The Lady of the Camellias CHAPTER XIV

Returning home, I began to cry like a baby. Any man who has been deceived even once knows the suffering it causes.

I told myself, under the influence of those fevered resolutions that one always believes one will have the strength to keep, that I had to end this affair immediately, and I impatiently awaited the coming of morning so I could resume my former life and return to my father and sister, a double love I could feel sure of, and which would never betray me.

However, I did not want to leave without Marguerite knowing why I was leaving. Only a man who emphatically no longer loves his mistress leaves without writing her.

I wrote and rewrote twenty letters in my head.

I was involved with a girl who was like all other kept women. I had romanticized her far too much; she had treated me like a schoolboy, using a trick of insulting simplicity to deceive me, it was clear. My pride took over. I had to leave this woman without giving her the satisfaction of knowing that the rupture had hurt me, and here is what I wrote to her in my most elegant script, with tears of rage and pain in my eyes:

“My dear Marguerite,

“I hope that yesterday’s indisposition has not troubled you too greatly. I dropped by at eleven last night for news of you, and was told that you had not returned. M. de G . . . was more fortunate than I, as he presented himself a few moments later, and at four in the morning was still with you.

“Forgive the tedious hours that I subjected you to, and be assured that I will never forget the happy moments that I owe to you.

“I certainly would have been eager to learn your news today, but I am planning to return to my family.

“Adieu, my dear Marguerite; I am neither rich enough to love you as I would like, nor poor enough to love you as you would prefer. Let us forget then—you, a name that must be practically indifferent to you; I, a happiness that has become impossible for me.

“I am sending you back your key, which has never been of use to me and could be of use to you, if you often fall sick as you did yesterday.”

As you see, I did not have the strength to finish the letter without a flourish of insolent irony, which proved how much in love I still was.

I read and reread the letter ten times, and the idea that it would cause Marguerite pain calmed me a little. I tried to buck myself up by imagining the emotions she would feel, and when at eight o’clock my servant entered, I gave him the letter so he could take it to her at once.

“Should I wait for a response?” Joseph asked (my servant was named Joseph, like all servants).

“If anyone asks if a response is expected, say that you know nothing and that you will wait.”

I clung to the hope that she would respond.

How poor and weak we are!

The entire time my servant was gone, I was in a state of extreme agitation. Sometimes, remembering how Marguerite had given herself to me, I asked myself what right I had to write her an impertinent letter, when she could have retorted that it was not M. de G . . . who was deceiving me, but I who was deceiving M. de G . . . , a rationale that allows many women to have many lovers. Sometimes, recalling the avowals the girl had made to me, I almost persuaded myself that my letter had been too mild, and that no expressions could be strongly worded enough to scourge a woman who could laugh at a love as sincere as mine. And then I told myself I would have done better not to write her at all, and to go visit her in the afternoon; and that, in that way, I could have rejoiced in the tears I would have made her shed.

At last I asked myself how she would reply, ready to believe any excuse she might give me.

Joseph came back.

“Well? I said.

“Sir,” he replied, “madam was in bed and still sleeping, but as soon as she rings, they will give her the letter, and if there is a reply, they will bring it.”

She was sleeping!

Twenty times I was on the point of sending him to retrieve the letter, but I always told myself, “Perhaps they’ve already given it to her, and it will look like I wished I hadn’t sent it.”

The closer the hour approached when it was likely she might respond, the more I regretted having written.

The clock struck ten, eleven o’clock, noon.

At noon I was on the verge of keeping our rendezvous, as if nothing had happened. I no longer knew how to wriggle out of the band of iron that gripped me.

I believed, with the superstitiousness of those who wait, that if I went out for a while, I would find a reply upon my return. Impatiently awaited replies always arrive when you’re not home.

I went out on the pretext of going to get lunch.

Instead of lunching at Café Foy, on the corner of the boulevard, as I usually did, I chose to lunch at the Palais-Royal, and to pass by the rue d’Antin. Every time I espied a woman in the distance, I thought it was Nanine bringing me a reply. I walked across the rue d’Antin without seeing even a policeman. I arrived at the Palais-Royal; I entered Chez Véry. The waiter brought me something to eat, or rather served me whatever he chose, as I did not eat.

Despite myself, my eyes were always fixed on the clock.

