Bel ami; or, the history.., p.1
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       Bel Ami; Or, The History of a Scoundrel: A Novel, p.1
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Bel Ami; Or, The History of a Scoundrel: A Novel

  Produced by Charles Franks and the Online DistributedProofreading Team. HTML version by Al Haines.












  After changing his five-franc piece Georges Duroy left the restaurant.He twisted his mustache in military style and cast a rapid, sweepingglance upon the diners, among whom were three saleswomen, an untidymusic-teacher of uncertain age, and two women with their husbands.

  When he reached the sidewalk, he paused to consider what route heshould take. It was the twenty-eighth of June and he had only threefrancs in his pocket to last him the remainder of the month. That meanttwo dinners and no lunches, or two lunches and no dinners, according tochoice. As he pondered upon this unpleasant state of affairs, hesauntered down Rue Notre Dame de Lorette, preserving his military airand carriage, and rudely jostled the people upon the streets in orderto clear a path for himself. He appeared to be hostile to thepassers-by, and even to the houses, the entire city.

  Tall, well-built, fair, with blue eyes, a curled mustache, hairnaturally wavy and parted in the middle, he recalled the hero of thepopular romances.

  It was one of those sultry, Parisian evenings when not a breath of airis stirring; the sewers exhaled poisonous gases and the restaurants thedisagreeable odors of cooking and of kindred smells. Porters in theirshirt-sleeves, astride their chairs, smoked their pipes at the carriagegates, and pedestrians strolled leisurely along, hats in hand.

  When Georges Duroy reached the boulevard he halted again, undecided asto which road to choose. Finally he turned toward the Madeleine andfollowed the tide of people.

  The large, well-patronized cafes tempted Duroy, but were he to drinkonly two glasses of beer in an evening, farewell to the meager supperthe following night! Yet he said to himself: "I will take a glass atthe Americain. By Jove, I am thirsty."

  He glanced at men seated at the tables, men who could afford to slaketheir thirst, and he scowled at them. "Rascals!" he muttered. If hecould have caught one of them at a corner in the dark he would havechoked him without a scruple! He recalled the two years spent inAfrica, and the manner in which he had extorted money from the Arabs. Asmile hovered about his lips at the recollection of an escapade whichhad cost three men their lives, a foray which had given his twocomrades and himself seventy fowls, two sheep, money, and something tolaugh about for six months. The culprits were never found; indeed, theywere not sought for, the Arab being looked upon as the soldier's prey.

  But in Paris it was different; there one could not commit such deedswith impunity. He regretted that he had not remained where he was; buthe had hoped to improve his condition--and for that reason he was inParis!

  He passed the Vaudeville and stopped at the Cafe Americain, debating asto whether he should take that "glass." Before deciding, he glanced ata clock; it was a quarter past nine. He knew that when the beer wasplaced in front of him, he would drink it; and then what would he do ateleven o'clock? So he walked on, intending to go as far as theMadeleine and return.

  When he reached the Place de l'Opera, a tall, young man passed him,whose face he fancied was familiar. He followed him, repeating: "Wherethe deuce have I seen that fellow?"

  For a time he racked his brain in vain; then suddenly he saw the sameman, but not so corpulent and more youthful, attired in the uniform ofa Hussar. He exclaimed: "Wait, Forestier!" and hastening up to him,laid his hand upon the man's shoulder. The latter turned, looked athim, and said: "What do you want, sir?"

  Duroy began to laugh: "Don't you remember me?"


  "Not remember Georges Duroy of the Sixth Hussars."

  Forestier extended both hands.

  "Ah, my dear fellow, how are you?"

  "Very well. And how are you?"

  "Oh, I am not very well. I cough six months out of the twelve as aresult of bronchitis contracted at Bougival, about the time of myreturn to Paris four years ago."

  "But you look well."

  Forestier, taking his former comrade's arm, told him of his malady, ofthe consultations, the opinions and the advice of the doctors and ofthe difficulty of following their advice in his position. They orderedhim to spend the winter in the south, but how could he? He was marriedand was a journalist in a responsible editorial position.

  "I manage the political department on 'La Vie Francaise'; I report thedoings of the Senate for 'Le Salut,' and from time to time I write for'La Planete.' That is what I am doing."

  Duroy, in surprise, glanced at him. He was very much changed. FormerlyForestier had been thin, giddy, noisy, and always in good spirits. Butthree years of life in Paris had made another man of him; now he wasstout and serious, and his hair was gray on his temples although hecould not number more than twenty-seven years.

  Forestier asked: "Where are you going?"

  Duroy replied: "Nowhere in particular."

  "Very well, will you accompany me to the 'Vie Francaise' where I havesome proofs to correct; and afterward take a drink with me?"

  "Yes, gladly."

  They walked along arm-in-arm with that familiarity which exists betweenschoolmates and brother-officers.

  "What are you doing in Paris?" asked Forestier, Duroy shrugged hisshoulders.

