A good while elapsed before I heard anything more of Armand, but, on the other hand, I was constantly hearing of Marguerite.
I do not know if you have noticed, if once the name of anybody who might in the natural course of things have always remained unknown, or at all events indifferent to you, should be mentioned before you, immediately details begin to group themselves about the name, and you find all your friends talking to you about something which they have never mentioned to you before. You discover that this person was almost touching you and has passed close to you many times in your life without your noticing it; you find coincidences in the events which are told you, a real affinity with certain events of your own existence. I was not absolutely at that point in regard to Marguerite, for I had seen and met her, I knew her by sight and by reputation; nevertheless, since the moment of the sale, her name came to my ears so frequently, and, owing to the circumstance that I have mentioned in the last chapter, that name was associated with so profound a sorrow, that my curiosity increased in proportion with my astonishment. The consequence was that whenever I met friends to whom I had never breathed the name of Marguerite, I always began by saying:
“Did you ever know a certain Marguerite Gautier?”
“The Lady of the Camellias?”
“Oh, very well!”
The word was sometimes accompanied by a smile which could leave no doubt as to its meaning.
“Well, what sort of a girl was she?”
“A good sort of girl.”
“Is that all?”
“Oh, yes; more intelligence and perhaps a little more heart than most.”
“Do you know anything particular about her?”
“She ruined Baron de G.”
“No more than that?”
“She was the mistress of the old Duke of . . . ”
“Was she really his mistress?”
“So they say; at all events, he gave her a great deal of money.”
The general outlines were always the same. Nevertheless I was anxious to find out something about the relations between Marguerite and Armand. Meeting one day a man who was constantly about with known women, I asked him: “Did you know Marguerite Gautier?”
The answer was the usual: “Very well.”
“What sort of a girl was she?”
“A fine, good girl. I was very sorry to hear of her death.”
“Had she not a lover called Armand Duval?”
“Tall and blond?”
“It is quite true.”
“Who was this Armand?”
“A fellow who squandered on her the little money he had, and then had to leave her. They say he was quite wild about it.”
“They always say she was very much in love with him, but as girls like that are in love. It is no good to ask them for what they can not give.”
“What has become of Armand?”
“I don’t know. We knew him very little. He was with Marguerite for five or six months in the country. When she came back, he had gone.”
“And you have never seen him since?”
I, too, had not seen Armand again. I was beginning to ask myself if, when he had come to see me, the recent news of Marguerite’s death had not exaggerated his former love, and consequently his sorrow, and I said to myself that perhaps he had already forgotten the dead woman, and along with her his promise to come and see me again. This supposition would have seemed probable enough in most instances, but in Armand’s despair there had been an accent of real sincerity, and, going from one extreme to another, I imagined that distress had brought on an illness, and that my not seeing him was explained by the fact that he was ill, perhaps dead.
I was interested in the young man in spite of myself. Perhaps there was some selfishness in this interest; perhaps I guessed at some pathetic love story under all this sorrow; perhaps my desire to know all about it had much to do with the anxiety which Armand’s silence caused me. Since M. Duval did not return to see me, I decided to go and see him. A pretext was not difficult to find; unluckily I did not know his address, and no one among those whom I questioned could give it to me.
I went to the Rue d’Antin; perhaps Marguerite’s porter would know where Armand lived. There was a new porter; he knew as little about it as I. I then asked in what cemetery Mlle. Gautier had been buried. It was the Montmartre Cemetery. It was now the month of April; the weather was fine, the graves were not likely to look as sad and desolate as they do in winter; in short, it was warm enough for the living to think a little of the dead, and pay them a visit. I went to the cemetery, saying to myself: “One glance at Marguerite’s grave, and I shall know if Armand’s sorrow still exists, and perhaps I may find out what has become of him.”
I entered the keeper’s lodge, and asked him if on the 22nd of February a woman named Marguerite Gautier had not been buried in the Montmartre Cemetery. He turned over the pages of a big book in which those who enter this last resting-place are inscribed and numbered, and replied that on the 22nd of February, at 12 o’clock, a woman of that name had been buried.
I asked him to show me the grave, for there is no finding one’s way without a guide in this city of the dead, which has its streets like a city of the living. The keeper called over a gardener, to whom he gave the necessary instructions; the gardener interrupted him, saying: “I know, I know. — It is not difficult to find that grave,” he added, turning to me.
“Because it has very different flowers from the others.”
“Is it you who look after it?”
“Yes, sir; and I wish all relations took as much trouble about the dead as the young man who gave me my orders.”
After several turnings, the gardener stopped and said to me: “Here we are.”
I saw before me a square of flowers which one would never have taken for a grave, if it had not been for a white marble slab bearing a name.
The marble slab stood upright, an iron railing marked the limits of the ground purchased, and the earth was covered with white camellias. “What do you say to that?” said the gardener.
“It is beautiful.”
“And whenever a camellia fades, I have orders to replace it.”