I returned home convinced that I would find a letter from Marguerite.

The porter had received nothing. I held out hope for my servant. He hadn’t seen anyone since my departure.

If Marguerite was going to respond at all, she would have responded long before now.

It was then when I began to regret the wording of my letter; I should have kept totally silent, that doubtless would have made her uneasy, since, not having seen me come to the rendezvous the night before, she would have asked the reasons for my absence, and only I could have supplied them. In this way she would have had no choice but to try to exculpate herself, and that was what I wanted her to do. I already realized that I would have accepted whatever reasons she might have given me, and that it would have been better for me to accept everything than never to see her again.

I convinced myself that she would come herself to see me, but the hours passed and she did not come. Marguerite was definitely not like other women, because there are few who, receiving a letter like the one I had written, would not respond in some way.

At five o’clock I ran to the Champs-Élysées.

“If I run into her,” I thought to myself, “I will affect an indifferent air, and she will be convinced that I’ve already stopped thinking about her.”

At the corner of the rue Royale, I saw her pass by in her carriage; the encounter was so abrupt that I turned pale. I do not know if she observed my emotion; as for me, I was so upset that I saw nothing but her carriage.

I did not continue my walk along the Champs-Élysées. I looked at the theater posters instead, because I still had one more chance to see her.

There was a premiere at the Palais-Royal. Marguerite was sure to be there.

I was at the theater at seven o’clock.

All the boxes filled, but Marguerite did not appear.

I then left the Palais-Royal and went to all the theaters she visited most often—to the Vaudeville, the Variétés, the Opéra-Comique.

She was nowhere.

Either my letter had hurt her too much for her to want to go to the theater, or she was afraid she might bump into me and wanted to avoid a confrontation.

This is what my vanity was whispering to me on the boulevard when I ran into my friend Gaston, who asked me where I was coming from.

“From the Palais-Royal.”

“And I from the opera,” he said. “Actually I thought I might see you there.”


“Because Marguerite was there.”

“Ah! She was there?”



“No, with one of her girlfriends.”

“That’s all?”

“The Comte de G . . . came for an instant into her box, but she left with the duke. Every moment I thought I would see you. There was a stall beside me that remained empty all evening, and I was convinced it had been reserved for you.”

“But why would I go where Marguerite goes?”

“Because you are her lover, by God!”

“And who told you that?”

“Prudence, whom I saw yesterday. I congratulate you, my friend; she is a lovely mistress whom not everyone can have. Hold on to her, my friend; she will do you credit.

Gaston’s offhand remark showed me how ridiculous my weaknesses were.

If I had seen him the night before and he had spoken to me in this way, I certainly would not have written the ridiculous letter that morning.

I was on the point of going to Prudence and sending her to tell Marguerite that I wanted to speak to her, but I was afraid that, to get even, she would respond only that she would not receive me. And I went home, after passing through the rue d’Antin.

I asked my porter again if there was a letter for me.


“She must have wanted to see if I would make some new move, or if I would retract my letter today,” I told myself as I went to bed, “but given that I didn’t write to her, she will write to me tomorrow.”

That night above all I rued what I had done. I was home alone, unable to sleep, devoured by anxiety and jealousy, when if I had let things take their natural course, I would have been beside Marguerite, hearing the tender words spoken to me that I had heard only on two occasions, and which burned in my ears in my solitude.

The worst thing about my situation was that my reasoning had led me wrong, when the evidence told me that Marguerite loved me. First, there was the project she had come up with of spending a summer with me alone in the country; then there was the certainty that nothing compelled her to be my mistress, given that my fortune was insufficient to her needs and even to her whims. She therefore had no incentive but the hope of finding in me a sincere affection that could offer her a respite from the mercenary loves she lived among; but on the second day I had destroyed that hope, and repaid two nights of love with insolent irony. What I was doing was therefore more than ridiculous; it was vulgar. I had not even paid this woman, yet I was attacking her lifestyle; and didn’t my retreat, on the second day, give me the air of a parasitical lover who is hoping to skip out on the bill for his dinner? What had I been thinking! It had been thirty-six hours since I’d met Marguerite; twenty-four hours since I’d been her lover, and I was playing the victim. Instead of being grateful for what she had shared with me, I wanted everything for myself alone, and wanted to force her to sever with one stroke all the connections of her past that provided the income of her future. What had I to reproach her for? Nothing. She had written to me that she was unwell, when she could have told me crudely, with that hideous frankness that certain women employ, that she was expecting a lover, and instead of choosing to believe her letter, instead of going for a long walk in all the streets of Paris except for the rue d’Antin, instead of spending my evening with my friends and presenting myself the next day at the appointed hour, I had played Othello; I had spied on her, and then sought to punish her by seeing her no more. Probably, on the contrary, she was delighted by this separation; she must have found me exceedingly stupid, and her silence came not from rancor, but from disdain.

