The Lady of the Camellias CHAPTER XXVI

“What followed that fateful night you know as well as I do, but what you do not know, what you cannot suspect, is how much I have suffered since our separation.

“I had learned your father had taken you away, but I doubted you could live apart from me for long, and the day I saw you on the Champs-Élysées, I was moved, but not stunned.

“Then began that series of days, each of which brought me a new insult from you, an insult I received almost with joy, as, besides the fact that it was proof you still loved me, it seemed to me that the more you persecuted me, the more I would be exalted in your eyes on the day when you would learn the truth.

“Don’t be astonished by this joyful martyr, Armand; the love you had for me opened my heart to noble enthusiasms.

“However, at the beginning, I was not so strong.

“Between the execution of the sacrifice I had made for you and your return, a long time passed, during which I needed medicine to preserve my sanity and to blot out the life I had thrown myself back into. Prudence told you, did she not, that I went to all the fêtes, all the balls, all the wild parties?

“I had the notion that I might kill myself quickly through excess, and I believe that this hope did not delay in starting to come true. My health, of necessity, was more and more altered, and the day I sent Mme Duvernoy to ask you to spare me, I was worn ragged, body and soul.

“I will not remind you, Armand, in what way you rewarded the last proof of love I gave you, and by what outrage you chased from Paris the woman who, though she was dying, could not resist your voice when you asked her for a night of love, and who, like a madwoman, believed, for a moment, that she could knit back together the past and the present. You had the right to do what you did, Armand; my nights have not always been bought at so high a price!

“I left everything then! Olympe replaced me at M. de N . . . ’s side, and took it upon herself, I am told, to tell him the reason for my departure. The Comte de G . . . was in London. He is one of those men who, believing that love affairs with girls like me are of no more consequence than any other agreeable pastime, remain friends with the women they have possessed, and have no hatred, since they have never known jealousy; he is, in short, one of those great lords who open only one corner of their hearts to us, but both sides of their wallets. I thought of him at once. I went to find him. He received me splendidly, but he was the lover of a society woman there and feared he would compromise himself if he were connected with me. He introduced me to his friends, who gave a supper for me, after which one of them took me home.

“What did you expect me to do, my friend? Kill myself? That would have been to burden your life, which I wanted to be happy, with useless remorse—and then again, why kill oneself when one is so close to death?

“I passed into the state of a body without a soul, a thing without thought. I lived for some time a sort of automatic life, then I returned to Paris and asked after you; I learned then that you had left for a long journey. There was no longer anything to sustain me. My existence became again what it had been two years before I met you. I tried to get the duke back, but I had wounded him too deeply, and old men are impatient, doubtless because they know they are not immortal. The illness took me over; day by day, I was pale, I was sad, I grew still thinner. Men who buy love like to inspect the merchandise before they take it. There were women in Paris in finer form than I was, plumper than I was; people forgot about me a little. That is the past, up until yesterday.

“Now I am quite sick. I wrote to the duke to ask him for money, as I don’t have any and the creditors have come back, and bring me their notes with merciless persistence. Will the duke respond? Why are you not in Paris, Armand! You would come see me, and your visits would soothe me.”

“December 20.

“The weather is horrible; it’s snowing. I am alone at home. For three days I have had such a fever that I have been unable to write you a word. Nothing new, my friend; each day I hope vaguely for a letter from you, but it doesn’t come, and no doubt it never will. Only men have the strength not to forgive. The duke has not replied to me.

“Prudence has resumed her visits to the pawnshop.

“I never stop spitting blood. Oh! I would upset you if you saw me. You are very lucky to be under a warm sky, not surrounded as I am by an icy winter that weighs down your chest. Today I got up for a little while, and through the curtains at my window I watched the life of Paris passing by, the life I thought had ended. Some faces I recognized passed by in the street, rapid, joyful, careless. Not one raised his eyes to my windows. However, some young people came by and left their names. There was a time before, when I was sick, when you—who did not know me, who had received nothing from me but an impertinence on the day I first met you—you came to get news of me every morning. Now I’m sick again. We spent six months together. I had as much love for you as the heart of a woman can hold and give, and you are far away, and you condemn me, and no word of consolation comes from you. But it is only chance that causes this abandonment, I am sure. Because if you were in Paris, you would not leave my bedside, or my room.”

“December 25.

