Chapter 12. A MEETING AND THE RESULT
The July sun shone upon the Place de la Trinite, which was almost deserted. Du Roy drew out his watch. It was only three o'clock: he was half an hour too early. He laughed as he thought of the place of meeting. He entered the sacred edifice of La Trinite; the coolness within was refreshing. Here and there an old woman kneeled at prayer, her face in her hands. Du Roy looked at his watch again. It was not yet a quarter past three. He took a seat, regretting that he could not smoke. At the end of the church near the choir; he could hear the measured tread of a corpulent man whom he had noticed when he entered. Suddenly the rustle of a gown made him start. It was she. He arose and advanced quickly. She did not offer him her hand and whispered: "I have only a few minutes. You must kneel near me that no one will notice us."
She proceeded to a side aisle after saluting the Host on the High Altar, took a footstool, and kneeled down. Georges took one beside it and when they were in the attitude of prayer, he said: "Thank you, thank you. I adore you. I should like to tell you constantly how I began to love you, how I was conquered the first time I saw you. Will you permit me some day to unburden my heart, to explain all to you?"
She replied between her fingers: "I am mad to let you speak to me thus--mad to have come hither--mad to do as I have done, to let you believe that this--this adventure can have any results. Forget it, and never speak to me of it again." She paused.
He replied: "I expect nothing--I hope nothing--I love you--whatever you may do, I will repeat it so often, with so much force and ardor that you will finally understand me, and reply: 'I love you too.'"
He felt her frame tremble as she involuntarily repeated: "I love you too."
He was overcome by astonishment.
"Oh, my God!" she continued incoherently, "Should I say that to you? I feel guilty, despicable--I--who have two daughters--but I cannot-- cannot--I never thought--it was stronger than I--listen--listen--I have never loved--any other--but you--I swear it--I have loved you a year in secret--I have suffered and struggled--I can no longer; I love you." She wept and her bowed form was shaken by the violence of her emotion.
Georges murmured: "Give me your hand that I may touch, may press it."
She slowly took her hand from her face, he seized it saying: "I should like to drink your tears!"
Placing the hand he held upon his heart he asked: "Do you feel it beat?"
In a few moments the man Georges had noticed before passed by them. When Mme. Walter heard him near her, she snatched her fingers from Georges's clasp and covered her face with them. After the man had disappeared, Du Roy asked, hoping for another place of meeting than La Trinite: "Where shall I see you to-morrow?"
She did not reply; she seemed transformed into a statue of prayer. He continued: "Shall I meet you to-morrow at Park Monceau?"
She turned a livid face toward him and said unsteadily: "Leave me-- leave me now--go--go away--for only five minutes--I suffer too much near you. I want to pray--go. Let me pray alone--five minutes--let me ask God--to pardon me--to save me--leave me--five minutes."
She looked so pitiful that he rose without a word and asked with some hesitation: "Shall I return presently?"
She nodded her head in the affirmative and he left her. She tried to pray; she closed her eyes in order not to see Georges. She could not pray; she could only think of him. She would rather have died than have fallen thus; she had never been weak. She murmured several words of supplication; she knew that all was over, that the struggle was in vain. She did not however wish to yield, but she felt her weakness. Some one approached with a rapid step; she turned her head. It was a priest. She rose, ran toward him, and clasping her hands, she cried: "Save me, save me!"
He stopped in surprise.
"What do you want, Madame?"
"I want you to save me. Have pity on me. If you do not help me, I am lost!"
He gazed at her, wondering if she were mad.
"What can I do for you?" The priest was a young man somewhat inclined to corpulence.
"Receive my confession," said she, "and counsel me, sustain me, tell me what to do."
He replied: "I confess every Saturday from three to six."
Seizing his arm she repeated: "No, now, at once--at once! It is necessary! He is here! In this church! He is waiting for me."
The priest asked: "Who is waiting for you?"
"A man--who will be my ruin if you do not save me. I can no longer escape him--I am too weak--too weak,"
She fell upon her knees sobbing: "Oh, father, have pity upon me. Save me, for God's sake, save me!" She seized his gown that he might not escape her, while he uneasily glanced around on all sides to see if anyone noticed the woman at his feet. Finally, seeing that he could not free himself from her, he said: "Rise; I have the key to the confessional with me."
* * * * * * *
Du Roy having walked around the choir, was sauntering down the nave, when he met the stout, bold man wandering about, and he wondered: "What can he be doing here?"
The man slackened his pace and looked at Georges with the evident desire to speak to him. When he was near him, he bowed and said politely:
"I beg your pardon, sir, for disturbing you; but can you tell me when this church was built?"
Du Roy replied: "I do not know; I think it is twenty or twenty-five years. It is the first time I have been here. I have never seen it before." Feeling interested in the stranger, the journalist continued: "It seems to me that you are examining into it very carefully."
The man replied: "I am not visiting the church; I have an appointment." He paused and in a few moments added: "It is very warm outside."
Du Roy looked at him and suddenly thought that he resembled Forestier. "Are you from the provinces?" he asked.
"Yes, I am from Rennes. And did you, sir, enter this church from curiosity?"
"No, I am waiting for a lady." And with a smile upon his lips, he walked away.
