Bel-Ami

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Author: Guy de Maupassant  | Date: 1885

4

The Place de la Trinite lay, almost deserted, under a dazzling July sun. An oppressive heat was crushing Paris. It was as though the upper air, scorched and deadened, had fallen upon the city- a thick, burning air that pained the chests inhaling it. The fountains in front of the church fell lazily. They seemed weary of flowing, tired out, limp, too; and the water in the basins, in which leaves and bits of paper were floating, looked greenish, thick, like seawater. A dog had jumped over the stone rim and was bathing in the dubious fluid. A few people, seated on the benches of the little circular garden skirting the front of the church, watched the animal curiously.

Du Roy pulled out his watch. It was only three o’clock. He was half an hour too soon. He laughed as he thought of this appointment. "Churches serve for anything as far as she is concerned," said he to himself. "They console her for having married a Jew, enable her to assume an attitude of protestation in the world of politics and a respectable one in that of fashion, and serve as a shelter to her gallant rendezvous. So much for the habit of making use of religion as an umbrella. If it is fine it is a walking stick; if sunshiny, a parasol; if it rains, a shelter; and if one does not go out, why, one leaves it in the hall. And there are hundreds like that who care for God about as much as for a cherry pit, but who will not hear Him spoken against. If it were suggested to them to go to a questionable hotel, they would think it infamous, but it seems to them quite simple to make love at the foot of the altar."

He walked slowly along the edge of the fountain, and then again looked at the church clock, which was two minutes faster than his watch. It was five minutes past three. He thought that he would be more comfortable inside, and entered the church. A coolness like that of a cellar assailed him, he breathed it with pleasure, and then took a turn round the nave to reconnoiter the place. Other regular footsteps, sometimes halting and then beginning anew, replied from the farther end of the vast pile to the sound of his own, which rang sonorously beneath the vaulted roof. A curiosity to know who this other promenader was seized him. It was a stout, bald-headed gentleman who was strolling about with his nose in the air, and his hat behind his back. Here and there an old woman was praying, her face hidden in her hands. A sensation of solitude and rest stole over the mind. The light, softened by the stained-glass windows, was refreshing to the eyes. Du Roy thought that it was "deucedly comfortable" inside there.

He returned toward the door and again looked at his watch. It was still only a quarter past three. He sat down at the entrance to the main aisle, regretting that one could not smoke a cigarette. The slow footsteps of the stout gentleman could still be heard at the farther end of the church, near the choir.

Someone came in, and George turned sharply round. It was a poor woman in a woolen skirt, who fell on her knees close to the first chair, and remained motionless, with clasped hands, her eyes turned to heaven, her soul absorbed in prayer. Du Roy watched her with interest, asking himself what grief, what pain, what despair could have crushed her heart. She was worn out by poverty, it was plain. She had, perhaps, too, a husband who was beating her to death, or a dying child. He murmured silently: "Poor creatures. How some of them do suffer." Anger rose up in him against pitiless Nature. Then he reflected that these poor wretches believed, at any rate, that they were taken into consideration up above, and that they were duly entered in the registers of heaven with a debtor and creditor balance. Up above! And Du Roy, whom the silence of the church inclined to sweeping reflections, judging creation at a bound, muttered contemptuously: "What nonsense all that sort of thing is!"

The rustle of a dress made him start. It was she.

He rose, and advanced quickly. She did not hold out her hand, but murmured in a low voice: "I have only a few moments. I must get back home. Kneel down near me, so that we may not be noticed." And she advanced up the aisle, seeking a safe and suitable spot, like a woman well acquainted with the place. Her face was hidden by a thick veil, and she walked with careful footsteps that could scarcely be heard.

When she reached the choir she turned, and muttered, in that mysterious tone of voice we always assume in church: "The side aisles will be better. We are too much in view here."

She bowed low to the high altar, turned to the right, and returned a little way toward the entrance; then, making up her mind, she took a chair and knelt down. George took possession of the next one to her, and as soon as they were in an attitude of prayer, began: "Thank you; oh, thank you; I adore you! I should like to be always telling you so, to tell you how I began to love you, how I was captivated the first time I saw you. Will you allow me some day to open my heart to tell you all this?"

She listened to him in an attitude of deep meditation, as if she heard nothing. She replied between her fingers: "I am mad to allow you to speak to me like this, mad to have come here, mad to do what I am doing, mad to let you believe that- that- this adventure can have any issue. Forget all this; you must, and never speak to me again of it."

