The Lady of the Camellias CHAPTER IV

Two days later, the sale was completely over. It had brought in a hundred and fifty thousand francs.

The creditors had divided two-thirds among themselves, and the family, which consisted of a sister and a little nephew, inherited the rest.

This sister’s eyes had opened wide when the businessman had written to tell her that she was the inheritor of fifty thousand francs.

It had been six or seven years since this young woman had seen her sister, who had vanished one day without anyone’s being able to discover thereafter, from her or from others, the least detail about the life she had led following the moment of her disappearance.

She arrived in Paris with all speed, and great was the astonishment of those who had known Marguerite when they saw that her sole inheritor was a plump and pretty country girl who until that moment had never left her village.

Her luck was made in one fell swoop, without her knowing the source of this unhoped-for fortune.

She returned to the country, someone told me later, burdened with great sadness by the death of her sister, a burden that was nonetheless lightened by the rate of four and a half percent interest she had managed to secure on the principal.

All these details reverberating around Paris—that hub of scandal—soon began to be forgotten, and I myself was almost forgetting the role I had played in these events when a new incident brought Marguerite’s entire history to my attention and acquainted me with details so touching that I felt compelled to write the history I am writing now.

For three or four days the apartment had been on the rental market, emptied of all its auctioned furniture, when one morning someone rang at my home.

My servant, or rather my porter, who performed domestic duties, went to the door and brought me a visiting card, telling me that the person who had given it to him desired to speak with me.

I glanced at the card, and read there these two words: Armand Duval.

I struggled to remember where I had seen that name before, and I recalled the first page of the volume of Manon Lescaut.

What could the person who had given this book to Marguerite want with me? I gave instruction to let the man who was waiting enter immediately.

I soon saw a young blond man, tall, pale, dressed in a traveling suit he seemed to have worn for several days and not even bothered to brush upon his arrival in Paris, as it was covered in dust.

Monsieur Duval, strongly moved, made no effort to hide his emotion, and it was with tears in his eyes and a tremor in his voice that he told me, “Sir, you will forgive, I beg, my visit and my attire; but apart from the fact that among people our age such things are not too embarrassing, I wanted so much to see you today that I didn’t even stop at the hotel where I sent my trunks, and hurried to your home, afraid that, though the hour is early, I might not find you here.”

I begged M. Duval to sit by the fire, which he did while withdrawing from his pocket a handkerchief, in which, for a moment, he hid his face.

“You must not be able to imagine,” he resumed, sighing sadly, “what this unknown visitor might want of you, at such an hour, so oddly dressed, and weeping like this. I have come quite simply, sir, to ask you a great favor.”

“Speak, sir; I am at your service.”

“You attended the sale of Marguerite Gautier?”

At this name, the emotion that had gripped this young man overcame him, and he was forced to raise his hands to his eyes.

“I must appear ridiculous to you,” he added. “Excuse me again for that, and believe that I will never forget the patience with which you are listening to me.”

“Sir,” I replied, “if the service that I apparently am able to render you will serve to ease a little the sorrow you are feeling, tell me quickly how I can be of use, and you will find in me a man happy to oblige you.”

M. Duval’s pain was affecting, and despite myself I wanted to do what I could to help him.

He then said to me, “You bought something at Marguerite’s sale?”

“Yes, sir, a book.”

“Manon Lescaut?”


“Do you still have this book?”

“It is in my bedroom.”

Upon this news, Armand Duval seemed relieved of a great weight, and thanked me as if I had already done him a great favor merely by keeping this volume.

I got up, went to my bedroom to get the book, and gave it to him.

“That’s definitely the one,” he said, looking at the dedication on the first page and leafing through it. “That’s definitely the one.”

Two large tears fell on the pages.

“Ah, well, sir,” he said, raising his head to me, not even trying to hide from me anymore the fact that he’d been crying and was about to cry again, “do you have a great attachment to this book?”

“Why, sir?”

“Because I have come to ask you to give it to me.”

“Excuse my curiosity,” I said, “but you, therefore, are the one who gave it to Marguerite Gautier?”

“I am.”

“The book is yours, sir; take it. I am happy to be able to return it to you.”

“But,” M. Duval resumed in embarrassment, “the least I can do is to refund the price you paid for it.”

“Permit me to offer it to you as a gift. The price of a single book in a sale like this one is a caprice, and I no longer remember how much I paid for it.”

“You paid a hundred francs.”

“That’s true,” I said, embarrassed in turn. “How do you know that?”

“It’s quite easy. I was hoping to arrive in Paris in time for Marguerite’s sale, and I arrived only this morning. I wanted absolutely to have some object that came from her, and I ran to the auctioneer to ask permission to look at the list of articles that had been sold and the names of the buyers. I saw that this volume had been bought by you, and resolved to beg you to give it to me, even though the price you had paid for it made me fear you were not attached to it as a mere souvenir, but rather had some particular interest in possessing it.”

By speaking this way, Armand evidently seemed to fear I might have known Marguerite in the way he had known her.

I endeavored to reassure him.

“I knew Mlle Gautier by sight only,” I told him. “Her death made the same impression on me that the death of any pretty young woman would make on any young man who had once taken pleasure in the sight of her. I wanted to buy something at her sale, and stubbornly began to bid on this volume—I don’t know why; for the sheer pleasure of enraging a gentleman who was set upon it, and seemed to be defying me to get it. I repeat to you therefore, sir, this book is at your disposal, and I beg you again to accept it as a gift, not to take it from me as I might take it from an auctioneer, so that it may represent for us the beginning of a longer acquaintance and a closer friendship.”

“All right, sir,” Armand said to me, extending his hand and shaking mine. “I accept, and I will be grateful to you all my life.”

