The Lady of the Camellias CHAPTER VII

Illnesses like the one Armand had contracted are convenient in that if they don’t kill you on the spot, they are quickly conquered.

Fifteen days after the events I have just described, Armand was much better, and we had formed a firm friendship. I had hardly left his room the entire time he was sick.

Spring had scattered its flowers in profusion, its leaves, its birds and its songs, and my friend’s window opened cheerfully onto his garden, whose restorative scents drifted up to him.

The doctor had given him permission to leave his bed, and we often chatted, sitting by the open window, at the hour when the sun is at its hottest, from noon until two o’clock.

I took care not to speak to him of Marguerite, still fearing that the name might awaken a dormant unhappy memory in the seemingly calm patient; but Armand, on the contrary, seemed to take pleasure in speaking of her, not the way he had done in the past, with tears in his eyes, but with a gentle smile that reassured me about his mental state.

I had noticed that since his last visit to the cemetery, where the spectacle had taken place that had brought on this violent crisis, his psychological pain seemed to have been dwarfed by the illness, and for him the death of Marguerite no longer belonged to the past. A sort of consolation had come from the certainty he had obtained, and to chase away the dark image that frequently came to him, he sank into happy memories of his relationship with Marguerite, and seemed to want to think of none but those.

His body was too worn out from his attack and from his recovery from the fever to permit him to surrender to violent emotion, and the joys of the springtime and of the world around him led his thoughts, despite himself, to cheerful visions.

He still stubbornly refused to tell his family of the danger he was in, and until he had recovered, his father was unaware of his illness.

One night we had stayed by the window longer than usual; the weather had been magnificent, and the sun had set in a twilight of shimmering azure and gold. Although we were in Paris, the foliage that surrounded us seemed to isolate us from the world, even if from time to time the sound of a carriage faintly interrupted our conversation.

“It was at about this time of the year, on the evening of a day like this one, that I met Marguerite,” Armand told me, caught up in his thoughts and not in what I was telling him.

I said nothing.

He turned toward me and said, “I must tell you this story; you will get a book out of it that no one will believe, but that perhaps will be interesting to write.”

“You can tell me about it later, my friend,” I said. “You’re not well enough yet.”

“The evening is warm, I’ve eaten my chicken breast,” he said to me, smiling. “I don’t have a fever, we’ve got nothing to do. I’m going to tell you everything.”

“Since you feel so strongly, I’ll listen.”

“It’s a very simple story,” he added, “and I will tell it to you in the order that things happened. If you do something with it later, feel free to tell it differently.”

Here is what he told me, and I have changed hardly a word of this touching narrative.

Yes, continued Armand, letting his head fall back on his armchair. Yes, it was on an evening like this one! I had spent my day in the country with one of my friends, Gaston R . . . . That night we came back to Paris, and not knowing what to do, we went to the Variétés theater.

During an intermission we went out, and in the corridor we saw a tall woman pass, and my friend bowed to her.

“Who is that you are you bowing to?” I asked him.

“Marguerite Gautier,” he said.

“It seems to me she has changed; I wouldn’t have recognized her,” I said with an emotion that you will understand a little later.

“She’s been sick; the poor girl won’t last long.”

I recall those words as if they had been spoken yesterday.

You must know, my friend, that for two years the sight of this girl, whenever I happened to see her, had a strange impression on me.

Without knowing why, I would become pale, and my heart would beat violently. One of my friends studies the occult sciences, and he would attribute what I experienced to “affinity of fluids”; me, I quite simply believe I was destined to fall in love with Marguerite, and that I had a presentiment of it.

She always had a powerful effect on me, which many of my friends witnessed, and which they laughed about heartily once they realized who it was that inspired it.

The first time I had seen her was on the Place de la Bourse, at the doorstep of Susse’s. An open carriage had parked, and a woman dressed in white stepped out. An admiring murmur welcomed her as she entered the shop. As for me, I remained nailed in place from the moment she entered until the moment she left. Through the window I watched her choose in the boutique what she had gone there to buy. I could have gone in, but I didn’t dare. I didn’t know who the woman was, and I didn’t want her to guess the cause of my entry into the shop and possibly take offense. However, I did not believe I would see her again.

She was elegantly dressed; she wore a muslin dress covered in ruffles, a square Indian shawl whose corners were embroidered with gold and silk flowers, an Italian straw hat, and an unusual bracelet, a thick gold chain that was just coming into fashion.

She got back into her barouche and drove off.

One of the boutique’s clerks stood on the doorstep, following with his eyes the carriage of the elegant shopper. I approached him and begged him to tell me the woman’s name.

