AT this point in his story, Armand paused.
'Would you close the window?' he said to me, 'I'm beginning to feel cold. While you're doing that, I shall go to bed.'
I closed the window. Armand, who was still very weak, took off his dressing-gown and got into bed, allowing his head to rest on the pillow for a few moments, like a man wearied by a long march or troubled by painful memories.
'Perhaps you have talked too much, ' I said. 'Would you like me to go and leave you to sleep? You can tell me the end of the story some other day.'
'Do you find it tedious?'
'On the contrary.'
'In that case, I shall go on with it; if you were to leave me on my own, I shouldn't sleep.'
When I reached home, he went on (without having to gather his thoughts together, so fresh in his mind were all these particulars), I did not go to bed. I began to reflect on the day's happenings. The meeting, the introduction, Marguerite's pledge to me, had all been so sudden, so unexpected, that there were moments when I thought I had been dreaming. However, it was not the first time a girl like Marguerite had promised herself to a man, with her promise to take effect on the very day after she was asked to give it.
But though I tried to keep this thought uppermost in my mind, that first impression produced in me by my future mistress had been so powerful that it lingered still. Stubbornly, I continued to refuse to think of her as a rather loose girl like all the others and, with the vanity so commonly found in all men, I was ready to believe that she was as unshakeably attracted to me as I was to her.
However, I was personally acquainted with examples which showed the exact opposite, and I had often heard it said that Marguerite's love had sunk to the level of a commodity, the price of which fluctuates according to the season.
But, yet again, how was such a reputation to be reconciled with the repeated refusals given to the young Count we had found in her apartment? You will say that she did not like him and that, since she was already being kept in some splendour by the Duke, then if she was prepared to go to the length of taking another lover, she would naturally prefer to have a man she did like. But if that were so, why did she not want Gaston, who was charming, witty and rich, and why did she appear to want me, whom she had found so ridiculous the first time she saw me?
It is true that events lasting only a moment may achieve more than courtships which last a year.
Among those who had been present at the supper, I was the only one to have been anxious on seeing her leave the table. I had followed her. I had been so affected that I had been unable to hide my feelings. I had wept as I kissed her hand. These circumstances, together with my daily calls during the two months of her illness, had perhaps led her to regard me as a man quite different from those she had hitherto known, and she may have told herself that she could very well grant to such devoted love what she had granted on so many other occasions, and it could well have been that none of it meant much more to her than that.
All these suppositions, as you can see, were plausible enough. But whatever the reason for her consenting, one thing was sure: she had consented.
Now, I was in love with Marguerite, I was going to have her: I could not ask any more of her. Yet, I repeat, though she was a kept woman, I had in my mind turned my love? to poeticize her, perhaps? into such a hopeless passion, that the closer the moment came when I would have no further need for hope, the more uncertain I became.
I did not lose my eyes that night.
I did not know what to think. I was half mad. At some moments, I could not believe I was handsome enough nor rich enough nor sufficiently fashionable to possess a woman like her; at others, I felt swollen with vanity at the thought that she was to be mine. Then I would start fearing that Marguerite had no more than a passing fancy for me which would last only a few days and, scenting disaster for me if the affair ended abruptly, I told myself that I would do better not to call on her that evening but go away and tell her my fears in a letter. From thinking this, I moved to limitless hopes and boundless optimism. I dreamed impossible dreams for the future; I told myself that this girl would have me to thank for her spiritual and physical salvation, that I would spend the whole of my life by her side, and that her love would make me happier than all the most virginal of loves in creation.
In short, I should be quite incapable of repeating to you the countless thoughts which rose from my heart to my head and faded slowly into the sleep which overpowered me when it grew light.
When I woke, it was two o'clock. The weather was magnificent. I cannot recall that life has ever seemed to me as exquisite or as full. Memories of the previous evening came back into my mind, untainted, unimpeded and gaily escorted by my hopes for the night to come. I dressed quickly. I felt contented and capable of the finest deeds. From time to time, my heart fluttered in my chest with joy and love. A pleasant feverishness quickened my blood. I had stopped worrying about the arguments which had filled my mind before I had fallen asleep. I saw only the result. I thought only of the moment when I should see Marguerite again.
Staying at home was out of the question. My bedroom seemed too small to contain my happiness; I needed the whole of nature to give vent to my feelings.
I went out.
I walked by the rue d'Antin. Marguerite's brougham was waiting at her door; I headed in the direction of the Champs-Elysees. I loved all the people I met, even though I had never seen any of them before.
Love brings out the best in us!
After an hour of walking from the Marly Horses to the Rond-Point and from the Rond-Point to the Marly Horses, I saw Marguerite's carriage in the distance: I did not recognize it, I just knew it was hers.
As it was turning the corner into the Champs-Elysees, she ordered it to stop, and a tall young man broke away from a group where he had been chatting in order to speak to her.