She paused. He strove to find an answer, decisive and passionate words, but not being able to join action to words, was partially paralyzed.

He replied: "I expect nothing, I hope for nothing. I love you. Whatever you may do, I will repeat it to you so often, with such power and ardor, that you will end by understanding it. I want to make my love penetrate you, to pour it into your soul, word by word, hour by hour, day by day, so that at length it impregnates you like a liquid, falling drop by drop; softens you, mollifies you, and obliges you later on to reply to me: ’I love you, too.’"

He felt her shoulder trembling against him and her bosom throbbing, and she stammered, abruptly: "I love you, too!"

He started as though he had received a blow, and sighed: "Good God."

She replied, in panting tones: "Ought I to have told you that? I feel I am guilty and contemptible. I, who have two daughters, but I cannot help it, I cannot help it. I could not have believed, I should never have thought- but it is stronger than I. Listen, listen: I have never loved anyone but you; I swear it. And I have loved you for a year past in secret, in my secret heart. Oh! I have suffered and struggled till I can do so no more. I love you."

She was weeping, with her hands crossed in front of her face, and her whole frame was quivering, shaken by the violence of her emotion.

George murmured: "Give me your hand, that I may touch it, that I may press it."

She slowly withdrew her hand from her face. He saw her cheek quite wet and a tear ready to fall on her lashes. He had taken her hand and was pressing it, saying: "Oh, how I should like to drink your tears!"

She said, in a low and broken voice, which resembled a moan: "Do not take advantage of me; I am lost."

He felt an impulse to smile. How could he take advantage of her in that place? He placed the hand he held upon his heart, saying: "Do you feel it beat?" For he had come to the end of his passionate phrases.

For some moments past the regular footsteps of the promenader had been coming nearer. He had gone the round of the altars, and was now, for the second time at least, coming down the little aisle on the right. When Madame Walter heard him close to the pillar which hid her, she snatched her fingers from George’s grasp, and again hid her face. And both remained motionless, kneeling as though they had been addressing fervent supplications to heaven together. The stout gentleman passed close to them, cast an indifferent look upon them, and walked away to the lower end of the church, still holding his hat behind his back.

Du Roy, who was thinking of obtaining an appointment elsewhere than at the Church of the Trinity, murmured: "Where shall I see you tomorrow?"

She did not answer. She seemed lifeless- turned into a statue of prayer. He went on: "Tomorrow, will you let me meet you in the Parc Monceau?"

She turned toward him her again uncovered face, a livid face, contracted by fearful suffering, and in a jerky voice ejaculated: "Leave me, leave me now; go away, go away, only for five minutes! I suffer too much beside you. I want to pray, and I cannot. Go away, let me pray alone for five minutes... I can’t.... Let me implore God to pardon me- to save me. Leave me for five minutes."

Her face was so upset, so full of pain, that he rose without saying a word, and then, after a little hesitation, asked: "Shall I come back presently?"

She gave a nod, which meant, "Yes, presently," and he walked away toward the choir. Then she strove to pray. She made a superhuman effort to invoke the Deity, and with quivering frame and bewildering soul appealed for mercy to heaven. She closed her eyes violently, in order no longer to see the man who just left her. She sought to drive him from her mind, she struggled against him, but instead of the celestial apparition awaited in the distress of her heart, she still perceived the young fellow’s curly mustache.

For a year past she had been struggling thus every day, every night, against the growing possession, against this image which haunted her dreams, haunted her flesh, and disturbed her nights. She felt caught like a beast in a net, bound, thrown into the arms of this man, who had vanquished, conquered her, simply by the hair on his lip and the color of his eyes.

And now in this church, close to God, she felt still weaker, more abandoned, and more lost than at home. She could no longer pray, she could only think of him. She suffered already that he had quitted her. She struggled, however, despairingly, resisted, implored help with all the strength of her soul. She would liked to have died rather than fall thus, she who had never faltered in her duty. She murmured wild words of supplication, but she was listening to George’s footsteps dying away in the distance.

She understood that it was all over, that the struggle was a useless one. She would not yield, however; and she was seized by one of those nervous crises that hurl women quivering, shrieking, and writhing on the ground. She trembled in every limb, feeling that she was going to fall and roll among the chairs, uttering shrill cries. Someone approached with rapid steps. It was a priest. She rose and rushed toward him, holding out her clasped hands, and stammering: "Oh! save me, save me!"

