Chapter 11. MADAME WALTER TAKES A HAND
On entering the office the following day, Du Roy sought Boisrenard and told him to warn his associates not to continue the farce of calling him Forestier, or there would be war. When Du Roy returned an hour later, no one called him by that name. From the office he proceeded to his home, and hearing the sound of ladies' voices in the drawing-room, he asked the servant: "Who is here?"
"Mme. Walter and Mme. de Marelle," was the reply.
His heart pulsated violently as he opened the door. Clotilde was seated by the fireplace; it seemed to Georges that she turned pale on perceiving him.
Having greeted Mme. Walter and her two daughters seated like sentinels beside her, he turned to his former mistress. She extended her hand; he took and pressed it as if to say: "I love you still!" She returned the pressure.
He said: "Have you been well since we last met?"
"Yes; have you, Bel-Ami?" And turning to Madeleine she added: "Will you permit me to call him Bel-Ami?"
"Certainly, my dear; I will permit anything you wish."
A shade of irony lurked beneath those words, uttered so pleasantly.
Mme. Walter mentioned a fencing-match to be given at Jacques Rival's apartments, the proceeds to be devoted to charities, and in which many society ladies were going to assist. She said: "It will be very entertaining; but I am in despair, for we have no one to escort us, my husband having an engagement."
Du Roy offered his services at once. She accepted, saying: "My daughters and I shall be very grateful."
He glanced at the younger of the two girls and thought: "Little Suzanne is not at all bad, not at all."
She resembled a doll, being very small and dainty, with a well- proportioned form, a pretty, delicate face, blue-gray eyes, a fair skin, and curly, flaxen hair. Her elder sister, Rose, was plain--one of those girls to whom no attention is ever paid. Her mother rose, and turning to Georges, said: "I shall count on you next Thursday at two o'clock."
He replied: "Count upon me, Madame."
When the door closed upon Mme. Walter, Mme. de Marelle, in her turn, rose.
"Au revoir, Bel-Ami."
This time she pressed his hand and he was moved by that silent avowal. "I will go to see her to-morrow," thought he.
Left alone with his wife, she laughed, and looking into his eyes said: "Mme. Walter has taken a fancy to you!"
He replied incredulously: "Nonsense!"
"But I know it. She spoke of you to me with great enthusiasm. She said she would like to find two husbands like you for her daughters. Fortunately she is not susceptible herself."
He did not understand her and repeated: "Susceptible herself?"
She replied in a tone of conviction: "Oh, Mme. Walter is irreproachable. Her husband you know as well as I. But she is different. Still she has suffered a great deal in having married a Jew, though she has been true to him; she is a virtuous woman."
Du Roy was surprised: "I thought her a Jewess."
"She a Jewess! No, indeed! She is the prime mover in all the charitable movements at the Madeleine. She was even married by a priest. I am not sure but that M. Walter went through the form of baptism."
Georges murmured: "And--she--likes--me--"
"Yes. If you were not married I should advise you to ask for the hand of--Suzanne--would you not prefer her to Rose?"
He replied as he twisted his mustache: "Eh! the mother is not so bad!"
Madeleine replied: "I am not afraid of her. At her age one does not begin to make conquests--one should commence sooner."
Georges thought: "If I might have had Suzanne, ah!" Then he shrugged his shoulders: "Bah, it is absurd; her father would not have consented."
He determined to treat Mme. Walter very considerately in order to retain her regard. All that evening he was haunted by recollections of his love for Clotilde; he recalled their escapades, her kindness. He repeated to himself: "She is indeed nice. Yes, I shall call upon her to-morrow."
When he had lunched the following morning he repaired to Rue Verneuil. The same maid opened the door, and with the familiarity of an old servant she asked: "Is Monsieur well?"
He replied: "Yes, my child," and entered the drawing-room in which some one was practising scales. It was Laurine. He expected she would fall upon his neck. She, however, rose ceremoniously, bowed coldly, and left the room with dignity; her manner was so much like that of an outraged woman that he was amazed. Her mother entered. He kissed her hand.
"How much I have thought of you," said he.
"And I of you," she replied.
They seated themselves and smiled as they gazed into one another's eyes.
"My dear little Clo, I love you."
"And I love you."
"Still--still--you did not miss me."
"Yes and no. I was grieved, but when I heard your reason, I said to myself: 'Bah, he will return to me some day.'"
"I dared not come. I did not know how I should be received. I dared not, but I longed to come. Now, tell me what ails Laurine; she scarcely bade me good morning and left the room with an angry air."
"I do not know, but one cannot mention you to her since your marriage; I really believe she is jealous."
"Yes, my dear, she no longer calls you Bel-Ami, but M. Forestier instead."
Du Roy colored, then drawing nearer the young woman, he said: "Kiss me."
She obeyed him.
"Where can we meet again?" he asked.
"At Rue de Constantinople."
"Ah, are the apartments not rented?"
"No, I kept them."
"Yes, I thought you would return."
His heart bounded joyfully. She loved him then with a lasting love! He whispered: "I adore you." Then he asked: "Is your husband well?"
"Yes, very well. He has just been home for a month; he went away the day before yesterday."