  "Dying of hunger, simply. When my time was up, I came hither to make myfortune, or rather to live in Paris--and for six months I have beenemployed in a railroad office at fifteen hundred francs a year."

  Forestier murmured: "That is not very much."

  "But what can I do?" answered Duroy. "I am alone, I know no one, I haveno recommendations. The spirit is not lacking, but the means are."

  His companion looked at him from head to foot like a practical man whois examining a subject; then he said, in a tone of conviction: "Yousee, my dear fellow, all depends on assurance, here. A shrewd,observing man can sometimes become a minister. You must obtrudeyourself and yet not ask anything. But how is it you have not foundanything better than a clerkship at the station?"

  Duroy replied: "I hunted everywhere and found nothing else. But I knowwhere I can get three thousand francs at least--as riding-master at thePellerin school."

  Forestier stopped him: "Don't do it, for you can earn ten thousandfrancs. You will ruin your prospects at once. In your office at leastno one knows you; you can leave it if you wish to at any time. But whenyou are once a riding-master all will be over. You might as well be abutler in a house to which all Paris comes to dine. When you have givenriding lessons to men of the world or to their sons, they will nolonger consider you their equal."

  He paused, reflected several seconds and then asked:

  "Are you a bachelor?"

  "Yes, though I have been smitten several times."

  "That makes no difference. If Cicero and Tiberius were mentioned wouldyou know who they were?"


  "Good, no one knows any more except about a score of fools. It is notdifficult to pass for being
learned. The secret is not to betray yourignorance. Just maneuver, avoid the quicksands and obstacles, and therest can be found in a dictionary."

  He spoke like one who understood human nature, and he smiled as thecrowd passed them by. Suddenly he began to cough and stopped to allowthe paroxysm to spend itself; then he said in a discouraged tone:

  "Isn't it tiresome not to be able to get rid of this bronchitis? Andhere is midsummer! This winter I shall go to Mentone. Health beforeeverything."

  They reached the Boulevarde Poissoniere; behind a large glass door anopen paper was affixed; three people were reading it. Above the doorwas printed the legend, "La Vie Francaise."

  Forestier pushed open the door and said: "Come in." Duroy entered; theyascended the stairs, passed through an antechamber in which two clerksgreeted their comrade, and then entered a kind of waiting-room.

  "Sit down," said Forestier, "I shall be back in five minutes," and hedisappeared.

  Duroy remained where he was; from time to time men passed him by,entering by one door and going out by another before he had time toglance at them.

  Now they were young men, very young, with a busy air, holding sheets ofpaper in their hands; now compositors, their shirts spotted withink--carefully carrying what were evidently fresh proofs. Occasionallya gentleman entered, fashionably dressed, some reporter bringing news.

  Forestier reappeared arm-in-arm with a tall, thin man of thirty orforty, dressed in a black coat, with a white cravat, a dark complexion,and an insolent, self-satisfied air. Forestier said to him: "Adieu, mydear sir," and the other pressed his hand with: "Au revoir, my friend."Then he descended the stairs whistling, his cane under his arm.

  Duroy asked his name.

  "That is Jacques Rival, the celebrated writer and duelist. He came tocorrect his proofs. Garin, Montel and he are the best witty andrealistic writers we have in Paris. He earns thirty thousand francs ayear for two articles a week."

  As they went downstairs, they met a stout, little man with long hair,who was ascending the stairs whistling. Forestier bowed low.

  "Norbert de Varenne," said he, "the poet, the author of 'Les SoleilsMorts,'--a very expensive man. Every poem he gives us costs threehundred francs and the longest has not two hundred lines. But let us gointo the Napolitain, I am getting thirsty."

  When they were seated at a table, Forestier ordered two glasses ofbeer. He emptied his at a single draught, while Duroy sipped his beerslowly as if it were something rare and precious. Suddenly hiscompanion asked, "Why don't you try journalism?"

  Duroy looked at him in surprise and said: "Because I have never writtenanything."

  "Bah, we all have to make a beginning. I could employ you myself bysending you to obtain information. At first you would only get twohundred and fifty francs a month but your cab fare would be paid. ShallI speak to the manager?"

  "If you will."

  "Well, then come and dine with me to-morrow; I will only ask five orsix to meet you; the manager, M. Walter, his wife, with Jacques Rival,and Norbert de Varenne whom you have just seen, and also a friend ofMme. Forestier, Will you come?"

  Duroy hesitated, blushing and perplexed. Finally he, murmured: "I haveno suitable clothes."

  Forestier was amazed. "You have no dress suit? Egad, that isindispensable. In Paris, it is better to have no bed than no clothes."Then, fumbling in his vest-pocket, he drew from it two louis, placedthem before his companion, and said kindly: "You can repay me when itis convenient. Buy yourself what you need and pay an installment on it.And come and dine with us at half past seven, at 17 Rue Fontaine."

