The Lady of the Camellias CHAPTER XXV

Armand, worn out from this long narrative, which had often been interrupted by his tears, rubbed his forehead with both hands, and closed his eyes—maybe to think, maybe to try to sleep—after he had given me the pages written in Marguerite’s hand.

A few moments later, quickened breathing convinced me that Armand was sleeping, but the light sleep to which the least sound puts flight.

Here is what I read, and what I describe without adding or retracting a single syllable:

“Today is the 15th of December. I have been ill for three or four days. This morning I took to my bed. The weather is gloomy; I am sad. Nobody is with me. I am thinking of you, Armand. And you, where are you as I write these lines? Far from Paris—very far, I’ve been told, and perhaps you have already forgotten Marguerite. Well, be happy, you to whom I owe my life’s only moments of joy.

“I was not able to resist the desire to explain my conduct to you, so I wrote you a letter; but, written by a girl like me, such a letter might be regarded as a lie, unless death were to sanctify its authority and, in place of a letter, it were to become a confession.

“Today I am sick; I may die of this illness, as I have always had the presentiment that I would die young. My mother died of consumption, and the way in which I have lived until now can only have aggravated this condition, which is the only inheritance she left me. But I do not want to die without your knowing how to think of me, if upon your return you still do think of the poor girl whom you loved before you went away.

“Here is what that letter contained, which I am happy to write down again, as a new justification of my conduct:

“You will recall, Armand, how the arrival of your father surprised us at Bougival; you will remember the involuntary terror that this arrival caused me, and the scene that took place between you and him and which you described to me that night.

“The next day, while you were in Paris, and while you were waiting for your father, who did not return to the hotel, a man appeared at Bougival, and gave me a letter from M. Duval.

“That letter, which I include with this one, begged me, in the most serious terms, to get you out of the house the next day on any pretext whatsoever, and to receive your father; he wanted to speak with me, and above all asked that I tell you nothing of his plan.

“You know how adamantly I urged you to return to Paris the next day.

“You had been gone for an hour when your father arrived. I will spare you the impression that his harsh countenance made on me. Your father was steeped in the old notions that hold that every courtesan is a creature without heart and without reason, a type of gold-digging machine that is always ready, like an ironworks, to mangle the hand that reaches for it, and to tear apart without pity, without judgment, the man who brings it to life and makes it work.

“Your father had written me a letter calculated to make me agree to receive him; he did not present himself at all in person as he had in writing. There was so much haughtiness, impertinence, and even menace in his first words that I had to remind him that I was in my own home, and that I was not bound to furnish him an account of my life, except as concerned my sincere affection for his son.

“M. Duval calmed down a little, but then began to tell me that he could not bear any longer for his son to ruin himself over me; that I was beautiful, it was true, but that, beautiful as I was, I should not make use of my beauty to destroy the future of a young man by expenses like those I incurred.

“To that, there was only one way to respond, no? It was to give him the proof that, ever since I had become your mistress, I had demanded no sacrifice of you that you could not afford to guarantee my fidelity to you. I showed him the tickets from the pawnshop, the receipts from the people to whom I’d sold the objects I could no longer keep. I told your father of my resolution to sell all my furniture to pay off my debts, and to live with you without being too heavy a burden. I told him of our happiness, of the revelation you had given me of a life that was happier and more serene, and he finished by returning my evidence to me, and giving me his hand, while begging pardon for the way he had behaved at first.

“He then said to me, ‘Well, madam, it is no longer by remonstrances and threats, but by prayers that I will try to obtain from you a greater sacrifice than any of those you already have made for my son.’

“I trembled at this preamble.

“Your father came up to me, took both my hands, and continued in an affectionate tone, ‘My child, don’t take in the wrong way what I am going to tell you; understand only that life sometimes demands things of us that are cruel to the heart, but to which one must submit. You are a good woman, and your soul has generosities unknown to many women who may despise you, and are not worthy of you. But consider that alongside the mistress there is the family; apart from love, there is duty; and the age of passion is followed by the age in which a man, to be respected, must be solidly established in a serious position. My son has no fortune, and nonetheless he is ready to turn over to you his inheritance from his mother. If he accepted the sacrifice which you are on the point of making for his sake, he would be required by his honor and dignity to furnish you this safeguard against complete adversity. But he cannot accept this sacrifice, because society, which does not know you, would attribute to this consent an unbecoming motive that must not be attached to the name we bear. Nobody would ask if Armand loved you, or if you loved him, or if this mutual love was a joy to him and a rehabilitation for you; everyone would see only one thing, which is that Armand Duval had permitted a kept woman—pardon me, my child, for everything I am forced now to say to you—to sell everything she owned for him. Then the day of reproaches and regrets would come, you may be sure of it, for you as it does for everyone else, and you would both be bound by a chain you could not break. What would you do then? Your youth would be lost, my son’s future would be destroyed, and I, his father, would gain from only one of my children the satisfaction I had hoped for from both.

“‘You are young, you are beautiful, life will console you. You are noble, and the memory of a selfless action will make up the loss of many good things you have given up. In the six months that he has known you, Armand has forgotten me. Four times I have written to him and he did not once think of responding. I could have died and he would not have known it!

