Chapter 6. A STEP UPWARD
The next morning Georges Duroy arose, dressed himself, and determined to have money; he sought Forestier. His friend received him in his study.
"What made you rise so early?" he asked.
"A very serious matter. I have a debt of honor."
"A gaming debt?"
He hesitated, then repeated: "A gaming debt."
"Is it large?"
"Five hundred francs." He only needed two hundred and eighty.
Forestier asked sceptically: "To whom do you owe that amount?"
Duroy did not reply at once. "To--to--a--M. de Carleville."
"Ah, where does he live?"
Forestier laughed. "I know the gentleman! If you want twenty francs you can have them, but no more."
Duroy took the gold-piece, called upon more friends, and by five o'clock had collected eighty francs. As he required two hundred more, he kept what he had begged and muttered: "I shall not worry about it. I will pay it when I can."
For two weeks he lived economically, but at the end of that time, the good resolutions he had formed vanished, and one evening he returned to the Folies Bergeres in search of Rachel; but the woman was implacable and heaped coarse insults upon him, until he felt his cheeks tingle and he left the hall.
Forestier, out of health and feeble, made Duroy's existence at the office insupportable. The latter did not reply to his rude remarks, but determined to be avenged. He called upon Mme. Forestier. He found her reclining upon a couch, reading. She held out her hand without rising and said: "Good morning, Bel-Ami!"
"Why do you call me by that name?"
She replied with a smile: "I saw Mme. de Marelle last week and I know what they have christened you at her house."
He took a seat near his hostess and glanced at her curiously; she was a charming blonde, fair and plump, made for caresses, and he thought: "She is certainly nicer than the other one." He did not doubt that he would only have to extend his hand in order to gather the fruit. As he gazed upon her she chided him for his neglect of her.
He replied: "I did not come because it was for the best--"
"Why? Can you not guess?"
"Because I loved you; a little, only a little, and I did not wish to love you any more."
She did not seem surprised, nor flattered; she smiled indifferently and replied calmly: "Oh, you can come just the same; no one loves me long."
"Because it is useless, and I tell them so at once. If you had confessed your fears to me sooner, I would have reassured you. My dear friend, a man in love is not only foolish but dangerous. I cease all intercourse with people who love me or pretend to; firstly, because they bore me, and secondly, because I look upon them with dread, as I would upon a mad dog. I know that your love is only a kind of appetite; while with me it would be a communion of souls. Now, look me in the face--" she no longer smiled. "I will never be your sweetheart; it is therefore useless for you to persist in your efforts. And now that I have explained, shall we be friends?"
He knew that that sentence was irrevocable, and delighted to be able to form such an alliance as she proposed, he extended both hands, saying:
"I am yours, Madame, to do with as you will"
He kissed her hands and raising his head said: "If I had found a woman like you, how gladly would I have married her."
She was touched by those words, and in a soft voice, placing her hand upon his arm, she said: "I am going to begin my offices at once. You are not diplomatic--" she hesitated. "May I speak freely?"
"Call upon Mme. Walter who has taken a fancy to you. But be guarded as to your compliments, for she is virtuous. You will make a better impression there by being careful in your remarks. I know that your position at the office is unsatisfactory, but do not worry; all their employees are treated alike."
He said: "Thanks; you are an angel--a guardian angel."
As he took his leave, he asked again: "Are we friends--is it settled?"
Having observed the effect of his last compliment, he said: "If you ever become a widow, I have put in my application!" Then he left the room hastily in order not to allow her time to be angry.
Duroy did not like to call on Mme. Walter, for he had never been invited, and he did not wish to commit a breach of etiquette. The manager had been kind to him, appreciated his services, employed him to do difficult work, why should he not profit by that show of favor to call at his house? One day, therefore, he repaired to the market and bought twenty-five pears. Having carefully arranged them in a basket to make them appear as if they came from a distance he took them to Mme. Walter's door with his card on which was inscribed:
"Georges Duroy begs Mme. Walter to accept the fruit which he received this morning from Normandy."
The following day he found in his letter-box at the office an envelope containing Mme, Walter's card on which was written:
"Mme. Walter thanks M. Georges Duroy very much, and is at home on Saturdays."
The next Saturday he called. M. Walter lived on Boulevard Malesherbes in a double house which he owned. The reception-rooms were on the first floor. In the antechamber were two footmen; one took Duroy's overcoat, the other his cane, put it aside, opened a door and announced the visitor's name. In the large mirror in the apartment Duroy could see the reflection of people seated in another room. He passed through two drawing-rooms and entered a small boudoir in which four ladies were gathered around a tea-table. Notwithstanding the assurance he had gained during his life in Paris, and especially since he had been thrown in contact with so many noted personages, Duroy felt abashed. He stammered:
"Madame, I took the liberty."
