Darmowy fragment publikacji:
Ilustracja na okładce: RondellMelling
Wydawnictwo Wymownia: www.wymownia.pl
CAMILLE (LA DAME AUX CAMILIAS)
By Alexandre Dumas, fils
In my opinion, it is impossible to create characters until one has spent a long time in studying
men, as it is impossible to speak a language until it has been seriously acquired. Not being old
enough to invent, I content myself with narrating, and I beg the reader to assure himself of the
truth of a story in which all the characters, with the exception of the heroine, are still alive. Eye-
witnesses of the greater part of the facts which I have collected are to be found in Paris, and I
might call upon them to confirm me if my testimony is not enough. And, thanks to a particular
circumstance, I alone can write these things, for I alone am able to give the final details, without
which it would have been impossible to make the story at once interesting and complete.
This is how these details came to my knowledge. On the 12th of March, 1847, I saw in the Rue
Lafitte a great yellow placard announcing a sale of furniture and curiosities. The sale was to
take place on account of the death of the owner. The owner’s name was not mentioned, but the
sale was to be held at 9, Rue d’Antin, on the 16th, from 12 to 5. The placard further announced
that the rooms and furniture could be seen on the 13th and 14th.
I have always been very fond of curiosities, and I made up my mind not to miss the occasion,
if not of buying some, at all events of seeing them. Next day I called at 9, Rue d’Antin.
It was early in the day, and yet there were already a number of visitors, both men and women,
and the women, though they were dressed in cashmere and velvet, and had their carriages
waiting for them at the door, gazed with astonishment and admiration at the luxury which they
saw before them.
I was not long in discovering the reason of this astonishment and admiration, for, having begun
to examine things a little carefully, I discovered without difficulty that I was in the house of a
kept woman. Now, if there is one thing which women in society would like to see (and there
were society women there), it is the home of those women whose carriages splash their own
carriages day by day, who, like them, side by side with them, have their boxes at the Opera and
at the Italiens, and who parade in Paris the opulent insolence of their beauty, their diamonds,
and their scandal.
This one was dead, so the most virtuous of women could enter even her bedroom. Death had
purified the air of this abode of splendid foulness, and if more excuse were needed, they had
the excuse that they had merely come to a sale, they knew not whose. They had read the
placards, they wished to see what the placards had announced, and to make their choice
beforehand. What could be more natural? Yet, all the same, in the midst of all these beautiful
things, they could not help looking about for some traces of this courtesan’s life, of which they
had heard, no doubt, strange enough stories.
Unfortunately the mystery had vanished with the goddess, and, for all their endeavours, they
discovered only what was on sale since the owner’s decease, and nothing of what had been on
sale during her lifetime. For the rest, there were plenty of things worth buying. The furniture
was superb; there were rosewood and buhl cabinets and tables, Sevres and Chinese vases, Saxe
statuettes, satin, velvet, lace; there was nothing lacking.
I sauntered through the rooms, following the inquisitive ladies of distinction. They entered a
room with Persian hangings, and I was just going to enter in turn, when they came out again
almost immediately, smiling, and as if ashamed of their own curiosity. I was all the more eager
to see the room. It was the dressing-room, laid out with all the articles of toilet, in which the
dead woman’s extravagance seemed to be seen at its height.
On a large table against the wall, a table three feet in width and six in length, glittered all the
treasures of Aucoc and Odiot. It was a magnificent collection, and there was not one of those
thousand little things so necessary to the toilet of a woman of the kind which was not in gold
or silver. Such a collection could only have been got together little by little, and the same lover
had certainly not begun and ended it.
Not being shocked at the sight of a kept woman’s dressing-room, I amused myself with
examining every detail, and I discovered that these magnificently chiselled objects bore
different initials and different coronets. I looked at one after another, each recalling a separate
shame, and I said that God had been merciful to the poor child, in not having left her to pay the
ordinary penalty, but rather to die in the midst of her beauty and luxury, before the coming of
old age, the courtesan’s first death.
Is there anything sadder in the world than the old age of vice, especially in woman? She
preserves no dignity, she inspires no interest. The everlasting repentance, not of the evil ways
followed, but of the plans that have miscarried, the money that has been spent in vain, is as
saddening a thing as one can well meet with. I knew an aged woman who had once been “gay,”
whose only link with the past was a daughter almost as beautiful as she herself had been. This
poor creature to whom her mother had never said, “You are my child,” except to bid her nourish
her old age as she herself had nourished her youth, was called Louise, and, being obedient to
her mother, she abandoned herself without volition, without passion, without pleasure, as she
would have worked at any other profession that might have been taught her.
The constant sight of dissipation, precocious dissipation, in addition to her constant sickly state,
had extinguished in her mind all the knowledge of good and evil that God had perhaps given
her, but that no one had ever thought of developing. I shall always remember her, as she passed
along the boulevards almost every day at the same hour, accompanied by her mother as
assiduously as a real mother might have accompanied her daughter. I was very young then, and
ready to accept for myself the easy morality of the age. I remember, however, the contempt and
disgust which awoke in me at the sight of this scandalous chaperoning. Her face, too, was
inexpressibly virginal in its expression of innocence and of melancholy suffering. She was like
a figure of Resignation.
One day the girl’s face was transfigured. In the midst of all the debauches mapped out by her
mother, it seemed to her as if God had left over for her one happiness. And why indeed should
God, who had made her without strength, have left her without consolation, under the sorrowful
burden of her life? One day, then, she realized that she was to have a child, and all that remained
to her of chastity leaped for joy. The soul has strange refuges. Louise ran to tell the good news
to her mother. It is a shameful thing to speak of, but we are not telling tales of pleasant sins; we
are telling of true facts, which it would be better, no doubt, to pass over in silence, if we did not
believe that it is needful from time to time to reveal the martyrdom of those who are condemned
without bearing, scorned without judging; shameful it is, but this mother answered the daughter
that they had already scarce enough for two, and would certainly not have enough for three;
that such children are useless, and a lying-in is so much time lost.
Next day a midwife, of whom all we will say is that she was a friend of the mother, visited
Louise, who remained in bed for a few days, and then got up paler and feebler than before.
