by Alexandre Dumas, fils

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Chapter 21

"At last you have come," she said, throwing her arms round my neck. "But how pale you are!" I told her of the scene with my father. "My God! I was afraid of it," she said. "When Joseph came to tell you of your father's arrival I trembled as if he had brought news of some misfortune. My poor friend, I am the cause of all your distress. You will be better off, perhaps, if you leave me and do not quarrel with your father on my account. He knows that you are sure to have a mistress, and he ought to be thankful that it is I, since I love you and do not want more of you than your position allows. Did you tell him how we had arranged our future?" "Yes; that is what annoyed him the most, for he saw how much we really love one another." "What are we to do, then?" "Hold together, my good Marguerite, and let the storm pass over." "Will it pass?" "It will have to." "But your father will not stop there." "What do you suppose he can do?" "How do I know? Everything that a father can do to make his son obey him. He will remind you of my past life, and will perhaps do me the honour of inventing some new story, so that you may give me up." "You know that I love you." "Yes, but what I know, too, is that, sooner or later, you will have to obey your father, and perhaps you will end by believing him." "No, Marguerite. It is I who will make him believe me. Some of his friends have been telling him tales which have made him angry; but he is good and just, he will change his first impression; and then, after all, what does it matter to me?" "Do not say that, Armand. I would rather anything should happen than that you should quarrel with your family; wait till after to-day, and to-morrow go back to Paris. Your father, too, will have thought it over on his side, and perhaps you will both come to a better understanding. Do not go against his principles, pretend to make some concessions to what he wants; seem not to care so very much about me, and he will let things remain as they are. Hope, my friend, and be sure of one thing, that whatever happens, Marguerite will always be yours." "You swear it?" "Do I need to swear it?" How sweet it is to let oneself be persuaded by the voice that one loves! Marguerite and I spent the whole day in talking over our projects for the future, as if we felt the need of realizing them as quickly as possible. At every moment we awaited some event, but the day passed without bringing us any new tidings. Next day I left at ten o'clock, and reached the hotel about twelve. My father had gone out. I went to my own rooms, hoping that he had perhaps gone there. No one had called. I went to the solicitor's. No one was there. I went back to the hotel, and waited till six. M. Duval did not return, and I went back to Bougival. I found Marguerite not waiting for me, as she had been the day before, but sitting by the fire, which the weather still made necessary. She was so absorbed in her thoughts that I came close to her chair without her hearing me. When I put my lips to her forehead she started as if the kiss had suddenly awakened her. "You frightened me," she said. "And your father?" "I have not seen him. I do not know what it means. He was not at his hotel, nor anywhere where there was a chance of my finding him." "Well, you must try again to-morrow." "I am very much inclined to wait till he sends for me. I think I have done all that can be expected of me." "No, my friend, it is not enough; you must call on your father again, and you must call to-morrow." "Why to-morrow rather than any other day?" "Because," said Marguerite, and it seemed to me that she blushed slightly at this question, "because it will show that you are the more keen about it, and he will forgive us the sooner." For the remainder of the day Marguerite was sad and preoccupied. I had to repeat twice over everything I said to her to obtain an answer. She ascribed this preoccupation to her anxiety in regard to the events which had happened during the last two days. I spent the night in reassuring her, and she sent me away in the morning with an insistent disquietude that I could not explain to myself. Again my father was absent, but he had left this letter for me: "If you call again to-day, wait for me till four. If I am not in by four, come and dine with me to-morrow. I must see you." I waited till the hour he had named, but he did not appear. I returned to Bougival. The night before I had found Marguerite sad; that night I found her feverish and agitated. On seeing me, she flung her arms around my neck, but she cried for a long time in my arms. I questioned her as to this sudden distress, which alarmed me by its violence. She gave me no positive reason, but put me off with those evasions which a woman resorts to when she will not tell the truth. When she was a little calmed down, I told her the result of my visit, and I showed her my father's letter, from which, I said, we might augur well. At the sight of the letter and on hearing my comment, her tears began to flow so copiously that I feared an attack of nerves, and, calling Nanine, I put her to bed, where she wept without a word, but held my hands and kissed them every moment. I asked Nanine if, during my absence, her mistress had received any letter or visit which could account for the state in which I found her, but Nanine replied that no one had called and nothing had been sent. Something, however, had occurred since the day before, something which troubled me the more because Marguerite concealed it from me. In the evening she seemed a little calmer, and, making me sit at the foot of the bed, she told me many times how much she loved me. She smiled at me, but with an effort, for in spite of herself her eyes were veiled with tears. I used every means to make her confess the real cause of her distress, but she persisted in giving me nothing