Camille, by Alexandre Dumas

Chapter 18

It would be difficult to give you all the details of our new life. It was made up of a series of little childish events, charming for us but insignificant to any one else. You know what it is to be in love with a woman, you know how it cuts short the days, and with what loving listlessness one drifts into the morrow. You know that forgetfulness of everything which comes of a violent confident, reciprocated love. Every being who is not the beloved one seems a useless being in creation. One regrets having cast scraps of one’s heart to other women, and one can not believe in the possibility of ever pressing another hand than that which one holds between one’s hands. The mind admits neither work nor remembrance; nothing, in short, which can distract it from the one thought in which it is ceaselessly absorbed. Every day one discovers in one’s mistress a new charm and unknown delights. Existence itself is but the unceasing accomplishment of an unchanging desire; the soul is but the vestal charged to feed the sacred fire of love.

We often went at night-time to sit in the little wood above the house; there we listened to the cheerful harmonies of evening, both of us thinking of the coming hours which should leave us to one another till the dawn of day. At other times we did not get up all day; we did not even let the sunlight enter our room.

The curtains were hermetically closed, and for a moment the external world did not exist for us. Nanine alone had the right to open our door, but only to bring in our meals and even these we took without getting up, interrupting them with laughter and gaiety. To that succeeded a brief sleep, for, disappearing into the depths of our love, we were like two divers who only come to the surface to take breath.

Nevertheless, I surprised moments of sadness, even tears, in Marguerite; I asked her the cause of her trouble, and she answered:

“Our love is not like other loves, my Armand. You love me as if I had never belonged to another, and I tremble lest later on, repenting of your love, and accusing me of my past, you should let me fall back into that life from which you have taken me. I think that now that I have tasted of another life, I should die if I went back to the old one. Tell me that you will never leave me!”

“I swear it!”

At these words she looked at me as if to read in my eyes whether my oath was sincere; then flung herself into my arms, and, hiding her head in my bosom, said to me: “You don’t know how much I love you!”

One evening, seated on the balcony outside the window, we looked at the moon which seemed to rise with difficulty out of its bed of clouds, and we listened to the wind violently rustling the trees; we held each other’s hands, and for a whole quarter of an hour we had not spoken, when Marguerite said to me:

“Winter is at hand. Would you like for us to go abroad?”

“Where?”

“To Italy.”

“You are tired of here?”

“I am afraid of the winter; I am particularly afraid of your return to Paris.”

“Why?”

“For many reasons.”

And she went on abruptly, without giving me her reasons for fears:

“Will you go abroad? I will sell all that I have; we will go and live there, and there will be nothing left of what I was; no one will know who I am. Will you?”

“By all means, if you like, Marguerite, let us travel,” I said. “But where is the necessity of selling things which you will be glad of when we return? I have not a large enough fortune to accept such a sacrifice; but I have enough for us to be able to travel splendidly for five or six months, if that will amuse you the least in the world.”

“After all, no,” she said, leaving the window and going to sit down on the sofa at the other end of the room. “Why should we spend money abroad? I cost you enough already, here.”

“You reproach me, Marguerite; it isn’t generous.”

“Forgive me, my friend,” she said, giving me her hand. “This thunder weather gets on my nerves; I do not say what I intend to say.”

And after embracing me she fell into a long reverie.

Scenes of this kind often took place, and though I could not discover their cause, I could not fail to see in Marguerite signs of disquietude in regard to the future. She could not doubt my love, which increased day by day, and yet I often found her sad, without being able to get any explanation of the reason, except some physical cause. Fearing that so monotonous a life was beginning to weary her, I proposed returning to Paris; but she always refused, assuring me that she could not be so happy anywhere as in the country.

Prudence now came but rarely; but she often wrote letters which I never asked to see, though, every time they came, they seemed to preoccupy Marguerite deeply. I did not know what to think.

One day Marguerite was in her room. I entered. She was writing. “To whom are you writing?” I asked. “To Prudence. Do you want to see what I am writing?”

I had a horror of anything that might look like suspicion, and I answered that I had no desire to know what she was writing; and yet I was certain that letter would have explained to me the cause of her sadness.

Next day the weather was splendid.’ Marguerite proposed to me to take the boat and go as far as the island of Croissy. She seemed very cheerful; when we got back it was five o’clock.

“Mme. Duvernoy has been here,” said Nanine, as she saw us enter. “She has gone again?” asked Marguerite.

“Yes, madame, in the carriage; she said it was arranged.”

“Quite right,” said Marguerite sharply. “Serve the dinner.”

Two days afterward there came a letter from Prudence, and for a fortnight Marguerite seemed to have got rid of her mysterious gloom, for which she constantly asked my forgiveness, now that it no longer existed. Still, the carriage did not return.

“How is it that Prudence does not send you back your carriage?” I asked one day.

“One of the horses is ill, and there are some repairs to be done. It is better to have that done while we are here, and don’t need a carriage, than to wait till we get back to Paris.”

Prudence came two days afterward, and confirmed what Marguerite had said. The two women went for a walk in the garden, and when I joined them they changed the conversation. That night, as she was going, Prudence complained of the cold and asked Marguerite to lend her a shawl.

