The Lady of the Camellias CHAPTER VIII

However, Armand continued after a pause, although I realized I was still in love with her, I felt more self-assured than I had before, and mingled with my desire to find myself again with Marguerite was the determination to make her see I had become superior to her.

What detours and justifications the heart gives itself to arrive at what it wants!

Also I could not stay for a long time in the corridors, so I returned to take my place in the orchestra, glancing rapidly into the room to see which box she was in.

She was in a lower box on the main floor, and she was all alone. She had changed, as I told you; I no longer saw on her lips that indifferent smile. She had suffered; she still suffered.

Even though it was already April, she was still dressed for winter, covered in velvet.

I looked at her so obstinately that my gaze attracted hers.

She considered me a few moments, took her opera glasses to see me better, and believed, no doubt, that she recognized me, without being able to say positively who I was, since when she put down her opera glasses a smile—that charming salutation of women—played on her lips, as if in response to the bow she seemed to expect from me. But I hardly responded at all, in order to gain an advantage over her and to seem to have forgotten when she remembered.

Believing she was mistaken, she turned her head.

The curtain went up.

I have seen Marguerite at the theater many times; I never saw her pay the least attention to the performance.

As for me, the show was also of little interest, and I was concerned with nothing but her, while making every effort to keep her from perceiving it.

This is how I saw her exchange glances with the person who occupied the box across from hers; I cast my eyes on this box, and recognized in it a woman with whom I was reasonably well acquainted.

This woman was a former kept woman who had tried to succeed in the theater but had failed, and who, making use of her connections with the elegant women of Paris, had set herself up in business and bought a fashion boutique.

I recognized in her a means of reintroducing myself to Marguerite, and took advantage of a moment in which she looked my way to wish her good evening, with my hand and eyes.

What I had anticipated occurred; she summoned me to her box.

Prudence Duvernoy (that was the happy name of the milliner) was one of those fat women of forty with whom one need employ no great subtlety to discover what one wishes to know, especially when what one wishes to know is as simple as what I had to ask her.

I took advantage of a moment when she resumed her exchange with Marguerite to say, “Who are you looking at?”

“Marguerite Gautier.”

“You know her?”

“Yes; I’m her milliner, and she’s my neighbor.”

“Then you live on the rue d’Antin?”

“Number seven. The window of her dressing room looks out on the window of mine.”

“I hear she’s a charming girl.”

“You don’t know her?”

“No, but I would like to.”

“Would you like me to tell her to come to our box?”

“No, I would prefer you introduce me to her.”

“At her home?”


“That is harder.”


“Because she is the protégée of an old and very jealous duke.”

“Protégée is a charming word.”

“Yes, protégée,” resumed Prudence. “The poor old man, he would be truly embarrassed to be her lover.”

Prudence then related the story of how Marguerite had met the duke at Bagnères.

“That is the reason she is here alone?” I continued.


“But who will drive her home?”

“He will.”

“He will come here, then, to pick her up?”

“In a moment.”

“And you, who will drive you home?”


“I offer myself.”

“But you are here with a friend, I believe.”

“We both offer ourselves, then.”

“Who’s your friend?”

“He’s a charming man, very amusing, who’ll be delighted to make your acquaintance.”

“All right, agreed; the four of us will leave after this play, because I know the last one.”

“Gladly; I’ll go tell my friend.”

“Go ahead.”

“Ah!” Prudence said to me the moment I prepared to leave, “and here’s the duke entering Marguerite’s box.”

I looked. A man of seventy had just sat down behind the young woman and given her a bag of candy, into which she reached, smiling. Then she went to the front of her box and made a gesture to Prudence, which could be interpreted as, “Would you like some?”

“No,” Prudence responded.

Marguerite took the bag and, turning around, began chatting with the duke.

The account of all these details sounds like childishness, but everything that had to do with that girl is so vivid in my memory that I cannot stop myself from recalling it today.

I went to alert Gaston of what I had just arranged for the two of us.

He accepted.

We left our stalls and went to Mme Duvernoy’s box.

We had just opened the door to the orchestra when we were forced to stop to let Marguerite and the duke pass by; they were leaving.

I would have given ten years of my life to change places with that old fellow.

Once they had reached the boulevard, he seated her in a phaeton that he himself drove, and they disappeared, carried off at a trot by two superb horses.

We entered Prudence’s box.

When the play was finished, we went out and hailed a simple fiacre, which drove us to the rue d’Antin, No. 7. At the door of her house, Prudence invited us to come up so she could show us her stock, which we were not familiar with, and of which she seemed to be very proud. You will guess with what alacrity I accepted.

It seemed that I was getting closer and closer to Marguerite. I soon brought the conversation back around to her.

