Chapter 18 Attainment
It was dark in the apartments in the Rue de Constantinople, when Georges du Roy and Clotilde de Marelle, having met at the door, entered them. Without giving him time to raise the shades, the latter said:
“So you are going to marry Suzanne Walter?”
He replied in the affirmative, adding gently: “Did you not know it?”
She answered angrily: “So you are going to marry Suzanne Walter? For three months you have deceived me. Everyone knew of it but me. My husband told me. Since you left your wife you have been preparing for that stroke, and you made use of me in the interim. What a rascal you are!”
He asked: “How do you make that out? I had a wife who deceived me; I surprised her, obtained a divorce, and am now going to marry another. What is more simple than that?”
She murmured: “What a villain!”
He said with dignity: “I beg of you to be more careful as to what you say.”
She rebelled at such words from him: “What! Would you like me to handle you with gloves? You have conducted yourself like a rascal ever since I have known you, and now you do not want me to speak of it. You deceive everyone; you gather pleasure and money everywhere, and you want me to treat you as an honest man.”
He rose; his lips twitched: “Be silent or I will make you leave these rooms.”
She cried: “Leave here — you will make me — you? You forget that it is I who have paid for these apartments from the very first, and you threaten to put me out of them. Be silent, good-for-nothing! Do you think I do not know how you stole a portion of Vaudrec’s bequest from Madeleine? Do you think I do not know about Suzanne?”
He seized her by her shoulders and shook her. “Do not speak of that; I forbid you.”
“I know you have ruined her!”
He would have taken anything else, but that lie exasperated him. He repeated: “Be silent — take care”— and he shook her as he would have shaken the bough of a tree. Still she continued; “You were her ruin, I know it.” He rushed upon her and struck her as if she had been a man. Suddenly she ceased speaking, and groaned beneath his blows. Finally he desisted, paced the room several times in order to regain his self-possession, entered the bedroom, filled the basin with cold water and bathed his head. Then he washed his hands and returned to see what Clotilde was doing. She had not moved. She lay upon the floor weeping softly. He asked harshly:
“Will you soon have done crying?”
She did not reply. He stood in the center of the room, somewhat embarrassed, somewhat ashamed, as he saw the form lying before him. Suddenly he seized his hat. “Good evening. You can leave the key with the janitor when you are ready. I will not await your pleasure.”
He left the room, closed the door, sought the porter, and said to him: “Madame is resting. She will go out soon. You can tell the proprietor that I have given notice for the first of October.”
His marriage was fixed for the twentieth; it was to take place at the Madeleine. There had been a great deal of gossip about the entire affair, and many different reports were circulated. Mme. Walter had aged greatly; her hair was gray and she sought solace in religion.
In the early part of September “La Vie Francaise” announced that Baron du Roy de Cantel had become its chief editor, M. Walter reserving the title of manager. To that announcement were subjoined the names of the staff of art and theatrical critics, political reporters, and so forth. Journalists no longer sneered in speaking of “La Vie Francaise;” its success had been rapid and complete. The marriage of its chief editor was what was called a “Parisian event,” Georges du Roy and the Walters having occasioned much comment for some time.
The ceremony took place on a clear, autumn day. At ten o’clock the curious began to assemble; at eleven o’clock, detachments of officers came to disperse the crowd. Soon after, the first guests arrived; they were followed by others, women in rich costumes, men, grave and dignified. The church slowly began to fill. Norbert de Varenne espied Jacques Rival, and joined him.
“Well,” said he, “sharpers always succeed.”
His companion, who was not envious, replied: “So much the better for him. His fortune is made.”
Rival asked: “Do you know what has become of his wife?”
The poet smiled. “Yes and no — she lives a very retired life, I have been told, in the Montmartre quarter. But — there is a but — for some time I have read political articles in ‘La Plume,’ which resemble those of Forestier and Du Roy. They are supposed to be written by a Jean Le Dol, a young, intelligent, handsome man — something like our friend Georges — who has become acquainted with Mme. Forestier. From that I have concluded that she likes beginners and that they like her. She is, moreover, rich; Vaudrec and Laroche-Mathieu were not attentive to her for nothing.”
Rival asked: “Tell me, is it true that Mme. Walter and Du Roy do not speak?”
“Yes. She did not wish to give him her daughter’s hand. But he threatened the old man with shocking revelations. Walter remembered Laroche-Mathieu’s fate and yielded at once; but his wife, obstinate like all women, vowed that she would never address a word to her son-in-law. It is comical to see them together! She looks like the statue of vengeance, and he is very uncomfortable, although he tries to appear at his ease.”
