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TWO days later, the sale was completely over. It had realized one hundred and fifty thousand francs.

The creditors had divided two thirds among themselves and the family? a sister and a young nephew ?had inherited the rest.

The sister's eyes had opened wide when the agent had written telling her that she had come into fifty thousand francs.

It was six or seven years since this young woman had set eyes on her sister who had disappeared one day without anyone ever discovering, either from her or through other people, anything whatsoever about her life from the time of her disappearance.

So she had now arrived post-haste in Paris, and great was the astonishment of those who had known Marguerite when they saw that her sole heir was a hearty, good-looking country girl who, up to that moment, had never set foot outside her village.

Her fortune had been made at a stroke, without her having the least idea of the source from which it had so unexpectedly materialized.

She returned, I have since been told, to her part of the country, bearing away from her sister's death a deep sadness which was, however, eased by an investment at four and a half per cent which she had just made.

All these happenings, which had gone the rounds of Paris, the mother town of scandal, were beginning to be forgotten, and I myself was forgetting quite what my part in events had been, when something occurred which led to my becoming acquainted with the whole of Marguerite's life, and put in my way particulars so affecting that I was seized with an urge to write this story and now do so.

The apartment, empty now of the furniture which had all been auctioned off, had been to let for three or four days when one morning there was a ring at my door.

My servant, or rather the porter who acted as my servant, went to see who it was and brought me a visiting card saying that the person who had handed it to him wished to speak to me.

I glanced at the card and there I saw these two words: Armand Duval.

I tried to recall where I had seen the name, and then I remembered the fly-leaf of the copy of Manon Lescaut.

What could the person who had given the book to Marguerite want with me? I said that the gentleman who was waiting should be shown in at once.

The next moment I saw a young man with fair hair, tall, pale, wearing travelling clothes which looked as though hey had not been off his back for several days and which, on his arrival in Paris, he had not even taken the trouble to brush down, for he was covered in dust.

Monsieur Duval, deeply agitated, made no attempt to hide his feelings, and it was with tears in his eyes and a trembling in his voice that he said:

'Please excuse my visit and these clothes; not simply because young men do not stand much on ceremony with each other, but because I wanted to see you so badly today that I have not even taken time to stop off at the hotel where I set my luggage, and have rushed straight here, dreading even so, early as it is, that I should miss you.'

I begged Monsieur Duval to sit down by the fire, which he did, taking from his pocket a handkerchief with which he momentarily hid his face.

'You must be wondering, ' he resumed with a melancholy sigh, 'what a stranger can want with you at such an hour, dressed in such clothes and weeping like this. I have come quite simply, to ask you a great favour.'

'Say on. I am at your service.'

'Were you present at the Marguerite Gautier auction?'

As he said this, the emotion which the young man had held in check was for an instant stronger than he, and he was obliged to put his hands to his eyes.

'I must appear very ridiculous to you, ' he added, 'forgive me this too, and please believe that I shall never forget the patience with which you are good enough to listen.'

'Well, ' I replied, 'if a service which it seems I can do for you will in some small way ease the pain that you feel, tell me at once in what way I can help, and you will find in me a man happy to oblige.'

Monsieur Duval's grief was affecting and, even had I felt differently, I should still have wished to be agreeable to him.

He then said:

'Did you buy anything at Marguerite's sale?'

'Yes. A book.'

'Manon Lescaut?'

'That's right.'

'Do you still have it?'

'It' s in my bedroom.'

At this, Armand Duval looked as though a great weight had been taken from his shoulders, and he thanked me as though I had already begun to render him a service simply by holding on to the volume.

I got up, went to fetch the book from my bedroom and handed it to him.

'This is it, ' said he, glancing at the dedication on the first page and riffling through the rest, 'this is it.'

And two large tears fell on to the open pages.

'May I ask, ' he said, raising his eyes to me and making no effort now to hide the fact that he had wept and was near to tears once more, 'if you are greatly attached to this book?'

'Why do you ask?'

'Because I have come to ask you to surrender it to me.'

'Forgive my curiosity, ' I said next, 'but it was you, then, who gave it to Marguerite Gautier?'

'It was I.'

'The book is yours. Take it. I am happy to be able to restore it to you.'

