The Lady of the Camellias CHAPTER XVIII

To give you the details of our new life would be difficult. It was made up of a series of childlike indulgences that were delightful to us, but would be insignificant to anyone I might tell them to. You know what it is to be in love with a woman; you know how short the days are, and with what amorous indolence one passes from one day to the next. You are not unaware of the obliviousness to all other things that accompanies the birth of a strong, confident, shared passion. Any creature who is not the woman you love seems to you an entirely pointless being. One regrets having given away any portion of one’s heart to other women, and one cannot imagine the possibility of ever holding any hand but the one you now hold in yours. The brain will not tolerate work or memory—anything, in short, that could distract you from the overwhelming obsession that constantly presents itself to the mind. Every day one finds in one’s mistress a new charm, a previously unsuspected sensuality.

Existence becomes nothing more than the repeated fulfillment of a continuing desire; the soul is nothing but the vestal virgin charged with maintaining the sacred fire of love.

Often, once night fell, we would go to sit in the little woods that surrounded the house. There we would listen to the cheerful harmonies of the night, while we both thought of the hour to come, when we would fall into each other’s arms and lie there until the next day. Other times we remained in bed the entire day, without even letting the sun enter our bedroom. The curtains were hermetically sealed, and for a moment, the outside world ceased to exist for us. Only Nanine had the right to open our door, but only to bring us our meals, and even those we took without getting out of bed, and we interrupted them continually with laughter and giddiness. This would be followed by a sleep of a few moments, for, lost in our love, we were like two stubborn divers who surface only long enough to draw air.

Sometimes, though, I was surprised to come upon Marguerite in moments of sadness, even in tears. I would ask her the cause of her sudden sorrow, and she would answer, “Our love is not an ordinary love, my dear Armand. You love me as if I had never belonged to anybody else, and I tremble to think that, later, repenting of your love and blaming me for my past, you might throw me back into the midst of the existence you snatched me from. Please remember that, now that I’ve tasted a new life, it would kill me to take up the old one again. Tell me that you will never leave me.”

“I swear it to you!”

At these words she looked searchingly into my eyes, as if to try to read there if my vow was sincere, then flung herself into my arms and, hiding her head against my chest, said, “It’s just that you don’t know how much I love you!”

One night we were leaning against the balcony outside the window, looking at the moon, which seemed to extricate itself with difficulty from its bed of clouds, and listening to the wind noisily shaking the trees. We held hands, and for a solid quarter of an hour we had not spoken, when Marguerite said, “Winter is here; would you like us to go away?”

“To go where?”

“To Italy.”

“So you’re bored?”

“I’m afraid of winter, but above all I’m afraid of our return to Paris.”


“For many reasons.”

She continued rapidly, without giving me the reasons for her fears, “Do you want to go? I will sell everything I own; we will go live abroad. Nothing will be left of what I used to be; nobody will know who I am. Do you want to?”

“Let’s go, if that makes you happy, Marguerite; let’s take a trip,” I said. “But why sell all the things that you’ll be glad to find upon returning? I don’t have a big enough fortune to accept so great a sacrifice, but I have enough for us to travel in style for five or six months, if that would entertain you at all.”

“Actually, no,” she said, leaving the window and going to sit on the sofa at the dark end of the room. “What’s the good of going over there to spend money? I’m costing you enough here.”

“It’s not generous of you to reproach me for that, Marguerite.”

“I’m sorry, my friend,” she said, giving me her hand. “This stormy weather is hard on my nerves; I’m not saying what I mean to say.”

And, after kissing me, she fell into a long reverie.

Similar scenes took place many times, and even if I did not know what it was that caused them, this did not keep me from sensing in Marguerite a feeling of anxiety about the future. She could not doubt my love; it grew every day. Yet all the same, I often saw her unhappy, and she was never able to give me any explanation for her sadness, apart from some physical excuse.

Afraid that she might be growing tired of a life that had become too monotonous for her, I would propose that we return to Paris, but she always rejected the suggestion, and assured me that she could not be as happy anywhere as she was in the countryside.

Prudence came rarely now, but to make up for it she wrote letters, which I never asked to see, although Marguerite became deeply preoccupied every time she got one. I did not know what to think.

One day Marguerite kept to her room. I walked in. She was writing.

“Who are you writing to?” I asked.

“To Prudence; would you like me to read you what I’m writing?”

Horrified by anything that might smack of suspicion, I told Marguerite that I did not need to know what she was writing; nonetheless I was sure the letter would have acquainted me with the true cause of her sadness.

The next day the weather was glorious. Marguerite proposed that we go out on the boat and visit the island of Croissy. She seemed extremely cheerful; it was five o’clock when we got home.

“Mme Duvernoy came by,” Nanine said as she saw us come in.

“And she left?” Marguerite asked.

“Yes, in madam’s carriage; she said that it had been arranged.”

“Very good,” Marguerite said spiritedly. “May it serve us well.”

Two days later a letter arrived from Prudence, and for two weeks, Marguerite seemed to be over her mysterious depressions, which she didn’t stop begging my pardon for, once they no longer existed.

However, the carriage did not come back.

“Why hasn’t Prudence sent back your coupĂ©?” I asked one day.

“One of the two horses is sick, and the carriage is being fixed. We might as well have all of that dealt with while we’re still here, where we don’t need a carriage, rather than wait until we’re back in Paris.”

Prudence came to see us a few days later, and confirmed what Marguerite had told me.

The two women went for a walk alone in the garden, and when I came to join them, they changed the subject.

