Bel-Ami

Contents:
Author: Guy de Maupassant  | Date: 1885

PART ONE

1

When the cashier had given him the change from his five-franc piece, George Duroy left the restaurant.

As he carried himself well, both naturally and from having been a noncommissioned officer, he straightened up, twirled his mustache with a soldier’s familiar gesture, and threw upon the lingering diners a rapid and sweeping glance- one of those young men’s glances that take in everything, like a casting net.

The women had looked up at him- three little working girls, a middle-aged music teacher, disheveled, untidy, and wearing a dusty hat and a dress that wasn’t on straight, and two housewives dining with their husbands- all regular customers at this cheap eating-place.

When he got outside, he stood still for a moment, wondering what he was going to do. It was the 28th of June, and he had just three francs forty centimes in his pocket to carry him to the end of the month. This meant choosing between two dinners without lunch and two lunches without dinner. He reflected that since midday meals cost twenty-two sous apiece, as against thirty sous for dinner, he would, if he ate only the lunches, be one franc twenty centimes to the good, enough for two snacks of bread and sausage and two glasses of beer on the boulevards. The latter was his greatest extravagance and his chief pleasure at night. So he set off down the Rue Notre-Dame-de-Lorette.

He walked as in the days when he had worn a hussar’s uniform, his chest thrown out and his legs slightly apart, as if he had just dismounted from his horse; and he pushed his way through the crowded street, roughly shouldering people aside in order to keep a straight path. He wore his somewhat shabby hat on one side, and brought his heels smartly down on the pavement. He always seemed to be defying somebody or something, the passersby, the houses, the whole city, with the swagger of a dashing military man turned civilian.

Although wearing a sixty-franc suit, he was not without a certain somewhat loud elegance. Tall, well-built, with dark, faintly reddish hair, a curled-up mustache that seemed to hover like foam over his lip, bright blue eyes with small pupils, and hair curling naturally and parted in the middle, he bore a strong resemblance to the scoundrel of popular novels.

It was one of those summer evenings in Paris when there seems to be no air stirring. The city, hot as an oven, seemed to swelter in the stifling night. The sewers exhaled a poisonous breath through their granite mouths, and through their basement windows the kitchens filled the street with the stench of dishwater and rancid sauces.

The concierges in their shirt sleeves sat astride straw-bottomed chairs in the gateways of the houses, smoking their pipes, and the pedestrians walked with flagging steps, bare-headed, their hats in their hands.

When George Duroy reached the boulevards he paused again, undecided as to what he should do. He now thought of going on to the Champs-Elysees and the Avenue du Bois de Boulogne to get a little fresh air under the trees; but another wish assailed him, a desire for a love affair.

How would it come about? He did not know, but he had been on the lookout for three months, night and day. Occasionally, thanks to his good looks and gallant appearance, he gleaned a few crumbs of love here and there, but he was always hoping for something more and better.

With empty pockets and hot blood, he was aroused by the touch of prostitutes who murmured at street corners: "Coming to my place, dearie?" but he dared not follow them, being unable to pay; and besides, he was waiting for something else, for less vulgar kisses.

He liked, however, the places which such women frequented- their dance halls, their cafes, and their streets. He liked to rub shoulders with them, speak to them, tease them, inhale their strong perfumes, feel himself near them. At least they were women, women made for love. He did not despise them with the innate contempt of a well-born man.

He turned toward the Madeleine, following the stream of people that flowed along overcome by the heat. The big cafes, filled with customers, spilled out over the pavement, the imbibing clientele spotlighted under the harsh glare of their lit-up windows. In front of them, on little tables, square or round, were glasses holding drinks of every shade, red, yellow, green, brown, and inside the decanters glittered the large transparent cylinders of ice cooling the bright, clear water. Duroy had slackened his pace, and a longing to drink parched his throat.

A burning thirst, a summer evening’s thirst assailed him, and he imagined the delightful sensation of cool drinks flowing down his throat. But even if he took only two glasses of beer in the evening, farewell to tomorrow’s slender supper, and he was only too well acquainted with the hungry hours at the end of the month.

