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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 rang.

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:

'Good evening.'

'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.

'No, Madame.'

'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.'

'Why?'

'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?'

'Perhaps.'

'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?'

'No.'

'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.'

'At midnight?'

'Why not?'

'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?'

'Of course!'

'What did he say?'

'He came up with it.'

'How much?'

'Six thousand.'

'Have you got it?'

'Yes.'

'Did he seem cross?'

'No.'

'Poor man!'

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.'

'Don't forget.'

'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?'

'To distraction.'

'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.'

故事讲到这里,阿尔芒停下来了。

“请您把窗关上好吗?”他对我说,“我有点儿冷,该我睡觉的时候了。”

我关上窗户。阿尔芒身体还十分虚弱,他脱掉晨衣,躺在床上,把头靠在枕头上歇了一会儿,神气好像是一个经过长途跋涉而精疲力竭的旅人,或是一个被痛苦的往事纠缠得心烦意乱的人。

“您大概话讲多了,”我对他说,“我还是告辞,让您睡觉吧,好不好?改天您再把故事给我讲完吧。”

“是不是您觉得这个故事无聊?”

“正好相反。”

“那我还是继续讲,如果您让我一个人留下,我也睡不着。”

当我回到家里的时候,——他接着就讲,不用多加思索,因为所有详情细节都深深地印在他的脑海里,——我没有睡觉,我开始回忆这一天发生的事:和玛格丽特的相遇、介绍、她私下给我的诺言。这一切发生得那么迅速和意外,我有时还以为是在做梦呢。然而,一个男人向玛格丽特那样的姑娘提出要求,而她答应在第二天就满足他,这也不是第一次。

尽管我有这样的想法,但是我这位未来的情妇给我留下的最初印象非常深刻,我始终不能忘怀。我还是一个心眼儿地认为她跟其他姑娘不一样。我像一个普通男人一样有我的虚荣心,我坚信她对我就像我对她一样地钟情。

然而我又看到了一些互相矛盾的现象,我还经常听说玛格丽特的爱情就像商品一样,价格随着季节不同而涨落。

但在另一方面,我们又看到她坚决拒绝我们在她家里遇到的那个年轻伯爵的要求,这件事跟她的名声又怎么联系得起来呢?也许您会对我说因为她不喜欢他,何况她现在有公爵供养着,生活阔绰得很,如果她要再找一个情人,当然要找一个讨她喜欢的男人。那么为什么她又不要那个既漂亮、聪明,又有钱的加斯东,而像是看上了第一次和她见面就让她觉得十分可笑的我呢?

的确,有时候一分钟里发生的巧事比整整一年的苦苦追求还管用。

在吃夜宵的那些人中间,唯有我看到她离席而感到不安。我跟在她后面激动得无法自持。我泪流满面地吻着她的手。所有这一切,再加上在她生病的两个月中,我每天去探听她的病情,因而使她感到我确实与众不同,也许她心里在想,对一个用这样的方式来表达爱情的人,她完全可以照常办事,她过去已经干过那么多次,这种事对她已经太无所谓了。

所有这些设想,您也看得出是完全可能的,但是,不管她同意的原因究竟是什么,有一件事是肯定的,那就是她已经同意了。

我一直爱着玛格丽特,现在我即将得到她,我不能再对她有什么苛求了。但是我再对您重复一遍,尽管她是一个妓女,以前我总是以为——可能是我把她诗意化了——这次爱情是一次没有希望的爱情,以致越是这个似乎希望即将得到满足的时刻逐渐接近,我越是疑虑重重。

我一夜没有合眼。

我失魂落魄,如痴似醉。一忽儿我觉得自己还不够漂亮,不够富有,不够潇洒,没有资格占有这样一个女人;一忽儿,我为自己能占有她而沾沾自喜,得意洋洋。接着我又担心玛格丽特是在逢场作戏,对我只不过是几天的热情,我预感到这种关系很快就会结束,并不会有好收场。我心里在想,晚上还是不到她家里去的好,而且要把我的疑虑写信告诉她,然后离开她。接着,我又产生了无限的希望和无比的信心。我做了一些对未来的不可思议的美梦。我心里想要给这位姑娘医好肉体上和精神上的创伤,要和她一起白头到老,她的爱情将比最纯洁无瑕的爱情更使我幸福。