They talked together for a few moments; the young man rejoined his friends, the horses set off again, and as I approached the group, I now recognized the man who had spoken to Marguerite as the same Count de G whose portrait I had seen and whom Prudence had pointed out as the person to whom Marguerite owed her notoriety.
It was he who had been forbidden her door the previous night. I assumed that she had ordered her carriage to stop to explain the reasons for his exclusion and, at the same time, I hoped that she had found some new excuse for not receiving him the next night either.
How the rest of the day passed, I do not know. I walked, I smoked, I talked, but by ten in the evening, I had no recollection of what I had said or the people I had met.
All I remember is that I returned to my rooms, spent three hours getting ready, and looked a hundred times at my clock and my watch which, unfortunately, both continued to tell the same time.
When ten thirty struck, I said to myself that it was time to leave.
In those days, I lived in the rue de Provence; I walked down the rue du Mont Blanc, crossed the Boulevard, went along the rue Louis-le-Grand, the rue de Port-Mahon and the rue d'Antin. I looked up at Marguerite's windows.
There was light in them.
I asked the porter if Mademoiselle Gautier was at home.
He replied that she never came home before eleven or a quarter past.
I looked at my watch.
I thought that I had come at leisurely stroll, but I had taken just five minutes to come from the rue de Provence to Marguerite's.
So I walked up and down her shopless street which was deserted at that time of night.
At the end of half an hour, Marguerite arrived. She stepped down from her brougham and looked around as though she were watching out for someone.
The carriage set off at a trot, for the stables and coachhouse were not located on the premises. Marguerite was about to ring when I went up to her and said:
'Oh! it's you, is it?' she said, in a tone which did little to reassure me that she was pleased to see me.
'Didn't you say I could come and call on you today?'
'So I did. I'd forgotten.' These words overturned everything I had thought that morning, everything I had been hoping for all day. However, I was beginning to get used to her ways and did not storm off ?which I should of course have done at once.
We went in together.
Nanine had opened the door ahead of us.
'Is Prudence back?' asked Marguerite.
'Go and say that she is to come the minute she gets in. But first, turn out the lamp in the drawing-room, and if anyone comes, say I'm not back and won't be coming back.'
She was quite clearly a woman with something on her mind, and was perhaps irritated by the presence of an unwanted guest. I did not know how to react nor what to say. Marguerite walked towards her bedroom; I remained where I was.
'Come, ' she said.
She took off her hat and her velvet cloak, and tossed them on to her bed, then sank into a large arm-chair in front of the fire, which she always kept lit until the beginning of each summer and, playing with her watch- chain, said:
'Well then, and what news have you got to tell me?'
'No news ?except that I was wrong to come here this evening.'
'Because you seem cross, and because I expect I'm boring you.'
'You're not boring me. Only I'm ill, I've not been well all day, I haven't slept and I have a terrible headache.'
'Do you want me to leave so that you can go to bed?'
'Oh! you can stay. If I want to go to bed, I can go to bed with you here.'
At that moment, there was a ring at the door.
'Who can that be now?' she said, with a gesture of impatience.
A few instants later, the bell rang again.
'There can't be anybody to answer it; I'll have to go myself.'
And so saying, she got up.
'Wait here, ' she said.
She walked through the apartment and I heard the front door open. I listened.
The person she had admitted halted in the dining-room. By his first words, I recognized the voice of young Count de N.
'How are you this evening?' he was saying.
'Ill, ' replied Marguerite curtly.
'Am I disturbing you?'
'You're not very welcoming! What have I done to upset you, my dear Marguerite?'
'My dear friend, you haven't done anything. I am ill, I must go to bed, so you will be so kind as to go away. I am sick and tired of not being able to come home each evening without seeing you show your face five minutes later. What do you want? You want me to be your mistress? Haven't I said no a hundred times? And haven't I told you that I find you dreadfully irritating and that you can go and look elsewhere? Let me say it again today for the last time: I don't want anything to do with you, that's final. Goodbye. There, that's Nanine just coming back. She'll show you a light. Goodnight.'
And without another word, without heeding the young man's stammered replies, Marguerite came back into her bedroom, violently slamming the door through which Nanine duly appeared almost immediately.
'Do you hear, ' Marguerite told her, 'you are always to say to that oaf that I'm not in, or that I don't want to see him. I'm so tired of seeing people forever coming and asking for the same thing, paying me for it and thinking that they've wiped the slate clean. If girls who start in this shameful trade of ours only knew what it's like, they'd sooner be chamber-maids. But oh no! vanity, and the idea of having gowns, carriages, and diamonds lure us on; we believe what we hear, for prostitution has its own articles of faith, and little by little we use up our hearts, our bodies, our beauty. We are feared like wild beasts, scorned like outcasts, surrounded only by people who always take more than they give, and then, one fine day, we crawl away to die like dogs, having ruined the others and ruined ourselves.'
