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  • 1848
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see that I was stronger than she.

How many ways does the heart take, how many reasons does it invent for itself, in order to arrive at what it wants!

I could not remain in the corridor, and I returned to my place in the stalls, looking hastily around to see what box she was in. She was in a ground-floor box, quite alone. She had changed, as I have told you, and no longer wore an indifferent smile on her lips. She had suffered; she was still suffering. Though it was April, she was still wearing a winter costume, all wrapped up in furs.

I gazed at her so fixedly that my eyes attracted hers. She looked at me for a few seconds, put up her opera-glass to see me better, and seemed to think she recognised me, without being quite sure who I was, for when she put down her glasses, a smile, that charming, feminine salutation, flitted across her lips, as if to answer the bow which she seemed to expect; but I did not respond, so as to have an advantage over her, as if I had forgotten, while she remembered. Supposing herself mistaken,, she looked away.

The curtain went up. I have often seen Marguerite at the theatre. I never saw her pay the slightest attention to what was being acted. As for me, the performance interested me equally little, and I paid no attention to anything but her, though doing my utmost to keep her from noticing it.

Presently I saw her glancing across at the person who was in the opposite box; on looking, I saw a woman with whom I was quite familiar. She had once been a kept woman, and had tried to go on the stage, had failed, and, relying on her acquaintance with fashionable people in Paris, had gone into business and taken a milliner’s shop. I saw in her a means of meeting with Marguerite, and profited by a moment in which she looked my way to wave my hand to her. As I expected, she beckoned to me to come to her box.

Prudence Duvernoy (that was the milliner’s auspicious name) was one of those fat women of forty with whom one requires very little diplomacy to make them understand what one wants to know, especially when what one wants to know is as simple as what I had to ask of her.

I took advantage of a moment when she was smiling across at Marguerite to ask her, “Whom are you looking at?”

“Marguerite Gautier.”

“You know her?”

“Yes, I am her milliner, and she is a neighbour of mine.”

“Do you live in the Rue d’Antin?”

“No. 7. The window of her dressing-room looks on to the window of mine.”

“They say she is a charming girl.”

“Don’t you know her?”

“No, but I should like to.”

“Shall I ask her to come over to our box?”

“No, I would rather for you to introduce me to her.”

“At her own house?”

“Yes.

“That is more difficult.”

“Why?”

“Because she is under the protection of a jealous old duke.”

“‘Protection’ is charming.”

“Yes, protection,” replied Prudence. “Poor old man, he would be greatly embarrassed to offer her anything else.”

Prudence then told me how Marguerite had made the acquaintance of the duke at Bagneres.

“That, then,” I continued, “is why she is alone here?”

“Precisely.”

“But who will see her home?”

“He will.”

“He will come for her?”

“In a moment.”

“And you, who is seeing you home?”

“No one.”

“May I offer myself?”

“But you are with a friend, are you not?”

“May we offer, then?”

“Who is your friend?”

“A charming fellow, very amusing. He will be delighted to make your acquaintance.”

“Well, all right; we will go after this piece is over, for I know the last piece.”

“With pleasure; I will go and tell my friend.”

“Go, then. Ah,” added Prudence, as I was going, “there is the duke just coming into Marguerite’s box.”

I looked at him. A man of about seventy had sat down behind her, and was giving her a bag of sweets, into which she dipped at once, smiling. Then she held it out toward Prudence, with a gesture which seemed to say, “Will you have some?”

“No,” signalled Prudence.

Marguerite drew back the bag, and, turning, began to talk with the duke.

It may sound childish to tell you all these details, but everything relating to Marguerite is so fresh in my memory that I can not help recalling them now.

I went back to Gaston and told him of the arrangement I had made for him and for me. He agreed, and we left our stalls to go round to Mme. Duvernoy’s box. We had scarcely opened the door leading into the stalls when we had to stand aside to allow Marguerite and the duke to pass. I would have given ten years of my life to have been in the old man’s place.

When they were on the street he handed her into a phaeton, which he drove himself, and they were whirled away by two superb horses.

We returned to Prudence’s box, and when the play was over we took a cab and drove to 7, Rue d’Antin. At the door, Prudence asked us to come up and see her showrooms, which we had never seen, and of which she seemed very proud. You can imagine how eagerly I accepted. It seemed to me as if I was coming nearer and nearer to Marguerite. I soon turned the conversation in her direction.

“The old duke is at your neighbours,” I said to Prudence.

“Oh, no; she is probably alone.”

“But she must be dreadfully bored,” said Gaston.

“We spend most of our evening together, or she calls to me when she comes in. She never goes to bed before two in the morning. She can’t sleep before that.”

“Why?”

“Because she suffers in the chest, and is almost always feverish.”

“Hasn’t she any lovers?” I asked.

“I never see any one remain after I leave; I don’t say no one ever comes when I am gone. Often in the evening I meet there a certain Comte de N., who thinks he is making some headway by calling on her at eleven in the evening, and by sending her jewels to any extent; but she can’t stand him. She makes a mistake; he is very rich. It is in vain that I say to her from time to time, ‘My dear child, there’s the man for you.’ She, who generally listens to me, turns her back and replies that he is too stupid. Stupid, indeed, he is; but it would be a position for her, while this old duke might die any day. Old men are egoists; his family are always reproaching him for his affection for Marguerite; there are two reasons why he is likely to leave her nothing. I give her good advice, and she only says it will be plenty of time to take on the count when the duke is dead. It isn’t all fun,” continued Prudence, “to live like that. I know very well it wouldn’t suit me, and I should soon send the old man about his business. He is so dull; he calls her his daughter; looks after her like a child; and is always in the way. I am sure at this very moment one of his servants is prowling about in the street to see who comes out, and especially who goes in.”

“Ah, poor Marguerite!” said Gaston, sitting down to the piano and playing a waltz. “I hadn’t a notion of it, but I did notice she hasn’t been looking so gay lately.”

“Hush,” said Prudence, listening. Gaston stopped.

“She is calling me, I think.”

We listened. A voice was calling, “Prudence!”

“Come, now, you must go,” said Mme. Duvernoy.

“Ah, that is your idea of hospitality,” said Gaston, laughing; “we won’t go till we please.”

“Why should we go?”

“I am going over to Marguerite’s.”

“We will wait here.”

“You can’t.”

“Then we will go with you.”

“That still less.”

“I know Marguerite,” said Gaston; I can very well pay her a call.”

“But Armand doesn’t know her.”

“I will introduce him.”

“Impossible.”

We again heard Marguerite’s voice calling to Prudence, who rushed to her dressing-room window. I followed with Gaston as she opened the window. We hid ourselves so as not to be seen from outside.

“I have been calling you for ten minutes,” said Marguerite from her window, in almost an imperious tone of voice.

“What do you want?”

“I want you to come over at once.”

“Why?”

“Because the Comte de N. is still here, and he is boring me to death.”

“I can’t now.”

“What is hindering you?”

“There are two young fellows here who won’t go.”

“Tell them that you must go out.”

“I have told them.”

“Well, then, leave them in the house. They will soon go when they see you have gone.”

“They will turn everything upside down.”

“But what do they want?”

“They want to see you.”

“What are they called?”

“You know one, M. Gaston R.”

“Ah, yes, I know him. And the other?”

“M. Armand Duval; and you don’t know him.”

“No, but bring them along. Anything is better than the count. I expect you. Come at once.”

