However (continued Armand after a pause), while I knew myself to be still in love with her, I felt more sure of myself, and part of my desire to speak to Marguerite again was a wish to make her see that I was stronger than she.
How many ways does the heart take, how many reasons does it invent for itself, in order to arrive at what it wants!
I could not remain in the corridor, and I returned to my place in the stalls, looking hastily around to see what box she was in. She was in a ground-floor box, quite alone. She had changed, as I have told you, and no longer wore an indifferent smile on her lips. She had suffered; she was still suffering. Though it was April, she was still wearing a winter costume, all wrapped up in furs.
I gazed at her so fixedly that my eyes attracted hers. She looked at me for a few seconds, put up her opera-glass to see me better, and seemed to think she recognised me, without being quite sure who I was, for when she put down her glasses, a smile, that charming, feminine salutation, flitted across her lips, as if to answer the bow which she seemed to expect; but I did not respond, so as to have an advantage over her, as if I had forgotten, while she remembered. Supposing herself mistaken, she looked away.
The curtain went up. I have often seen Marguerite at the theatre. I never saw her pay the slightest attention to what was being acted. As for me, the performance interested me equally little, and I paid no attention to anything but her, though doing my utmost to keep her from noticing it.
Presently I saw her glancing across at the person who was in the opposite box; on looking, I saw a woman with whom I was quite familiar. She had once been a kept woman, and had tried to go on the stage, had failed, and, relying on her acquaintance with fashionable people in Paris, had gone into business and taken a milliner’s shop. I saw in her a means of meeting with Marguerite, and profited by a moment in which she looked my way to wave my hand to her. As I expected, she beckoned to me to come to her box.
Prudence Duvernoy (that was the milliner’s auspicious name) was one of those fat women of forty with whom one requires very little diplomacy to make them understand what one wants to know, especially when what one wants to know is as simple as what I had to ask of her.
I took advantage of a moment when she was smiling across at Marguerite to ask her, “Whom are you looking at?”
“You know her?”
“Yes, I am her milliner, and she is a neighbour of mine.”
“Do you live in the Rue d’Antin?”
“No. 7. The window of her dressing-room looks on to the window of mine.”
“They say she is a charming girl.”
“Don’t you know her?”
“No, but I should like to.”
“Shall I ask her to come over to our box?”
“No, I would rather for you to introduce me to her.”
“At her own house?”
“That is more difficult.”
“Because she is under the protection of a jealous old duke.”
“‘Protection’ is charming.”
“Yes, protection,” replied Prudence. “Poor old man, he would be greatly embarrassed to offer her anything else.”
Prudence then told me how Marguerite had made the acquaintance of the duke at Bagneres.
“That, then,” I continued, “is why she is alone here?”
“But who will see her home?”
“He will come for her?”
“In a moment.”
“And you, who is seeing you home?”
“May I offer myself?”
“But you are with a friend, are you not?”
“May we offer, then?”
“Who is your friend?”
“A charming fellow, very amusing. He will be delighted to make your acquaintance.”
“Well, all right; we will go after this piece is over, for I know the last piece.”
“With pleasure; I will go and tell my friend.”
“Go, then. Ah,” added Prudence, as I was going, “there is the duke just coming into Marguerite’s box.”
I looked at him. A man of about seventy had sat down behind her, and was giving her a bag of sweets, into which she dipped at once, smiling. Then she held it out toward Prudence, with a gesture which seemed to say, “Will you have some?”
“No,” signalled Prudence.
Marguerite drew back the bag, and, turning, began to talk with the duke.
It may sound childish to tell you all these details, but everything relating to Marguerite is so fresh in my memory that I can not help recalling them now.
I went back to Gaston and told him of the arrangement I had made for him and for me. He agreed, and we left our stalls to go round to Mme. Duvernoy’s box. We had scarcely opened the door leading into the stalls when we had to stand aside to allow Marguerite and the duke to pass. I would have given ten years of my life to have been in the old man’s place.
When they were on the street he handed her into a phaeton, which he drove himself, and they were whirled away by two superb horses.
We returned to Prudence’s box, and when the play was over we took a cab and drove to 7, Rue d’Antin. At the door, Prudence asked us to come up and see her showrooms, which we had never seen, and of which she seemed very proud. You can imagine how eagerly I accepted. It seemed to me as if I was coming nearer and nearer to Marguerite. I soon turned the conversation in her direction.
