The Lady of the Camellias CHAPTER V

A fairly long time passed before I heard talk of Armand, but the subject of Marguerite, on the other hand, came up quite often.

I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but once the name of someone who is supposed to be unknown to you, or at least indifferent to you, is spoken before you, details begin to cluster around this name, little by little, and you begin to hear your friends speak of things they had never before discussed with you. It is then you discover that this person was practically connected to you, that she had passed unobserved through your life many times; you find coincidences in events people relate that seem to have an actual connection with events in your own life. I had positively never known Marguerite, though I had seen her, bumped into her, and knew her face and her habits; and yet, after that sale, her name came frequently to my ears, and, given the circumstances I related in the previous chapter, this name was blended with a heartache so profound that my astonishment grew, magnifying my curiosity.

The result of this was that every time I ran into friends with whom I had never before spoken of Marguerite, I would say, “Did you ever know someone named Marguerite Gautier?”

“The Lady of the Camellias?”


“Very well!”

These Very wells! were sometimes accompanied by smirks that left no doubt as to their meaning.

“Ah, and what was she like?” I’d continue.

“A grand girl.”

“That’s all?”

“My God! Yes, more spirit and maybe a little more heart than the rest.”

“And you know nothing in particular about her?”

“She ruined the Baron de G . . . .”

“Only him?”

“She was the mistress of the old Duc de . . . .”

“Was she really his mistress?”

“So they say. In any case, he gave her a lot of money.”

Always the same generalities.

However, I would have been curious to learn something about the liaison between Marguerite and Armand.

One day I ran into one of those men who continually associate with courtesans. I asked him:

“Did you know Marguerite Gautier?”

The same very well was his answer.

“What kind of girl was she?”

“A fine, pretty girl. I was saddened to learn of her death.”

“Didn’t she have a lover named Armand Duval?”

“A tall, blond man?”

“That’s true. What’s Armand’s story?”

“He was a guy who squandered what little resources he had on her, I believe, and was forced to leave her. They say he was crazy about her.”

“And she?”

“She loved him very much, too, everyone always says, but only in the way women like that can. You shouldn’t expect more from them than they’re capable of giving.”

“What’s become of Armand?”

“I don’t know. We knew him very little. He spent five or six months with Marguerite, but in the countryside. When she came back, he left.”

“And you haven’t seen him since?”


Me neither. I had begun to ask myself if, at the time he presented himself at my home, the recent news of Marguerite’s death had exaggerated his old love and, as a consequence, his grief, and I told myself that perhaps he had already forgotten, along with her death, the promise he had made to come back and see me.

This suspicion would have been reasonable enough had it been somebody else, but there had been a sincere tenor to Armand’s despair, and, passing from one extreme to the other, I wondered if his heartache had turned into illness, and that if I hadn’t had news from him, it was because he was sick, or maybe even dead.

I was interested in this young man in spite of myself. Perhaps there was a degree of egotism in this interest; perhaps I had glimpsed a touching love story beneath his pain, and perhaps, in short, it was my desire to know it that was largely responsible for my concern over Armand’s silence.

Since M. Duval did not return to visit me, I resolved to visit him. It was not hard to find a pretext, but unfortunately I did not know his address, and none of the people I had questioned could tell me it.

I went to the rue d’Antin. Marguerite’s doorman might know where Armand lived. He was a new doorman. He didn’t know any more than I did. I then obtained the name of the cemetery where Mlle Gautier had been buried. It was the cemetery of Montmartre.

April had reappeared, the weather was lovely, and the graves no longer had the dolorous, desolate air that winter gives them; at last it was warm enough for the living to remember the dead and to visit them. I went to the cemetery, telling myself, “With one glance at Marguerite’s grave I will see if Armand is still suffering, and maybe I will learn what has become of him.”

I entered the caretaker’s house and asked if on the twenty-second of the month of February a woman named Marguerite Gautier had been buried in the cemetery of Montmartre.

The man leafed through a fat book where all those who entered this final resting place were inscribed and enumerated, and responded that yes, on the twenty-second of February, at noon, a woman by that name had been interred.

I asked the caretaker to lead me to the grave, as this city of the dead has its streets, just like the city of the living, and there would be no way to identify her grave without a guide. The caretaker called over a gardener, to whom he gave the necessary indications, until the gardener interrupted him, saying: “I know, I know . . . Oh! The grave is easy enough to spot,” he continued, turning toward me.

“Why?” I asked him.

“Because its flowers are much different than the others.”

“Is it you who tends it?”

“Yes, sir, and I could wish all relatives took as good care of their departed as the young man who looks after that one.”

After a few turns, the gardener stopped and said to me, “Here we are.”

Before my eyes was an expanse of flowers that no one would ever have taken for a grave, had not a white marble slab bearing a name been proof.

This marble slab stood upright. An iron trellis demarcated the plot of land that had been bought, and that plot was covered in white camellias.

“What do you make of that?” asked the gardener.

“It’s very pretty.”

“And every time a camellia fades, I’m on orders to replace it.”