Three months afterward a man took pity on her and tried to heal her, morally and physically;
but the last shock had been too violent, and Louise died of it. The mother still lives; how? God
This story returned to my mind while I looked at the silver toilet things, and a certain space of
time must have elapsed during these reflections, for no one was left in the room but myself and
an attendant, who, standing near the door, was carefully watching me to see that I did not pocket
I went up to the man, to whom I was causing so much anxiety. “Sir,” I said, “can you tell me
the name of the person who formerly lived here?”
“Mademoiselle Marguerite Gautier.”
I knew her by name and by sight.
“What!” I said to the attendant; “Marguerite Gautier is dead?”
“When did she die?”
“Three weeks ago, I believe.”
“And why are the rooms on view?”
“The creditors believe that it will send up the prices. People can see beforehand the effect of
the things; you see that induces them to buy.”
“She was in debt, then?”
“To any extent, sir.”
“But the sale will cover it?”
“And more too.”
“Who will get what remains over?”
“She had a family?”
“It seems so.”
The attendant, reassured as to my intentions, touched his hat, and I went out.
“Poor girl!” I said to myself as I returned home; “she must have had a sad death, for, in her
world, one has friends only when one is perfectly well.” And in spite of myself I began to feel
melancholy over the fate of Marguerite Gautier.
It will seem absurd to many people, but I have an unbounded sympathy for women of this kind,
and I do not think it necessary to apologize for such sympathy.
One day, as I was going to the Prefecture for a passport, I saw in one of the neighbouring streets
a poor girl who was being marched along by two policemen. I do not know what was the matter.
All I know is that she was weeping bitterly as she kissed an infant only a few months old, from
whom her arrest was to separate her. Since that day I have never dared to despise a woman at
The sale was to take place on the 16th. A day’s interval had been left between the visiting days
and the sale, in order to give time for taking down the hangings, curtains, etc. I had just returned
from abroad. It was natural that I had not heard of Marguerite’s death among the pieces of news
which one’s friends always tell on returning after an absence. Marguerite was a pretty woman;
but though the life of such women makes sensation enough, their death makes very little. They
are suns which set as they rose, unobserved. Their death, when they die young, is heard of by
all their lovers at the same moment, for in Paris almost all the lovers of a well-known woman
are friends. A few recollections are exchanged, and everybody’s life goes on as if the incident
had never occurred, without so much as a tear.
Nowadays, at twenty-five, tears have become so rare a thing that they are not to be squandered
indiscriminately. It is the most that can be expected if the parents who pay for being wept over
are wept over in return for the price they pay.
As for me, though my initials did not occur on any of Marguerite’s belongings, that instinctive
indulgence, that natural pity that I have already confessed, set me thinking over her death, more
perhaps than it was worth thinking over. I remembered having often met Marguerite in the Bois,
where she went regularly every day in a little blue coupe drawn by two magnificent bays, and
I had noticed in her a distinction quite apart from other women of her kind, a distinction which
was enhanced by a really exceptional beauty.
These unfortunate creatures whenever they go out are always accompanied by somebody or
other. As no man cares to make himself conspicuous by being seen in their company, and as
they are afraid of solitude, they take with them either those who are not well enough off to have
a carriage, or one or another of those elegant, ancient ladies, whose elegance is a little
inexplicable, and to whom one can always go for information in regard to the women whom
In Marguerite’s case it was quite different. She was always alone when she drove in the
Champs-Elysees, lying back in her carriage as much as possible, dressed in furs in winter, and
in summer wearing very simple dresses; and though she often passed people whom she knew,
her smile, when she chose to smile, was seen only by them, and a duchess might have smiled
in just such a manner. She did not drive to and fro like the others, from the Rond-Point to the
end of the Champs-Elysees. She drove straight to the Bois. There she left her carriage, walked
for an hour, returned to her carriage, and drove rapidly home.
All these circumstances which I had so often witnessed came back to my memory, and I
regretted her death as one might regret the destruction of a beautiful work of art.
It was impossible to see more charm in beauty than in that of Marguerite. Excessively tall and
thin, she had in the fullest degree the art of repairing this oversight of Nature by the mere
arrangement of the things she wore. Her cashmere reached to the ground, and showed on each
side the large flounces of a silk dress, and the heavy muff which she held pressed against her
bosom was surrounded by such cunningly arranged folds that the eye, however exacting, could
find no fault with the contour of the lines. Her head, a marvel, was the object of the most
coquettish care. It was small, and her mother, as Musset would say, seemed to have made it so
in order to make it with care.
Set, in an oval of indescribable grace, two black eyes, surmounted by eyebrows of so pure a
curve that it seemed as if painted; veil these eyes with lovely lashes, which, when drooped, cast
their shadow on the rosy hue of the cheeks; trace a delicate, straight nose, the nostrils a little
open, in an ardent aspiration toward the life of the senses; design a regular mouth, with lips
parted graciously over teeth as white as milk; colour the skin with the down of a peach that no
hand has touched, and you will have the general aspect of that charming countenance. The hair,
black as jet, waving naturally or not, was parted on the forehead in two large folds and draped
back over the head, leaving in sight just the tip of the ears, in which there glittered two
diamonds, worth four to five thousand francs each. How it was that her ardent life had left on
Marguerite’s face the virginal, almost childlike expression, which characterized it, is a problem
which we can but state, without attempting to solve it.
Marguerite had a marvellous portrait of herself, by Vidal, the only man whose pencil could do
her justice. I had this portrait by me for a few days after her death, and the likeness was so
astonishing that it has helped to refresh my memory in regard to some points which I might not
otherwise have remembered.
Some among the details of this chapter did not reach me until later, but I write them here so as
not to be obliged to return to them when the story itself has begun.
Marguerite was always present at every first night, and passed every evening either at the theatre
or the ball. Whenever there was a new piece she was certain to be seen, and she invariably had
three things with her on the ledge of her ground-floor box: her opera-glass, a bag of sweets, and
a bouquet of camellias.
For twenty-five days of the month the camellias were white, and for five they were red; no one
ever knew the reason of this change of colour, which I mention though I can not explain it; it
was noticed both by her friends and by the habitue’s of the theatres to which she most often
went. She was never seen with any flowers but camellias. At the florist’s, Madame Barjon’s,
she had come to be called “the Lady of the Camellias,” and the name stuck to her.