“My doctor forbids me to write every day. In truth my memories only heighten my fever, but yesterday I received a letter that did me some good, more for the sentiments that it expressed than for the material relief it brought me. I can therefore write to you today. This letter was from your father, and here is what it contained:


I have just learned that you are sick. If I were in Paris, I would go myself to learn your news; if my son were beside me, I would tell him to go find it out, but I cannot leave C . . . , and Armand is six or seven hundred leagues away. Permit me, therefore, simply to write you, Madam, and to tell you how saddened I am to hear of your illness, and to believe in my sincere wishes for your prompt recovery.

One of my good friends, M. H . . . , will present himself at your home; please receive him. He has been charged by me with a commission whose result I await impatiently.

Please accept, Madam, the assurance of my most distinguished sentiments.

“Such is the letter I received. Your father has a noble heart; love him well, my friend, for there are few men in the world as worthy of being loved. This paper signed with his name did me more good than all the prescriptions of our great doctor.

“This morning M. H . . . came. He seemed quite embarrassed by the delicate commission M. Duval had entrusted to him. He came quite simply to bring me a thousand francs from your father. At first I wanted to refuse, but M. H . . . told me that such a refusal would give offense to M. Duval, who had authorized him to give me this sum, and in future to give me anything more I might require. I accepted this service, which, on your father’s part, cannot be seen as charity. If I am dead when you return, show your father what I just wrote about him, and tell him that in writing these lines, the poor girl he deigned to write that consoling letter shed tears of gratitude and prayed to God for his sake.”

“January 4.

“I just emerged from a series of very painful days. I did not know the body could cause such suffering. Oh! The life I led! I am paying for it twice today.

“Someone was here to watch over me every night. I could no longer breathe. Delirium and cough were sharing the remnants of my poor existence.

“My dining room is filled with candy, with gifts of all kinds that my friends have brought me. No doubt there are, among those people, some who hope I will be their mistress later. If they saw what my illness has done to me, they would flee in terror.

“Prudence is giving away my New Year’s presents as her own.

“A thaw is setting in, and the doctor has told me that I will be able to go out in a few days if the good weather continues.”

“January 8.

“I went out yesterday in my carriage. The weather was magnificent. The Champs-Élysées was full of people. You might have said it was the first smile of the spring. Everything around me took on an air of celebration. I never suspected I could find so much joy, sweetness, and consolation in a ray of sunshine as I did yesterday.

“I saw nearly all the people I know, still cheerful, still busy with their pleasures. It is only the lucky who don’t know their luck! Olympe passed by in an elegant carriage that M. de N . . . had given her. She tried to insult me with a glance. She does not know how far removed I am from such trifles. A nice boy I’ve known for a long time asked me if I would have supper with him, and with one of his friends who wants very much to meet me, he said.

“I smiled sadly, and gave him my hand, burning with fever.

“I’ve never seen a more startled expression.

“I went home at four o’clock. I ate with appetite enough.

“This outing did me good.

“If only I would get better!

“How the vision of life and happiness in others rekindles the desire to live in those who, the night before, in the solitude of their souls and the shadow of the sickroom, longed to die quickly.”

“January 10.

“This hope of renewed health was nothing but a dream. Here I am again in my bed, my body covered with burning plasters. Go put this body that fetched so high a price in former times on offer, and see what you can get for it today!

“We must have done something truly wicked before we were born, or some great happiness must be in store for us after our deaths, for God to permit so many tortures of expiation, so many painful trials, in this life.”

“January 12.

“I am always sick.

“The Comte de N . . . sent me money yesterday; I did not accept it. I want nothing from that man. He is the one who is responsible for the fact that you are not near me.

“Oh! Our beautiful days in Bougival! Where are you?

“If I leave this room alive, it will be to make a pilgrimage to the house where we lived together, but I will leave it only when I am dead.

“Who knows if I will be able to write to you tomorrow?”

“January 25.

“For eleven nights I have not slept. I am suffocating, and every instant I think that I will die. The doctor has ordered that nobody permit me to touch a pen. Julie Duprat, who watches over me, allows me still to write you a few lines. Will you not come back before I die, then? Is it, then, eternally over between us? It seems to me that if you were to come, I would get better. What good would getting better do?”

“January 28.

“This morning I was awoken by a loud noise. Julie, who was sleeping in my room, ran into the dining room. I heard the voices of men, against which hers fought in vain. She came back crying.

“They had come to repossess my things. I told her to let them execute what they called justice. The bailiff came in to my bedroom, his hat on his head. He opened the drawers, wrote down everything he saw, and did not seem to notice that there was a woman dying in the bed that, happily, the charity of the law allows me to keep.