He halted in surprise, saying: "What is it you wish, madame?"

"I want you to save me. Have pity on me. If you do not come to my assistance, I am lost."

He looked at her, asking himself whether she was not mad, and then said: "What can I do for you?"

He was a tall, and somewhat stout young man, with full, pendulous cheeks, dark, with a carefully shaven face, a good-looking city priest serving a wealthy district, and accustomed to rich penitents.

"Hear my confession, and advise me, sustain me, tell me what I am to do."

He replied: "I hear confessions every Saturday, from three to six o’clock."

Having seized his arm, she gripped it tightly as she repeated: "No, no, no; at once, at once! You must. He is here, in the church. He is waiting for me."

"Who is waiting for you?" asked the priest.

"A man who will ruin me, who will carry me off, if you do not save me. I cannot flee from him. I am too weak- too weak! Oh, so weak, so weak!" She fell at his feet sobbing: "Oh, have pity on me, father! Save me, in God’s name, save me!"

She held him by his black gown to prevent him from escaping, and he with uneasiness glanced around, lest some malevolent or devout eye should see this woman fallen at his feet. Understanding at length that he could not escape, he said: "Get up; I have the key of the confessional with me."

And fumbling in his pocket he drew out a ring full of keys, selected one, and walked rapidly toward the little wooden cabins, dust bins of the soul into which believers cast their sins. He entered the center door, which he closed behind him, and Madame Walter, throwing herself into the narrow recess at the side, stammered fervently, with a passionate burst of hope: "Bless me father, for I have sinned."

. . . . . .

Du Roy, having taken a turn round the choir, was passing down the left aisle. He had got halfway when he met the stout, bald gentleman still walking quietly along, and said to himself: "What the deuce is that fellow doing here?"

The promenader had also slackened his pace, and was looking at George with an evident wish to speak to him. When he came quite close he bowed, and said in a polite fashion: "I beg your pardon, sir, for troubling you, but can you tell me when this church was built?"

Du Roy replied: "Really, I am not quite certain. I think within the last twenty or twenty-five years. Actually, it is the first time I ever was inside it."

"It is the same with me. I have never seen it before."

The journalist, whose interest was awakened, remarked: "It seems to me that you are going over it very carefully. You are studying it in detail."

The other replied, with resignation: "I am not examining it; I am waiting for my wife, who made an appointment with me here, and who is very much behind time." Then, after a few moments’ silence, he added: "It is fearfully hot outside."

Du Roy looked at him, and all at once fancied that he resembled Forestier.

"You are from the country?" said he, inquiringly.

"Yes, from Rennes. And you, sir, is it out of curiosity that you entered this church?"

"No, I am expecting a lady," and bowing, the journalist walked away, with a smile on his lips.

Approaching the main entrance, he saw the poor woman still on her knees, and still praying. He thought: "Lord! she keeps hard at it." He was no longer moved, and no longer pitied her.

He passed on, and began quietly to walk up the right-hand aisle to find Madame Walter again. He marked the place where he had left her from a distance, astonished at not seeing her. He thought he had made a mistake in the pillar; went on as far as the end one, and then returned. She had gone, then. He was surprised and enraged. Then he thought she might be looking for him, and made the circuit of the church again. Not finding her, he returned, and sat down on the chair she had occupied, hoping she would rejoin him there, and waited.

Soon a low murmur of voices aroused his attention. He had not seen anyone in that part of the church. Whence came this whispering? He rose to see, and perceived in the adjacent chapel the doors of the confessional. The skirt of a dress issuing from one of these trailed on the pavement. He approached to examine the woman. He recognized her. She was confessing.

He felt a violent inclination to take her by the shoulders and to pull her out of the box. Then he thought: "Bah! it is the priest’s turn now; it will be mine tomorrow." And he sat down quietly in front of the confessional, biding his time, and chuckling now over the adventure.

He waited a long time. At length Madame Walter rose, turned round, saw him, and came up to him. Her expression was cold and severe. "Sir," said she, "I beg of you not to accompany me, not to follow me, and not to come to my house alone. You will not be received. Farewell."

And she walked away with a dignified bearing. He let her depart, for one of his principles was never to force matters. Then, as the priest, somewhat upset, issued in turn from his box, he walked up to him, and, looking him straight in the eyes, growled to his face: "If you did not wear a skirt, what a smack you would get across your ugly mug." After which he turned on his heels and went out of the church, whistling between his teeth.

