Bel Ami, by Guy de Maupassant

Chapter 13

Madame De Marelle

Autumn had come. The Du Roys had spent the entire summer in Paris, leading a vigorous campaign in “La Vie Francaise,” in favor of the new cabinet. Although it was only the early part of October, the chamber was about to resume its sessions, for affairs in Morocco were becoming menacing. The celebrated speech made by Count de Lambert Sarrazin had furnished Du Roy with material for ten articles on the Algerian colony. “La Vie Francaise” had gained considerable prestige by its connection with the power; it was the first to give political news, and every newspaper in Paris and the provinces sought information from it. It was quoted, feared, and began to be respected: it was no longer the organ of a group of political intriguers, but the avowed mouthpiece of the cabinet. Laroche- Mathieu was the soul of the journal and Du Roy his speaking-trumpet. M. Walter retired discreetly into the background. Madeleine’s salon became an influential center in which several members of the cabinet met every week. The president of the council had even dined there twice; the minister of foreign affairs was quite at home at the Du Roys; he came at any hour, bringing dispatches or information, which he dictated either to the husband or wife as if they were his secretaries. After the minister had departed, when Du Roy was alone with Madeleine, he uttered threats and insinuations against the “parvenu,” as he called him. His wife simply shrugged her shoulders scornfully, repeating: “Become a minister and you can do the same; until then, be silent.”

His reply was: “No one knows of what I am capable; perhaps they will find out some day.”

She answered philosophically: “He who lives will see.”

The morning of the reopening of the Chamber, Du Roy lunched with Laroche-Mathieu in order to receive instructions from him, before the session, for a political article the following day in “La Vie Francaise,” which was to be a sort of official declaration of the plans of the cabinet. After listening to Laroche-Mathieu’s eloquence for some time with jealousy in his heart, Du Roy sauntered slowly toward the office to commence his work, for he had nothing to do until four o’clock, at which hour he was to meet Mme. de Marelle at Rue de Constantinople. They met there regularly twice a week, Mondays and Wednesdays.

On entering the office, he was handed a sealed dispatch; it was from Mme. Walter, and read thus:

“It is absolutely necessary that I should see you to-day. It is
important. Expect me at two o’clock at Rue de Constantinople. I
can render you a great service; your friend until death,”

“VIRGINIE.”

He exclaimed: “Heavens! what a bore!” and left the office at once, too much annoyed to work.

For six weeks he had ineffectually tried to break with Mme. Walter. At three successive meetings she had been a prey to remorse, and had overwhelmed her lover with reproaches. Angered by those scenes and already weary of the dramatic woman, he had simply avoided her, hoping that the affair would end in that way.

But she persecuted him with her affection, summoned him at all times by telegrams to meet her at street corners, in shops, or public gardens. She was very different from what he had fancied she would be, trying to attract him by actions ridiculous in one of her age. It disgusted him to hear her call him: “My rat — my dog — my treasure- -my jewel — my blue-bird”— and to see her assume a kind of childish modesty when he approached. It seemed to him that being the mother of a family, a woman of the world, she should have been more sedate, and have yielded With tears if she chose, but with the tears of a Dido and not of a Juliette. He never heard her call him “Little one” or “Baby,” without wishing to reply “Old woman,” to take his hat with an oath and leave the room.

At first they had often met at Rue de Constantinople, but Du Roy, who feared an encounter with Mme. de Marelle, invented a thousand and one pretexts in order to avoid that rendezvous. He was therefore obliged to either lunch or dine at her house daily, when she would clasp his hand under cover of the table or offer him her lips behind the doors. Above all, Georges enjoyed being thrown so much in contact with Suzanne; she made sport of everything and everybody with cutting appropriateness. At length, however, he began to feel an unconquerable repugnance to the love lavished upon him by the mother; he could no longer see her, hear her, nor think of her without anger. He ceased calling upon her, replying to her letters, and yielding to her appeals. She finally divined that he no longer loved her, and the discovery caused her unutterable anguish; but she watched him, followed him in a cab with drawn blinds to the office, to his house, in the hope of seeing him pass by. He would have liked to strangle her, but he controlled himself on account of his position on “La Vie Francaise” and he endeavored by means of coldness, and even at times harsh words, to make her comprehend that all was at an end between them.

Then, too, she persisted in devising ruses for summoning him to Rue de Constantinople, and he was in constant fear that the two women would some day meet face to face at the door.

