Bel Ami, by Guy de Maupassant

Chapter 9

Marriage

Georges Duroy resumed his old habits. Installed in the cozy apartments on Rue de Constantinople, his relations with Mme. de Marelle became quite conjugal.

Mme. Forestier had not returned; she lingered at Cannes. He, however, received a letter from her announcing her return about the middle of April, but containing not a word as to their parting. He waited. He was resolved to employ every means to marry her if she seemed to hesitate; he had faith in his good fortune, in that power of attraction which he felt within him — a power so irresistible that all women yielded to it.

At length a short note admonished him that the decisive moment had arrived.

“I am in Paris. Come to see me.”

“Madeleine Forestier.”

Nothing more. He received it at nine o’clock. At three o’clock of the same day he called at her house. She extended both hands to him with a sweet smile, and they gazed into each other’s eyes for several seconds, then she murmured:

“How kind of you to come!”

He replied: “I should have come, whensoever you bade me.”

They sat down; she inquired about the Walters, his associates, and the newspaper.

“I miss that very much,” said she. “I had become a journalist in spirit. I like the profession.” She paused. He fancied he saw in her smile, in her voice, in her words, a kind of invitation, and although he had resolved not to hasten matters, he stammered:

“Well — why — why do you not resume — that profession — under — the name of Duroy?”

She became suddenly serious, and placing her hand on his arm, she said: “Do not let us speak of that yet.”

Divining that she would accept him, he fell upon his knees, and passionately kissed her hands, saying:

“Thank you — thank you — how I love you.”

She rose, she was very pale. Duroy kissed her brow. When she had disengaged herself from his embrace, she said gravely: “Listen, my friend, I have not yet fully decided; but my answer may be ‘yes.’ You must wait patiently, however, until I disclose the secret to you.”

He promised and left her, his heart overflowing with joy. He worked steadily, spent little, tried to save some money that he might not be without a sou at the time of his marriage, and became as miserly as he had once been prodigal. Summer glided by; then autumn, and no one suspected the tie existing between Duroy and Mme. Forestier, for they seldom met in public.

One evening Madeleine said to him: “You have not yet told Mme. de Marelle our plans?”

“No, my dear; as you wished them kept secret, I have not mentioned them to a soul.”

“Very well; there is plenty of time. I will tell the Walters.”

She turned away her head and continued: “If you wish, we can be married the beginning of May.”

“I obey you in all things joyfully.”

“The tenth of May, which falls on Saturday, would please me, for it is my birthday.”

“Very well, the tenth of May.”

“Your parents live near Rouen, do they not?”

“Yes, near Rouen, at Canteleu.”

“I am very anxious to see them!”

He hesitated, perplexed: “But — they are —” Then he added more firmly: “My dear, they are plain, country people, innkeepers, who strained every nerve to give me an education. I am not ashamed of them, but their — simplicity — their rusticity might annoy you.”

She smiled sweetly. “No, I will love them very much. We will visit them; I wish to. I, too, am the child of humble parents — but I lost mine — I have no one in the world”— she held out her hand to him — “but you.”

He was affected, conquered as he had never been by any woman.

“I have been thinking of something,” said she, “but it is difficult to explain.”

He asked: “What is it?”

“It is this: I am like all women. I have my — my weaknesses. I should like to bear a noble name. Can you not on the occasion of our marriage change your name somewhat?” She blushed as if she had proposed something indelicate.

He replied simply: “I have often thought of it, but it does not seem easy to me.”

“Why not?”

He laughed. “Because I am afraid I should be ridiculed.”

She shrugged her shoulders. “Not at all — not at all. Everyone does it, and no one laughs. Separate your name in this way: Du Roy. It sounds very well.”

He replied: “No, that will not do; it is too common a proceeding. I have thought of assuming the name of my native place, first as a literary pseudonym and then as my surname in conjunction with Duroy, which might later on, as you proposed, be separated.”

