The Lady of the Camellias CHAPTER XI

At this point in his narrative, Armand stopped.

“Could you close the window?” he said. “I’m starting to get cold. In spite of this weather, I’m going to lie down.”

I closed the window. Armand, who was still very weak, took off his dressing gown and got into bed, letting his head rest on his pillow for a few moments, like a man tired from a long run or disturbed by painful memories.

“Perhaps you have spoken too much,” I told him. Would you like me to go home and let you sleep? You can tell me the rest of the story another day.”

“Is it boring you?”

“On the contrary.”

“I will continue, then; if you were to leave me on my own, I would not sleep.”

When I returned home, he resumed, without need for reflection, so present were all these details to his mind, I didn’t go to sleep; I began to reflect on the adventure of the day. The encounter, the introduction, the agreement between Marguerite and me—everything had been so fast, so unhoped-for, that there were moments when I thought I had dreamed it. And yet it was not the first time that a girl like Marguerite had promised herself to a man for the day after he had asked to see her.

I had a hard time forcing myself to admit this; the first impression my future mistress had produced on me had been so powerful it was as if she were still there. I insisted to myself that she was not like other girls, and with the vanity so common to all men, I was ready to believe she shared the same invincible attraction for me that I felt for her.

However, I had much conflicting information before my eyes, and I had often heard that Marguerite’s love was a commodity that was costlier or cheaper according to the season.

On the other hand, how could that reputation be reconciled with the continual refusals she made to the young count whom we had found at her home? You will say she was not attracted to him, and since she was splendidly kept by the duke, if she were to take another lover, she would prefer it be a man she liked. In that case, why wouldn’t she want Gaston, charming, witty, and rich; and why did she appear to want me, whom she had found so ridiculous the first time she’d seen me?

It is true that there are incidents of a minute’s duration that can be more significant than a yearlong courtship.

Among those who were at the supper, I was the only one who had been upset to see her leave the table. I had followed her; I was so moved that I couldn’t hide it. I had wept while kissing her hand. This circumstance, joined to the daily visits I had made during the two months of her illness, perhaps had allowed her to see in me a different kind of man than the ones she had known before, and maybe she had told herself that she might as well do for a love expressed in this fashion what she had already done so many times that it didn’t even matter to her.

All these speculations, as you see, were reasonable enough, but whatever the cause of her consent, there was one thing that was sure: She had consented.

Now, I was in love with Marguerite. I was going to possess her; there was nothing more I could ask of her. However, I repeat to you, although she was a kept woman, in my head, perhaps to romanticize her, I had transformed this passion into a hopeless love, such that the closer the moment approached when I would no longer have need to hope, the more I doubted it would ever happen.

I did not close my eyes all night.

I could not recognize myself. I was half-crazy. Sometimes I thought I wasn’t handsome enough, or rich enough, or elegant enough to possess such a woman; sometimes I felt full of vanity at the thought of this possession. Then I began to fear that Marguerite would treat me as a passing whim, and anticipating the pain of an abrupt rupture, I told myself I would do better not to visit her that night, but to leave town after writing her to explain my fears. From that point I passed on to boundless hopes, to confidence without limit. I built incredible castles in the air; I told myself that this girl would be able to thank me for her physical and moral recovery, that I would spend all my life with her, and that her love would make me happier than the most virginal of loves.

In sum I could never tell you all the thousand thoughts that caught fire in my heart and mind, and died out bit by bit in the sleep that overtook me at dawn.

When I awoke, it was two o’clock. The weather was magnificent. I don’t believe that life had ever before appeared to me so beautiful and replete. The memories of the previous night replayed in my mind, without shadows, without obstacles, joyfully accompanied by my hopes for the evening. I dressed in haste. I was happy and capable of great things. My heart often leapt to my throat from joy and love. A gentle fever ran through me. I was no longer worried about the things that had preoccupied me before I fell asleep. I could see nothing but the outcome; I thought only of the hour when I would see Marguerite again.

It was impossible for me to stay at home. My bedroom seemed too small to contain my happiness; I needed all of nature to flow over me.

I went out.

I passed by the rue d’Antin; Marguerite’s carriage was waiting for her by her door. I headed toward the Champs-Élysées. I loved, without even knowing them, all the people I passed.

How good love makes you!

After spending an hour walking from the horses of Marly to the Rond-Point, and from the Rond-Point to the horses of Marly, I saw Marguerite’s carriage from afar. I could not positively identify it, but I knew it was hers.

At the moment she turned onto the Champs-Élysées, she stopped, and a tall young man parted from a group of people he’d been chatting with to come talk with her.

They spoke for a few moments, the young man rejoined his friends, the horses set off again, and I, who had approached the group, recognized the man who had spoken to Marguerite, this Comte de G . . . , whose portrait I had seen, and whom Prudence had indicated as the man to whom Marguerite owed her social standing.

