Chapter 5. THE FIRST INTRIGUE
Two months elapsed. It was September. The fortune which Duroy had hoped to make so rapidly seemed to him slow in coming. Above all he was dissatisfied with the mediocrity of his position; he was appreciated, but was treated according to his rank. Forestier himself no longer invited him to dinner, and treated him as an inferior. Often he had thought of making Mme. Forestier a visit, but the remembrance of their last meeting restrained him. Mme. de Marelle had invited him to call, saying: "I am always at home about three o'clock." So one afternoon, when he had nothing to do, he proceeded toward her house. She lived on Rue Verneuil, on the fourth floor. A maid answered his summons, and said: "Yes, Madame is at home, but I do not know whether she has risen." She conducted Duroy into the drawing-room, which was large, poorly furnished, and somewhat untidy. The shabby, threadbare chairs were ranged along the walls according to the servant's fancy, for there was not a trace visible of the care of a woman who loves her home. Duroy took a seat and waited some time. Then a door opened and Mme. de Marelle entered hastily, clad in a Japanese dressing-gown. She exclaimed:
"How kind of you to come to see me. I was positive you had forgotten me." She held out her hand to him with a gesture of delight; and Duroy, quite at his ease in that shabby apartment, kissed it as he had seen Norbert de Varenne do.
Examining him from head to foot, she cried: "How you have changed! Well; tell me the news."
They began to chat at once as if they were old acquaintances, and in five minutes an intimacy, a mutual understanding, was established between those two beings alike in character and kind. Suddenly the young woman said in surprise: "It is astonishing how I feel with you. It seems to me as if I had known you ten years. We shall undoubtedly become good friends; would that please you?"
He replied: "Certainly," with a smile more expressive than words. He thought her very bewitching in her pretty gown. When near Mme. Forestier, whose impassive, gracious smile attracted yet held at a distance, and seemed to say: "I like you, yet take care," he felt a desire to cast himself at her feet, or to kiss the hem of her garment. When near Mme. de Marelle, he felt a more passionate desire.
A gentle rap came at the door through which Mme. de Marelle had entered, and she cried: "You may come in, my darling."
The child entered, advanced to Duroy and offered him her hand. The astonished mother murmured: "That is a conquest." The young man, having kissed the child, seated her by his side, and with a serious air questioned her as to what she had done since they last met. She replied in a flute-like voice and with the manner of a woman. The clock struck three; the journalist rose.
"Come often," said Mme. de Marelle; "it has been a pleasant causerie. I shall always be glad to welcome you. Why do I never meet you at the Forestiers?"
"For no particular reason. I am very busy. I hope, however, that we shall meet there one of these days."
In the course of a few days he paid another visit to the enchantress. The maid ushered him into the drawing-room and Laurine soon entered; she offered him not her hand but her forehead, and said: "Mamma wishes me to ask you to wait for her about fifteen minutes, for she is not dressed. I will keep you company."
Duroy, who was amused at the child's ceremonious manner, replied: "Indeed, Mademoiselle, I shall be enchanted to spend a quarter of an hour with you." When the mother entered they were in the midst of an exciting game, and Mme. de Marelle paused in amazement, crying: "Laurine playing? You are a sorcerer, sir!" He placed the child, whom he had caught in his arms, upon the floor, kissed the lady's hand, and they seated themselves, the child between them. They tried to converse, but Laurine, usually so silent, monopolized the conversation, and her mother was compelled to send her to her room.
When they were alone, Mme. de Marelle lowered her voice and said: "I have a great project. It is this: As I dine every week at the Foresters', I return it from time to time by inviting them to a restaurant. I do not like to have company at home; I am not so situated that I can have any. I know nothing about housekeeping or cooking. I prefer a life free from care; therefore I invite them to the cafe occasionally; but it is not lively when we are only three. I am telling you this in order to explain such an informal gathering. I should like you to be present at our Saturdays at the Cafe Riche at seven-thirty. Do you know the house?"
