In his first three letters my father inquired the cause of my silence; in the last he allowed me to see that he had heard of my change of life, and informed me that he was about to come and see me.
I have always had a great respect and a sincere affection for my father. I replied that I had been travelling for a short time, and begged him to let me know beforehand what day he would arrive, so that I could be there to meet him.
I gave my servant my address in the country, telling him to bring me the first letter that came with the postmark of C., then I returned to Bougival.
Marguerite was waiting for me at the garden gate. She looked at me anxiously. Throwing her arms round my neck, she said to me: “Have you seen Prudence?”
“You were a long time in Paris.”
“I found letters from my father to which I had to reply.”
A few minutes afterward Nanine entered, all out of breath. Marguerite rose and talked with her in whispers. When Nanine had gone out Marguerite sat down by me again and said, taking my hand:
“Why did you deceive me? You went to see Prudence.”
“Who told you?”
“And how did she know?”
“She followed you.”
“You told her to follow me?”
“Yes. I thought that you must have had a very strong motive for going to Paris, after not leaving me for four months. I was afraid that something might happen to you, or that you were perhaps going to see another woman.”
“Now I am relieved. I know what you have done, but I don’t yet know what you have been told.”
I showed Marguerite my father’s letters.
“That is not what I am asking you about. What I want to know is why you went to see Prudence.”
“To see her.”
“That’s a lie, my friend.”
“Well, I went to ask her if the horse was any better, and if she wanted your shawl and your jewels any longer.”
Marguerite blushed, but did not answer.
“And,” I continued, “I learned what you had done with your horses, shawls, and jewels.”
“And you are vexed?”
“I am vexed that it never occurred to you to ask me for what you were in want of.”
“In a liaison like ours, if the woman has any sense of dignity at all, she ought to make every possible sacrifice rather than ask her lover for money and so give a venal character to her love. You love me, I am sure, but you do not know on how slight a thread depends the love one has for a woman like me. Who knows? Perhaps some day when you were bored or worried you would fancy you saw a carefully concerted plan in our liaison. Prudence is a chatterbox. What need had I of the horses? It was an economy to sell them. I don’t use them and I don’t spend anything on their keep; if you love me, I ask nothing more, and you will love me just as much without horses, or shawls, or diamonds.”
All that was said so naturally that the tears came to my eyes as I listened.
“But, my good Marguerite,” I replied, pressing her hands lovingly, “you knew that one day I should discover the sacrifice you had made, and that the moment I discovered it I should allow it no longer.”
“Because, my dear child, I can not allow your affection for me to deprive you of even a trinket. I too should not like you to be able, in a moment when you were bored or worried, to think that if you were living with somebody else those moments would not exist; and to repent, if only for a minute, of living with me. In a few days your horses, your diamonds, and your shawls shall be returned to you. They are as necessary to you as air is to life, and it may be absurd, but I like you better showy than simple.”
“Then you no longer love me.”
“If you loved me, you would let me love you my own way; on the contrary, you persist in only seeing in me a woman to whom luxury is indispensable, and whom you think you are always obliged to pay. You are ashamed to accept the proof of my love. In spite of yourself, you think of leaving me some day, and you want to put your disinterestedness beyond risk of suspicion. You are right, my friend, but I had better hopes.”
And Marguerite made a motion to rise; I held her, and said to her:
“I want you to be happy and to have nothing to reproach me for, that is all.”
“And we are going to be separated!”
“Why, Marguerite, who can separate us?” I cried.
“You, who will not let me take you on your own level, but insist on taking me on mine; you, who wish me to keep the luxury in the midst of which I have lived, and so keep the moral distance which separates us; you, who do not believe that my affection is sufficiently disinterested to share with me what you have, though we could live happily enough on it together, and would rather ruin yourself, because you are still bound by a foolish prejudice. Do you really think that I could compare a carriage and diamonds with your love? Do you think that my real happiness lies in the trifles that mean so much when one has nothing to love, but which become trifling indeed when one has? You will pay my debts, realize your estate, and then keep me? How long will that last? Two or three months, and then it will be too late to live the life I propose, for then you will have to take everything from me, and that is what a man of honour can not do; while now you have eight or ten thousand francs a year, on which we should be able to live. I will sell the rest of what I do not want, and with this alone I will make two thousand francs a year. We will take a nice little flat in which we can both live. In the summer we will go into the country, not to a house like this, but to a house just big enough for two people. You are independent, I am free, we are young; in heaven’s name, Armand, do not drive me back into the life I had to lead once!”
