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When I reached home I began to cry like a child. There is no man to whom a woman has not been unfaithful, once at least, and who will not know what I suffered.
I said to myself, under the weight of these feverish resolutions which one always feels as if one had the force to carry out, that I must break with my amour at once, and I waited impatiently for daylight in order to set out forthwith to rejoin my father and my sister, of whose love at least I was certain, and certain that that love would never be betrayed.
However, I did not wish to go away without letting Marguerite know why I went. Only a man who really cares no more for his mistress leaves her without writing to her. I made and remade twenty letters in my head. I had had to do with a woman like all other women of the kind. I had been poetizing too much. She had treated me like a school-boy, she had used in deceiving me a trick which was insultingly simple. My self-esteem got the upper hand. I must leave this woman without giving her the satisfaction of knowing that she had made me suffer, and this is what I wrote to her in my most elegant handwriting and with tears of rage and sorrow in my eyes:
"MY DEAR MARGUERITE:--
I hope that your indisposition yesterday was not serious. I came, at eleven at night, to ask after you, and was told that you had not come in. M. de G. was more fortunate, for he presented himself shortly afterward, and at four in the morning he had not left.
"Forgive me for the few tedious hours that I have given you, and be assured that I shall never forget the happy moments which I owe to you.
"I should have called to-day to ask after you, but I intend going back to my father's.
"Good-bye, my dear Marguerite. I am not rich enough to love you as I would nor poor enough to love you as you would. Let us then forget, you a name which must be indifferent enough to you, I a happiness which has become impossible.
"I send back your key, which I have never used, and which might be useful to you, if you are often ill as you were yesterday."
As you will see, I was unable to end my letter without a touch of impertinent irony, which proved how much in love I still was.
I read and reread this letter ten times over; then the thought of the pain it would give to Marguerite calmed me a little. I tried to persuade myself of the feelings which it professed; and when my servant came to my room at eight o'clock, I gave it to him and told him to take it at once.
"Shall I wait for an answer?" asked Joseph (my servant, like all servants, was called Joseph).
"If they ask whether there is a reply, you will say that you don't know, and wait."
I buoyed myself up with the hope that she would reply. Poor, feeble creatures that we are! All the time that my servant was away I was in a state of extreme agitation. At one moment I would recall how Marguerite had given herself to me, and ask myself by what right I wrote her an impertinent letter, when she could reply that it was not M. de G. who supplanted me, but I who had supplanted M. de G.: a mode of reasoning which permits many women to have many lovers. At another moment I would recall her promises, and endeavour to convince myself that my letter was only too gentle, and that there were not expressions forcible enough to punish a woman who laughed at a love like mine. Then I said to myself that I should have done better not to have written to her, but to have gone to see her, and that then I should have had the pleasure of seeing the tears that she would shed. Finally, I asked myself what she would reply to me; already prepared to believe whatever excuse she made.
"Well?" I said to him.
"Sir," said he, "madame was not up, and still asleep, but as soon as she rings the letter will be taken to her, and if there is any reply it will be sent."
She was asleep!
Twenty times I was on the point of sending to get the letter back, but every time I said to myself: "Perhaps she will have got it already, and it would look as if I have repented of sending it."
As the hour at which it seemed likely that she would reply came nearer, I regretted more and more that I had written. The clock struck, ten, eleven, twelve. At twelve I was on the point of keeping the appointment as if nothing had happened. In the end I could see no way out of the circle of fire which closed upon me.
Then I began to believe, with the superstition which people have when they are waiting, that if I went out for a little while, I should find an answer when I got back. I went out under the pretext of going to lunch.
Instead of lunching at the Cafe Foy, at the corner of the Boulevard, as I usually did, I preferred to go to the Palais Royal and so pass through the Rue d'Antin. Every time that I saw a woman at a distance, I fancied it was Nanine bringing me an answer. I passed through the Rue d'Antin without even coming across a commissionaire. I went to Very's in the Palais Royal. The waiter gave me something to eat, or rather served up to me whatever he liked, for I ate nothing. In spite of myself, my eyes were constantly fixed on the clock. I returned home, certain that I should find a letter from Marguerite.
