Chapter 1: Poverty
Author: Guy de Maupassant
Translated by: Rachna Shah
Casting a cursory(1) glance over the inhabitants of the restaurant, Georges Duroy finally left. With three francs in his pocket and it being the 28th of June, he could either have two dinners and no lunches or two lunches and no dinners for the rest of the month.
Neither choice was particularly pleasant, so he sauntered(2) down Rue Notre Dame de Lorette with a harsh air, pushing past the people of the street. He was tall and well-built, fair with blue eyes- a romance hero to some, a romance villain to others.
For it was a humid Parisian evening, Georges turned towards the Madeleine and its plethora(3) of cafes. “I am thirsty.” But then he remembered that if he indulged(4) in even two drinks now, he would have no meal the following day.
He scowled at the men who sat and drank with their friends and wives. If he was in Africa, as he had been for the past two years, he would have no qualms(5) of slicing their throats. But alas, this was Paris, a city where the rules were slightly different.
Deciding against a drink, Georges came to the Place de l’Opera but suddenly saw a familiar face. Following the man, he wracked(6) his mind, thinking of where he had last seen him. At last, it came upon him. Rushing forward, he cried out: “Wait, Forestier!”
The man turned, disconcerted(7). “Do I know you, sir?”
“Georges Duroy of the Sixth Hussars.”
Forestier extended his hands in greeting. “My dear fellow, how are you?”
“Very well-and you?”
“Very unwell, it seems. As a result of a case of bronchitis(8), I cough six months out of twelve.” Taking his former comrade’s arm, he spoke of what had elapsed(9) over the past four years. He was now married and was a political journalist at La Vie Francaise.
Georges looked at him, surprised. The man before him was now dour(10) and grey haired, despite being 27 years of age.
“Where are you going?” Forestier asked him.
“Nowhere of importance.”
“Will you accompany me to La Vie Francaise then? I have some work to finish up. Afterwards, we can have a drink?”
They walked with the familiarity of brothers or childhood friends. Forestier eventually remembered to ask: “So, what is it that you are doing in France.”
“1500 francs a year,” he sighed. “But there are no contacts or recommendations that I have here.”
“Is there no better job you could find?”
“On that matter, I am seriously considering doubling my salary by becoming a teacher of horse riding–”
“Never.” Forestier stopped him. “Once you teach a man’s children, you can never again be his equal. Say, what are your thoughts on journalism?”
They had reached the building, where printed in argent(11) was “La Vie Francaise.” The two stepped inside, and Forestier left Duroy in the waiting room. Every now and then, the door would swing open to admit a young man.
Finally, Forestier appeared with a gentleman of thirty or forty. The two exchanged adieu’s before the latter descended the stairs with an arrogant(12) air.
“That was Jacques Rival,” Forestier noted. “He is as notorious(13) for writing as he is for dueling. He earns thirty thousand francs each year for two articles per week.”
When they descended the stairs, they came across an eminent(14) man who walked past them. “Nobert de Varenne, a poet. Each of his poems costs us three hundred francs.” After a pause: “Let us go to the Napolitain.”
They took a seat at the cafe, where Forestier immediately downed two glasses of beer. Meanwhile, Duroy sipped the delicacy(15) slowly.
Forestier repeated his earlier statement, “You should venture(16) towards journalism.”
“But I’ve never written a word!”
“I could always teach you. It’s really not quite that arduous(17).” He sat up straighter. “Here, come by my place tomorrow at six. We’re having a small dinner with the manager of the newspaper and a few other of my colleagues. How does that sound?”
Duroy blushed. “I have no suit.”
Forestier laughed, taken a little aback. “This is Paris, great god. You should better be starving than not have a suit.” He handed over a small sum of francs. “This should be enough.”
“I am much obliged,” Duroy stammered. “Thank you–”
Forestier was no longer listening. “Two more glasses of beer!”
After exiting the cafe, Forestier suggested that they turn towards the Folies Bergeres, a cabaret music hall in the heart of Paris. When they entered the building, they walked into a rollicking(18) cloud of tobacco smoke. Duroy fell into a coughing fit, but Forestier merely brushed it away with his hand, walking forward to Box 17.
An usher showed them into the small box, but Duroy’s eyes were not captivated as much by the red carpets as by a woman staring at him. With thin black eyes and luxuriant(19) black hair, she loudly whispered to her friend: “What a nice fellow!”
Seeing this exchange, Forestier turned to his friend with a smile. “Congratulations!”