'There, Madame, calm yourself, ' said Nanine, 'your nerves are bad tonight.'
'This dress is too tight, ' Marguerite went on, tearing open the fasteners of her bodice, 'get me a robe. Well, what about Prudence?'
'She wasn't back, but they'll tell her to come the minute she gets home.'
'There's another one, ' Marguerite went on, removing her dress and slipping into a white robe, 'there's another one who knows exactly where to find me when she need me, and can't ever do me a good turn without wanting something. She knows I'm waiting for that answer tonight, that I must have it, that I'm worried, and I just know that she's gone gallivanting without a thought for me.'
'Perhaps she's been delayed.'
'Get them to bring us some punch.'
'You're going to make yourself ill again, ' said Nanine.
'Good. And bring me some fruit, some pate or a chicken wing, something at once. I'm hungry.'
There is no need to say what impression this scene made on me, for I am sure you can guess.
'You are going to have supper with me, ' she said. 'Meantime, read a book. I'm going into my dressing- room for a moment.'
She lit the candles of a candelabra, opened a door facing the end of her bed, and disappeared.
Left to myself, I began to ponder the life this girl led, and my love was swelled by pity.
I was walking up and down in her bedroom, thinking, when Prudence came in.
'Hello, you here?' she said. 'Where's Marguerite?'
'In her dressing-room.'
'I'll wait for her to come out. Well now, she thinks you're nice. Did you know?'
'Hasn't she told you? Not even a little bit?'
'Not at all.'
'How do you come to be here?'
'I came to pay a call.'
'That's a good one!'
'As a matter of fact, she didn't give me much of a welcome.'
'She'll make you feel more at home in a while.'
'You think so?'
'I've brought her good news.'
'That's all right then. So she's talked to you about me?'
'Yesterday evening ?or rather last night, after you'd gone with your friend? By the way, how is your friend? It's Gaston R, I believe; isn't that what they call him?'
'Yes, ' I said, unable to stop myself smiling as I remembered what Gaston had confided to me, and realized that Prudence hardly knew his name.
'He's a very nice boy. What does he do?'
'He has a private income of twenty- five thousand francs.'
'Oh! Really? Well anyhow, coming back to you, Marguerite asked me a lot of questions about you. She asked who you were, what you did, what mistresses you'd had, everything, really, that can be asked about a man of your age. I told her all I know, and said that you were a very nice boy, and that's about it.'
'I'm grateful. Now, tell me what was this errand she sent you on yesterday?'
'There wasn't one. What she said was intended to make the Count go away. But she did ask me to do something for her today, and I've brought her the answer tonight.'
Just then, Marguerite emerged from her dressing-room, daintily wearing a night-cap decorated with bunches of yellow ribbons, known in the trade as cabbage-bows.
She looked ravishing in it.
On her bare feet she was wearing satin slippers, and she was finishing her nails.
'Well?' she said, when she saw Prudence, 'did you see the Duke?'
'What did he say?'
'He came up with it.'
'Have you got it?'
'Did he seem cross?'
The way she said ' Poor man!' is impossible to render. Marguerite took the six one-thousand-franc notes.
'And not before time, ' she said. 'My dear Prudence, do you need any money?'
'As you know, my child, it'll be the fifteenth in two days, so if you could lend me three or four hundred francs, you'd be doing me a good turn.'
'Send round for it tomorrow morning, it's too late to get change now.'
'No need to worry. Are you going to have supper with us?'
'No, Charles is waiting in my apartment.'
'So you're still mad about him?'
'Quite crazy, my dear! I'll see you tomorrow. Goodbye, Armand.'
Madame Duvernoy left.
Marguerite opened her china- cabinet and tossed the banknotes inside.
'You don't mind if I lie down?' she said, smiling and making for her bed.
'Not only do I not mind, I do wish you would.'
She threw the counterpane over the foot of the bed and climbed between the sheets.
'Now, ' she said, 'come and sit by me and we'll talk.'
Prudence was right: the answer she had brought Marguerite brightened her mood.
'Will you forgive me for being bad- tempered this evening?' she said, taking my hand.
'I am ready to forgive you much more.'
'And you love me?'
'In spite of my awful temper?'
'In spite of everything.'
'Do you swear it?'
'Yes, ' I whispered to her.
Nanine came in then, carrying plates, a cold chicken, a bottle of bordeaux, strawberries and cutlery and glasses for two.
'I didn't get any punch made up, ' Nanine said, 'the bordeaux will do you better. Isn't that right, sir?'
'Quite right, ' I answered, still deeply moved by Marguerite's last words, and with my eyes fixed ardently on her.
'Good, ' she said, 'put it all on the little table, and bring it nearer the bed; we'll serve ourselves. That's three nights you've been up, you'll be wanting some sleep. Go to bed: I shan't be needing anything else.'
'Should I double-lock the door?'
'Yes, you should! And, most important of all, say that no one is to be admitted before noon.'