Duroy accepted gladly. He left her in a transport of delight and impatiently awaited the day of the dinner. He was the first to arrive at the place appointed and was shown into a small private room, in which the table was laid for four; that table looked very inviting with its colored glasses, silver, and candelabra.
Duroy seated himself upon a low bench. Forestier entered and shook hands with him with a cordiality he never evinced at the office.
"The two ladies will come together," said he. "These dinners are truly delightful."
Very soon the door opened and Mesdames Forestier and De Marelle appeared, heavily veiled, surrounded by the charming mystery necessary to a rendezvous in a place so public. As Duroy greeted the former, she took him to task for not having been to see her; then she added with a smile: "Ah, you prefer Mme. de Marelle; the time passes more pleasantly with her."
When the waiter handed the wine-list to Forestier, Mme. de Marelle exclaimed: "Bring the gentle-men whatever they want; as for us, we want nothing but champagne."
Forestier, who seemed not to have heard her, asked: "Do you object to my closing the window? My cough has troubled me for several days."
"Not at all."
His wife did not speak. The various courses were duly served and then the guests began to chat. They discussed a scandal which was being circulated about a society belle. Forestier was very much amused by it. Duroy said with a smile: "How many would abandon themselves to a caprice, a dream of love, if they did not fear that they would pay for a brief happiness with tears and an irremediable scandal?"
Both women glanced at him approvingly. Forestier cried with a sceptical laugh: "The poor husbands!" Then they talked of love. Duroy said: "When I love a woman, everything else in the world is forgotten."
Mme. Forestier murmured:, "There is no happiness comparable to that first clasp of the hand, when one asks: 'Do you love me?' and the other replies: 'Yes, I love you.'" Mme. de Marelle cried gaily as she drank a glass of champagne: "I am less Platonic."
Forestier, lying upon the couch, said in serious tone: "That frankness does you honor and proves you to be a practical woman. But might one ask, what is M. de Marelle's opinion?"
She shrugged her shoulders disdainfully and said: "M. de Marelle has no opinion on that subject."
The conversation grew slow. Mme. de Marelle seemed to offer provocation by her remarks, while Mme. Forestier's charming reserve, the modesty in her voice, in her smile, all seemed to extenuate the bold sallies which issued from her lips. The dessert came and then followed the coffee. The hostess and her guests lighted cigarettes, but Forestier suddenly began to cough. When the attack was over, he growled angrily: "These parties are not good for me; they are stupid. Let us go home."
Mme. de Marelle summoned the waiter and asked for her bill. She tried to read it, but the figures danced before her eyes; she handed the paper to Duroy.
"Here, pay it for me; I cannot see." At the same time, she put her purse in his hand.
The total was one hundred and thirty francs. Duroy glanced at the bill and when it was settled, whispered: "How much shall I give the waiter?"
"Whatever you like; I do not know."
He laid five francs upon the plate and handed the purse to its owner, saying: "Shall I escort you home?"
"Certainly; I am unable to find the house."
They shook hands with the Forestiers and were soon rolling along in a cab side by side. Duroy could think of nothing to say; he felt impelled to clasp her in his arms. "If I should dare, what would she do?" thought he. The recollection of their conversation at dinner emboldened, but the fear of scandal restrained him. Mme. de Marelle reclined silently in her corner. He would have thought her asleep, had he not seen her eyes glisten whenever a ray of light penetrated the dark recesses of the carriage. Of what was she thinking? Suddenly she moved her foot, nervously, impatiently. That movement caused him to tremble, and turning quickly, he cast himself upon her, seeking her lips with his. She uttered a cry, attempted to repulse him and then yielded to his caresses as if she had not the strength to resist.