Duroy smiled softly, then frowned upon fingering the meager(20) sum of money in his pocket. The two took a small walk through the arena but lingered by the garden. Once Forestier had left to return home to his wife, he approached the brunette. “I only have one franc,” he said, pitifully.
She gave him a piercing glare and then smiled. “That’s fine with me.”
Duroy was uncomfortable in his new suit. He felt that the shirt fit him too tightly, but upon seeing his reflection – a truly well-dressed gentleman – he was overcome by confidence and self-satisfaction.
When he rang the bell on the third floor, a perfectly dressed servant addressed him with a small bow. Duroy advanced into this brave new world, where a handsome woman looked at him, expectantly.
He did not know what to say, but pressured, he began: “Madame–”
“I know who you are. Charles told me of your encounter, monsieur, and I am glad that you were able to join us.”
The chair that she seated him in was of velvet and cashmere, matching the material of her graceful dress. Her glance reminded him of the girl he had met at the Folies Bergeres, and he sat up a little straighter. “Have you been in Paris long?” She asked.
“Only a few months, Madame, employed in the railroad industry, but I hope to enter journalism.”
The servant entered then, announcing Mme. de Marelle, a small brunette who appeared to be more like a child than a woman. Introductions were made for her and for the following guest, M. Walter and his wife. Then came the most acclaimed writers and poets of the magazine and finally Forestier, who apologized for his tardiness.
They entered the dining-room, and nobody spoke until after the soup. From there, the words fluttered from one throne to another- from diamonds to crime to everything in between. Duroy could barely get in a word.
“I believe,” one man said. “That a strong colony requires little more than strong governance.”
“Yet that is not enough,” Nobert de Varenne interrupted him. “A new country must be under the same rules as the free market.”
Duroy spoke. “What they really need is fertile soil down in Algeria.” He was taken aback by the sound of his own voice and how polished it sounded.
All faces turned to him, and M. Walter asked: “Do you know Algeria, sir?”
“Well, yes, sir. I was there for twenty-eight months.”
He was suddenly questioned of the country’s customs and Georges was only too pleased to share his anecdotes- of the war and of the life there.
Mme. Walter murmured softly, “You could compose quite a story with your anecdotes.”
Forestier took advantage of her statement to say to M. Walter: “I had spoken to you of a need for journalists in our department.”
Examining Duroy, M. Walter nodded slowly. “Tomorrow, at three o’ clock, we can meet to discuss. Bring a story of your souvenirs there, will you not?”
Forestier proposed a toast to the prosperity of the magazine, and Duroy felt endless joy bubble up from within the pits of his soul. He was magnanimous, he was great, he was omnipotent- there was nothing he could not achieve in this kind of company.
When they left the dining-room, Duroy offered his arm to the little girl. They sat in the waiting room and spoke of life in Paris, of the suburbs, of everything and anything.
Finally, M. Nobert de Varenne entered the room, and Duroy discreetly moved back. He yearned to embrace the girl, even if only a fraction of his embrace to her would reach the child’s mother. Embarrassed, he rose to take his leave, but once he left the apartment, he could not stop himself from jumping for joy.
1/cursory(adj)-hasty and therefore not thorough or detailed
2/saunter(v)-walk in a slow, relaxed manner, without hurry or effort
3/plethora(n)-a large or excessive amount of (something)
4/indulge(v)-allow oneself to enjoy the pleasure of
5/qualm(n)-an uneasy feeling of doubt, worry, or fear, especially about one’s own conduct; a misgiving
6/wrack(n)-to ruin something, to search deeply through one’s mind
7/disconcerted(adj)-disturbed, as in one’s composure or self-possession; perturbed; ruffled
8/bronchitis(n)-an inflammation of the lining of your bronchial tubes, which carry air to and from your lungs
9/elapse(v)-(of time) pass or go by
10/dour(adj)-relentlessly severe, stern, or gloomy in manner or appearance
12/arrogant(adj)-having or revealing an exaggerated sense of one’s own importance or abilities
13/notorious(adj)-famous or well known, typically for some bad quality or deed
14/eminent(adj)-(of a person) famous and respected within a particular sphere or profession
15/delicacy(n)-the quality of being delicate, in particular; an expensive food
16/venture(n)-a risky or daring journey or undertaking
17/arduous(adj)-involving or requiring strenuous effort; difficult and tiring
18/rollicking(adj)-exuberantly lively and amusing
19/luxuriant(adj)-(of vegetation) rich and profuse in growth; lush
20/meager(adj)-(of something provided or available) lacking in quantity or quality