Marguerite closed her window and Prudence hers. Marguerite, who had remembered my face for a moment, did not remember my name. I would rather have been remembered to my disadvantage than thus forgotten.

“I knew,” said Gaston, “that she would be delighted to see us.”

“Delighted isn’t the word,” replied Prudence, as she put on her hat and shawl. “She will see you in order to get rid of the count. Try to be more agreeable than he is, or (I know Marguerite) she will put it all down to me.”

We followed Prudence downstairs. I trembled; it seemed to me that this visit was to have a great influence on my life. I was still more agitated than on the evening when I was introduced in the box at the Opera Comique. As we reached the door that you know, my heart beat so violently that I was hardly able to think.

We heard the sound of a piano. Prudence rang. The piano was silent. A woman who looked more like a companion than a servant opened the door. We went into the drawing-room, and from that to the boudoir, which was then just as you have seen it since. A young man was leaning against the mantel-piece. Marguerite, seated at the piano, let her fingers wander over the notes, beginning scraps of music without finishing them. The whole scene breathed boredom, the man embarrassed by the consciousness of his nullity, the woman tired of her dismal visitor. At the voice of Prudence, Marguerite rose, and coming toward us with a look of gratitude to Mme. Duvernoy, said:

“Come in, and welcome.”

Chapter 9

“Good-evening, my dear Gaston,” said Marguerite to my companion. “I am very glad to see you. Why didn’t you come to see me in my box at the Varietes?”

“I was afraid it would be indiscreet.”

“Friends,” and Marguerite lingered over the word, as if to intimate to those who were present that in spite of the familiar way in which she greeted him, Gaston was not and never had been anything more than a friend, “friends are always welcome.”

“Then, will you permit me to introduce M. Armand Duval?”

“I had already authorized Prudence to do so.”

“As far as that goes, madame,” I said, bowing, and succeeding in getting more or less intelligible sounds out of my throat, “I have already had the honour of being introduced to you.”

Marguerite’s beautiful eyes seemed to be looking back in memory, but she could not, or seemed not to, remember.

“Madame,” I continued, “I am grateful to you for having forgotten the occasion of my first introduction, for I was very absurd and must have seemed to you very tiresome. It was at the Opera Comique, two years ago; I was with Ernest de –.”

“Ah, I remember,” said Marguerite, with a smile. “It was not you who were absurd; it was I who was mischievous, as I still am, but somewhat less. You have forgiven me?”

And she held out her hand, which I kissed.

“It is true,” she went on; “you know I have the bad habit of trying to embarrass people the first time I meet them. It is very stupid. My doctor says it is because I am nervous and always ill; believe my doctor.”

“But you seem quite well.”

“Oh! I have been very ill.”

“I know.”

“Who told you?”

“Every one knew it; I often came to inquire after you, and I was happy to hear of your convalescence.”

“They never gave me your card.”

“I did not leave it.”

“Was it you, then, who called every day while I was ill, and would never leave your name?”

“Yes, it was I.”

“Then you are more than indulgent, you are generous. You, count, wouldn’t have done that,” said she, turning toward M. de N., after giving me one of those looks in which women sum up their opinion of a man.

“I have only known you for two months,” replied the count.

“And this gentleman only for five minutes. You always say something ridiculous.”

Women are pitiless toward those whom they do not care for. The count reddened and bit his lips.

I was sorry for him, for he seemed, like myself, to be in love, and the bitter frankness of Marguerite must have made him very unhappy, especially in the presence of two strangers.

“You were playing the piano when we came in,” I said, in order to change the conversation. “Won’t you be so good as to treat me as an old acquaintance and go on?”

“Oh,” said she, flinging herself on the sofa and motioning to us to sit down, “Gaston knows what my music is like. It is all very well when I am alone with the count, but I won’t inflict such a punishment on you.”

“You show me that preference?” said M. de N., with a smile which he tried to render delicately ironical.

“Don’t reproach me for it. It is the only one.” It was fated that the poor man was not to say a single word. He cast a really supplicating glance at Marguerite.

“Well, Prudence,” she went on, “have you done what I asked you to do?”

“Yes.

“All right. You will tell me about it later. We must talk over it; don’t go before I can speak with you.”

“We are doubtless intruders,” I said, “and now that we, or rather I, have had a second introduction, to blot out the first, it is time for Gaston and me to be going.”

“Not in the least. I didn’t mean that for you. I want you to stay.”

The count took a very elegant watch out of his pocket and looked at the time. “I must be going to my club,” he said. Marguerite did not answer. The count thereupon left his position by the fireplace and going up to her, said: “Adieu, madame.”

Marguerite rose. “Adieu, my dear count. Are you going already?”

“Yes, I fear I am boring you.”

“You are not boring me to-day more than any other day. When shall I be seeing you?”

“When you permit me.”

“Good-bye, then.”

It was cruel, you will admit. Fortunately, the count had excellent manners and was very good-tempered. He merely kissed Marguerite’s hand, which she held out to him carelessly enough, and, bowing to us, went out.

As he crossed the threshold, he cast a glance at Prudence. She shrugged her shoulders, as much as to say:

“What do you expect? I have done all I could.”

“Nanine!” cried Marguerite. “Light M. le Comte to the door.”

We heard the door open and shut.

“At last,” cried Marguerite, coming back, “he has gone! That man gets frightfully on my nerves!”

“My dear child,” said Prudence, “you really treat him too badly, and he is so good and kind to you. Look at this watch on the mantel-piece, that he gave you: it must have cost him at least three thousand francs, I am sure.”

And Mme. Duvernoy began to turn it over, as it lay on the mantel-piece, looking at it with covetous eyes.

“My dear,” said Marguerite, sitting down to the piano, “when I put on one side what he gives me and on the other what he says to me, it seems to me that he buys his visits very cheap.”

“The poor fellow is in love with you.”

“If I had to listen to everybody who was in love with me, I shouldn’t have time for my dinner.”

And she began to run her fingers over the piano, and then, turning to us, she said:

“What will you take? I think I should like a little punch.”

“And I could eat a little chicken,” said Prudence. “Suppose we have supper?”

“That’s it, let’s go and have supper,” said Gaston.

“No, we will have supper here.”

She rang, and Nanine appeared.

“Send for some supper.”

“What must I get?”

“Whatever you like, but at once, at once.”

Nanine went out.

“That’s it,” said Marguerite, jumping like a child, “we’ll have supper. How tiresome that idiot of a count is!”

The more I saw her, the more she enchanted me. She was exquisitely beautiful. Her slenderness was a charm. I was lost in contemplation.

What was passing in my mind I should have some difficulty in explaining. I was full of indulgence for her life, full of admiration for her beauty. The proof of disinterestedness that she gave in not accepting a rich and fashionable young man, ready to waste all his money upon her, excused her in my eyes for all her faults in the past.

There was a kind of candour in this woman. You could see she was still in the virginity of vice. Her firm walk, her supple figure, her rosy, open nostrils, her large eyes, slightly tinged with blue, indicated one of those ardent natures which sbed around them a sort of voluptuous perfume, like Eastern vials, which, close them as tightly as you will, still let some of their perfume escape. Finally, whether it was simple nature or a breath of fever, there passed from time to time in the eyes of this woman a glimmer of desire, giving promise of a very heaven for one whom she should love. But those who had loved Marguerite were not to be counted, nor those whom she had loved.