She asked: “Is your native place Canteleu?”

“Yes.”

“I do not like the termination. Could we not modify it?”

She took a pen and wrote down the names in order to study them. Suddenly she cried: “Now I have it,” and held toward him a sheet of paper on which was written: “Mme. Duroy de Cantel.”

Gravely he replied: “Yes, it is very nice.”

She was delighted, and repeated: “Duroy de Cantel. Mme. Duroy de Cantel. It is excellent, excellent!”

Then she added with an air of conviction: “You will see how easily it will be accepted by everyone! After to-morrow, sign your articles ‘D. de Cantel,’ and your ‘Echoes’ simply ‘Duroy.’ That is done on the press every day and no one will be surprised to see you take a nom de plume. What is your father’s name?”

“Alexandre.”

She murmured “Alexandre!” two or three times in succession; then she wrote upon a blank sheet:

“M. and Mme. Alexandre du Roy de Cantel announce the marriage of their son, M. Georges du Roy de Cantel with Mme. Forestier.”

She examined her writing, and, charmed with the effect, exclaimed: “With a little method one can succeed in anything.”

When Georges reached the street resolved to call himself, henceforth, “Du Roy,” or even “Du Roy de Cantel,” it seemed to him that he was of more importance. He swaggered more boldly, held his head more erect and walked as he thought gentlemen should. He felt a desire to inform the passers-by, “My name is Du Roy de Cantel.”

Scarcely had he entered his apartments when the thought of Mme. de Marelle rendered him uneasy, and he wrote to her immediately, appointing a meeting for the following day.

“It will be hard,” thought he. “There will be a quarrel surely.”

The next morning he received a telegram from Madame, informing him that she would be with him at one o’clock. He awaited her impatiently, determined to confess at once and afterward to argue with her, to tell her that he could not remain a bachelor indefinitely, and that, as M. de Marelle persisted in living, he had been compelled to choose some one else as a legal companion. When the bell rang, his heart gave a bound.

Mme. de Marelle entered and cast herself into his arms, saying: “Good afternoon, Bel-Ami.” Perceiving that his embrace was colder than usual, she glanced up at him and asked: “What ails you?”

“Take a seat,” said he. “We must talk seriously.”

She seated herself without removing her hat, and waited. He cast down his eyes; he was preparing to commence.

Finally he said slowly: “My dear friend, you see that I am very much perplexed, very sad, and very much embarrassed by what I have to confess to you. I love you; I love you with all my heart, and the fear of giving you pain grieves me more than what I have to tell you.”

She turned pale, trembled, and asked: “What is it? Tell me quickly.”

He said sadly but resolutely: “I am going to be married.”

She sighed like one about to lose consciousness; then she gasped, but did not speak.

He continued: “You cannot imagine how much I suffered before taking that resolution. But I have neither position nor money. I am alone in Paris, I must have near me some one who can counsel, comfort, and support me. What I need is an associate, an ally, and I have found one!” He paused, hoping that she would reply, expecting an outburst of furious rage, reproaches, and insults. She pressed her hand to her heart and breathed with difficulty. He took the hand resting on the arm of the chair, but she drew it away and murmured as if stupefied: “Oh, my God!”

He fell upon his knees before her, without, however, venturing to touch her, more moved by her silence than he would have been by her anger.

“Clo, my little Clo, you understand my position. Oh, if I could have married you, what happiness it would have afforded me! But you were married! What could I do? Just think of it! I must make my way in the world and I can never do so as long as I have no domestic ties. If you knew. There are days when I should like to kill your husband.” He spoke in a low, seductive voice. He saw two tears gather in Mme. de Marelle’s eyes and trickle slowly down her cheeks. He whispered: “Do not weep, Clo, do not weep, I beseech you. You break my heart.”

She made an effort to appear dignified and haughty, and asked, though somewhat unsteadily: “Who is it?”