“He consented to tell me as he left that I could file an appeal within nine days, but he left a guard! What is to become of me, my God! This scene made me even sicker than before. Prudence wanted to go ask for money from your father’s friend; I opposed it.

“I received your letter this morning. How I needed it. Will my reply reach you in time? Will you see me again? This has been a happy day, one that has allowed me to forget all those that have passed during these last six weeks. I feel as if I were better, in spite of the mood of sadness that colored my response to you.

“After all, one must not always be unhappy.

“When I think it may happen that I will not die, that you will come back to me, that I will see spring again, that you will love me again, and that we might begin again our life of last year!

“I’m such a fool! I can hardly hold the pen with which I am writing to you this senseless dream of my heart.

“Whatever may come, I loved you well, Armand, and I would have died long ago if I did not have the memory of that love to help me, and the vague hope of seeing you again beside me.”

“February 4.

“The Comte de G . . . came back. His mistress was unfaithful to him. He is very sad; he loved her very much. He came to tell me about it. The poor boy’s business is in a bad state, which didn’t prevent him from paying off my bailiff and sending away the guard.

“I spoke to him of you, and he promised to speak to you of me. How I forgot in those moments that I had been his mistress, and how he tried to make me forget it too! He has a good heart.

“The duke sent yesterday for news of me, and he came this morning. I don’t know what it is that keeps the old man living. He stayed three hours at my side, and he did not say twenty words to me. Two great tears fell from his eyes when he saw me so pale. It was the memory of the death of his daughter that made him cry, no doubt.

“Now he will have seen her die twice. His back is humped, his head points to the ground, his lip is pendulous, his gaze extinguished. Age and sorrow have laid their double weight on his exhausted back. He made me no reproach. You might even have said he secretly rejoiced at the ravages the illness has worked on me. He seemed proud to be standing upright, while I, still young, was crushed by suffering.

“Bad times have returned. Nobody comes to see me. Julie watches over me, and stays beside me as much as possible. Prudence, whom I can’t give as much money to as I did in the past, has started to invent pretexts to stay away.

“Now that I am near death, despite everything the doctors tell me—for I have several, which proves my illness is worsening—I almost regret having listened to your father. If I had known that I would take only one year from your future, I would not have resisted the desire to spend that year with you, and at least I would have died holding the hand of a friend. It is true that if we had lived together this year, I would not have died so soon.

“God’s will be done!”

“February 5.

“Oh! Come, Armand. I suffer terribly; I am going to die, my God. I was so sad yesterday that I longed to be anywhere but at home in the evening, which promised to be as long as the night before. The duke came in the morning. The sight of this old man whom death has forgotten seems to make me die more quickly.

“Despite the burning fever that consumed me, I had myself dressed and driven to the Vaudeville. Julie put rouge on me, without it I would have looked cadaverous. I went to the box where I permitted you our first encounter. The entire time I kept my eyes fixed on the stall you had occupied that night, which yesterday was occupied by some rustic type, who laughed loudly at all the foolish things the actors said. I was taken home half-dead. I coughed and spat blood all night. Today I can no longer speak; I can hardly move my arms. My God! My God! I am going to die. I am expecting it, but I can’t get used to the idea that I will suffer any more than I am already suffering, and if . . .”

After this word, the few characters Marguerite had tried to scrawl were illegible, and it was Julie Duprat who had continued.

“February 18.


“Since the day when Marguerite wanted to go to the theater, she has grown sicker and sicker. She completely lost her voice, then the use of her limbs. What our poor friend suffers is impossible to say. I am not used to this kind of emotion, and I am continually seized by fright.

“How I wish you could be beside us! She is nearly always in delirium, but whether she is delirious or lucid, it is always your name she speaks when she is able to say a word.

“The doctor told me she doesn’t have much longer. Since she has become so ill, the old duke has not returned.

“He told the doctor that the sight of her caused him too much pain.

“Mme Duvernoy is not behaving well. This woman, who thought she would be able to keep on getting money from Marguerite, at whose expense she was living almost entirely, has taken on contracts that she cannot keep, and, seeing that her neighbor is no longer useful to her, she no longer even comes to see her. Everyone is abandoning her. M. de G . . . , hounded by his debts, was forced to return to London. When he left, he sent us some money; he has done everything he could, but they came back to seize the things, and the creditors are only waiting for her death to sell it all.