Standing under the porch, the stout gentleman, his hat on his head and his hands behind his back, tired of waiting, was scanning the broad squares and all the streets opening onto it. As Du Roy passed him they bowed to one another.

The journalist, finding himself at liberty, went to the office of the Vie Francaise. As soon as he entered he saw by the busy air of the messengers that something out of the ordinary was happening, and at once went into the publisher’s office. Old Walter, in a state of nervous excitement, was standing up dictating an article in broken sentences, issuing orders to the reporters, who surrounded him, between two paragraphs; giving instructions to Boisrenard; and opening letters.

As Du Roy came in, his employer uttered a cry of joy: "Ah! how lucky; here is Bel-Ami!" He stopped short, somewhat confused, and excused himself:

"I beg your pardon for calling you that, but I am very much disturbed by certain events. And then I hear my wife and daughter speaking of you as Bel-Ami from morning till night, and have ended by falling into the habit myself. You are not offended?"

"Not at all!" said George, laughingly; "there is nothing in that nickname to displease me."

Old Walter went on: "Very well, then, I christen you Bel-Ami, like everyone else. Well, the fact is, great things are taking place. The Ministry has been overthrown by a vote of 310 to 102. Our vacation is again postponed- postponed to the Greek calends, and here we are at the twenty-eighth of July. Spain is angry about the Morocco business, and that is what has overthrown Durand de l’Aine and his followers. We are deeply involved. Marrot is entrusted with the formation of a new Cabinet. He takes General Boutin d’Acre as minister of war, and our friend Laroche-Mathieu for foreign affairs. He’s keeping the Ministry of Interior along with the Premier’s office. We are going to become an official organ. I am writing an editorial, a simple declaration of our principles, pointing out the line to be followed by the Ministry."

The old boy smiled, and continued: "The line they intend following, be it understood. But I want something interesting about Morocco, something topical, a sensational article, something or other. Think of something for me."

Du Roy reflected for a moment, and then replied: "I have the very thing for you. I will give you a study of the political situation of the whole of our African colony, with Tunis on the left, Algeria in the middle, and Morocco on the right; the history of the races inhabiting this vast extent of territory; and the narrative of an excursion on the frontier of Morocco to the great oasis of Figuig, where no European has penetrated, and which is the cause of the present conflict. Will that suit you?"

"Admirably!" exclaimed old Walter. "And the title?"

"From Tunis to Tangiers."

"Splendid!"

Du Roy went off to search the files of the Vie Francaise for his first article, "The Recollections of a Chasseur d’Afrique," which, rebaptized, revised, and modified, would do admirably, since it dealt with colonial policy, the Algerian population, and an excursion in the province of Oran. In three-quarters of an hour it was rewritten, touched up, and brought to date, with a flavor of realism, and praises of the new Cabinet. The publisher, after reading the article, said: "It is capital, capital, capital! You are an invaluable fellow. I congratulate you."

And Du Roy went home to dinner delighted with his day’s work, despite the setback at the Church of the Trinity, for he felt the battle won. His wife was anxiously waiting for him. She exclaimed, as soon as she saw him: "Do you know that Laroche-Mathieu is Minister for Foreign Affairs?"

"Yes; I have just written an article on Algeria, in connection with it."

"What?"

"You know, the first we wrote together, ’The Recollections of a Chasseur d’Afrique,’ revised and corrected for the occasion."

She smiled, saying: "Ah, that is very good!" Then, after a few moments’ reflection, she continued: "I was thinking- that continuation you were to have written then, and that you- put off. We might set to work on it now. It would make a nice series, and very appropriate to the situation."

He replied, sitting down to table: "Exactly, and there is nothing in the way of it now that cuckold of a Forestier is dead."

She said sharply, in a dry and hurt tone: "That joke is more than out of place, and I beg of you to put an end to it. It has lasted too long already."

He was about to make an ironical answer, when a telegram was brought him, containing these words: "I had lost my senses. Forgive me, and come at four o’clock tomorrow to the Parc Monceau."

He understood, and with heart suddenly filled with joy, he said to his wife, as he slipped the message into his pocket: "I will not do so any more, darling; it was stupid, I admit."