In this girl there was at once the virgin whom a mere nothing had turned into a courtesan, and the courtesan whom a mere nothing would have turned into the most loving and the purest of virgins. Marguerite had still pride and independence, two sentiments which, if they are wounded, can be the equivalent of a sense of shame. I did not speak a word; my soul seemed to have passed into my heart and my heart into my eyes.

“So,” said she all at once, “it was you who came to inquire after me when I was ill?”

“Yes.”

“Do you know, it was quite splendid of you! How can I thank you for it?”

“By allowing me to come and see you from time to time.”

“As often as you like, from five to six, and from eleven to twelve. Now, Gaston, play the Invitation A la Valse.”

“Why?”

“To please me, first of all, and then because I never can manage to play it myself.”

“What part do you find difficult?”

“The third part, the part in sharps.”

Gaston rose and went to the piano, and began to play the wonderful melody of Weber, the music of which stood open before him.

Marguerite, resting one hand on the piano, followed every note on the music, accompanying it in a low voice, and when Gaston had come to the passage which she had mentioned to him, she sang out, running her fingers along the top of the piano:

“Do, re, mi, do, re, fa, mi, re; that is what I can not do. Over again.”

Gaston began over again, after which Marguerite said:

“Now, let me try.”

She took her place and began to play; but her rebellious fingers always came to grief over one of the notes.

“Isn’t it incredible,” she said, exactly like a child, “that I can not succeed in playing that passage? Would you believe that I sometimes spend two hours of the morning over it? And when I think that that idiot of a count plays it without his music, and beautifully, I really believe it is that that makes me so furious with him.” And she began again, always with the same result.

“The devil take Weber, music, and pianos!” she cried, throwing the music to the other end of the room. “How can I play eight sharps one after another?” She folded her arms and looked at us, stamping her foot. The blood flew to her cheeks, and her lips half opened in a slight cough.

“Come, come,” said Prudence, who had taken off her hat and was smoothing her hair before the glass, “you will work yourself into a rage and do yourself harm. Better come and have supper; for my part, I am dying of hunger.”

Marguerite rang the bell, sat down to the piano again, and began to hum over a very risky song, which she accompanied without difficulty. Gaston knew the song, and they gave a sort of duet.

“Don’t sing those beastly things,” I said to Marguerite, imploringly.

“Oh, how proper you are!” she said, smiling and giving me her hand. “It is not for myself, but for you.”

Marguerite made a gesture as if to say, “Oh, it is long since that I have done with propriety!” At that moment Nanine appeared.

“Is supper ready?” asked Marguerite. “Yes, madame, in one moment.”

“Apropos,” said Prudence to me, “you have not looked round; come, and I will show you.” As you know, the drawing-room was a marvel.

Marguerite went with us for a moment; then she called Gaston and went into the dining-room with him to see if supper was ready.

“Ah,” said Prudence, catching sight of a little Saxe figure on a side-table, “I never knew you had this little gentleman.”

“Which?”

“A little shepherd holding a bird-cage.”

“Take it, if you like it.”

“I won’t deprive you of it.”

“I was going to give it to my maid. I think it hideous; but if you like it, take it.”

Prudence only saw the present, not the way in which it was given. She put the little figure on one side, and took me into the dressing-room, where she showed me two miniatures hanging side by side, and said:

“That is the Comte de G., who was very much in love with Marguerite; it was he who brought her out. Do you know him?”

“No. And this one?” I inquired, pointing to the other miniature.

“That is the little Vicomte de L. He was obliged to disappear.”

“Why?”

“Because he was all but ruined. That’s one, if you like, who loved Marguerite.”

“And she loved him, too, no doubt?”

“She is such a queer girl, one never knows. The night he went away she went to the theatre as usual, and yet she had cried when he said good-bye to her.”

Just then Nanine appeared, to tell us that supper was served.

When we entered the dining-room, Marguerite was leaning against the wall, and Gaston, holding her hands, was speaking to her in a low voice.

“You are mad,” replied Marguerite. “You know quite well that I don’t want you. It is no good at the end of two years to make love to a woman like me. With us, it is at once, or never. Come, gentlemen, supper!”

And, slipping away from Gaston, Marguerite made him sit on her right at table, me on her left, then called to Nanine:

“Before you sit down, tell them in the kitchen not to open to anybody if there is a ring.”

This order was given at one o’clock in the morning.

We laughed, drank, and ate freely at this supper. In a short while mirth had reached its last limit, and the words that seem funny to a certain class of people, words that degrade the mouth that utters them, were heard from time to time, amidst the applause of Nanine, of Prudence, and of Marguerite. Gaston was thoroughly amused; he was a very good sort of fellow, but somewhat spoiled by the habits of his youth. For a moment I tried to forget myself, to force my heart and my thoughts to become indifferent to the sight before me, and to take my share of that gaiety which seemed like one of the courses of the meal. But little by little I withdrew from the noise; my glass remained full, and I felt almost sad as I saw this beautiful creature of twenty drinking, talking like a porter, and laughing the more loudly the more scandalous was the joke.

Nevertheless, this hilarity, this way of talking and drinking, which seemed to me in the others the mere results of bad company or of bad habits, seemed in Marguerite a necessity of forgetting, a fever, a nervous irritability. At every glass of champagne her cheeks would flush with a feverish colour, and a cough, hardly perceptible at the beginning of supper, became at last so violent that she was obliged to lean her head on the back of her chair and hold her chest in her hands every time that she coughed. I suffered at the thought of the injury to so frail a constitution which must come from daily excesses like this. At length, something which I had feared and foreseen happened. Toward the end of supper Marguerite was seized by a more violent fit of coughing than any she had had while I was there. It seemed as if her chest were being torn in two. The poor girl turned crimson, closed her eyes under the pain, and put her napkin to her lips. It was stained with a drop of blood. She rose and ran into her dressing-room.

“What is the matter with Marguerite?” asked Gaston.

“She has been laughing too much, and she is spitting blood. Oh, it is nothing; it happens to her every day. She will be back in a minute. Leave her alone. She prefers it.”

I could not stay still; and, to the consternation of Prudence and Nanine, who called to me to come back, I followed Marguerite.”

Chapter 10

The room to which she had fled was lit only by a single candle. She lay back on a great sofa, her dress undone, holding one hand on her heart, and letting the other hang by her side. On the table was a basin half full of water, and the water was stained with streaks of blood.

Very pale, her mouth half open, Marguerite tried to recover breath. Now and again her bosom was raised by a long sigh, which seemed to relieve her a little, and for a few seconds she would seem to be quite comfortable.

I went up to her; she made no movement, and I sat down and took the hand which was lying on the sofa.

“Ah! it is you,” she said, with a smile.

I must have looked greatly agitated, for she added:

“Are you unwell, too?”

“No, but you: do you still suffer?”

“Very little;” and she wiped off with her handkerchief the tears which the coughing had brought to her eyes; “I am used to it now.”

“You are killing yourself, madame,” I said to her in a moved voice. “I wish I were a friend, a relation of yours, that I might keep you from doing yourself harm like this.”

“Ah! it is really not worth your while to alarm yourself,” she replied in a somewhat bitter tone; “see how much notice the others take of me! They know too well that there is nothing to be done.”

Thereupon she got up, and, taking the candle, put it on the mantel-piece and looked at herself in the glass.

“How pale I am!” she said, as she fastened her dress and passed her fingers over her loosened hair. “Come, let us go back to supper. Are you coming?”

I sat still and did not move.