'But, ' continued Monsieur Duval with embarrassment, 'the least I can do is to give you what you paid for it.'

'Please take it as a gift. The price fetched by a single volume in a sale like that is a trifle, and I can't even remember how much I gave for it.'

'You gave a hundred francs for it.'

'You are quite right, ' said I, embarrassed in my turn, 'how did you know?'

'Quite simple. I hoped to reach Paris in time for Marguerite's sale, but got back only this morning. I was absolutely determined to have something that had been hers, and I went directly to the auctioneer's to ask if I might inspect the list of items sold and of the buyers' names. I saw that this volume had been bought by you, and I resolved to beg you to let me have it, though the price you paid for it did make me fear that you yourself associated some memory with possession of the book.'

In speaking thus, Armand clearly seemed to be afraid that I had known Marguerite in the way that he had known her.

I hastened to reassure him.

'I knew Mademoiselle Gautier by sight only, ' I said. 'Her death made the sort of impression on me that the death of any pretty woman he has had pleasure in meeting makes on any young man. I wished to buy something at her sale, and took it into my head to bid for this volume, I don't know why, for the satisfaction of annoying a man who was bent on getting it and seemed determined to prevent it going to me. I repeat, the book is yours, and I beg you once more to accept it. This way it won' t come to you as it came to me, from an auctioneer, and it will be between us the pledge of a more durable acquaintance and closer bonds.'

'Very well, ' said Armand, extending his hand and grasping mine, 'I accept and shall be grateful to you for the rest of my life.'

I very much wanted to question Armand about Marguerite, for the dedication in the book, the young man's journey, his desire to possess the volume, all excited my curiosity; but I feared that by questioning my visitor, I should appear to have refused his money simply to have the right to pry into his business.

It was as though he sensed my wishes, for he said:

'Have you read the book?'

'Every word.'

'What did you make of the two lines I wrote?'

'I saw straightaway that, in your eyes, the poor girl to whom you had given the book did not belong in the usual category, for I could not bring myself to see the lines simply as a conventional compliment.'

'And you were right. That girl was an angel. Here, ' he said, 'read this letter.'

And he handed me a sheet of paper which, by the look of it, had been read many times over.

I opened it. This is what it said:

'My dear Armand, I have received your letter. You are still good, and I thank God for it. Yes, my dear, I am ill, and mine is the sort of illness which spares no one; but the concern which you are generous enough still to show for me greatly eases my sufferings. I expect I shall doubtless not live long enough to have the happiness of grasping the hand which wrote the kindly letter I have just received; its words would cure me, if anything could. I shall not see you, for I am very close to death, and hundreds of leagues separate you from me. My poor friend! The Marguerite you knew is sadly altered, and it is perhaps better that you do not see her again than see her as she is. You ask if I forgive you; oh!
with all my heart, my dear, for the hurt you sought to do me was but a token of the love you bore me. I have kept my bed now for a month, and so precious to me is your good opinion, that each day I write a little more of a journal of my life from the moment we parted until the moment when I shall be no longer able to hold my pen.

If the interest you take in me is real, Armand, then on your return, go and see Julie Duprat. She will place this journal in your keeping. In it you will find the reasons and the excuse for what has passed between us. Julie is very good to me. We often talk about you. She was here when your letter came, and we wept together as we read it.

Should I not hear from you, she has been entrusted with seeing that you get these papers on your return to France. Do not be grateful to me. Returning each day to the only happy moments of my life does me enormous good and if, as you read, you find the past exonerated in my words, I for my part find in them a never-ending solace.

I would like to leave you something by which you would always remember me, but everything I own has been seized, and nothing belongs to me.

Do you understand, my dear? I am going to die, and from my bedroom I can hear the footsteps of the watchman my creditors have placed in the drawing-room to see that nothing is removed and to ensure that if I do not die, I shall be left with nothing. We must hope that they will wait for the end before they sell me up.

Oh! how pitiless men are! or rather, for I am wrong, it is God who is just and unbending.

And so, my love, you will have to come to my sale and buy something, for if I were to put aside the smallest item for you and they heard of it, they would be quite capable of prosecuting you for misappropriating distrained goods.

