Chapter 16. DIVORCE
During the remainder of the winter, the Du Roys often visited the Walters. Georges, too, frequently dined there alone, Madeleine pleading fatigue and preferring to remain at home. He had chosen Friday as his day, and Mme. Walter never invited anyone else on that evening; it belonged to Bel-Ami. Often in a dark corner or behind a tree in the conservatory, Mme. Walter embraced the young man and whispered in his ear: "I love you, I love you! I love you desperately!"
But he always repulsed her coldly, saying: "If you persist in that, I will not come again."
Toward the end of March people talked of the marriage of the two sisters: Rose was to marry, Dame Rumor said, Count de Latour-Ivelin and Suzanne, the Marquis de Cazolles. The subject of Suzanne's possible marriage had not been broached again between her and Georges until one morning, the latter having been brought home by M. Walter to lunch, he whispered to Suzanne: "Come, let us give the fish some bread."
They proceeded to the conservatory in which was the marble basin containing the fish. As Georges and Suzanne leaned over its edge, they saw their reflections in the water and smiled at them. Suddenly, he said in a low voice: "It is not right of you to keep secrets from me, Suzanne."
"What secrets, Bel-Ami?"
"Do you remember what you promised me here the night of the fete?"
"To consult me every time you received a proposal."
"Well, you have received one!"
"You know very well."
"No, I swear I do not."
"Yes, you do. It is from that fop of a Marquis de Cazolles."
"He is not a fop."
"That may be, but he is stupid. He is no match for you who are so pretty, so fresh, so bright!"
She asked with a smile: "What have you against him?"
"Yes, you have. He is not all that you say he is."
"He is a fool, and an intriguer."
She glanced at him: "What ails you?"
He spoke as if tearing a secret from the depths of his heart: "I am- -I am jealous of him."
She was astonished.
"Because I love you and you know it"
Then she said severely: "You are mad, Bel-Ami!"
He replied: "I know that I am! Should I confess it--I, a married man, to you, a young girl? I am worse than mad--I am culpable, wretched--I have no possible hope, and that thought almost destroys my reason. When I hear that you are going to be married, I feel murder in my heart. You must forgive me, Suzanne."
He paused. The young girl murmured half sadly, half gaily: "It is a pity that you are married; but what can you do? It cannot be helped."
He turned toward her abruptly and said: "If I were free would you marry me?"
She replied: "Yes, Bel-Ami, I would marry you because I love you better than any of the others."
He rose and stammering: "Thanks--thanks--do not, I implore you, say yes to anyone. Wait a while. Promise me."
Somewhat confused, and without comprehending what he asked, she whispered: "I promise."
Du Roy threw a large piece of bread into the water and fled, without saying adieu, as if he were beside himself. Suzanne, in surprise, returned to the salon.
When Du Roy arrived home, he asked Madeleine, who was writing letters: "Shall you dine at the Walters' Friday? I am going."
She hesitated: "No, I am not well. I prefer to remain here."
"As you like. No one will force you." Then he took up his hat and went out.
For some time he had watched and followed her, knowing all her actions. The time he had awaited had come at length.
On Friday he dressed early, in order, as he said, to make several calls before going to M. Walter's. At about six o'clock, after having kissed his wife, he went in search of a cab. He said to the cabman: "You can stop at No. 17 Rue Fontaine, and remain there until I order you to go on. Then you can take me to the restaurant Du Coq- Faisan, Rue Lafayette."
The cab rolled slowly on; Du Roy lowered the shades. When in front of his house, he kept watch of it. After waiting ten minutes, he saw Madeleine come out and go toward the boulevards. When she was out of earshot, he put his head out of the window and cried: "Go on!"
The cab proceeded on its way and stopped at the Coq-Faisan. Georges entered the dining-room and ate slowly, looking at his watch from time to time. At seven-thirty he left and drove to Rue La Rochefoucauld. He mounted to the third story of a house in that street, and asked the maid who opened the door: "Is M. Guibert de Lorme at home?"
He was shown into the drawing-room, and after waiting some time, a tall man with a military bearing and gray hair entered. He was the police commissioner.
Du Roy bowed, then said: "As I suspected, my wife is with her lover in furnished apartments they have rented on Rue des Martyrs."
The magistrate bowed: "I am at your service, sir."
"Very well, I have a cab below." And with three other officers they proceeded to the house in which Du Roy expected to surprise his wife. One officer remained at the door to watch the exit; on the second floor they halted; Du Roy rang the bell and they waited. In two or three minutes Georges rang again several times in succession. They heard a light step approach, and a woman's voice, evidently disguised, asked:
"Who is there?"
