La Dame aux camélias (Camille)

Chapter 27

Chinese

'HAVE you finished it?' Armand asked me when I reached the end of the manuscript.

'I understand what you must have been through, my friend, if all that I've read is true!'

'My father vouches for it in a letter he wrote me.'

We talked for some while longer of the unhappy destiny which had just been played out, then I went home to get a little rest.

Armand, unhappy still, but a little easier now that his story was told, recovered quickly, and together we went to call on Prudence and Julie Duprat.

Prudence had just been declared bankrupt. She said that it was Marguerite's fault: during her final illness, she had loaned Marguerite considerable sums of money for which she, Prudence, had signed promissory notes. She had not been able to repay these notes because Marguerite had died without reimbursing her, nor had she signed any receipts which would have allowed Prudence to join the other creditors.

With the help of this unlikely tale, which Madame Duvernoy put about generally as an excuse for the mishandling of her own affairs, she succeeded in getting a thousand francs out of Armand who did not believe a word of it but wanted to appear as though he did, such was his respect for anyone and anything that had once been close to his mistress.

Next, we called on Julie Duprat, who went over the unhappy course of events which she had witnessed and wept sincerely as she remembered her dead friend.

Finally, we went to see Margrerite's grave over which the early rays of the April sun were uncurling the first leaves.

There remained one final call of duty for Armand to answer, which was to rejoin his father. Once more, he asked me to accompany him.

We arrived at C where I met Monsieur Duval, who looked exactly as I had pictured him from the description his son had given me: a tall, dignified, kindly man.

He welcomed Armand with tears of happiness, and shook my hand affectionately. I quickly realized that among the Collector's sentiments, fatherly feeling was by far the strongest.

His daughter, whose name was Blanche, had the cleareyed gaze and serene mouth which point to a soul that conceives only saintly thoughts and lips that speak only pious words. She greeted her brother's return with smiles, unaware, chaste young woman that she was, that in a far country a courtesan had sacrificed her own happiness to the mere mention of her name.

I stayed for some time with this happy family which directed every waking thought to the son who had brought them a convalescent heart.

I returned to Paris where I wrote this story exactly as it had been told to me. It has just one quality to commend it, which may be contested: it is true.

From this tale, I do not draw the conclusion that all women of Marguerite's sort are capable of behaving as she did. Far from it. But I have learned that one such woman, once in her life, experienced deep love, that she suffered for it and that she died of it. I have told the reader what I learned. It was a duty.

I am not an advocate of vice, but I shall always be a sounding board for any noble heart in adversity wherever I hear its voice raised in prayer.

Marguerite's history is an exception, I say again. Had it been a commonplace, it would not have been worth writing down.

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