Like all those who move in a certain set in Paris, I knew that Marguerite had lived with some
of the most fashionable young men in society, that she spoke of it openly, and that they
themselves boasted of it; so that all seemed equally pleased with one another. Nevertheless, for
about three years, after a visit to Bagnees, she was said to be living with an old duke, a foreigner,
enormously rich, who had tried to remove her as far as possible from her former life, and, as it
seemed, entirely to her own satisfaction.
This is what I was told on the subject. In the spring of 1847 Marguerite was so ill that the
doctors ordered her to take the waters, and she went to Bagneres. Among the invalids was the
daughter of this duke; she was not only suffering from the same complaint, but she was so like
Marguerite in appearance that they might have been taken for sisters; the young duchess was in
the last stage of consumption, and a few days after Marguerite’s arrival she died. One morning,
the duke, who had remained at Bagneres to be near the soil that had buried a part of his heart,
caught sight of Marguerite at a turn of the road. He seemed to see the shadow of his child, and
going up to her, he took her hands, embraced and wept over her, and without even asking her
who she was, begged her to let him love in her the living image of his dead child. Marguerite,
alone at Bagneres with her maid, and not being in any fear of compromising herself, granted
the duke’s request. Some people who knew her, happening to be at Bagneres, took upon
themselves to explain Mademoiselle Gautier’s true position to the duke. It was a blow to the
old man, for the resemblance with his daughter was ended in one direction, but it was too late.
She had become a necessity to his heart, his only pretext, his only excuse, for living. He made
no reproaches, he had indeed no right to do so, but he asked her if she felt herself capable of
changing her mode of life, offering her in return for the sacrifice every compensation that she
could desire. She consented.
It must be said that Marguerite was just then very ill. The past seemed to her sensitive nature
as if it were one of the main causes of her illness, and a sort of superstition led her to hope that
God would restore to her both health and beauty in return for her repentance and conversion.
By the end of the summer, the waters, sleep, the natural fatigue of long walks, had indeed more
or less restored her health. The duke accompanied her to Paris, where he continued to see her
as he had done at Bagneres.
This liaison, whose motive and origin were quite unknown, caused a great sensation, for the
duke, already known for his immense fortune, now became known for his prodigality. All this
was set down to the debauchery of a rich old man, and everything was believed except the truth.
The father’s sentiment for Marguerite had, in truth, so pure a cause that anything but a
communion of hearts would have seemed to him a kind of incest, and he had never spoken to
her a word which his daughter might not have heard.
Far be it from me to make out our heroine to be anything but what she was. As long as she
remained at Bagneres, the promise she had made to the duke had not been hard to keep, and she
had kept it; but, once back in Paris, it seemed to her, accustomed to a life of dissipation, of balls,
of orgies, as if the solitude, only interrupted by the duke’s stated visits, would kill her with
boredom, and the hot breath of her old life came back across her head and heart.
We must add that Marguerite had returned more beautiful than she had ever been; she was but
twenty, and her malady, sleeping but not subdued, continued to give her those feverish desires
which are almost always the result of diseases of the chest.
It was a great grief to the duke when his friends, always on the lookout for some scandal on the
part of the woman with whom, it seemed to them, he was compromising himself, came to tell
him, indeed to prove to him, that at times when she was sure of not seeing him she received
other visits, and that these visits were often prolonged till the following day. On being
questioned, Marguerite admitted everything to the duke, and advised him, without arriere-
pensee, to concern himself with her no longer, for she felt incapable of carrying out what she
had undertaken, and she did not wish to go on accepting benefits from a man whom she was
deceiving. The duke did not return for a week; it was all he could do, and on the eighth day he
came to beg Marguerite to let him still visit her, promising that he would take her as she was,
so long as he might see her, and swearing that he would never utter a reproach against her, not
though he were to die of it.
This, then, was the state of things three months after Marguerite’s return; that is to say, in
November or December, 1842.
At one o’clock on the 16th I went to the Rue d’Antin. The voice of the auctioneer could be
heard from the outer door. The rooms were crowded with people. There were all the celebrities
of the most elegant impropriety, furtively examined by certain great ladies who had again seized
the opportunity of the sale in order to be able to see, close at hand, women whom they might
never have another occasion of meeting, and whom they envied perhaps in secret for their easy
pleasures. The Duchess of F. elbowed Mlle. A., one of the most melancholy examples of our
modern courtesan; the Marquis de T. hesitated over a piece of furniture the price of which was
being run high by Mme. D., the most elegant and famous adulteress of our time; the Duke of
Y., who in Madrid is supposed to be ruining himself in Paris, and in Paris to be ruining himself
in Madrid, and who, as a matter of fact, never even reaches the limit of his income, talked with
Mme. M., one of our wittiest story-tellers, who from time to time writes what she says and signs
what she writes, while at the same time he exchanged confidential glances with Mme. de N., a
fair ornament of the Champs-Elysees, almost always dressed in pink or blue, and driving two
big black horses which Tony had sold her for 10,000 francs, and for which she had paid, after
her fashion; finally, Mlle. R., who makes by her mere talent twice what the women of the world
make by their dot and three times as much as the others make by their amours, had come, in
spite of the cold, to make some purchases, and was not the least looked at among the crowd.
We might cite the initials of many more of those who found themselves, not without some
mutual surprise, side by side in one room. But we fear to weary the reader. We will only add
that everyone was in the highest spirits, and that many of those present had known the dead
woman, and seemed quite oblivious of the fact. There was a sound of loud laughter; the
auctioneers shouted at the top of their voices; the dealers who had filled the benches in front of
the auction table tried in vain to obtain silence, in order to transact their business in peace.
Never was there a noisier or a more varied gathering.
I slipped quietly into the midst of this tumult, sad to think of when one remembered that the
poor creature whose goods were being sold to pay her debts had died in the next room. Having
come rather to examine than to buy, I watched the faces of the auctioneers, noticing how they
beamed with delight whenever anything reached a price beyond their expectations. Honest
creatures, who had speculated upon this woman’s prostitution, who had gained their hundred
per cent out of her, who had plagued with their writs the last moments of her life, and who came
now after her death to gather in at once the fruits of their dishonourable calculations and the
interest on their shameful credit, How wise were the ancients in having only one God for traders
Dresses, cashmeres, jewels, were sold with incredible rapidity. There was nothing that I cared
for, and I still waited. All at once I heard: “A volume, beautifully bound, gilt-edged, entitled
Manon Lescaut. There is something written on the first page. Ten francs.”
