The Lady of the Camellias CHAPTER XIX

In his first three letters, my father expressed anxiety about my silence and asked me the cause of it; in the last, he led me to see that he had been apprised of the change in my life, and announced his imminent arrival.

I have always had a great respect and a sincere fondness for my father. I therefore responded that a little trip had been the cause of my silence, and begged him to tell me the day of his arrival in advance, so I could go see him.

I gave my servant my address in the country, instructing him to bring me the first letter he received postmarked with the city of C . . . , and then returned at once to Bougival.

Marguerite was waiting for me at the garden gate.

Her gaze looked anxious. She threw her arms around my neck, and couldn’t keep from saying, “Did you see Prudence?”


“You were in Paris for some time.”

“I found letters from my father which I had to respond to.”

A few moments later Nanine entered all out of breath. Marguerite got up and went to speak to her in a low voice.

When Nanine had left, Marguerite said, as she sat near me and took my hand, “Why did you deceive me? You went to see Prudence?”

“Who told you?”


“And how did she know?”

“She followed you.”

“You told her to follow me?”

“Yes. I thought that you must have a motive to go to Paris like that, you who have not left me for four months. I was afraid that some stroke of bad luck had come to you, or that perhaps you were going to go see another woman.”


“I’m reassured, now that I know what you have done, but I don’t know yet what you have been told.”

I showed Marguerite the letters from my father.

“That’s not what I am asking you for; what I would like to know is why you went to see Prudence.”

“Just to see her.”

“You are lying, my friend.”

“All right, well, I went to ask her if the horse was doing better, and if she still needed your cashmere and your jewels.”

Marguerite colored but did not respond.

“And,” I continued, “I found out what use you had put the horses to, and the cashmere and the diamonds.”

“And you hold it against me?”

“I hold it against you that it didn’t occur to you to come ask me for what you needed.”

“In a relationship such as ours, if the woman is to retain any dignity, she must make every possible sacrifice rather than ask for money from her lover and cast a venal character on her love. You love me, I’m sure of it, but you don’t know how slender the thread is that secures the love people have for girls like me to their hearts. Who knows? Maybe on some day of irritation or tedium you might decide you perceive in our relationship some sort of clever calculation! Prudence is a chatterbox. What need had I of those horses! It was a savings for me to sell them; I can get along just fine without them, and I no longer have to spend anything on them. As long as you love me, that’s all that I ask, and you will love me just as much without horses, without cashmere, and without diamonds.”

All of this was said in a tone so natural that tears came to my eyes as I listened to her.

“But, my good Marguerite,” I said, clasping my mistress’s hands with love, “you must have known that one day I would learn of this sacrifice, and that the day I learned of it, I would not tolerate it.”

“But why?”

“Because, dear child, I cannot accept that the affection you choose to have for me should deprive you of even one jewel. Nor do I, either, want to think that, in some moment of irritation or tedium, you might reflect that if you lived with a different man, such difficulties would not arise; nor do I want for you to regret, if only for a minute, that you live with me. In a few days your horses, your diamonds, and your cashmere will be returned to you. They are as necessary to you as oxygen is to life, and it may be ridiculous, but I love you more when you’re sumptuous than when you’re simple.”

“So you don’t love me anymore.”

“You’re crazy!”

“If you loved me, you would let me love you in my own way; instead you continue to see in me nothing but a girl to whom luxury is indispensable, and whom you believe yourself always forced to pay for. You are ashamed to accept the proofs of my love. In spite of yourself, you intend to leave me one day, and out of delicacy you make sure your behavior is unexceptionable. Fair enough, my friend, but I had hoped for better.”

Marguerite made a movement to rise, but I held her back, saying, “I want you to be happy, and for you to have nothing to reproach me with, that is all.”

“But we will part!”

“Why, Marguerite? Who can part us?” I cried.