And he began his dinner. While eating he kept repeating to himself the words: "I had lost my senses. Forgive me, and come at four o’clock tomorrow to the Parc Monceau." So she was yielding. That meant: "I surrender, I am yours when you like and where you like." He began to laugh, and Madeleine asked: "What is it?"

"Nothing," he answered; "I was thinking of a priest I met just now, and who had a very comical mug."

Du Roy arrived on time at the appointed place next day. On the benches of the park were seated citizens overcome by heat, and carefree nurses, who seemed to be dreaming while their children were rolling on the gravel of the paths. He found Madame Walter in the little antique ruins from which a spring flows. She was walking round the circle of columns with an uneasy and unhappy air. As soon as he had greeted her, she exclaimed: "What a number of people there are in the garden."

He seized the opportunity: "It is true; will you come somewhere else?"

"But where?"

"No matter where; in a cab, for instance. You can draw down the blind on your side, and you will be quite invisible."

"Yes, I prefer that; here I am dying with fear."

"Well, come and meet me in five minutes at the gate opening onto the outer boulevard. I will have a cab."

And he darted off.

As soon as she had rejoined him, and had carefully drawn down the blind on her side, she asked: "Where have you told the driver to take us?"

George replied: "Do not trouble yourself, he knows what to do."

He had given the man his address in the Rue de Constantinople.

She resumed: "You cannot imagine what I suffer on account of you, how I am tortured and tormented. Yesterday, in the church, I was cruel, but I wanted to flee from you at any cost. I was so afraid to find myself alone with you. Have you forgiven me?"

He squeezed her hands: "Yes, yes, what would I not forgive you, loving you as I do?"

She looked at him with a supplicating air: "Listen, you must promise to respect me- not to- not to- otherwise I cannot see you again."

He did not reply at once; he wore under his mustache that keen smile that disturbed women. He ended by murmuring: "I am your slave."

Then she began to tell him how she had perceived that she was in love with him on learning that he was going to marry Madeleine Forestier. She gave details, little details of dates and the like. Suddenly she paused. The cab had stopped. Du Roy opened the door.

"Where are we?" she asked.

"Get out and come into this house," he replied. "We shall be more at ease there."

"But where are we?"

"At my bachelor apartment, which I’ve rented again for a few days, so we can have a place where we can see each other."

She clung to the cab cushions, terrified at the thought of this tete-a-tete, and stammered: "No, no, I won’t! I don’t want to!"

He replied in a firm tone: "I swear to respect you. Come on. Look, people are staring at us; soon a crowd will gather. Hurry... hurry... get out!" And he repeated: "I swear to respect you."

A wine-merchant, standing in his doorway, was looking at them with great curiosity. Seized with terror, she dashed into the house. She was about to climb the stairs when he held her back:

"It is here, on the ground floor." And he pushed her into his apartment.

As soon as he had shut the door, he fell on her like a beast of prey. She resisted, fought, stammered: "Oh, my God, oh, my God...."

He kissed her neck, her eyes, her lips, with passion. She could not avoid his fierce caresses. Even though she tried to push him away and avoid his mouth, she returned his kisses in spite of herself.

Suddenly she stopped struggling. Conquered, resigned, she let him undress her. Rapidly and skillfully he removed all her articles of clothing, his fingers as nimble as those of a lady’s maid. She had snatched her corset from his hands to hide her face in it and stood there, her white naked body rising above the clothes lying at her feet. He left her shoes on and carried her in his arms to the bed. Then, in a broken voice, she whispered in his ear; "I swear... I swear to you I have never had a lover"- just as a young girl might have said: "I swear to you I am a virgin."

He thought: "What do I care whether you have had one or not?"

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Chicago: Guy de Maupassant, "4," Bel-Ami in Library of the Future ® 4th Edition Ver. 5.0 (Irvine, CA: World Library, Inc., 1996), Original Sources, accessed July 20, 2019, http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=1GYZTFDCXRGKNXA.

MLA: de Maupassant, Guy. "4." Bel-Ami, in Library of the Future ® 4th Edition Ver. 5.0, Irvine, CA, World Library, Inc., 1996, Original Sources. 20 Jul. 2019. www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=1GYZTFDCXRGKNXA.

Harvard: de Maupassant, G, '4' in Bel-Ami. cited in 1996, Library of the Future ® 4th Edition Ver. 5.0, World Library, Inc., Irvine, CA. Original Sources, retrieved 20 July 2019, from http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=1GYZTFDCXRGKNXA.