He did not find Mme. Walter in the place in which he had left her, and was surprised. She had gone. He was furious. Then he thought she might be looking for him, and he walked around the church. Not finding her, he returned and seated himself on the chair she had occupied, hoping that she would rejoin him there. Soon he heard the sound of a voice. He saw no one; whence came it? He rose to examine into it, and saw in a chapel near by, the doors of the confessionals. He drew nearer in order to see the woman whose voice he heard. He recognized Mme. Walter; she was confessing. At first he felt a desire to seize her by the arm and drag her away; then he seated himself near by and bided his time. He waited quite awhile. At length Mme. Walter rose, turned, saw him and came toward him. Her face was cold and severe.
"Sir," said she, "I beseech you not to accompany me, not to follow me and not to come to my house alone. You will not be admitted. Adieu!" And she walked away in a dignified manner.
He permitted her to go, because it was against his principles to force matters. As the priest in his turn issued from the confessional, he advanced toward him and said: "If you did not wear a gown, I would give you a sound thrashing." Then he turned upon his heel and left the church whistling. In the doorway he met the stout gentleman. When Du Roy passed him, they bowed.
The journalist then repaired to the office of "La Vie Francaise." As he entered he saw by the clerks' busy air that something of importance was going on, and he hastened to the manager's room. The latter exclaimed joyfully as Du Roy entered: "What luck! here is Bel-Ami."
He stopped in confusion and apologized: "I beg your pardon, I am very much bothered by circumstances. And then I hear my wife and daughter call you Bel-Ami from morning until night, and I have acquired the habit myself. Are you displeased?"
Georges laughed. "Not at all."
M. Walter continued: "Very well, then I will call you Bel-Ami as everyone else does. Great changes have taken place. The ministry has been overthrown. Marrot is to form a new cabinet. He has chosen General Boutin d'Acre as minister of war, and our friend Laroche- Mathieu as minister of foreign affairs. We shall be very busy. I must write a leading article, a simple declaration of principles; then I must have something interesting on the Morocco question--you must attend to that."
Du Roy reflected a moment and then replied: "I have it. I will give you an article on the political situation of our African colony," and he proceeded to prepare M. Walter an outline of his work, which was nothing but a modification of his first article on "Souvenirs of a Soldier in Africa."
The manager having read the article said: "It is perfect; you are a treasure. Many thanks."
Du Roy returned home to dinner delighted with his day, notwithstanding his failure at La Trinite. His wife was awaiting him anxiously. She exclaimed on seeing him:
"You know that Laroche is minister of foreign affairs."
"Yes, I have just written an article on that subject."
"Do you remember the first article we wrote on 'Souvenirs of a Soldier in Africa'? Well, I revised and corrected it for the occasion."
She smiled. "Ah, yes, that will do very well."
At that moment the servant entered with a dispatch containing these words without any signature:
"I was beside myself. Pardon me and come to-morrow at four o'clock to Park Monceau."
He understood the message, and with a joyful heart, slipped the telegram into his pocket. During dinner he repeated the words to himself; as he interpreted them, they meant, "I yield--I am yours where and when you will." He laughed.
Madeleine asked: "What is it?"
"Nothing much. I was thinking of a comical old priest I met a short while since."
* * * * * * *
Du Roy arrived at the appointed hour the following day. The benches were all occupied by people trying to escape from the heat and by nurses with their charges.
He found Mme. Walter in a little antique ruin; she seemed unhappy and anxious. When he had greeted her, she said: "How many people there are in the garden!"
He took advantage of the occasion: "Yes, that is true; shall we go somewhere else?"
"It matters not where; for a drive, for instance. You can lower the shade on your side and you will be well concealed."
"Yes, I should like that better; I shall die of fear here."
"Very well, meet me in five minutes at the gate which opens on the boulevard. I will fetch a cab."
When they were seated in the cab, she asked: "Where did you tell the coachman to drive to?"
Georges replied: "Do not worry; he knows."
He had given the man his address on the Rue de Constantinople.
Mme. Walter said to Du Roy: "You cannot imagine how I suffer on your account--how I am tormented, tortured. Yesterday I was harsh, but I wanted to escape you at any price. I was afraid to remain alone with you. Have you forgiven me?"
He pressed her hand. "Yes, yes, why should I not forgive you, loving you as I do?"
She looked at him with a beseeching air: "Listen: You must promise to respect me, otherwise I could never see you again."
At first he did not reply; a smile lurked beneath his mustache; then he murmured: "I am your slave."
She told him how she had discovered that she loved him, on learning that he was to marry Madeleine Forestier. Suddenly she ceased speaking. The carriage stopped. Du Roy opened the door.
"Where are we?" she asked.
He replied: "Alight and enter the house. We shall be undisturbed there."
"Where are we?" she repeated.
"At my rooms; they are my bachelor apartments which I have rented for a few days that we might have a corner in which to meet."
She clung to the cab, startled at the thought of a tete-a-tete, and stammered: "No, no, I do not want to."
He said firmly: "I swear to respect you. Come, you see that people are looking at us, that a crowd is gathering around us. Make haste!" And he repeated, "I swear to respect you."
She was terror-stricken and rushed into the house. She was about to ascend the stairs. He seized her arm: "It is here, on the ground floor."
When he had closed the door, he showered kisses upon her neck, her eyes, her lips; in spite of herself, she submitted to his caresses and even returned them, hiding her face and murmuring in broken accents: "I swear that I have never had a lover"; while he thought: "That is a matter of indifference to me."