Stage 3 (Journeyman): Bel-Ami, chapter 4

Chapter Four: A Step Upward

The next morning, Duroy decided that above all, even love, he needed money. Visiting his old friend Forestier, he asked for 500 francs.

 

“What for?” Forestier contemplated(1), raising his eyebrows.

 

Duroy hesitated, then said, “A gaming debt.”

 

Forestier laughed. “I’ll give you twenty francs.”

 

By repeating this action three or four times, he had amassed(2) 80 francs by the evening but still needed 200 more to pay back his debts. Clotilde and Forestier both spurned(3) him, and even Rachel turned away, so he turned to Madame Forestier.

 

He found her in her study, reading a book. “Good morning, Bel-Ami!” She said with a smile. “I saw Mme. de Marelle just last week.”

 

Charles sat down across from her, with curiosity. She certainly is kinder than Clotilde, he thought. “I-I come, for I love you.”

 

She replied indifferently: “No one loves me long, for I warn them against it. It is futile(4) to love someone when it is much smarter to be friends, is it not?”

 

For it was not a question, he kissed her hand. “I wish to marry a woman like you.”

 

When he left the room, he decided to pay his respects to the wife of the magazine’s chairman, M. Walter.

 

There were four ladies sitting by a round table, all of such noted personage that Duroy stumbled to speak. “Madame,” he said at last. “I came here–”

 

She smiled, “Thank you for coming.”

 

Hesitantly, he took a seat beside her and before he could introduce himself, the ladies renewed their conversation. When Duroy left, he heard them talk of him.

 

“Who was that?”

 

“A writer for the magazine,” Mme Walter answered. “But I think he will advance rapidly.”

 

 

The following week, Duroy was appointed editor of Echoes. M. Walter declared that this position was for a man who could be alert of all happenings, from the city to the countryside.

 

Duroy’s glee only grew when he received a telegram that afternoon. “M. and Mme. Walter request the pleasure of M. Duroy’s company for dinner on Thursday, January 20.”

 

He kissed the invitation as though it had been a love letter. On Thursday, he left the office early to ready himself, but upon crossing the street to his residence, Duroy saw Clotilde. Heart palpitating(5), he hurried forward and upon reaching safety, he thought of his parents. Upon remembering the occasion of the evening, his parents were forgotten.

 

Duroy reached the Walters’ fashionably late and was greeted by Mme Walter herself. Two board men arrived after him, then the Forestiers – Charles was coughing incessantly(6) -, and after them, Norbert de Varenne and Jacques Rival. At the other end of the room entered M. Walter and his two daughters of sixteen and seventeen, of whom Duroy was surprised to see as women rather than as children.

 

Suddenly, Mme de Marelle arrived, and Duroy pretended to be engrossed(7) in the artwork. “Charming, charming!” He said loudly. “What-what charm.”

 

When she approached him, he need not know what to say or what to do, but to his amazement, she sought out him: “Good evening, Bel-Ami! Do you not remember who I am?”

 

He turned and hastily smiled. “I have become quite busy as of late.”

 

“I know, but that is no excuse for forgetting your friends.”

 

Their conversation was interrupted by a call for dinner. Duroy was placed between one of M. Walter’s daughters and Mme. de Marelle. From time to time, he spoke to the former to be polite, but his attentions were focused on the latter. By the time that the main dish was served, Duroy knew that their former relations would resume shortly.

 

After the dinner, he asked her: “When shall I see you again?”

 

“Lunch with me tomorrow.”

 

They parted without another word. The old poet accompanied Duroy home and they did not speak until Duroy remarked: “M. Laroche-Mathieu seems very astute(8) to me.”

 

“In a kingdom of blind men, the blind are kings.”

 

“You are quite gloomy this evening.”

 

“As you will be soon. While one is climbing a ladder, there is no fear but once one has reached the top, there is only a slow and steady decline towards death. What do you long for now? Love? A few kisses, and that is it. Money? A few million francs, and no more. Eminence(9)? Everyone will forget your name. Ponder(10) over this, dear child. I am a forlorn(11), old man, with no parents nor family nor God. I have only poetry.” With these words, he disappeared down an alleyway.

 

Duroy, left somewhat depressed by the conversation, was cheered upon the recollection of his reconciliation(12) with Clotilde. The next morning, he arrived at her house and when she kissed him, it was as though they had never fought.

 

“My husband has come home for six weeks, and he won’t leave. But I couldn’t go without seeing you for that long,” she murmured. “Have dinner with us on Monday. I’ll introduce you to him.”

 

Duroy hesitated. “I would rather not meet your husband.”

 

“That’s absurd! Are you a fool?”

 

“Very well,” he stammered. “I’ll come.”

 

 

On Monday, he was greeted by a tall man with a long white beard.

 

“M. Duroy. I am charmed to make your acquaintance, as my wife has often spoke of you.”

Duroy shook the man’s hand energetically and they blandished(13) in small talk about his career in journalism. When Mme. de Marelle entered, Duroy wished to kiss her hand, but refrained from doing so in the presence of her husband. Laurine raised an eyebrow at him.

 

When the Foresteris arrived, Duroy was startled to see how emaciated(14) Charles had become due to his cough. He announced that he and Madeleine would leave for Cannes the following week on doctor’s orders.

 

“Poor Madeleine,” Clotilde remarked. “She is well prepared for his death, yet it is still a misfortune.”

 

“She will marry again,” Georges replied.

 

“Yes, of course!”

 

M. de Marelle interrupted their conversation, somewhat angrily. “Do not meddle(15) in the private affairs of others.” So, that was that.

 

 

Duroy found Charles at his door the following morning.