I could not answer. Tears of gratitude and love filled my eyes, and I flung myself into Marguerite’s arms.
“I wanted,” she continued, “to arrange everything without telling you, pay all my debts, and take a new flat. In October we should have been back in Paris, and all would have come out; but since Prudence has told you all, you will have to agree beforehand, instead of agreeing afterward. Do you love me enough for that?”
It was impossible to resist such devotion. I kissed her hands ardently, and said:
“I will do whatever you wish.”
It was agreed that we should do as she had planned. Thereupon, she went wild with delight; danced, sang, amused herself with calling up pictures of her new flat in all its simplicity, and began to consult me as to its position and arrangement. I saw how happy and proud she was of this resolution, which seemed as if it would bring us into closer and closer relationship, and I resolved to do my own share. In an instant I decided the whole course of my life. I put my affairs in order, and made over to Marguerite the income which had come to me from my mother, and which seemed little enough in return for the sacrifice which I was accepting. There remained the five thousand francs a year from my father; and, whatever happened, I had always enough to live on. I did not tell Marguerite what I had done, certain as I was that she would refuse the gift. This income came from a mortgage of sixty thousand francs on a house that I had never even seen. All that I knew was that every three months my father’s solicitor, an old friend of the family, handed over to me seven hundred and fifty francs in return for my receipt.
The day when Marguerite and I came to Paris to look for a flat, I went to this solicitor and asked him what had to be done in order to make over this income to another person. The good man imagined I was ruined, and questioned me as to the cause of my decision. As I knew that I should be obliged, sooner or later, to say in whose favour I made this transfer, I thought it best to tell him the truth at once. He made none of the objections that his position as friend and solicitor authorized him to make, and assured me that he would arrange the whole affair in the best way possible. Naturally, I begged him to employ the greatest discretion in regard to my father, and on leaving him I rejoined Marguerite, who was waiting for me at Julie Duprat’s, where she had gone in preference to going to listen to the moralizings of Prudence.
We began to look out for flats. All those that we saw seemed to Marguerite too dear, and to me too simple. However, we finally found, in one of the quietest parts of Paris, a little house, isolated from the main part of the building. Behind this little house was a charming garden, surrounded by walls high enough to screen us from our neighbours, and low enough not to shut off our own view. It was better than our expectations.
While I went to give notice at my own flat, Marguerite went to see a business agent, who, she told me, had already done for one of her friends exactly what she wanted him to do for her. She came on to the Rue de Provence in a state of great delight. The man had promised to pay all her debts, to give her a receipt for the amount, and to hand over to her twenty thousand francs, in return for the whole of her furniture. You have seen by the amount taken at the sale that this honest man would have gained thirty thousand francs out of his client.
We went back joyously to Bougival, talking over our projects for the future, which, thanks to our heedlessness, and especially to our love, we saw in the rosiest light.
A week later, as we were having lunch, Nanine came to tell us that my servant was asking for me. “Let him come in,” I said.
“Sir,” said he, “your father has arrived in Paris, and begs you to return at once to your rooms, where he is waiting for you.”
This piece of news was the most natural thing in the world, yet, as we heard it, Marguerite and I looked at one another. We foresaw trouble. Before she had spoken a word, I replied to her thought, and, taking her hand, I said, “Fear nothing.”
“Come back as soon as possible,” whispered Marguerite, embracing me; “I will wait for you at the window.”
I sent on Joseph to tell my father that I was on my way. Two hours later I was at the Rue de Provence.
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:07