For a moment he hesitated before he replied: “Madeleine Forestier!”

Mme. de Marelle started; her tears continued to flow. She rose. Duroy saw that she was going to leave him without a word of reproach or pardon, and he felt humbled, humiliated. He seized her gown and implored:

“Do not leave me thus.”

She looked at him with that despairing, tearful glance so charming and so touching, which expresses all the misery pent-up in a woman’s heart, and stammered: “I have nothing — to say; I can do nothing. You — you are right; you have made a good choice.”

And disengaging herself she left the room.

With a sigh of relief at escaping so easily, he repaired to Mme. Forestier’s, who asked him: “Have you told Mme. de Marelle?”

He replied calmly: “Yes.”

“Did it affect her?”

“Not at all. On the contrary, she thought it an excellent plan.”

The news was soon noised abroad. Some were surprised, others pretended to have foreseen it, and others again smiled, inferring that they were not at all astonished. The young man, who signed his articles, “D. de Cantel,” his “Echoes,” “Duroy,” and his political sketches, “Du Roy,” spent the best part of his time with his betrothed, who had decided that the date fixed for the wedding should be kept secret, that the ceremony should be celebrated in the presence of witnesses only, that they should leave the same evening for Rouen, and that the day following they should visit the journalist’s aged parents and spend several days with them. Duroy had tried to persuade Madeleine to abandon that project, but not succeeding in his efforts he was finally compelled to submit.

The tenth of May arrived. Thinking a religious ceremony unnecessary, as they had issued no invitations, the couple were married at a magistrate’s and took the six o’clock train for Normandy.

As the train glided along, Duroy seated in front of his wife, took her hand, kissed it, and said: “When we return we will dine at Chatou sometimes.”

She murmured: “We shall have a great many things to do!” in a tone which seemed to say: “We must sacrifice pleasure to duty.”

He retained her hand wondering anxiously how he could manage to caress her. He pressed her hand slightly, but she did not respond to the pressure.

He said: “It seems strange that you should be my wife.”

She appeared surprised: “Why?”

“I do not know. It seems droll. I want to embrace you and I am surprised that I have the right.”

She calmly offered him her cheek which he kissed as he would have kissed his sister’s. He continued:

“The first time I saw you (you remember, at that dinner to which I was invited at Forestier’s), I thought: ‘Sacristi, if I could only find a wife like that!’ And now I have one.”

She glanced at him with smiling eyes.

He said to himself: “I am too cold. I am stupid. I should make more advances.” And he asked: “How did you make Forestier’s acquaintance?”

She replied with provoking archness: “Are we going to Rouen to talk of him?”

He colored. “I am a fool. You intimidate me.”

She was delighted. “I? Impossible.”

He seated himself beside her. She exclaimed: “Ah! a stag!” The train was passing through the forest of Saint-Germain and she had seen a frightened deer clear an alley at a bound. As she gazed out of the open window, Duroy bending over her, pressed a kiss upon her neck. For several moments she remained motionless, then raising her head, she said: “You tickle me, stop!”

But he did not obey her.

She repeated: “Stop, I say!”

He seized her head with his right hand, turned it toward him and pressed his lips to hers. She struggled, pushed him away and repeated: “Stop!”

He did not heed her. With an effort, she freed herself and rising, said: “Georges, have done. We are not children, we shall soon reach Rouen.”

“Very well,” said he, gaily, “I will wait.”

Reseating herself near him she talked of what they would do on their return; they would keep the apartments in which she had lived with her first husband, and Duroy would receive Forestier’s position on “La Vie Francaise.” In the meantime, forgetting her injunctions and his promise, he slipped his arm around her waist, pressed her to him and murmured: “I love you dearly, my little Made.”

The gentleness of his tone moved the young woman, and leaning toward him she offered him her lips; as she did so, a whistle announced the proximity of the station. Pushing back some stray locks upon her temples, she exclaimed:

“We are foolish.”

