The next morning Georges Duroy arose, dressed himself, and determined to hav_oney; he sought Forestier. His friend received him in his study.
"What made you rise so early?" he asked.
"A very serious matter. I have a debt of honor."
"A gaming debt?"
He hesitated, then repeated: "A gaming debt."
"Is it large?"
"Five hundred francs." He only needed two hundred and eighty.
Forestier asked sceptically: "To whom do you owe that amount?"
Duroy did not reply at once. "To—to—a—M. de Carleville."
"Ah, where does he live?"
Forestier laughed. "I know the gentleman! If you want twenty francs you ca_ave them, but no more."
Duroy took the gold-piece, called upon more friends, and by five o'clock ha_ollected eighty francs. As he required two hundred more, he kept what he ha_egged and muttered: "I shall not worry about it. I will pay it when I can."
For two weeks he lived economically, but at the end of that time, the goo_esolutions he had formed vanished, and one evening he returned to the Folie_ergeres in search of Rachel; but the woman was implacable and heaped coars_nsults upon him, until he felt his cheeks tingle and he left the hall.
Forestier, out of health and feeble, made Duroy's existence at the offic_nsupportable. The latter did not reply to his rude remarks, but determined t_e avenged. He called upon Mme. Forestier. He found her reclining upon _ouch, reading. She held out her hand without rising and said: "Good morning, Bel-Ami!"
"Why do you call me by that name?"
She replied with a smile: "I saw Mme. de Marelle last week and I know wha_hey have christened you at her house."
He took a seat near his hostess and glanced at her curiously; she was _harming blonde, fair and plump, made for caresses, and he thought: "She i_ertainly nicer than the other one." He did not doubt that he would only hav_o extend his hand in order to gather the fruit. As he gazed upon her sh_hided him for his neglect of her.
He replied: "I did not come because it was for the best—"
"Why? Can you not guess?"
"Because I loved you; a little, only a little, and I did not wish to love yo_ny more."
She did not seem surprised, nor flattered; she smiled indifferently an_eplied calmly: "Oh, you can come just the same; no one loves me long."
"Because it is useless, and I tell them so at once. If you had confessed you_ears to me sooner, I would have reassured you. My dear friend, a man in lov_s not only foolish but dangerous. I cease all intercourse with people wh_ove me or pretend to; firstly, because they bore me, and secondly, because _ook upon them with dread, as I would upon a mad dog. I know that your love i_nly a kind of appetite; while with me it would be a communion of souls. Now, look me in the face—" she no longer smiled. "I will never be your sweetheart; it is therefore useless for you to persist in your efforts. And now that _ave explained, shall we be friends?"
He knew that that sentence was irrevocable, and delighted to be able to for_uch an alliance as she proposed, he extended both hands, saying:
"I am yours, Madame, to do with as you will"
He kissed her hands and raising his head said: "If I had found a woman lik_ou, how gladly would I have married her."
She was touched by those words, and in a soft voice, placing her hand upon hi_rm, she said: "I am going to begin my offices at once. You are no_iplomatic—" she hesitated. "May I speak freely?"
"Call upon Mme. Walter who has taken a fancy to you. But be guarded as to you_ompliments, for she is virtuous. You will make a better impression there b_eing careful in your remarks. I know that your position at the office i_nsatisfactory, but do not worry; all their employees are treated alike."
He said: "Thanks; you are an angel—a guardian angel."
As he took his leave, he asked again: "Are we friends—is it settled?"
Having observed the effect of his last compliment, he said: "If you eve_ecome a widow, I have put in my application!" Then he left the room hastil_n order not to allow her time to be angry.
Duroy did not like to call on Mme. Walter, for he had never been invited, an_e did not wish to commit a breach of etiquette. The manager had been kind t_im, appreciated his services, employed him to do difficult work, why shoul_e not profit by that show of favor to call at his house? One day, therefore, he repaired to the market and bought twenty-five pears. Having carefull_rranged them in a basket to make them appear as if they came from a distanc_e took them to Mme. Walter's door with his card on which was inscribed:
"Georges Duroy begs Mme. Walter to accept the fruit which he received thi_orning from Normandy."
The following day he found in his letter-box at the office an envelop_ontaining Mme, Walter's card on which was written:
"Mme. Walter thanks M. Georges Duroy very much, and is at home on Saturdays."
The next Saturday he called. M. Walter lived on Boulevard Malesherbes in _ouble house which he owned. The reception-rooms were on the first floor. I_he antechamber were two footmen; one took Duroy's overcoat, the other hi_ane, put it aside, opened a door and announced the visitor's name. In th_arge mirror in the apartment Duroy could see the reflection of people seate_n another room. He passed through two drawing-rooms and entered a smal_oudoir in which four ladies were gathered around a tea-table. Notwithstandin_he assurance he had gained during his life in Paris, and especially since h_ad been thrown in contact with so many noted personages, Duroy felt abashed.
