Chapter 17. THE FINAL PLOT
Three months had elapsed. Georges du Roy's divorce had been obtained. His wife had resumed the name of Forestier.
As the Walters were going to Trouville on the fifteenth of July, they decided to spend a day in the country before starting.
The day chosen was Thursday, and they set out at nine o'clock in the morning in a large six-seated carriage drawn by four horses. They were going to lunch at Saint-Germain. Bel-Ami had requested that he might be the only young man in the party, for he could not bear the presence of the Marquis de Cazolles. At the last moment, however, it was decided that Count de Latour-Ivelin should go, for he and Rose had been betrothed a month. The day was delightful. Georges, who was very pale, gazed at Suzanne as they sat in the carriage and their eyes met.
Mme. Walter was contented and happy. The luncheon was a long and merry one. Before leaving for Paris, Du Roy proposed a walk on the terrace. They stopped on the way to admire the view; as they passed on, Georges and Suzanne lingered behind. The former whispered softly: "Suzanne, I love you madly."
She whispered in return: "I love you too, Bel-Ami."
He continued: "If I cannot have you for my wife, I shall leave the country."
She replied: "Ask papa. Perhaps he will consent."
He answered impatiently: "No, I repeat that it is useless; the door of the house would be closed against me. I would lose my position on the journal, and we would not even meet. Those are the consequences a formal proposal would produce. They have promised you to the Marquis de Cazolles; they hope you will finally say 'yes' and they are waiting."
"What can we do?"
"Have you the courage to brave your father and mother for my sake?"
"Well! There is only one way. It must come from you and not from me. You are an indulged child; they let you say anything and are not surprised at any audacity on your part. Listen, then! This evening on returning home, go to your mother first, and tell her that you want to marry me. She will be very much agitated and very angry."
Suzanne interrupted him: "Oh, mamma would be glad."
He replied quickly: "No, no, you do not know her. She will be more vexed than your father. But you must insist, you must not yield; you must repeat that you will marry me and me alone. Will you do so?"
"And on leaving your mother, repeat the same thing to your father very decidedly."
"Well, and then--"
"And then matters will reach a climax! If you are determined to be my wife, my dear, dear, little Suzanne, I will elope with you."
She clapped her hands, as all the charming adventures in the romances she had read occurred to her, and cried:
"Oh, what bliss! When will you elope with me?"
He whispered very low: "To-night!"
"Where shall we go?"
"That is my secret. Think well of what you are doing. Remember that after that flight you must become my wife. It is the only means, but it is dangerous--very dangerous--for you."
"I have decided. Where shall I meet you?"
"Meet me about midnight in the Place de la Concorde."
"I will be there."
He clasped her hand. "Oh, how I love you! How brave and good you are! Then you do not want to marry Marquis de Cazolles?"
Mme. Walter, turning her head, called out: "Come, little one; what are you and Bel-Ami doing?"
They rejoined the others and returned by way of Chatou. When the carriage arrived at the door of the mansion, Mme. Walter pressed Georges to dine with them, but he refused, and returned home to look over his papers and destroy any compromising letters. Then he repaired in a cab with feverish haste to the place of meeting. He waited there some time, and thinking his ladylove had played him false, he was about to drive off, when a gentle voice whispered at the door of his cab: "Are you there, Bel-Ami?"
"Is it you, Suzanne?"
"Ah, get in." She entered the cab and he bade the cabman drive on.
He asked: "Well, how did it all pass off?"
She murmured faintly:
"Oh, it was terrible, with mamma especially."
"Your mamma? What did she say? Tell me!"
"Oh, it was frightful! I entered her room and made the little speech I had prepared. She turned pale and cried: 'Never!' I wept, I protested that I would marry only you; she was like a mad woman; she vowed I should be sent to a convent. I never saw her like that, never. Papa, hearing her agitated words, entered. He was not as angry as she was, but he said you were not a suitable match for me. As they had vexed me, I talked louder than they, and papa with a dramatic air bade me leave the room. That decided me to fly with you. And here I am; where shall we go?"
He replied, encircling her waist with his arm: "It is too late to take the train; this cab will take us to Sevres where we can spend the night, and to-morrow we will leave for La Roche-Guyon. It is a pretty village on the banks of the Seine between Mantes and Bonnieres."
The cab rolled on. Georges took the young girl's hand and kissed it respectfully. He did not know what to say to her, being unaccustomed to Platonic affection. Suddenly he perceived that she was weeping. He asked in affright:
"What ails you, my dear little one?"
She replied tearfully: "I was thinking that poor mamma could not sleep if she had found out that I was gone!"
* * * * * * *
Her mother indeed was not asleep.
When Suzanne left the room, Mine. Walter turned to her husband and asked in despair: "What does that mean?"