He said to himself: "I must hold out till ten o’clock, and then I’ll have my beer at the American Bar. Damn it, how thirsty I am, though." And he scanned the men seated at the tables drinking, all these men who could quench their thirst as much as they pleased. He went on, passing in front of the cafes with a carefree swaggering air, and guessing at a glance from their dress and expression how much money each customer probably had on him. Anger against these men quietly sitting there rose up within him. If their pockets were rummaged, gold, silver, and coppers would be found in them. On an average each one must have at least forty francs. There were certainly a hundred to a cafe: a hundred times forty francs makes four thousand francs. He murmured: "Swine!" as he walked nonchalantly past them. If he could get hold of one of them at a nice dark corner he would twist his neck without scruple, as he used to do with the peasants’ fowls on maneuvers.

He recalled his two years in Africa and the way he used to pillage the Arabs when stationed at little outposts in the south. A bright, cruel smile flitted across his lips at the recollection of an escapade which had cost the lives of three men of the Ouled-Alane tribe, and had furnished him and his comrades with twenty hens, a couple of sheep, some gold, and food for laughter for six months.

The culprits had never been found; in fact they had hardly been sought, the Arab being looked upon as a kind of natural prey of the soldier.

In Paris it was different. One could not indulge in amiable plundering, sword at one’s side and revolver in hand, far from civil authority. He felt in his heart all the instincts of a noncom let loose in a conquered country. He certainly missed his two years in the desert. What a pity he had not stayed there! But he had hoped for something better on returning home. And now- ah! now he was really in a fix!

He clicked his tongue as if to verify the parched state of his palate.

The crowd moved past him slowly, worn out by the heat, and he kept thinking: "What swine! all these idiots have money in their pockets." He pushed against people and softly whistled a lively tune. Gentlemen whom he thus elbowed turned around with a growl, and women murmured: "What a brute!"

He passed the Vaudeville Theater and stopped in front of the American Bar, wondering whether he should not take his beer, so greatly did his thirst torture him. Before making up his mind, he glanced at the illuminated clocks in the middle of the street. It was a quarter past nine. He knew himself: as soon as the glassful of beer was before him he would gulp it down. What would he do then until eleven o’clock?

He moved on. "I will go as far as the Madeleine," he said, "and walk back slowly."

As he reached the corner of the Place de l’Opera, he passed a stout young fellow, whose face he vaguely recollected having seen somewhere. He began to follow him, turning over his recollections and repeating to himself half-aloud: "Where the deuce do I know that fellow from?"

He searched his brain without being able to recollect, and then all at once, by a strange phenomenon of memory, the same man appeared to him thinner, younger, and clad in a hussar uniform. He exclaimed aloud: "Hello, Forestier!" and stepping up he tapped the other on the shoulder. The latter turned round and looked at him, and then said, "What is it, sir?"

Duroy broke into a laugh. "Don’t you know me?" he said.

"No."

"George Duroy, of the 6th Hussars."

Forestier held out his hands, exclaiming: "Well, old fellow! How are you?"

"Very well, and you?"

"Oh, not too good! Just fancy, I have a chest that feels like pulp now. I cough six months out of twelve, through a cold I caught at Bougival the year of my return to Paris, four years ago."

And Forestier, taking his old comrade’s arm, spoke to him of his illness, related the consultations, opinions, and advice of the doctors, and the difficulty of following their advice in his position. He was told to spend the winter in the South, but how could he? He was married, and a journalist in a good position.

"I am political editor of the Vie Francaise. I write up the proceedings in the Senate for the Salut, and from time to time literary criticisms for the Planete. You see, I have made my way."

Duroy looked at him with surprise. He was greatly changed, matured. He had now the manner, bearing, and dress of a man in a good position and sure of himself, and the stomach of a man who dines well. Formerly he had been thin, slight, supple, heedless, brawling, noisy, and always ready for a spree. In three years Paris had turned him into someone quite different, stout and serious, and with some white hairs about his temples, though he was not more than twenty-seven.

Forestier asked: "Where are you going?"

Duroy answered: "Nowhere; I am just taking a stroll before turning in."

"Well, will you come with me to the Vie Francaise, where I have some proofs to correct, and then we will have a beer together?"