Du Roy could not suppress a smile: "How opportunely that always happens!"
She replied naively: "Yes, it happens opportunely, but he is not in the way when he is here; is he?"
"That is true; he is a charming man!"
"How do you like your new life?"
"Tolerably; my wife is a comrade, an associate, nothing more; as for my heart--"
"I understand; but she is good."
"Yes, she does not trouble me."
He drew near Clotilde and murmured: "When shall we meet again?"
"To-morrow, if you will."
"Yes, to-morrow at two o'clock."
He rose to take his leave somewhat embarrassed.
"You know I intend to take back the rooms on Rue de Constantinople myself. I wish to; it is not necessary for you to pay for them."
She kissed his hands, saying: "You may do as you like. I am satisfied to have kept them until we met again." And Du Roy took his leave very well satisfied.
When Thursday came, he asked Madeleine: "Are going to the fencing- match at Rival's?"
"No, I do not care about it. I will go to the chamber of deputies."
Georges called for Mme. Walter in an open carriage, for the weather was delightful. He was surprised to find her looking so handsome and so young. Never had she appeared so fresh. Her daughter, Suzanne, was dressed in pink; her sister looked like her governess. At Rival's door was a long line of carriages. Du Roy offered his arm to Mme. Walter and they entered.
The entertainment was for the benefit of the orphans of the Sixth Ward under the patronage of all the wiles of the senators and deputies who were connected with "La Vie Francaise."
Jacques Rival received the arrivals at the entrance to his apartments, then he pointed to a small staircase which led to the cellar in which were his shooting-gallery and fencing-room, saying: "Downstairs, ladies, downstairs. The match will take place in the subterranean apartments."
Pressing Du Roy's hand, he said: "Good evening, Bel-Ami."
Du Roy was surprised: "Who told you about that name?"
Rival replied: "Mme. Walter, who thinks it very pretty."
Mme. Walter blushed.
"Yes, I confess that if I knew you better, I should do as little Laurine, and I should call you Bel-Ami, too. It suits you admirably."
Du Roy laughed. "I beg you to do so, Madame."
She cast down her eyes. "No, we are not well enough acquainted."
He murmured: "Permit me to hope that we shall become so."
"Well, we shall see," said she.
They descended the stairs and entered a large room, which was lighted by Venetian lanterns and decorated with festoons of gauze. Nearly all the benches were filled with ladies, who were chatting as if they were at a theater. Mme. Walter and her daughters reached their seats in the front row.
Du Roy, having obtained their places for them, whispered: "I shall be obliged to leave you; men cannot occupy the seats."
Mme. Walter replied hesitatingly: "I should like to keep you, just the same. You could tell me the names of the participants. See, if you stand at the end of the seat, you will not annoy anyone." She raised her large, soft eyes to his and insisted: "Come, stay with us--Bel-Ami--we need you!"
He replied: "I obey with pleasure, Madame!"
Suddenly Jacques Rival's voice announced: "We will begin, ladies."
Then followed the fencing-match. Du Roy retained his place beside the ladies and gave them all the necessary information. When the entertainment was over and all expenses were paid, two hundred and twenty francs remained for the orphans of the Sixth Ward.
Du Roy, escorting the Walters, awaited his carriage. When seated face to face with Mme. Walter, he met her troubled but caressing glance.
"Egad, I believe she is affected," thought he; and he smiled as he recognized the fact that he was really successful with the female sex, for Mme. de Marelle, since the renewal of their relations, seemed to love him madly.
With a light heart he returned home. Madeleine was awaiting him in the drawing-room.
"I have some news," said she. "The affair with Morocco is becoming complicated. France may send an expedition out there in several months. In any case the ministry will be overthrown and Laroche will profit by the occasion."
Du Roy, in order to draw out his wife, pretended not to believe it. "France would not be silly enough to commence any folly with Tunis!"
She shrugged her shoulders impatiently. "I tell you she will! You do not understand that it is a question of money--you are as simple as Forestier."
Her object was to wound and irritate him, but he only smiled and replied: "What! as simple as that stupid fellow?"
She ceased and murmured: "Oh, Georges!"
He added: "Poor devil!" in a tone of profound pity.
Madeleine turned her back upon him scornfully; after a moment of silence, she continued: "We shall have some company Tuesday. Mme. Laroche-Mathieu is coming here to dine with Viscountess de Percemur. Will you invite Rival and Norbert de Varenne? I shall go to Mmes. Walter and de Marelle to-morrow. Perhaps, too, we may have Mme. Rissolin."
Du Roy replied: "Very well, I will see to Rival and Norbert."
The following day he thought he would anticipate his wife's visit to Mme. Walter and attempt to find out if she really was in love with him. He arrived at Boulevard Malesherbes at two o'clock. He was ushered into the salon and waited. Finally Mme. Walter appeared and offered him her hand cordially. "What good wind blows you here?"
"No good wind, but a desire to see you. Some power has impelled me hither, I do not know why; I have nothing to say except that I have come; here I am! Pardon the morning call and the candor of my explanation."
He uttered those words with a smile upon his lips and a serious accent in his voice.