On the other hand, his affection for Mme. de Marelle had increased during the summer. They were both Bohemians by nature; they took excursions together to Argenteuil, Bougival, Maisons, and Poissy, and when he was forced to return and dine at Mme. Walter’s, he detested his mature mistress more thoroughly, as he recalled the youthful one he had just left. He was congratulating himself upon having freed himself almost entirely from the former’s clutches, when he received the telegram above mentioned.

He re-read it as he walked along. He thought: “What does that old owl want with me? I am certain she has nothing to tell me except that she adores me. However, I will see, perhaps there is some truth in it. Clotilde is coming at four, I must get rid of the other one at three or soon after, provided they do not meet. What jades women are!”

As he uttered those words he was reminded of his wife, who was the only one who did not torment him; she lived by his side and seemed to love him very much at the proper time, for she never permitted anything to interfere with her ordinary occupations of life. He strolled toward the appointed place of meeting, mentally cursing Mme. Walter.

“Ah, I will receive her in such a manner that she will not tell me anything. First of all, I will give her to understand that I shall never cross her threshold again.”

He entered to await her. She soon arrived and, seeing him, exclaimed: “Ah, you received my dispatch! How fortunate!”

“Yes, I received it at the office just as I was setting out for the Chamber. What do you want?” he asked ungraciously.

She had raised her veil in order to kiss him, and approached him timidly and humbly with the air of a beaten dog.

“How unkind you are to me; how harshly you speak! What have I done to you? You do not know what I have suffered for you!”

He muttered: “Are you going to begin that again?”

She stood near him awaiting a smile, a word of encouragement, to cast herself into his arms, and whispered: “You need not have won me to treat me thus; you might have left me virtuous and happy. Do you remember what you said to me in the church and how you forced me to enter this house? And now this is the way you speak to me, receive me! My God, my God, how you maltreat me!”

He stamped his foot and said violently: “Enough, be silent! I can never see you a moment without hearing that refrain. You were mature when you gave yourself to me. I am much obliged to you; I am infinitely grateful, but I need not be tied to your apron-strings until I die! You have a husband and I a wife. Neither of us is free; it was all a caprice, and now it is at an end!”

She said: “How brutal you are, how coarse and villainous! No, I was no longer a young girl, but I had never loved, never wavered in my dignity.”

He interrupted her: “I know it, you have told me that twenty times; but you have had two children.”

She drew back as if she had been struck: “Oh, Georges!” And pressing her hands to her heart, she burst into tears.

When she began to weep, he took his hat: “Ah, you are crying again! Good evening! Is it for this that you sent for me?”

She took a step forward in order to bar the way, and drawing a handkerchief from her pocket she wiped her eyes. Her voice grew steadier: “No, I came to — to give you — political news — to give you the means of earning fifty thousand francs — or even more if you wish to.”

Suddenly softened he asked: “How?”

“By chance last evening I heard a conversation between my husband and Laroche. Walter advised the minister not to let you into the secret for you would expose it.”

Du Roy placed his hat upon a chair and listened attentively.

“They are going to take possession of Morocco!”

“Why, I lunched with Laroche this morning, and he told me the cabinet’s plans!”

“No, my dear, they have deceived you, because they feared their secret would be made known.”

“Sit down,” said Georges.

He sank into an armchair, while she drew up a stool and took her seat at his feet. She continued:

“As I think of you continually, I pay attention to what is talked of around me,” and she proceeded to tell him what she had heard relative to the expedition to Tangiers which had been decided upon the day that Laroche assumed his office; she told him how they had little by little bought up, through agents who aroused no suspicions, the Moroccan loan, which had fallen to sixty-four or sixty-five francs; how when the expedition was entered upon the French government would guarantee the debt, and their friends would make fifty or sixty millions.

He cried: “Are you sure of that?”

She replied: “Yes, I am sure.”

He continued: “That is indeed fine! As for that rascal of a Laroche, let him beware! I will get his ministerial carcass between my fingers yet!”

Then, after a moment’s reflection, he muttered: “One might profit by that!”

“You too can buy some stock,” said she; “it is only seventy-two francs.”

He replied: “But I have no ready money.”

She raised her eyes to his — eyes full of supplication.

“I have thought of that, my darling, and if you love me a little, you will let me lend it to you.”

He replied abruptly, almost harshly: “No, indeed.”