“Twelve,” said a voice after a longish silence.
“Fifteen,” I said.
Why? I did not know. Doubtless for the something written.
“Fifteen,” repeated the auctioneer.
“Thirty,” said the first bidder in a tone which seemed to defy further competition.
It had now become a struggle. “Thirty-five,” I cried in the same tone.
If I had wished to make a sensation I should certainly have succeeded, for a profound silence
had ensued, and people gazed at me as if to see what sort of a person it was, who seemed to be
so determined to possess the volume.
The accent which I had given to my last word seemed to convince my adversary; he preferred
to abandon a conflict which could only have resulted in making me pay ten times its price for
the volume, and, bowing, he said very gracefully, though indeed a little late:
“I give way, sir.”
Nothing more being offered, the book was assigned to me.
As I was afraid of some new fit of obstinacy, which my amour propre might have sustained
somewhat better than my purse, I wrote down my name, had the book put on one side, and went
out. I must have given considerable food for reflection to the witnesses of this scene, who would
no doubt ask themselves what my purpose could have been in paying a hundred francs for a
book which I could have had anywhere for ten, or, at the outside, fifteen.
An hour after, I sent for my purchase. On the first page was written in ink, in an elegant hand,
an inscription on the part of the giver. It consisted of these words:
Manon to Marguerite.
It was signed Armand Duval.
What was the meaning of the word Humility? Was Manon to recognise in Marguerite, in the
opinion of M. Armand Duval, her superior in vice or in affection? The second interpretation
seemed the more probable, for the first would have been an impertinent piece of plain speaking
which Marguerite, whatever her opinion of herself, would never have accepted.
I went out again, and thought no more of the book until at night, when I was going to bed.
Manon Lescaut is a touching story. I know every detail of it, and yet whenever I come across
the volume the same sympathy always draws me to it; I open it, and for the hundredth time I
live over again with the heroine of the Abbe Prevost. Now this heroine is so true to life that I
feel as if I had known her; and thus the sort of comparison between her and Marguerite gave
me an unusual inclination to read it, and my indulgence passed into pity, almost into a kind of
love for the poor girl to whom I owed the volume. Manon died in the desert, it is true, but in
the arms of the man who loved her with the whole energy of his soul; who, when she was dead,
dug a grave for her, and watered it with his tears, and buried his heart in it; while Marguerite, a
sinner like Manon, and perhaps converted like her, had died in a sumptuous bed (it seemed,
after what I had seen, the bed of her past), but in that desert of the heart, a more barren, a vaster,
a more pitiless desert than that in which Manon had found her last resting-place.
Marguerite, in fact, as I had found from some friends who knew of the last circumstances of
her life, had not a single real friend by her bedside during the two months of her long and painful
Then from Manon and Marguerite my mind wandered to those whom I knew, and whom I saw
singing along the way which led to just such another death. Poor souls! if it is not right to love
them, is it not well to pity them? You pity the blind man who has never seen the daylight, the
deaf who has never heard the harmonies of nature, the dumb who has never found a voice for
his soul, and, under a false cloak of shame, you will not pity this blindness of heart, this deafness
of soul, this dumbness of conscience, which sets the poor afflicted creature beside herself and
makes her, in spite of herself, incapable of seeing what is good, of bearing the Lord, and of
speaking the pure language of love and faith.
Hugo has written Marion Delorme, Musset has written Bernerette, Alexandre Dumas has
written Fernande, the thinkers and poets of all time have brought to the courtesan the offering
of their pity, and at times a great man has rehabilitated them with his love and even with his
name. If I insist on this point, it is because many among those who have begun to read me will
be ready to throw down a book in which they will fear to find an apology for vice and
prostitution; and the author’s age will do something, no doubt, to increase this fear. Let me
undeceive those who think thus, and let them go on reading, if nothing but such a fear hinders
I am quite simply convinced of a certain principle, which is: For the woman whose education
has not taught her what is right, God almost always opens two ways which lead thither the ways
of sorrow and of love. They are hard; those who walk in them walk with bleeding feet and torn
hands, but they also leave the trappings of vice upon the thorns of the wayside, and reach the
journey’s end in a nakedness which is not shameful in the sight of the Lord.
Those who meet these bold travellers ought to succour them, and to tell all that they have met
them, for in so doing they point out the way. It is not a question of setting at the outset of life
two sign-posts, one bearing the inscription “The Right Way,” the other the inscription “The
Wrong Way,” and of saying to those who come there, “Choose.” One must needs, like Christ,
point out the ways which lead from the second road to the first, to those who have been easily
led astray; and it is needful that the beginning of these ways should not be too painful nor appear
Here is Christianity with its marvellous parable of the Prodigal Son to teach us indulgence and
pardon. Jesus was full of love for souls wounded by the passions of men; he loved to bind up
their wounds and to find in those very wounds the balm which should heal them. Thus he said
to the Magdalen: “Much shall be forgiven thee because thou hast loved much,” a sublimity of
pardon which can only have called forth a sublime faith.
Why do we make ourselves more strict than Christ? Why, holding obstinately to the opinions
of the world, which hardens itself in order that it may be thought strong, do we reject, as it
rejects, souls bleeding at wounds by which, like a sick man’s bad blood, the evil of their past
may be healed, if only a friendly hand is stretched out to lave them and set them in the
convalescence of the heart?
It is to my own generation that I speak, to those for whom the theories of M. de Voltaire happily
exist no longer, to those who, like myself, realize that humanity, for these last fifteen years, has
been in one of its most audacious moments of expansion. The science of good and evil is
acquired forever; faith is refashioned, respect for sacred things has returned to us, and if the
world has not all at once become good, it has at least become better. The efforts of every
intelligent man tend in the same direction, and every strong will is harnessed to the same
principle: Be good, be young, be true! Evil is nothing but vanity, let us have the pride of good,
and above all let us never despair. Do not let us despise the woman who is neither mother, sister,
maid, nor wife. Do not let us limit esteem to the family nor indulgence to egoism. Since “there
is more joy in heaven over one sinner that repenteth than over ninety and nine just persons that
need no repentance,” let us give joy to heaven. Heaven will render it back to us with usury. Let
us leave on our way the alms of pardon for those whom earthly desires have driven astray,
whom a divine hope shall perhaps save, and, as old women say when they offer you some
homely remedy of their own, if it does no good it will do no harm.