"It means that that intriguer has influenced her. It is he who has made her refuse Cazolles. You have flattered and cajoled him, too. It was Bel-Ami here, Bel-Ami there, from morning until night. Now you are paid for it!"
"Yes, you. You are as much infatuated with him as Madeleine, Suzanne, and the rest of them. Do you think that I did not see that you could not exist for two days without him?"
She rose tragically: "I will not allow you to speak to me thus. You forget that I was not brought up like you, in a shop."
With an oath, he left the room, banging the door behind him.
When he was gone, she thought over all that had taken place. Suzanne was in love with Bel-Ami, and Bel-Ami wanted to marry Suzanne! No, it was not true! She was mistaken; he would not be capable of such an action; he knew nothing of Suzanne's escapade. They would take Suzanne away for six months and that would end it.
She rose, saying: "I cannot rest in this uncertainty. I shall lose my reason. I will arouse Suzanne and question her."
She proceeded to her daughter's room. She entered; it was empty; the bed had not been slept in. A horrible suspicion possessed her and she flew to her husband. He was in bed, reading.
She gasped: "Have you seen Suzanne?"
"She is--gone! she is not in her room."
With one bound he was out of bed; he rushed to his daughter's room; not finding her there, he sank into a chair. His wife had followed him.
"Well?" she asked.
He had not the strength to reply: he was no longer angry; he groaned: "He has her--we are lost."
"Why, he must marry her now!"
She cried wildly: "Marry her, never! Are you mad?"
He replied sadly: "It will do no good to yell! He has disgraced her. The best thing to be done is to give her to him, and at once, too; then no one will know of this escapade."
She repeated in great agitation: "Never; he shall never have Suzanne."
Overcome, Walter murmured: "But he has her. And he will keep her as long as we do not yield; therefore, to avoid a scandal we must do so at once."
But his wife replied: "No, no, I will never consent."
Impatiently he returned: "It is a matter of necessity. Ah, the scoundrel--how he has deceived us! But he is shrewd at any rate. She might have done better as far as position, but not intelligence and future, is concerned. He is a promising young man. He will be a deputy or a minister some day."
Mme. Walter, however, repeated wildly: "I will never let him marry Suzanne! Do you hear--never!"
In his turn he became incensed, and like a practical man defended Bel-Ami. "Be silent! I tell you he must marry her! And who knows? Perhaps we shall not regret it! With men of his stamp one never knows what may come about. You saw how he downed Laroche-Mathieu in three articles, and that with a dignity which was very difficult to maintain in his position as husband. So, we shall see."
Mme. Walter felt a desire to cry aloud and tear her hair. But she only repeated angrily: "He shall not have her!"
Walter rose, took up his lamp, and said: "You are silly, like all women! You only act on impulse. You do not know how to accommodate yourself to circumstances. You are stupid! I tell you he shall marry her; it is essential." And he left the room.
Mme. Walter remained alone with her suffering, her despair. If only a priest were at hand! She would cast herself at his feet and confess all her errors and her agony--he would prevent the marriage! Where could she find a priest? Where should she turn? Before her eyes floated, like a vision, the calm face of "Christ Walking on the Water," as she had seen it in the painting. He seemed to say to her: "Come unto Me. Kneel at My feet. I will comfort and instruct you as to what to do."
She took the lamp and sought the conservatory; she opened the door leading into the room which held the enormous canvas, and fell upon her knees before it. At first she prayed fervently, but as she raised her eyes and saw the resemblance to Bel-Ami, she murmured: "Jesus--Jesus--" while her thoughts were with her daughter and her lover. She uttered a wild cry, as she pictured them together--alone- -and fell into a swoon. When day broke they found Mme. Walter still lying unconscious before the painting. She was so ill, after that, that her life was almost despaired of.
M. Walter explained his daughter's absence to the servants by saying to them that she had been sent to a convent for a short time. Then he replied to a long letter from Du Roy, giving his consent to his marriage with his daughter. Bel-Ami had posted that epistle when he left Paris, having prepared it the night of his departure. In it he said in respectful terms that he had loved the young girl a long time; that there had never been any understanding between them, but that as she came to him to say: "I will be your wife," he felt authorized in keeping her, in hiding her, in fact, until he had obtained a reply from her parents, whose wishes were to him of more value than those of his betrothed.
Georges and Suzanne spent a week at La Roche-Guyon. Never had the young girl enjoyed herself so thoroughly. As she passed for his sister, they lived in a chaste and free intimacy, a kind of living companionship. He thought it wiser to treat her with respect, and when he said to her: "We will return to Paris to-morrow; your father has bestowed your hand upon me" she whispered naively: "Already? This is just as pleasant as being your wife."