“And who gives you those orders?”

“A young man who cried a great deal the first time he came—a close friend of the dead woman, no doubt, because she seemed to be a lively sort, that one. They say she was very beautiful. Did the gentleman know her?”


“The way the other man did?” the gardener asked with a wicked smile.

“No, I never spoke to her.”

“And you come here to see her; that’s very good of you, because the cemetery’s hardly overrun with visitors to the poor girl.”

“So nobody comes?”

“No one except for the young man, who came once.”

“Just once?”

“Yes, sir.”

“And he hasn’t been back since?”

“No, but he’ll come back upon his return.”

“Then he’s traveling?”


“And do you know where he is?”

“He is, I believe, staying with Mlle Gautier’s sister.”

“And what is he doing there?”

“He is seeking authorization from her to exhume the dead woman and bury her someplace else.”

“Why doesn’t he leave her here?”

“You know, sir, people have ideas about what to do with the dead. People like me see that every day. This plot was purchased for five years only, and this young man wants a permanent resting place for her, and a larger plot; in the new quarter it will be better.”

“What do you mean by ‘the new quarter’?”

“The new plots that we’re selling now, on the left. If the cemetery had always been kept up the way it is now, there wouldn’t have been another like it in the world; but there’s still a lot to do before it’s just as it should be. And then again, people are so funny.”

“What do you mean?”

“I mean there are people who are proud until they come here. And this girl Gautier seems to have lived it up a little, if you’ll pardon the expression. Now, the poor girl, she’s dead; and there are plenty more that there’s nothing to say against and whom we water every day; and, well, when the relatives of the people who are buried beside her heard who she was, didn’t they object to her being here—and didn’t they say plots should be set apart for women like that, like they are for the poor? Have you ever heard such a thing? I told them what I thought of them, I did; wealthy people who don’t even come four times a year to visit their dead, who bring their flowers themselves . . . and just imagine the flowers they bring! They act as if a visit to somebody they’re supposed to cry over were a business appointment, they carve mournful sentiments on gravestones for people they’ve never shed a tear for, and they make trouble for the neighborhood. Believe me if you like, sir, I did not know this young woman, I don’t know what she did; and all the same, I love her, that poor little mite, and I take care of her, and I choose camellias for her at the fairest price. She’s my favorite of the dead. People like me, sir, are forced to love the dead, because we’re so busy that we hardly have time to love anything else.”

I looked at this man, and some of my readers will understand without my needing to explain it the emotion I felt upon hearing him speak this way.

He sensed it, undoubtedly, because he went on, “They say there are people who ruined themselves for that girl, and that she had lovers who adored her; well, when I think that not one of them comes to buy her one solitary flower, that’s what I think is strange and sad. And again, she has nothing to complain about, because she has her grave, and if there’s only one person who remembers her, well, he can stand in for the rest. But we have poor girls here of the same type and the same age that we throw into paupers’ graves, and it breaks my heart when I hear their poor bodies fall to ground. And not one soul thinks of them once they’re dead! It’s not always so cheerful, this trade of ours, if you’ve got a soft heart. What do you want? It’s too much for me sometimes. I’ve got a nice, grown-up daughter who’s twenty, and when someone brings a dead girl her age here, I think of her; and, whether it’s a great lady or a tramp, I can’t help but be moved.

“But no doubt I’m boring you with my tales, and you did not come here to listen to me talk. I was told to lead you to the grave of Mlle Gautier—here you are. May I be of any further assistance?”

“Do you know the address of M. Armand Duval?” I asked this man.

“Yes, he lives on rue —. At least that’s where I went to get the money to buy all the flowers you see here.”

“Thank you, my friend.”

I cast one last glance at the flower-strewn grave, and despite myself longed to part the depths to see what the earth had done to the beautiful creature who had been surrendered to it. I walked away filled with sadness.

“Would the gentleman like to see M. Duval?” asked the gardener, walking alongside me.


“It’s just that I’m pretty sure he’s not back yet; otherwise I would have seen him here already.”

“You therefore are convinced he has not forgotten Marguerite?”

“Not only am I convinced, but I would also bet that his wish to move her grave is nothing more than the desire to see her again.”

“What do you mean?”

“The first thing he said to me when he came to the cemetery was, ‘What do I have to do to see her again?’ That could only take place if the grave were moved, and I explained to him all the forms he would need to fill out to make the change, because, you know, to transfer the dead from one grave to another, you must first identify them, and only the family is authorized to make that identification, and it must be done in the presence of a police commissioner. It’s to get this authorization that M. Duval has gone to Mlle Gautier’s sister, and his first visit will obviously be to us.”

We had arrived at the cemetery gate; I thanked the gardener again, put some money in his hand and went to the address he had given me.

Armand was not back.

I left word for him, asking him to come see me upon his return, or to let me know how I could find him.

The next day, in the morning, I received a letter from Duval, who informed me of his return and asked me to drop by, adding that, worn out with exhaustion, he was unable to leave his house.