Chapter Five: Death and Marriage
In February, free as fungus, Duroy received a letter from Cannes.
He opened it lethargically(1):
“Dear friend: Charles is dying. He helped you to your position; come, I beg of you. I have no one else to ask.
Sending a reply telegram in advance, Georges left the next morning and arrived by the afternoon. Villa Jolie was a small house yet it was still the Forestiers, for there were several servants that awaited his arrival.
“Sir, Madame is awaiting you.”
The floor was covered with a rug of stars and large windows overlooked the rising tide. When he entered the room, Mme. Forestier turned towards him, sallow(2) yet bright. “How kind.” She cast a demeaning(3) look upon Charles. “He might die any moment. I’ll send for your luggage.”
“As you will,” he bowed.
Charles raised his head then and thanked his friend for coming. “Is it not beautiful?” He asked.
“Death? Oh, the sunset. Yes,” Duroy exclaimed, despite his depletion(4). “It is.”
“Give me more air,” Forestier asked of his wife.
“You will catch even more of a cold…”
“I am suffocating! Whether I die today or tomorrow–”
He broke off in a fit of coughing and Madeleine opened the window, exacerbating(5) Charles’ condition.
“Shut the window!”
His wife closed the window slowly.
Forestier turned toward Duroy. “Are there any new updates at the office?”
A long silence ensued before Forestier spoke out in a calamitous(6) voice. “How many more sunsets shall I see? You two have more time.” He paused for a few moments, glancing around the room. “Everything will go on when I am gone.” Norbert’s words loomed in Duroy’s mind.
The dinner meal was silent and Duroy wished to invent an excuse to return to Paris at once.
“Let’s go out for a ride.”
Charles, feeling better, had decided to take full advantage of the temporary feeling. His wife believed it was sheer madness but all the same, she let the servant help him into the carriage.
As they drove along a shady road, Charles pointed out various places of interest. There, was a pavilion and there was a pottery shop—but he was too tenuous(7) to even leave the carriage.
On the way back, Charles began to cough, but then it grew into an attack, a terrible rattling and violent sound. He had to be carried to his room from the carriage and his attack lasted until midnight.
The following morning, Duroy awoke to see Dr. Gavant exiting. “He will be dead tomorrow, the hapless(8) man. Call for a priest and send for his wife.”
Duroy went to Mme. Forestier, who hesitated before responding. “I will go tell Charles if you will procure(9) a priest.”
Over the course of one day, Charles’ emaciation(10) gave the impression of hopelessness.
“I do not want to die,” he pleaded to his wife. “Save me, please.”
His wife also sobbed, but she wiped away her tears. “It is nothing. You will be better tomorrow.”
The hours passed away slowly, and Duroy excused himself to obtain some food. When he returned, he saw Forestier coughing slightly, and then two streams of blood flooded out of his mouth. His hands ceased their wringing. His breath ended.
“It has come,” the nurse said. Madeleine had fallen to the floor in sobs.
They did not speak that night in the chamber of death, but only watched the man who had lived, laughed, loved, and hoped as did everyone the day before-and now, was ended forever. Life lasted a few months or years – what was the difference? – and then adieu!
Glancing at Mme. Forestier, Duroy no longer felt a weight on his heart. Whom would she marry now? She did like him, she had sent for him–he broke the oppressive(11) silence at once. “It is a heavy blow to be left alone like this.”
She did not reply. “I am yours,” he spluttered(12).
She held out her hands gently. “Thank you, you are very kind.” Madeleine retreated despondently(13). “I shall be all alone, but I shall force myself to be brave.”
It was no time to speak of his desire to marry her, but when else was it the ‘right time’? He opened the window slowly, and leaned forward to speak: “I told you one day that my most cherished(14) dream was to have a wife like you. Do not reply, but let me continue. This is no proposal, not at this time, but I would like to hear you reply once we have returned in Paris.”
She stood by his side, motionless. “It is rather gelid(15),” she noted, exiting the room.
“I will neither say yes nor no,” Mme Forestier informed Georges the following afternoon. The two of them were taking a stroll through the gardens. “Marriage, to me, is not a chain, but an association. I must be free; I cannot tolerate control nor covetousness(16) nor criticism of my actions. My husband must look upon me as his equal. We will speak later in Paris.”
Charles was buried the next day with little pomp(17) in the cemetery at Cannes. Georges returned to Paris by an express train in the afternoon and resumed his old relations with Mme. de Marelle.
A few months later, one early morning, he received a short note: “I am in Paris. Come see me. -Madeleine Forestier.”