The mistress of the house extended her hand and said to him: "You are very kind, M. Duroy, to come to see me." She pointed to a chair. The ladies chatted on. Visitors came and went. Mme. Walter noticed that Duroy said nothing, that no one addressed him, that he seemed disconcerted, and she drew him into the conversation which dealt with the admission of a certain M. Linet to the Academy. When Duroy had taken his leave, one of the ladies said: "How odd he is! Who is he?"
Mme. Walter replied: "One of our reporters; he only occupies a minor position, but I think he will advance rapidly."
In the meantime, while he was being discussed, Duroy walked gaily down Boulevard Malesherbes.
The following week he was appointed editor of the "Echoes," and invited to dine at Mme. Walter's. The "Echoes" were, M. Walter said, the very pith of the paper. Everything and everybody should be remembered, all countries, all professions, Paris and the provinces, the army, the arts, the clergy, the schools, the rulers, and the courtiers. The man at the head of that department should be wide awake, always on his guard, quick to judge of what was best to be said and best to be omitted, to divine what would please the public and to present it well. Duroy was just the man for the place.
He was enjoying the fact of his promotion, when he received an engraved card which read:
"M. and Mme. Walter request the pleasure of M. Georges Duroy's company at dinner on Thursday, January 20."
He was so delighted that he kissed the invitation as if it had been a love-letter.
Then he sought the cashier to settle the important question of his salary. At first twelve hundred francs were allowed Duroy, who intended to save a large share of the money. He was busy two days getting settled in his new position, in a large room, one end of which he occupied, and the other end of which was allotted to Boisrenard, who worked with him.
The day of the dinner-party he left the office in good season, in order to have time to dress, and was walking along Rue de Londres when he saw before him a form which resembled Mme. de Marelle's. He felt his cheeks glow and his heart throb. He crossed the street in order to see the lady's face; he was mistaken, and breathed more freely. He had often wondered what he should do if he met Clotilde face to face. Should he bow to her or pretend not to see her? "I should not see her," thought he.
When Duroy entered his rooms he thought: "I must change my apartments; these will not do any longer." He felt both nervous and gay, and said aloud to himself: "I must write to my father." Occasionally he wrote home, and his letters always delighted his old parents. As he tied his cravat at the mirror he repeated: "I must write home to-morrow. If my father could see me this evening in the house to which I am going, he would be surprised. Sacristi, I shall soon give a dinner which has never been equaled!"
Then he recalled his old home, the faces of his father and mother. He saw them seated at their homely board, eating their soup. He remembered every wrinkle on their old faces, every movement of their hands and heads; he even knew what they said to each other every evening as they supped. He thought: "I will go to see them some day." His toilette completed, he extinguished his light and descended the stairs.
On reaching his destination, he boldly entered the antechamber, lighted by bronze lamps, and gave his cane and his overcoat to the two lackeys who approached him. All the salons were lighted. Mme. Walter received in the second, the largest. She greeted Duroy with a charming smile, and he shook hands with two men who arrived after him, M. Firmin and M. Laroche-Mathieu; the latter had especial authority at the office on account of his influence in the chamber of deputies.
Then the Forestiers arrived, Madeleine looking charming in pink. Charles had become very much emaciated and coughed incessantly.
Norbert de Varenne and Jacques Rival came together. A door opened at the end of the room, and M. Walter entered with two tall young girls of sixteen and seventeen; one plain, the other pretty. Duroy knew that the manager was a paterfamilias, but he was astonished. He had thought of the manager's daughters as one thinks of a distant country one will never see. Then, too, he had fancied them children, and he saw women. They shook hands upon being introduced and seated themselves at a table set apart for them. One of the guests had not arrived, and that embarrassing silence which precedes dinners in general reigned supreme.
Duroy happening to glance at the walls, M. Walter said: "You are looking at my pictures? I will show them all to you." And he took a lamp that they might distinguish all the details. There were landscapes by Guillemet; "A Visit to the Hospital," by Gervex; "A Widow," by Bouguereau; "An Execution," by Jean Paul Laurens, and many others.