How sad the life I now leave!

How good God would be if He granted that I should see you again before I die! Since the chances are remote, adieu, my dear; forgive me if I do not write more, for those who say they will cure me bleed me to exhaustion, and my hand refuses to write another line.

Marguerite Gautier.'

And indeed, the last few words were scarcely legible.

I gave the letter back to Armand who had doubtless read it over in his thoughts while I had been reading it on the paper, for as he took it he said:

'Who would ever believe that a kept woman wrote that!' And deeply affected by his memories, he stared for some time at the writing of the letter before finally putting it to his lips.

'And when I think, ' he went on, 'that she died before I saw her again, and that I shall see her no more; when I think that she did for me what no sister could ever have done ?I cannot forgive myself for having let her die like that.

Dead! dead! thinking of me, writing and saying my name, poor dear Marguerite!'

And Armand, giving free expression to his thoughts and tears, held out his hand to me and continued:

'People would think me very childish if they saw me grieving like this for the death of such a woman; but people could not know what I made that woman suffer, how cruel I was, how good and uncomplaining she was. I belived that it was for me to forgive her, and today I find myself unworthy of the pardon she bestows on me. Oh! I would gladly give ten years of my life to be able to spend one hour weeping at her feet.'

It is always difficult to comfort a grief that one does not share, and yet so keenly did I feel for this young man who confided his sorrows with such frankness, that I felt that a few words of mine would not be unwelcome to him, and I said:

'Have you no relatives, no friends? Take hope. Go and see them for they will comfort you, whereas I can only pity you.'

'You are right, ' he said, rising to his feet and striding around my bedroom, 'I am boring you. Forgive me, I was forgetting that my grief must mean little to you, and that I trespass upon your patience with a matter which neither can nor should concern you in the slightest.'

'No, you misunderstand me. I am entirely at your disposal; only I regret I am unable to calm your sorrow. If the company of myself and my friends can beguile your thoughts, if you need me in any way, I would like you to know how very happy I would be to help.'

'Forgive me, forgive me, ' he said, 'grief magnifies the feelings. Allow me to stay a few minutes more, long enough to dry my eyes so that idlers in the street shall not stare to see a grown man weeping as though he were a freak. You've made me very happy by giving me this book; I'll never know how to repay the debt I owe you.'

'By granting me a little of your friendship, ' I told Armand, 'and by telling me the cause of your sorrow. There is consolation in speaking of one's suffering.'

'You are right. But today my need for tears is too great, and what I said would make no sense. Some day I shall acquaint you with the story, and you shall judge whether I am right to mourn the poor girl. And now, ' he added, rubbing his eyes one last time and looking at himself in mirror, 'tell me that you do not think me too foolish, and say you give me leave to call on you again.'

The look in the eyes of this young man was good and gentle; I was almost tempted to embrace him.

For his part, his eyes began again to cloud with tears; he saw that I noticed them and he turned his glance away from me.

'Come now, ' I told him, 'take heart.'

'Goodbye, ' he said.

And, making an extraordinary effort not to weep, he fled rather than left my apartment.

I lifted the curtain at my window and saw him get into the cab which was waiting at the door; but he was hardly inside when he burst into tears and buried his face in his handkerchief.

两天以后,拍卖全部结束,一共售得十五万法郎。

债主们拿走了三分之二,余下的由玛格丽特的家属继承,她的家属有一个姐姐和一个小外甥。

这个姐姐一看到公证人写信通知她说可以继承到五万法郎的遗产时,惊得呆若木鸡。

这个年轻的姑娘已经有六、七年没有看见她的妹妹了。打从她妹妹失踪以后,不论是她还是别人,都没有得到过任何有关她的消息。

这个姐姐急急忙忙地赶到了巴黎。那些认识玛格丽特的人看到了她都感到惊诧不已,因为玛格丽特唯一的继承人居然是一个胖胖的美丽的乡下姑娘,她还从来没有离开过家乡呢。

她顷刻间发了大财,也不知道这笔意外之财是从哪里来的。

后来有人告诉我,她回到村子里的时候,为她妹妹的死亡感到十分悲伤,然而她把这笔钱以四厘五的利息存了起来,使她的悲伤得到了补偿。

在巴黎这个谣诼纷纭的罪恶渊薮里,这些事情到处有人在议论,随着岁月的消逝,也就慢慢地被人遗忘了。要不是我忽然又遇上了一件事,我也几乎忘记了自己怎么会参与这些事情的。通过这件事,我知道了玛格丽特的身世,并且还知道了一些非常感人的详情细节。这使我产生了把这个故事写下来的念头。现在我就来写这个故事。

