Seventeen-year-old Melkur entered the world "possessing everything that is required in order not to go unnoticed." He inherited a beautiful name from his father, and a great fortune awaited him from his mother. The time was peaceful, and Melkur thought of nothing but pleasure. In the midst of the bustle and splendor, the young man suffered from heart emptiness and dreamed of experiencing love, of which he had only the most vague idea. Naive and inexperienced, Melkur did not know how love affairs were struck in the highest circle. On the one hand, he had a rather high opinion of himself, on the other, he believed that only an outstanding person could have success with women, and did not hope to deserve their favor. Melkour began to think more and more about his mother's friend the Marquis de Lurs and convinced himself that he was in love with her. Once the marquise was known as a coquette and even an anemone, but later she adopted a strict and virtuous tone, so Melkur, who did not know about her past, considered her unapproachable. The marquis easily guessed Melkur's feelings and was ready to answer them, but the timid and respectful young man behaved so indecisively that she could not do this without risking losing her dignity. Left alone with Melkur, she threw tender glances at him and advised him to keep at ease, but he did not understand the hints, and decency and the fear of losing Melkur's respect prevented the Marquis from taking the very first decisive step. More than two months passed in this way. Finally, the Marquise got tired of waiting and decided to hurry things up. She began to ask Melkur whom he was in love with, but the young man, not hoping for reciprocity, did not want to reveal his secret. The Marquis stubbornly sought recognition, and in the end Melkur declared his love to her. The marquise was afraid that too easy a victory would cool the ardor of the young man, he was afraid to offend her with his harassment. So they, both wanting the same thing, could not come to the cherished goal in any way. Annoyed at the severity of the Marquis, Melkur went to the theater, where he saw a girl who amazed him with her beauty. The Marquis de Germeil, a handsome young man who enjoyed universal respect, entered the box of a beautiful stranger, and Melkour felt jealous. After that, for two days he searched everywhere for a stranger, went around all the theaters and gardens, but in vain - he never met her or Germeil anywhere.

Although Melkur had not seen the Marquis de Lurce for three days, he did not miss her very much. At first, he pondered how he could conquer one and at the same time not lose the other, but since the indestructible virtue of the marquise made all further attempts hopeless, he, on sound thought, decided to give his heart to the one that he liked best. The Marquis, seeing that the hapless admirer did not show her nose and did not renew attempts to win her heart, was alarmed. She went to visit Madame de Melcourt and, seizing the moment, demanded an explanation from the young man. The Marquis reproached him for avoiding her and rejecting her friendship. Melkur tried to make excuses. Carried away by circumstances, he began to reassure the Marquis of his love and asked permission to hope that her heart would someday soften. The Marquis, no longer relying on Melkur's shrewdness, showed him her favor more and more clearly. The young man should have asked for a date, but shyness and insecurity got in the way. Then the marquise came to his aid and said that tomorrow afternoon she would be at home and could receive him. In the morning Melcourt went to Germeil in the hope of learning something about the stranger, but Germeil had already left the city for several days. Melkur went to the Tuileries Garden, where he happened to meet two ladies, one of whom was the beautiful stranger of the past. Melkur managed to overhear the conversation of the ladies, from which he found out that his chosen one liked an unfamiliar young man in the theater. Melkur did not believe that it could be himself, and was tormented by jealousy of the stranger.