but vague reasons, as I have told you. At last she fell asleep in my arms, but it was the sleep which tires rather than rests the body. From time to time she uttered a cry, started up, and, after assuring herself that I was beside her, made me swear that I would always love her. I could make nothing of these intermittent paroxysms of distress, which went on till morning. Then Marguerite fell into a kind of stupor. She had not slept for two nights. Her rest was of short duration, for toward eleven she awoke, and, seeing that I was up, she looked about her, crying: "Are you going already?" "No," said I, holding her hands; "but I wanted to let you sleep on. It is still early." "What time are you going to Paris?" "At four." "So soon? But you will stay with me till then?" "Of course. Do I not always?" "I am so glad! Shall we have lunch?" she went on absentmindedly. "If you like." "And then you will be nice to me till the very moment you go?" "Yes; and I will come back as soon as I can." "You will come back?" she said, looking at me with haggard eyes. "Naturally." "Oh, yes, you will come back to-night. I shall wait for you, as I always do, and you will love me, and we shall be happy, as we have been ever since we have known each other." All these words were said in such a strained voice, they seemed to hide so persistent and so sorrowful a thought, that I trembled every moment lest Marguerite should become delirious. "Listen," I said. "You are ill. I can not leave you like this. I will write and tell my father not to expect me." "No, no," she cried hastily, "don't do that. Your father will accuse me of hindering you again from going to see him when he wants to see you; no, no, you must go, you must! Besides, I am not ill. I am quite well. I had a bad dream and am not yet fully awake." From that moment Marguerite tried to seem more cheerful. There were no more tears. When the hour came for me to go, I embraced her and asked her if she would come with me as far as the train; I hoped that the walk would distract her and that the air would do her good. I wanted especially to be with her as long as possible. She agreed, put on her cloak and took Nanine with her, so as not to return alone. Twenty times I was on the point of not going. But the hope of a speedy return, and the fear of offending my father still more, sustained me, and I took my place in the train. "Till this evening!" I said to Marguerite, as I left her. She did not reply. Once already she had not replied to the same words, and the Comte de G., you will remember, had spent the night with her; but that time was so far away that it seemed to have been effaced from my memory, and if I had any fear, it was certainly not of Marguerite being unfaithful to me. Reaching Paris, I hastened off to see Prudence, intending to ask her to go and keep Marguerite company, in the hope that her mirth and liveliness would distract her. I entered without being announced, and found Prudence at her toilet. "Ah!" she said, anxiously; "is Marguerite with you?" "No." "How is she?" "She is not well." "Is she not coming?" "Did you expect her?" Madame Duvernoy reddened, and replied, with a certain constraint: "I only meant that since you are at Paris, is she not coming to join you?" "No." I looked at Prudence; she cast down her eyes, and I read in her face the fear of seeing my visit prolonged. "I even came to ask you, my dear Prudence, if you have nothing to do this evening, to go and see Marguerite; you will be company for her, and you can stay the night. I never saw her as she was to-day, and I am afraid she is going to be ill." "I am dining in town," replied Prudence, "and I can't go and see Marguerite this evening. I will see her tomorrow." I took leave of Mme. Duvernoy, who seemed almost as preoccupied as Marguerite, and went on to my father's; his first glance seemed to study me attentively. He held out his hand. "Your two visits have given me pleasure, Armand," he said; "they make me hope that you have thought over things on your side as I have on mine." "May I ask you, father, what was the result of your reflection?" "The result, my dear boy, is that I have exaggerated the importance of the reports that had been made to me, and that I have made up my mind to be less severe with you." "What are you saying, father?" I cried joyously. "I say, my dear child, that every young man must have his mistress, and that, from the fresh information I have had, I would rather see you the lover of Mlle. Gautier than of any one else." "My dear father, how happy you make me!" We talked in this manner for some moments, and then sat down to table. My father was charming all dinner time. I was in a hurry to get back to Bougival to tell Marguerite about this fortunate change, and I looked at the clock every moment. "You are watching the time," said my father, "and you are impatient to leave me. O young people, how you always sacrifice sincere to doubtful affections!" "Do not say that, father; Marguerite loves me, I am sure of it." My father did not answer; he seemed to say neither yes nor no. He was very insistent that I should spend the whole evening with him and not go till the morning; but Marguerite had not been well when I left her. I told him of it, and begged his permission to go back to her early, promising to come again on the morrow. The weather was fine; he walked with me as far as the station. Never had I been so happy. The future appeared as I had long desired to see it. I had never loved my father as I loved him at that moment. Just as I was leaving him, he once more begged me to stay. I refused. "You are really very much in love with her?" he asked. "Madly." "Go, then," and he passed his hand across his forehead as if to chase a thought, then opened his mouth as if to say something; but he only pressed my hand, and left me hurriedly, saying: "Till to-morrow, then!"

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