consumption, and the way I have always lived could but increase
the only heritage she ever left me. But I do not want to die
without clearing up for you everything about me; that is, if,
when you come back, you will still trouble yourself about the
poor girl whom you loved before you went away.
This is what the letter contained; I shall like writing it over
again, so as to give myself another proof of my own
You remember, Armand, how the arrival of your father surprised us
at Bougival; you remember the involuntary fright that his arrival
caused me, and the scene which took place between you and him,
which you told me of in the evening.
Next day, when you were at Paris, waiting for your father, and he
did not return, a man came to the door and handed in a letter
from M. Duval.
His letter, which I inclose with this, begged me, in the most
serious terms, to keep you away on the following day, on some
excuse or other, and to see your father, who wished to speak to
me, and asked me particularly not to say anything to you about
You know how I insisted on your returning to Paris next day.
You had only been gone an hour when your father presented
himself. I won't say what impression his severe face made upon
me. Your father had the old theory that a courtesan is a being
without heart or reason, a sort of machine for coining gold,
always ready, like the machine, to bruise the hand that gives her
everything, and to tear in pieces, without pity or discernment,
those who set her in motion.
Your father had written me a very polite letter, in order that I
might consent to see him; he did not present himself quite as he
had written. His manner at first was so stiff, insolent, and even
threatening, that I had to make him understand that I was in my
own house, and that I had no need to render him an account of my
life, except because of the sincere affection which I had for his
M. Duval calmed down a little, but still went on to say that he
could not any longer allow his son to ruin himself over me; that
I was beautiful, it was true, but, however beautiful I might be,
I ought not to make use of my beauty to spoil the future of a
young man by such expenditure as I was causing.
At that there was only one thing to do, to show him the proof
that since I was your mistress I had spared no sacrifice to be
faithful to you without asking for more money than you had to
give me. I showed him the pawn tickets, the receipts of the
people to whom I had sold what I could not pawn; I told him of my
resolve to part with my furniture in order to pay my debts, and
live with you without being a too heavy expense. I told him of
our happiness, of how you had shown me the possibility of a
quieter and happier life, and he ended by giving in to the
evidence, offering me his hand, and asking pardon for the way in
which he had at first approached me.
Then he said to me:
"So, madame, it is not by remonstrances or by threats, but by
entreaties, that I must endeavour to obtain from you a greater
sacrifice than you have yet made for my son."
I trembled at this beginning.
Your father came over to me, took both my hands, and continued in
an affectionate voice:
"My child, do not take what I have to say to you amiss; only
remember that there are sometimes in life cruel necessities for
the heart, but that they must be submitted to. You are good, your
soul has generosity unknown to many women who perhaps despise
you, and are less worthy than you. But remember that there is not
only the mistress, but the family; that besides love there are
duties; that to the age of passion succeeds the age when man, if
he is to be respected, must plant himself solidly in a serious
position. My son has no fortune, and yet he is ready to abandon
to you the legacy of his mother. If he accepted from you the
sacrifice which you are on the point of making, his honour and
dignity would require him to give you, in exchange for it, this
income, which would always put you out of danger of adversity.
But he can not accept this sacrifice, because the world, which
does not know you, would give a wrong interpretation to this
acceptance, and such an interpretation must not tarnish the name
which we bear. No one would consider whether Armand loves you,
whether you love him, whether this mutual love means happiness to
him and redemption to you; they would see only one thing, that
Armand Duval allowed a kept woman (forgive me, my child, for what
I am forced to say to you) to sell all she had for him. Then the
day of reproaches and regrets would arrive, be sure, for you or
for others, and you would both bear a chain that you could not
sever. What would you do then? Your youth would be lost, my son's
future destroyed; and I, his father, should receive from only one
of my children the recompense that I look for from both.
"You are young, beautiful, life will console you; you are noble,
and the memory of a good deed will redeem you from many past
deeds. During the six months that he has known you Armand has
forgotten me. I wrote to him four times, and he has never once
replied. I might have died and he not known it!
