My father was seated in my room in his dressing-gown; he was writing, and I saw at once, by the way in which he raised his eyes to me when I came in, that there was going to be a serious discussion. I went up to him, all the same, as if I had seen nothing in his face, embraced him, and said:
“When did you come, father?”
“Did you come straight here, as usual?”
“I am very sorry not to have been here to receive you.”
I expected that the sermon which my father’s cold face threatened would begin at once; but he said nothing, sealed the letter which he had just written, and gave it to Joseph to post.
When we were alone, my father rose, and leaning against the mantel-piece, said to me:
“My dear Armand, we have serious matters to discuss.”
“I am listening, father.”
“You promise me to be frank?”
“Am I not accustomed to be so?”
“Is it not true that you are living with a woman called Marguerite Gautier?”
“Do you know what this woman was?”
“A kept woman.”
“And it is for her that you have forgotten to come and see your sister and me this year?”
“Yes, father, I admit it.”
“You are very much in love with this woman?”
“You see it, father, since she has made me fail in duty toward you, for which I humbly ask your forgiveness today.”
My father, no doubt, was not expecting such categorical answers, for he seemed to reflect a moment, and then said to me:
“You have, of course, realized that you can not always live like that?”
“I fear so, father, but I have not realized it.”
“But you must realize,” continued my father, in a dryer tone, “that I, at all events, should not permit it.”
“I have said to myself that as long as I did nothing contrary to the respect which I owe to the traditional probity of the family I could live as I am living, and this has reassured me somewhat in regard to the fears I have had.”
Passions are formidable enemies to sentiment. I was prepared for every struggle, even with my father, in order that I might keep Marguerite.
“Then, the moment is come when you must live otherwise.”
“Because you are doing things which outrage the respect that you imagine you have for your family.”
“I don’t follow your meaning.”
“I will explain it to you. Have a mistress if you will; pay her as a man of honour is bound to pay the woman whom he keeps, by all means; but that you should come to forget the most sacred things for her, that you should let the report of your scandalous life reach my quiet countryside, and set a blot on the honourable name that I have given you, it can not, it shall not be.”
“Permit me to tell you, father, that those who have given you information about me have been ill-informed. I am the lover of Mlle. Gautier; I live with her; it is the most natural thing in the world. I do not give Mlle. Gautier the name you have given me; I spend on her account what my means allow me to spend; I have no debts; and, in short, I am not in a position which authorizes a father to say to his son what you have just said to me.”
“A father is always authorized to rescue his son out of evil paths. You have not done any harm yet, but you will do it.”
“Sir, I know more of life than you do. There are no entirely pure sentiments except in perfectly chaste women. Every Manon can have her own Des Grieux, and times are changed. It would be useless for the world to grow older if it did not correct its ways. You will leave your mistress.”
“I am very sorry to disobey you, father, but it is impossible.”
“I will compel you to do so.”
“Unfortunately, father, there no longer exists a Sainte Marguerite to which courtesans can be sent, and, even if there were, I would follow Mlle. Gautier if you succeeded in having her sent there. What would you have? Perhaps am in the wrong, but I can only be happy as long as I am the lover of this woman.”
“Come, Armand, open your eyes. Recognise that it is your father who speaks to you, your father who has always loved you, and who only desires your happiness. Is it honourable for you to live like husband and wife with a woman whom everybody has had?”
“What does it matter, father, if no one will any more? What does it matter, if this woman loves me, if her whole life is changed through the love which she has for me and the love which I have for her? What does it matter, if she has become a different woman?”
“Do you think, then, sir, that the mission of a man of honour is to go about converting lost women? Do you think that God has given such a grotesque aim to life, and that the heart should have any room for enthusiasm of that kind? What will be the end of this marvellous cure, and what will you think of what you are saying today by the time you are forty? You will laugh at this love of yours, if you can still laugh, and if it has not left too serious a trace in your past. What would you be now if your father had had your ideas and had given up his life to every impulse of this kind, instead of rooting himself firmly in convictions of honour and steadfastness? Think it over, Armand, and do not talk any more such absurdities. Come, leave this woman; your father entreats you.”
I answered nothing.
“Armand,” continued my father, “in the name of your sainted mother, abandon this life, which you will forget more easily than you think. You are tied to it by an impossible theory. You are twenty-four; think of the future. You can not always love this woman, who also can not always love you. You both exaggerate your love. You put an end to your whole career. One step further, and you will no longer be able to leave the path you have chosen, and you will suffer all your life for what you have done in your youth. Leave Paris. Come and stay for a month or two with your sister and me. Rest in our quiet family affection will soon heal you of this fever, for it is nothing else. Meanwhile, your mistress will console herself; she will take another lover; and when you see what it is for which you have all but broken with your father, and all but lost his love, you will tell me that I have done well to come and seek you out, and you will thank me for it. Come, you will go with me, Armand, will you not?” I felt that my father would be right if it had been any other woman, but I was convinced that he was wrong with regard to Marguerite. Nevertheless, the tone in which he said these last words was so kind, so appealing, that I dared not answer.
“Well?” said he in a trembling voice.
“Well, father, I can promise nothing,” I said at last; “what you ask of me is beyond my power. Believe me,” I continued, seeing him make an impatient movement, “you exaggerate the effects of this liaison. Marguerite is a different kind of a woman from what you think. This love, far from leading me astray, is capable, on the contrary, of setting me in the right direction. Love always makes a man better, no matter what woman inspires it. If you knew Marguerite, you would understand that I am in no danger. She is as noble as the noblest of women. There is as much disinterestedness in her as there is cupidity in others.”
“All of which does not prevent her from accepting the whole of your fortune, for the sixty thousand francs which come to you from your mother, and which you are giving her, are, understand me well, your whole fortune.”
My father had probably kept this peroration and this threat for the last stroke. I was firmer before these threats than before his entreaties.
“Who told you that I was handing this sum to her?” I asked.
“My solicitor. Could an honest man carry out such a procedure without warning me? Well, it is to prevent you from ruining yourself for a prostitute that I am now in Paris. Your mother, when she died, left you enough to live on respectably, and not to squander on your mistresses.”
“I swear to you, father, that Marguerite knew nothing of this transfer.”
“Why, then, do you make it?”
“Because Marguerite, the woman you calumniate, and whom you wish me to abandon, is sacrificing all that she possesses in order to live with me.”
“And you accept this sacrifice? What sort of a man are you, sir, to allow Mlle. Gautier to sacrifice anything for you? Come, enough of this. You will leave this woman. Just now I begged you; now I command you. I will have no such scandalous doings in my family. Pack up your things and get ready to come with me.”
“Pardon me, father,” I said, “but I shall not come.”
“Because I am at an age when no one any longer obeys a command.”
My father turned pale at my answer.
“Very well, sir,” he said, “I know what remains to be done.”
He rang and Joseph appeared.
“Have my things taken to the Hotel de Paris,” he said to my servant. And thereupon he went to his room and finished dressing. When he returned, I went up to him.
“Promise me, father,” I said, “that you will do nothing to give Marguerite pain?”
My father stopped, looked at me disdainfully, and contented himself with saying, “I believe you are mad.” After this he went out, shutting the door violently after him.
I went downstairs, took a cab, and returned to Bougival.
Marguerite was waiting for me at the window.
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:07