Doubtless it must seem a bold thing to attempt to deduce these grand results out of the meagre
subject that I deal with; but I am one of those who believe that all is in little. The child is small,
and he includes the man; the brain is narrow, and it harbours thought; the eye is but a point, and
it covers leagues.
Two days after, the sale was ended. It had produced 3.50,000 francs. The creditors divided
among them two thirds, and the family, a sister and a grand-nephew, received the remainder.
The sister opened her eyes very wide when the lawyer wrote to her that she had inherited 50,000
francs. The girl had not seen her sister for six or seven years, and did not know what had become
of her from the moment when she had disappeared from home. She came up to Paris in haste,
and great was the astonishment of those who had known Marguerite when they saw as her only
heir a fine, fat country girl, who until then had never left her village. She had made the fortune
at a single stroke, without even knowing the source of that fortune. She went back, I heard
afterward, to her countryside, greatly saddened by her sister’s death, but with a sadness which
was somewhat lightened by the investment at four and a half per cent which she had been able
All these circumstances, often repeated in Paris, the mother city of scandal, had begun to be
forgotten, and I was even little by little forgetting the part I had taken in them, when a new
incident brought to my knowledge the whole of Marguerite’s life, and acquainted me with such
pathetic details that I was taken with the idea of writing down the story which I now write.
The rooms, now emptied of all their furniture, had been to let for three or four days when one
morning there was a ring at my door.
My servant, or, rather, my porter, who acted as my servant, went to the door and brought me a
card, saying that the person who had given it to him wished to see me.
I glanced at the card and there read these two words: Armand Duval.
I tried to think where I had seen the name, and remembered the first leaf of the copy of Manon
Lescaut. What could the person who had given the book to Marguerite want of me? I gave
orders to ask him in at once.
I saw a young man, blond, tall, pale, dressed in a travelling suit which looked as if he had not
changed it for some days, and had not even taken the trouble to brush it on arriving at Paris, for
it was covered with dust.
M. Duval was deeply agitated; he made no attempt to conceal his agitation, and it was with
tears in his eyes and a trembling voice that he said to me:
“Sir, I beg you to excuse my visit and my costume; but young people are not very ceremonious
with one another, and I was so anxious to see you to-day that I have not even gone to the hotel
to which I have sent my luggage, and have rushed straight here, fearing that, after all, I might
miss you, early as it is.”
I begged M. Duval to sit down by the fire; he did so, and, taking his handkerchief from his
pocket, hid his face in it for a moment.
“You must be at a loss to understand,” he went on, sighing sadly, “for what purpose an unknown
visitor, at such an hour, in such a costume, and in tears, can have come to see you. I have simply
come to ask of you a great service.”
“Speak on, sir, I am entirely at your disposal.”
“You were present at the sale of Marguerite Gautier?”
At this word the emotion, which he had got the better of for an instant, was too much for him,
and he was obliged to cover his eyes with his hand.
“I must seem to you very absurd,” he added, “but pardon me, and believe that I shall never
forget the patience with which you have listened to me.”
“Sir,” I answered, “if the service which I can render you is able to lessen your trouble a little,
tell me at once what I can do for you, and you will find me only too happy to oblige you.”
M. Duval’s sorrow was sympathetic, and in spite of myself I felt the desire of doing him a
kindness. Thereupon he said to me:
“You bought something at Marguerite’s sale?”
“Yes, a book.”
“Have you the book still?”
“It is in my bedroom.”
On hearing this, Armand Duval seemed to be relieved of a great weight, and thanked me as if I
had already rendered him a service merely by keeping the book.
I got up and went into my room to fetch the book, which I handed to him.
“That is it indeed,” he said, looking at the inscription on the first page and turning over the
leaves; “that is it in deed,” and two big tears fell on the pages. “Well, sir,” said he, lifting his
head, and no longer trying to hide from me that he had wept and was even then on the point of
weeping, “do you value this book very greatly?”
“Because I have come to ask you to give it up to me.”
“Pardon my curiosity, but was it you, then, who gave it to Marguerite Gautier?”
“The book is yours, sir; take it back. I am happy to be able to hand it over to you.”
“But,” said M. Duval with some embarrassment, “the least I can do is to give you in return the
price which you paid for it.”
“Allow me to offer it to you. The price of a single volume in a sale of that kind is a mere nothing,
and I do not remember how much I gave for it.”
“You gave one hundred francs.”
“True,” I said, embarrassed in my turn, “how do you know?”
“It is quite simple. I hoped to reach Paris in time for the sale, and I only managed to get here
this morning. I was absolutely resolved to have something which had belonged to her, and I
hastened to the auctioneer and asked him to allow me to see the list of the things sold and of
the buyers’ names. I saw that this volume had been bought by you, and I decided to ask you to
give it up to me, though the price you had set upon it made me fear that you might yourself
have some souvenir in connection with the possession of the book.”
As he spoke, it was evident that he was afraid I had known Marguerite as he had known her. I
hastened to reassure him.
“I knew Mlle. Gautier only by sight,” I said; “her death made on me the impression that the
death of a pretty woman must always make on a young man who had liked seeing her. I wished
to buy something at her sale, and I bid higher and higher for this book out of mere obstinacy
and to annoy someone else, who was equally keen to obtain it, and who seemed to defy me to
the contest. I repeat, then, that the book is yours, and once more I beg you to accept it; do not
treat me as if I were an auctioneer, and let it be the pledge between us of a longer and more
“Good,” said Armand, holding out his hand and pressing mine; “I accept, and I shall be grateful
to you all my life.”
I was very anxious to question Armand on the subject of Marguerite, for the inscription in the
book, the young man’s hurried journey, his desire to possess the volume, piqued my curiosity;
but I feared if I questioned my visitor that I might seem to have refused his money only in order
to have the right to pry into his affairs.
It was as if he guessed my desire, for he said to me:
“Have you read the volume?”
“What did you think of the two lines that I wrote in it?”