The porter had received nothing, but I still hoped in my servant. He had seen no one since I went out.
If Marguerite had been going to answer me she would have answered long before.
Then I began to regret the terms of my letter; I should have said absolutely nothing, and that would undoubtedly have aroused her suspicions, for, finding that I did not keep my appointment, she would have inquired the reason of my absence, and only then I should have given it to her. Thus, she would have had to exculpate herself, and what I wanted was for her to exculpate herself. I already realized that I should have believed whatever reasons she had given me, and anything was better than not to see her again.
At last I began to believe that she would come to see me herself; but hour followed hour, and she did not come.
Decidedly Marguerite was not like other women, for there are few who would have received such a letter as I had just written without answering it at all.
At five, I hastened to the Champs-Elysees. "If I meet her," I thought, "I will put on an indifferent air, and she will be convinced that I no longer think about her."
As I turned the corner of the Rue Royale, I saw her pass in her carriage. The meeting was so sudden that I turned pale. I do not know if she saw my emotion; as for me, I was so agitated that I saw nothing but the carriage.
I did not go any farther in the direction of the Champs-Elysees. I looked at the advertisements of the theatres, for I had still a chance of seeing her. There was a first night at the Palais Royal. Marguerite was sure to be there. I was at the theatre by seven. The boxes filled one after another, but Marguerite was not there. I left the Palais Royal and went to all the theatres where she was most often to be seen: to the Vaudeville, the Varietes, the Opera Comique. She was nowhere.
Either my letter had troubled her too much for her to care to go to the theatre, or she feared to come across me, and so wished to avoid an explanation. So my vanity was whispering to me on the boulevards, when I met Gaston, who asked me where I had been.
"At the Palais Royal."
"And I at the Opera," said he; "I expected to see you there."
"Because Marguerite was there."
"Ah, she was there?"
"No; with another woman."
"The Comte de G. came to her box for an instant; but she went off with the duke. I expected to see you every moment, for there was a stall at my side which remained empty the whole evening, and I was sure you had taken it."
"But why should I go where Marguerite goes?"
"Because you are her lover, surely!"
"Who told you that?"
"Prudence, whom I met yesterday. I give you my congratulations, my dear fellow; she is a charming mistress, and it isn't everybody who has the chance. Stick to her; she will do you credit."
These simple reflections of Gaston showed me how absurd had been my susceptibilities. If I had only met him the night before and he had spoken to me like that, I should certainly not have written the foolish letter which I had written.
I was on the point of calling on Prudence, and of sending her to tell Marguerite that I wanted to speak to her; but I feared that she would revenge herself on me by saying that she could not see me, and I returned home, after passing through the Rue d'Antin. Again I asked my porter if there was a letter for me. Nothing! She is waiting to see if I shall take some fresh step, and if I retract my letter of to-day, I said to myself as I went to bed; but, seeing that I do not write, she will write to me to-morrow.
That night, more than ever, I reproached myself for what I had done. I was alone, unable to sleep, devoured by restlessness and jealousy, when by simply letting things take their natural course I should have been with Marguerite, hearing the delicious words which I had heard only twice, and which made my ears burn in my solitude.
The most frightful part of the situation was that my judgment was against me; as a matter of fact, everything went to prove that Marguerite loved me. First, her proposal to spend the summer with me in the country, then the certainty that there was no reason why she should be my mistress, since my income was insufficient for her needs and even for her caprices. There could not then have been on her part anything but the hope of finding in me a sincere affection, able to give her rest from the mercenary loves in whose midst she lived; and on the very second day I had destroyed this hope, and paid by impertinent irony for the love which I had accepted during two nights. What I had done was therefore not merely ridiculous, it was indelicate. I had not even paid the woman, that I might have some right to find fault with her; withdrawing after two days, was I not like a parasite of love, afraid of having to pay the bill of the banquet? What! I had only known Marguerite for thirty-six hours; I had been her lover for only twenty-four; and instead of being too happy that she should grant me all that she did, I wanted to have her all to myself, and to make her sever at one stroke all her past relations which were the revenue of her future. What had I to reproach in her? Nothing. She had written to say she was unwell, when she might have said to me quite crudely, with the hideous frankness of certain women, that she had to see a lover; and, instead of believing her letter, instead of going to any street in Paris except the Rue d'Antin, instead of spending the evening with my friends, and presenting myself next day at the appointed hour, I was acting the Othello, spying upon her, and thinking to punish her by seeing her no more. But, on the contrary, she ought to be enchanted at this separation. She ought to find me supremely foolish, and her silence was not even that of rancour; it was contempt.
