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?”
“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.”
“There are bolts on the door.”
“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 today. 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.
“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.
“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?”
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.
Last updated Monday, December 22, 2014 at 10:49