“That’s Mlle Marguerite Gautier,” he replied.

Not daring to ask him for her address, I went away.

The memory of this vision—because it truly was a vision—did not leave my mind, unlike many other visions I’d had before, and I searched everywhere for this woman in white who was so regally beautiful.

A few days later a big production took place at the Opéra-Comique. I went, and the first person I saw in a box down by the stage was Marguerite Gautier.

The young man I was with recognized her too, because he said to me, mentioning her name, “Look at that pretty girl.”

At that moment Marguerite was looking our way through her opera glasses. She spotted my friend, smiled at him, and signaled for him to come pay her a visit.

“I’m going to go over and say hello,” he said. “I’ll be back in a second.”

I couldn’t keep myself from saying, “Lucky you!”


“To get to go visit that woman.”

“Are you in love with her?”

“No,” I said, blushing, as I really didn’t know what I felt, as far as that was concerned. “But I would like to meet her.”

“Come with me; I’ll introduce you.”

“First ask her permission.”

“Good God, there’s no need to be shy with her; come on.”

What he said pained me. I trembled to think that Marguerite might not be worthy of the feelings I had for her.

In a book by Alphonse Karr, called Smoking, a man follows an elegant woman one night and falls in love with her at first sight because she is so beautiful. Overcome by his desire to kiss the woman’s hand, he feels in himself the strength to undertake everything, the will to conquer all, the courage to do anything. He hardly dares look at the coquettish glimpse of leg she reveals as she raises her skirt to keep the earth from besmirching her dress. As he dreams of everything he will do to win this woman, she stops on a street corner and asks him if he wants to come up to her place.

He averts his gaze, crosses the street, and returns home filled with woe.

I recalled this tale, and I, who longed to suffer for this woman, became afraid that she might accept me too quickly, and too quickly grant me a love that I wanted to gain through long pursuit or great sacrifice. That’s how we’re made, we men, and it’s truly fortunate that the imagination bestows this sort of poetry on the senses, and that the passions of the body make this concession to the dreams of the soul.

In short, if someone had told me, “You may have this woman tonight, and tomorrow you will be killed,” I would have accepted. If someone had said, “For ten louis you can be her lover,” I would have refused and wept like a child who woke to see that the castle he had dreamt of in the night had disappeared.

Nonetheless I wanted to meet her; this was a way, perhaps the only way, to know what my connection to her might be.

So I told my friend I would wait to hear if she would give him permission to introduce me, and I prowled the corridors, telling myself she might see me from one moment to the next, and that I would not know what countenance to present for her scrutiny.

I tried to string together in advance the words I would say to her.

Love is so sublimely infantile!

The next instant my friend came down.

“She’s waiting for us,” he said.

“Is she alone?” I asked.

“With another woman.”

“No men?”


“Let’s go.”

My friend headed toward the theater door.

“It’s not that way,” I said.

“We’re going to get candy. She asked me to get some.”

We walked into a candy shop in the Opéra passage.

I would have bought out the entire shop if I could have, and I was looking around to see what to fill the bag with when my friend said, “A pound of sugared grapes.”

“Do you know if she likes them?”

“She never eats any other candy; it’s a well-known fact.”

“Ah!” he continued once we had left. “Do you know the woman I’m about to introduce you to? Don’t imagine she’s a duchess—she’s quite simply a kept woman, as kept as kept can be, my dear; so don’t be bashful, and tell her anything that comes into your head.

“Good, good,” I stammered, and followed him, telling myself I would cure myself of my passion.

As I entered the box, Marguerite was laughing raucously.

I would have preferred her to be sad.

My friend introduced me. Marguerite made a slight inclination of her head and said, “And my candy?”

“Here it is.”

As she took it she looked at me. I lowered my eyes; I blushed.

She bent to the ear of her neighbor, spoke a few words to her in a low voice, and both of them burst out laughing.

Obviously I was the cause of this hilarity; my embarrassment was compounded. At that time my mistress was a simple bourgeoise who was very tender and very sentimental, whose sentimentality and melancholy letters made me laugh. I understood the pain I must have caused her by the pain I now felt, and for five minutes I loved a woman as I never had before.

Marguerite ate her grapes and paid me no further attention.

My introducer did not want to leave me in this ridiculous position.

“Marguerite,” he said, “you must not be astonished if M. Duval says nothing. You overwhelm him so much that he cannot produce a word.”

“I believe rather that the gentleman accompanied you here because it would have bored you to come alone.”

“If that were true,” I said in turn, “I would not have begged Ernest to ask your permission to introduce me.”

“It was probably nothing more than a means of postponing the fatal moment.”

