La Dame aux camélias (Camille)

Chapter 14

Chinese

WHEN I reached home, I began to weep like a child. There is not a man alive who has not been deceived at least once but does not know what it is to suffer so.

Weighed down by the kind of fervent resolution which we always think we shall be strong enough to keep, I told myself that I had to put an end to this affair at once, and impatiently waited for morning to come so that I could go and buy a ticket and return to my father and my sister? twin loves on which I could count and which would never let me down.

However, I did not want to go away without ensuring that Marguerite knew exactly why I was going. Only a man who is quite out of love with his mistress will leave her without writing.

I wrote and rewrote a score of letters in my head.

I had been dealing with a woman who was like all other kept women; I had poeticized her far too much. She had treated me like a school-boy and, to deceive me, had resorted to an insultingly simple ruse ?that much was clear. My pride then took over. I had to leave this woman without giving her the satisfaction of knowing how much our parting made me suffer, and this is what I wrote to her, in my most elegant hand and with tears of rage and pain in my eyes.

'My dear Marguerite,

I trust that yesterday's indisposition has not proved too troublesome. I called, at eleven last evening, to ask after you, and was told you had not yet returned. Monsieur de G was altogether more fortunate, for he arrived a few moments later and was still with you at four o'clock this morning.

Forgive me the tiresome few hours which I inflicted on you, and rest assured that I shall never forget the happy moments which I owe you.

I would certainly have called to ask after you today, but I propose to return and join my father.

Farewell, my dear Marguerite. I am neither rich enough to love you as I should wish, nor poor enough to love you as you would like. Let us both forget: you, a name which must mean very little to you, and I, happiness which has become impossible for me to bear.

I am returning your key which I have never used and which you may find will answer some useful purpose, if you are often ill the way you were yesterday.'

As you see, I did not have the strength to end my letter without a touch of supercilious irony, which only went to prove how much in love I still was.

I read and reread my letter ten times over, and the thought of the pain it would cause Marguerite calmed me a little. I tried to live up to the bold note it had struck, and when, at eight o'clock, my servant answered my summons, I handed it to him to deliver at once.

'Must I wait for an answer?' Joseph asked. (My manservant was called Joseph. All manservants are called Joseph).

'If you are asked whether a reply is expected, you will say that you don't know, and you will wait.'

I clung to hope that she would answer.

Poor, weak creatures that we are!

The whole of the time my servant was out, I remained in a state of extreme agitation. At some moments, recalling how completely Marguerite had given herself to me, I asked myself by what right had I written her an impertinent letter when she could quite well reply that it was not Monsieur de G who was deceiving me but I who was deceiving Monsieur de G ? which is an argument which allows many a woman to have more than one lover. At other moments, recalling the hussy's solemn oaths, I tried to convince myself that my letter had been far too mild and that there were no words strong enough to scourge a woman who could laugh at love as sincere as mine. Then again, I told myself that it would have been better not to write at all, but to have called on her during the day: in this way, I would have been there to enjoy the tears I made her weep.

In the end, I came round to wondering what she would say in her answer, and I was already prepared to believe whatever excuse she gave me.

Joseph returned.

'Well?' I said.

'Sir, ' he answered, 'Madame had not risen and was still asleep, but the moment she rings, the letter will be given to her and if there is a reply, it will be brought.'

Asleep!

A score of times I was on the point of sending round to get the letter back, but I persisted in telling myself:

'Perhaps someone has already given it to her, in which case I would look as though I was sorry I'd sent it.'

The nearer it got to the time when it seemed most likely that she would give me an answer, the more I regretted having written.

Ten o'clock, eleven o'clock, midday stuck.

At noon, I was on the point of setting off for our rendezvous, as though nothing had happened. I was a complete loss for a way of a way of
breaking out of iron ring that held me fast.

Then, with the superstition of those who wait, I thought that if I went out for a while, I should find an answer when I got back. Replies which we await with impatience always come when we are not at home.

I went out, ostensibly to lunch.

Instead of lunching at the Cafe Foy, on the corner of the Boulevard, as was my custom, I thought I would have lunch in the Palais-Royal and go via the rue d'Antin. Every time I saw a woman in the distance, I thought it was Nanine bringing me a reply. I walked the length of the rue d'Antin without coming across any sort of messenger. I arrived at the Palais- Royal and went into Very's. The waiter gave me something to eat, or, more accurately, served me whatever he wished, for I ate nothing.

Despite myself, my eyes remained fixed on the clock.