家具售完后,那所空住宅重新出租了,在那以后三四天的一个早晨,有人拉我家的门铃。

我的仆人,也可以说我那兼做仆人的看门人去开了门,给我拿来一张名片,对我说来客要求见我。

我瞧了一下名片,看到上面写着:阿尔芒·迪瓦尔。

我在记忆里搜索自己曾在什么地方看见过这个名字,我记起了《玛侬·莱斯科》这本书的扉页。

送这本书给玛格丽特的人要见我干什么呢?我吩咐立即请那个等着的人进来。

于是我看到了一个金黄头发的青年。他身材高大,脸色苍白,穿着一身旅行服装,这套服装像已穿了好几天,甚至到了巴黎也没刷一下,因为上面满是尘土。

迪瓦尔先生非常激动,他也不想掩饰他的情绪,就这么眼泪汪汪地用颤抖的声音对我说:

“先生,请原谅我这么衣冠不整、冒昧地来拜访您。不过年轻人是不大讲究这些俗套的,何况我又实在急于想在今天就见到您。因此我虽然已经把行李送到了旅馆,却没有时间到旅馆里去歇一下就马上赶到您这儿来了。尽管时间还早,我还是怕碰不上你。”

我请迪瓦尔先生在炉边坐下。他一面就坐,一面从口袋里掏出一块手帕,把脸捂了一会儿。

“您一定不明白,”他唉声叹气地接着说,“一个素不相识的人,在这种时间,穿着这样的衣服,哭成这般模样地来拜访您,会向您提出什么样的请求。

“我的来意很简单,先生,是来请您帮忙的。”

“请讲吧,先生,我愿意为您效劳。”

“您参加了玛格丽特·戈蒂埃家里的拍卖吗?”

一讲到玛格丽特的名字,这个年轻人暂时克制住的激动情绪又控制不住了,他不得不用双手捂住眼睛。

“您一定会觉得我很可笑,”他又说,“请再一次原谅我这副失礼的模样。您这么耐心地听我说话,请相信,我是不会忘记您的这种好意的。”

“先生,”我对他说,“如果我真的能为您效劳,能稍许减轻您一些痛苦的话,请快点告诉我,我能为您干些什么。您会知道我是一个非常乐意为您效劳的人。”

迪瓦尔先生的痛苦实在令人同情,我无论如何也要使他对我满意。

于是他对我说:

“在拍卖玛格丽特财产的时候,您是不是买了什么东西?”

“是的,先生,买了一本书。”

“是《玛侬·莱斯科》吧?”

“是啊!”

“这本书还在您这儿吗?”

“在我卧室里。”

阿尔芒·迪瓦尔听到这个消息,仿佛心里放下了一块石头,立刻向我致了谢意,好像这本书仍在我这儿就已经是帮了他一点忙似的。

于是我站起来,走进卧室把书取来,交给了他。

“就是这本,”他说,一面瞧了瞧扉页上的题词就翻看起来,“就是这本。”

两颗大大的泪珠滴落在书页上。

“那么,先生,”他抬起头来对我说,这时候他根本顾不上去掩饰他曾经哭过,而且几乎又要出声哭泣了,“您很珍视这本书吗?”

“先生,您为什么要这样问?”

“因为我想请求您把它让给我。”

“请原谅我的好奇,”这时我说,“把这本书送给玛格丽特·戈蒂埃的就是您吗?”

“就是我。”

“这本书归您啦,先生,您拿去吧,我很高兴能使这本书物归原主。”

“但是,”迪瓦尔先生不好意思地说,“那么至少我也得把您付掉的书款还给您。”

“请允许我把它奉赠给您吧。在这样一次拍卖中,区区一小本书的价钱是算不了什么的,这本书花了多少钱我自己也记不起来了。”

“您花了一百法郎。”

“是啊,”我说,这次轮到我觉得尴尬了,“您是怎么知道的?”