Even if one has spent little time with girls like Marguerite, one knows the pleasure they take in sporting with and teasing people the first time they meet them. Doubtless it is payback for the humiliations they are so often forced to undergo from people they see every day.

Also, to banter with them requires a certain familiarity with their world, a familiarity I did not possess; and then again, the idea I had formed of Marguerite increased for me the power of her teasing. No aspect of this woman was indifferent to me. And so I stood up, telling her, with an alteration in my voice that was impossible for me to completely disguise, “If that’s what you think of me, madam, I have no choice but to beg your pardon for my indiscretion and to take leave of you, assuring you that it will not be repeated.”

Upon this, I bowed and left.

I had hardly shut the door when I heard a third peal of laughter. I would have loved for someone to stumble into me at that moment.

I returned to my stall.

The knock came, announcing that the curtain was about to go up.

Ernest returned.

“How you carried on!” he said, as he sat down beside me. “They think you’re crazy.”

“What did Marguerite say after I left?”

“She laughed and assured me she’d never seen anything funnier. But you shouldn’t consider yourself defeated; only don’t do those girls the honor of taking them seriously. They don’t know what elegance and good manners are; they’re like dogs you spritz with perfume who think it smells awful and go roll in the gutter.”

“After all, what do I care?” I said, trying to sound nonchalant. “I’ll never see the woman again, and if I liked the look of her before I knew her, that’s completely changed now that we’ve met.”

“Bah! I’m not abandoning hope of seeing you in her box, and hearing that you’re ruining yourself for her. Anyway, right you’ll be—she’s badly brought up, but she’s a lovely mistress to have.”

Luckily the curtain went up and my friend quit talking. To tell you what was playing would be impossible for me. All I remember is that from time to time I raised my eyes to the loge I had so abruptly left, and saw a succession of new visitors appear there, one after the other.

However, I was far from not thinking anymore of Marguerite. Another feeling suffused me. I felt I had to make her forget her insult and my ridicule. I told myself that if I had to spend everything I owned I would have that girl, and reclaim my right to the place I had abandoned so quickly.

Before the show was over, Marguerite and her friend left their box.

In spite of myself, I left the stall.

“You’re leaving?” asked Ernest.



At this moment he noticed the box was empty.

“Go on, go on,” he said. “And good luck, or, rather, better luck.”

I went out.

I heard in the stairway the rustling of dresses and the sound of voices. I stood to the side and, without being seen, watched the two women and the two young men who accompanied them pass by.

On the colonnade outside the theater, a little serving woman presented herself to them.

“Go tell the coachman to wait by the door of the Café Anglais,” Marguerite said. “We will go there by foot.”

A few minutes later, while lurking on the boulevard, I saw Marguerite leaning on the balcony at the window of one of the restaurant’s large private rooms, plucking apart the camellias in her bouquet, one by one.

One of the two men was leaning against her shoulder and speaking softly to her.

I went to the Maison-d’Or, to one of the parlors on the first floor, installed myself there, and did not lose sight of the window in question.

At one in the morning, Marguerite climbed into her carriage with her three friends.

I took a cab and followed her.

The carriage stopped at rue d’Antin, No. 9.

Marguerite got out of the carriage and went in alone.

This was, without doubt, a coincidence, but the coincidence made me very happy.

From this day on I often bumped into Marguerite at the theater, on the Champs-Élysées. Always there was the same gaiety in her, the same confusion in me.

But then two weeks passed when I did not see her anywhere. I found myself with Gaston and asked for news of her.

“The poor girl is quite sick,” he responded.

“What’s wrong with her?”

“She’s consumptive, and as she does not lead a life that’s conducive to getting better, she has taken to her bed, and she’s dying.”

The heart is strange; I was almost happy about this illness.

Every day I went to get news about the invalid, without, however, leaving my name or my card. That is how I learned of her convalescence and of her departure for Bagnères.

As time passed, the impression, if not the memory, seemed to erase itself little by little from my mind. I traveled; there were connections, habits, jobs that took the place of those thoughts; and when I thought back to that first adventure, I chose to regard it as one of those follies of youth that one laughs about soon after.

But there would have been no great reason to exult over this memory, as I had lost track of Marguerite after her departure, and as I told you, when she passed near me in the corridor of the Variétés theater, I did not recognize her.

She was veiled it is true, but, two years earlier, however veiled she might have been, I would not have needed to see her to recognize her; I would have sensed her presence.

All of which did not keep my heart from beating when I knew it was she; and the two years that had passed without my seeing her, and the results that this separation had appeared to produce, melted into smoke at the mere touch of her gown.