Bel Ami, by Guy de Maupassant

Chapter 3

First Attempts

When Georges Duroy reached the street, he hesitated as to what he should do. He felt inclined to stroll along, dreaming of the future and inhaling the soft night air; but the thought of the series of articles ordered by M. Walter occurred to him, and he decided to return home at once and begin work. He walked rapidly along until he came to Rue Boursault. The tenement in which he lived was occupied by twenty families — families of workingmen — and as he mounted the staircase he experienced a sensation of disgust and a desire to live as wealthy men do. Duroy’s room was on the fifth floor. He entered it, opened his window, and looked out: the view was anything but prepossessing.

He turned away, thinking: “This won’t do. I must go to work.” So he placed his light upon the table and began to write. He dipped his pen into the ink and wrote at the head of his paper in a bold hand: “Souvenirs of a Soldier in Africa.” Then he cast about for the first phrase. He rested his head upon his hand and stared at the blank sheet before him. What should he say? Suddenly he thought: “I must begin with my departure,” and he wrote: “In 1874, about the fifteenth of May, when exhausted France was recruiting after the catastrophe of the terrible years —” Here he stopped short, not knowing how to introduce his subject. After a few minutes’ reflection, he decided to lay aside that page until the following day, and to write a description of Algiers. He began: “Algiers is a very clean city —” but he could not continue. After an effort he added: “It is inhabited partly by Arabs.” Then he threw his pen upon the table and arose. He glanced around his miserable room; mentally he rebelled against his poverty and resolved to leave the next day.

Suddenly the desire to work came on him, and he tried to begin the article again; he had vague ideas of what he wanted to say, but he could not express his thoughts in words. Convinced of his inability he arose once more, his blood coursing rapidly through his veins. He turned to the window just as the train was coming out of the tunnel, and his thoughts reverted to his parents. He saw their tiny home on the heights overlooking Rouen and the valley of the Seine. His father and mother kept an inn, La Belle-Vue, at which the citizens of the faubourgs took their lunches on Sundays. They had wished to make a “gentleman” of their son and had sent him to college. His studies completed, he had entered the army with the intention of becoming an officer, a colonel, or a general. But becoming disgusted with military life, he determined to try his fortune in Paris. When his time of service had expired, he went thither, with what results we have seen. He awoke from his reflections as the locomotive whistled shrilly, closed his window, and began to disrobe, muttering: “Bah, I shall be able to work better to-morrow morning. My brain is not clear to-night. I have drunk a little too much. I can’t work well under such circumstances.” He extinguished his light and fell asleep.

He awoke early, and, rising, opened his window to inhale the fresh air. In a few moments he seated himself at his table, dipped his pen in the ink, rested his head upon his hand and thought — but in vain! However, he was not discouraged, but in thought reassured himself: “Bah, I am not accustomed to it! It is a profession that must be learned like all professions. Some one must help me the first time. I’ll go to Forestier. He’ll start my article for me in ten minutes.”

When he reached the street, Duroy decided that it was rather early to present himself at his friend’s house, so he strolled along under the trees on one of the boulevards for a time. On arriving at Forestier’s door, he found his friend going out.

“You here — at this hour! Can I do anything for you?”

Duroy stammered in confusion: “I— I— cannot write that article on Algeria that M. Walter wants. It is not very surprising, seeing that I have never written anything. It requires practice. I could write very rapidly, I am sure, if I could make a beginning. I have the ideas but I cannot express them.” He paused and hesitated.

Forestier smiled maliciously: “I understand that.”

Duroy continued: “Yes, anyone is liable to have that trouble at the beginning; and, well — I have come to ask you to help me. In ten minutes you can set me right. You can give me a lesson in style; without you I can do nothing.”

The other smiled gaily. He patted his companion’s arm and said to him: “Go to my wife; she will help you better than I can. I have trained her for that work. I have not time this morning or I would do it willingly.”

But Duroy hesitated: “At this hour I cannot inquire for her.”

“Oh, yes, you can; she has risen. You will find her in my study.”

“I will go, but I shall tell her you sent me!”

Forestier walked away, and Duroy slowly ascended the stairs, wondering what he should say and what kind of a reception he would receive.

The servant who opened the door said: “Monsieur has gone out.”

Duroy replied: “Ask Mme. Forestier if she will see me, and tell her that M. Forestier, whom I met on the street, sent me.”

The lackey soon returned and ushered Duroy into Madame’s presence. She was seated at a table and extended her hand to him.

“So soon?” said she. It was not a reproach, but a simple question.

He stammered: “I did not want to come up, Madame, but your husband, whom I met below, insisted — I dare scarcely tell you my errand — I worked late last night and early this morning, to write the article on Algeria which M. Walter wants — and I did not succeed — I destroyed all my attempts — I am not accustomed to the work — and I came to ask Forestier to assist me — his once.”

She interrupted with a laugh: “And he sent you to me?”

“Yes, Madame. He said you could help me better than he — but — I dared not — I did not like to.”

She rose.