In her astonishment, she stammered with a blush: "But indeed--I do not understand--you surprise me."
He added: "It is a declaration made in jest in order not to startle you."
They were seated near each other. She took the matter as a jest. "Is it a declaration--seriously?"
"Yes, for a long time I have wished to make it, but I dared not; they say you are so austere, so rigid."
She had recovered her self-possession and replied:
"Why did you choose to-day?"
"I do not know." Then he lowered his voice: "Or rather because I have thought only of you since yesterday."
Suddenly turning pale, she gasped: "Come, enough of this childishness! Let us talk of something else."
But he fell upon his knees before her. She tried to rise; he prevented her by twining his arms about her waist, and repeated in a passionate voice: "Yes, it is true that I have loved you madly for some time. Do not answer me. I am mad--I love you. Oh, if you knew how I love you!"
She could utter no sound; in her agitation she repulsed him with both hands, for she could feel his breath upon her cheek. He rose suddenly and attempted to embrace her, but gaining her liberty for a moment, she escaped him and ran from chair to chair. He, considering such pursuit beneath his dignity, sank into a chair, buried his face in his hands, and feigned to sob convulsively. Then he rose, cried:
"Adieu, adieu!" and fled.
In the hall he took his cane calmly and left the house saying: "Cristi! I believe she loves me!"
He went at once to the telegraph office to send a message to Clotilde, appointing a rendezvous for the next day.
On entering the house at his usual time, he said to his wife: "Well, is everyone coming to dinner?"
She replied: "Yes, all but Mme. Walter, who is uncertain as to whether she can come. She acted very strangely. Never mind, perhaps she can manage it anyway."
He replied: "She will come."
He was not, however, certain and was rendered uneasy until the day of the dinner. That morning Madeleine received a message from Mme. Walter to this effect: "I have succeeded in arranging matters and I shall be with you, but my husband cannot accompany me."
Du Roy thought: "I did right not to return there. She has calmed down." Still he awaited her arrival anxiously.
She appeared very composed, somewhat reserved, and haughty. He was very humble, very careful, and submissive. Mmes. Laroche-Mathieu and Rissolin were accompanied by their husbands. Mme. de Marelle looked bewitching in an odd combination of yellow and black.
At Du Roy's right sat Mme. Walter, and he spoke to her only of serious matters with exaggerated respect. From time to time he glanced at Clotilde.
"She is really very pretty and fresh looking," thought he. But Mme. Walter attracted him by the difficulty of the conquest. She took her leave early.
"I will escort you," said he.
She declined his offer. He insisted: "Why do you not want me? You wound me deeply. Do not let me feel that I am not forgiven. You see that I am calm."
She replied: "You cannot leave your guests thus."
He smiled: "Bah! I shall be absent twenty minutes. No one will even notice it; if you refuse me, you will break my heart."
"Very well," she whispered, "I will accept."
When they were seated in the carriage, he seized her hand, and kissing it passionately said: "I love you, I love you. Let me tell it to you. I will not touch you. I only wish to repeat that I love you."
She stammered: "After what you promised me--it is too bad--too bad."
He seemed to make a great effort, then he continued in a subdued voice: "See, how I can control myself--and yet--let me only tell you this--I love you--yes, let me go home with you and kneel before you five minutes to utter those three words and gaze upon your beloved face."
She suffered him to take her hand and replied in broken accents: "No, I cannot--I do not wish to. Think of what my servants, my daughters, would say--no--no--it is impossible."
He continued: "I cannot live without seeing you; whether it be at your house or elsewhere, I must see you for only a moment each day that I may touch your hand, breathe the air stirred by your gown, contemplate the outlines of your form, and see your beautiful eyes."
She listened tremblingly to the musical language of love, and made answer: "No, it is impossible. Be silent!"
He spoke very low; he whispered in her ear, comprehending that it was necessary to win that simple woman gradually, to persuade her to appoint a meeting where she willed at first, and later on where he willed.
"Listen: I must see you! I will wait at your door like a beggar. If you do not come down, I will come to you, but I shall see you to- morrow."
She repeated: "No, do not come. I shall not receive you. Think of my daughters!"
"Then tell me where I can meet you--in the street--it matters not where--at any hour you wish--provided that I can see you. I will greet you; I will say, I love you; and then go away."
She hesitated, almost distracted. As the coupe stopped at the door, she whispered hastily: "I will be at La Trinite to-morrow, at half past three."
After alighting, she said to her coachman: "Take M. du Roy home."
When he returned, his wife asked: "Where have you been?"
He replied in a low voice: "I have been to send an important telegram."
Mme. de Marelle approached him: "You must take me home, Bel-Ami; you know that I only dine so far from home on that condition." Turning to Madeleine, she asked: "You are not jealous?"
Mme. du Roy replied slowly: "No, not at all."
The guests departed. Clotilde, enveloped in laces, whispered to Madeleine at the door: "Your dinner was perfect. In a short while you will have the best political salon in Paris."
When she was alone with Georges, she said: "Oh, my darling Bel-Ami, I love you more dearly every day."
The cab rolled on, and Georges' thoughts were with Mme. Walter.