She saw how deeply I had been affected by the whole scene, and, coming up to me, held out her hand, saying:

“Come now, let us go.”

I took her hand, raised it to my lips, and in spite of myself two tears fell upon it.

“Why, what a child you are!” she said, sitting down by my side again. “You are crying! What is the matter?”

“I must seem very silly to you, but I am frightfully troubled by what I have just seen.”

“You are very good! What would you have of me? I can not sleep. I must amuse myself a little. And then, girls like me, what does it matter, one more or less? The doctors tell me that the blood I spit up comes from my throat; I pretend to believe them; it is all I can do for them.”

“Listen, Marguerite,” I said, unable to contain myself any longer; “I do not know what influence you are going to have over my life, but at this present moment there is no one, not even my sister, in whom I feel the interest which I feel in you. It has been just the same ever since I saw you. Well, for Heaven’s sake, take care of yourself, and do not live as you are living now.”

“If I took care of myself I should die. All that supports me is the feverish life I lead. Then, as for taking care of oneself, that is all very well for women with families and friends; as for us, from the moment we can no longer serve the vanity or the pleasure of our lovers, they leave us, and long nights follow long days. I know it. I was in bed for two months, and after three weeks no one came to see me.”

“It is true I am nothing to you,” I went on, “but if you will let me, I will look after you like a brother, I will never leave your side, and I will cure you. Then, when you are strong again, you can go back to the life you are leading, if you choose; but I am sure you will come to prefer a quiet life, which will make you happier and keep your beauty unspoiled.”

“You think like that to-night because the wine has made you sad, but you would never have the patience that you pretend to.”

“Permit me to say, Marguerite, that you were ill for two months, and that for two months I came to ask after you every day.”

“It is true, but why did you not come up?”

“Because I did not know you then.”

“Need you have been so particular with a girl like me?”

“One must always be particular with a woman; it is what I feel, at least.”

“So you would look after me?”

“Yes.”

“You would stay by me all day?”

“Yes.

“And even all night?”

“As long as I did not weary you.”

“And what do you call that?”

“Devotion.”

“And what does this devotion come from?”

“The irresistible sympathy which I have for you.”

“So you are in love with me? Say it straight out, it is much more simple.”

“It is possible; but if I am to say it to you one day, it is not to-day.”

“You will do better never to say it.”

“Why?”

“Because only one of two things can come of it.”

“What?”

“Either I shall not accept: then you will have a grudge against me; or I shall accept: then you will have a sorry mistress; a woman who is nervous, ill, sad, or gay with a gaiety sadder than grief, a woman who spits blood and spends a hundred thousand francs a year. That is all very well for a rich old man like the duke, but it is very bad for a young man like you, and the proof of it is that all the young lovers I have had have very soon left me.” I did not answer; I listened. This frankness, which was almost a kind of confession, the sad life, of which I caught some glimpse through the golden veil which covered it, and whose reality the poor girl sought to escape in dissipation, drink, and wakefulness, impressed me so deeply that I could not utter a single word.

“Come,” continued Marguerite, “we are talking mere childishness. Give me your arm and let us go back to the dining-room. They won’t know what we mean by our absence.”

“Go in, if you like, but allow me to stay here.”

“Why?”

“Because your mirth hurts me.”

“Well, I will be sad.”

“Marguerite, let me say to you something which you have no doubt often heard, so often that the habit of hearing it has made you believe it no longer, but which is none the less real, and which I will never repeat.”

“And that is . . . ?” she said, with the smile of a young mother listening to some foolish notion of her child.

“It is this, that ever since I have seen you, I know not why, you have taken a place in my life; that, if I drive the thought of you out of my mind, it always comes back; that when I met you to-day, after not having seen you for two years, you made a deeper impression on my heart and mind than ever; that, now that you have let me come to see you, now that I know you, now that I know all that is strange in you, you have become a necessity of my life, and you will drive me mad, not only if you will not love me, but if you will not let me love you.”

“But, foolish creature that you are, I shall say to you, like Mme. D., ‘You must be very rich, then!’ Why, you don’t know that I spend six or seven thousand francs a month, and that I could not live without it; you don’t know, my poor friend, that I should ruin you in no time, and that your family would cast you off if you were to live with a woman like me. Let us be friends, good friends, but no more. Come and see me, we will laugh and talk, but don’t exaggerate what I am worth, for I am worth very little. You have a good heart, you want some one to love you, you are too young and too sensitive to live in a world like mine. Take a married woman. You see, I speak to you frankly, like a friend.”

“But what the devil are you doing there?” cried Prudence, who had come in without our bearing her, and who now stood just inside the door, with her hair half coming down and her dress undone. I recognised the hand of Gaston.

“We are talking sense,” said Marguerite; “leave us alone; we will be back soon.”

“Good, good! Talk, my children,” said Prudence, going out and closing the door behind her, as if to further empbasize the tone in which she had said these words.

“Well, it is agreed,” continued Marguerite, when we were alone, “you won’t fall in love with me?”

“I will go away.”

“So much as that?”

I had gone too far to draw back; and I was really carried away. This mingling of gaiety, sadness, candour, prostitution, her very malady, which no doubt developed in her a sensitiveness to impressions, as well as an irritability of nerves, all this made it clear to me that if from the very beginning I did not completely dominate her light and forgetful nature, she was lost to me.

“Come, now, do you seriously mean what you say?” she said.

“Seriously.”

“But why didn’t you say it to me sooner?”

“When could I have said it?”

“The day after you had been introduced to me at the Opera Comique.”

“I thought you would have received me very badly if I had come to see you.”

“Why?”

“Because I had behaved so stupidly.”

“That’s true. And yet you were already in love with me.”

“Yes.”

“And that didn’t hinder you from going to bed and sleeping quite comfortably. One knows what that sort of love means.”

“There you are mistaken. Do you know what I did that evening, after the Opera Comique?”

“No.”

“I waited for you at the door of the Cafe Anglais. I followed the carriage in which you and your three friends were, and when I saw you were the only one to get down, and that you went in alone, I was very happy.”

Marguerite began to laugh.

“What are you laughing at?”

“Nothing.”

“Tell me, I beg of you, or I shall think you are still laughing at me.”

“You won’t be cross?”

“What right have I to be cross?”

“Well, there was a sufficient reason why I went in alone.”

“What?”

“Some one was waiting for me here.”

If she had thrust a knife into me she would not have hurt me more. I rose, and holding out my hand, “Goodbye,” said I.

“I knew you would be cross,” she said; “men are frantic to know what is certain to give them pain.”

“But I assure you,” I added coldly, as if wishing to prove how completely I was cured of my passion, “I assure you that I am not cross. It was quite natural that some one should be waiting for you, just as it is quite natural that I should go from here at three in the morning.”

“Have you, too, some one waiting for you?”

“No, but I must go.”

“Good-bye, then.”

“You send me away?”

“Not the least in the world.”

“Why are you so unkind to me?”

“How have I been unkind to you?”

“In telling me that some one was waiting for you.”

“I could not help laughing at the idea that you had been so happy to see me come in alone when there was such a good reason for it.”

“One finds pleasure in childish enough things, and it is too bad to destroy such a pleasure when, by simply leaving it alone, one can make somebody so happy.”

“But what do you think I am? I am neither maid nor duchess. I didn’t know you till to-day, and I am not responsible to you for my actions. Supposing one day I should become your mistress, you are bound to know that I have had other lovers besides you. If you make scenes of jealousy like this before, what will it be after, if that after should ever exist? I never met any one like you.”