So a month passed, and all the time Marguerite was more joyous and more affectionate than she ever had been. Nevertheless, the carriage did not return, the shawl had not been sent back, and I began to be anxious in spite of myself, and as I knew in which drawer Marguerite put Prudence’s letters, I took advantage of a moment when she was at the other end of the garden, went to the drawer, and tried to open it; in vain, for it was locked. When I opened the drawer in which the trinkets and diamonds were usually kept, these opened without resistance, but the jewel cases had disappeared, along with their contents no doubt.

A sharp fear penetrated my heart. I might indeed ask Marguerite for the truth in regard to these disappearances, but it was certain that she would not confess it.

“My good Marguerite,” I said to her, “I am going to ask your permission to go to Paris. They do not know my address, and I expect there are letters from my father waiting for me. I have no doubt he is concerned; I ought to answer him.”

“Go, my friend,” she said; “but be back early.” I went straight to Prudence.

“Come,” said I, without beating about the bush, “tell me frankly, where are Marguerite’s horses?”

“Sold.”

“The shawl?”

“Sold.”

“The diamonds?”

“Pawned.”

“And who has sold and pawned them?”

“Why did you not tell me?”

“Because Marguerite made me promise not to.”

“And why did you not ask me for money?”

“Because she wouldn’t let me.”

“And where has this money gone?”

“In payments.”

“Is she much in debt?”

“Thirty thousand francs, or thereabouts. Ah, my dear fellow, didn’t I tell you? You wouldn’t believe me; now you are convinced. The upholsterer whom the duke had agreed to settle with was shown out of the house when he presented himself, and the duke wrote next day to say that he would answer for nothing in regard to Mlle. Gautier. This man wanted his money; he was given part payment out of the few thousand francs that I got from you; then some kind souls warned him that his debtor had been abandoned by the duke and was living with a penniless young man; the other creditors were told the same; they asked for their money, and seized some of the goods. Marguerite wanted to sell everything, but it was too late, and besides I should have opposed it. But it was necessary to pay, and in order not to ask you for money, she sold her horses and her shawls, and pawned her jewels. Would you like to see the receipts and the pawn tickets?”

And Prudence opened the drawer and showed me the papers.

“Ah, you think,” she continued, with the insistence of a woman who can say, I was right after all, “ah, you think it is enough to be in love, and to go into the country and lead a dreamy, pastoral life. No, my friend, no. By the side of that ideal life, there is a material life, and the purest resolutions are held to earth by threads which seem slight enough, but which are of iron, not easily to be broken. If Marguerite has not been unfaithful to you twenty times, it is because she has an exceptional nature. It is not my fault for not advising her to, for I couldn’t bear to see the poor girl stripping herself of everything. She wouldn’t; she replied that she loved you, and she wouldn’t be unfaithful to you for anything in the world. All that is very pretty, very poetical, but one can’t pay one’s creditors in that coin, and now she can’t free herself from debt, unless she can raise thirty thousand francs.”

“All right, I will provide that amount.”

“You will borrow it?”

“Good heavens! Why, yes!”

“A fine thing that will be to do; you will fall out with your father, cripple your resources, and one doesn’t find thirty thousand francs from one day to another. Believe me, my dear Armand, I know women better than you do; do not commit this folly; you will be sorry for it one day. Be reasonable. I don’t advise you to leave Marguerite, but live with her as you did at the beginning. Let her find the means to get out of this difficulty. The duke will come back in a little while. The Comte de N., if she would take him, he told me yesterday even, would pay all her debts, and give her four or five thousand francs a month. He has two hundred thousand a year. It would be a position for her, while you will certainly be obliged to leave her. Don’t wait till you are ruined, especially as the Comte de N. is a fool, and nothing would prevent your still being Marguerite’s lover. She would cry a little at the beginning, but she would come to accustom herself to it, and you would thank me one day for what you had done. Imagine that Marguerite is married, and deceive the husband; that is all. I have already told you all this once, only at that time it was merely advice, and now it is almost a necessity.”

What Prudence said was cruelly true.

“This is how it is,” she went on, putting away the papers she had just shown me; “women like Marguerite always foresee that some one will love them, never that they will love; otherwise they would put aside money, and at thirty they could afford the luxury of having a lover for nothing. If I had only known once what I know now! In short, say nothing to Marguerite, and bring her back to Paris. You have lived with her alone for four or five months; that is quite enough. Shut your eyes now; that is all that any one asks of you. At the end of a fortnight she will take the Comte de N., and she will save up during the winter, and next summer you will begin over again. That is how things are done, my dear fellow!”

And Prudence appeared to be enchanted with her advice, which I refused indignantly.

Not only my love and my dignity would not let me act thus, but I was certain that, feeling as she did now, Marguerite would die rather than accept another lover.

“Enough joking,” I said to Prudence; “tell me exactly how much Marguerite is in need of.”

“I have told you: thirty thousand francs.”

“And when does she require this sum?”

“Before the end of two months.”

“She shall have it.”

Prudence shrugged her shoulders.

“I will give it to you,” I continued, “but you must swear to me that you will not tell Marguerite that I have given it to you.”

“Don’t be afraid.”

“And if she sends you anything else to sell or pawn, let me know.”

“There is no danger. She has nothing left.”

I went straight to my own house to see if there were any letters from my father. There were four.

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Last updated Saturday, March 1, 2014 at 20:37