It was to him that she had barred the door the previous night. I assumed that she had stopped her carriage to give him the reason for this rejection, and at the same time hoped she had found some new pretext to avoid receiving him the following night.

How the rest of the day passed I do not know. I walked, I smoked, I chatted, but by ten o’clock at night I had no memory of what I’d said or whom I’d seen.

All I remember is that I returned home, that I spent three hours getting dressed, and that I looked at my clock a thousand times and at my watch, both of which unhappily kept the same time.

When the clock struck ten thirty, I told myself it was time to go.

I was living at that time on the rue de Provence. I walked along the rue du Mont-Blanc, I crossed the boulevard, took the rue Louis le Grand, the rue de Port-Mahon, and the rue d’Antin. I looked into Marguerite’s windows.

There was light.

I rang.

I asked the porter if Mlle Gautier was at home.

He replied that she never returned home before eleven o’clock or eleven fifteen.

I looked at my watch.

I’d thought I’d come quite slowly, but it had taken me only five minutes to get from the rue de Provence to Marguerite’s.

So I strolled this street devoid of shops, which was deserted at this time of day.

Half an hour later Marguerite arrived. She got out of her coupé and looked around as if there were somebody she expected to see.

The carriage left at a walk; the stables were not in the house. Just as Marguerite was about to ring the bell, I approached and said to her “Good evening.”

“Ah! It’s you?” she said, in a tone that hardly reassured me she was happy to find me there.

“Hadn’t you permitted me to come pay you a visit today?”

“That’s right; I had forgotten.”

This comment overthrew all the reveries of my morning, all my hopes of the day. However, I was beginning to become accustomed to her ways, and I did not leave, something I obviously would have done in the past.

We walked in.

Nanine opened the door before we got to it.

“Has Prudence come home?” asked Marguerite.

“No, madam.”

“Go leave word that as soon as she gets home she should come over. In the meantime, put out the lamp in the living room, and if anybody comes, tell them I am not at home and that I will not be at home.”

This was definitely a woman who was preoccupied by something, and perhaps annoyed to have someone importuning her. I did not know how to act or what to say. Marguerite headed for her bedroom; I stayed where I was.

“Come,” she told me.

She took off her hat, then her velvet coat, and threw them onto the bed. Then she sank into a big armchair by the fire that she kept going all the way up to the beginning of summer, and said to me, while fiddling with her watch chain, “Well then, what news do you have for me?”

“Nothing, unless it’s that I was wrong to come tonight.”


“Because you seem to be in a bad mood, and no doubt I am boring you.”

“You aren’t boring me; it’s just that I’m sick, I felt awful all day, I haven’t slept, and I have a terrible migraine.”

“Would you like me to leave so you can go to bed?”

“Oh! You can stay; if I want to go to sleep, I’ll sleep just fine in front of you.”

At this moment the doorbell rang.

“Who’s coming now?” she said with an impatient movement.

A few moments later, the bell rang again.

“There’s nobody there to open it; I’ll have to go get the door myself.”

She got up, saying to me, “Wait here.”

She crossed the apartment, and I heard the front door open. I listened.

The person to whom she had opened the door stopped in the dining room. With the first words I recognized the voice of the young Comte de N . . . .

“How are you doing tonight?” he asked.

“Badly,” Marguerite replied drily.

“Am I disturbing you?”


“How you receive me! What have I done to you, my dear Marguerite?”

“My dear friend, you have done nothing to me. I am ill; I need to go to sleep—so please do me the kindness of going away. It staggers me to be unable to come home at night without having you turn up five minutes later. What do you want? For me to be your mistress? Well, I’ve already told you a hundred times no, that you irritate me terribly, and that you should turn your attentions elsewhere. I repeat it to you today for the last time: I want nothing to do with you, that’s final; adieu. Ah, here is Nanine returning; she will light your way. Good night.”

And without another word, without listening to what the young man was stammering, Marguerite came back to her bedroom and slammed the door, through which Nanine returned almost immediately.

“Understand,” Marguerite told her. “You are to always tell that fool that I’m not here, or that I do not want to receive him. I’ve finally had it with endlessly seeing these people who come here, always after the same thing, who pay me and consider themselves quit with me. If the women who started out in our shameful trade knew what it is, they would prefer to be chambermaids. But no; the vanity of having fine gowns, carriages, diamonds pulls us in. We believe what we hear, because even prostitution has its faith, and little by little they use up your heart, your body, your beauty. You are feared like a wild beast, scorned like a pariah, and surrounded by people who take more from you than they give you, and one day you go off and die like a dog after having lost all the others and being lost yourself.”

“Now, now, madam, calm yourself,” said Nanine. “Your nerves are bad tonight.”