“That is because no one has ever loved you as I love you.”

“Frankly, then, you really love me?”

“As much as it is possible to love, I think.”

“And that has lasted since–?”

“Since the day I saw you go into Susse’s, three years ago.

“Do you know, that is tremendously fine? Well, what am to do in return?”

“Love me a little,” I said, my heart beating so that I could hardly speak; for, in spite of the half-mocking smiles with which she had accompanied the whole conversation, it seemed to me that Marguerite began to share my agitation, and that the hour so long awaited was drawing near.

“Well, but the duke?”

“What duke?”

“My jealous old duke.”

“He will know nothing.”

“And if he should?”

“He would forgive you.”

“Ah, no, he would leave me, and what would become of me?”

“You risk that for some one else.”

“How do you know?” “By the order you gave not to admit any one to-night.” “It is true; but that is a serious friend.”

“For whom you care nothing, as you have shut your door against him at such an hour.”

“It is not for you to reproach me, since it was in order to receive you, you and your friend.”

Little by little I had drawn nearer to Marguerite. I had put my arms about her waist, and I felt her supple body weigh lightly on my clasped hands.

“If you knew how much I love you!” I said in a low voice. “Really true?”

“I swear it.”

“Well, if you will promise to do everything I tell you, without a word, without an opinion, without a question, perhaps I will say yes.”

“I will do everything that you wish!”

“But I forewarn you I must be free to do as I please, without giving you the slightest details what I do. I have long wished for a young lover, who should be young and not self-willed, loving without distrust, loved without claiming the right to it. I have never found one. Men, instead of being satisfied in obtaining for a long time what they scarcely hoped to obtain once, exact from their mistresses a full account of the present, the past, and even the future. As they get accustomed to her, they want to rule her, and the more one gives them the more exacting they become. If I decide now on taking a new lover, he must have three very rare qualities: he must be confiding, submissive, and discreet.”

“Well, I will be all that you wish.”

“We shall see.”

“When shall we see?”

“Later on.”

“Why?”

“Because,” said Marguerite, releasing herself from my arms, and, taking from a great bunch of red camellias a single camellia, she placed it in my buttonhole, “because one can not always carry out agreements the day they are signed.”

“And when shall I see you again?” I said, clasping her in my arms.

“When this camellia changes colour.”

“When will it change colour?”

“To-morrow night between eleven and twelve. Are you satisfied?”

“Need you ask me?”

“Not a word of this either to your friend or to Prudence, or to anybody whatever.”

“I promise.”

“Now, kiss me, and we will go back to the dining-room.”

She held up her lips to me, smoothed her hair again, and we went out of the room, she singing, and I almost beside myself.

In the next room she stopped for a moment and said to me in a low voice:

“It must seem strange to you that I am ready to take you at a moment’s notice. Shall I tell you why? It is,” she continued, taking my hand and placing it against her heart so that I could feel how rapidly and violently it palpitated; “it is because I shall not live as long as others, and I have promised myself to live more quickly.”

“Don’t speak to me like that, I entreat you.”

“Oh, make yourself easy,” she continued, laughing; “however short a time I have to live, I shall live longer than you will love me!”

And she went singing into the dining-room.

“Where is Nanine?” she said, seeing Gaston and Prudence alone.

“She is asleep in your room, waiting till you are ready to go to bed,” replied Prudence.

“Poor thing, I am killing her! And now gentlemen, it is time to go.”

Ten minutes after, Gaston and I left the house. Marguerite shook hands with me and said good-bye. Prudence remained behind.

“Well,” said Gaston, when we were in the street, “what do you think of Marguerite?”

“She is an angel, and I am madly in love with her.” “So I guessed; did you tell her so?”

“Yes.”

“And did she promise to believe you?”

“No.”

“She is not like Prudence.”

“Did she promise to?”

“Better still, my dear fellow. You wouldn’t think it; but she is still not half bad, poor old Duvernoy!”

Chapter 11

At this point Armand stopped.

“Would you close the window for me?” he said. “I am beginning to feel cold. Meanwhile, I will get into bed.”

I closed the window. Armand, who was still very weak, took off his dressing-gown and lay down in bed, resting his head for a few moments on the pillow, like a man who is tired by much talking or disturbed by painful memories.

“Perhaps you have been talking too much,” I said to him. “Would you rather for me to go and leave you to sleep? You can tell me the rest of the story another day.”

“Are you tired of listening to it?”

“Quite the contrary.”

“Then I will go on. If you left me alone, I should not sleep.”

When I returned home (he continued, without needing to pause and recollect himself, so fresh were all the details in his mind), I did not go to bed, but began to reflect over the day’s adventure. The meeting, the introduction, the promise of Marguerite, had followed one another so rapidly, and so unexpectedly, that there were moments when it seemed to me I had been dreaming. Nevertheless, it was not the first time that a girl like Marguerite had promised herself to a man on the morrow of the day on which he had asked for the promise.

Though, indeed, I made this reflection, the first impression produced on me by my future mistress was so strong that it still persisted. I refused obstinately to see in her a woman like other women, and, with the vanity so common to all men, I was ready to believe that she could not but share the attraction which drew me to her.

Yet, I had before me plenty of instances to the contrary, and I had often heard that the affection of Marguerite was a thing to be had more or less dear, according to the season.

But, on the other hand, how was I to reconcile this reputation with her constant refusal of the young count whom we had found at her house? You may say that he was unattractive to her, and that, as she was splendidly kept by the duke, she would be more likely to choose a man who was attractive to her, if she were to take another lover. If so, why did she not choose Gaston, who was rich, witty, and charming, and why did she care for me, whom she had thought so ridiculous the first time she had seen me?

It is true that there are events of a moment which tell more than the courtship of a year. Of those who were at the supper, I was the only one who had been concerned at her leaving the table. I had followed her, I had been so affected as to be unable to hide it from her, I had wept as I kissed her hand. This circumstance, added to my daily visits during the two months of her illness, might have shown her that I was somewhat different from the other men she knew, and perhaps she had said to herself that for a love which could thus manifest itself she might well do what she had done so often that it had no more consequence for her.

All these suppositions, as you may see, were improbable enough; but whatever might have been the reason of her consent, one thing was certain, she had consented.

Now, I was in love with Marguerite. I had nothing more to ask of her. Nevertheless, though she was only a kept woman, I had so anticipated for myself, perhaps to poetize it a little, a hopeless love, that the nearer the moment approached when I should have nothing more to hope, the more I doubted. I did not close my eyes all night.

I scarcely knew myself. I was half demented. Now, I seemed to myself not handsome or rich or elegant enough to possess such a woman, now I was filled with vanity at the thought of it; then I began to fear lest Marguerite had no more than a few days’ caprice for me, and I said to myself that since we should soon have to part, it would be better not to keep her appointment, but to write and tell her my fears and leave her. From that I went on to unlimited hope, unbounded confidence. I dreamed incredible dreams of the future; I said to myself that she should owe to me her moral and physical recovery, that I should spend my whole life with her, and that her love should make me happier than all the maidenly loves in the world.

But I can not repeat to you the thousand thoughts that rose from my heart to my head, and that only faded away with the sleep that came to me at daybreak.