Suddenly the beadle struck the floor three times with his staff. All the people turned to see what was coming, and the young bride appeared in the doorway leaning upon her father’s arm. She looked like a beautiful doll, crowned with a wreath of orange blossoms. She advanced with bowed head. The ladies smiled and murmured as she passed them. The men whispered:
M. Walter walked by her side with exaggerated dignity. Behind them came four maids of honor dressed in pink and forming a charming court for so dainty a queen.
Mme. Walter followed on the arm of Count de Latour-Ivelin’s aged father. She did not walk; she dragged herself along, ready to faint at every step. She had aged and grown thinner.
Next came Georges du Roy with an old lady, a stranger. He held his head proudly erect and wore upon his coat, like a drop of blood, the red ribbon of the Legion of Honor.
He was followed by the relatives: Rose, who had been married six weeks, with a senator; Count de Latour-Ivelin with Viscountess de Percemur. Following them was a motley procession of associates and friends of Du Roy, country cousins of Mme. Walter’s, and guests invited by her husband.
The tones of the organ filled the church; the large doors at the entrance were closed, and Georges kneeled beside his bride in the choir. The new bishop of Tangiers, cross in hand, miter on head, entered from the sacristy, to unite them in the name of the Almighty. He asked the usual questions, rings were exchanged, words pronounced which bound them forever, and then he delivered an address to the newly married couple.
The sound of stifled sobs caused several to turn their heads. Mme. Walter was weeping, her face buried in her hands. She had been obliged to yield; but since the day on which she had told Du Roy: “You are the vilest man I know; never speak to me again, for I will not answer you,” she had suffered intolerable anguish. She hated Suzanne bitterly; her hatred was caused by unnatural jealousy. The bishop was marrying a daughter to her mother’s lover, before her and two thousand persons, and she could say nothing; she could not stop him. She could not cry: “He is mine, that man is my lover. That union you are blessing is infamous.”
Several ladies, touched by her apparent grief, murmured: “How affected that poor mother is!”
The bishop said: “You are among the favored ones of the earth. You, sir, who are raised above others by your talent — you who write, instruct, counsel, guide the people, have a grand mission to fulfill — a fine example to set.”
Du Roy listened to him proudly. A prelate of the Roman Church spoke thus to him. A number of illustrious people had come thither on his account. It seemed to him that an invisible power was impelling him on. He would become one of the masters of the country — he, the son of the poor peasants of Canteleu. He had given his parents five thousand francs of Count de Vaudrec’s fortune and he intended sending them fifty thousand more; then they could buy a small estate and live happily.
The bishop had finished his harangue, a priest ascended the altar, and the organ pealed forth. Suddenly the vibrating tones melted into delicate, melodious ones, like the songs of birds; then again they swelled into deep, full tones and human voices chanted over their bowed heads. Vauri and Landeck of the Opera were singing.
Bel-Ami, kneeling beside Suzanne, bowed his head. At that moment he felt almost pious, for he was filled with gratitude for the blessings showered upon him. Without knowing just whom he was addressing, he offered up thanks for his success. When the ceremony was over, he rose, and, giving his arm to his wife, they passed into the sacristy. A stream of people entered. Georges fancied himself a king whom the people were coming to greet. He shook hands, uttered words which signified nothing, and replied to congratulations with the words: “You are very kind.”
Suddenly he saw Mme. de Marelle, and the recollection of all the kisses he had given her and which she had returned, of all their caresses, of the sound of her voice, possessed him with the mad desire to regain her. She was so pretty, with her bright eyes and roguish air! She advanced somewhat timidly and offered him her hand. He took, retained, and pressed it as if to say: “I shall love you always, I am yours.”
Their eyes met, smiling, bright, full of love. She murmured in her soft tones: “Until we meet again, sir!” and he gaily repeated her words.
Others approached, and she passed on. Finally the throng dispersed. Georges placed Suzanne’s hand upon his arm to pass through the church with her. It was filled with people, for all had resumed their seats in order to see them leave the sacred edifice together. He walked along slowly, with a firm step, his head erect. He saw no one. He only thought of himself.
When they reached the threshold he saw a crowd gathered outside, come to gaze at him, Georges du Roy. The people of Paris envied him. Raising his eyes, he saw beyond the Place de la Concorde, the chamber of deputies, and it seemed to him that it was only a stone’s throw from the portico of the Madeleine to that of the Palais Bourbon.
Leisurely they descended the steps between two rows of spectators, but Georges did not see them; his thoughts had returned to the past, and before his eyes, dazzled by the bright sunlight, floated the image of Mme. de Marelle, rearranging the curly locks upon her temples before the mirror in their apartments.