She whispered imploringly: “Listen, there is something you can do without borrowing money. I intended buying ten thousand francs’ worth of the stock; instead, I will take twenty thousand and you can have half. There will be nothing to pay at once. If it succeeds, we will make seventy thousand francs; if not, you will owe me ten thousand which you can repay at your pleasure.”

He said again: “No, I do not like those combinations.”

She tried to persuade him by telling him that she advanced nothing — that the payments were made by Walter’s bank. She pointed out to him that he had led the political campaign in “La Vie Francaise,” and that he would be very simple not to profit by the results he had helped to bring about. As he still hesitated, she added: “It is in reality Walter who will advance the money, and you have done enough for him to offset that sum.”

“Very well,” said he, “I will do it. If we lose I will pay you back ten thousand francs.”

She was so delighted that she rose, took his head between her hands, and kissed him. At first he did not repulse her, but when she grew more lavish with her caresses, he said:

“Come, that will do.”

She gazed at him sadly. “Oh, Georges, I can no longer even embrace you.”

“No, not to-day. I have a headache.”

She reseated herself with docility at his feet and asked:

“Will you dine with us to-morrow? It would give me such pleasure,”

He hesitated at first, but dared not refuse.

“Yes, certainly.”

“Thank you, dearest.” She rubbed her cheek against the young man’s vest; as she did so, one of her long black hairs caught on a button; she twisted it tightly around, then she twisted another around another button and so on. When he rose, he would tear them out of her head, and would carry away with him unwittingly a lock of her hair. It would be an invisible bond between them. Involuntarily he would think, would dream of her; he would love her a little more the next day.

Suddenly he said: “I must leave you, for I am expected at the Chamber for the close of the session. I cannot be absent to-day.”

She sighed: “Already!” Then adding resignedly: “Go, my darling, but you will come to dinner tomorrow”; she rose abruptly. For a moment she felt a sharp, stinging pain, as if needles had been stuck into her head, but she was glad to have suffered for him.

“Adieu,” said she.

He took her in his arms and kissed her eyes coldly; then she offered him her lips which he brushed lightly as he said: “Come, come, let us hurry; it is after three o’clock.”

She passed out before him saying: “To-morrow at seven”; he repeated her words and they separated.

Du Roy returned at four o’clock to await his mistress. She was somewhat late because her husband had come home for a week. She asked:

“Can you come to dinner to-morrow? He will be delighted to see you.”

“No; I dine at the Walters. We have a great many political and financial matters to talk over.”

She took off her hat. He pointed to a bag on the mantelpiece: “I bought you some sweetmeats.”

She clapped her hands. “What a darling you are!” She took them, tasted one, and said: “They are delicious. I shall not leave one. Come, sit down in the armchair, I will sit at your feet and eat my bonbons.”

He smiled as he saw her take the seat a short while since occupied by Mme. Walter. She too, called him “darling, little one, dearest,” and the words seemed to him sweet and caressing from her lips, while from Mme. Walter’s they irritated and nauseated him.

Suddenly he remembered the seventy thousand francs he was going to make, and bluntly interrupting Mme. de Marelle’s chatter, he said:

“Listen, my darling; I am going to intrust you with a message to your husband. Tell him from me to buy to-morrow ten thousand francs’ worth of Moroccan stock which is at seventy-two, and I predict that before three months are passed he will have made eighty thousand francs. Tell him to maintain absolute silence. Tell him that the expedition to Tangiers, is decided upon, and that the French government will guarantee the Moroccan debt. It is a state secret I am confiding to you, remember!”

She listened to him gravely and murmured:

“Thank you. I will tell my husband this evening. You may rely upon him; he will not speak of it; he can be depended upon; there is no danger.”

She had eaten all of her bonbons and began to toy with the buttons on his vest. Suddenly she drew a long hair out of the buttonhole and began to laugh.

“See! Here is one of Madeleine’s hairs; you are a faithful husband!” Then growing serious, she examined the scarcely perceptible thread more closely and said: “It is not Madeleine’s, it is dark.”

He smiled. “It probably belongs to the housemaid.”

But she glanced at the vest with the care of a police-inspector and found a second hair twisted around a second button; then she saw a third; and turning pale and trembling somewhat, she exclaimed: “Oh, some woman has left hairs around all your buttons.”

In surprise, he stammered: “Why you — you are mad.”

She continued to unwind the hairs and cast them upon the floor. With her woman’s instinct she had divined their meaning and gasped in her anger, ready to cry:

“She loves you and she wished you to carry away with you something of hers. Oh, you are a traitor.” She uttered a shrill, nervous cry: “Oh, it is an old woman’s hair — here is a white one — you have taken a fancy to an old woman now. Then you do not need me — keep the other one.” She rose.