“I realized at once that the woman to whom you had given the volume must have been quite
outside the ordinary category, for I could not take those two lines as a mere empty compliment.”
“You were right. That woman was an angel. See, read this letter.” And he handed to me a paper
which seemed to have been many times reread.
I opened it, and this is what it contained:
“MY DEAR ARMAND:—I have received your letter. You are still good, and I thank God for
it. Yes, my friend, I am ill, and with one of those diseases that never relent; but the interest you
still take in me makes my suffering less. I shall not live long enough, I expect, to have the
happiness of pressing the hand which has written the kind letter I have just received; the words
of it would be enough to cure me, if anything could cure me. I shall not see you, for I am quite
near death, and you are hundreds of leagues away. My poor friend! your Marguerite of old
times is sadly changed. It is better perhaps for you not to see her again than to see her as she is.
You ask if I forgive you; oh, with all my heart, friend, for the way you hurt me was only a way
of proving the love you had for me. I have been in bed for a month, and I think so much of your
esteem that I write every day the journal of my life, from the moment we left each other to the
moment when I shall be able to write no longer. If the interest you take in me is real, Armand,
when you come back go and see Julie Duprat. She will give you my journal. You will find in it
the reason and the excuse for what has passed between us. Julie is very good to me; we often
talk of you together. She was there when your letter came, and we both cried over it.
“If you had not sent me any word, I had told her to give you those papers when you returned to
France. Do not thank me for it. This daily looking back on the only happy moments of my life
does me an immense amount of good, and if you will find in reading it some excuse for the
past. I, for my part, find a continual solace in it. I should like to leave you something which
would always remind you of me, but everything here has been seized, and I have nothing of my
“Do you understand, my friend? I am dying, and from my bed I can hear a man walking to and
fro in the drawing-room; my creditors have put him there to see that nothing is taken away, and
that nothing remains to me in case I do not die. I hope they will wait till the end before they
begin to sell.
“Oh, men have no pity! or rather, I am wrong, it is God who is just and inflexible!
“And now, dear love, you will come to my sale, and you will buy something, for if I put aside
the least thing for you, they might accuse you of embezzling seized goods.
“It is a sad life that I am leaving!
“It would be good of God to let me see you again before I die. According to all probability,
good-bye, my friend. Pardon me if I do not write a longer letter, but those who say they are
going to cure me wear me out with bloodletting, and my hand refuses to write any more.
The last two words were scarcely legible. I returned the letter to Armand, who had, no doubt,
read it over again in his mind while I was reading it on paper, for he said to me as he took it:
“Who would think that a kept woman could have written that?” And, overcome by recollections,
he gazed for some time at the writing of the letter, which he finally carried to his lips.
“And when I think,” he went on, “that she died before I could see her, and that I shall never see
her again, when I think that she did for me what no sister would ever have done, I can not
forgive myself for having left her to die like that. Dead! Dead and thinking of me, writing and
repeating my name, poor dear Marguerite!”
And Armand, giving free outlet to his thoughts and his tears, held out his hand to me, and
“People would think it childish enough if they saw me lament like this over a dead woman such
as she; no one will ever know what I made that woman suffer, how cruel I have been to her!
how good, how resigned she was! I thought it was I who had to forgive her, and to-day I feel
unworthy of the forgiveness which she grants me. Oh, I would give ten years of my life to weep
at her feet for an hour!”
It is always difficult to console a sorrow that is unknown to one, and nevertheless I felt so lively
a sympathy for the young man, he made me so frankly the confidant of his distress, that I
believed a word from me would not be indifferent to him, and I said:
“Have you no parents, no friends? Hope. Go and see them; they will console you. As for me, I
can only pity you.”
“It is true,” he said, rising and walking to and fro in the room, “I am wearying you. Pardon me,
I did not reflect how little my sorrow must mean to you, and that I am intruding upon you
something which can not and ought not to interest you at all.”
“You mistake my meaning. I am entirely at your service; only I regret my inability to calm your
distress. If my society and that of my friends can give you any distraction, if, in short, you have
need of me, no matter in what way, I hope you will realize how much pleasure it will give me
to do anything for you.”
“Pardon, pardon,” said he; “sorrow sharpens the sensations. Let me stay here for a few minutes
longer, long enough to dry my eyes, so that the idlers in the street may not look upon it as a
curiosity to see a big fellow like me crying. You have made me very happy by giving me this
book. I do not know how I can ever express my gratitude to you.”
“By giving me a little of your friendship,” said I, “and by telling me the cause of your suffering.
One feels better while telling what one suffers.”
“You are right. But to-day I have too much need of tears; I can not very well talk. One day I
will tell you the whole story, and you will see if I have reason for regretting the poor girl. And
now,” he added, rubbing his eyes for the last time, and looking at himself in the glass, “say that
you do not think me too absolutely idiotic, and allow me to come back and see you another
He cast on me a gentle and amiable look. I was near embracing him. As for him, his eyes again
began to fill with tears; he saw that I perceived it and turned away his head.
“Come,” I said, “courage.”
“Good-bye,” he said.
And, making a desperate effort to restrain his tears, he rushed rather than went out of the room.
I lifted the curtain of my window, and saw him get into the cabriolet which awaited him at the
door; but scarcely was he seated before he burst into tears and hid his face in his pocket-
A good while elapsed before I heard anything more of Armand, but, on the other hand, I was
constantly hearing of Marguerite.
I do not know if you have noticed, if once the name of anybody who might in the natural course
of things have always remained unknown, or at all events indifferent to you, should be
mentioned before you, immediately details begin to group themselves about the name, and you
find all your friends talking to you about something which they have never mentioned to you
before. You discover that this person was almost touching you and has passed close to you
many times in your life without your noticing it; you find coincidences in the events which are
told you, a real affinity with certain events of your own existence. I was not absolutely at that
point in regard to Marguerite, for I had seen and met her, I knew her by sight and by reputation;
nevertheless, since the moment of the sale, her name came to my ears so frequently, and, owing
to the circumstance that I have mentioned in the last chapter, that name was associated with so
profound a sorrow, that my curiosity increased in proportion with my astonishment. The
consequence was that whenever I met friends to whom I had never breathed the name of
Marguerite, I always began by saying:
“Did you ever know a certain Marguerite Gautier?”
“The Lady of the Camellias?”
