by Alexandre Dumas, fils

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Chapter 25

Armand, tired by this long narrative, often interrupted by his tears, put his two hands over his forehead and closed his eyes to think, or to try to sleep, after giving me the pages written by the hand of Marguerite. A few minutes after, a more rapid breathing told me that Armand slept, but that light sleep which the least sound banishes. This is what I read; I copy it without adding or omitting a syllable: To-day is the 15th December. I have been ill three or four days. This morning I stayed in bed. The weather is dark, I am sad; there is no one by me. I think of you, Armand. And you, where are you, while I write these lines? Far from Paris, far, far, they tell me, and perhaps you have already forgotten Marguerite. Well, be happy; I owe you the only happy moments in my life. I can not help wanting to explain all my conduct to you, and I have written you a letter; but, written by a girl like me, such a letter might seem to be a lie, unless death had sanctified it by its authority, and, instead of a letter, it were a confession. To-day I am ill; I may die of this illness, for I have always had the presentiment that I shall die young. My mother died of consumption, and the way I have always lived could but increase the only heritage she ever left me. But I do not want to die without clearing up for you everything about me; that is, if, when you come back, you will still trouble yourself about the poor girl whom you loved before you went away. This is what the letter contained; I shall like writing it over again, so as to give myself another proof of my own justification. You remember, Armand, how the arrival of your father surprised us at Bougival; you remember the involuntary fright that his arrival caused me, and the scene which took place between you and him, which you told me of in the evening. Next day, when you were at Paris, waiting for your father, and he did not return, a man came to the door and handed in a letter from M. Duval. His letter, which I inclose with this, begged me, in the most serious terms, to keep you away on the following day, on some excuse or other, and to see your father, who wished to speak to me, and asked me particularly not to say anything to you about it. You know how I insisted on your returning to Paris next day. You had only been gone an hour when your father presented himself. I won't say what impression his severe face made upon me. Your father had the old theory that a courtesan is a being without heart or reason, a sort of machine for coining gold, always ready, like the machine, to bruise the hand that gives her everything, and to tear in pieces, without pity or discernment, those who set her in motion. Your father had written me a very polite letter, in order that I might consent to see him; he did not present himself quite as he had written. His manner at first was so stiff, insolent, and even threatening, that I had to make him understand that I was in my own house, and that I had no need to render him an account of my life, except because of the sincere affection which I had for his son. M. Duval calmed down a little, but still went on to say that he could not any longer allow his son to ruin himself over me; that I was beautiful, it was true, but, however beautiful I might be, I ought not to make use of my beauty to spoil the future of a young man by such expenditure as I was causing. At that there was only one thing to do, to show him the proof that since I was your mistress I had spared no sacrifice to be faithful to you without asking for more money than you had to give me. I showed him the pawn tickets, the receipts of the people to whom I had sold what I could not pawn; I told him of my resolve to part with my furniture in order to pay my debts, and live with you without being a too heavy expense. I told him of our happiness, of how you had shown me the possibility of a quieter and happier life, and he ended by giving in to the evidence, offering me his hand, and asking pardon for the way in which he had at first approached me. Then he said to me: "So, madame, it is not by remonstrances or by threats, but by entreaties, that I must endeavour to obtain from you a greater sacrifice than you have yet made for my son." I trembled at this beginning. Your father came over to me, took both my hands, and continued in an affectionate voice: "My child, do not take what I have to say to you amiss; only remember that there are sometimes in life cruel necessities for the heart, but that they must be submitted to. You are good, your soul has generosity unknown to many women who perhaps despise you, and are less worthy than you. But remember that there is not only the mistress, but the family; that besides love there are duties; that to the age of passion succeeds the age when man, if he is to be respected, must plant himself solidly in a serious position. My son has no fortune, and yet he is ready to abandon to you the legacy of his mother. If he accepted from you the sacrifice which you are on the point of making, his honour and dignity would require him to give you, in exchange for it, this income, which would always put you out of danger of adversity. But he can not accept this sacrifice, because the world, which does not know you, would give a wrong interpretation to this acceptance, and such an interpretation must not tarnish the name which we bear. No one would consider whether Armand loves you, whether you love him, whether this mutual love means happiness to him and redemption to you; they would see only one thing, that Armand Duval allowed a kept woman (forgive me, my child, for what I am forced to say to you) to sell all she had for him. Then the day of reproaches and regrets would arrive, be sure, for you or for others, and you would both bear a chain that you could not sever. What would you do then? Your youth would be lost, my son's future destroyed; and I, his father, should receive from only one of my children the recompense that I look for from both. "You are young, beautiful, life will console you; you are noble, and the memory of a good deed will redeem you from many past deeds. During the six months that he has known you Armand has forgotten me. I wrote to him four times, and he has never once replied. I might have died and he not known it! "Whatever may be your resolution of living otherwise than as you have lived, Armand, who loves you, will