“I would have liked to use my last resources to stop this, but the bailiff told me there was no point, and that there were still more seizures to come. Since she will die, it is better to abandon it all than to save it for her family, whom she did not want to see, and who never loved her. You cannot imagine the gilded misery the poor creature is dying amidst. Yesterday we had no money at all. Silver, jewels, shawls, everything has been pawned; the rest has been sold or seized. Marguerite is still conscious of what is happening around her, and she suffers body, mind, and heart. Giant tears roll down her cheeks, which are so gaunt and so pale that you would no longer recognize the face you loved so much if you could see her. She made me promise to write you when she would no longer be able, and I am writing in front of her. Her eyes are upon me, but she does not see me; her gaze is already clouded by her impending death. However, she is smiling, and all her thoughts, all her soul, are with you; I am sure of it.

“Every time anyone opens the door, her eyes light up, and she always thinks that you will walk in; then, when she sees it is not you, her face resumes its sorrowful expression, dampens with cool perspiration, and her cheeks turn purple.”

“February 19, midnight.

“What a sad day today was, my poor Monsieur Armand! This morning Marguerite couldn’t breathe. The doctor bled her, and her voice came back a little. The doctor advised her to see a priest. She gave her consent, and he went himself to look for an abbot at Saint-Roch.

“During this time Marguerite called me to her bedside, begged me to open her armoire, indicated a bonnet and a long chemise covered in lace, and told me in a weak voice, ‘I will die after I make my confession. Afterward, dress me in those things; it’s the vanity of a dying woman.’

“Then she embraced me, crying, and added, ‘I can speak, but I suffocate too much when I speak. I’m suffocating! Air!’

“I dissolved in tears. I opened the window, and a few instants later the priest walked in.

“I went straight up to him.

“When he realized whom he was attending, he seemed to be afraid he would receive a poor welcome.

“‘Come in bravely, Father,’ I said to him.

“He stayed a short time in the room of the sick woman, and when he left he said to me, ‘She lived like a sinner, but she will die like a Christian.’

“A few moments later he returned accompanied by a choirboy who carried a crucifix, and by a sacristan who walked before them, ringing a bell to announce that God was coming to the dying woman.

“All three of them entered this bedroom that had at other times echoed with so many strange words, but that at this hour was nothing short of a holy tabernacle.

“I fell to my knees. I don’t know how long the impression that this spectacle made on me lasted, but I do not think that, until that moment, any other human occurrence had impressed me so much.

“The priest anointed the feet, hands, and forehead of the dying woman with holy oils, recited a short prayer, and Marguerite was ready to depart for Heaven, where she will go without a doubt, if God has observed the trials of her life and the sanctity of her death.

“Since that moment she has not said a word and has not made a movement. Twenty times I would have thought she was dead, had I not heard her labored breathing.”

“February 20, five o’clock.

“Everything is over.

“Marguerite entered her final agony at about two o’clock. Never has a martyr suffered such tortures, judging from her cries. Two or three times she rose up in her bed, as if she were trying to grab back the life that was climbing toward God.

“Two or three times, as well, she spoke your name, then everything went quiet; she fell back exhausted on her bed. Silent tears flowed from her eyes, and she was dead.

“I approached her then. I called out to her, and when she did not respond, I closed her eyes and kissed her forehead.

“Poor, dear Marguerite. I wished I had been a holy woman, so that kiss might have recommended you to God.

“Then I dressed her as she had asked me to do, I went to find a priest at Saint-Roch, I lit two candles for her, and I prayed for an hour in the church.

“I gave money that came from her to the poor.

“I am not well versed in religion, but I think the good Lord will recognize that my tears were genuine, my prayer fervent, my alms sincere, and he will have pity on that woman who, dying young and beautiful, only had me to close her eyes and bury her.”

“February 22.

“Today the burial took place. Many of Marguerite’s friends came to the church. Some wept sincerely. When the procession took the road to Montmartre, only two men were in it: the Comte de G . . . , who had come back for that purpose from London, and the duke, who walked with the support of two footmen.

“I write you these details from her home, in the midst of my tears and in front of the lamp that burns sadly next to a dinner I have been unable to touch, as you may well imagine, but which Nanine made for me, as I had not eaten for more than twenty-four hours.

“My memory cannot long retain these sad impressions, as my life does not belong to me any more than Marguerite’s belonged to her; that is why I give you all these details in the very places where they occurred, for fear that, should a long time pass between them and your return, I would not be able to relay them to you in all their sad exactness.”