I very much wanted to ask Armand about Marguerite, as the book’s dedication, the young man’s journey, and his desire to possess this volume inflamed my curiosity; but I feared that if I were to quiz my visitor it would seem that I had refused his money in order to gain the right to interfere in his private affairs.

You would have thought that he had read my mind, because he said to me, “You have read this volume?”

“In its entirety.”

“What did you think of the two lines I wrote?”

“I instantly perceived that in your eyes the poor girl to whom you had given this volume was outside the common order, because I could not see these lines as empty compliment.”

“And you were right, sir. This girl was an angel. Hold on,” he said. “Read this letter.”

And he handed me a document that seemed to have been read many times.

I opened it; here is what it contained:

My dear Armand, I received your letter. You remain in good health, and I thank God for that. Yes, my friend, I am ill, and with one of those illnesses that are merciless; but the interest that you are kind enough to take in me greatly reduces my suffering. I will not live long enough to have the happiness of clasping the hand that wrote the fine letter I just received, and whose words would heal me, if anything could. I will not see you again, as I am near death, and hundreds of leagues separate you from me. My poor friend! Your Marguerite of other days is much changed, and it is perhaps better that you not see her again than that you see her as she is now. You ask me if I forgive you; oh! With all my heart, my friend, because the pain you caused me was nothing but a proof of the love you had for me. It has been a month since I have kept to my bed, and I care so much for your esteem that every day I write down the diary of my life, from the moment we left each other to the moment I will no longer have the strength to write.

If the interest that you take in me is genuine, Armand, on your return go visit Julie Duprat. She will give you this journal. You will find in it the explanation and the excuse for what has come between us. Julie is very good to me; we speak of you often. She was there when your letter arrived; we wept as we read it.

In the event you had not sent me news of yourself, she was supposed to see to it that these papers reached you upon your arrival in France. Don’t be grateful to me for them. This daily return to the only happy moments of my life has done me enormous good, and if you find in reading them an excuse for the past, I find in them a continual solace.

I would like to leave you something that always reminded me of your spirit, but everything has been taken from me, and nothing belongs to me.

Do you understand, my friend? I am going to die, and from my bedroom I can hear the guard that my creditors have appointed, walking in the living room, making sure that nobody carries anything off, and that nothing will be left me in the event that I do not die. I can hope only that they will wait until the end to begin selling.

Oh! Men are pitiless! Or perhaps I am wrong, and God is just and unyielding.

Well, dearly beloved, you will have to come to my sale, and buy something, because if I put aside the tiniest object for you and they learn of it, they would be able to charge you with possession of stolen goods.

What a sad life it is that I leave behind!

How good God would be if he would permit me to see you before I die! But in all probability, adieu, my friend; forgive me for not writing you at greater length, but those who say they are healing me wear me out with bloodlettings, and my hand refuses to write anymore.


In truth, the last words were barely legible.

I gave this letter back to Armand, who doubtless had reread it in his mind while I read it on paper, because he said to me as he took it, “Who would ever believe that a kept woman wrote that!” And, moved by his memories, he contemplated for some time the handwriting of this letter, and eventually brought it to his lips.

“When I think,” he resumed, “that she died without my being able to see her and that I will never see her again; when I think that she made sacrifices for me that a sister would not have made, I cannot forgive myself for having let her die like this.

“Dead! Dead! And while thinking of me, while writing and speaking my name, poor, dear Marguerite!”

Armand, letting his thoughts and his tears flow freely, gave me his hand and continued, “Anyone who saw me here mourning a death like this one in this way would think I was a child; but it is because nobody knows how I made this woman suffer, how cruel I was, how good she was and how submissive. I had thought that it was for me to forgive her, but today I consider myself unworthy of the forgiveness she granted me. Oh! I would give ten years of my life to weep one hour at her feet.”

It is always difficult to console someone for a pain one does not oneself know, but I felt such an active sympathy for this young man who so openly made me the confidant of his sorrows that I believed my words would not be indifferent to him, and I said, “Do you not have relatives, or friends? Take heart; go to them and they will console you. As for me, all I can do is pity you.”

“It’s true,” he said, as he got up and began pacing around my room. “I am boring you. Excuse me, I had forgotten that my pain could mean but little to you, and that I am importuning you about something that couldn’t and shouldn’t interest you at all.”

“You mistake my meaning. I am entirely at your service; it is just that I regret my inability to ease your heartache. If my company and the company of my friends can distract you, if, in short, there is anything at all you need from me, I want you to know the great pleasure I will take in being helpful to you.”

“Excuse me, excuse me,” he said. “Pain intensifies the emotions. Let me stay here a few minutes more; I need time to dry my eyes so people on the street won’t stare at me like I’m an oddity, a grown man crying like a baby. You have made me very happy by giving me this book; I will never know how to repay you.”

“By according me a little of your friendship,” I told Armand, “and by telling me the cause of your heartache. It’s consoling to talk about what one suffers.”

“You are right; but today I am overcome by the need to cry, and if I spoke with you, it would be nothing but words without end. One day I will share this story with you, and you will see if I am right to feel sorry for the poor girl. And now,” he added, rubbing his eyes one last time and looking at himself in the mirror, “tell me that you don’t find me too inane, and permit me to come back and see you another time.”

The man’s expression was so good and mild; I nearly hugged him.

As for him, his eyes began again to cloud over with tears; he saw that I noticed, and averted his gaze.

“Well then,” I said to him. “Courage.”

“Good-bye,” he said.

And making an extraordinary effort to keep from crying, he left my home, not so much leaving as fleeing.

I raised the curtain by my window and watched him board the carriage that awaited him at the door; he was scarcely inside before he dissolved into tears and hid his face in his handkerchief.