It seemed to me as if the train did not move. I reached Bougival at eleven.
Not a window in the house was lighted up, and when I rang no one answered the bell. It was the first time that such a thing had occurred to me. At last the gardener came. I entered. Nanine met me with a light. I went to Marguerite’s room.
“Where is madame?”
“Gone to Paris,” replied Nanine.
“An hour after you.”
“She left no word for me?”
Nanine left me.
Perhaps she had some suspicion or other, I thought, and went to Paris to make sure that my visit to my father was not an excuse for a day off. Perhaps Prudence wrote to her about something important. I said to myself when I was alone; but I saw Prudence; she said nothing to make me suppose that she had written to Marguerite.
All at once I remembered Mme. Duvernoy’s question, “Isn’t she coming today?” when I had said that Marguerite was ill. I remembered at the same time how embarrassed Prudence had appeared when I looked at her after this remark, which seemed to indicate an appointment. I remembered, too, Marguerite’s tears all day long, which my father’s kind reception had rather put out of my mind. From this moment all the incidents grouped themselves about my first suspicion, and fixed it so firmly in my mind that everything served to confirm it, even my father’s kindness.
Marguerite had almost insisted on my going to Paris; she had pretended to be calmer when I had proposed staying with her. Had I fallen into some trap? Was Marguerite deceiving me? Had she counted on being back in time for me not to perceive her absence, and had she been detained by chance? Why had she said nothing to Nanine, or why had she not written? What was the meaning of those tears, this absence, this mystery?
That is what I asked myself in affright, as I stood in the vacant room, gazing at the clock, which pointed to midnight, and seemed to say to me that it was too late to hope for my mistress’s return. Yet, after all the arrangements we had just made, after the sacrifices that had been offered and accepted, was it likely that she was deceiving me? No. I tried to get rid of my first supposition.
Probably she had found a purchaser for her furniture, and she had gone to Paris to conclude the bargain. She did not wish to tell me beforehand, for she knew that, though I had consented to it, the sale, so necessary to our future happiness, was painful to me, and she feared to wound my self-respect in speaking to me about it. She would rather not see me till the whole thing was done, and that was evidently why Prudence was expecting her when she let out the secret. Marguerite could not finish the whole business today, and was staying the night with Prudence, or perhaps she would come even now, for she must know bow anxious I should be, and would not wish to leave me in that condition. But, if so, why those tears? No doubt, despite her love for me, the poor girl could not make up her mind to give up all the luxury in which she had lived until now, and for which she had been so envied, without crying over it. I was quite ready to forgive her for such regrets. I waited for her impatiently, that I might say to her, as I covered her with kisses, that I had guessed the reason of her mysterious absence.
Nevertheless, the night went on, and Marguerite did not return.
My anxiety tightened its circle little by little, and began to oppress my head and heart. Perhaps something had happened to her. Perhaps she was injured, ill, dead. Perhaps a messenger would arrive with the news of some dreadful accident. Perhaps the daylight would find me with the same uncertainty and with the same fears.
The idea that Marguerite was perhaps unfaithful to me at the very moment when I waited for her in terror at her absence did not return to my mind. There must be some cause, independent of her will, to keep her away from me, and the more I thought, the more convinced I was that this cause could only be some mishap or other. O vanity of man, coming back to us in every form!
One o’clock struck. I said to myself that I would wait another hour, but that at two o’clock, if Marguerite had not returned, I would set out for Paris. Meanwhile I looked about for a book, for I dared not think. Manon Lescaut was open on the table. It seemed to me that here and there the pages were wet as if with tears. I turned the leaves over and then closed the book, for the letters seemed to me void of meaning through the veil of my doubts.
Time went slowly. The sky was covered with clouds. An autumn rain lashed the windows. The empty bed seemed at moments to assume the aspect of a tomb. I was afraid.
I opened the door. I listened, and heard nothing but the voice of the wind in the trees. Not a vehicle was to be seen on the road. The half hour sounded sadly from the church tower.
I began to fear lest some one should enter. It seemed to me that only a disaster could come at that hour and under that sombre sky.
Two o’clock struck. I still waited a little. Only the sound of the bell troubled the silence with its monotonous and rhythmical stroke.
At last I left the room, where every object had assumed that melancholy aspect which the restless solitude of the heart gives to all its surroundings.
In the next room I found Nanine sleeping over her work. At the sound of the door, she awoke and asked if her mistress had come in.
“No; but if she comes in, tell her that I was so anxious that I had to go to Paris.”
“At this hour?”
“But how? You won’t find a carriage.”
“I will walk.”
“But it is raining.”