The carriage stopped at her door, but she did not rise; she did not move, stunned by what had just taken place. Fearing that the cabman would mistrust something, Duroy alighted from the cab first and offered his hand to the young woman. Finally she got out, but in silence. Georges rang the bell, and when the door was opened, he asked timidly: "When shall I see you again?"
She whispered so low that he could barely hear her: "Come and lunch with me to-morrow." With those words she disappeared.
Duroy gave the cabman a five-franc piece, and turned away with a triumphant, joyful air. He had at last conquered a married woman! A woman of the world! A Parisian! How easy it had been!
He was somewhat nervous the following day as he ascended Mme. de Marelle's staircase. How would she receive him? Suppose she forbade him to enter her house? If she had told--but no, she could not tell anything without telling the whole truth! He was master of the situation!
The little maid-servant opened the door. She was as pleasant as usual. Duroy felt reassured and asked: "Is Madame well?"
"Yes, sir; as well as she always is," was the reply, and he was ushered into the salon. He walked to the mantelpiece to see what kind of an appearance he presented: he was readjusting his cravat when he saw in the mirror the young woman standing on the threshold looking at him. He pretended not to have seen her, and for several moments they gazed at one another in the mirror. Then he turned. She had not moved; she seemed to be waiting. He rushed toward her crying: "How I love you!" He clasped her to his breast. He thought: "It is easier than I thought it would be. All is well." He looked at her with a smile, without uttering a word, trying to put into his glance a wealth of love. She too smiled and murmured: "We are alone. I sent Laurine to lunch with a friend."
He sighed, and kissing her wrists said: "Thanks; I adore you." She took his arm as if he had been her husband, and led him to a couch, upon which they seated themselves side by side. Duroy stammered, incoherently: "You do not care for me."
She laid her hand upon his lips. "Be silent!"
"How I love you!" said he.
She repeated: "Be silent!"
They could hear the servant laying the table in the dining-room. He rose: "I cannot sit so near you. I shall lose my head."
The door opened: "Madame is served!"
He offered her his arm gravely. They lunched without knowing what they were eating. The servant came and went without seeming to notice anything. When the meal was finished, they returned to the drawing-room and resumed their seats on the couch side by side. Gradually he drew nearer her and tried to embrace her.
"Be careful, some one might come in."
He whispered: "When can I see you alone to tell you how I love you?"
She leaned toward him and said softly: "I will pay you a visit one of these days."
He colored. "My rooms--are--are--very modest."
She smiled: "That makes no difference. I shall come to see you and not your rooms."
He urged her to tell him when she would come. She fixed a day in the following week, while he besought her with glowing eyes to hasten the day. She was amused to see him implore so ardently and yielded a day at a time. He repeated: "To-morrow, say--to-morrow." Finally she consented. "Yes, to-morrow at five o'clock."
He drew a deep breath; then they chatted together as calmly as if they had known one another for twenty years. A ring caused them to start; they separated. She murmured: "It is Laurine."
The child entered, paused in surprise, then ran toward Duroy clapping her hands, delighted to see him, and crying: "Ah, 'Bel- Ami!'"
Mme. de Marelle laughed. "Bel-Ami! Laurine has christened you. It is a pretty name. I shall call you Bel-Ami, too!"
He took the child upon his knee. At twenty minutes of three he rose to go to the office; at the half-open door he whispered: "To-morrow, five o'clock." The young woman replied: "Yes," with a smile and disappeared.
After he had finished his journalistic work, he tried to render his apartments more fit to receive his expected visitor. He was well satisfied with the results of his efforts and retired, lulled to rest by the whistling of the trains. Early the next morning he bought a cake and a bottle of Madeira. He spread the collation on his dressing-table which was covered with a napkin. Then he waited. She came at a quarter past five and exclaimed as she entered: "Why, it is nice here. But there were a great many people on the stairs."
He took her in his arms and kissed her hair. An hour and a half later he escorted her to a cab-stand on the Rue de Rome. When she was seated in the cab, he whispered: "Tuesday, at the same hour."