“Oh, very well!”
The word was sometimes accompanied by a smile which could leave no doubt as to its meaning.
“Well, what sort of a girl was she?”
“A good sort of girl.”
“Is that all?”
“Oh, yes; more intelligence and perhaps a little more heart than most.”
“Do you know anything particular about her?”
“She ruined Baron de G.”
“No more than that?”
“She was the mistress of the old Duke of...”
“Was she really his mistress?”
“So they say; at all events, he gave her a great deal of money.”
The general outlines were always the same. Nevertheless I was anxious to find out something
about the relations between Marguerite and Armand. Meeting one day a man who was
constantly about with known women, I asked him: “Did you know Marguerite Gautier?”
The answer was the usual: “Very well.”
“What sort of a girl was she?”
“A fine, good girl. I was very sorry to hear of her death.”
“Had she not a lover called Armand Duval?”
“Tall and blond?”
“It is quite true.”
“Who was this Armand?”
“A fellow who squandered on her the little money he had, and then had to leave her. They say
he was quite wild about it.”
“They always say she was very much in love with him, but as girls like that are in love. It is no
good to ask them for what they can not give.”
“What has become of Armand?”
“I don’t know. We knew him very little. He was with Marguerite for five or six months in the
country. When she came back, he had gone.”
“And you have never seen him since?”
I, too, had not seen Armand again. I was beginning to ask myself if, when he had come to see
me, the recent news of Marguerite’s death had not exaggerated his former love, and
consequently his sorrow, and I said to myself that perhaps he had already forgotten the dead
woman, and along with her his promise to come and see me again. This supposition would have
seemed probable enough in most instances, but in Armand’s despair there had been an accent
of real sincerity, and, going from one extreme to another, I imagined that distress had brought
on an illness, and that my not seeing him was explained by the fact that he was ill, perhaps dead.
I was interested in the young man in spite of myself. Perhaps there was some selfishness in this
interest; perhaps I guessed at some pathetic love story under all this sorrow; perhaps my desire
to know all about it had much to do with the anxiety which Armand’s silence caused me. Since
M. Duval did not return to see me, I decided to go and see him. A pretext was not difficult to
find; unluckily I did not know his address, and no one among those whom I questioned could
give it to me.
I went to the Rue d’Antin; perhaps Marguerite’s porter would know where Armand lived. There
was a new porter; he knew as little about it as I. I then asked in what cemetery Mlle. Gautier
had been buried. It was the Montmartre Cemetery. It was now the month of April; the weather
was fine, the graves were not likely to look as sad and desolate as they do in winter; in short, it
was warm enough for the living to think a little of the dead, and pay them a visit. I went to the
cemetery, saying to myself: “One glance at Marguerite’s grave, and I shall know if Armand’s
sorrow still exists, and perhaps I may find out what has become of him.”
I entered the keeper’s lodge, and asked him if on the 22nd of February a woman named
Marguerite Gautier had not been buried in the Montmartre Cemetery. He turned over the pages
of a big book in which those who enter this last resting-place are inscribed and numbered, and
replied that on the 22nd of February, at 12 o’clock, a woman of that name had been buried.
I asked him to show me the grave, for there is no finding one’s way without a guide in this city
of the dead, which has its streets like a city of the living. The keeper called over a gardener, to
whom he gave the necessary instructions; the gardener interrupted him, saying: “I know, I
know.—It is not difficult to find that grave,” he added, turning to me.
“Because it has very different flowers from the others.”
“Is it you who look after it?”
“Yes, sir; and I wish all relations took as much trouble about the dead as the young man who
gave me my orders.”
After several turnings, the gardener stopped and said to me: “Here we are.”
I saw before me a square of flowers which one would never have taken for a grave, if it had not
been for a white marble slab bearing a name.
The marble slab stood upright, an iron railing marked the limits of the ground purchased, and
the earth was covered with white camellias. “What do you say to that?” said the gardener.
“It is beautiful.”
“And whenever a camellia fades, I have orders to replace it.”
“Who gave you the order?”
“A young gentleman, who cried the first time he came here; an old pal of hers, I suppose, for
they say she was a gay one. Very pretty, too, I believe. Did you know her, sir?” “Yes.”
“Like the other?” said the gardener, with a knowing smile. “No, I never spoke to her.”
“And you come here, too! It is very good of you, for those that come to see the poor girl don’t
exactly cumber the cemetery.”
“Doesn’t anybody come?”
“Nobody, except that young gentleman who came once.”
“He never came back again?”
“No, but he will when he gets home.”
“He is away somewhere?”
“Do you know where he is?”
“I believe he has gone to see Mlle. Gautier’s sister.”
“What does he want there?”
“He has gone to get her authority to have the corpse dug up again and put somewhere else.”
“Why won’t he let it remain here?”
“You know, sir, people have queer notions about dead folk. We see something of that every
day. The ground here was only bought for five years, and this young gentleman wants a
perpetual lease and a bigger plot of ground; it will be better in the new part.”
“What do you call the new part?”
“The new plots of ground that are for sale, there to the left. If the cemetery had always been
kept like it is now, there wouldn’t be the like of it in the world; but there is still plenty to do
before it will be quite all it should be. And then people are so queer!”
“What do you mean?”
“I mean that there are people who carry their pride even here. Now, this Demoiselle Gautier, it
appears she lived a bit free, if you’ll excuse my saying so. Poor lady, she’s dead now; there’s
no more of her left than of them that no one has a word to say against. We water them every
day. Well, when the relatives of the folk that are buried beside her found out the sort of person
she was, what do you think they said? That they would try to keep her out from here, and that
there ought to be a piece of ground somewhere apart for these sort of women, like there is for
the poor. Did you ever hear of such a thing? I gave it to them straight, I did: well-to-do folk
who come to see their dead four times a year, and bring their flowers themselves, and what
flowers! and look twice at the keep of them they pretend to cry over, and write on their
tombstones all about the tears they haven’t shed, and come and make difficulties about their
neighbours. You may believe me or not, sir, I never knew the young lady; I don’t know what
she did. Well, I’m quite in love with the poor thing; I look after her well, and I let her have her
camellias at an honest price. She is the dead body that I like the best. You see, sir, we are obliged
to love the dead, for we are kept so busy, we have hardly time to love anything else.”