“The old duke is at your neighbor’s place?” I asked Prudence.

“Not at all; she’s surely alone.”

“But she will be terribly bored,” said Gaston.

“We spend nearly all our evenings together, or, as soon as she comes home, she calls me. She never goes to bed before two in the morning. She can’t sleep earlier than that.”


“Because she’s consumptive and nearly always has a fever.”

“She doesn’t have lovers?” I asked.

“I never see anyone stay when I leave, but I can’t prove that nobody comes after I’ve gone. Often in the evening I see at her place a certain Comte de N . . . , who believes he can advance his cause by turning up at eleven o’clock and sending her as many jewels as she would like; but she wouldn’t be able to identify him in a lineup. She’s in the wrong; he’s a very rich boy. I tell her from time to time, “My dear child, this is the man you need!” Usually she listens to me well enough, but this time she turns her back on me and replies that he is too stupid. Yes, he’s stupid, I admit, but she would gain a social position, whereas this old duke could die one day to the next. Old men are selfish; his family reproaches him incessantly for his affection for Marguerite—right there are two reasons why he’ll leave her nothing. I scold her, and she retorts that there will be time enough to accept the count when the duke is dead.

“It’s not always amusing,” Prudence continued, “to live as she does. I know it wouldn’t suit me, and I would have sent that fellow packing. He’s insipid, that old man—he calls her his daughter, he takes care of her as if she were a baby, he’s always on her heels. I’m sure that at this moment one of his servants is prowling the street to see who leaves and, above all, who enters.”

“Ah, that poor Marguerite,” said Gaston, sitting down at the piano and starting to play a waltz. “I didn’t know all that. All the same I’ve found her to have less sparkle than usual for some time.”

“Shh!” said Prudence, cupping her ear.

Gaston stopped.

“She’s calling me, I think.”

We listened.

A voice was calling for Prudence.

“Go, gentlemen, off with you,” Mme Duvernoy told us.

“Ah! That’s how you show us your hospitality,” said Gaston, laughing. “We will leave when the time seems right to us.”

“Why would we leave?”

“I’m going to Marguerite’s.”

“We’ll wait here.”

“That’s not possible.”

“So then, we’ll go with you.”

“Even less possible.”

“I know Marguerite,” Gaston said. “I can certainly go visit her.”

“But Armand does not know her.”

“I will introduce him.”

“It’s impossible.”

We heard again the voice of Marguerite, still calling for Prudence.

The latter ran to her dressing room. I followed her there with Gaston. She opened the window.

We hid ourselves so as not to be seen from outside.

“I’ve been calling you for ten minutes,” Marguerite said from her window in an almost imperious tone.

“What do you want of me?”

“I want you to come over immediately.”


“Because the Comte de N . . . is still here, and he’s boring me to death.”

“I can’t now.”

“What’s stopping you?”

“I’ve got two young men at my place who don’t want to leave.”

“Tell them you have to go out.”

“I’ve told them.”

“Well then, let them stay at your place; when they see that you’ve gone out, they’ll leave.”

“After having turned everything upside down!”

“But what do they want?”

“They want to see you.”

“What are their names?”

“You know one of them, M. Gaston R . . . .”

“Ah yes, I know him; and the other?”

“M. Armand Duval. You don’t know him?”

“No, but bring them over anyway; I’d like anyone better than the count. I’m waiting for you; come quickly.”

Marguerite closed her window; Prudence hers.

Marguerite, who had remembered my face for a moment, did not remember my name. I would have preferred a negative memory to this oblivion.

“I knew,” Gaston said, “that she would be delighted to see us.”

“Delighted is not the word,” Prudence responded, putting on her shawl and her hat. “She is receiving you to make the count leave. Try to be more agreeable than him or, I know Marguerite; she’ll get annoyed with me.”

We followed Prudence downstairs.

I trembled; it seemed that this visit was to have a great impact on my life.

I was even more moved than I had been the night of my introduction in the box of the Opéra-Comique.

As I arrived at the door of the apartment that you know, my heart beat so furiously that all thought escaped me.

Some piano chords met our ears.

Prudence rang.

The piano fell silent.

A woman who seemed more like a companion than a housemaid came to let us in.

We walked into the living room, and from there to the boudoir, which back then looked just as it did when you saw it afterward.

A young man was leaning against the mantel. Marguerite, seated at her piano, let her fingers run over the keys, and began snippets that she did not finish.

The scene radiated ennui, provoked in the man by his embarrassment at his insignificance, in the woman by the presence of this gloomy personage.

Upon hearing Prudence’s voice, Marguerite rose, and, coming to us after having exchanged a look of gratitude with Mme Duvernoy, said to us, “Come in, gentlemen, you are welcome.”