She repeated his words, and as it was night, she kissed him. Then as the cabman started up his horse, she cried:" Adieu, Bel-Ami!" and the old coupe rumbled off.
For three weeks Duroy received Mme. de Marelle every two or three days, sometimes in the morning, sometimes in the evening.
As he was awaiting her one afternoon, a noise on the staircase drew him to his door. A child screamed. A man's angry voice cried: "What is the brat howling about?"
A woman's voice replied: "Nicolas has been tripped up on the landing-place by the journalist's sweetheart."
Duroy retreated, for he heard the rustling of skirts. Soon there was a knock at his door, which he opened, and Mme. de Marelle rushed in, crying: "Did you hear?" Georges feigned ignorance of the matter.
"How they insulted me?"
"Those miserable people below."
"Why, no; what is it? Tell me."
She sobbed and could not speak. He was forced to place her upon his bed and to lay a damp cloth upon her temples. When she grew calmer, anger succeeded her agitation. She wanted Duroy to go downstairs at once, to fight them, to kill them.
He replied: "They are working-people. Just think, it would be necessary to go to court where you would be recognized; one must not compromise oneself with such people."
She said: "What shall we do? I cannot come here again."
He replied: "That is very simple. I will move."
She murmured: "Yes, but that will take some time."
Suddenly she said: "Listen to me, I have found a means; do not worry about it. I will send you a 'little blue' to-morrow morning." She called a telegram a "little blue."
She smiled with delight at her plans, which she would not reveal. She was, however, very much affected as she descended the staircase and leaned with all her strength upon her lover's arm. They met no one.
He was still in bed the following morning when the promised telegram was handed him. Duroy opened it and read:
"Come at five o'clock to Rue de Constantinople, No. 127. Ask for the room rented by Mme. Duroy. CLO."
At five o'clock precisely he entered a large furnished house and asked the janitor: "Has Mme. Duroy hired a room here?"
"Will you show me to it, if you please?"
The man, accustomed no doubt to situations in which it was necessary to be prudent, looked him straight in the eyes; then selecting a key, he asked: "Are you M. Duroy?"
He opened a small suite, comprising two rooms on the ground floor.
Duroy thought uneasily: "This will cost a fortune. I shall have to run into debt. She has done a very foolish thing."
The door opened and Clotilde rushed in. She was enchanted. "Is it not fine? There are no stairs to climb; it is on the ground floor! One could come and go through the window without the porter seeing one."
He embraced her nervously, not daring to ask the question that hovered upon his lips. She had placed a large package on the stand in the center of the room. Opening it she took out a tablet of soap, a bottle of Lubin's extract, a sponge, a box of hairpins, a button- hook, and curling-tongs. Then she amused herself by finding places in which to put them.
She talked incessantly as she opened the drawers: "I must bring some linen in order to have a change. We shall each have a key, besides the one at the lodge, in case we should forget ours. I rented the apartments for three months--in your name, of course, for I could not give mine."
Then he asked: "Will you tell me when to pay?"
She replied simply: "It is paid, my dear."
He made a pretense of being angry: "I cannot permit that."
She laid her hand upon his shoulder and said in a supplicatory tone: "Georges, it will give me pleasure to have the nest mine. Say that you do not care, dear Georges," and he yielded. When she had left him, he murmured: "She is kind-hearted, anyway."
Several days later he received a telegram which read:
"My husband is coming home this evening. We shall therefore not meet for a week. What a bore, my dearest!"
Duroy was startled; he had not realized the fact that Mme. de Marelle was married. He impatiently awaited her husband's departure. One morning he received the following telegram:
When they met, she rushed into his arms, kissed him passionately, and asked: "After a while will you take me to dine?"
"Certainly, my darling, wherever you wish to go."
"I should like to go to some restaurant frequented by the working- classes."