I might have made Marguerite a present which would leave no doubt as to my generosity and permit me to feel properly quits of her, as of a kept woman, but I should have felt that I was offending by the least appearance of trafficking, if not the love which she had for me, at all events the love which I had for her, and since this love was so pure that it could admit no division, it could not pay by a present, however generous, the happiness that it had received, however short that happiness had been.
That is what I said to myself all night long, and what I was every moment prepared to go and say to Marguerite. When the day dawned I was still sleepless. I was in a fever. I could think of nothing but Marguerite.
As you can imagine, it was time to take a decided step, and finish either with the woman or with one's scruples, if, that is, she would still be willing to see me. But you know well, one is always slow in taking a decided step; so, unable to remain within doors and not daring to call on Marguerite, I made one attempt in her direction, an attempt that I could always look upon as a mere chance if it succeeded.
It was nine o'clock, and I went at once to call upon Prudence, who asked to what she owed this early visit. I dared not tell her frankly what brought me. I replied that I had gone out early in order to reserve a place in the diligence for C., where my father lived.
"You are fortunate," she said, "in being able to get away from Paris in this fine weather."
I looked at Prudence, asking myself whether she was laughing at me, but her face was quite serious.
"Shall you go and say good-bye to Marguerite?" she continued, as seriously as before.
"You are quite right."
"You think so?"
"Naturally. Since you have broken with her, why should you see her again?"
"You know it is broken off?"
"She showed me your letter."
"What did she say about it?"
"She said: 'My dear Prudence, your protege is not polite; one thinks such letters, one does not write them."'
"In what tone did she say that?"
"Laughingly," and she added: "He has had supper with me twice, and hasn't even called."
That, then, was the effect produced by my letter and my jealousy. I was cruelly humiliated in the vanity of my affection.
"What did she do last night?"
"She went to the opera."
"I know. And afterward?"
"She had supper at home."
"With the Comte de G., I believe."
So my breaking with her had not changed one of her habits. It is for such reasons as this that certain people say to you: Don't have anything more to do with the woman; she cares nothing about you.
"Well, I am very glad to find that Marguerite does not put herself out for me," I said with a forced smile.
"She has very good reason not to. You have done what you were bound to do. You have been more reasonable than she, for she was really in love with you; she did nothing but talk of you. I don't know what she would not have been capable of doing."
"Why hasn't she answered me, if she was in love with me?"
"Because she realizes she was mistaken in letting herself love you. Women sometimes allow you to be unfaithful to their love; they never allow you to wound their self-esteem; and one always wounds the self-esteem of a woman when, two days after one has become her lover, one leaves her, no matter for what reason. I know Marguerite; she would die sooner than reply."
"What can I do, then?"
"Nothing. She will forget you, you will forget her, and neither will have any reproach to make against the other."
"But if I write and ask her forgiveness?"
"Don't do that, for she would forgive you."
I could have flung my arms round Prudence's neck.
A quarter of an hour later I was once more in my own quarters, and I wrote to Marguerite:
"Some one, who repents of a letter that he wrote yesterday and who will leave Paris to-morrow if you do not forgive him, wishes to know at what hour he might lay his repentance at your feet.
"When can he find you alone? for, you know, confessions must be made without witnesses."
I folded this kind of madrigal in prose, and sent it by Joseph, who handed it to Marguerite herself; she replied that she would send the answer later.
I only went out to have a hasty dinner, and at eleven in the evening no reply had come. I made up my mind to endure it no longer, and to set out next day. In consequence of this resolution, and convinced that I should not sleep if I went to bed, I began to pack up my things.
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