总之,我思绪纷繁,心乱如麻,实在无法向您描绘我当时脑子里的全部想法。天亮了,我迷迷糊糊地睡着了,这些念头才在矇眬中消逝了。

我一觉醒来已经是下午两点钟。天气非常好,我觉得生活从来也没有这样美好,这样幸福过。在我的脑海里清清楚楚地浮现出昨晚的景象,接着又甜滋滋地做起了今晚的美梦。我赶紧穿好衣服,我心满意足,什么美好的事情我都能去做。我的心因快乐和爱情不时地怦怦乱跳,一种甜蜜的激情使我忐忑不安,昨晚那些使我辗转反侧的念头消失了。我看到的只是我的成功,想着的只是和玛格丽特相会的时刻。

我在家里再也呆不住了,我感到自己的房间似乎太小,怎么也容纳不下我的幸福,我需要向整个大自然倾诉衷肠。

我到外面去了。

我走过昂坦街。玛格丽特的马车停在门口等她;我向香榭丽舍大街那边走去。凡是我所遇到的行人,即使是我不认识的,我都感到亲切!

爱情使一切变得多么美好啊!

我在玛尔利石马像①和圆形广场之间来回溜达了一个小时,我远远看到了玛格丽特的车子,我并不是认出来的,而是猜出来的。

①石马像原在巴黎附近的玛尔利,是著名雕刻家古斯图的杰作,后来移到香榭丽舍大街入口处协和广场上。

在香榭丽舍大街拐角上,她叫车子停下来,一个高个子的年轻人离开了正在跟他一起谈话的一群人,迎上前去和她交谈。

他们谈了一会儿;年轻人又回到他那些朋友中去了。马车继续往前行进,我走近那群人,认出了这个跟玛格丽特讲话的人就是G伯爵,我曾经看到过他的肖像,普律当丝告诉过我玛格丽特今日的地位就是他造成的。

他就是玛格丽特头天晚上嘱咐挡驾的那个人,我猜想她刚才把车停下是为了向他解释昨晚不让他进门的原因,但愿她这时能再找到一个借口请他今晚也别来了。

我一点也记不得这一天剩下来的时间是怎么过的;我散步、抽烟、跟人聊天,但是,到了晚上十点钟,我一点儿也记不起那天晚上遇到过什么人,讲过些什么话。

我所能记得起来的只是:我回到家里,打扮了三个小时,我成百次地瞧着我的钟和表,不幸的是它们走得都一样地慢。

十点半一响,我想该去赴约会啦!

我那时住在普罗旺斯街①,我沿着勃朗峰街前进,穿过林荫大道,经过路易大帝街和马洪港街,最后来到了昂坦街,我望了望玛格丽特的窗户。

①普罗旺斯街:这条街当时在高级住宅区内;著名人士如罗西尼、肖邦、乔治·桑、塔尔马、比才、大仲马等均在这条街上居住过。

里面有灯光。

我拉了门铃。

我问看门人戈蒂埃小姐是不是在家。

他回答我说戈蒂埃小姐从来不在十一点钟或者十一点一刻之前回来。

我看了看表。

我原以为自己走得很慢,实际上我从普罗旺斯街走到玛格丽特家只花了五分钟!

于是,我就在这条没有商店、此时已冷冷清清的街上来回徘徊。

半小时后玛格丽特来了。她从马车上下来,一面环顾四周,好像在找什么人似的。

车子慢慢驶走了,因为马厩和车棚不在这座房子里面,玛格丽特正要拉门铃的时候,我走上前去对她说:

“晚安!”

“哦!是您呀?”她对我说,语气似乎她并不怎么高兴在这里看到我。

“您不是答应我今天来看您的吗?”

“噢,对了,我倒忘记了。”

这句话把我早晨的幻想和白天的希望一扫而光。不过,我已经开始习惯了她这种态度,因此我没有转身而去,如果在从前,我肯定会一走了之的。

我们进了屋子。

纳尼娜已预先把门打开。

“普律当丝回来了没有?”玛格丽特问道。

“还没有,太太。”

“去通知一声要她一回来就到这儿来,先把客厅里的灯灭掉,如果有人来,就说我还没有回来,今天也不回来了。”

很明显这个女人心里有事,也可能是讨厌某个不知趣的人。我简直不知所措,不知说什么才好,玛格丽特向她的卧室走去,我呆在原地木然不动。

“来吧,”她对我说。

她除下帽子,脱掉天鹅绒外衣,把它们全都扔在床上,随即躺倒在火炉旁边一张大扶手椅里,这只炉子里的火她吩咐一直要生到春末夏初。她一面玩着她的表链一面对我说:

“嗳,有什么新闻跟我谈谈?”