I returned home, convinced that I would find a letter from Marguerite.

The porter had received nothing for me. I still had hopes of my servant. He had seen no one since the time I went out.

If Marguerite was going to give me an answer, she would have done so long before.

I began to regret the terms of my letter; I should have remained totally silent, since this would doubtless have made her uneasy, and spurred her to make a move; for, seeing that I had not kept our appointment the previous day, she would have asked the reason for my absence and only then should I have given it. In this way, she would have had no alternative but to establish her innocence, and I wanted her to establish her innocence. I already sensed that whatever the excuses she gave me, I would have believed her, and I knew that I should have preferred anything than never to see her again.

In the end, I fell to thinking that she would come herself, but the hours ticked by, and she did not come.

Marguerite was clearly quite unlike other women, for there are not many who, on receiving a letter like the one I had just written, do not send some sort of reply.

At five, I hurried to the Champs- Elysees.

'If I meet her, ' I thought, 'I shall appear unconcerned, and she will see that I have stopped thinking about her already.'

On the corner of the rue Royale, I saw her drive past in her carriage. The encounter happened so suddenly that I felt myself grow pale. I have no idea if she noticed my reaction, for I was so taken aback that I saw only her carriage.

I did not continue with my stroll to the Champs-Elysees. I looked at the theatre bills, for I still had one chance left of seeing her.

There was a first night at the Palais-Royal. Marguerite would obviously be there.

I was in the theatre at seven o'clock.

All the boxes filled up, but Marguerite did not appear.

After a while, I left the Palais-Royal and did the rounds of all the theatres where she went most often ?to the Vaudeville, the Varietes and the Opera- Comique.

She was not at any of them.

Either my letter had hurt her too much for her to be able to think of going to the theatre, or she was afraid of coming across me and wanted to avoid having things out.

This is what my vanity was whispering in my ear on the Boulevard when I ran into Gaston who asked me where I had been.

'To the Palais-Royal.'

'I've been to the Opera, ' he said. 'I rather thought I'd see you there.'

'Why?'

'Because Marguerite was there.'

'Oh! Was she?'

'Yes.'

'On her own?'

'No, with one of her women friends.'

'Anyone else?'

'Count de G showed up in her box for a moment or two, but she went off with the Duke. I thought I'd see you appear any minute. I had a seat next to me which stayed empty the whole evening, and I was sure it had been paid for by you.'

'But why should I go wherever Marguerite goes?'

'Because, dammit, you're her lover!'

'And who told you that?'

'Prudence. I met her yesterday. I congratulate you, old boy. She's a pretty mistress to have, and it's not everybody that can have her. Hang on to her, she'll be a credit to you.'

This straightforward observation of Gaston's showed me how ridiculously touchy I was being.

If I had met him the previous evening and he had talked to me like this, I would never have written the stupid letter I had sent that morning.

I was on the point of going round to Prudence's and sending word to Marguerite that I had to talk to her. But I was afraid that, to get back at me, she would send word that she could not see me, and I returned home after walking by the rue d'Antin.

Once again I asked my porter if he had a letter for me.

Nothing!

'She'll have wanted to see whether I'd try some new move and retract my letter today, ' I told myself as I got into bed, 'but when she sees I haven't written to her, she'll write to me tomorrow.'

That night especially did I regret what I had done. I was alone in my apartment, unable to sleep, fretting with worry and jealousy whereas, by letting things take their true course, I should have been at Marguerite's side hearing her say those sweet words which I had heard on only two occasions, and which now made my ears burn in my loneliness.

The most dreadful part of my predicament was that logic put me in the wrong. Indeed, all the indications were that Marguerite loved me. In the first place, there was her scheme for spending a whole summer alone with me in the country. Then there was the plain fact that there was nothing that obliged her to be my mistress, for the money I had was insufficient for her needs or even her whims. So there was nothing more to it, on her part, than the hope of finding sincere affection through me which would be a relief from the mercenary loves which beset her life. And now, on the second day, I was in the process of blighting that hope and repaying with high-handed irony the two nights of love which I had accepted! What I was doing was therefore worse than ridiculous: it was dishonest. Had I simply paid the woman back in order to have the right to pass judgment on her way of life? And did not withdrawing on the second day make me look like some parasite of love who is afraid he is about to be presented with the bill for his dinner? It was extraordinary! I had known Marguerite for thirty-six hours, I had been her lover for twenty-four of them, and was acting like some easily injured party. Far from being only too delighted that she should divide her affections to include me, I wanted to have her all to myself, I wanted to force her, at a stroke, to put an end to the affairs of her past which, of course, represented the income of her future. What cause had I to reproach her? None. She had written to tell me she was unwell when she could easily have said bluntly, with the appalling frankness of some women, that she was expecting a lover; and instead of going along with her letter, instead of taking a walk in any street in Paris except the rue d'Antin, instead of spending the evening with my friends and presenting myself the next day at the time she had indicated, I was behaving like Othello, spying on her, thinking I was punishing her by not seeing her any more. But quite the reverse: she was probably delighted by this separation and must have thought me supremely inane. Her silence was nothing so grand as rancour: it was contempt.