When I awoke it was two o’clock. The weather was superb. I don’t think life ever seemed to me so beautiful and so full of possibilities. The memories of the night before came to me without shadow or hindrance, escorted gaily by the hopes of the night to come. From time to time my heart leaped with love and joy in my breast. A sweet fever thrilled me. I thought no more of the reasons which had filled my mind before I slept. I saw only the result, I thought only of the hour when I was to see Marguerite again.

It was impossible to stay indoors. My room seemed too small to contain my happiness. I needed the whole of nature to unbosom myself.

I went out. Passing by the Rue d’Antin, I saw Marguerite’s coupe’ waiting for her at the door. I went toward the Champs-Elysees. I loved all the people whom I met. Love gives one a kind of goodness.

After I had been walking for an hour from the Marly horses to the Rond-Point, I saw Marguerite’s carriage in the distance; I divined rather than recognised it. As it was turning the corner of the Champs-Elysees it stopped, and a tall young man left a group of people with whom he was talking and came up to her. They talked for a few moments; the young man returned to his friends, the horses set out again, and as I came near the group I recognised the one who had spoken to Marguerite as the Comte de G., whose portrait I had seen and whom Prudence had indicated to me as the man to whom Marguerite owed her position. It was to him that she had closed her doors the night before; I imagined that she had stopped her carriage in order to explain to him why she had done so, and I hoped that at the same time she had found some new pretext for not receiving him on the following night.

How I spent the rest of the day I do not know; I walked, smoked, talked, but what I said, whom I met, I had utterly forgotten by ten o’clock in the evening.

All I remember is that when I returned home, I spent three hours over my toilet, and I looked at my watch and my clock a hundred times, which unfortunately both pointed to the same hour.

When it struck half past ten, I said to myself that it was time to go.

I lived at that time in the Rue de Provence; I followed the Rue du Mont-Blanc, crossed the Boulevard, went up the Rue Louis-le-Grand, the Rue de Port-Mahon, and the Rue d’Antin. I looked up at Marguerite’s windows. There was a light. I rang. I asked the porter if Mlle. Gautier was at home. He replied that she never came in before eleven or a quarter past eleven. I looked at my watch. I intended to come quite slowly, and I had come in five minutes from the Rue de Provence to the Rue d’Antin.

I walked to and fro in the street; there are no shops, and at that hour it is quite deserted. In half an hour’s time

Marguerite arrived. She looked around her as she got down from her coupe’, as if she were looking for some one. The carriage drove off; the stables were not at the house. Just as Marguerite was going to ring, I went up to her and said, “Good-evening.”

“Ah, it is you,” she said, in a tone that by no means reassured me as to her pleasure in seeing me.

“Did you not promise me that I might come and see you to-day?”

“Quite right. I had forgotten.”

This word upset all the reflections I had had during the day. Nevertheless, I was beginning to get used to her ways, and I did not leave her, as I should certainly have done once. We entered. Nanine had already opened the door.

“Has Prudence come?” said Marguerite.

“No, madame.”

“Say that she is to be admitted as soon as she comes. But first put out the lamp in the drawing-room, and if any one comes, say that I have not come back and shall not be coming back.”

She was like a woman who is preoccupied with something, and perhaps annoyed by an unwelcome guest. I did not know what to do or say. Marguerite went toward her bedroom; I remained where I was.

“Come,” she said.

She took off her hat and her velvet cloak and threw them on the bed, then let herself drop into a great armchair beside the fire, which she kept till the very beginning of summer, and said to me as she fingered her watch-chain:

“Well, what news have you got for me?”

“None, except that I ought not to have come to-night.”

“Why?”

“Because you seem vexed, and no doubt I am boring you.”

“You are not boring me; only I am not well; I have been suffering all day. I could not sleep, and I have a frightful headache.”

“Shall I go away and let you go to bed?”

“Oh, you can stay. If I want to go to bed I don’t mind your being here.”

At that moment there was a ring.

“Who is coming now?” she said, with an impatient movement.

A few minutes after there was another ring.

“Isn’t there any one to go to the door? I shall have to go.” She got up and said to me, “Wait here.”

She went through the rooms, and I heard her open the outer door. I listened.

The person whom she had admitted did not come farther than the dining-room. At the first word I recognised the voice of the young Comte de N.

“How are you this evening?” he said.

“Not well,” replied Marguerite drily.

“Am I disturbing you?”

“Perhaps.

“How you receive me! What have I done, my dear Marguerite?”

“My dear friend, you have done nothing. I am ill; I must go to bed, so you will be good enough to go. It is sickening not to be able to return at night without your making your appearance five minutes afterward. What is it you want? For me to be your mistress? Well, I have already told you a hundred times, No; you simply worry me, and you might as well go somewhere else. I repeat to you to-day, for the last time, I don’t want to have anything to do with you; that’s settled. Good-bye. Here’s Nanine coming in; she can light you to the door. Good-night.”

Without adding another word, or listening to what the young man stammered out, Marguerite returned to the room and slammed the door. Nanine entered a moment after.

“Now understand,” said Marguerite, “you are always to say to that idiot that I am not in, or that I will not see him. I am tired out with seeing people who always want the same thing; who pay me for it, and then think they are quit of me. If those who are going to go in for our hateful business only knew what it really was they would sooner be chambermaids. But no, vanity, the desire of having dresses and carriages and diamonds carries us away; one believes what one hears, for here, as elsewhere, there is such a thing as belief, and one uses up one’s heart, one’s body, one’s beauty, little by little; one is feared like a beast of prey, scorned like a pariah, surrounded by people who always take more than they give; and one fine day one dies like a dog in a ditch, after having ruined others and ruined one’s self.”

“Come, come, madame, be calm,” said Nanine; “your nerves are a bit upset to-night.”

“This dress worries me,” continued Marguerite, unhooking her bodice; “give me a dressing-gown. Well, and Prudence?”

“She has not come yet, but I will send her to you, madame, the moment she comes.”

“There’s one, now,” Marguerite went on, as she took off her dress and put on a white dressing-gown, “there’s one who knows very well how to find me when she is in want of me, and yet she can’t do me a service decently. She knows I am waiting for an answer. She knows how anxious I am, and I am sure she is going about on her own account, without giving a thought to me.”

“Perhaps she had to wait.”

“Let us have some punch.”

“It will do you no good, madame,” said Nanine.

“So much the better. Bring some fruit, too, and a pate or a wing of chicken; something or other, at once. I am hungry.”

Need I tell you the impression which this scene made upon me, or can you not imagine it?

“You are going to have supper with me,” she said to me; “meanwhile, take a book. I am going into my dressing-room for a moment.”

She lit the candles of a candelabra, opened a door at the foot of the bed, and disappeared.

I began to think over this poor girl’s life, and my love for her was mingled with a great pity. I walked to and fro in the room, thinking over things, when Prudence entered.

“Ah, you here?”‘ she said, “where is Marguerite?”

“In her dressing-room.”

“I will wait. By the way, do you know she thinks you charming?”

“No.”

“She hasn’t told you?”

“Not at all.”

“How are you here?”

“I have come to pay her a visit.”

“At midnight?”

“Why not?”

“Farceur!”

“She has received me, as a matter of fact, very badly.”

“She will receive you better by and bye.”

“Do you think so?”

“I have some good news for her.”

“No harm in that. So she has spoken to you about me?”

“Last night, or rather to-night, when you and your friend went. By the way, what is your friend called? Gaston R., his name is, isn’t it?”

“Yes,” said I, not without smiling, as I thought of what Gaston had confided to me, and saw that Prudence scarcely even knew his name.