“But madame will be coming back, or if she doesn’t come it will be time enough in the morning to go and see what has kept her. You will be murdered on the way.”
“There is no danger, my dear Nanine; I will see you tomorrow.”
The good girl went and got me a cloak, put it over my shoulders, and offered to wake up Mme. Arnould to see if a vehicle could be obtained; but I would hear of nothing, convinced as I was that I should lose, in a perhaps fruitless inquiry, more time than I should take to cover half the road. Besides, I felt the need of air and physical fatigue in order to cool down the over-excitement which possessed me.
I took the key of the flat in the Rue d’Antin, and after saying good-bye to Nanine, who came with me as far as the gate, I set out.
At first I began to run, but the earth was muddy with rain, and I fatigued myself doubly. At the end of half an hour I was obliged to stop, and I was drenched with sweat. I recovered my breath and went on. The night was so dark that at every step I feared to dash myself against one of the trees on the roadside, which rose up sharply before me like great phantoms rushing upon me.
I overtook one or two wagons, which I soon left behind. A carriage was going at full gallop toward Bougival. As it passed me the hope came to me that Marguerite was in it. I stopped and cried out, “Marguerite! Marguerite!” But no one answered and the carriage continued its course. I watched it fade away in the distance, and then started on my way again. I took two hours to reach the Barriere de l’Etoile. The sight of Paris restored my strength, and I ran the whole length of the alley I had so often walked.
That night no one was passing; it was like going through the midst of a dead city. The dawn began to break. When I reached the Rue d’Antin the great city stirred a little before quite awakening. Five o’clock struck at the church of Saint Roch at the moment when I entered Marguerite’s house. I called out my name to the porter, who had had from me enough twenty-franc pieces to know that I had the right to call on Mlle. Gautier at five in the morning. I passed without difficulty. I might have asked if Marguerite was at home, but he might have said “No,” and I preferred to remain in doubt two minutes longer, for, as long as I doubted, there was still hope.
I listened at the door, trying to discover a sound, a movement. Nothing. The silence of the country seemed to be continued here. I opened the door and entered. All the curtains were hermetically closed. I drew those of the dining-room and went toward the bed-room and pushed open the door. I sprang at the curtain cord and drew it violently. The curtain opened, a faint light made its way in. I rushed to the bed. It was empty.
I opened the doors one after another. I visited every room. No one. It was enough to drive one mad.
I went into the dressing-room, opened the window, and called Prudence several times. Mme. Duvernoy’s window remained closed.
I went downstairs to the porter and asked him if Mlle. Gautier had come home during the day.
“Yes,” answered the man; “with Mme. Duvernoy.”
“She left no word for me?”
“Do you know what they did afterward?”
“They went away in a carriage.”
“What sort of a carriage?”
“A private carriage.”
What could it all mean?
I rang at the next door.
“Where are you going, sir?” asked the porter, when he had opened to me.
“To Mme. Duvernoy’s.”
“She has not come back.”
“You are sure?”
“Yes, sir; here’s a letter even, which was brought for her last night and which I have not yet given her.”
And the porter showed me a letter which I glanced at mechanically. I recognised Marguerite’s writing. I took the letter. It was addressed, “To Mme. Duvernoy, to forward to M. Duval.”
“This letter is for me,” I said to the porter, as I showed him the address.
“You are M. Duval?” he replied.
“Ah! I remember. You often came to see Mme. Duvernoy.”
When I was in the street I broke the seal of the letter. If a thunder-bolt had fallen at my feet I should have been less startled than I was by what I read.
“By the time you read this letter, Armand, I shall be the mistress of another man. All is over between us.
“Go back to your father, my friend, and to your sister, and there, by the side of a pure young girl, ignorant of all our miseries, you will soon forget what you would have suffered through that lost creature who is called Marguerite Gautier, whom you have loved for an instant, and who owes to you the only happy moments of a life which, she hopes, will not be very long now.”
When I had read the last word, I thought I should have gone mad. For a moment I was really afraid of falling in the street. A cloud passed before my eyes and my blood beat in my temples. At last I came to myself a little. I looked about me, and was astonished to see the life of others continue without pausing at my distress.
I was not strong enough to endure the blow alone. Then I remembered that my father was in the same city, that I might be with him in ten minutes, and that, whatever might be the cause of my sorrow, he would share it.
I ran like a madman, like a thief, to the Hotel de Paris; I found the key in the door of my father’s room; I entered. He was reading. He showed so little astonishment at seeing me, that it was as if he was expecting me. I flung myself into his arms without saying a word. I gave him Marguerite’s letter, and, falling on my knees beside his bed, I wept hot tears.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:53