"All right."

They began to walk on, arm in arm, with that easy familiarity existing between schoolfellows and men in the same regiment.

"What are you doing in Paris?" asked Forestier.

Duroy shrugged his shoulders. "Simply starving. As soon as I finished my military service I came here- to make a fortune, or rather for the sake of living in Paris; and for six months I have been a clerk in the offices of the Northern Railway at fifteen hundred francs a year, nothing more."

Forestier murmured: "Hang it, that’s not much!"

"I should think not. But how can I get out of it? I am alone; I don’t know anyone; I can get no one to recommend me. It is not good will that is lacking, but means."

His comrade scanned him from head to foot, like a practical man examining a subject, and then said, in a tone of conviction: "You see, my boy, everything depends upon assurance here. A clever fellow can more easily become a Cabinet minister than a department head. One must impose one’s self on people; not ask things of them. But how the deuce is it that you could not get hold of anything better than a clerk’s job on the Northern Railway?"

Duroy replied: "I looked about everywhere, but could not find anything. But I have something in view just now; I have been offered a riding-master’s place at Pellerin’s riding school. There I shall get three thousand francs at the lowest."

Forestier stopped short. "Don’t do that; it is stupid, when you ought to be earning ten thousand francs. You would nip your future in the bud. In your office, at any rate, you are hidden; no one knows you; you can emerge from it if you are strong enough to make your way. But once a riding-master, and it is all over. It is as if you were headwaiter at a place where all Paris goes to dine. When once you have given riding lessons to people in society or to their children, they will never be able to look upon you as an equal."

He remained silent for a few moments, evidently reflecting, and then asked:

"Have you a bachelor’s degree?"

"No; I failed twice."

"That is no matter, as long as you studied for it. If anyone mentions Cicero or Tiberius, you know pretty well what they are talking about?"

"Yes; pretty well."

"Good; no one knows any more, with the exception of a few idiots who remain in a rut. It is not difficult to pass for being well informed; the great thing is not to be caught in some blunder. You can maneuver, avoid the difficulty, turn the obstacle, and floor others by means of a dictionary. Men are all as stupid as geese and ignorant as donkeys."

He spoke like a self-possessed fellow who knows what life is, and smiled as he watched the crowd go by. But all at once he began to cough, and stopped again until the fit was over, adding, in a tone of discouragement: "Isn’t it aggravating not to be able to get rid of this cough? And we are in the middle of summer. Oh! this winter I shall go and get cured at Mentone. Health before everything."

They halted on the Boulevard Poissonniere before a large glass door, on the inner side of which an open newspaper was pasted. Three passersby had stopped and were reading it.

Above the door, stretched in large letters of flame, outlined by gas jets, the inscription LA VIE FRANCAISE. The pedestrians passing into the light shed by these three dazzling words suddenly appeared as visible as in broad daylight, then disappeared again into darkness.

Forestier pushed the door open, saying, "Come in." Duroy entered, ascended an ornate yet dirty staircase, visible from the street, passed through an anteroom where two messengers bowed to his companion, and reached a kind of waiting room, shabby and dusty, upholstered in dirty green imitation velvet, covered with spots and stains, and worn in places as if mice had been gnawing it.

"Sit down, said Forestier. "I will be back in five minutes."

And he disappeared through one of the three doors opening into the room.

A strange, special, indescribable smell, the smell of a newspaper office, floated in the air of the room. Duroy remained motionless, slightly intimidated, above all surprised. From time to time men passed hurriedly before him, coming in at one door and going out at another before he had time to look at them.

Sometimes they were young lads, with an appearance of haste, holding in their hand a sheet of paper which fluttered from the hurry of their movements; sometimes compositors, whose white blouses, spotted with ink, revealed a clean shirt collar and cloth trousers like those of men of fashion, and who carefully carried strips of printed paper, fresh proofs damp from the press. Sometimes a gentleman entered rather too elegantly attired, his waist too tightly pinched by his frock coat, his leg too well set off by the cut of his trousers, his foot squeezed into a shoe too pointed at the toe, some society reporter bringing in the gossip of the evening.

