The Lady of the Camellias CHAPTER XXIV

It was already something, but it was not enough. I understood the power I had over this woman, and I cravenly abused it.

When I think that she is dead now, I ask myself if God will ever forgive the wickedness I wrought.

After the supper, which was among the most raucous ever, we began to gamble.

I sat beside Olympe and was so liberal with my money that she could not help taking notice. In an instant I won nearly two hundred louis, which I spread before me and on which she fixed ardent eyes.

I was the only one who was not completely caught up in the game, and who was focusing on her. All the rest of the night I kept winning, and it was I who gave her money to play with, because she’d lost everything she had in front of her, and probably everything she had in reserve, too.

At five o’clock in the morning we left.

I had won three hundred louis.

All the gamblers had already left; I alone had remained behind without anyone noticing, because I was not friends with any of those gentlemen.

Olympe herself lit the stairway and I was about to leave like the others when, turning to her, I said, “I must speak with you.”

“Tomorrow,” she said.

“No, now.”

“What do you have to tell me?”

“You will see.”

And I went back into her apartment.

“You lost,” I said.


“Everything you have?”

She hesitated.

“Be frank.”

“Oh well, it’s true.”

“I won three hundred louis. Here they are, if you will let me stay.”

At that moment, I threw the gold on the table.

“And why this proposition?”

“Because I love you, by God!”

“No, but because you are in love with Marguerite, and you want to revenge yourself on her by becoming my lover. You cannot fool a woman like me, my dear friend, unfortunately. I am still too young and too beautiful to accept the role you propose.”

“So you refuse?”


“Would you prefer to love me for nothing? It is I who would not accept in that case. Think about it, my dear Olympe—if I had sent anyone at all to you to propose that you accept those three hundred louis from me on the conditions I set, you would have accepted. I preferred to deal directly with you. Accept this without questioning my motives. Tell yourself that you are beautiful, and that there is nothing very astonishing in the idea that I might be in love with you.”

Marguerite was a kept woman like Olympe, yet all the same I would never have dared say to her the first time I saw her what I had just said to this woman. It was because I loved Marguerite that I had perceived in her the instincts that this other creature lacked, and at the very moment that I proposed this arrangement, despite the extreme beauty of the woman with whom I was to conclude it, she disgusted me.

She finished by accepting, of course, and at noon I left her home as her lover; but I left her bed without carrying away the memory of the caresses and the words of love that she had believed herself obliged to render me for the six thousand francs I left her.

And yet there are men who ruined themselves over that woman.

From that day forward I subjected Marguerite to a relentless persecution. She and Olympe stopped seeing each other; you may easily understand why. I gave my new mistress a carriage, jewels. I gambled; I committed, finally, all the follies appropriate to a young man in love with a woman like Olympe. The news of my new passion spread at once.

Prudence herself was fooled, and ended by believing that I had completely forgotten Marguerite. The latter, whether because she had guessed my motives or because she was fooled like the others, responded with great dignity to the wounds I gave her on a daily basis. Only, she seemed to have fallen ill, because wherever I saw her, she appeared paler and paler, sadder and sadder. My love for her, exalted at this point until it believed itself transformed into hatred, rejoiced at the sight of this daily suffering. Many times, in circumstances in which I behaved with infamous cruelty, Marguerite cast such imploring looks at me that I blushed at the role I had assumed, and was on the brink of asking her forgiveness.

But these regrets lasted as long as a lightning flash, and Olympe, who had put all pride by the wayside, and understood that by hurting Marguerite, she could get from me everything she wanted, ceaselessly incited me against her, and insulted her every time she had occasion, with that persistent cravenness exercised by a woman whose conduct is sanctioned by a man.

Marguerite no longer went to balls or to the theater for fear of seeing Olympe and me. Direct acts of rudeness were followed by a barrage of anonymous letters, and I coaxed my mistress to tell me shameful anecdotes, which I then circulated myself, attributing them to Marguerite.

You have to be crazy to reach that point. I was like a man who, having gotten drunk on bad wine, falls into one of those nervous states in which the hand is capable of a crime that the mind has no awareness of. In the midst of all this, I played the martyr. The serenity without disdain, the dignity without contempt with which Marguerite met all my attacks, and which in my own eyes made her superior to me, enraged me further against her.

One night Olympe went I know not where, and ran into Marguerite, who this time chose not to indulge the foolish girl who insulted her, to such a point that the latter was forced to leave. Olympe returned home furious, and Marguerite fainted and had to be carried off.

When she arrived home, Olympe told me what had happened, told me that Marguerite, when she saw her there alone, had wanted to get back at her for being my mistress, and that I had to write to tell her that, even in my absence, she ought to treat the woman I loved with respect.

I don’t need to tell you that I consented, and that I put everything bitter, shameful, and cruel I could think of into that letter, which I sent that very day to her address.

This time the blow was too strong for the unhappy woman to bear in silence.

I was sure I would receive a reply, and resolved not to leave my apartment all day.