“It will be delightful to work together that way. I am charmed with your idea. Wait, take my chair, for they know my handwriting on the paper — we will write a successful article.”

She took a cigarette from the mantelpiece and lighted it. “I cannot work without smoking,” she said; “what are you going to say?”

He looked at her in astonishment. “I do not know; I came here to find that out.”

She replied: “I will manage it all right. I will make the sauce but I must have the dish.” She questioned him in detail and finally said:

“Now, we will begin. First of all we will suppose that you are addressing a friend, which will allow us scope for remarks of all kinds. Begin this way: ‘My dear Henry, you wish to know something about Algeria; you shall.’”

Then followed a brilliantly worded description of Algeria and of the port of Algiers, an excursion to the province of Oran, a visit to Saida, and an adventure with a pretty Spanish maid employed in a factory.

When the article was concluded, he could find no words of thanks; he was happy to be near her, grateful for and delighted with their growing intimacy. It seemed to him that everything about him was a part of her, even to the books upon the shelves. The chairs, the furniture, the air — all were permeated with that delightful fragrance peculiar to her.

She asked bluntly: “What do you think of my friend Mme. de Marelle?”

“I think her very fascinating,” he said; and he would have liked to add: “But not as much so as you.” He had not the courage to do so.

She continued: “If you only knew how comical, original, and intelligent she is! She is a true Bohemian. It is for that reason that her husband no longer loves her. He only sees her defects and none of her good qualities.”

Duroy was surprised to hear that Mme. de Marelle was married.

“What,” he asked, “is she married? What does her husband do?”

Mme. Forestier shrugged her shoulders. “Oh, he is superintendent of a railroad. He is in Paris a week out of each month. His wife calls it ‘Holy Week.’ or ‘The week of duty.’ When you get better acquainted with her, you will see how witty she is! Come here and see her some day.”

As she spoke, the door opened noiselessly, and a gentleman entered unannounced. He halted on seeing a man. For a moment Mme. Forestier seemed confused; then she said in a natural voice, though her cheeks were tinged with a blush:

“Come in, my dear sir; allow me to present to you an old comrade of Charles, M. Georges Duroy, a future journalist.” Then in a different tone, she said: “Our best and dearest friend, Count de Vaudrec.”

The two men bowed, gazed into one another’s eyes, and then Duroy took his leave. Neither tried to detain him.

On reaching the street he felt sad and uncomfortable. Count de Vaudrec’s face was constantly before him. It seemed to him that the man was displeased at finding him tete-a-tete with Mme. Forestier, though why he should be, he could not divine.

To while away the time until three o’clock, he lunched at Duval’s, and then lounged along the boulevard. When the clock chimed the hour of his appointment, he climbed the stairs leading to the office of “La Vie Francaise.”

Duroy asked: “Is M. Walter in?”

“M. Walter is engaged,” was the reply. “Will you please take a seat?”

Duroy waited twenty minutes, then he turned to the clerk and said: “M. Walter had an appointment with me at three o’clock. At any rate, see if my friend M. Forestier is here.”

He was conducted along a corridor and ushered into a large room in which four men were writing at a table. Forestier was standing before the fireplace, smoking a cigarette. After listening to Duroy’s story he said:

“Come with me; I will take you to M. Walter, or else you might remain here until seven o’clock.”

They entered the manager’s room. Norbert de Varenne was writing an article, seated in an easychair; Jacques Rival, stretched upon a divan, was smoking a cigar. The room had the peculiar odor familiar to all journalists. When they approached M. Walter, Forestier said: “Here is my friend Duroy.”

The manager looked keenly at the young man and asked:

“Have you brought my article?”

Duroy drew the sheets of manuscript from his pocket.

“Here they are, Monsieur.”

The manager seemed delighted and said with a smile: “Very good. You are a man of your word. Need I look over it, Forestier?”

But Forestier hastened to reply: “It is not necessary, M. Walter; I helped him in order to initiate him into the profession. It is very good.” Then bending toward him, he whispered: “You know you promised to engage Duroy to replace Marambot. Will you allow me to retain him on the same terms?”

“Certainly.”

Taking his friend’s arm, the journalist drew him away, while M. Walter returned to the game of ecarte he had been engaged in when they entered. Forestier and Duroy returned to the room in which Georges had found his friend. The latter said to his new reporter:

“You must come here every day at three o’clock, and I will tell you what places to go to. First of all, I shall give you a letter of introduction to the chief of the police, who will in turn introduce you to one of his employees. You can arrange with him for all important news, official and semiofficial. For details you can apply to Saint-Potin, who is posted; you will see him to-morrow. Above all, you must learn to make your way everywhere in spite of closed doors. You will receive two hundred francs a months, two sous a line for original matter, and two sous a line for articles you are ordered to write on different subjects.”

“What shall I do to-day?” asked Duroy.

“I have no work for you to-day; you can go if you wish to.”

“And our — our article?”

“Oh, do not worry about it; I will correct the proofs. Do the rest to-morrow and come here at three o’clock as you did to-day.”

And after shaking hands, Duroy descended the staircase with a light heart.

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