They repaired to a wine merchant's where meals were also served. Clotilde's entrance caused a sensation on account of the elegance of her dress. They partook of a ragout of mutton and left that place to enter a ball-room in which she pressed more closely to his side. In fifteen minutes her curiosity was satisfied and he conducted her home. Then followed a series of visits to all sorts of places of amusement. Duroy soon began to tire of those expeditions, for he had exhausted all his resources and all means of obtaining money. In addition to that he owed Forestier a hundred francs, Jacques Rival three hundred, and he was hampered with innumerable petty debts ranging from twenty francs to one hundred sous.
On the fourteenth of December, he was left without a sou in his pocket. As he had often done before, he did not lunch, and spent the afternoon working at the office. At four o'clock he received a telegram from Mme. de Marelle, saying: "Shall we dine together and afterward have a frolic?"
He replied at once: "Impossible to dine," then he added: "But I will expect you at our apartments at nine o'clock." Having sent a boy with the note in order to save the money for a telegram, he tried to think of some way by which he could obtain his evening meal. He waited until all of his associates had gone and when he was alone, he rang for the porter, put his hand in his pocket and said: "Foucart, I have left my purse at home and I have to dine at the Luxembourg. Lend me fifty sous to pay for my cab."
The man handed him three francs and asked:
"Is that enough?"
"Yes, thank you." Taking the coins, Duroy rushed down the staircase and dined at a cookshop.
At nine o'clock, Mme. de Marelle, whom he awaited in the tiny salon, arrived. She wished to take a walk and he objected. His opposition irritated her.
"I shall go alone, then. Adieu!"
Seeing that the situation was becoming grave, he seized her hands and kissed them, saying:
"Pardon me, darling; I am nervous and out of sorts this evening. I have been annoyed by business matters."
Somewhat appeased but still, vexed, she replied:
"That does not concern me; I will not be the butt for your ill humor."
He clasped her in his arms and murmured his apologies. Still she persisted in her desire to go out.
"I beseech you, remain here by the fire with me. Say yes."
"No," she replied, "I will not yield to your caprices."
He insisted: "I have a reason, a serious reason--"
"If you will not go with me, I shall go alone. Adieu!"
She disengaged herself from his embrace and fled to the door. He followed her:
"Listen Clo, my little Clo, listen to me--"
She shook her head, evaded his caresses and tried to escape from his encircling arms.
"I have a reason--"
Looking him in the face, she said: "You lie! What is it?"
He colored, and in order to avoid a rupture, confessed in accents of despair: "I have no money!"
She would not believe him until he had turned all his pockets inside out, to prove his words. Then she fell upon his breast: "Oh, my poor darling! Had I known! How did it happen?"
He invented a touching story to this effect: That his father was in straitened circumstances, that he had given him not only his savings, but had run himself into debt.
"I shall have to starve for the next six months."
"Shall I lend you some?" she whispered.
He replied with dignity: "You are very kind, dearest; but do not mention that again; it wounds me."
She murmured: "You will never know how much I love you." On taking leave of him, she asked: "Shall we meet again the day after to- morrow?"
"At the same time?"
"Yes, my darling."
When Duroy opened his bedroom door and fumbled in his vest pocket for a match, he was amazed to find in it a piece of money--a twenty- franc piece! At first he wondered by what miracle it had got there; suddenly it occurred to him that Mme. de Marelle had given him alms! Angry and humiliated, he determined to return it when next they met. The next morning it was late when he awoke; he tried to overcome his hunger. He went out and as he passed the restaurants he could scarcely resist their temptations. At noon he said: "Bah, I shall lunch upon Clotilde's twenty francs; that will not hinder me from returning the money to-morrow."
He ate his lunch, for which he paid two francs fifty, and on entering the office of "La Vie Francaise" he repaid the porter the three francs he had borrowed from him. He worked until seven o'clock, then he dined, and he continued to draw upon the twenty francs until only four francs twenty remained. He decided to say to Mme. de Marelle upon her arrival:
"I found the twenty-franc piece you slipped into my pocket. I will not return the money to-day, but I will repay you when we next meet."