Others, too, arrived, serious, important-looking men, wearing tall hats with flat brims, as if this shape distinguished them from the rest of mankind.

Forestier reappeared holding the arm of a tall, thin fellow, between thirty and forty years of age, in evening dress, very dark, with his mustache ends stiffened in sharp points, and an insolent and self-satisfied bearing.

Forestier said to him: "Good night, dear master."

The other shook hands with him, saying: "Good night, my dear fellow," and went downstairs whistling, with his cane under his arm.

Duroy asked: "Who is that?"

"Jacques Rival, you know, the celebrated columnist, the duellist. He has just been correcting his proofs. Garin, Montel, and he are the three best columnists, for facts and witty ideas, we have in Paris. He gets thirty thousand francs a year here for two articles a week."

As they were leaving they met a short, stout man, with long hair and untidy appearance, who was puffing as he came up the stairs.

Forestier bowed low to him. "Norbert de Varenne," said he, "the poet; the author of Les Soleils Morts; another who gets high prices. Every story he writes for us costs three hundred francs, and the longest do not run to two hundred lines. But let’s turn into the Neapolitan cafe; I am beginning to choke with thirst."

As soon as they were seated at a table in the cafe, Forestier called for two bocks, and drank off his own at a single draught, while Duroy sipped his beer in slow mouthfuls, tasting it and relishing it like something rare and precious.

His companion was silent, and seemed to be reflecting. Suddenly he exclaimed:

"Why don’t you try journalism?"

The other looked at him in surprise, and then said: "But, you know, I have never written anything."

"Bah! everyone must begin. I could give you a job to hunt up information for me- to make calls and inquiries. You would have to start with two hundred and fifty francs a month and your cab fare. Shall I speak to the publisher about it?"

"Certainly!"

"Very well, then, come and dine with me tomorrow. I shall only have five or six people- the boss, Monsieur Walter, and his wife, Jacques Rival, and Norbert de Varenne, whom you have just seen, and a lady, a friend of my wife. Is it settled?"

Duroy hesitated, blushing and perplexed. At length he murmured: "You see... I have no clothes."

Forestier was astounded. "You have no dress clothes? Hang it all, they are indispensable. In Paris one is better off without a bed than without a dress suit."

Then, suddenly feeling in his waistcoat pocket, he drew out some gold, took two louis, placed them in front of his old comrade, and said in a cordial and familiar tone: "You will pay me back when you can. Hire or arrange to pay by installments for the clothes you want, whichever you like, but come and dine with me tomorrow, half-past seven, number seventeen Rue Fontaine."

Duroy, confused, picked up the money, stammering: "You are too good; I am very much obliged to you; you may be sure I shall not forget."

The other interrupted him. "All right. Another bock, eh? Waiter, two bocks."

Then, when they had drunk them, the journalist said: "Will you stroll about a bit for an hour?"

"Certainly."

And they set out again in the direction of the Madeleine.

"What shall we do?" said Forestier. "They say that in Paris an idler can always find something to amuse him, but it is not true. I, when I want to lounge about of an evening, never know where to go. A drive round the Bois de Boulogne is only amusing with a woman, and one has not always one to hand; the cafe concerts may please my druggist and his wife, but not me. Then what is there to do? Nothing. There ought to be a summer garden like the Parc Monceau, open at night, where one would hear very good music while sipping cool drinks under the trees. It should not be a pleasure resort, but a lounging place, with a high price for entrance in order to attract the fine ladies. One ought to be able to stroll along well-graveled walks lit up by electric light, and to sit down when one wished to hear the music near or at a distance. We had something of the sort formerly at Musard’s, but with a smack of the low-class dance hall, and too much dance music, not enough space, not enough shade, not enough gloom. It should have a very fine garden and a very extensive one. It would be delightful. Where shall we go?"

Duroy, rather perplexed, did not know what to say; at length he made up his mind. "I have never been to the Folies-Bergere. I shouldn’t mind taking a look around there," he said.

"The Folies-Bergere," exclaimed his companion, "the deuce; we shall roast there as in an oven. But, very well, then, it is always amusing."

And they turned on their heels to make their way to the Rue du Faubourg Montmartre.