"Madame, I took the liberty."
The mistress of the house extended her hand and said to him: "You are ver_ind, M. Duroy, to come to see me." She pointed to a chair. The ladies chatte_n. Visitors came and went. Mme. Walter noticed that Duroy said nothing, tha_o one addressed him, that he seemed disconcerted, and she drew him into th_onversation which dealt with the admission of a certain M. Linet to th_cademy. When Duroy had taken his leave, one of the ladies said: "How odd h_s! Who is he?"
Mme. Walter replied: "One of our reporters; he only occupies a minor position, but I think he will advance rapidly."
In the meantime, while he was being discussed, Duroy walked gaily dow_oulevard Malesherbes.
The following week he was appointed editor of the "Echoes," and invited t_ine at Mme. Walter's. The "Echoes" were, M. Walter said, the very pith of th_aper. Everything and everybody should be remembered, all countries, al_rofessions, Paris and the provinces, the army, the arts, the clergy, th_chools, the rulers, and the courtiers. The man at the head of that departmen_hould be wide awake, always on his guard, quick to judge of what was best t_e said and best to be omitted, to divine what would please the public and t_resent it well. Duroy was just the man for the place.
He was enjoying the fact of his promotion, when he received an engraved car_hich read:
"M. and Mme. Walter request the pleasure of M. Georges Duroy's company a_inner on Thursday, January 20."
He was so delighted that he kissed the invitation as if it had been a love- letter.
Then he sought the cashier to settle the important question of his salary. A_irst twelve hundred francs were allowed Duroy, who intended to save a larg_hare of the money. He was busy two days getting settled in his new position, in a large room, one end of which he occupied, and the other end of which wa_llotted to Boisrenard, who worked with him.
The day of the dinner-party he left the office in good season, in order t_ave time to dress, and was walking along Rue de Londres when he saw befor_im a form which resembled Mme. de Marelle's. He felt his cheeks glow and hi_eart throb. He crossed the street in order to see the lady's face; he wa_istaken, and breathed more freely. He had often wondered what he should do i_e met Clotilde face to face. Should he bow to her or pretend not to see her?
"I should not see her," thought he.
When Duroy entered his rooms he thought: "I must change my apartments; thes_ill not do any longer." He felt both nervous and gay, and said aloud t_imself: "I must write to my father." Occasionally he wrote home, and hi_etters always delighted his old parents. As he tied his cravat at the mirro_e repeated: "I must write home to-morrow. If my father could see me thi_vening in the house to which I am going, he would be surprised. Sacristi, _hall soon give a dinner which has never been equaled!"
Then he recalled his old home, the faces of his father and mother. He saw the_eated at their homely board, eating their soup. He remembered every wrinkl_n their old faces, every movement of their hands and heads; he even knew wha_hey said to each other every evening as they supped. He thought: "I will g_o see them some day." His toilette completed, he extinguished his light an_escended the stairs.
On reaching his destination, he boldly entered the antechamber, lighted b_ronze lamps, and gave his cane and his overcoat to the two lackeys wh_pproached him. All the salons were lighted. Mme. Walter received in th_econd, the largest. She greeted Duroy with a charming smile, and he shoo_ands with two men who arrived after him, M. Firmin and M. Laroche-Mathieu; the latter had especial authority at the office on account of his influence i_he chamber of deputies.
Then the Forestiers arrived, Madeleine looking charming in pink. Charles ha_ecome very much emaciated and coughed incessantly.
Norbert de Varenne and Jacques Rival came together. A door opened at the en_f the room, and M. Walter entered with two tall young girls of sixteen an_eventeen; one plain, the other pretty. Duroy knew that the manager was _aterfamilias, but he was astonished. He had thought of the manager'_aughters as one thinks of a distant country one will never see. Then, too, h_ad fancied them children, and he saw women. They shook hands upon bein_ntroduced and seated themselves at a table set apart for them. One of th_uests had not arrived, and that embarrassing silence which precedes dinner_n general reigned supreme.
Duroy happening to glance at the walls, M. Walter said: "You are looking at m_ictures? I will show them all to you." And he took a lamp that they migh_istinguish all the details. There were landscapes by Guillemet; "A Visit t_he Hospital," by Gervex; "A Widow," by Bouguereau; "An Execution," by Jea_aul Laurens, and many others.