Duroy exclaimed: "Charming, charming, char--" but stopped short on hearing behind him the voice of Mme. de Marelle who had just entered. M. Walter continued to exhibit and explain his pictures; but Duroy saw nothing--heard without comprehending. Mme. de Marelle was there, behind him. What should he do? If he greeted her, might she not turn her back upon him or utter some insulting remark? If he did not approach her, what would people think? He was so ill at ease that at one time he thought he should feign indisposition and return home.
The pictures had all been exhibited. M. Walter placed the lamp on the table and greeted the last arrival, while Duroy recommenced alone an examination of the canvas, as if he could not tear himself away. What should he do? He heard their voices and their conversation. Mme. Forestier called him; he hastened toward her. It was to introduce him to a friend who was on the point of giving a fete, and who wanted a description of it in "La Vie Francaise."
He stammered: "Certainly, Madame, certainly."
Madame de Marelle was very near him; he dared not turn to go away. Suddenly to his amazement, she exclaimed: "Good evening, Bel-Ami; do you not remember me?"
He turned upon his heel hastily; she stood before him smiling, her eyes overflowing with roguishness and affection. She offered him her hand; he took it doubtfully, fearing some perfidy. She continued calmly: "What has become of you? One never sees you!"
Not having regained his self-possession, he murmured: "I have had a great deal to do, Madame, a great deal to do. M. Walter has given me another position and the duties are very arduous."
"I know, but that is no excuse for forgetting your friends."
Their conversation was interrupted by the entrance of a large woman, decollette, with red arms, red cheeks, and attired in gay colors. As she was received with effusion, Duroy asked Mme. Forestier: "Who is that person?"
"Viscountess de Percemur, whose nom de plume is 'Patte Blanche.'"
He was surprised and with difficulty restrained a burst of laughter.
"Patte Blanche? I fancied her a young woman like you. Is that Patte Blanche? Ah, she is handsome, very handsome!"
A servant appeared at the door and announced: "Madame is served."
Duroy was placed between the manager's plain daughter, Mlle. Rose, and Mme. de Marelle. The proximity of the latter embarrassed him somewhat, although she appeared at ease and conversed with her usual spirit. Gradually, however, his assurance returned, and before the meal was over, he knew that their relations would be renewed. Wishing, too, to be polite to his employer's daughter, he addressed her from time to time. She responded as her mother would have done, without any hesitation as to what she should say. At M. Walter's right sat Viscountess de Percemur, and Duroy, looking at her with a smile, asked Mme. de Marelle in a low voice: "Do you know the one who signs herself 'Domino Rose'?"
"Yes, perfectly; Baroness de Livar."
"Is she like the Countess?"
"No. But she is just as comical. She is sixty years old, has false curls and teeth, wit of the time of the Restoration, and toilettes of the same period."
When the guests returned to the drawing-room, Duroy asked Mme. de Marelle: "May I escort you home?"
"Because M. Laroche-Mathieu, who is my neighbor, leaves me at my door every time that I dine here."
"When shall I see you again?"
"Lunch with me to-morrow."
They parted without another word. Duroy did not remain late; as he descended the staircase, he met Norbert de Varenne, who was likewise going away. The old poet took his arm; fearing no rivalry on the newspaper, their work being essentially different, he was very friendly to the young man.
"Shall we walk along together?"
"I shall be pleased to," replied Duroy.
The streets were almost deserted that night. At first the two men did not speak. Then Duroy, in order to make some remark, said: "That M. Laroche-Mathieu looks very intelligent."
The old poet murmured: "Do you think so?"
The younger man hesitated in surprise: "Why, yes! Is he not considered one of the most capable men in the Chamber?"
"That may be. In a kingdom of blind men the blind are kings. All those people are divided between money and politics; they are pedants to whom it is impossible to speak of anything that is familiar to us. Ah, it is difficult to find a man who is liberal in his ideas! I have known several, they are dead. Still, what difference does a little more or a little less genius make, since all must come to an end?" He paused, and Duroy said with a smile:
"You are gloomy to-night, sir!"
The poet replied: "I always am, my child; you will be too in a few years. While one is climbing the ladder, one sees the top and feels hopeful; but when one has reached that summit, one sees the descent and the end which is death. It is slow work ascending, but one descends rapidly. At your age one is joyous; one hopes for many things which never come to pass. At mine, one expects nothing but death."
Duroy laughed: "Egad, you make me shudder."
Norbert de Varenne continued: "You do not understand me now, but later on you will remember what I have told you. We breathe, sleep, drink, eat, work, and then die! The end of life is death. What do you long for? Love? A few kisses and you will be powerless. Money? What for? To gratify your desires. Glory? What comes after it all? Death! Death alone is certain."