“He is quite nice, that fellow; what does he do?”

“He has twenty-five thousand francs a year.”

“Ah, indeed! Well, to return to you. Marguerite asked me all about you: who you were, what you did, what mistresses you had had; in short, everything that one could ask about a man of your age. I told her all I knew, and added that you were a charming young man. That’s all.”

“Thanks. Now tell me what it was she wanted to say to you last night.”

“Nothing at all. It was only to get rid of the count; but I have really something to see her about to-day, and I am bringing her an answer now.”

At this moment Marguerite reappeared from her dressing-room, wearing a coquettish little nightcap with bunches of yellow ribbons, technically known as “cabbages.” She looked ravishing. She had satin slippers on her bare feet, and was in the act of polishing her nails.

“Well,” she said, seeing Prudence, “have you seen the duke?”

“Yes, indeed.”

“And what did he say to you?”

“He gave me–“

“How much?”

“Six thousand.”

“Have you got it?”

“Yes.

“Did he seem put out?”

“No.”

“Poor man!”

This “Poor man!” was said in a tone impossible to render. Marguerite took the six notes of a thousand francs.

“It was quite time,” she said. “My dear Prudence, are you in want of any money?”

“You know, my child, it is the 15th in a couple of days, so if you could lend me three or four hundred francs, you would do me a real service.”

“Send over to-morrow; it is too late to get change now.”

“Don’t forget.”

“No fear. Will you have supper with us?”

“No, Charles is waiting for me.”

“You are still devoted to him?”

“Crazy, my dear! I will see you to-morrow. Good-bye, Armand.”

Mme. Duvernoy went out.

Marguerite opened the drawer of a side-table and threw the bank-notes into it.

“Will you permit me to get into bed?” she said with a smile, as she moved toward the bed.

“Not only permit, but I beg of you.”

She turned back the covering and got into bed.

“Now,” said she, “come and sit down by me, and let’s have a talk.”

Prudence was right: the answer that she had brought to Marguerite had put her into a good humour.

“Will you forgive me for my bad temper tonight?” she said, taking my hand.

“I am ready to forgive you as often as you like.”

“And you love me?”

“Madly.”

“In spite of my bad disposition?”

“In spite of all.”

“You swear it?”

“Yes,” I said in a whisper.

Nanine entered, carrying plates, a cold chicken, a bottle of claret, and some strawberries.

“I haven’t had any punch made,” said Nanine; “claret is better for you. Isn’t it, sir?”

“Certainly,” I replied, still under the excitement of Marguerite’s last words, my eyes fixed ardently upon her.

“Good,” said she; “put it all on the little table, and draw it up to the bed; we will help ourselves. This is the third night you have sat up, and you must be in want of sleep. Go to bed. I don’t want anything more.”

“Shall I lock the door?”

“I should think so! And above all, tell them not to admit anybody before midday.”

Chapter 12

At five o’clock in the morning, as the light began to appear through the curtains, Marguerite said to me: “Forgive me if I send you away; but I must. The duke comes every morning; they will tell him, when he comes, that I am asleep, and perhaps he will wait until I wake.”

I took Marguerite’s head in my hands; her loosened hair streamed about her; I gave her a last kiss, saying: “When shall I see you again?”

“Listen,” she said; “take the little gilt key on the mantelpiece, open that door; bring me back the key and go. In the course of the day you shall have a letter, and my orders, for you know you are to obey blindly.”

“Yes; but if I should already ask for something?”

“What?”

“Let me have that key.”

“What you ask is a thing I have never done for any one.”

“Well, do it for me, for I swear to you that I don’t love you as the others have loved you.”

“Well, keep it; but it only depends on me to make it useless to you, after all.”

“How?”

“There are bolts on the door.”

“Wretch!”

“I will have them taken off.”

“You love, then, a little?”

“I don’t know how it is, but it seems to me as if I do! Now, go; I can’t keep my eyes open.”

I held her in my arms for a few seconds and then went.

The streets were empty, the great city was still asleep, a sweet freshness circulated in the streets that a few hours later would be filled with the noise of men. It seemed to me as if this sleeping city belonged to me; I searched my memory for the names of those whose happiness I had once envied; and I could not recall one without finding myself the happier.

To be loved by a pure young girl, to be the first to reveal to her the strange mystery of love, is indeed a great happiness, but it is the simplest thing in the world. To take captive a heart which has had no experience of attack, is to enter an unfortified and ungarrisoned city. Education, family feeling, the sense of duty, the family, are strong sentinels, but there are no sentinels so vigilant as not to be deceived by a girl of sixteen to whom nature, by the voice of the man she loves, gives the first counsels of love, all the more ardent because they seem so pure.

The more a girl believes in goodness, the more easily will she give way, if not to her lover, at least to love, for being without mistrust she is without force, and to win her love is a triumph that can be gained by any young man of five-and-twenty. See how young girls are watched and guarded! The walls of convents are not high enough, mothers have no locks strong enough, religion has no duties constant enough, to shut these charming birds in their cages, cages not even strewn with flowers. Then how surely must they desire the world which is hidden from them, how surely must they find it tempting, how surely must they listen to the first voice which comes to tell its secrets through their bars, and bless the hand which is the first to raise a corner of the mysterious veil!

But to be really loved by a courtesan: that is a victory of infinitely greater difficulty. With them the body has worn out the soul, the senses have burned up the heart, dissipation has blunted the feelings. They have long known the words that we say to them, the means we use; they have sold the love that they inspire. They love by profession, and not by instinct. They are guarded better by their calculations than a virgin by her mother and her convent; and they have invented the word caprice for that unbartered love which they allow themselves from time to time, for a rest, for an excuse, for a consolation, like usurers, who cheat a thousand, and think they have bought their own redemption by once lending a sovereign to a poor devil who is dying of hunger without asking for interest or a receipt.

Then, when God allows love to a courtesan, that love, which at first seems like a pardon, becomes for her almost without penitence. When a creature who has all her past to reproach herself with is taken all at once by a profound, sincere, irresistible love, of which she had never felt herself capable; when she has confessed her love, how absolutely the man whom she loves dominates her! How strong he feels with his cruel right to say: You do no more for love than you have done for money. They know not what proof to give. A child, says the fable, having often amused himself by crying “Help! a wolf!” in order to disturb the labourers in the field, was one day devoured by a Wolf, because those whom he had so often deceived no longer believed in his cries for help. It is the same with these unhappy women when they love seriously. They have lied so often that no one will believe them, and in the midst of their remorse they are devoured by their love.

Hence those great devotions, those austere retreats from the world, of which some of them have given an example.

But when the man who inspires this redeeming love is great enough in soul to receive it without remembering the past, when he gives himself up to it, when, in short, he loves as he is loved, this man drains at one draught all earthly emotions, and after such a love his heart will be closed to every other.

I did not make these reflections on the morning when I returned home. They could but have been the presentiment of what was to happen to me, and, despite my love for Marguerite, I did not foresee such consequences. I make these reflections to-day. Now that all is irrevocably ended, they a rise naturally out of what has taken place.

But to return to the first day of my liaison. When I reached home I was in a state of mad gaiety. As I thought of how the barriers which my imagination had placed between Marguerite and myself had disappeared, of how she was now mine; of the place I now had in her thoughts, of the key to her room which I had in my pocket, and of my right to use this key, I was satisfied with life, proud of myself, and I loved God because he had let such things be.

