IN the first three letters, my father expressed his concern for my silence and asked the reason for it. In the last, he made it clear that he had beeninformed of my changed way of life, and announced his arrival in the very near future.
I have always felt great respect and a genuine affection for my father. So I wrote back saying that the reason for my silence was that I had been away travelling for a while, and I asked him to let me know on which day he proposed to arrive so that I could be there to meet him.
I gave my servant my country address and left orders that he was to bring the first letter that came postmarked C. Then I set off again immediately for Bougival.
Marguerite was waiting for me at the garden gate.
Her look was anxious. She threw her arms around my neck and could not stop herself asking:
'Did you see Prudence?'
'Why did you stay so long in Paris?'
'I found some letters from my father which I had to answer.'
A few moments after this, Nanine came in. She was out of breath. Marguerite stood up, went over and spoke to her softly.
When Nanine had gone, Marguerite sat down beside me once more and, taking my hand, said:
'Why did you deceive me? You went to Prudence's, didn't you?'
'Who told you?'
'And who told her?'
'She followed you.'
'So you told her to follow me?'
'Yes. I thought there must have been a very good reason to make you go up to Paris like that. You've not left my side for four months. I was afraid that something awful had happened or that perhaps you were going to see another woman.'
'My mind's easy now. I know what you did, but I still don't know what you were told.'
I showed Marguerite my father's letters.
'That's not what I asked. What I'd like to know is why you called on Prudence.'
'To see her.'
'You're lying, my dear.'
'All right then. I went to ask her if the horse was better, and if she'd finished with your shawl and your jewels.'
Marguerite flushed, but said nothing.
'And, ' I continued, 'I found out to what use you'd put the horses, shawls and diamonds.'
'And you're angry with me?'
'I'm angry with you for not thinking of asking me for whatever you needed.'
'In affairs like ours, as long as the woman has something of her self- respect left, she must shoulder any number of sacrifices herself rather than ask her lover for money and in so doing taint her love with mercenary motives. You love me, I know you do, but you have no idea just how weak are the ties that bind the love men have for girls like me. Who knows? Perhaps one day, when you were short of money or feeling annoyed, you'd have come round to thinking that our affair was a carefully worked- out plot! Prudence talks too much. I didn't need those horses! I've saved myself money by selling them: I can manage without, and now I don't have to spend anything on them. As long as you love me, that's all I ask. And you can love me just as much without horses and shawls and diamonds.'
She said all this in so natural a tone of voice that there were tears in my eyes as I listened.
'But, my sweet Marguerite, ' I answered, lovingly pressing my mistress's hands in mine, 'you must have known that some day I'd find out about your sacrifice, and that the day I did find out, I'd never have allowed it.'
'And why not?'
'Because, dearest girl, I do not intend that the affection you truly feel for me should leave you the poorer by even a single piece of jewelry. Like you, I don't ever want you to think, when things are hard or you're feeling angry, that such bad times would never have happened if you'd lived with somebody else. Nor can I stand the thought that you should ever regret living with me, even for a moment. A few days from now, your horses, your diamonds and your shawls will be returned to you. You need them as much as life needs air. It may be ridiculous, but I'd rather have you lavish than frugal.'
'Which is to say you don't love me any more.'
'Don't be silly!'
'If you really loved me, you'd let me love you in my own way. But you persist in thinking of me as though I'm some girl who can't live without all this luxury, someone you still think you have to pay. You are ashamed to accept proof that I love you. In your heart, you're thinking of leaving me some day, and you're being very careful to put your scruples beyond suspicion. You're quite right, my dear, but I had expected better.'
And Marguerite stirred, as though she were about to get up. I held her back a moment, saying:
'I want you to be happy. I don't want there to be anything that you can reproach me for. That's all.'
'Even so, we shall go our separate ways!'
'Why, Marguerite? Who can separate us?' I exclaimed.