He stopped, took Duroy by his coat collar and said slowly: "Ponder upon all that, young man; think it over for days, months, and years, and you will see life from a different standpoint. I am a lonely, old man. I have neither father, mother, brother, sister, wife, children, nor God. I have only poetry. Marry, my friend; you do not know what it is to live alone at my age. It is so lonesome. I seem to have no one upon earth. When one is old it is a comfort to have children."
When they reached Rue de Bourgogne, the poet halted before a high house, rang the bell, pressed Duroy's hand and said: "Forget what I have said to you, young man, and live according to your age. Adieu!" With those words he disappeared in the dark corridor.
Duroy felt somewhat depressed on leaving Varenne, but on his way a perfumed damsel passed by him and recalled to his mind his reconciliation with Mme. de Marelle. How delightful was the realization of one's hopes!
The next morning he arrived at his lady-love's door somewhat early; she welcomed him as if there had been no rupture, and said as she kissed him:
"You do not know how annoyed I am, my beloved; I anticipated a delightful honeymoon and now my husband has come home for six weeks. But I could not let so long a time go by without seeing you, especially after our little disagreement, and this is how I have arranged matters: Come to dinner Monday. I will introduce you to M. de Marelle, I have already spoken of you to him."
Duroy hesitated in perplexity; he feared he might betray something by a word, a glance. He stammered:
"No, I would rather not meet your husband."
"Why not? How absurd! Such things happen every day. I did not think you so foolish."
"Very well, I will come to dinner Monday."
"To make it more pleasant, I will have the Forestiers, though I do not like to receive company at home."
On Monday as he ascended Mme. de Marelle's staircase, he felt strangely troubled; not that he disliked to take her husband's hand, drink his wine, and eat his bread, but he dreaded something, he knew not what. He was ushered into the salon and he waited as usual. Then the door opened, and a tall man with a white beard, grave and precise, advanced toward him and said courteously:
"My wife has often spoken of you, sir; I am charmed to make your acquaintance."
Duroy tried to appear cordial and shook his host's proffered hand with exaggerated energy. M. de Marelle put a log upon the fire and asked:
"Have you been engaged in journalism a long time?"
Duroy replied: "Only a few months." His embarrassment wearing off, he began to consider the situation very amusing. He gazed at M. de Marelle, serious and dignified, and felt a desire to laugh aloud. At that moment Mme. de Marelle entered and approached Duroy, who in the presence of her husband dared not kiss her hand. Laurine entered next, and offered her brow to Georges. Her mother said to her:
"You do not call M. Duroy Bel-Ami to-day."
The child blushed as if it were a gross indiscretion to reveal her secret.
When the Forestiers arrived, Duroy was startled at Charles's appearance. He had grown thinner and paler in a week and coughed incessantly; he said they would leave for Cannes on the following Thursday at the doctor's orders. They did not stay late; after they had left, Duroy said, with a shake of his head:
"He will not live long."
Mme. de Marelle replied calmly: "No, he is doomed! He was a lucky man to obtain such a wife."
Duroy asked: "Does she help him very much?"
"She does all the work; she is well posted on every subject, and she always gains her point, as she wants it, and when she wants it! Oh, she is as maneuvering as anyone! She is a treasure to a man who wishes to succeed."
Georges replied: "She will marry very soon again, I have no doubt."
"Yes! I should not even be surprised if she had some one in view--a deputy! but I do not know anything about it."
M. de Marelle said impatiently: "You infer so many things that I do not like! We should never interfere in the affairs of others. Everyone should make that a rule."
Duroy took his leave with a heavy heart. The next day he called on the Forestiers, and found them in the midst of packing. Charles lay upon a sofa and repeated: "I should have gone a month ago." Then he proceeded to give Duroy innumerable orders, although everything had been arranged with M. Walter. When Georges left him, he pressed his comrade's hand and said:
"Well, old fellow, we shall soon meet again."
Mme. Forestier accompanied him to the door and he reminded her of their compact. "We are friends and allies, are we not? If you should require my services in any way, do not hesitate to call upon me. Send me a dispatch or a letter and I will obey."
She murmured: "Thank you, I shall not forget."
As Duroy descended the staircase, he met M. de Vaudrec ascending. The Count seemed sad--perhaps at the approaching departure.
The journalist bowed, the Count returned his salutation courteously but somewhat haughtily.
On Thursday evening the Forestiers left town.