Duroy exclaimed: "Charming, charming, char—" but stopped short on hearin_ehind him the voice of Mme. de Marelle who had just entered. M. Walte_ontinued to exhibit and explain his pictures; but Duroy saw nothing—hear_ithout comprehending. Mme. de Marelle was there, behind him. What should h_o? If he greeted her, might she not turn her back upon him or utter som_nsulting remark? If he did not approach her, what would people think? He wa_o ill at ease that at one time he thought he should feign indisposition an_eturn home.
The pictures had all been exhibited. M. Walter placed the lamp on the tabl_nd greeted the last arrival, while Duroy recommenced alone an examination o_he canvas, as if he could not tear himself away. What should he do? He hear_heir voices and their conversation. Mme. Forestier called him; he hastene_oward her. It was to introduce him to a friend who was on the point of givin_ fete, and who wanted a description of it in "La Vie Francaise."
He stammered: "Certainly, Madame, certainly."
Madame de Marelle was very near him; he dared not turn to go away. Suddenly t_is amazement, she exclaimed: "Good evening, Bel-Ami; do you not remember me?"
He turned upon his heel hastily; she stood before him smiling, her eye_verflowing with roguishness and affection. She offered him her hand; he too_t doubtfully, fearing some perfidy. She continued calmly: "What has become o_ou? One never sees you!"
Not having regained his self-possession, he murmured: "I have had a great dea_o do, Madame, a great deal to do. M. Walter has given me another position an_he duties are very arduous."
"I know, but that is no excuse for forgetting your friends."
Their conversation was interrupted by the entrance of a large woman, decollette, with red arms, red cheeks, and attired in gay colors. As she wa_eceived with effusion, Duroy asked Mme. Forestier: "Who is that person?"
"Viscountess de Percemur, whose nom de plume is 'Patte Blanche.'"
He was surprised and with difficulty restrained a burst of laughter.
"Patte Blanche? I fancied her a young woman like you. Is that Patte Blanche?
Ah, she is handsome, very handsome!"
A servant appeared at the door and announced: "Madame is served."
Duroy was placed between the manager's plain daughter, Mlle. Rose, and Mme. d_arelle. The proximity of the latter embarrassed him somewhat, although sh_ppeared at ease and conversed with her usual spirit. Gradually, however, hi_ssurance returned, and before the meal was over, he knew that their relation_ould be renewed. Wishing, too, to be polite to his employer's daughter, h_ddressed her from time to time. She responded as her mother would have done, without any hesitation as to what she should say. At M. Walter's right sa_iscountess de Percemur, and Duroy, looking at her with a smile, asked Mme. d_arelle in a low voice: "Do you know the one who signs herself 'Domino Rose'?"
"Yes, perfectly; Baroness de Livar."
"Is she like the Countess?"
"No. But she is just as comical. She is sixty years old, has false curls an_eeth, wit of the time of the Restoration, and toilettes of the same period."
When the guests returned to the drawing-room, Duroy asked Mme. de Marelle:
"May I escort you home?"
"Because M. Laroche-Mathieu, who is my neighbor, leaves me at my door ever_ime that I dine here."
"When shall I see you again?"
"Lunch with me to-morrow."
They parted without another word. Duroy did not remain late; as he descende_he staircase, he met Norbert de Varenne, who was likewise going away. The ol_oet took his arm; fearing no rivalry on the newspaper, their work bein_ssentially different, he was very friendly to the young man.
"Shall we walk along together?"
"I shall be pleased to," replied Duroy.
The streets were almost deserted that night. At first the two men did no_peak. Then Duroy, in order to make some remark, said: "That M. Laroche- Mathieu looks very intelligent."
The old poet murmured: "Do you think so?"
The younger man hesitated in surprise: "Why, yes! Is he not considered one o_he most capable men in the Chamber?"
"That may be. In a kingdom of blind men the blind are kings. All those peopl_re divided between money and politics; they are pedants to whom it i_mpossible to speak of anything that is familiar to us. Ah, it is difficult t_ind a man who is liberal in his ideas! I have known several, they are dead.
Still, what difference does a little more or a little less genius make, sinc_ll must come to an end?" He paused, and Duroy said with a smile:
"You are gloomy to-night, sir!"
The poet replied: "I always am, my child; you will be too in a few years.
While one is climbing the ladder, one sees the top and feels hopeful; but whe_ne has reached that summit, one sees the descent and the end which is death.
It is slow work ascending, but one descends rapidly. At your age one i_oyous; one hopes for many things which never come to pass. At mine, on_xpects nothing but death."
Duroy laughed: "Egad, you make me shudder."
Norbert de Varenne continued: "You do not understand me now, but later on yo_ill remember what I have told you. We breathe, sleep, drink, eat, work, an_hen die! The end of life is death. What do you long for? Love? A few kisse_nd you will be powerless. Money? What for? To gratify your desires. Glory?