“You, who do not want to permit me to consider your position, yet who have the vanity to keep me in mine; you, who in preserving the luxury in which I used to live, seek to preserve the moral distance that divides us; you, finally, who do not believe my affection for you is disinterested enough to share with me the income you have, on which we could live happily together, but who prefer to ruin yourself, slave that you are to an absurd preconception. Does that mean that you believe I would prefer a carriage and jewelry to your love? Do you believe happiness consists for me of the trifles that one takes pleasure in when one loves nothing, and that become worthless when one truly loves? You will pay my debts, use up your fortune, and keep me! How long will all of that last? Two or three months, and then it will be too late to attempt the life that I’m proposing to you, because in that way you would accept everything about me, which is all a man of honor may do. As it is, now you have eight or ten thousand francs a year on which we could live. I will sell what is left of what I have, and by this sale alone I will make two thousand francs a year. We will rent a pretty little apartment in which we will live, just the two of us. In the summer we’ll go to the country, not to a house like this one but to a little place that’s just fine for two people. You are independent, I am free, we are young. In the name of Heaven, Armand, do not throw me back into the life I was forced to lead in the past.”

I could not respond; tears of acknowledgment and love flooded my eyes, and I threw myself into Marguerite’s arms.

“I had wanted,” she continued, “to arrange everything without telling you about it, to pay off all my debts and get my new apartment ready. In the month of October we would have returned to Paris, and I would have told you everything then; but since Prudence has told you everything, now you must give your consent beforehand, instead of after. Do you love me enough to do that?”

It was impossible to resist such great devotion. I showered Marguerite’s hands with kisses and said to her, “I will do as you wish.”

What she had decided was agreed.

She then was overcome with wild joy. She danced, she sang, she gushed about the simplicity of her new apartment, about the neighborhood and how we would live there, and made me part of her plans.

I saw her happy and proud of this resolve, which seemed to have brought us definitively closer together.

I wanted to be with nobody but her.

In an instant I decided what to do with my life. I would put my financial affairs in order, and I would give Marguerite the use of the income that came to me from my mother, and that seemed to me hardly sufficient recompense for the sacrifice I was accepting from her.

I still had the five thousand francs in allowance that my father gave me, and as long as that kept coming, I would always have enough to live on from this annual sum.

I did not tell Marguerite what I had resolved, convinced she would refuse this gift.

The income came from a sixty-thousand-franc mortgage on a house I’d never even seen. All I knew was that every three months my father’s notary, an old friend of the family, sent me 750 francs.

The day when Marguerite and I came to Paris to go apartment hunting, I went to see this notary and asked him how I could transfer this income to another person.

The good man assumed I was ruined, and asked me the reason for this decision. And, rationalizing that sooner or later I would have to tell him to whom I was making over this money, I chose to tell him the truth at once.

He made none of the objections that his position as notary and friend entitled him to make, and assured me that he would take it upon himself to arrange everything for the best.

I naturally asked him to exercise great discretion on the matter when it came to my father, and then went to join Marguerite, who was waiting for me at Julie Duprat’s, where she had decided to go, instead of to Prudence’s, where she was bound to get a lecture.

We went apartment hunting. Everything we saw was either too expensive for Marguerite’s taste or too simple for mine. However, we ended up agreeing on a place in one of the most tranquil neighborhoods of Paris, a little detached residence set back from the main house on the grounds of a property.

Behind this little residence extended a charming garden that belonged to it, surrounded by walls that were high enough to separate us from our neighbors, yet low enough not to obstruct the view.

It was better than we had hoped for.

While I went home to revisit my apartment, Marguerite went to see a businessman who, she said, had already done for one of her girlfriends what she was going to ask him to undertake for her.

She came to find me on the rue de Provence in an exhilarated mood. The man had promised to pay off all her debts, to liberate her from them, and to give her twenty thousand francs on expectation of the sale of her furniture.

You saw by the amount of money the sale yielded that this honest man would have made more than thirty thousand francs off his client.

We left for Bougival all elated, and we continued to discuss our plans for the future, which, thanks to our carefree mood and, above all, to our love, we saw in the rosiest hue.

Eight days later we were having lunch when Nanine came to alert me that my servant was there to see me.

I bid him enter.

“Sir,” he told me, “your father has come to Paris, and begs you immediately to return home, where he awaits you.”

This news was the simplest thing in the world, and yet, in learning of it, Marguerite and I looked at each other.

We sensed misfortune in this development.

Also, without her needing to admit this emotion, which I shared, I said to her, giving her my hand, “Have no fear.”

“Come back as soon as you can,” Marguerite murmured as she kissed me. “I will wait for you at the window.”

I sent Joseph to tell my father that I was on my way.

Two hours later I was on the rue de Provence.