They spoke of small talk at first-the Walters, the newspaper. “I miss that profession very much,” she said.
“Why not resume it, under the name of D-duroy?” He fell upon his knees and kissed her hands. “I love you.”
She rose, pale. “My answer may be yes–” He seemed about to burst with happiness and hubris(18). “–but wait a while longer.”
He promised her and left. The next time they met (never in public), she turned her head away, and said, “We may be married on the tenth of May, my birthday. Your parents live near Rouen, do they not? I would like to see them.”
He hesitated, a little humiliated. “They are-” My mind knows no kind words these days. “-simple people.”
“I will love them very much,” she smiled sweetly. “But now that you speak of it, would you consider changing your name? Du Roy sounds more-oh, Mme. Duroy de Cantel is excellent!”
He responded gravely. “Yes, it is very nice.”
That evening, his perturbation(19) grew when he realized that he must break the news to Clotilde. When she arrived at his apartment the following day, he spoke slowly. “My dear, I love you very dearly. But I am suffering without status and money. But now, I have found an ally.”
She fell backwards upon a chair, staggering to breath. “Oh, my god!”
He bent down by her, moved by her silence more than by what he expected to be anger. “Clo, my little Clo, if I could have married you! Do not break my heart.”
“Who is it?” She wiped her tears, slowly.
She gasped and stood to leave. “You-you have made a good choice.”
The news quickly spread, though most were not at all surprised. The wedding occurred at the magistrate’s and they left for Rouen to visit Du Roy’s parents. As the train rolled forward, Du Roy leaned forward to kiss his wife’s cheek, as though she was his sister.
He blushed. “You intimidate(20) me.”
She laughed, delighted. “That’s impossible.” She exclaimed, then: “A stag!”
As Madeleine leaned forward, Du Roy kissed her neck, to which she, after a few moments, pulled back from. “We are not children, Georges.”
The couple they came across was a short man and a melancholy woman. As Duroy and Madeleine walked past them, they did not recognize them as their son and daughter-in-law. Thus, Georges cried out with a laugh: “Good day, Father.”
The old man and his wife were struck with astonishment, but they soon recovered. The four of them walked to the tavern in silence and entered a small room, with a bed, whitewashed walls, and a crucifix above a holy-water basin.
When they were alone, Georges embraced Madeleine. “How glad I am to see my parents once more!”
At that moment, his father cried out: “The soup is ready!”
The meal was long and rustic, though the women barely spoke; Mother Duroy glanced at her daughter-in-law with hatred. When Georges excused himself, Madeleine hastily followed.
“Come,” he said. “Let’s stroll down to the Seine.”
The rest of the afternoon was spent taking a boat across the river until they entered a forest. Madeleine, on raising her head, could see the stars, and felt strangely lost, abandoned, and alone. “I am afraid,” she murmured.
“We will return.”
The old people were in bed and the next morning, they left at daybreak. His father guessed who desired to return home, and simply said, “Very well.” Georges gave them two hundred francs each as appeasement, and after kissing the old peasants, the two young ones forsook the country for the city, as thousands before them had.
1/lethargically(adv)-affected with lethargy; drowsy; sluggish; apathetic
2/sallow(adj)-(of a person’s face or complexion) of an unhealthy yellow or pale brown color.
3/demeaning(adj)-causing someone to lose their dignity and the respect of others.
4/depletion(n)-reduction in the number or quantity of something
5/exacerbate(v)-make (a problem, bad situation, or negative feeling) worse.
6/calamitous(adj)-involving calamity; catastrophic; disastrous
7/tenuous(adj)-very weak or slight.
8/hapless(adj)-(especially of a person) unfortunate.
9/procure(v)-obtain (something), especially with care or effort
10/emaciation(n)-the state of being abnormally thin or weak
11/oppressive(adj)-unjustly inflicting hardship and constraint, especially on a minority or other subordinate group
12/splutter(v)-make a series of short explosive spitting or choking sounds
13/despondently(adv)-feeling or showing profound hopelessness, dejection, discouragement, or gloom: despondent about failing health
14/cherished(adj)-protect and care for (someone) lovingly.
15/gelid(adj)-icy; extremely cold.
16/covetousness(n)-greedy, acquisitive, grasping, avaricious mean having or showing a strong desire for especially material possessions
17/pomp(n)-ceremony and splendid display, especially at a public event.
18/hubris(n)-excessive pride or self-confidence.
19/perturbation(n)-anxiety; mental uneasiness
20/intimidate(v)-frighten or overawe (someone), especially in order to make them do what one wants