by Alexandre Dumas, fils

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Chapter 17

Next day Marguerite sent me away very early, saying that the duke was coming at an early hour, and promising to write to me the moment he went, and to make an appointment for the evening. In the course of the day I received this note: "I am going to Bougival with the duke; be at Prudence's to-night at eight." At the appointed hour Marguerite came to me at Mme. Duvernoy's. "Well, it is all settled," she said, as she entered. "The house is taken?" asked Prudence. "Yes; he agreed at once." I did not know the duke, but I felt ashamed of deceiving him. "But that is not all," continued Marguerite. "What else is there?" "I have been seeing about a place for Armand to stay." "In the same house?" asked Prudence, laughing. "No, at Point du Jour, where we had dinner, the duke and I. While he was admiring the view, I asked Mme. Arnould (she is called Mme. Arnould, isn't she?) if there were any suitable rooms, and she showed me just the very thing: salon, anteroom, and bed-room, at sixty francs a month; the whole place furnished in a way to divert a hypochondriac. I took it. Was I right?" I flung my arms around her neck and kissed her. "It will be charming," she continued. "You have the key of the little door, and I have promised the duke the key of the front door, which he will not take, because he will come during the day when he comes. I think, between ourselves, that he is enchanted with a caprice which will keep me out of Paris for a time, and so silence the objections of his family. However, he has asked me how I, loving Paris as I do, could make up my mind to bury myself in the country. I told him that I was ill, and that I wanted rest. He seemed to have some difficulty in believing me. The poor old man is always on the watch. We must take every precaution, my dear Armand, for he will have me watched while I am there; and it isn't only the question of his taking a house for me, but he has my debts to pay, and unluckily I have plenty. Does all that suit you?" "Yes," I answered, trying to quiet the scruples which this way of living awoke in me from time to time. "We went all over the house, and we shall have everything perfect. The duke is going to look after every single thing. Ah, my dear," she added, kissing me, "you're in luck; it's a millionaire who makes your bed for you." "And when shall you move into the house?" inquired Prudence. "As soon as possible." "Will you take your horses and carriage?" "I shall take the whole house, and you can look after my place while I am away." A week later Marguerite was settled in her country house, and I was installed at Point du Jour. Then began an existence which I shall have some difficulty in describing to you. At first Marguerite could not break entirely with her former habits, and, as the house was always en fete, all the women whom she knew came to see her. For a whole month there was not a day when Marguerite had not eight or ten people to meals. Prudence, on her side, brought down all the people she knew, and did the honours of the house as if the house belonged to her. The duke's money paid for all that, as you may imagine; but from time to time Prudence came to me, asking for a note for a thousand francs, professedly on behalf of Marguerite. You know I had won some money at gambling; I therefore immediately handed over to Prudence what she asked for Marguerite, and fearing lest she should require more than I possessed, I borrowed at Paris a sum equal to that which I had already borrowed and paid back. I was then once more in possession of some ten thousand francs, without reckoning my allowance. However, Marguerite's pleasure in seeing her friends was a little moderated when she saw the expense which that pleasure entailed, and especially the necessity she was sometimes in of asking me for money. The duke, who had taken the house in order that Marguerite might rest there, no longer visited it, fearing to find himself in the midst of a large and merry company, by whom he did not wish to be seen. This came about through his having once arrived to dine tete-a-tete with Marguerite, and having fallen upon a party of fifteen, who were still at lunch at an hour when he was prepared to sit down to dinner. He had unsuspectingly opened the dining-room door, and had been greeted by a burst of laughter, and had had to retire precipitately before the impertinent mirth of the women who were assembled there. Marguerite rose from table, and joined the duke in the next room, where she tried, as far as possible, to induce him to forget the incident, but the old man, wounded in his dignity, bore her a grudge for it, and could not forgive her. He said to her, somewhat cruelly, that he was tired of paying for the follies of a woman who could not even have him treated with respect under his own roof, and he went away in great indignation. Since that day he had never been heard of. In vain Marguerite dismissed her guests, changed her way of life; the duke was not to be heard of. I was the gainer in so, far that my mistress now belonged to me more completely, and my dream was at length realized. Marguerite could not be without me. Not caring what the result might be, she publicly proclaimed our liaison, and I had come to live entirely at her house. The servants addressed me officially as their master. Prudence had strictly sermonized Marguerite in regard to her new manner of life; but she had replied that she loved me, that she could not live without me, and that, happen what might, she would not sacrifice the pleasure of having me constantly with her, adding that those who were not satisfied with this arrangement were free to stay away. So much I had heard one day when Prudence had said to Marguerite that she had something very important to tell her, and I had listened at the door of the room into which they had shut themselves. Not long after, Prudence returned again. I was at the other end of the garden when she arrived, and she did not see me. I had no doubt, from the way in which Marguerite came to meet her, that another similar conversation was going to take place, and I was anxious to hear what it was about. The two women shut themselves into a boudoir, and I put myself within hearing. "Well?" said Marguerite. "Well, I have seen the duke." "What did he say?" "That he would gladly forgive you in regard to the scene which took place, but that he has learned that you are publicly living with M. Armand Duval, and that he will never forgive that. 