“什么也没有,不过今晚我不该来。”

“为什么?”

“因为您好像心情不太好,您大概讨厌我了。”

“我没有讨厌您,只是我不太舒服,整整一天我都很不好受,昨天晚上我没有睡好,今天头痛发作得很厉害。”

“那我就告辞,让您睡觉,好不好?”

“噢!您可以留在这里,如果我想睡的话,您在这儿我一样可以睡。”

这时候有人拉铃。

“还有谁会来呀?”她作了一个不耐烦的动作说道。

一会儿,铃又响了。

“看来没有人去开门啦,还得我自己去开。”

果然,她站了起来,一面对我说:

“您留在这里。”

她穿过房间到外面,我听到开门的声音,我静静地听着。

玛格丽特放进来的人走进餐室站住了,来人一开口,我就听出是年轻的N伯爵的声音。

“今儿晚上您身体怎么样?”他问。

“不好,”玛格丽特生硬地回答道。

“我打扰您了吗?”

“也许是吧。”

“您怎么这样接待我!我有什么地方得罪您了?亲爱的玛格丽特。”

“亲爱的朋友,您一点也没有得罪我,我病了,我需要睡觉,因此您要是离开这里的话,我将感到高兴。每天晚上我回来五分钟就看到阁下光临,这实在是要我的命。您到底要怎么样?要我做您的情妇吗?那么我已经讲过一百遍了,不行!我非常讨厌您,您另打主意吧。今天我再对您说一遍,也是最后一遍:我不要您!这样行了吧,再见。好吧,纳尼娜回来了,她会给您照亮的,晚安。”

于是,玛格丽特没有再讲一句话,也没有再去听那个年轻人含糊不清的唠叨,她回到卧室,重重地把门碰上。紧接着,纳尼娜也几乎立即从那扇门里进来了。

“你听着,”玛格丽特对她说,“以后要是这个笨蛋再来,你就告诉他说我不在家,或者说我不愿意接待他。看到这些人老是来向我提这种要求,我实在是受不了,他们付钱给我就认为和我可以两讫了。如果那些就要干我这一行下流营生的女人知道这是怎么一回事,她们宁可去做老妈子的。但是不行啊,我们有虚荣心,经受不了衣裙、马车和钻石这些东西的诱惑。我们听信了别人的话,因为卖淫也有它的信念,我们就一点一点地出卖我们的心灵、肉体和姿色;我们像野兽似的让人提防,像贱民般地被蔑视。包围着我们的人都是一些贪得无厌好占便宜的人,总有一天我们会在毁灭了别人又毁灭了自己以后,像一条狗似的死去。”

“好了,太太,您镇静一下,”纳尼娜说,“今天晚上您神经太紧张了。”

“这件衣服我穿了不舒服,”玛格丽特一面说,一面把她胸衣的搭扣拉开,“给我一件浴衣吧,嗳,普律当丝呢?”

“她还没有回来,不过她一回来,就会有人叫她到太太这儿来的。”

“您看,这儿又是一位,”玛格丽特接着说,一面脱下长裙,披上一件白色浴衣,“您看,这儿又是一位,在用得着我的时候她就来找我,但又不肯诚心诚意地帮我一次忙。她知道我今晚在等她的回音,我一直在盼着这个回音,我等得很着急,但是我可以肯定她一定把我的事丢在脑后自顾自玩去了。”

“可能她被谁留住了。”

“给我们拿些潘趣酒来。”

“您又要折磨自己了,”纳尼娜说。

“这样更好。给我再拿些水果、馅饼来,或者来一只鸡翅膀也好,随便什么东西,快给我拿来,我饿了。”

这个场面给我留下什么印象是不用多说的了,您猜也会猜到的,是不是?

“您等一会儿跟我一起吃夜宵,”她对我说,“吃夜宵以前,您拿一本书看看好了,我要到梳妆间去一会儿。”

她点燃了一只枝形烛台上的几支蜡烛,打开靠床脚边的一扇门走了进去。

我呢,我开始思考着这个姑娘的生活,我出于对她的怜悯而更加爱她了。

我一面思索,一面跨着大步在这个房间里来回走动,突然普律当丝进来了。

“啊,您在这儿?”她对我说,“玛格丽特在哪儿?”