“‘Whatever your resolve to live differently than you have in the past, Armand, who loves you, will not consent to the seclusion to which his modest means will doom you, which does not suit your beauty. Who knows what he will do next! He has gambled, I know—without your needing to tell me anything about it, I still know—but, in a moment of drunkenness, he could have lost part of what I have accumulated over many years for the dowry of my daughter, for him, and for the security of my old age. What could have happened could happen still.

“‘Are you sure, besides, that the life you are leaving behind for him will not attract you again? Are you sure that you who have loved him will never love another? Will you not suffer, finally, from the fact that your connection to him will impose obstacles in the life of your lover, for which you will perhaps not be able to console him, if, with age, notions of ambition succeed his dreams of love? Reflect on all this, madam. You love Armand; prove it to him by the only means that still remain to you to prove it: in sacrificing your love to his future. No misfortune has yet come, but it will come, and perhaps it will be greater than those I foresee. Armand may become jealous of some man who loved you; he may provoke him, he may fight with him, he may be killed in the end, and think what you would suffer, facing this father who asked you to look after the life of his son.

“‘Finally, my child, know everything, for I have not told you everything. Know therefore what has brought me to Paris. I have a daughter, I just told you—young, beautiful, as pure as an angel. She is in love, and she, too, has made this love the dream of her life. I wrote about all this to Armand, but, occupied with you, he did not respond. Well, my daughter is going to be married. She is marrying the man she loves; she is entering an honorable family that expects everything to be honorable in mine. The family of the man who is to become my son-in-law heard of how Armand was living in Paris, and told me he would withdraw his proposal if Armand continued to live in this manner. The future of a child who has done nothing to you, and who has the right to count on the future, is in your hands.

“‘Do you have the right and do you have the strength to shatter it? In the name of your love and of your repentance, Marguerite, grant me my daughter’s happiness.’

“I wept silently, my friend, before all these considerations that I had pondered so many times before, and which, in the mouth of your father, took on a more serious reality. I told myself all the things that your father did not dare say to me, and that were on his lips twenty times: that I was after all nothing but a kept woman, and that, whatever justification I gave to our liaison, it would always appear calculated; that my past life gave me no right to dream of such a future, and that I had been taking on responsibilities that my habits and my reputation could not guarantee. Finally, I loved you, Armand. The fatherly way in which M. Duval spoke to me, the chaste sentiments he evoked in me, the esteem that I might win of this loyal old man, yours that I was sure to have later—all this awoke in my heart noble thoughts that opened my eyes, and sent me into reveries of saintly vanity, unknown to me until that moment. When I thought that one day this old man, who beseeched me on behalf of his son’s future, would tell his daughter to add my name to her prayers, like the name of a mysterious friend, I felt transformed, and I was proud of myself.

“The exaltation of that moment may have exaggerated the truth of these impressions, but that is what I felt, friend, and these new sentiments quieted the advice that my memory of the happy days I spent with you had given me.

“‘All right, sir,’ I said to your father, drying my tears. ‘Do you believe that I love your son?’

“‘Yes,’ said M. Duval.

“‘With a love that does not come from self-interest?’


“‘Do you believe that I have made this love the hope, dream, and redemption of my life?’


“‘Well, monsieur, kiss me once, as you would kiss your daughter, and I swear to you that this kiss, the only truly chaste kiss I have ever received, will give me the strength to resist my love, and that within a week your son will be returned to your side, perhaps unhappy for some time, but forever healed.’

“‘You are a noble girl,’ replied your father, kissing my forehead, ‘and you are undertaking something for which God will reward you; but I fear that you will have no luck with my son.’

“‘Oh! rest assured, sir, he will hate me.’

“I had to impose an insurmountable barrier between the two of us, for one as for the other.

“I wrote to Prudence, telling her I accepted the propositions of M. le Comte de N . . . , and that she was to tell him that I would have supper with the two of them.

“I sealed the letter and, without telling him what was in it, asked your father to have it sent to her address upon his arrival in Paris.

“He asked me nonetheless what it contained.

“‘Your son’s happiness,’ I told him.

“Your father kissed me one last time. I felt on my forehead two tears of gratitude that were like a baptism, a remission of my former sins, and at the moment when I had consented to deliver myself to another man, I beamed with pride to think of what I would redeem with this new one.

“It was only natural, Armand; you had told me your father was the most honest man anyone could ever meet.

“M. Duval got back into his carriage and left.

“However, I was a woman, and when I saw you again, I could not keep myself from crying, but I did not weaken.

“Did I do the right thing? That is what I ask myself, as I fall sick into a bed that I will leave perhaps only when I am dead.

“You have been witness to the full measure of what I felt as the hour of our inevitable separation approached. Your father was no longer there to support me, and there was a moment when I was close to telling you everything, so horrified was I by the idea that you would hate and despise me.

“One thing you will perhaps not believe, Armand, is that I prayed to God to give me strength; the proof that he accepted my sacrifice is that he gave me the strength I begged him for.

“At this supper I still needed help, because I did not know what I was going to do; I was so afraid my courage would fail me!

“Who could have told me—me, Marguerite Gautier—that I would suffer so at the mere thought of a new lover?

“I drank to forget, and when I woke the next day I was in the bed of the count.

“That is the whole truth, friend; judge and pardon me, as I have pardoned you for all the harm you have done me since that day.”