At this point, I should have given Marguerite some present or other which would have left her in no doubt about my liberality and also allowed me, because I had treated her like any other kept woman, to believe that I had no further obligations towards her. But I felt that with the least hint of trade, I should degrade, if not the love she had for me, then at least the love I had for her; and since this love of mine was so pure that it refused to be shared with others, it was incapable of offering a present, however fine, as payment in full for the happiness, however brief, I had been given.

This is what I kept telling myself over and over that night. I was ready at any moment to go and say it all to Marguerite.

When morning came, I was still awake and feverish. I could not think of anything but Marguerite.

As you will appreciate, I had to decide one way or the other: to have done either with the woman or my scruples ?always assuming, of course, that she would still agree to go on seeing me.

But, as you know, one always puts off taking crucial decisions: as a result, neither able to stay in my rooms nor daring to wait upon Marguerite, I embarked on a course of action that might lead to a reconciliation which, should it succeed, my pride could always blame on chance.

It was nine o'clock. I hurried round to Prudence's. She asked me to what she owed this early call.

I did not dare say openly what brought me. I replied that I had gone out early to book a seat on the coach for C, where my father lived.

'You are very lucky, ' she said, 'to be able to get out of Paris in such marvellous weather.'

I looked hard at Prudence, wondering whether she was laughing at me.

But her face was serious.

'Are you going to say goodbye to Marguerite?' she went on, with the same seriousness.

'No.'

'Very wise.'

'You think so?'

'Of course. Since you've finished with her, what's the point of seeing her again?'

'So you know it's all over?'

'She showed me your letter.'

'And what did she say?'

'She said: "My dear Prudence, your protege has no manners. People compose letters like this in their heads, but no one actually writes them down."'

'And how did she say it?'

'She was laughing. And she also said: "He came to supper twice and now won't even make his party call."'

So this was all the effect my letter and jealous torments had produced! I was cruelly humiliated in my pride of love.

'And what did she do yesterday evening?'

'She went to the Opera.'

'I know. But afterwards?'

'She had supper at home.'

'Alone?'

'With Count de G, I believe.'

So the break I had made had altered nothing in Marguerite's habits.

It is because of moments like this that some people will tell you:

"You shouldn't have given the woman another moment's thought. She clearly didn't love you."

'Ah well, I'm very pleased to see that Marguerite isn't pining for me, ' I went on, with a forced smile.

'And she's absolutely right. You did what you had to. You've been much more sensible than her, for she really loved you. All she did was talk about you, and she might have ended up doing something silly.'

'If she loves me, why didn't she reply?'

'Because she realized that she was wrong to love you. And besides, women will sometimes allow a man to take advantage of their love but not to injure their pride, and a man always injures a woman's pride when two days after becoming her lover, he leaves her, whatever reason he gives for doing so. I know Marguerite; she'd sooner die than give you an answer.'

'What should I do, then?'

'Nothing. She will forget you, you will forget her and neither of you will have anything to reproach each other for.'

'What if I wrote asking her to forgive me?'

'Don't. She would.'

I nearly flung my arms around Prudence.

A quarter of an hour later, I was back in my rooms and writing to Marguerite.

'Someone who repents of a letter which he wrote yesterday, someone who will go away tomorrow if you do not forgive him, wishes to know at what time be may call and lay his repentance at your feet.

When will be find you alone? For, as you know, confessions should always be made without witnesses.'

I folded this kind of madrigal in prose and sent Joseph with it. He handed it to Marguerite herself, and she told him that she would reply later.

I went out only for a moment, to dine, and at eleven in the evening still had no reply.

I resolved that I should suffer no more and leave the next day.

Having made up my mind, knowing that I would not sleep if I went to bed, I began to pack my trunks.

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