The Lady of the Camellias CHAPTER XXI

“At last!” she cried, flinging her arms around my neck. “Here you are! You’re so pale!”

I told her of the scene with my father.

“Ah! My God! I was afraid of that,” she said. “When Joseph came to announce your father’s arrival, I shuddered as if at the news of a tragedy. Poor friend! And to think that I am the one who causes you all this pain. Perhaps you would be better off to leave me than to quarrel with your father. But I haven’t done anything to him. We live peacefully; we will live more peacefully still. He knows very well that you must have a mistress, and he should be happy that it is me, since I love you, and seek no more from you than your position permits. Did you tell him of our plans for the future?”

“Yes, and that is what annoyed him most of all, because he saw in that determination the proof of our mutual love.”

“Then what are we to do?”

“Stay together, my good Marguerite, and let this storm pass.”

“Will it pass?”

“It must.”

“But your father doesn’t support us?”

“What do you expect him to do?”

“What do I know? A father might do anything to make his son obey him. He will bring up my past, and will perhaps do me the honor of inventing some new story to make you leave me.”

“You know very well that I love you.”

“Yes, but what I also know is that, sooner or later, one must obey one’s father, and you will end perhaps by letting him convince you.”

“No. Marguerite, I am the one who will convince him. It’s gossip from some of his friends that has made him so angry; but he’s a good man, he’s fair, and he will retract his first impression. Then again, after all, what does it matter to me!”

“Don’t say that, Armand. I would prefer anything than to think that I have got you into trouble with your family. Let this day pass, and tomorrow return to Paris. Your father will have reflected on his end, as you will have on yours, and maybe you will get along better. Don’t attack his principles; act as if you are making some concessions to his wishes. Act as if you aren’t as set on me, and he will let things stay as they are. Have faith, my friend, and remain assured of one thing, which is that, come what may, your Marguerite will remain yours.”

“Do you swear it to me?”

“Do I need to swear it to you?”

How sweet it is to let oneself be persuaded by a voice one loves! Marguerite and I spent the entire day talking about our plans over and over, as if we understood the need to put them into practice faster. We expected some new turn of events every moment, but luckily the day passed without bringing news.

The next day I left at ten and arrived at the hotel around noon.

My father had already gone out.

I returned to my apartment, where I hoped he might have gone. Nobody came. I went to see my notary. Nobody!

I returned to the hotel and waited until six o’clock. M. Duval did not come back.

I got on the road for Bougival.

I found Marguerite no longer waiting for me as she had the night before, but sitting in the corner by the fire, which the season already made necessary.

She was so deeply lost in her thoughts that I was able to approach her armchair without her hearing me or turning around. When I placed my lips on her forehead, she shuddered as if the kiss had woken her with a start.

“You frightened me,” she said. “And your father?”

“I didn’t see him. I don’t know what it means. I didn’t find him at his hotel, or in any of the places where there was a chance he might be.”

“Well then, we’ll have to try again tomorrow.”

“I’d rather wait until he asks for me. I’ve done, I believe, everything I should do.”

“No, my friend, it’s hardly enough. You must return to see your father tomorrow, without fail.”

“Why tomorrow as opposed to some other day?”

“Because,” said Marguerite, who seemed to blush a little at the question. “Because such insistence on your part will seem lively and might help us earn our pardon more promptly.”

The rest of the day Marguerite was preoccupied, distracted, sad. I was forced to repeat anything I said to her twice to get a response. She blamed her preoccupation on the fears that the events of the past two days had provoked in her.

I spent the evening reassuring her, and she made me leave the next day with an anxious insistence that I could not explain to myself.

As on the previous day, my father was not there, but as he had gone out, he had left me this letter:

“If you come back to see me today, wait for me until four o’clock; if I am not back by four o’clock, come back tomorrow to dine with me. I must speak to you.”

I waited until the indicated hour. My father did not reappear. I left.

The day before, I had found Marguerite sad; today I found her feverish and agitated. Upon seeing me enter, she flung herself around my neck, but she wept for a long time in my arms. I questioned her about this sudden sorrow, whose intensity alarmed me. She gave me no definite reason, offering every excuse a woman can make when she does not want to tell the truth.

When she had calmed down a little, I told her the result of my trip; I showed her the letter from my father, observing to her that it might bode good things for us.

Upon the sight of this letter and upon my remark, her tears increased to such a point that I called Nanine, and, fearing a nervous attack, we put the poor girl to bed. She was crying wordlessly, but held my hands and kissed them every moment.

I asked Nanine if, during my absence, her mistress had received a letter or visit that might explain the state I had found her in, but Nanine responded that nobody had come and that nothing had been brought.

However, something must have happened since the previous night, which disturbed me all the more because Marguerite was hiding it from me.

She appeared a little calmer in the evening, and, making me sit at the foot of her bed, she lengthily reassured me of her love. Then she smiled at me, but effortfully, since, despite herself, her eyes were veiled with tears. I used every means to persuade her to tell me the true cause of her sadness, but she persisted in giving me the vague reasons I already told you of.