That night, when she went out, Prudence complained of the cold and asked Marguerite to lend her a cashmere shawl.

A month passed, during which Marguerite was more joyful and loving than she had ever been.

However, the carriage never returned; the cashmere was not sent back. All this intrigued me, in spite of myself, and as I knew in which drawer Marguerite put her letters from Prudence, I took advantage of a moment when she was at the far end of the garden, went to the drawer, and tried to open it, but in vain; it was double-locked.

Then I searched through drawers where her jewels and diamonds ordinarily could be found. These opened without resistance, but the cases had disappeared, along with their contents, of course.

A sinking feeling gripped my heart.

I determined to get the truth out of Marguerite about the meaning of these disappearances, but was sure she would not own up to it.

“My good Marguerite,” I said to her later, “I’ve come to ask your leave to go to Paris. Nobody at my residence knows where I am, and they must have received letters from my father. No doubt he is worried; I must send him a reply.”

“Go, my friend,” she said, “but come back quickly.”

I left.

I ran at once to see Prudence.

“All right,” I said to her without any preliminaries, “tell me frankly, where are Marguerite’s horses?”


“Her cashmere shawl?”


“The diamonds?”


“And who did the selling and pawning?”

“I did.”

“Why didn’t you alert me to this?”

“Because Marguerite forbade me to.”

“And why didn’t you ask me for money?”

“Because she didn’t want me to.”

“And what was this money for?”

“To pay for things.”

“So she owes a lot?”

“She still owes thirty thousand francs or thereabouts. Ah! My dear, I told you, and you didn’t want to believe me; well, now, consider yourself convinced. The decorator who formerly was paid by the duke was shown the door when he presented himself there, and the duke wrote him the next day that he would do nothing further for Mlle Gautier. That man wanted money; we gave him a portion of what he was due, which is where those few thousand francs I asked you for went. Then, some charitable souls informed him that his debtor, abandoned by the duke, was living with a boy with no fortune. The other creditors got wind of the same thing; they all started asking for money and demanding their goods back. Marguerite wanted to sell everything, but there wasn’t time, and anyway, I would have been against it. We simply had to pay, and in order not to ask you for money, she sold her horses and her cashmeres and pawned her jewelry. Would you like the receipts from the buyers and the receipts from the pawnshop?”

And Prudence, opening a drawer, showed me these papers.

“Ah! You see,” she continued with the persistence of a woman determined to speak her piece, “I was right! Ah! You thought it was enough to be in love and to go live a pastoral, ethereal existence in the country? No, my friend; no. The material world coexists alongside the ideal life, and the purest intentions are bound to the earth by ridiculous threads, but they are threads of iron, and they are not easily broken. If Marguerite has not cheated on you twenty times, it’s only because she has extraordinary character. It’s not for lack of my counsel, either, because it pained me to watch the poor girl lose everything. But she didn’t want to! She told me she loved you and would not deceive you for anything in the world. All that is very pretty, very poetic, but it won’t pay the creditors, and today she can no longer get out of this mess, except, I repeat, with thirty thousand francs.”

“That’s fine; I will furnish that sum.”

“You will borrow it?”

“Good God, yes.”

“A fine mess you’ll get yourself in that way. You’ll fight with your father, deplete your resources; and it’s not so easy to come up with thirty thousand francs overnight. Believe me, my dear Armand; I know women better than you do. Do not commit this folly, which you will repent one day. Be reasonable. I am not telling you to leave Marguerite, but live with her as you did at the beginning of summer. Let her find the means to extricate herself from her predicament. The duke will come back to her, step by step. The Comte de N . . . , if she will take him, he told me again yesterday, will pay off all her debts and give her four or five thousand francs per month. He has two hundred thousand francs a year. That would create a secure position for her, whereas you? You will inevitably have to leave her anyway. Don’t wait to do it until you are ruined, and keep in mind that the Comte de N . . . is an imbecile, and that nothing will prevent you from being Marguerite’s lover. She will cry a little at first, but she’ll end by getting used to it, and she’ll thank you one day for what you have done. Just pretend that Marguerite is married and you’re cheating on her husband, that’s all.

“I told you all of this before; only, at that time, it was still just advice. Today it’s practically a necessity.”

Prudence was cruelly correct.

“Here’s how it is,” she continued, while putting away the papers she had just shown me. “Kept women always anticipate being loved, but they never anticipate being in love. Otherwise they would put money aside, and at thirty they could afford the luxury of taking a lover for free. If I had only known then what I know now! Well, say nothing to Marguerite, but take her back to Paris. You have spent four or five months alone with her, that’s a marvelous thing, now all that is required of you is to shut your eyes. After two weeks she will take the Comte de N . . . as a lover, she will make economies this winter, and next summer, you will start over. That’s what you need to do, my dear!”

Prudence appeared enchanted by her sage advice, which I indignantly rejected.

Not only did my love and my dignity prevent me from acting in such a way, but I was also convinced that, given the point to which things had come, Marguerite would have rather died than share herself with another.

“That’s enough kidding around,” I said to Prudence. “How much, definitively, does Marguerite have to have?”

“I told you, thirty thousand francs.”

“And by what time must she have this sum?”

“Within two months.”

“She will have it.”

Prudence shrugged her shoulders.

“I will get it for you,” I continued, “but you must swear to me that you will not tell Marguerite that it was I who gave it to you.”

“Don’t worry.”

“And if she sends you to sell or pawn something else, let me know.”

“There’s no danger of that, she has nothing left.”

I went first to my residence to see if there were any letters from my father.

There were four.