One day a young man is passing in the street, he brushes against a woman, looks at her, turns, goes on his way. He does not know the woman, and she has pleasures, griefs, loves, in which he has no part. He does not exist for her, and perhaps, if he spoke to her, she would only laugh at him, as Marguerite had laughed at me. Weeks, months, years pass, and all at once, when they have each followed their fate along a different path, the logic of chance brings them face to face. The woman becomes the man’s mistress and loves him. How? why? Their two existences are henceforth one; they have scarcely begun to know one another when it seems as if they had known one another always, and all that had gone before is wiped out from the memory of the two lovers. It is curious, one must admit.

As for me, I no longer remembered how I had lived before that night. My whole being was exalted into joy at the memory of the words we had exchanged during that first night. Either Marguerite was very clever in deception, or she had conceived for me one of those sudden passions which are revealed in the first kiss, and which die, often enough, as suddenly as they were born.

The more I reflected the more I said to myself that Marguerite had no reason for feigning a love which she did not feel, and I said to myself also that women have two ways of loving, one of which may arise from the other: they love with the heart or with the senses. Often a woman takes a lover in obedience to the mere will of the senses, and learns without expecting it the mystery of immaterial love, and lives henceforth only through her heart; often a girl who has sought in marriage only the union of two pure affections receives the sudden revelation of physical love, that energetic conclusion of the purest impressions of the soul.

In the midst of these thoughts I fell asleep; I was awakened by a letter from Marguerite containing these words:

“Here are my orders: To-night at the Vaudeville.

“Come during the third entr’acte.”

I put the letter into a drawer, so that I might always have it at band in case I doubted its reality, as I did from time to time.

She did not tell me to come to see her during the day, and I dared not go; but I had so great a desire to see her before the evening that I went to the Champs-Elysees, where I again saw her pass and repass, as I had on the previous day.

At seven o’clock I was at the Vaudeville. Never had I gone to a theatre so early. The boxes filled one after another. Only one remained empty, the stage box. At the beginning of the third act I heard the door of the box, on which my eyes had been almost constantly fixed, open, and Marguerite appeared. She came to the front at once, looked around the stalls, saw me, and thanked me with a look.

That night she was marvellously beautiful. Was I the cause of this coquetry? Did she love me enough to believe that the more beautiful she looked the happier I should be? I did not know, but if that had been her intention she certainly succeeded, for when she appeared all heads turned, and the actor who was then on the stage looked to see who had produced such an effect on the audience by her mere presence there.

And I had the key of this woman’s room, and in three or four hours she would again be mine!

People blame those who let themselves be ruined by actresses and kept women; what astonishes me is that twenty times greater follies are not committed for them. One must have lived that life, as I have, to know how much the little vanities which they afford their lovers every day help to fasten deeper into the heart, since we have no other word for it, the love which he has for them.

Prudence next took her place in the box, and a man, whom I recognised as the Comte de G., seated himself at the back. As I saw him, a cold shiver went through my heart.

Doubtless Marguerite perceived the impression made on me by the presence of this man, for she smiled to me again, and, turning her back to the count, appeared to be very attentive to the play. At the third entr’acte she turned and said two words: the count left the box, and Marguerite beckoned to me to come to her.

“Good-evening,” she said as I entered, holding out her hand.

“Good-evening,” I replied to both Marguerite and Prudence.

“Sit down.”

“But I am taking some one’s place. Isn’t the Comte de G. coming back?”

“Yes; I sent him to fetch some sweets, so that we could talk by ourselves for a moment. Mme. Duvernoy is in the secret.”

“Yes, my children,” said she; “have no fear. I shall say nothing.”

“What is the matter with you to-night?” said Marguerite, rising and coming to the back of the box and kissing me on the forehead.

“I am not very well.”

“You should go to bed,” she replied, with that ironical air which went so well with her delicate and witty face.

“Where?”

“At home.”

“You know that I shouldn’t be able to sleep there.”

“Well, then, it won’t do for you to come and be pettish here because you have seen a man in my box.”

“It is not for that reason.”

“Yes, it is. I know; and you are wrong, so let us say no more about it. You will go back with Prudence after the theatre, and you will stay there till I call. Do you understand?”

“Yes.”

How could I disobey?

“You still love me?”

“Can you ask?”

“You have thought of me?”

“All day long.”

“Do you know that I am really afraid that I shall get very fond of you? Ask Prudence.”

“Ah,” said she, “it is amazing!”

“Now, you must go back to your seat. The count will be coming back, and there is nothing to be gained by his finding you here.”

“Because you don’t like seeing him.”

“No; only if you had told me that you wanted to come to the Vaudeville to-night I could have got this box for you as well as he.”

“Unfortunately, he got it for me without my asking him, and he asked me to go with him; you know well enough that I couldn’t refuse. All I could do was to write and tell you where I was going, so that you could see me, and because I wanted to see you myself; but since this is the way you thank me, I shall profit by the lesson.”

“I was wrong; forgive me.”

“Well and good; and now go back nicely to your place, and, above all, no more jealousy.”

She kissed me again, and I left the box. In the passage I met the count coming back. I returned to my seat.

After all, the presence of M. de G. in Marguerite’s box was the most natural thing in the world. He had been her lover, he sent her a box, he accompanied her to the theatre; it was all quite natural, and if I was to have a mistress like Marguerite I should have to get used to her ways.

Nonetheless, I was very unhappy all the rest of the evening, and went away very sadly after having seen Prudence, the count, and Marguerite get into the carriage, which was waiting for them at the door.

However, a quarter of an hour later I was at Prudence’s. She had only just got in.

Chapter 13

“You have come almost as quickly as we,” said Prudence.

“Yes,” I answered mechanically. “Where is Marguerite?”

“At home.”

“Alone?”

“With M. de G.”

I walked to and fro in the room.

“Well, what is the matter?”

“Do you think it amuses me to wait here till M. de G. leaves Marguerite’s?”

“How unreasonable you are! Don’t you see that Marguerite can’t turn the count out of doors? M. de G. has been with her for a long time; he has always given her a lot of money; he still does. Marguerite spends more than a hundred thousand francs a year; she has heaps of debts. The duke gives her all that she asks for, but she does not always venture to ask him for all that she is in want of. It would never do for her to quarrel with the count, who is worth to her at least ten thousand francs a year. Marguerite is very fond of you, my dear fellow, but your liaison with her, in her interests and in yours, ought not to be serious. You with your seven or eight thousand francs a year, what could you do toward supplying all the luxuries which a girl like that is in need of? It would not be enough to keep her carriage. Take Marguerite for what she is, for a good, bright, pretty girl; be her lover for a month, two months; give her flowers, sweets, boxes at the theatre; but don’t get any other ideas into your head, and don’t make absurd scenes of jealousy. You know whom you have to do with; Marguerite isn’t a saint. She likes you, you are very fond of her; let the rest alone. You amaze me when I see you so touchy; you have the most charming mistress in Paris. She receives you in the greatest style, she is covered with diamonds, she needn’t cost you a penny, unless you like, and you are not satisfied. My dear fellow, you ask too much!”

“You are right, but I can’t help it; the idea that that man is her lover hurts me horribly.”

“In the first place,” replied Prudence; “is he still her lover? He is a man who is useful to her, nothing more. She has closed her doors to him for two days; he came this morning–she could not but accept the box and let him accompany her. He saw her home; he has gone in for a moment, he is not staying, because you