The Lady of the Camellias CHAPTER XXII

It seemed that the train was not moving.

I arrived at Bougival at eleven o’clock.

Not one window of the house was lit, and I rang, but nobody answered.

It was the first time such a thing had happened to me. At last the gardener appeared. I went in.

Nanine joined me with a light. I came to Marguerite’s room.

“Where is madam?”

“Madam went to Paris,” Nanine responded.

“To Paris!”

“Yes, sir.”


“An hour after you.”

“Did she leave a note for you to give me?”


Nanine left me.

“It is possible she was afraid,” I thought, “and went to Paris to make sure the visit I’d told her I was making to see my father was not a pretext for a day of freedom.”

“Maybe Prudence wrote her about some important business,” I told myself when I was alone; but I had seen Prudence upon my arrival, and she had said nothing that made me suppose that she might have written to Marguerite.

All at once I remembered that question Mme Duvernoy had asked me: “Isn’t she coming today, then?” when I had said Marguerite was sick. I recalled at the same moment Prudence’s air of embarrassment when I had looked at her after that question, which seemed to imply a rendezvous. To this memory I added Marguerite’s tears during the day, tears that my father’s warm welcome had made me forget a little.

From that moment on, all the incidents of the day regrouped around my first suspicion, and fixed it so solidly in my mind that everything seemed to confirm it, right up to the paternal clemency.

Marguerite had almost insisted I go to Paris; she had affected calm when I had proposed that I stay beside her. Had I fallen into a trap? Was Marguerite deceiving me? Had she counted on being back in time for me to remain unaware of her absence, and had chance detained her? Why had she said nothing to Nanine; why had she not written me? What did those tears, that absence, this mystery, mean?

This is what I asked myself with dread, in the middle of that empty room, my eyes fixed on the clock, which, striking midnight, seemed to tell me it was too late for me to hope to see my mistress return.

All the same, after the arrangements we had just made, with the sacrifice offered and accepted, was it realistic that she would deceive me? No. I tried to reject my first suspicions.

“The poor girl must have found a buyer for her furniture, and gone to Paris to conclude the deal. She didn’t want to alert me, because she knows that, though I accept it, this sale, which is necessary to our happiness together, is painful for me, and she would have been afraid of hurting my pride and my feelings by talking about it with me. She prefers to reappear only once everything is over. Prudence was obviously waiting for her for that purpose, and gave herself away in front of me. Marguerite must not have finished her business today, and she has gone to sleep at her own place, or perhaps she might even turn up here later, for she must suspect my worries, and certainly would not want to leave me to them.”

But then, why those tears? Doubtless, in spite of her love for me, the poor girl must not have been able to come to terms with abandoning the luxury in the midst of which she had existed up until now, and which had made her happy and envied.

I freely pardoned Marguerite for these regrets. I waited impatiently for the chance to tell her, while covering her in kisses, that I had divined the cause of her mysterious absence.

However, the night advanced, and Marguerite did not arrive.

Anxiety tightened its grip on me little by little, oppressing my head and heart. Maybe something had happened to her! Maybe she was wounded, sick, dead! Maybe a messenger was about to arrive who would inform me of some grievous accident! Maybe the morning would find me in the same uncertainty and with the same fears!

The idea that Marguerite might have been deceiving me at the hour when I awaited her amid the terrors that her absence caused me did not return to my mind. There had to have been some cause beyond her control that had kept her away from me, and the more I thought about it, the more convinced I became that this cause could be nothing but some sort of misfortune. O, the vanity of men! You reveal yourself at every turn.

The clock struck one. I told myself I would wait one more hour, but that if at two o’clock Marguerite had not returned, I would leave for Paris.

While waiting I went to look for a book, because I didn’t dare to think.

Manon Lescaut was open on the table. It seemed that here and there the pages were dampened as if by tears. After leafing through it, I closed this book, whose characters seemed void of sense to me, obscured by the veil of my doubts.

The hour passed slowly. The sky was overcast. An autumn rain lashed at the windows. The empty bed seemed at times to take on the aspect of a tomb. I was afraid.

I opened the door. I listened and heard nothing but the wind in the trees. Not one carriage passed on the road. The half hour struck sadly in the church tower.

I was beginning to hope that nobody would enter. It seemed that only a calamity could find me at this hour and in this somber weather.

The clock struck two. I waited a little longer. Only the clock disturbed the silence with its monotonous, cadenced sound.

Finally I left this room, whose smallest objects had clothed it in that mournful aspect that the lonely heart confers upon everything that surrounds it.

In the next room I found Nanine, who had fallen asleep over her needlework. At the sound of the door she woke up and asked if my mistress had returned home.

“No, but if she does, tell her I could not overcome my worry and that I have gone to Paris.”

“At this hour?”


“But how? You will not find a carriage.”

“I will go on foot.”

“But it’s raining.”

“What do I care?”