When Madame came, he dared not broach the delicate subject. They spent the evening together and appointed their next meeting for Wednesday of the following week, for Mme. de Marelle had a number of engagements. Duroy continued to accept money from Clotilde and quieted his conscience by assuring himself: "I will give it back in a lump. It is nothing but borrowed money anyway." So he kept account of all that he received in order to pay it back some day.
One evening, Mme. de Marelle said to him: "Would you believe that I have never been to the Folies-Bergeres; will you take me there?"
He hesitated, fearing a meeting with Rachel. Then he thought: "Bah, I am not married after all. If she should see me, she would take in the situation and not accost me. Moreover, we would have a box."
When they entered the hall, it was crowded; with difficulty they made their way to their seats. Mme. de Marelle did not look at the stage; she was interested in watching the women who were promenading, and she felt an irresistible desire to touch them, to see of what those beings were made. Suddenly she said:
"There is a large brunette who stares at us all the time. I think every minute she will speak to us. Have you seen her?"
He replied: "No, you are mistaken."
He told an untruth, for he had noticed the woman, who was no other than Rachel, with anger in her eyes and violent words upon her lips.
Duroy had passed her when he and Mme. de Marelle entered and she had said to him: "Good evening," in a low voice and with a wink which said "I understand." But he had not replied; for fear of being seen by his sweetheart he passed her coldly, disdainfully. The woman, her jealousy aroused, followed the couple and said in a louder key: "Good evening, Georges." He paid no heed to her. Then she was determined to be recognized and she remained near their box, awaiting a favorable moment. When she saw that she was observed by Mme. de Marelle, she touched Duroy's shoulder with the tip of her finger, and said:
"Good evening. How are you?"
But Georges did not turn his head.
She continued: "Have you grown deaf since Thursday?"
Still he did not reply. She laughed angrily and cried:
"Are you dumb, too? Perhaps Madame has your tongue?"
With a furious glance, Duroy then exclaimed:
"How dare you accost me? Go along or I will have you arrested."
With flaming eyes, she cried: "Ah, is that so! Because you are with another is no reason that you cannot recognize me. If you had made the least sign of recognition when you passed me, I would not have molested you. You did not even say good evening to me when you met me."
During that tirade Mme. de Marelle in affright opened the door of the box and fled through the crowd seeking an exit. Duroy rushed after her. Rachel, seeing him disappear, cried: "Stop her! she has stolen my lover!"
Two men seized the fugitive by the shoulder, but Duroy, who had caught up with her, bade them desist, and together he and Clotilde reached the street.
They entered a cab. The cabman asked: "Where shall I drive to?" Duroy replied: "Where you will!"
Clotilde sobbed hysterically. Duroy did not know what to say or do. At length he stammered:
"Listen Clo--my dearest Clo, let me explain. It is not my fault. I knew that woman--long ago--"
She raised her head and with the fury of a betrayed woman, she cried disconnectedly: "Ah, you miserable fellow--what a rascal you are! Is it possible? What disgrace, oh, my God! You gave her my money--did you not? I gave him the money--for that woman--oh, the wretch!"
For several moments she seemed to be vainly seeking an epithet more forcible. Suddenly leaning forward she grasped the cabman's sleeve. "Stop!" she cried, and opening the door, she alighted. Georges was about to follow her but she commanded: "I forbid you to follow me," in a voice so loud that the passers-by crowded around her, and Duroy dared not stir for fear of a scandal.
She drew out her purse, and taking two francs fifty from it, she handed it to the cabman, saying aloud: "Here is the money for your hour. Take that rascal to Rue Boursault at Batignolles!"
The crowd applauded; one man said: "Bravo, little one!" and the cab moved on, followed by the jeers of the bystanders.