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 today?”
“Quite right. I had forgotten.”
This word upset all the reflections I had had during the day. Nevertheless, I was beginning to get used to her ways, and I did not leave her, as I should certainly have done once. We entered. Nanine had already opened the door.
“Has Prudence come?” said Marguerite.
“Say that she is to be admitted as soon as she comes. But first put out the lamp in the drawing-room, and if any one comes, say that I have not come back and shall not be coming back.”
She was like a woman who is preoccupied with something, and perhaps annoyed by an unwelcome guest. I did not know what to do or say. Marguerite went toward her bedroom; I remained where I 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.”
“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?”
“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 today, 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?”
“She hasn’t told you?”
“Not at all.”
“How are you here?”
“I have come to pay her a visit.”
“She has received me, as a matter of fact, very badly.”
“She will receive you better by and bye.”
“Do you think so?”
“I have some good news for her.”
“No harm in that. So she has spoken to you about me?”
“Last night, or rather to-night, when you and your friend went. By the way, what is your friend called? Gaston R., his name is, 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 today, and I am bringing her an answer now.”
At this moment Marguerite reappeared from her dressing-room, wearing a coquettish little nightcap with bunches of yellow ribbons, technically known as “cabbages.” She looked ravishing. She had satin slippers on her bare feet, and was in the act of polishing her nails.
“Well,” she said, seeing Prudence, “have you seen the duke?”
“And what did he say to you?”
“He gave me —”
“Have you got it?”
“Did he seem put out?”
This “Poor man!” was said in a tone impossible to render. Marguerite took the six notes of a thousand francs.
“It was quite time,” she said. “My dear Prudence, are you in want of any money?”
“You know, my child, it is the 15th in a couple of days, so if you could lend me three or four hundred francs, you would do me a real service.”
“Send over tomorrow; it is too late to get change now.”
“No fear. Will you have supper with us?”
“No, Charles is waiting for me.”
“You are still devoted to him?”
“Crazy, my dear! I will see you tomorrow. 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?”
“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.”
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:07