never consent to the seclusion to which his modest fortune would condemn you, and to which your beauty does not entitle you. Who knows what he would do then! He has gambled, I know; without telling you of it, I know also, but, in a moment of madness, he might have lost part of what I have saved, during many years, for my daughter's portion, for him, and for the repose of my old age. What might have happened may yet happen. "Are you sure, besides, that the life which you are giving up for him will never again come to attract you? Are you sure, you who have loved him, that you will never love another? Would you not-suffer on seeing the hindrances set by your love to your lover's life, hindrances for which you would be powerless to console him, if, with age, thoughts of ambition should succeed to dreams of love? Think over all that, madame. You love Armand; prove it to him by the sole means which remains to you of yet proving it to him, by sacrificing your love to his future. No misfortune has yet arrived, but one will arrive, and perhaps a greater one than those which I foresee. Armand might become jealous of a man who has loved you; he might provoke him, fight, be killed. Think, then, what you would suffer in the presence of a father who should call on you to render an account for the life of his son! "Finally, my dear child, let me tell you all, for I have not yet told you all, let me tell you what has brought me to Paris. I have a daughter, as I have told you, young, beautiful, pure as an angel. She loves, and she, too, has made this love the dream of her life. I wrote all that to Armand, but, absorbed in you, he made no reply. Well, my daughter is about to marry. She is to marry the man whom she loves; she enters an honourable family, which requires that mine has to be no less honourable. The family of the man who is to become my son-in-law has learned what manner of life Armand is leading in Paris, and has declared to me that the marriage must be broken off if Armand continues this life. The future of a child who has done nothing against you, and who has the right of looking forward to a happy future, is in your hands. Have you the right, have you the strength, to shatter it? In the name of your love and of your repentance, Marguerite, grant me the happiness of my child." I wept silently, my friend, at all these reflections which I had so often made, and which, in the mouth of your father, took a yet more serious reality. I said to myself all that your father dared not say to me, though it had come to his lips twenty times: that I was, after all, only a kept woman, and that whatever excuse I gave for our liaison, it would always look like calculation on my part; that my past life left me no right to dream of such a future, and that I was accepting responsibilities for which my habits and reputation were far from giving any guarantee. In short, I loved you, Armand. The paternal way in which M. Duval had spoken to me; the pure memories that he awakened in me; the respect of this old man, which I would gain; yours, which I was sure of gaining later on: all that called up in my heart thoughts which raised me in my own eyes with a sort of holy pride, unknown till then. When I thought that one day this old man, who was now imploring me for the future of his son, would bid his daughter mingle my name with her prayers, as the name of a mysterious friend, I seemed to become transformed, and I felt a pride in myself. The exaltation of the moment perhaps exaggerated the truth of these impressions, but that was what I felt, friend, and these new feelings silenced the memory of the happy days I had spent with you. "Tell me, sir," I said to your father, wiping away my tears, "do you believe that I love your son?" "Yes," said M. Duval. "With a disinterested love?" "Yes. "Do you believe that I had made this love the hope, the dream, the forgiveness—of my life?" "Implicitly." "Well, sir, embrace me once, as you would embrace your daughter, and I swear to you that that kiss, the only chaste kiss I have ever had, will make me strong against my love, and that within a week your son will be once more at your side, perhaps unhappy for a time, but cured forever." "You are a noble child," replied your father, kissing me on the forehead, "and you are making an attempt for which God will reward you; but I greatly fear that you will have no influence upon my son." "Oh, be at rest, sir; he will hate me." I had to set up between us, as much for me as for you, an insurmountable barrier. I wrote to Prudence to say that I accepted the proposition of the Comte de N., and that she was to tell him that I would sup with her and him. I sealed the letter, and, without telling him what it contained, asked your father to have it forwarded to its address on reaching Paris. He inquired of me what it contained. "Your son's welfare," I answered. Your father embraced me once more. I felt two grateful tears on my forehead, like the baptism of my past faults, and at the moment when I consented to give myself up to another man I glowed with pride at the thought of what I was redeeming by this new fault. It was quite natural, Armand. You told me that your father was the most honest man in the world. M. Duval returned to his carriage, and set out for Paris. I was only a woman, and when I saw you again I could not help weeping, but I did not give way. Did I do right? That is what I ask myself to-day, as I lie ill in my bed, that I shall never leave, perhaps, until I am dead. You are witness of what I felt as the hour of our separation approached; your father was no longer there to support me, and there was a moment when I was on the point of confessing everything to you, so terrified was I at the idea that you were going to bate and despise me. One thing which you will not believe, perhaps, Armand, is that I prayed God to give me strength; and what proves that he accepted my sacrifice is that he gave me the strength for which I prayed. At supper I still had need of aid, for I could not think of what I was going to do, so much did I fear that my courage would fail me. Who would ever have said that I, Marguerite Gautier, would have suffered so at the mere thought of a new lover? I drank for forgetfulness, and when I woke next day I was beside the count. That is the whole truth, friend. Judge me and pardon me, as I have pardoned you for all the wrong that you have done me since that day.

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