The police officer replied: "Open in the name of the law."
The voice repeated: "Who are you?"
"I am the police commissioner. Open, or I will force the door."
The voice continued: "What do you want?"
Du Roy interrupted: "It is I; it is useless to try to escape us."
The footsteps receded and then returned. Georges said: "If you do not open, we will force the door."
Receiving no reply he shook the door so violently that the old lock gave way, and the young man almost fell over Madeleine, who was standing in the antechamber in her petticoat, her hair loosened, her feet bare, and a candle in her hand.
He exclaimed: "It is she. We have caught them," and he rushed into the room. The commissioner turned to Madeleine, who had followed them through the rooms, in one of which were the remnants of a supper, and looking into her eyes said:
"You are Mme. Claire Madeleine du Roy, lawful wife of M. Prosper Georges du Roy, here present?"
She replied: "Yes, sir."
"What are you doing here?"
She made no reply. The officer repeated his question; still she did not reply. He waited several moments and then said: "If you do not confess, Madame, I shall be forced to inquire into the matter."
They could see a man's form concealed beneath the covers of the bed. Du Roy advanced softly and uncovered the livid face of M. Laroche- Mathieu.
The officer again asked: "Who are you?"
As the man did not reply, he continued: "I am the police commissioner and I call upon you to tell me your name. If you do not answer, I shall be forced to arrest you. In any case, rise. I will interrogate you when you are dressed."
In the meantime Madeleine had regained her composure, and seeing that all was lost, she was determined to put a brave face upon the matter. Her eyes sparkled with the audacity of bravado, and taking a piece of paper she lighted the ten candles in the candelabra as if for a reception. That done, she leaned against the mantelpiece, took a cigarette out of a case, and began to smoke, seeming not to see her husband.
In the meantime the man in the bed had dressed himself and advanced. The officer turned to him: "Now, sir, will you tell me who you are?"
He made no reply.
"I see I shall have to arrest you."
Then the man cried: "Do not touch me. I am inviolable."
Du Roy rushed toward him exclaiming: "I can have you arrested if I want to!" Then he added: "This man's name is Laroche-Mathieu, minister of foreign affairs."
The officer retreated and stammered: "Sir, will you tell me who you are?"
"For once that miserable fellow has not lied. I am indeed Laroche- Mathieu, minister," and pointing to Georges' breast, he added, "and that scoundrel wears upon his coat the cross of honor which I gave him."
Du Roy turned pale. With a rapid gesture he tore the decoration from his buttonhole and throwing it in the fire exclaimed: "That is what a decoration is worth which is given by a scoundrel of your order."
The commissioner stepped between them, as they stood face to face, saying: "Gentlemen, you forget yourselves and your dignity."
Madeleine smoked on calmly, a smile hovering about her lips. The officer continued: "Sir, I have surprised you alone with Mme. du Roy under suspicious circumstances; what have you to say?"
"Nothing; do your duty."
The commissioner turned to Madeleine: "Do you confess, Madame, that this gentleman is your lover?"
She replied boldly: "I do not deny it. That is sufficient."
The magistrate made several notes; when he had finished writing, the minister, who stood ready, coat upon arm, hat in hand, asked: "Do you need me any longer, sir? Can I go?"
Du Roy addressed him with an insolent smile: "Why should you go, we have finished; we will leave you alone together." Then, taking the officer's arm, he said: "Let us go, sir; we have nothing more to do in this place."
An hour later Georges du Roy entered the office of "La Vie Francaise." M. Walter was there; he raised his head and asked: "What, are you here? Why are you not dining at my house? Where have you come from?"
Georges replied with emphasis: "I have just found out something about the minister of foreign affairs."
"I found him alone with my wife in hired apartments. The commissioner of police was my witness. The minister is ruined."
"Are you not jesting?"
"No, I am not. I shall even write an article on it."
"What is your object?"
"To overthrow that wretch, that public malefactor."
Georges placed his hat upon a chair and added: "Woe to those whom I find in my path. I never pardon."
The manager stammered: "But your wife?"
"I shall apply for a divorce at once."
"Yes, I am master of the situation. I shall be free. I have a stated income. I shall offer myself as a candidate in October in my native district, where I am known. I could not win any respect were I to be hampered with a wife whose honor was sullied. She took me for a simpleton, but since I have known her game, I have watched her, and now I shall get on, for I shall be free."
"I will write the item; it must be handled prudently."
The old man hesitated, then said: "Do so: it serves those right who are caught in such scrapes."