“Madam will come home, or if she doesn’t, there will be time in the day to go see what has detained her. You will get yourself killed on the road.”

“There is no danger, my dear Nanine. Until tomorrow.”

The good-natured girl went to get my coat, threw it over my shoulders, and offered to go wake the inn owner, Mère Arnould, and inquire if it would be possible to get a carriage, but I refused, convinced I would lose more time in this possibly fruitless attempt than it would take me to complete half the journey.

Also I needed fresh air, as well as physical exertion to exhaust the overexcitement to which I had fallen prey.

I took the key to the apartment of the rue d’Antin, and, after having said good-bye to Nanine, who had accompanied me as far as the gate, I left.

I started out running, but the earth was newly damp, which was doubly tiring. After a quarter hour of running, I was forced to stop; I was bathed in sweat. Recovering my breath, I continued on my path. The night was so dark that I trembled at every moment, thinking I might stumble into one of the trees along the roadside—looming suddenly before my eyes, they looked like giant ghosts charging at me.

I saw one or two transport wagons, which I soon left behind.

A calèche approached at a full trot heading for Bougival. At the moment it passed in front of me, the hope sprang to mind that Marguerite was within.

I stopped and cried out, “Marguerite! Marguerite!”

But nobody answered, and the calèche continued on its way. I watched it recede into the distance, and continued on.

It took me two hours to reach the edge of the Place de l’Étoile.

The sight of Paris restored my strength, and at a run I descended the long avenue I had crossed so many times.

That night nobody was there.

You would have thought it was the boulevard of a dead city.

The day began to break.

When I arrived at the rue d’Antin, the great city was already stirring before completely waking.

Five o’clock struck in the Church of Saint-Roch at the moment I entered Marguerite’s building.

I gave my name to the porter, who had received enough twenty-franc pieces from me to know I had the right to come visit Mlle Gautier at five o’clock in the morning.

I passed without interference.

I could have asked him if Marguerite was at home, but he might have responded no, and I preferred to remain in doubt for two minutes longer because in doubt, I still could hope.

I put my ear to the door, trying to detect a sound, a movement.

Nothing. The silence of the countryside seemed to extend all the way here.

I opened the door and entered.

All the curtains were hermetically closed.

I drew open the dining room curtains, then headed to the bedroom, and pushed open the door.

I leapt at the curtain cord and pulled it violently. The curtains flew open; a weak daylight broke through. I ran to the bed.

It was empty!

I opened the doors one after the other; I entered all the rooms.


It was enough to drive you mad.

I entered the dressing room, opened the window, and called out for Prudence many times.

Mme Duvernoy’s window remained shut.

I then went down to see the porter and asked if Mlle Gautier had come home during the day.

“Yes,” responded the man, “with Mme Duvernoy.”

“She left no word for me?”


“Do you know what they did next?”

“They got into a carriage.”

“What sort of carriage?”

“A private carriage.”

What did it all mean?

I rang at the next door.

“Where are you going, sir?” the concierge asked after having opened the door.

“To see Mme Duvernoy.”

“She is not back.”

“Are you sure?”

“Yes, sir, and here is even a letter that someone brought her last night and which I have not yet given to her.”

And the porter showed me a letter, at which I mechanically glanced.

I recognized Marguerite’s handwriting.

I took the letter.

The address bore these words:

“To Mme Duvernoy, to give to M. Duval.”

“This letter is for me,” I told the porter, and showed him the address.

“You are Monsieur Duval?” replied this man.


“Ah! I recognize you; you often come to see Mme Duvernoy.”

Once in the street, I broke the seal of this letter.

A lightning bolt could have landed at my feet and I would not have been more shocked than I was by what I read there.

“By the time you read this letter, Armand, I will already be the mistress of another man. Everything, therefore, is over between us.

“Return to the side of your father, my friend, go see your sister again—that chaste young girl, unaware of all our miseries—in whose company you will quickly forget what you have suffered because of that lost girl called Marguerite Gautier, whom you once tried to love for an instant, and who owes to you the only happy moments of a life that, she hopes, will not now last long.”

When I read the last word, I thought I would go mad.

At one moment I truly feared I would fall down on the street. A cloud passed before my eyes, and the blood rushed to my temples.

At last I got hold of myself. I looked around me, astonished to see the lives of others continue without being slowed by my despair.

I was not strong enough to bear alone the blow that Marguerite had brought upon me.

It was then that I remembered that my father was in the same city as I, and that in ten minutes’ time I could be by his side, and that, whatever the cause of my pain, he would share it with me.

I ran like a madman, like a thief, to the Hôtel de Paris. I found the key in the door of my father’s room. I entered.

He was reading.

From the slight degree of astonishment he showed in seeing me appear, you would have thought he had expected me.

I threw myself into his arms without saying a word, I gave him Marguerite’s letter and, sinking to my knees beside his bed, I wept hot tears.