Around two o’clock the doorbell rang, and Prudence entered.

I tried to put on an indifferent air and asked her to what I owed her visit, but Mme Duvernoy was not in a merry mood that day, and in a tone of great emotion she told me that, since my return—which is to say, for about three weeks—I had not let one occasion pass that could cause Marguerite pain; that I had made her ill, and that the previous night’s scene, and my letter of the morning, had sent her to her bed.

In brief, without reproaching me, Marguerite was asking me to spare her, and wanted me to be told that she no longer had the moral or physical force to withstand the onslaught I had let loose on her.

“If Mlle Gautier,” I said to Prudence, “banishes me from her home, that is her right, but for her to insult a woman I love because that woman is my mistress is something I will never permit.”

“My friend,” Prudence said, “you have fallen under the influence of a girl with no heart or character. You are in love with her, it is true, but that is no reason to torture a woman who cannot defend herself.”

“Have Mlle Gautier send me her Comte de N . . . and we will be even.”

“You know very well she will not do that. My dear Armand, leave her alone; if you were to see her, you would be ashamed of how you have behaved. She is pale, she coughs, she does not have long now.”

Prudence held out her hand, adding, “Go see her; your visit will make her very happy.”

“I have no desire to see M. de N . . . .”

“M. de N . . . is never with her. She cannot stand him.”

“If Marguerite is so determined to see me, she knows where I live. Let her come, but I will never again set foot on the rue d’Antin.”

“And you will receive her politely?”


“Then I am sure she will come.”

“Let her come.”

“Will you be going out today?”

“I will be at home all night.”

“I will tell her.”

Prudence left.

I didn’t even write to Olympe to tell her I would not be seeing her. I took no trouble with that girl. I barely spent one night with her a week. She consoled herself, I believe, with some actor from I don’t know which theater from the boulevard.

I left for dinner and returned almost immediately. I had fires made everywhere, then gave Joseph the night off.

I cannot give you a full account of the diverse impressions that agitated me during an hour of waiting, but when, around nine o’clock, I heard the doorbell ring, I was filled with such emotion that, going to open the door, I was forced to lean against the wall so as not to fall over.

Luckily the foyer was in semidarkness, and the alteration of my countenance was hardly visible. Marguerite entered.

She was dressed in black, and veiled. I could hardly make out her face beneath the lace.

She passed into the living room and removed her veil.

She was as pale as marble.

“Here I am, Armand,” she said. “You wanted to see me; I came.”

And, letting her head fall into her hands, she dissolved in tears.

I drew near to her.

“What is wrong with you?” I said, in an altered voice.

She gripped my hand without answering me; tears muffled her voice. But a few moments later, after having regained some composure, she said to me, “You have hurt me badly, Armand, and I did nothing to you.”

“Nothing?” I replied with a bitter smile.

“Nothing except what circumstances forced me to do.”

I don’t know if ever in your life you have felt or will ever feel what I felt at the sight of Marguerite.

The last time she had come to see me in my apartment, she had sat in the same place where she had just sat down; only, since that time, she had become the mistress of another man. Other kisses than mine had touched her lips, lips for which, in spite of myself, my own lips yearned, and yet I felt I loved this woman as much as and maybe more than I ever had.

However, it was difficult for me to continue the conversation, broaching the subject she had raised. Marguerite doubtless understood this, for she resumed, “I have come to trouble you, Armand, because I have two things to ask of you: to forgive me for what I said yesterday to Mlle Olympe, and to spare me the pain of whatever you may still have planned for me. Intentionally or not, since your return to Paris, you have hurt me so badly that I would now be incapable of bearing a quarter of the emotions that I have had to withstand up to this morning. You will have pity on me, won’t you? And you will understand that for a good-hearted man, there are nobler things than to take vengeance on a woman who is as sick and sad as I am. Here, take my hand. I have a fever; I left my bed to come to ask you not for your friendship but for your indifference.”

I took Marguerite’s hand. It was burning hot, and still the poor woman shivered under her velvet cloak.

I rolled the armchair she sat in closer to the fire.

“Do you believe, then, that I did not suffer,” I said, “the night when, after having waited for you in the country, I came to look for you in Paris, and found nothing but a letter that could only serve to drive me mad? How could you have deceived me, Marguerite, I who loved you so much!”

“Let us not speak of that, Armand; I did not come to speak of that. I wanted to see you in some other way than as an enemy, that is all, and I wanted to clasp your hand one more time. You have a young, pretty mistress whom you love, they say. Be happy with her and forget me.”

“And you, you are happy, no doubt?”

“Do I have the face of a happy woman, Armand? Do not compound my sorrow, you who know better than anyone the causes and the extent of it.”

“It once lay within your power to ensure that you were never unhappy, if indeed you are unhappy now, as you say.”

“No, my friend; circumstances were stronger than my will. I was not obeying any girlish instincts, as you seem to suggest, but a serious necessity, for reasons you will learn one day that will make you forgive me.”

“Why don’t you tell me these reasons today?”