  In confusion Duroy picked up the money and stammered: "You are verykind--I am much obliged--be sure I shall not forget."

  Forestier interrupted him: "That's all right, take another glass ofbeer. Waiter, two more glasses!" When he had paid the score, thejournalist asked: "Would you like a stroll for an hour?"


  They turned toward the Madeleine. "What shall we do?" asked Forestier."They say that in Paris an idler can always find amusement, but it isnot true. A turn in the Bois is only enjoyable if you have a lady withyou, and that is a rare occurrence. The cafe concerts may divert mytailor and his wife, but they do not interest me. So what can we do?Nothing! There ought to be a summer garden here, open at night, where aman could listen to good music while drinking beneath the trees. Itwould be a pleasant lounging place. You could walk in alleys brightwith electric light and seat yourself where you pleased to hear themusic. It would be charming. Where would you like to go?"

  Duroy did not know what to reply; finally he said: "I have never beento the Folies Bergeres. I should like to go there."

  His companion exclaimed: "The Folies Bergeres! Very well!"

  They turned and walked toward the Faubourg Montmartre. The brilliantlyilluminated building loomed up before them. Forestier entered, Duroystopped him. "We forgot to pass through the gate."

  The other replied in a consequential tone: "I never pay," andapproached the box-office.

  "Have you a good box?"

  "Certainly, M. Forestier."

  He took the ticket handed him, pushed open the door, and they werewithin the hall. A cloud of tobacco smoke almost hid the stage and theopposite side of the theater. In the spacious foyer which led to thecircular promenade, brilliantly dressed women mingled with black-coatedmen.

  Forestier forced his way rapidly through the throng and accosted anusher.

  "Box 17?"

  "This way, sir."

  The friends were shown into a tiny box, hung and carpeted in red, withfour chairs upholstered in the same color. They seated themselves. Totheir right and left were similar boxes. On the stage three men wereperforming on trapezes. But Duroy paid no heed to them, his eyesfinding more to interest them in the grand promenade. Forestierremarked upon the motley appearance of the throng, but Duroy did notlisten to him. A woman, leaning her arms upon the edge of her loge, wasstaring at him. She was a tall, voluptuous brunette, her face whitenedwith enamel, her black eyes penciled, and her lips painted. With amovement of her head, she summoned a friend who was passing, a blondewith auburn hair, likewise inclined to embonpoint, and said to her in awhisper intended to be heard; "There is a nice fellow!"

  Forestier heard it, and said to Duroy with a smile: "You are lucky, mydear boy. My congratulations!"

  The ci-devant soldier blushed and mechanically fingered the two piecesof gold in his pocket.

  The curtain fell--the orchestra played a valse--and Duroy said:

  "Shall we walk around the gallery?"

  "If you like."

  Soon they were carried along in the current of promenaders. Duroy drankin with delight the air, vitiated as it was by tobacco and cheapperfume, but Forestier perspired, panted, and coughed.

  "Let us go into the garden," he said. Turning to the left, they entereda kind of covered garden in which two large fountains were playing.Under the yews, men and women sat at tables drinking.

  "Another glass of beer?" asked Forestier.


  They took their seats and watched the promenaders. Occasionally a womanwould stop and ask with a coarse smile: "What have you to offer, sir?"

  Forestier's invariable answer was: "A glass of water from thefountain." And the woman would mutter, "Go along," and walk away.

  At last the brunette reappeared, arm-in-arm with the blonde. They madea handsome couple. The former smiled on perceiving Duroy, and taking achair she calmly seated herself in front of him, and said in a clearvoice: "Waiter, two glasses."

  In astonishment, Forestier exclaimed: "You are not at all bashful!"

  She replied: "Your friend has bewitched me; he is such a fine fellow. Ibelieve he has turned my head."

  Duroy said nothing.

  The waiter brought the beer, which the women swallowed rapidly; thenthey rose, and the brunette, nodding her head and tapping Duroy's armwith her fan, said to him: "Thank you, my dear! However, you are notvery talkative."

  As they di
sappeared, Forestier laughed and said: "Tell, me, old man,did you know that you had a charm for the weaker sex? You must becareful."

  Without replying, Duroy smiled. His friend asked: "Shall you remain anylonger? I am going; I have had enough."

  Georges murmured: "Yes, I will stay a little longer: it is not late."

  Forestier arose: "Very well, then, good-bye until to-morrow. Do notforget: 17 Rue Fontaine at seven thirty."

  "I shall not forget. Thank you."

  The friends shook hands and the journalist left Duroy to his owndevices.

  Forestier once out of sight, Duroy felt free, and again he joyouslytouched the gold pieces in his pocket; then rising, he mingled with thecrowd.

  He soon discovered the blonde and the brunette. He went toward them,but when near them dared not address them.

  The brunette called out to him: "Have you found your tongue?"

  He stammered: "Zounds!" too bashful to say another word. A pauseensued, during which the brunette took his arm and together they leftthe hall.

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