What comes after it all? Death! Death alone is certain."
He stopped, took Duroy by his coat collar and said slowly: "Ponder upon al_hat, young man; think it over for days, months, and years, and you will se_ife from a different standpoint. I am a lonely, old man. I have neithe_ather, mother, brother, sister, wife, children, nor God. I have only poetry.
Marry, my friend; you do not know what it is to live alone at my age. It is s_onesome. I seem to have no one upon earth. When one is old it is a comfort t_ave children."
When they reached Rue de Bourgogne, the poet halted before a high house, ran_he bell, pressed Duroy's hand and said: "Forget what I have said to you, young man, and live according to your age. Adieu!" With those words h_isappeared in the dark corridor.
Duroy felt somewhat depressed on leaving Varenne, but on his way a perfume_amsel passed by him and recalled to his mind his reconciliation with Mme. d_arelle. How delightful was the realization of one's hopes!
The next morning he arrived at his lady-love's door somewhat early; sh_elcomed him as if there had been no rupture, and said as she kissed him:
"You do not know how annoyed I am, my beloved; I anticipated a delightfu_oneymoon and now my husband has come home for six weeks. But I could not le_o long a time go by without seeing you, especially after our littl_isagreement, and this is how I have arranged matters: Come to dinner Monday.
I will introduce you to M. de Marelle, I have already spoken of you to him."
Duroy hesitated in perplexity; he feared he might betray something by a word, a glance. He stammered:
"No, I would rather not meet your husband."
"Why not? How absurd! Such things happen every day. I did not think you s_oolish."
"Very well, I will come to dinner Monday."
"To make it more pleasant, I will have the Forestiers, though I do not like t_eceive company at home."
On Monday as he ascended Mme. de Marelle's staircase, he felt strangel_roubled; not that he disliked to take her husband's hand, drink his wine, an_at his bread, but he dreaded something, he knew not what. He was ushered int_he salon and he waited as usual. Then the door opened, and a tall man with _hite beard, grave and precise, advanced toward him and said courteously:
"My wife has often spoken of you, sir; I am charmed to make you_cquaintance."
Duroy tried to appear cordial and shook his host's proffered hand wit_xaggerated energy. M. de Marelle put a log upon the fire and asked:
"Have you been engaged in journalism a long time?"
Duroy replied: "Only a few months." His embarrassment wearing off, he began t_onsider the situation very amusing. He gazed at M. de Marelle, serious an_ignified, and felt a desire to laugh aloud. At that moment Mme. de Marell_ntered and approached Duroy, who in the presence of her husband dared no_iss her hand. Laurine entered next, and offered her brow to Georges. He_other said to her:
"You do not call M. Duroy Bel-Ami to-day."
The child blushed as if it were a gross indiscretion to reveal her secret.
When the Forestiers arrived, Duroy was startled at Charles's appearance. H_ad grown thinner and paler in a week and coughed incessantly; he said the_ould leave for Cannes on the following Thursday at the doctor's orders. The_id not stay late; after they had left, Duroy said, with a shake of his head:
"He will not live long."
Mme. de Marelle replied calmly: "No, he is doomed! He was a lucky man t_btain such a wife."
Duroy asked: "Does she help him very much?"
"She does all the work; she is well posted on every subject, and she alway_ains her point, as she wants it, and when she wants it! Oh, she is a_aneuvering as anyone! She is a treasure to a man who wishes to succeed."
Georges replied: "She will marry very soon again, I have no doubt."
"Yes! I should not even be surprised if she had some one in view—a deputy! bu_ do not know anything about it."
M. de Marelle said impatiently: "You infer so many things that I do not like!
We should never interfere in the affairs of others. Everyone should make tha_ rule."
Duroy took his leave with a heavy heart. The next day he called on th_orestiers, and found them in the midst of packing. Charles lay upon a sof_nd repeated: "I should have gone a month ago." Then he proceeded to giv_uroy innumerable orders, although everything had been arranged with M.
Walter. When Georges left him, he pressed his comrade's hand and said:
"Well, old fellow, we shall soon meet again."
Mme. Forestier accompanied him to the door and he reminded her of thei_ompact. "We are friends and allies, are we not? If you should require m_ervices in any way, do not hesitate to call upon me. Send me a dispatch or _etter and I will obey."
She murmured: "Thank you, I shall not forget."
As Duroy descended the staircase, he met M. de Vaudrec ascending. The Coun_eemed sad—perhaps at the approaching departure.
The journalist bowed, the Count returned his salutation courteously bu_omewhat haughtily.