I looked at the man, and some of my readers will understand, without my needing to explain it
to them, the emotion which I felt on hearing him. He observed it, no doubt, for he went on:
“They tell me there were people who ruined themselves over that girl, and lovers that
worshipped her; well, when I think there isn’t one of them that so much as buys her a flower
now, that’s queer, sir, and sad. And, after all, she isn’t so badly off, for she has her grave to
herself, and if there is only one who remembers her, he makes up for the others. But we have
other poor girls here, just like her and just her age, and they are just thrown into a pauper’s
grave, and it breaks my heart when I hear their poor bodies drop into the earth. And not a soul
thinks about them any more, once they are dead! ‘Tisn’t a merry trade, ours, especially when
we have a little heart left. What do you expect? I can’t help it. I have a fine, strapping girl
myself; she’s just twenty, and when a girl of that age comes here I think of her, and I don’t care
if it’s a great lady or a vagabond, I can’t help feeling it a bit. But I am taking up your time, sir,
with my tales, and it wasn’t to hear them you came here. I was told to show you Mlle. Gautier’s
grave; here you have it. Is there anything else I can do for you?”
“Do you know M. Armand Duval’s address?” I asked.
“Yes; he lives at Rue de ——; at least, that’s where I always go to get my money for the flowers
you see there.”
“Thanks, my good man.”
I gave one more look at the grave covered with flowers, half longing to penetrate the depths of
the earth and see what the earth had made of the fair creature that had been cast to it; then I
walked sadly away.
“Do you want to see M. Duval, sir?” said the gardener, who was walking beside me.
“Well, I am pretty sure he is not back yet, or he would have been here already.”
“You don’t think he has forgotten Marguerite?”
“I am not only sure he hasn’t, but I would wager that he wants to change her grave simply in
order to have one more look at her.”
“Why do you think that?”
“The first word he said to me when he came to the cemetery was: ‘How can I see her again?’
That can’t be done unless there is a change of grave, and I told him all about the formalities that
have to be attended to in getting it done; for, you see, if you want to move a body from one
grave to another you must have it identified, and only the family can give leave for it under the
direction of a police inspector. That is why M. Duval has gone to see Mlle. Gautier’s sister, and
you may be sure his first visit will be for me.”
We had come to the cemetery gate. I thanked the gardener again, putting a few coins into his
hand, and made my way to the address he had given me.
Armand had not yet returned. I left word for him, begging him to come and see me as soon as
he arrived, or to send me word where I could find him.
Next day, in the morning, I received a letter from Duval, telling me of his return, and asking
me to call on him, as he was so worn out with fatigue that it was impossible for him to go out.
I found Armand in bed. On seeing me he held out a burning hand. “You are feverish,” I said to
him. “It is nothing, the fatigue of a rapid journey; that is all.” “You have been to see
Marguerite’s sister?” “Yes; who told you?” “I knew it. Did you get what you wanted?”
“Yes; but who told you of my journey, and of my reason for taking it?”
“The gardener of the cemetery.”
“You have seen the tomb?”
I scarcely dared reply, for the tone in which the words were spoken proved to me that the
speaker was still possessed by the emotion which I had witnessed before, and that every time
his thoughts or speech travelled back to that mournful subject emotion would still, for a long
time to come, prove stronger than his will. I contented myself with a nod of the head.
“He has looked after it well?” continued Armand. Two big tears rolled down the cheeks of the
sick man, and he turned away his head to hide them from me. I pretended not to see them, and
tried to change the conversation. “You have been away three weeks,” I said.
Armand passed his hand across his eyes and replied, “Exactly three weeks.”
“You had a long journey.”
“Oh, I was not travelling all the time. I was ill for a fortnight or I should have returned long
ago; but I had scarcely got there when I took this fever, and I was obliged to keep my room.”
“And you started to come back before you were really well?”
“If I had remained in the place for another week, I should have died there.”
“Well, now you are back again, you must take care of yourself; your friends will come and look
after you; myself, first of all, if you will allow me.”
“I shall get up in a couple of hours.”
“It would be very unwise.”
“What have you to do in such a great hurry?”
“I must go to the inspector of police.”
“Why do you not get one of your friends to see after the matter? It is likely to make you worse
than you are now.”
“It is my only chance of getting better. I must see her. Ever since I heard of her death, especially
since I saw her grave, I have not been able to sleep. I can not realize that this woman, so young
and so beautiful when I left her, is really dead. I must convince myself of it. I must see what
God has done with a being that I have loved so much, and perhaps the horror of the sight will
cure me of my despair. Will you accompany me, if it won’t be troubling you too much?”
“What did her sister say about it?”
“Nothing. She seemed greatly surprised that a stranger wanted to buy a plot of ground and give
Marguerite a new grave, and she immediately signed the authorization that I asked her for.”
“Believe me, it would be better to wait until you are quite well.”
“Have no fear; I shall be quite composed. Besides, I should simply go out of my mind if I were
not to carry out a resolution which I have set myself to carry out. I swear to you that I shall
never be myself again until I have seen Marguerite. It is perhaps the thirst of the fever, a
sleepless night’s dream, a moment’s delirium; but though I were to become a Trappist, like M.
de Rance’, after having seen, I will see.”
“I understand,” I said to Armand, “and I am at your service. Have you seen Julie Duprat?”
“Yes, I saw her the day I returned, for the first time.”
“Did she give you the papers that Marguerite had left for you?”
Armand drew a roll of papers from under his pillow, and immediately put them back.
“I know all that is in these papers by heart,” he said. “For three weeks I have read them ten
times over every day. You shall read them, too, but later on, when I am calmer, and can make
you understand all the love and tenderness hidden away in this confession. For the moment I
want you to do me a service.”
“What is it?”
“Your cab is below?”
“Well, will you take my passport and ask if there are any letters for me at the poste restante?
My father and sister must have written to me at Paris, and I went away in such haste that I did
not go and see before leaving. When you come back we will go together to the inspector of
police, and arrange for to-morrow’s ceremony.”
Armand handed me his passport, and I went to Rue Jean Jacques Rousseau. There were two
letters addressed to Duval. I took them and returned. When I re-entered the room Armand was
dressed and ready to go out.
“Thanks,” he said, taking the
Pobierz darmowy fragment