“Because they might reestablish a rapprochement that is impossible between us, and because they will estrange you from people you must not be estranged from.”

“Who are these people?”

“I cannot tell you.”

“In that case you are lying.”

Marguerite rose and headed for the door.

I could not witness this mute and eloquent pain without being moved by it, when I compared this pale and weeping woman with the lively girl who had teased me at the Opéra-Comique.

“You must not go,” I said, blocking the door.


“Because, in spite of what you did to me, I love you still and want to keep you here.”

“In order to chase me away tomorrow, no? No, it’s impossible! Our two destinies are separate. Let’s not try to get back together—you will despise me, perhaps, whereas now you only hate me.”

“No, Marguerite,” I cried out, feeling all my love and all my desire rekindle from my contact with this woman. “No, I will forget everything, and we will be as happy as we promised each other we would be.”

Marguerite shook her head in a sign of doubt and said, “Am I not your slave, your dog? Do with me as you like. Take me; I’m yours.”

And taking off her coat and hat, she threw them on the sofa and began to roughly unfasten the bodice of her dress, because, as a result of one of those reactions so common with her illness, blood was rising from her heart to her head and suffocating her.

A dry and raucous cough followed.

“Tell my coachman,” she said, “to drive my carriage home.”

I went down myself to send the man away.

When I returned, Marguerite was lying in front of the fire, her teeth chattering with cold. I took her in my arms, undressed her without her making a movement, and carried her all frozen into my bed.

Then, sitting beside her, I tried to warm her with my caresses. She did not say a word, but she smiled at me.

Oh! It was a strange night. Marguerite’s entire life seemed contained in the kisses she covered me with, and I loved her so intensely that, amid the transports of my feverish love, I asked myself if I was not trying to kill her to keep her from ever belonging to another.

A month of a love like that and the body, like the heart, would be no more than a corpse.

The morning found us both wide awake.

Marguerite was as white as a sheet. She did not say a word. Fat tears rolled from time to time from her eyes and rested on her cheek, shining like diamonds. Her exhausted arms opened occasionally to clutch me, then would fall back without strength onto the bed.

For one moment I believed I could forget what had happened since I left Bougival, and I said to Marguerite, “Do you want us to leave, to leave Paris for good?”

“No, no,” she said, almost in terror. “We would be too unhappy. I cannot bring you happiness, but as long as I have breath, I will be slave to your whims. At any hour of the day or the night that you want me, come; I will be yours. But do not join your future with mine; you will be too unhappy, and you will make me too unhappy. I am still, for the moment, a pretty girl—take advantage of that; I ask nothing more.”

When she left, I was stricken by the loneliness in which she left me. Two hours after her departure, I was still sitting on the bed she had just left, looking at the pillow that retained the contours of her form, and asking myself what would become of me, between my love and my jealousy.

At five o’clock, without knowing what I was going to do, I turned up on the rue d’Antin.

It was Nanine who let me in.

“Madam cannot receive you,” she told me with embarrassment.


“Because M. le Comte de N . . . is here, and has been told that I would not let anyone enter.”

“That’s right,” I stammered. “I had forgotten.”

I staggered home like a drunken man, and do you know what I did during the minute of jealous delirium that produced the shameful action I was going to commit—do you know what I did? I told myself that this woman was mocking me. I pictured her in her inviolable tête-à-tête with the count, repeating the same words she had told me the night before; and taking a five-hundred-franc note, I sent it to her with these words: “You left so quickly this morning that I forgot to pay you. Here is the fee for your night.”

Then, when this letter was taken away, I went out as if to protect myself from instantaneous remorse for this infamous act.

I went to see Olympe, whom I found trying on dresses, and who, once we were alone, sang obscenities to me to distract me.

She was the model of the shameless hussy, without heart or character—for me, at least; perhaps some other man might have made of her the dream I made of Marguerite.

She asked me for money; I gave it to her, and then, free to go, I went home.

Marguerite had not responded to me.

I do not need to tell you in what agitation I passed the next day.

At six thirty a commissioner brought an envelope containing my letter and the five-hundred-franc bill, not one word more.

“Who gave you that?” I said to the man.

“A woman who was leaving with her chambermaid in the mail coach to Boulogne, and who told me not to bring it until the coach had left the courtyard.”

I ran to Marguerite’s.

“Madam left for England today at six o’clock,” the porter told me.

Nothing could keep me in Paris, neither hatred nor love. I was exhausted by all these shocks. One of my friends was about to take a trip to the Orient. I went to tell my father that I wanted to accompany him; my father gave me bank drafts and letters of introduction, and eight or ten days later I embarked at Marseille.

It was in Alexandria that I learned from an attaché at the embassy, whom I had sometimes seen at Marguerite’s, of the poor girl’s illness.

I then wrote her the letter whose response you know, the one I received at Toulon.

I left at once; you know the rest.

Now you have nothing left to do but to read the few pages that Julie Duprat forwarded to me, which are the indispensable complement to what I have just related to you.