“This dress bothers me,” Marguerite said, unhooking her bodice. “Give me a dressing gown. All right then, and Prudence?”

“She hasn’t come home yet, but we will send her to madam as soon as she does.”

“There’s another one,” continued Marguerite, as she took off her dress and put on a white dressing gown. “Yet another one who knows very well how to find me when she needs me, but who can’t do me a service out of simple kindness. She knows I’m waiting for her answer tonight, that I must know, and that I’m anxious, and I’m sure she’s run off without thinking of me at all.”

“Maybe she has been detained.”

“Get us some punch.”

“You’ll suffer for it again,” said Nanine.

“All the better. Also bring me some fruit, some pâté or a chicken wing, something at once; I’m hungry.”

To tell you the impression that this scene had upon me is needless; you can guess, no?

“You will have supper with me,” she said to me. “While you’re waiting, read a book; I’m going to go into my dressing room for a bit.”

She lit the candles on a candelabra, opened a door near the foot of her bed, and disappeared.

As for me, I began to reflect on the life of this girl, and pity increased my love.

I was pacing this bedroom, deep in thought, when Prudence entered.

“Oh, you’re here?” she said. “Where is Marguerite?”

“In her dressing room.”

“I’ll wait for her. She thinks you’re charming, did you know that?”


“She didn’t give you a hint?”

“Not at all.”

“How do you happen to be here?”

“I’ve come to pay a call.”

“At midnight?”

“Why not?”

“You joker!”

“All the same, she received me very rudely.”

“She will receive you better in future.”

“You think?”

“I’m bringing her good news.”

“No harm done. So she has spoken to you about me?”

“Yesterday night, or rather, early this morning, when you left with your friend. . . . And on that subject, how is he, your friend? He’s called Gaston R . . . , I think?”

“Yes,” I said, unable to keep from smiling as I remembered the boast Gaston had made to me, and saw that Prudence scarcely knew his name.

“He’s nice, that boy; what does he do?”

“He has an income of twenty-five thousand francs.”

“Ah! Really! Well, returning to you, Marguerite asked me about you; she wanted to know who you were, what you did, which mistresses you had had—in short, everything you could want to know about a man your age. I told her everything I know, adding that you are a charming boy, and there you have it.”

“Thank you; now, tell me then what business she asked you to perform yesterday.”

“None; that was just to make the count leave, but today she did give me a mission, and that is the answer I’m bringing her tonight.”

At this moment Marguerite came out of her dressing room, coquettishly coiffed in her nightcap, decorated with poufs of yellow ribbons, which technically are known as choux.

She looked ravishing.

Her feet were bare in satin slippers, and she was doing her nails. “So,” she said, seeing Prudence, “did you see the duke?”


“And what did he say to you?”

“He gave it to me.”

“How much?”

“Six thousand.”

“Do you have it with you?”


“Did he look annoyed?”


“Poor man!”

This “Poor man!” was said in a tone that is impossible to convey. Marguerite took the six one-thousand-franc notes.

“And high time,” she said. “My dear Prudence, do you need money?”

“You know, my child, that in two days it will be the fifteenth, so if you could lend me three or four hundred francs, you would do me a great service.”

“Send for it tomorrow morning; it’s too late tonight to break it.”

“Don’t forget.”

“Don’t worry. Will you have supper with us?”

“No, Charles is waiting for me at home.”

“You’re still crazy about him, then?”

“Positively nuts, my darling! Till tomorrow. Good-bye, Armand.”

Mme Duvernoy left.

Marguerite opened a door of the étagère and tossed the banknotes into it.

“You will permit me to lie down!” she said, smiling, as she went to her bed.

“Not only do I permit it; I beg it of you.”

She threw back the coverlet and got into bed.

“Now,” she said, “come sit beside me and we’ll have a little talk.”

Prudence was right: The answer she had brought Marguerite had cheered her.

“Will you forgive my bad mood from earlier this evening?” she said, taking my hand.

“I am prepared to forgive you many more.”

“And do you love me?”

“So much that I could go crazy.”

“In spite of my bad nature?”

“In spite of everything.”

“Swear it!”

“Yes,” I said softly.

Nanine came in bearing plates, a cold chicken, a bottle of Bordeaux, strawberries, and two covered dishes.

“I didn’t make any punch for you,” said Nanine. “The Bordeaux is better for you. Isn’t that right, sir?”

“Certainly,” I responded, stirred again by these last words of Marguerite’s, my eyes fixed ardently upon her.

“Good,” she said. “Put all that on the little table, bring it close to the bed; we will serve ourselves. You’ve been up three nights in a row; you must want to sleep. Go to bed; I don’t need anything more.”

“Should I lock the door?”

“I should say so! And above all, leave word that nobody be allowed in tomorrow before noon.”