'You. You won't take me into your confidence by saying exactly where you stand, and you're vain enough to want to keep me in my place. You want to keep me in the luxury to which I was accustomed, but you also want to maintain the moral distance between us. You're the one. You don't consider that my feelings are sufficiently disinterested to want to share what money you have with me so that we could live happily together. No, you'd sooner ruin yourself. A slave to a stupid prejudice, that's what you are. Do you really think I compare a carriage and bits of jewelry with your love? Do you imagine I think happiness consists of those empty pleasures which people make do with when they've got nothing to love, but which seem so unimportant when they have? You'll pay my debts, you'll sign away all you have and you'll be my keeper! And how long will that last? Two or three months ?and then it'll be too late to start the life I'm offering you, for then you'd be kept by me, and that's something which no self- respecting man could accept. Whereas at the moment, you've got eight or ten thousand francs a year on which we can manage. I'll sell everything I don't need, and by investing the proceeds I'd have a steady two thousand a year. We'll rent a nice little apartment and live there together. In summer, we'll come down to the country, not to a house like this, but to something smaller, just big enough for two. You've no ties, I'm free, and we're young. For heaven's sake, Armand, don't make me go back to the life I had to lead once!'
I could not answer. My eyes brimmed over with tears of gratitude and love, and I threw myself into Marguerite's arms.
'I wanted, ' she went on, 'to arrange everything without telling you. I wanted to pay my debts and get my new apartment ready. In October, we would have reteurned to Paris and it would have been too late to say no. But since Prudence has told you everything, you'll have to agree before and not after. Do you love me enough to say yes?'
I could not hold out against such devotion. I kissed Marguerite's hands with great feeling and told her:
'I shall do whatever you want.'
And so what she had decided was agreed between us.
Then she became wildly exhilarated. She danced, she sang, she went into raptures about how homely her new apartment would be, and was already asking me in what part of Paris it should be and how it should be laid out.
I could see she was happy and very proud of this arrangement which seemed as though it would bring us together for good.
Which was why I had no wish to be any less keen than she was.
In a moment, I decided what course my life was to take. I worked out how I stood financially, and made over to Marguerite the income from my mother's estate, though it did not seem anything like an adequate return for the sacrifice which I was accepting.
There remained the allowance of five thousand francs which my father made me and, however things turned out, this annual allowance would always be enough to live on.
I did not tell Marguerite what I had decided, for I was quite convinced that she would refuse to accept my deed of gift.
The money in question derived from a mortgage of sixty thousand francs on a house which I had never even seen. All I knew was that each quarter, my father's solicitor, an old family friend, handed over seven hundred and fifty francs against my signature.
The day Marguerite and I came to Paris to look at apartments, I called at his office and asked him how I should set about transferring this income to another party.
The good man thought that I was ruined, and asked me questions about why I had decided to take such a step. Now, since I was going to have to tell him sooner or later in whose favour I was making the deed of gift, I decided to confess the truth there and then.
He did not raise any of the objections which his position as solicitor and friend entitled him to make, and he assured me that he would see that everything was arranged for the best.
Of course, I urged him to the greatest discretion with regard to my father, and left him to join Marguerite who was waiting for me at Julie Duprat's, where she had preferred to stay rather than go and be lectured by Prudence.
We started looking for apartments. Marguerite found all the ones we saw too expensive, and I thought them too ordinary. Even so, we did agree in the end, and, in one of the quietest parts of Paris, decided on a modest lodge which was situated at a good distance from the main house.
Behind this small lodge there was a delightful garden which was part of the property. It was enclosed by walls high enough to separate us from our neighbours, but not so high that they restricted the view.
It was better than we had hoped for.
While I went back to my apartment to arrange to vacate the premises, Marguerite went to see a dealer who, she said, had already done for one of her friends what she was now going to ask him to do for her.
She came for me in the rue de provence, quite delighted. The man had promised to pay all her debts, give her a receipt in full, and let her have around twenty thousand francs in exchange for relinquishing all her furniture.
You can see form the sum realized by the auction that this good man of business stood make upwards of thirty thousand francs out of his client.
We set off back to Bougival in high spirits. As we went, we continued telling each other about our plans for the future which, with the help of our thoughtlessness but especially our love, we saw in the rosiest of lights.
A week later, we were having lunch when Nanine came in and told me that my servant was asking for me.
I told her to show him in.
'Sir, ' he said, 'your father has arrived in Paris, and asks you to return to your apartment at once. He's waiting for you there.'
The news was the simplest thing imaginable, and yet, as we took it in, Marguerite and I exchanged looks.
We scented trouble in this turn of events.
Which was why, though she did not intimate to me anything of her reaction which I shared, I responded by holding out my hand to her:
'There's nothing to be afraid of.'
'Come back as soon as you can, ' murmured Marguerite as she kissed me. 'I'll be waiting by the window.'
I sent Joseph on ahead to let my father know I was on my way.
And two hours later, I was in my apartment in the rue de Provence.