At that point I should have given Marguerite a gift that would have left no doubt of my generosity, that would have permitted me, in treating her like a kept woman, to consider myself quit of her, but I was afraid I would give offense by the least appearance of treating the love she had for me, not to mention the love I had for her, as if it were transactional. This love was so pure that it could not be shared; the happiness we’d had, brief as it was, could not be repaid through a gift, however beautiful it might be.

That is what I repeated to myself all night, and what I was ready at any moment to go tell Marguerite. When day broke I was still not asleep. I had a fever; it was impossible for me to think of anything but Marguerite.

As you understand, I had to take decisive action, and be done with either the woman or my scruples, if she would even consent to see me again.

But you know, one always puts off decisive action. Also, not being able to stay home, and not daring to present myself at Marguerite’s, I tried to think of a means of getting close to her, a means that my pride would attribute to accident, should it work.

It was nine o’clock; I ran to see Prudence, who asked me to what she owed this matutinal visit.

I did not dare to tell her frankly what had brought me there. I replied that I had got up early to book a seat on the stagecoach to C . . . , where my father lived.

“You are very lucky,” she told me, “to be able to get out of the city in this beautiful weather.”

I looked at Prudence, asking myself if she was making fun of me.

But her face was serious.

“Will you go say good-bye to Marguerite?” she said, still serious.


“Wise decision.”


“Of course. Since you have broken up with her, why see her again?”

“Then you know about our breakup?”

“She showed me your letter.”

“And what did she tell you?”

“She said, ‘My dear Prudence, your protégé is not polite. One thinks of writing such letters but one does not write them.’”

“And in what tone did she tell you that?”

“She was laughing, and she added, ‘He had supper at my place twice, and he doesn’t even pay a thank-you visit.’”

That is the effect that my letter and my jealousy had produced. I was cruelly humiliated in the vanity of my love.

“And what did she do last night?”

“She went to the opera.”

“I know. And then?”

“She had dinner at home.”


“With the Comte de G . . . , I think.”

So our rupture had not changed any of Marguerite’s habits.

It is because of such circumstances that certain people will say to you, “You must never think about that woman; she didn’t love you.”

“Well then, I’m glad to see that Marguerite is not grieving over me,” I continued with a forced smile.

“And she’s absolutely right. You’ve done what you had to do; you were more reasonable than she was, because that girl loved you, she spoke of nothing but you, and would have been capable of some great folly.”

“Why didn’t she reply, if she loves me?”

“Because she understood that she had been wrong to love you. Women will sometimes forgive someone who deceives them, but never someone who wounds their pride, and you always wound a woman’s pride when, two days after you have become her lover, you break with her, whatever reasons you may give for this rupture. I know Marguerite, and she would rather die than respond.”

“Then what should I do?”

“Nothing. She will forget you, you will forget her, and neither of you will have anything with which to reproach the other.”

“But what if I wrote her to ask her to forgive me?”

“Don’t do it; she will forgive you.”

I almost flung myself around her neck.

A quarter hour later I was home, writing to Marguerite:

“Someone who repents for a letter he wrote yesterday, who will leave town tomorrow if you do not forgive him, would like to know at what hour he may come to beg forgiveness at your feet.

“When will you be alone? As you know, confessions must be made without outside observers.”

I folded this madrigal in prose, and sent it via Joseph, who gave the letter to Marguerite herself, who told him she would reply later.

I did not leave the house for one moment except to dine, and at eleven o’clock at night I still had no response.

I resolved therefore not to suffer any longer and to leave town the next day.

As a consequence of this resolution, convinced I would not be able to sleep if I went to bed, I began packing my trunks.