The lit-up front of the establishment threw a bright light into the four streets which met in front of it. A string of cabs were waiting for the close of the performance.

Forestier was walking in when Duroy checked him.

"You are passing the box-office," said he.

"I never pay," was the reply, in a tone of importance.

When he approached the attendants they bowed, and one of them held out his hand. The journalist asked: "Have you a good box?"

"Certainly, Monsieur Forestier."

He took the pass held out to him, pushed the padded door with its leather borders, and they found themselves in the auditorium.

Tobacco smoke like a faint mist slightly veiled the stage and the far side of the theater. Rising incessantly in thin white spirals from the cigars and pipes, this light fog ascended to the ceiling, and there, accumulating, formed under the dome above the crowded gallery a cloudy sky.

In the broad corridor leading to the circular promenade- thronged with gaily dressed prostitutes and men in dark suits- a group of women were awaiting newcomers in front of one of the bars, at which sat enthroned three painted and faded vendors of love and liquor.

The tall mirrors behind them reflected their backs and the faces of passersby.

Forestier pushed his way through the groups, advancing quickly with the air of a man entitled to consideration.

He went up to an usher. "Box seventeen," said he.

"This way, sir."

And they were shut up in a little open box draped with red, and holding four chairs of the same color, so near to one another that one could scarcely slip between them. The two friends sat down. To the right, as to the left, following a long curved line, the two ends of which joined the proscenium, a row of similar boxes held people seated in like fashion, with only their heads and chests visible.

On the stage, three young fellows in tights, one tall, one of middle size, and one small, were executing feats in turn upon a trapeze.

The tall one advanced first with short, quick steps, smiling and waving his hand as though wafting a kiss.

The muscles of his arms and legs stood out under his tights. He expanded his chest to hide the effect of his too prominent stomach, and his face resembled that of a barber’s assistant, for a careful part divided his locks equally on the center of the skull. He gained the trapeze by a graceful bound, and, hanging by the hands, whirled round it like a wheel at full speed, or, with stiff arms and straightened body, held himself out horizontally in space, supported entirely by his wrists.

Then he jumped down, saluted the audience again with a smile amidst the applause of the stalls, and went and leaned against the scenery, showing off the muscles of his legs at every step.

The second, shorter and more squarely built, advanced in turn, and went through the same performance, which the third also recommenced amidst most marked expressions of approval from the public.

But Duroy scarcely noticed the performance, and, with head averted, kept his eyes on the promenade behind him, full of men and prostitutes.

Said Forestier to him: "Look at the stalls; nothing but middle-class folk with their wives and children, well-meaning fools who come to see the show. In the boxes, men about town, some artists, some girls, good second-raters; and behind us, the strangest mixture in Paris. Who are these men? Watch them. There is something of everything, of every profession, and every caste; but black-guardism predominates. There are clerks of all kinds- bankers’ clerks, government clerks, store clerks, reporters, pimps, officers in plain clothes, swells in evening dress, who have dined out, and have dropped in here on their way from the Opera to the Theatre des Italiens; and then again, too, quite a crowd of suspicious characters who defy analysis. As to the women, only one type, the kind who sups at the American Bar, the one- or two-louis girl who is on the lookout for foreigners at five louis and lets her regular customers know when she is disengaged. We have known them for the last six years; we see them every evening, all year round, in the same places, except when they are making a hygienic sojourn at Saint-Lazare or at Lourcine hospital."

Duroy no longer heard him. One of these women was leaning against their box and looking at him. She was a stout brunette, her skin whitened with face cream, her black eyes lengthened at the corners with pencil and shaded by enormous and artificial eyebrows. Her too exuberant bosom stretched the dark silk of her dress almost to bursting; and her painted lips, red as a fresh wound, gave her an aspect bestial, ardent, unnatural, but which nevertheless aroused desire.

She beckoned, with a nod, one of her friends who was passing, a fair girl with red hair, stout like herself, and said to her, in a voice loud enough to be heard: "There’s a good-looking fellow; if he would like to have me for ten louis I wouldn’t say No."

Forestier turned and tapped Duroy on the knee, with a smile. "That’s meant for you; you’re a success, my dear fellow. I congratulate you."