“在梳妆间里。”

“我等她,喂,您很讨她的喜欢,您知道吗?”

“不知道。”

“她一点也没有跟您说过吗?”

“一点也没有。”

“您怎么会在这里的呢?”

“我来看看她。”

“深更半夜来看她?”

“为什么不可以?”

“笑话!”

“她接待我时很不客气。”

“她就要客客气气地接待您了。”

“真的吗?”

“我给她带来了一个好消息。”

“那倒不坏,那么她真的对您谈到过我了吗?”

“昨天晚上,还不如说是今天早上,在您和您的朋友走了以后……喂,您那位朋友为人怎么样?他的名字叫R·加斯东吧?”

“是呀,”我说,想到加斯东对我说的知心话,又看到普律当丝几乎连他的名字也不知道,真使我不禁要笑出来。

“这个小伙子很可爱,他是干什么的?”

“他有两万五千法郎年金。”

“啊!真的!好吧,现在还是谈谈您的事,玛格丽特向我打听您的事,她问我您是什么人,做什么事,您从前那些情妇是些什么人;总之,对像您这样年纪的人应该打听的事她都打听到了。我们我知道的也全讲给她听,还加了一句,说您是一个可爱的小伙子,就是这些。”

“谢谢您,现在请您告诉我她昨天托您办的事吧。”

“昨天她什么事也没有托我办,她只是说要把伯爵撵走,但是今天她要我办一件事,今天晚上我就是来告诉她回音的。”

讲到这里,玛格丽特从梳妆间走了出来,娇媚地戴着一顶睡帽,帽上缀着一束黄色的缎带,内行人把这种装饰叫做甘兰式缎结。

她这副模样非常动人。

她光脚趿着缎子拖鞋,还在擦着指甲。

“喂,”看到普律当丝她说道,“您见到公爵了吗?”

“当然见到啦!”

“他对您说什么啦?”

“他给我了。”

“多少?”

“六千。”

“您带来了吗?”

“带来了。”

“他是不是有些不高兴?”

“没有。”

“可怜的人!”

讲这句“可怜的人!”的语气真是难以形容。玛格丽特接过六张一千法郎的钞票。

“来得正是时候,”她说,“亲爱的普律当丝,您要钱用吗?”

“您知道,我的孩子,再过两天就是十五号,如果您能借我三四百法郎,您就帮了我的大忙啦。”

“明天上午叫人来取吧,现在去兑钱时间太晚了。”

“可别忘了呀。”

“放心好了,您跟我们一起吃夜宵吗?”

“不了,夏尔在家里等着我。”

“他把您迷住了吗?”

“真迷疯啦,亲爱的!明天见。再见了,阿尔芒。”

迪韦尔诺瓦夫人走了。

玛格丽特打开她的多层架,把钞票扔了进去。

“您允许我躺下吗?”她微笑着说,一面向床边走去。

“我不但允许,而且还请求您这样做。”

她把铺在床上的镶着镂空花边的床罩拉向床脚边就躺下了。

“现在,”她说,“过来坐在我身边,我们谈谈吧。”

普律当丝说得对,她带来的回音使玛格丽特高兴起来了。

“今天晚上我脾气不好,您能原谅我吗?”她拉着我的手说。

“我什么都可以原谅您。”

“您爱我吗?”

“爱得发疯。”

“我脾气不好,您也爱我吗?”

“无论如何我都爱。”

“您向我起誓!”

“我起誓,”我柔声对她说。

这时候纳尼娜进来了,她拿来几只盘子,一只熟鸡,一瓶波尔多葡萄酒,一些草莓和两副刀叉。

“我没有关照给您调潘趣酒,”纳尼娜说,“您最好还是喝葡萄酒。是不是,先生?”

“当然罗,”我回答说,我刚才听了玛格丽特那几句话,激动的心情还没有平静下来,火辣辣的眼睛凝望着她。“好吧,”她说,“把这些东西都放在小桌子上,把小桌子移到床跟前来,我们自己会吃,不用你侍候了。你已经三个晚上没有睡好啦,你一定困得很,去睡吧,我再也不需要什么啦。”

“要把门锁上吗?”

“当然要锁上!特别要关照一声,明天中午以前别让人进来。”