He attempted to detain her and stammered: “No — Clo — you are absurd — I do not know whose it is — listen — stay — see — stay —”

But she repeated: “Keep your old woman — keep her — have a chain made of her hair — of her gray hair — there is enough for that —”

Hastily she donned her hat and veil, and when he attempted to touch her she struck him in the face, and made her escape while he was stunned by the blow. When he found that he was alone, he cursed Mme. Walter, bathed his face, and went out vowing vengeance. That time he would not pardon. No, indeed.

He strolled to the boulevard and stopped at a jeweler’s to look at a chronometer he had wanted for some time and which would cost eighteen hundred francs. He thought with joy: “If I make my seventy thousand francs, I can pay for it”— and he began to dream of all the things he would do when he got the money. First of all he would become a deputy; then he would buy the chronometer; then he would speculate on ‘Change, and then, and then — he did not enter the office, preferring to confer with Madeleine before seeing Walter again and writing his article; he turned toward home. He reached Rue Drouot when he paused; he had forgotten to inquire for Count de Vaudrec, who lived on Chaussee d’Antin. He retraced his steps with a light heart, thinking of a thousand things — of the fortune he would make — of that rascal of a Laroche, and of old Walter.

He was not at all uneasy as to Clotilde’s anger, knowing that she would soon forgive him.

When he asked the janitor of the house in which Count de Vaudrec lived: “How is M. de Vaudrec? I have heard that he has been ailing of late,” the man replied; “The Count is very ill, sir; they think he will not live through the night; the gout has reached his heart.”

Du Roy was so startled he did not know what to do! Vaudrec dying! He stammered: “Thanks — I will call again”— unconscious of what he was saying. He jumped into a cab and drove home. His wife had returned. He entered her room out of breath: “Did you know? Vaudrec is dying!”

She was reading a letter and turning to him asked: “What did you say?”

“I said that Vaudrec is dying of an attack of gout.”

Then he added: “What shall you do?”

She rose; her face was livid; she burst into tears and buried her face in her hands. She remained standing, shaken by sobs, torn by anguish. Suddenly she conquered her grief and wiping her eyes, said: “I am going to him — do not worry about me — I do not know what time I shall return — do not expect me.”

He replied: “Very well. Go.”

They shook hands and she left in such haste that she forgot her gloves. Georges, after dining alone, began to write his article. He wrote it according to the minister’s instructions, hinting to the readers that the expedition to Morocco would not take place. He took it, when completed, to the office, conversed several moments with M. Walter, and set out again, smoking, with a light heart, he knew not why.

His wife had not returned. He retired and fell asleep. Toward midnight Madeleine came home. Georges sat up in bed and asked: “Well?”

He had never seen her so pale and agitated. She whispered: “He is dead!”

“Ah — and — he told you nothing?”

“Nothing. He was unconscious when I arrived.”

Questions which he dared not ask arose to Georges’ lips.

“Lie down and rest,” said he.

She disrobed hastily and slipped into bed.

He continued: “Had he any relatives at his death-bed?”

“Only a nephew.”

“Ah! Did he often see that nephew?”

“They had not met for ten years.”

“Had he other relatives?”

“No, I believe not.”

“Will that nephew be his heir?”

“I do not know.”

“Was Vaudrec very rich?”

“Yes, very.”

“Do you know what he was worth?”

“No, not exactly — one or two millions perhaps.”

He said no more. She extinguished the light. He could not sleep. He looked upon Mme. Walter’s promised seventy thousand francs as very insignificant. Suddenly he thought he heard Madeleine crying. In order to insure himself he asked: “Are you asleep?”

“No.” Her voice was tearful and unsteady.

He continued: “I forgot to tell you that your minister has deceived us.”

“How?”

He gave her a detailed account of the combination prepared by Laroche and Walter. When he concluded she asked: “How did you know that?”

He replied: “Pardon me if I do not tell you! You have your means of obtaining information into which I do not inquire; I have mine which I desire to keep. I can vouch at any rate for the truth of my statements.”

She muttered: “It may be possible. I suspected that they were doing something without our knowledge.”

As she spoke Georges drew near her; she paid no heed to his proximity, however, and turning toward the wall, he closed his eyes and fell asleep.

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Last updated Friday, March 7, 2014 at 23:09