“The old duke is at your neighbours,” I said to Prudence.
“Oh, no; she is probably alone.”
“But she must be dreadfully bored,” said Gaston.
“We spend most of our evening together, or she calls to me when she comes in. She never goes to bed before two in the morning. She can’t sleep before that.”
“Because she suffers in the chest, and is almost always feverish.”
“Hasn’t she any lovers?” I asked.
“I never see any one remain after I leave; I don’t say no one ever comes when I am gone. Often in the evening I meet there a certain Comte de N., who thinks he is making some headway by calling on her at eleven in the evening, and by sending her jewels to any extent; but she can’t stand him. She makes a mistake; he is very rich. It is in vain that I say to her from time to time, ‘My dear child, there’s the man for you.’ She, who generally listens to me, turns her back and replies that he is too stupid. Stupid, indeed, he is; but it would be a position for her, while this old duke might die any day. Old men are egoists; his family are always reproaching him for his affection for Marguerite; there are two reasons why he is likely to leave her nothing. I give her good advice, and she only says it will be plenty of time to take on the count when the duke is dead. It isn’t all fun,” continued Prudence, “to live like that. I know very well it wouldn’t suit me, and I should soon send the old man about his business. He is so dull; he calls her his daughter; looks after her like a child; and is always in the way. I am sure at this very moment one of his servants is prowling about in the street to see who comes out, and especially who goes in.”
“Ah, poor Marguerite!” said Gaston, sitting down to the piano and playing a waltz. “I hadn’t a notion of it, but I did notice she hasn’t been looking so gay lately.”
“Hush,” said Prudence, listening. Gaston stopped.
“She is calling me, I think.”
We listened. A voice was calling, “Prudence!”
“Come, now, you must go,” said Mme. Duvernoy.
“Ah, that is your idea of hospitality,” said Gaston, laughing; “we won’t go till we please.”
“Why should we go?”
“I am going over to Marguerite’s.”
“We will wait here.”
“Then we will go with you.”
“That still less.”
“I know Marguerite,” said Gaston; “I can very well pay her a call.”
“But Armand doesn’t know her.”
“I will introduce him.”
We again heard Marguerite’s voice calling to Prudence, who rushed to her dressing-room window. I followed with Gaston as she opened the window. We hid ourselves so as not to be seen from outside.
“I have been calling you for ten minutes,” said Marguerite from her window, in almost an imperious tone of voice.
“What do you want?”
“I want you to come over at once.”
“Because the Comte de N. is still here, and he is boring me to death.”
“I can’t now.”
“What is hindering you?”
“There are two young fellows here who won’t go.”
“Tell them that you must go out.”
“I have told them.”
“Well, then, leave them in the house. They will soon go when they see you have gone.”
“They will turn everything upside down.”
“But what do they want?”
“They want to see you.”
“What are they called?”
“You know one, M. Gaston R.”
“Ah, yes, I know him. And the other?”
“M. Armand Duval; and you don’t know him.”
“No, but bring them along. Anything is better than the count. I expect you. Come at once.”
Marguerite closed her window and Prudence hers. Marguerite, who had remembered my face for a moment, did not remember my name. I would rather have been remembered to my disadvantage than thus forgotten.
“I knew,” said Gaston, “that she would be delighted to see us.”
“Delighted isn’t the word,” replied Prudence, as she put on her hat and shawl. “She will see you in order to get rid of the count. Try to be more agreeable than he is, or (I know Marguerite) she will put it all down to me.”
We followed Prudence downstairs. I trembled; it seemed to me that this visit was to have a great influence on my life. I was still more agitated than on the evening when I was introduced in the box at the Opera Comique. As we reached the door that you know, my heart beat so violently that I was hardly able to think.
We heard the sound of a piano. Prudence rang. The piano was silent. A woman who looked more like a companion than a servant opened the door. We went into the drawing-room, and from that to the boudoir, which was then just as you have seen it since. A young man was leaning against the mantel-piece. Marguerite, seated at the piano, let her fingers wander over the notes, beginning scraps of music without finishing them. The whole scene breathed boredom, the man embarrassed by the consciousness of his nullity, the woman tired of her dismal visitor. At the voice of Prudence, Marguerite rose, and coming toward us with a look of gratitude to Mme. Duvernoy, said:
“Come in, and welcome.”
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:53