"Whatever may be your resolution of living otherwise than as you
have lived, Armand, who loves you, will never consent to the
seclusion to which his modest fortune would condemn you, and to
which your beauty does not entitle you. Who knows what he would
do then! He has gambled, I know; without telling you of it, I
know also, but, in a moment of madness, he might have lost part
of what I have saved, during many years, for my daughter's
portion, for him, and for the repose of my old age. What might
have happened may yet happen.
"Are you sure, besides, that the life which you are giving up for
him will never again come to attract you? Are you sure, you who
have loved him, that you will never love another? Would you
not-suffer on seeing the hindrances set by your love to your
lover's life, hindrances for which you would be powerless to
console him, if, with age, thoughts of ambition should succeed to
dreams of love? Think over all that, madame. You love Armand;
prove it to him by the sole means which remains to you of yet
proving it to him, by sacrificing your love to his future. No
misfortune has yet arrived, but one will arrive, and perhaps a
greater one than those which I foresee. Armand might become
jealous of a man who has loved you; he might provoke him, fight,
be killed. Think, then, what you would suffer in the presence of
a father who should call on you to render an account for the life
of his son!
"Finally, my dear child, let me tell you all, for I have not yet
told you all, let me tell you what has brought me to Paris. I
have a daughter, as I have told you, young, beautiful, pure as an
angel. She loves, and she, too, has made this love the dream of
her life. I wrote all that to Armand, but, absorbed in you, he
made no reply. Well, my daughter is about to marry. She is to
marry the man whom she loves; she enters an honourable family,
which requires that mine has to be no less honourable. The family
of the man who is to become my son-in-law has learned what manner
of life Armand is leading in Paris, and has declared to me that
the marriage must be broken off if Armand continues this life.
The future of a child who has done nothing against you, and who
has the right of looking forward to a happy future, is in your
hands. Have you the right, have you the strength, to shatter it?
In the name of your love and of your repentance, Marguerite,
grant me the happiness of my child."
I wept silently, my friend, at all these reflections which I had
so often made, and which, in the mouth of your father, took a yet
more serious reality. I said to myself all that your father dared
not say to me, though it had come to his lips twenty times: that
I was, after all, only a kept woman, and that whatever excuse I
gave for our liaison, it would always look like calculation on my
part; that my past life left me no right to dream of such a
future, and that I was accepting responsibilities for which my
habits and reputation were far from giving any guarantee. In
short, I loved you, Armand.
The paternal way in which M. Duval had spoken to me; the pure
memories that he awakened in me; the respect of this old man,
which I would gain; yours, which I was sure of gaining later on:
all that called up in my heart thoughts which raised me in my own
eyes with a sort of holy pride, unknown till then. When I thought
that one day this old man, who was now imploring me for the
future of his son, would bid his daughter mingle my name with her
prayers, as the name of a mysterious friend, I seemed to become
transformed, and I felt a pride in myself.
The exaltation of the moment perhaps exaggerated the truth of
these impressions, but that was what I felt, friend, and these
new feelings silenced the memory of the happy days I had spent
"Tell me, sir," I said to your father, wiping away my tears, "do
you believe that I love your son?"
"Yes," said M. Duval.
"With a disinterested love?"
"Do you believe that I had made this love the hope, the dream,
the forgiveness--of my life?"
"Well, sir, embrace me once, as you would embrace your daughter,
and I swear to you that that kiss, the only chaste kiss I have
ever had, will make me strong against my love, and that within a
week your son will be once more at your side, perhaps unhappy for
a time, but cured forever."
"You are a noble child," replied your father, kissing me on the
forehead, "and you are making an attempt for which God will
reward you; but I greatly fear that you will have no influence
upon my son."
"Oh, be at rest, sir; he will hate me."
I had to set up between us, as much for me as for you, an
I wrote to Prudence to say that I accepted the proposition of the
Comte de N., and that she was to tell him that I would sup with
her and him. I sealed the letter, and, without telling him what
it contained, asked your father to have it forwarded to its
address on reaching Paris.
He inquired of me what it contained.
"Your son's welfare," I answered.
Your father embraced me once more. I felt two grateful tears on
my forehead, like the baptism of my past faults, and at the
moment when I consented to give myself up to another man I glowed
with pride at the thought of what I was redeeming by this new
It was quite natural, Armand. You told me that your father was
the most honest man in the world.
M. Duval returned to his carriage, and set out for Paris.