He kissed her hands feverishly and replied:

“I adore you, my little Made.”

On reaching Rouen they repaired to a hotel where they spent the night. The following morning, when they had drunk the tea placed upon the table in their room, Duroy clasped his wife in his arms and said: “My little Made, I feel that I love you very, very much.”

She smiled trustfully and murmured as she returned his kisses: “I love you too — a little.”

The visit to his parents worried Georges, although he had prepared his wife. He began again: “You know they are peasants, real, not sham, comic-opera peasants.”

She smiled. “I know it, you have told me often enough.”

“We shall be very uncomfortable. There is only a straw bed in my room; they do not know what hair mattresses are at Canteleu.”

She seemed delighted. “So much the better. It would be charming to sleep badly — when — near you — and to be awakened by the crowing of the cocks.”

He walked toward the window and lighted a cigarette. The sight of the harbor, of the river filled with ships moved him and he exclaimed: “Egad, but that is fine!”

Madeleine joined him and placing both of her hands on her husband’s shoulder, cried: “Oh, how beautiful! I did not know that there were so many ships!”

An hour later they departed in order to breakfast with the old couple, who had been informed several days before of their intended arrival. Both Duroy and his wife were charmed with the beauties of the landscape presented to their view, and the cabman halted in order to allow them to get a better idea of the panorama before them. As he whipped up his horse, Duroy saw an old couple not a hundred meters off, approaching, and he leaped from the carriage crying: “Here they are, I know them.”

The man was short, corpulent, florid, and vigorous, notwithstanding his age; the woman was tall, thin, and melancholy, with stooping shoulders — a woman who had worked from childhood, who had never laughed nor jested.

Madeleine, too, alighted and watched the couple advance, with a contraction of her heart she had not anticipated. They did not recognize their son in that fine gentleman, and they would never have taken that handsome lady for their daughter-in-law. They walked along, passed the child they were expecting, without glancing at the “city folks.”

Georges cried with a laugh: “Good day, Father Duroy.”

Both the old man and his wife were struck dumb with astonishment; the latter recovered her self-possession first and asked: “Is it you, son?”

The young man replied: “Yes, it is I, Mother Duroy,” and approaching her, he kissed her upon both cheeks and said: “This is my wife.”

The two rustics stared at Madeleine as if she were a curiosity, with anxious fear, combined with a sort of satisfied approbation on the part of the father and of jealous enmity on that of the mother.

M. Duroy, senior, who was naturally jocose, made so bold as to ask with a twinkle in his eye: “May I kiss you too?” His son uttered an exclamation and Madeleine offered her cheek to the old peasant; who afterward wiped his lips with the back of his hand. The old woman, in her turn, kissed her daughter-in-law with hostile reserve. Her ideal was a stout, rosy, country lass, as red as an apple and as round.

The carriage preceded them with the luggage. The old man took his son’s arm and asked him: “How are you getting on?”

“Very well.”

“That is right. Tell me, has your wife any means?”

Georges replied: “Forty thousand francs.”

His father whistled softly and muttered: “Whew!” Then he added: “She is a handsome woman.” He admired his son’s wife, and in his day had considered himself a connoisseur.

Madeleine and the mother walked side by side in silence; the two men joined them. They soon reached the village, at the entrance to which stood M. Duroy’s tavern. A pine board fastened over the door indicated that thirsty people might enter. The table was laid. A neighbor, who had come to assist, made a low courtesy on seeing so beautiful a lady appear; then recognizing Georges, she cried: “Oh Lord, is it you?”

He replied merrily: “Yes, it is I, Mother Brulin,” and he kissed her as he had kissed his father and mother. Then he turned to his wife:

“Come into our room,” said he, “you can lay aside your hat.”

They passed through a door to the right and entered a room paved with brick, with whitewashed walls and a bed with cotton hangings.