“这很简单,我原来想及时来到巴黎,赶上玛格丽特的遗物拍卖,但是直到今天早晨我才赶到。说什么我也要得到她一件遗物,我就赶到拍卖估价人那儿,请他让我查一查售出物品的买主名单。我查到这本书是您买的,就决定上这儿来请求您割爱,不过您出的价钱使我担心,您买这本书会不会也是为了某种纪念呢?”

阿尔芒说这话,很明显有一种担心的意思,他是怕我和玛格丽特之间也有他和她那样的交情。

我赶忙使他放心。

“我不过是见到过她罢了,”我对他说,“一个年轻人对一个他乐于遇见的漂亮女人的去世会产生的那种感受,也就是我的感受。我也不知道为什么想在那次拍卖中买些东西,后来有一位先生死命跟我抬价,似乎存心不让我买到这本书。我也是一时高兴,逗他发火,才一个劲儿地跟他争着买这本书。因此,我再跟您说一遍,先生,这本书现在归您了,并且我再一次请求您接受它,不要像我从拍卖估价人手里买到它那样从我手里买回去,我还希望这本书能有助于我们之间结成更深厚长久的友谊。”

“太好了,先生,”阿尔芒紧紧握住我的手说,“我接受了。

您对我的好意,我铭诸肺腑,终身难忘。”

我非常想问问阿尔芒有关玛格丽特的事情,因为书上的题词,这位青年的长途跋涉和他想得到这本书的强烈愿望都引起了我的好奇心,但是我又不敢贸然向我的客人提出这些问题,生怕他以为我不接受他的钱只是为了有权干预他的私事。

可能他猜出了我的心思,因为他对我说:

“您看过这本书吗?”

“全看过了。”

“您对我写的两行题词有没有想过是什么意思?”

“我一看这两行题词就知道,在您眼里,接受您赠书的那位可怜的姑娘确实是不同寻常的,因为我不愿意把这两行字看作是一般的恭维话。”

“您说得对,先生,这位姑娘是一位天使,您看,”他对我说,“看看这封信!”

他递给我一张信纸,这封信显然已经被看过许多遍了。

我打开一看,上面是这样写的:

亲爱的阿尔芒,收到了您的来信,您的心地还是像以前一样善良,我真要感谢天主。是的,我的朋友,我病了,而且是不治之症;但是您还是这样关心我,这就大大地减轻了我的痛苦。我恐怕活不长了。我刚才收到了您那封写得那么感人的信,可是我没福再握一握写信人的手了。如果有什么东西可以医好我的病,那么,这封信里的话就是。我不会再见到您了,您我之间远隔千里,而我又死在眼前。可怜的朋友!您的玛格丽特眼下已经和过去大不一样了。让您看见她现在这副模样,还不如干脆不见的好。您问我能否宽恕您,我从心底里原谅您。朋友,因为您以前待我不好恰恰证明了您是爱我的。我卧床已经一个月了,我非常看重您对我的尊重,因此我每天都在写日记,从我们分离的时候开始一直写到我不能握笔为止。

如果您是真的关心我,阿尔芒,您回来以后,就到朱利·迪普拉那儿去。她会把这些日记交给您,您在里面会找到我们之间发生这些事情的原因,以及我的解释。朱利待我非常好,我们经常在一起谈到您。收到您信的时候她也在旁边,我们看信的时候都哭了。

如果我们收不到您的回信,朱利负责在您回到法国的时候把这些日记交给您。不用感谢我写了这些日记,这些日记使我每天都能重温我一生中仅有的几天幸福日子,这对我是很有益的。如果您看了这些日记以后,能够对过去的事有所谅解的话,那么对我来说就是得到了永久的安慰。

我想给您留一些能够使您永远想着我的纪念品,但是我家里的东西已经全被查封了,没有一样东西是属于我的了。

我的朋友,您明白了吗?我眼看就要死了,在我的卧室里就能听到客厅里看守人的脚步声。他是我的债主们派来的,为的是不准别人拿走什么东西。即使我不死,也已经一无所有了。希望他们一定要等我断气以后再拍卖啊!