The ex-noncom blushed, and mechanically fingered the two pieces of gold in his waistcoat pocket.

The curtain had dropped, and the orchestra was now playing a waltz.

Duroy said: "Suppose we take a turn round the promenade."

"Just as you like."

They left their box, and were at once swept away by the throng of promenaders. Pushed, pressed, squeezed, shaken, they went on, having before their eyes a crowd of hats. The girls, in pairs, passed amidst this crowd of men, traversing it with facility, gliding between elbows, chests, and backs as if quite at home, perfectly at their ease, like fish in water, amidst this masculine flood.

Duroy, charmed, let himself be swept along, drinking in with intoxication the air vitiated by tobacco, the odor of humanity, and the perfumes of the hussies. But Forestier sweated, puffed, and coughed.

"Let us go into the garden," said he.

And turning to the left, they entered a kind of covered garden, cooled by two large and ugly fountains. Men and women were drinking at zinc tables placed beneath evergreen trees growing in boxes.

"Another bock, eh?" said Forestier.

"With pleasure."

They sat down and watched the passing throng.

From time to time a woman would stop and ask, with stereotyped smile: "Are you going to stand me anything?"

And as Forestier answered: "A glass of water from the fountain," she would turn away, muttering: "Go on, you louse."

But the stout brunette who had been leaning, just before, against the box occupied by the two comrades, reappeared, walking proudly arm in arm with the stout blonde. They were really a fine pair of women, well matched.

She smiled on perceiving Duroy, as though their eyes had already told secrets, and, taking a chair, sat down quietly in front of him, and making her friend sit down, too, gave the order in a clear voice: "Waiter, two grenadines!"

Forestier, rather surprised, said: "You certainly make yourself at home."

She replied: "It is your friend that captivates me. He is really a handsome fellow. I believe that I could make a fool of myself for his sake."

Duroy, intimidated, could find nothing to say. He twisted his curly mustache, smiling in a silly fashion. The waiter brought the drinks, which the women drank off at a draught; then they rose, and the brunette, with a friendly nod of the head and a tap on the arm with her fan, said to Duroy: "Thanks, dear. You are not very talkative."

And they went off swaying their trains.

Forestier laughed. "I say, old fellow, you are very successful with the women. You should keep an eye on that. It can take you a long way." He was silent for a moment, and then continued in the dreamy tone of men who think aloud: "It’s through them that you get there fastest."

And as Duroy still smiled without replying, he asked: "Are you going to stay any longer? I have had enough of it. I am going home."

The other murmured: "Yes, I shall stay a little longer. It is not late."

Forestier rose. "Well, good night, then. Till tomorrow. Don’t forget. Seventeen Rue Fontaine, at half-past seven."

"That is settled. Till tomorrow. Thanks."

They shook hands, and the journalist walked away.

As soon as he had disappeared Duroy felt himself free, and again he joyfully felt the two pieces of gold in his pocket; then rising, he began to traverse the crowd, which he followed with his eyes.

He soon caught sight of the two women, the blonde and the brunette, who were still making their way, with their proud bearing of beggars, through the throng of men.

He went straight up to them, and when he was quite close he no longer dared to say anything.

The brunette said: "Have you found your tongue again?"

He stammered "Lord!" without being able to say anything else.

The three stood together, checking the movement of the promenade, the current of which swept round them.

All at once she asked: "Will you come home with me?"

And he, quivering with desire, answered roughly: "Yes, but I have only a louis in my pocket."

She smiled indifferently. "It is all the same to me," and took his arm in token of possession.

As they went out he thought that with the other louis he could easily hire a suit of dress clothes for the next evening.

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Chicago: Guy de Maupassant, "Part One," Bel-Ami Original Sources, accessed May 10, 2021, http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=4ZRZC6DMT45P7HS.

MLA: de Maupassant, Guy. "Part One." Bel-Ami, Original Sources. 10 May. 2021. www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=4ZRZC6DMT45P7HS.

Harvard: de Maupassant, G, 'Part One' in Bel-Ami. Original Sources, retrieved 10 May 2021, from http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=4ZRZC6DMT45P7HS.