"Do you think it amuses me to wait here till M. de G. leaves Marguerite's?"
"How unreasonable you are! Don't you see that Marguerite can't turn the count out of doors? M. de G. has been with her for a long time; he has always given her a lot of money; he still does. Marguerite spends more than a hundred thousand francs a year; she has heaps of debts. The duke gives her all that she asks for, but she does not always venture to ask him for all that she is in want of. It would never do for her to quarrel with the count, who is worth to her at least ten thousand francs a year. Marguerite is very fond of you, my dear fellow, but your liaison with her, in her interests and in yours, ought not to be serious. You with your seven or eight thousand francs a year, what could you do toward supplying all the luxuries which a girl like that is in need of? It would not be enough to keep her carriage. Take Marguerite for what she is, for a good, bright, pretty girl; be her lover for a month, two months; give her flowers, sweets, boxes at the theatre; but don't get any other ideas into your head, and don't make absurd scenes of jealousy. You know whom you have to do with; Marguerite isn't a saint. She likes you, you are very fond of her; let the rest alone. You amaze me when I see you so touchy; you have the most charming mistress in Paris. She receives you in the greatest style, she is covered with diamonds, she needn't cost you a penny, unless you like, and you are not satisfied. My dear fellow, you ask too much!"
"You are right, but I can't help it; the idea that that man is her lover hurts me horribly."
"In the first place," replied Prudence; "is he still her lover? He is a man who is useful to her, nothing more. She has closed her doors to him for two days; he came this morning--she could not but accept the box and let him accompany her. He saw her home; he has gone in for a moment, he is not staying, because you are waiting here. All that, it seems to me, is quite natural. Besides, you don't mind the duke."
"Yes; but he is an old man, and I am sure that Marguerite is not his mistress. Then, it is all very well to accept one liaison, but not two. Such easiness in the matter is very like calculation, and puts the man who consents to it, even out of love, very much in the category of those who, in a lower stage of society, make a trade of their connivance, and a profit of their trade."
"Ah, my dear fellow, how old-fashioned you are! How many of the richest and most fashionable men of the best families I have seen quite ready to do what I advise you to do, and without an effort, without shame, without remorse, Why, one sees it every day. How do you suppose the kept women in Paris could live in the style they do, if they had not three or four lovers at once? No single fortune, however large, could suffice for the expenses of a woman like Marguerite. A fortune of five hundred thousand francs a year is, in France, an enormous fortune; well, my dear friend, five hundred thousand francs a year would still be too little, and for this reason: a man with such an income has a large house, horses, servants, carriages; he shoots, has friends, often he is married, he has children, he races, gambles, travels, and what not. All these habits are so much a part of his position that he can not forego them without appearing to have lost all his money, and without causing scandal. Taking it all round, with five hundred thousand francs a year he can not give a woman more than forty or fifty thousand francs in the year, and that is already a good deal. Well, other lovers make up for the rest of her expenses. With Marguerite, it is still more convenient; she has chanced by a miracle on an old man worth ten millions, whose wife and daughter are dead; who has only some nephews, themselves rich, and who gives her all she wants without asking anything in return. But she can not ask him for more than seventy thousand francs a year; and I am sure that if she did ask for more, despite his health and the affection he has for her he would not give it to her.
"All the young men of twenty or thirty thousand francs a year at Paris, that is to say, men who have only just enough to live on in the society in which they mix, know perfectly well, when they are the lovers of a woman like Marguerite, that she could not so much as pay for the rooms she lives in and the servants who wait upon her with what they give her. They do not say to her that they know it; they pretend not to see anything, and when they have had enough of it they go their way. If they have the vanity to wish to pay for everything they get ruined, like the fools they are, and go and get killed in Africa, after leaving a hundred thousand francs of debt in Paris. Do you think a woman is grateful to them for it? Far from it. She declares that she has sacrificed her position for them, and that while she was with them she was losing money. These details seem to you shocking? Well, they are true. You are a very nice fellow; I like you very much. I have lived with these women for twenty years; I know what they are worth, and I don't want to see you take the caprice that a pretty girl has for you too seriously.
"Then, besides that," continued Prudence; "admit that Marguerite loves you enough to give up the count or the duke, in case one of them were to discover your liaison and to tell her to choose between him and you, the sacrifice that she would make for you would be enormous, you can not deny it. What equal sacrifice could you make for her, on your part, and when you had got tired of her, what could you do to make up for what you had taken from her? Nothing. You would have cut her off from the world in which her fortune and her future were to be found; she would have given you her best years, and she would be forgotten. Either you would be an ordinary man, and, casting her past in her teeth, you would leave her, telling her that you were only doing like her other lovers, and you would abandon her to certain misery; or you would be an honest man, and, feeling bound to keep her by you, you would bring inevitable trouble upon yourself, for a liaison which is excusable in a young man, is no longer excusable in a man of middle age. It becomes an obstacle to every thing; it allows neither family nor ambition, man's second and last loves. Believe me, then, my friend, take things for what they are worth, and do not give a kept woman the right to call herself your creditor, no matter in what."