A crucifix above a holy-water basin and two colored prints, representing Paul and Virginia beneath a blue palm-tree, and Napoleon I. on a yellow horse, were the only ornaments in that neat, but bare room.

When they were alone, Georges embraced Madeleine.

“Good morning, Made! I am glad to see the old people once more. When one is in Paris one does not think of this place, but when one returns, one enjoys it just the same.”

At that moment his father cried, knocking on the partition with his fist: “Come, the soup is ready.”

They re-entered the large public-room and took their seats at the table. The meal was a long one, served in a truly rustic fashion. Father Duroy, enlivened by the cider and several glasses of wine, related many anecdotes, while Georges, to whom they were all familiar, laughed at them.

Mother Duroy did not speak, but sat at the board, grim and austere, glancing at her daughter-in-law with hatred in her heart.

Madeleine did not speak nor did she eat; she was depressed. Wherefore? She had wished to come; she knew that she was coming to a simple home; she had formed no poetical ideas of those peasants, but she had perhaps expected to find them somewhat more polished, refined. She recalled her own mother, of whom she never spoke to anyone — a governess who had been betrayed and who had died of grief and shame when Madeleine was twelve years old. A stranger had had the little girl educated. Her father without doubt. Who was he? She did not know positively, but she had vague suspicions.

The meal was not yet over when customers entered, shook hands with M. Duroy, exclaimed on seeing his son, and seating themselves at the wooden tables began to drink, smoke, and play dominoes. The smoke from the clay pipes and penny cigars filled the room.

Madeleine choked and asked: “Can we go out? I cannot remain here any longer,”

Old Duroy grumbled at being disturbed. Madeleine rose and placed her chair at the door in order to wait until her father-in-law and his wife had finished their coffee and wine.

Georges soon joined her.

“Would you like to stroll down to the Seine?”

Joyfully she cried: “Yes.”

They descended the hillside, hired a boat at Croisset, and spent the remainder of the afternoon beneath the willows in the soft, warm, spring air, and rocked gently by the rippling waves of the river. They returned at nightfall. The evening repast by candle-light was more painful to Madeleine than that of the morning. Neither Father Duroy nor his wife spoke. When the meal was over, Madeleine drew her husband outside in order not to have to remain in that room, the atmosphere of which was heavy with smoke and the fumes of liquor.

When they were alone, he said: “You are already weary.”

She attempted to protest; he interrupted her:

“I have seen it. If you wish we will leave tomorrow.”

She whispered: “I should like to go.”

They walked along and entered a narrow path among high trees, hedged in on either side by impenetrable brushwood.

She asked: “Where are we?”

He replied: “In the forest — one of the largest in France.”

Madeleine, on raising her head, could see the stars between the branches and hear the rustling of the leaves. She felt strangely nervous. Why, she could not tell. She seemed to be lost, surrounded by perils, abandoned, alone, beneath that vast vaulted sky.

She murmured: “I am afraid; I should like to return.”

“Very well, we will.”

On their return they found the old people in bed. The next morning Madeleine rose early and was ready to leave at daybreak. When Georges told his parents that they were going to return home, they guessed whose wish it was.

His father asked simply: “Shall I see you soon again?”

“Yes — in the summer-time.”

“Very well.”

His mother grumbled: “I hope you will not regret what you have done.”

Georges gave them two hundred francs to appease them, and the cab arriving at ten o’clock, the couple kissed the old peasants and set out.

As they were descending the side of the hill, Duroy laughed. “You see,” said he, “I warned you. I should, however, not have presented you to M. and Mme. du Roy de Cantel, senior.”

She laughed too and replied: “I am charmed now! They are nice people whom I am beginning to like very much. I shall send them confections from Paris.” Then she murmured: “Du Roy de Cantel. We will say that we spent a week at your parents’ estate,” and drawing near him, she kissed him saying:

“Good morning, Georges.”

He replied: “Good morning, Madeleine,” as he slipped his arm around her waist.

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