“Who gave you the order?”
“A young gentleman, who cried the first time he came here; an old pal of hers, I suppose, for they say she was a gay one. Very pretty, too, I believe. Did you know her, sir?” “Yes.”
“Like the other?” said the gardener, with a knowing smile. “No, I never spoke to her.”
“And you come here, too! It is very good of you, for those that come to see the poor girl don’t exactly cumber the cemetery.”
“Doesn’t anybody come?”
“Nobody, except that young gentleman who came once.”
“He never came back again?”
“No, but he will when he gets home.”
“He is away somewhere?”
“Do you know where he is?”
“I believe he has gone to see Mlle. Gautier’s sister.”
“What does he want there?”
“He has gone to get her authority to have the corpse dug up again and put somewhere else.”
“Why won’t he let it remain here?”
“You know, sir, people have queer notions about dead folk. We see something of that every day. The ground here was only bought for five years, and this young gentleman wants a perpetual lease and a bigger plot of ground; it will be better in the new part.”
“What do you call the new part?”
“The new plots of ground that are for sale, there to the left. If the cemetery had always been kept like it is now, there wouldn’t be the like of it in the world; but there is still plenty to do before it will be quite all it should be. And then people are so queer!”
“What do you mean?”
“I mean that there are people who carry their pride even here. Now, this Demoiselle Gautier, it appears she lived a bit free, if you’ll excuse my saying so. Poor lady, she’s dead now; there’s no more of her left than of them that no one has a word to say against. We water them every day. Well, when the relatives of the folk that are buried beside her found out the sort of person she was, what do you think they said? That they would try to keep her out from here, and that there ought to be a piece of ground somewhere apart for these sort of women, like there is for the poor. Did you ever hear of such a thing? I gave it to them straight, I did: well-to-do folk who come to see their dead four times a year, and bring their flowers themselves, and what flowers! and look twice at the keep of them they pretend to cry over, and write on their tombstones all about the tears they haven’t shed, and come and make difficulties about their neighbours. You may believe me or not, sir, I never knew the young lady; I don’t know what she did. Well, I’m quite in love with the poor thing; I look after her well, and I let her have her camellias at an honest price. She is the dead body that I like the best. You see, sir, we are obliged to love the dead, for we are kept so busy, we have hardly time to love anything else.”
I looked at the man, and some of my readers will understand, without my needing to explain it to them, the emotion which I felt on hearing him. He observed it, no doubt, for he went on:
“They tell me there were people who ruined themselves over that girl, and lovers that worshipped her; well, when I think there isn’t one of them that so much as buys her a flower now, that’s queer, sir, and sad. And, after all, she isn’t so badly off, for she has her grave to herself, and if there is only one who remembers her, he makes up for the others. But we have other poor girls here, just like her and just her age, and they are just thrown into a pauper’s grave, and it breaks my heart when I hear their poor bodies drop into the earth. And not a soul thinks about them any more, once they are dead! ‘Tisn’t a merry trade, ours, especially when we have a little heart left. What do you expect? I can’t help it. I have a fine, strapping girl myself; she’s just twenty, and when a girl of that age comes here I think of her, and I don’t care if it’s a great lady or a vagabond, I can’t help feeling it a bit. But I am taking up your time, sir, with my tales, and it wasn’t to hear them you came here. I was told to show you Mlle. Gautier’s grave; here you have it. Is there anything else I can do for you?”
“Do you know M. Armand Duval’s address?” I asked.
“Yes; he lives at Rue de ——; at least, that’s where I always go to get my money for the flowers you see there.”
“Thanks, my good man.”
I gave one more look at the grave covered with flowers, half longing to penetrate the depths of the earth and see what the earth had made of the fair creature that had been cast to it; then I walked sadly away.
“Do you want to see M. Duval, sir?” said the gardener, who was walking beside me.
“Well, I am pretty sure he is not back yet, or he would have been here already.”
“You don’t think he has forgotten Marguerite?”
“I am not only sure he hasn’t, but I would wager that he wants to change her grave simply in order to have one more look at her.”
“Why do you think that?”
“The first word he said to me when he came to the cemetery was: ‘How can I see her again?’ That can’t be done unless there is a change of grave, and I told him all about the formalities that have to be attended to in getting it done; for, you see, if you want to move a body from one grave to another you must have it identified, and only the family can give leave for it under the direction of a police inspector. That is why M. Duval has gone to see Mlle. Gautier’s sister, and you may be sure his first visit will be for me.”
We had come to the cemetery gate. I thanked the gardener again, putting a few coins into his hand, and made my way to the address he had given me.
Armand had not yet returned. I left word for him, begging him to come and see me as soon as he arrived, or to send me word where I could find him.
Next day, in the morning, I received a letter from Duval, telling me of his return, and asking me to call on him, as he was so worn out with fatigue that it was impossible for him to go out.
Last updated Monday, December 22, 2014 at 10:49