In the evening Melcourt went to Madame de Lurce, who had waited in vain all day. When Melkur saw the Marquis, faded feelings flared up in his soul with renewed vigor. The Marquis felt her victory. Melkur wanted to hear a declaration of love from her, but there were guests in the house, and he could not talk to her in private. He imagined that he had conquered a heart that hitherto had not known love, and was very proud of himself. Later, reflecting on this first experience, Melkur came to the conclusion that it is more important for a woman to flatter a man's vanity than to touch his heart. The guests of the Marquise departed, and Melkur delayed, ostensibly waiting for a late carriage. Left alone with the Marquis, he felt such a fit of fear that he had not experienced in his entire life. An indescribable excitement seized him, his voice trembled, his hands did not obey. The Marquis confessed her love to him, but in response he fell at her feet and began to assure her of his ardent feelings. He did not understand that she was ready to surrender to him, and was afraid of excessive freedom to push her away from him. The annoyed Marquis had no choice but to ask him to leave. When Melkur came to his senses and recovered from his embarrassment, he realized the absurdity of his behavior, but it was already too late. He decided on the next date to be more persistent. The next day, the Comte de Versac came to visit Melcourt's mother. Madame de Melcourt disliked the count and considered his influence harmful to her son. Melcourt admired Versac and considered him a role model. Versacq was a daring rake, he deceived and ridiculed women, but his charming impudence did not turn them away, but, on the contrary, captivated them. He won many victories and acquired many imitators, but, not possessing Versac's charm, they only copied his shortcomings, adding them to their own. Right from the doorway, Versacq began to speak maliciously about a wide variety of people. He did not spare the Marquis de Lursay either, telling Melkur some of the details of her past life. Melkur felt deceived. The blameless goddess was no better than other women. He went to the Marquis "with the intention of repaying her with the most offensive signs of contempt for the ridiculous notion of her virtue," which she was able to instill in him. Much to his surprise, he saw Versac's carriage in the courtyard of the Marquis. Versac and the Marquise talked like best friends, but after his departure, the Marquise called him the most dangerous veil, the nastiest gossip, and the most dangerous villain at court. Melkur, who no longer believed a single word of the Marquis, behaved so cheekily and began to harass her so rudely that she was offended. While they were trying to sort things out, the footman announced the arrival of Madame and Mademoiselle de Teuville. Melcourt had heard this name: Madame de Teville was a relative of his mother, but she lived in the province, so he never saw her. Imagine the surprise of the young man when he recognized Mademoiselle de Teville as his beautiful stranger! It seemed to Melkur that Hortense — that was the name of the girl — had treated him with indifference and even disdain. This thought grieved him, but did not cure love. When the footman announced the arrival of another guest, Madame de Senange, Melcourt paid little attention to her, but Madame de Senange was very interested in the young man entering the world. This was one of those philosophical ladies who believe that they are above prejudice, while in fact they are below all morality. She was not young, but she retained the remains of her former beauty. She immediately took it into her head that she should take care of Melkur's education and "shape" him - this fashionable expression included many concepts that defy precise definition. Melkur, on the other hand, was embarrassed by her cheeky demeanor and considered her an elderly flirt.

In the evening, Versac appeared, accompanied by the Marquis de Pranzi, whose presence clearly embarrassed the Marquis de Lursay - apparently, Pranzi was once her lover. Versacq drew attention to Hortense and tried his best to please her, but the girl remained cold. Versac did everything to turn those present against each other. He whispered to the Marquise that Madame de Senange wanted to take possession of Melcourt's heart, and the Marquise was tormented by jealousy. At dinner, the guests ran out of new gossip. When they got up from the table, the Marquis offered to play cards. Melcourt promised to send Madame de Senange the satirical couplets she liked, but Versac said that it would be more polite not to send, but to bring them, and Melcourt had no choice but to promise Madame Senange to deliver them personally. Versacq was clearly glad that he had managed to annoy the Marquis. Madame de Lurce asked Melcourt to pick her up tomorrow afternoon, so as to go together to Madame de Teville. Melkour enthusiastically agreed, thinking only of Hortense. Coming the next day to the Marquis, Melcourt, completely disappointed in her after learning about her former weakness for M. de Pranzi, behaved so indifferently to her that the Marquise suspected him of a serious infatuation with Madame de Senange. The Marquise de Lursay condemned his choice and tried to reason with him. Melkur thought only about how he could see Hortense more often. Arriving at Madame de Teville, Melcourt spoke to the girl and was ready to believe in her disposition to him, but then the Marquis de Germeil came, and Melcourt began to think that Hortense was in love with the Marquis. Melkur was overcome with such melancholy that he turned pale and changed in face. The marquise attributed Melcourt's sad face to thoughts of Madame de Senange and incessant talk about her irritated the young man. Dryly saying goodbye to the Marquis, Melcourt left Madame de Teville and went to Madame de Senange. It was already quite late, and he did not expect to find her at home, which would give him the opportunity to leave the verses and leave, but Madame de Senange was at home and was very happy with him. As punishment for the late visit, she ordered him to accompany her and her friend Madame de Montgen to the Tuileries. Melcourt dissuaded himself, but Madame de Senange was so persistent that he had to give in. Madame de Montgin was young, but she seemed so old and withered that it was a pity to watch. Both ladies vied with each other to grab Melkur's attention and, feeling like rivals, showered each other with barbs. At the Tuileries all eyes were on Melcourt and his companions. Madame de Senange, by all means, wanted to prove to everyone that Melcourt belonged to her, and not to Madame de Montgin. To top it all off, at the bend of the avenue, Melcourt saw the Marquis de Lursay, Madame de Teville, and Hortense walking towards them. He was unpleasant that the girl saw him in the company of Madame de Senange. The self-controlled marquis responded to Melkur's awkward bow with a sweet and casual smile.