In the end she fell asleep in my arms, but with the kind of sleep that does not refresh the body but depletes it; from time to time she would cry out, wake with a start, and after being assured I was still beside her, make me swear to love her always. I understood nothing of these intermittent outbursts of sorrow, which continued until morning. At last Marguerite fell into a fitful sleep. For two nights she had not slept.

Her repose was not of long duration.

Toward eleven o’clock Marguerite awoke and, seeing me up and about, looked around her and cried, “Aren’t you gone already, then?”

“No,” I said, taking her hands. “I wanted to let you sleep. It’s still early.”

“What time are you going to Paris?”

“At four o’clock.”

“So soon? Until then, you will stay with me, won’t you?”

“Without a doubt—isn’t that what I always do?”

“Such happiness! Are we going to have lunch?” she asked with a distracted air.

“If you like.”

“And then you will be especially sweet with me until the moment you leave?”

“Yes, and I will come back as soon as possible.”

“You will come back?” she said, looking at me with haggard eyes.


“That’s right, you’ll come back tonight, and I—I will wait for you, as I always do, and we will be happy just as we always have been ever since we’ve known each other.”

All these words were spoken in such a halting way that they seemed to conceal thoughts so uninterruptedly painful that I trembled at every moment for fear that Marguerite would fall into delirium.

“Listen,” I said, “you are sick; I cannot leave you like this. I will write to my father that he should not wait for me.”

“No! No!” she cried abruptly. “Don’t do that. Your father will accuse me again of keeping you from going to see him when he wants to see you. No, no, you must go—you must! Anyway, I’m not sick; I’m in excellent health. It’s just that I had a bad dream, and I’m not properly awake.”

From that point on Marguerite tried to seem more cheerful. She cried no more.

When the hour came for me to leave, I kissed her and asked if she would like to accompany me to the station; I hoped the walk would distract her and the air would do her good.

Above all I wanted to stay with her as long as possible.

She accepted, put on a coat, and accompanied me with Nanine, so she would not have to return home alone.

Twenty times I was on the verge of not leaving. But the hope of returning quickly and the fear of inflaming my father anew sustained me, and the train carried me off.

“Until tonight,” I said to Marguerite as I left her.

She did not respond.

There was one other time that she had not responded to those very words, and the Comte de G . . . , you will recall, spent that night with her; but that time was so far off that it was if it were erased from my memory, and if I feared anything, it was certainly not that Marguerite might deceive me.

Upon arriving in Paris I hurried to see Prudence and to beg her to go see Marguerite, hoping her vitality and gaiety might distract her.

I walked in without being announced and found Prudence at her toilette.

“Ah!” she said with an anxious air. “Is Marguerite with you?”


“How is she?”

“She is not feeling well.”

“Is she not coming?”

“Was she supposed to be coming?”

Mme Duvernoy blushed and responded, with a certain embarrassment, “I meant to say, since you have come to Paris, will she not be coming here to join you?”


I looked at Prudence; she lowered her eyes, and in her countenance I thought I read the fear that my visit might be a long one.

“I have actually come to beg you, my dear Prudence, if you have nothing better to do, to go see Marguerite tonight; you can keep her company and you can sleep there. I have never seen her as she was today, and I tremble for fear that she might fall sick.”

“I am dining in town,” Prudence responded, “and I cannot see Marguerite tonight; but I will see her tomorrow.”

I took leave of Mme Duvernoy, who seemed to me almost as preoccupied as Marguerite, and went to see my father, whose first glance attentively sized me up.

He gave me his hand.

“Your two visits pleased me, Armand,” he said. “They gave me hope that you had reflected on your part, as I have reflected on mine.”

“May I be permitted to ask you, Father, what has been the result of your reflections?”

“It has been, my friend, that I have exaggerated the importance of the reports that had been made to me, and that I have promised myself to be less severe with you.”

“What are you saying, Father!” I cried with joy.

“I am saying, my child, that every young man must have a mistress, and, based on new information, I would rather have you be the lover of Mlle Gautier than of another.”

“My excellent father! You make me so happy!”

We spoke in this way for a few moments, then sat down to dine. My father was charming throughout the dinner.

I was anxious to return to Bougival to tell Marguerite of this happy change. At every moment I looked at the clock.

“You are watching the clock,” my father said. “You’re impatient to leave me. Oh, young people! You would therefore sacrifice sincere affections for dubious ones?”

“Don’t say that, Father! Marguerite loves me; I’m sure of it.”

My father did not respond; he seemed neither to doubt me nor to believe me.

He struggled mightily to persuade me to spend the entire evening with him, and not to leave until the next day; but I had left Marguerite sick at home, I told him, and asked his permission to return to her early, promising to return the next day.

It was a fine day; he wanted to accompany me as far as the station. I had never been so happy. The future appeared to me as I had yearned to see it for a long time.

I loved my father more than I had ever loved him.

At the moment of my departure, he urged me one last time to stay; I refused.

“You really love her a lot, don’t you?” he asked.

“Like a fool.”

“Go, then!” And he passed his hand across his forehead as if to chase away a thought, then opened his mouth as if to tell me something, but made do with clasping my hand and left me abruptly, crying, “Till tomorrow, then!”