 

“We will meet again,” he said solemnly(16), shaking his friend’s hand.

 

Once Charles had left, he turned to Mme. Forestier. “We are friends, and friends help one another without thought. If you should require my services in any way at any time, please do not hesitate to call upon me.”

 

“Thank you,” she nodded.

 

On Thursday evening, the Forestiers left the town.

 

 

Charles’s absence from La Vie Francaise elevated Duroy, and his only trouble was attacks from a small paper, La Plume.

 

One morning, he received an attack on one of his articles. He had written an article about the arrest of Dame Aubert, but according to La Plume, this was nothing more than a myth.

 

The manager bade(17) him to go to the woman’s house himself to find out the truth and once he had – that she had committed a crime but had not been arrested – he made a reply to La Plume.

 

The next morning, La Plume published a scathing(18) piece on his incompetence.

 

“This is unacceptable,” M. Walter told him. “Go find Rival. He will take care of this affair.”

 

Jacques was still in bed when Duroy knocked on his door, but he immediately reached for his pistol. “Are you a good swordsman?”

 

“No.”

 

“Can you use a pistol?”

 

“No.”

 

“Boisrenard?” He called for his friend. “Boisrenard, can you use a pistol?”

 

“I have, once or twice.”

 

“Good!” Jacques re-entered his dressing-room and soon reappeared. He led Georges into the cellar which had been converted into a shooting and fencing practice room. Once he was satisfied with Georges’ use of a pistol, he left him to practice until noon.

 

After practicing with the target several times, Georges sat down and reflected. Why would respectable men resort to such savagery? Life is so short, Norbert de Varenne, that old man-he was right.

 

The cellar was as gloomy as a tomb. The time dragged slowly until Jacques returned with a large smile. “M. Langremont has accepted the condition of your duel.”

 

They dined at a neighboring restaurant, but Duroy barely ate. He went to work with an absent mind and vaguely remembered Jacques’ request that he wake up before seven the following morning.

 

It had all been settled so quickly. Was he fight with an unknown man over an old woman?

 

He gulped down a glass of water before considering the truth. Am I afraid?

 

Objectively, his heart was beating erratically(19) and he realized at this time tomorrow, he might be dead. He stood up and paced the floor to write a letter to his parents—but after the introduction, he had no strength to continue. Georges fell upon his bed and awoke the next morning to a doorbell.

 

His friends were cloaked in furs. “Are you calm?”

 

“Yes,” Duroy lied.

 

“Have you eaten something?”

 

“Yes.” If brandy counts.

 

They descended the stairs together and entered the carriage, where a doctor was already seated. While the conversation was weak, Jacques tried his best to sustain it with anecdotes and tips. Most obstinately(20), he repeated a certain sentence.

 

Like a child in school, Duroy repeated it back. “Raise my arm, press the trigger.”

 

The carriage came to a rolling halt near the end of a glade, where he saw another carriage with gentleman outside of it. It was a chilly day and Duroy could see the breath of the two men that advanced towards them.

 

“All is ready,” Jacques murmured. “Fortune has favored us with the first draw.”

 

That was no matter to Duroy. He had barely glanced upon his opponent—a short, bald man—before a voice cried out: “Are you ready, sirs?”

 

“Yes!”

 

“Then, fire!”

 

Robotically, instinctively, Duroy raised his arm and pressed the trigger. There was a small cloud of smoke above his opponent’s head and above his own, as a matter of fact, for they had both fired. It was over! He felt brave enough to eat a horse!

 

“Bravo!” Jacques clapped his back. “You have defended the honor of La Vie Francaise.”

 

The following morning, Duroy received a telegram from Clotilde: “My God, how terrified I was to read the newspaper this morning. Come at once.”

 

She embraced him with kisses and demanded an account of his bravery. “I cannot live without you,” she declared.

 

“I shall rent this apartment then, for it is already in my name.”

 

“No, I think not.”

 

“Will…” She hesitated. “Will you not invite other women?” Rachel’s name hung unspoken in the air.

 

“Of course not! You are the only one for me, now and forever more.”

 

“Then, of course. But if you deceive me just once, it will end between us forever.”

 

 

GLOSSARY:

1/contemplate(v)-to think about; look thoughtfully for a long time at.

2/amass(v)-gather together or accumulate (a large amount or number of valuable material or things) over a period of time.

3/spurn(v)-reject with disdain or contempt.

4/futile(adj)-incapable of producing any useful result; pointless.

5/palpitating(adj)-(of the heart) beat rapidly, strongly, or irregularly.

6/incessantly(adv)-without interruption; constantly.

7/engrossed(adj)-having all one’s attention or interest absorbed by someone or something.

8/astute(adj)-having or showing an ability to accurately assess situations or people and turn this to one’s advantage.

9/eminence(n)-fame or recognized superiority, especially within a particular sphere or profession.

10/ponder(v)-think about (something) carefully, especially before making a decision or reaching a conclusion.

11/forlorn(adj)-pitifully sad and abandoned or lonely.

12/reconciliation(adj)-the restoration of friendly relations.

13/blandish(v)-coax (someone) with kind words or flattery.

14/emaciated(adj)-abnormally thin or weak, especially because of illness or a lack of food.

15/meddle(v)-interfere in or busy oneself unduly with something that is not one’s concern.

16/solemnly(adv)-in a formal and dignified manner.

17/bade(v)-to bid farewell

18/scathing(adj)-witheringly scornful; severely critical

19/erratically(adv)-in a manner that is not even or regular in pattern or movement; unpredictably.

20/obstinately(adv)-firmly or stubbornly adhering to one’s purpose, opinion, etc.; not yielding to argument, persuasion, or entreaty.

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