啊!人是多么残酷无情!不!更应该说天主是铁面无私的。

好吧,亲爱的,您来参加我财产的拍卖,这样您就可以买到一些东西。因为,如果我现在为您留下一件即使是最最微不足道的东西,要是给人知道了,别人就可能控告您侵吞查封的财产。

我要离开的生涯是多么凄凉啊!

如果我能在死前再见您一面,那么天主该有多好啊!照目前情况看,我们一定是永别了。朋友,请原谅我不能再写下去了。那些说要把我的病治好的人老是给我放血,我都精疲力竭了,我的手不听使唤了。

玛格丽特·戈蒂埃

的确,最后几个字写得十分模糊,几乎都无法辨认。

我把信还给了阿尔芒。他刚才一定在我看信的时候,又在心里把它背诵了一遍。因为他一面把信拿回去一面对我说:

“谁能相信这是一个风尘女子的手笔!”他一下子勾起了旧日情思,心情显得很激动。他对着信上的字迹凝视了一会儿,最后把信拿到唇边吻着。

“当我想到,”他接着又说,“我不能在她死前再见她一面,而且再也看不到她;又想到她待我比亲姐妹还好,而我却让她这样死去时,我怎么也不能原谅自己。

“死了!死了!她临死还在想着我,还在写信,喊着我的名字。可怜的,亲爱的玛格丽特啊!”

阿尔芒听任自己思绪翻腾,热泪纵横,一面把手伸给我,一面继续说道:

“一个陌生人看到我为这样一个姑娘的死如此悲痛,可能会觉得我太傻,那是因为他不知道我过去是怎样折磨这个女人的。那时候我是多么狠心啊!她又是多么温柔,受了多大委屈啊!我原来以为是我在饶恕她;而今天,我觉得是我根本不配接受她赐给我的宽恕。啊!要是能够在她脚下哭上一个小时,要我少活十年,我也心甘情愿。”

大凡不了解一个人痛苦的原因而要安慰他,那是不太容易的。然而我对这个年轻人却产生了强烈的同情心。他这么坦率地向我倾吐他的悲哀,不由使我相信,他对我的话也不会无动于衷。于是我对他说:

“您有亲戚朋友吗?想开一些,去看看他们,他们会安慰您;因为我,我只能同情您。”

“是啊,”他站起来说,一面在我的房间里跨着大步来回走着,“我让您讨厌了,请原谅我,我没有考虑到我的痛苦跟您并不相干,我没有考虑到我跟您唠叨的那件事,您根本不可能也不会感兴趣。”

“您误会我的意思啦,我完全听从您的吩咐。可惜我无力减轻您的痛苦。如果我,或者我的朋友可以减轻您的苦恼,总之不管您在哪方面用得到我的话,我希望您知道我是非常乐意为您效劳的。”

“请原谅,请原谅,”他对我说,“痛苦使人神经过敏,请让我再呆一会儿,好让我抹抹眼泪,免得街上的行人把我当成一个呆子,这么大一个人还哭鼻子。您刚才把这本书给了我,叫我很快活。我永远也无法报答您对我的好意。”“那么您就给我一点友谊,”我对阿尔芒说,“您就跟我谈谈您为什么这样伤心,把心里的痛苦讲出来,人就会感到轻松一些。”

“您说得对,但是我今天直想哭。我只能跟您讲些没头没脑的话,改天我再把这件事讲给您听,您就会明白我为这个可怜的姑娘感到伤心不是没有道理的。而现在,”他最后一次擦了擦眼睛,一面照了照镜子对我说,“希望您不要把我当作一个傻瓜,并且允许我再来拜访您。”

这个年轻人的眼光又善良,又温柔,我几乎想拥抱他。

而他呢,眼眶里又闪现出了泪花。他看到我已经发觉,便把目光从我身上移开了。

“好吧,”我对他说,“要振作起来。”

“再见,”他对我说。

他拼命忍住泪水,从我家里逃了出去,因为很难说他是走出去的。

我撩起窗帘,看到他登上了在门口等着他的轻便双轮马车。一进车厢,他的眼泪就不听使唤了。他拿起手帕掩面痛哭起来。