After the departure of Madame de Senange, Melcourt sought out Madame de Lurce and her companions. The Marquise began to mock Melcourt and describe the quirks and vices of Madame de Senange. Melcourt was furious, he began to defend Madame de Senange and extol her dignity, forgetting that not only the Marquis was listening to him, but also Hortense. Having convinced both of them of his love for Madame de Senange, Melcourt fell into despondency, for he realized that he had closed his way to the girl's heart. Returning home, he indulged in gloomy and fruitless reflections all night. In the morning they brought him a letter from Madame de Lurce. She informed him that she was leaving for two days in the village and invited him to accompany her. Melkur, determined to break with her, refused: he wrote that he had already bound himself with a promise that he could not break. But it turned out that the Marquise was going to the village with Hortense and her mother, so Melkour regretted his refusal. During their absence, he did not find a place for himself and was very happy when Versac came to him. Seeing the melancholy mood of Melcourt, Versac attributed it to separation from Madame de Senange, who had left for Versailles for two days. Versac decided to enlighten Melkur and show him the light as it should be seen. He opened his eyes to the falsity and emptiness of secular society and explained that a crime against honor and reason is considered more forgivable than violation of secular decency, and a lack of intelligence is more forgivable than his excess. Versac believed that one should not be afraid to overestimate oneself and underestimate others. It is in vain to believe that only a person with special talents can shine in the light. "Look how I behave when I want to show off: how I act, how I show myself, what nonsense I am talking about!" - said Versac. Melkur asked him what good form was. Versac found it difficult to give a clear definition, because this expression was on everyone's lips, but no one really understood what it meant. According to Versak, good manners are nothing more than noble origins and ease in secular tomfoolery. Versacq lectured Melkur: "As a woman is ashamed to be virtuous, so it is indecent for a man to be a scientist." The greatest achievement of good manners is small talk, completely devoid of thoughts. In conclusion, Versac advised Melcourt to pay attention to Madame de Senange, considering her the most suitable for an inexperienced youth. After parting with him, the young man plunged into thoughts of Hortense. With difficulty waiting for her return from the village, he hurried to her and learned that she and Madame de Teville were in Paris, but had gone somewhere. His impatience was so great that he rushed to the Marquis de Lursay, deciding that Hortense was probably with her. The Marquise had many guests, but Hortense was not among them.

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Marquis met Melkur without a shadow of embarrassment and annoyance and spoke to him as if nothing had happened. Her calm benevolence infuriated Melkur, the thought that the marquise had stopped loving him painfully hurt his pride. He noticed that Madame de Lursay often looked at the Marquis de ***, and decided that she had already found a replacement for him in the person of the Marquis. Melkur stayed after the departure of the guests and asked the Marquis to give him an hour or two. The young man expressed all his grievances to her, but she behaved so cleverly that he himself felt how ridiculous he was. The marquise said that she sincerely loved Melkur and forgave him the shortcomings of an inexperienced youth, believing that he possesses the purity and sincerity inherent in youth, but was mistaken in him and now severely punished, Melkur felt a surge of love and tenderness for the marquis. The Marquis suggested that he be content with friendship, but Melkur did not want to stop halfway. His former respect for the Marquis was revived, and the victory over her virtue seemed incredibly difficult and honorable.

Self-deception lasted a long time, and Melkur did not think of infidelity. But one fine day he felt a spiritual emptiness and returned to thoughts of Hortense. He had not promised Hortense anything, and she did not love him - and yet he felt guilty before her. At the same time, he could not leave the marquis. "Reproaches of my conscience spoiled my pleasure, pleasures drowned out my repentance - I no longer belonged to myself." Overwhelmed with conflicting feelings, he continued to visit the Marquis and dream of Hortense.