'Let Marguerite leave the young man,' he said to me, 'and, as in the past, I will give her all that she requires; if not, let her ask nothing more from me.'" "And you replied?" "That I would report his decision to you, and I promised him that I would bring you into a more reasonable frame of mind. Only think, my dear child, of the position that you are losing, and that Armand can never give you. He loves you with all his soul, but he has no fortune capable of supplying your needs, and he will be bound to leave you one day, when it will be too late and when the duke will refuse to do any more for you. Would you like me to speak to Armand?" Marguerite seemed to be thinking, for she answered nothing. My heart beat violently while I waited for her reply. "No," she answered, "I will not leave Armand, and I will not conceal the fact that I am living with him. It is folly no doubt, but I love him. What would you have me do? And then, now that he has got accustomed to be always with me, he would suffer too cruelly if he had to leave me so much as an hour a day. Besides, I have not such a long time to live that I need make myself miserable in order to please an old man whose very sight makes me feel old. Let him keep his money; I will do without it." "But what will you do?" "I don't in the least know." Prudence was no doubt going to make some reply, but I entered suddenly and flung myself at Marguerite's feet, covering her hands with tears in my joy at being thus loved. "My life is yours, Marguerite; you need this man no longer. Am I not here? Shall I ever leave you, and can I ever repay you for the happiness that you give me? No more barriers, my Marguerite; we love; what matters all the rest?" "Oh yes, I love you, my Armand," she murmured, putting her two arms around my neck. "I love you as I never thought I should ever love. We will be happy; we will live quietly, and I will say good-bye forever to the life for which I now blush. You won't ever reproach me for the past? Tell me!" Tears choked my voice. I could only reply by clasping Marguerite to my heart. "Well," said she, turning to Prudence, and speaking in a broken voice, "you can report this scene to the duke, and you can add that we have no longer need of him." From that day forth the duke was never referred to. Marguerite was no longer the same woman that I had known. She avoided everything that might recall to me the life which she had been leading when I first met her. Never did wife or sister surround husband or brother with such loving care as she had for me. Her nature was morbidly open to all impressions and accessible to all sentiments. She had broken equally with her friends and with her ways, with her words and with her extravagances. Any one who had seen us leaving the house to go on the river in the charming little boat which I had bought would never have believed that the woman dressed in white, wearing a straw hat, and carrying on her arm a little silk pelisse to protect her against the damp of the river, was that Marguerite Gautier who, only four months ago, had been the talk of the town for the luxury and scandal of her existence. Alas, we made haste to be happy, as if we knew that we were not to be happy long. For two months we had not even been to Paris. No one came to see us, except Prudence and Julie Duprat, of whom I have spoken to you, and to whom Marguerite was afterward to give the touching narrative that I have there. I passed whole days at the feet of my mistress. We opened the windows upon the garden, and, as we watched the summer ripening in its flowers and under the shadow of the trees, we breathed together that true life which neither Marguerite nor I had ever known before. Her delight in the smallest things was like that of a child. There were days when she ran in the garden, like a child of ten, after a butterfly or a dragon-fly. This courtesan who had cost more money in bouquets than would have kept a whole family in comfort, would sometimes sit on the grass for an hour, examining the simple flower whose name she bore. It was at this time that she read Manon Lescaut, over and over again. I found her several times making notes in the book, and she always declared that when a woman loves, she can not do as Manon did. The duke wrote to her two or three times. She recognised the writing and gave me the letters without reading them. Sometimes the terms of these letters brought tears to my eyes. He had imagined that by closing his purse to Marguerite, he would bring her back to him; but when he had perceived the uselessness of these means, he could hold out no longer; he wrote and asked that he might see her again, as before, no matter on what conditions. I read these urgent and repeated letters, and tore them in pieces, without telling Marguerite what they contained and without advising her to see the old man again, though I was half inclined to, so much did I pity him, but I was afraid lest, if I so advised her she should think that I wished the duke, not merely to come and see her again, but to take over the expenses of the house; I feared, above all, that she might think me capable of shirking the responsibilities of every consequence to which her love for me might lead her. It thus came about that the duke, receiving no reply, ceased to write, and that Marguerite and I continued to live together without giving a thought to the future.

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